What Are Rights?

bill of rightsWe live in a rights obsessed culture. At every turn someone is claiming they have a right to something. Unfortunately people rarely think about what it means to have a right. Most of the time “I have a right to” is interchangeable with “I want.”

Rights come in two flavors – positive and negative. Much of what is demanded today are positive rights. Positive rights are the right TO HAVE something, the right to a job, to health care, to a certain vendor for your wedding flowers, etc.

On the other side are negative rights. Negative rights are the right NOT TO HAVE something (mostly not to have something done to you by the government.) Among these are the right to freedom of speech, religion, the press, etc. In the case of negative rights, the government in enjoined FROM doing something. With positive rights, the government is enjoined TO do something. The rights guaranteed by the Constitution, the one’s our Founders labeled “inalienable,” are all negative rights.

Why is that? Why does the Constitution not list the right to a job or to a place to live or to food to eat? After all, those things are pretty important, right?

It has to do with how rights are enforced.

In the case of negative rights, enforcement places no burden on the citizenry. If government fails to provide these rights, such as in attempting to censor the media, the courts get involved to rule on the constitutionality of the action. If it is determined the action violated someone’s rights, all that needs to happen is for the government to stop doing what they were doing. In other words, to leave people alone.

With positive rights it’s different.  If I have a right TO something, say a job, then someone else has an obligation to provide one for me. Since government creates no capital, they must either force someone in the private sector to hire me or hire me themselves using money appropriated from the private sector via taxes. Positive rights for one group always encumber another group with obligations.  Bottom line, enforcement of positive rights requires government to use force against one part of the citizenry on behalf of another part.

Positive rights are therefore often at odds with negative ones. For example, I cannot have freedom of speech at the same time someone else has the freedom to never be offended. The two are mutually exclusive. Which is why guarantees of positive rights are not among those in the Bill of Rights. We have, from God, certain inalienable rights. But among them is not the right to never be disagreed with or the right to the fruit of someone else’s labor.

When negative rights are respected and enforced, individual flourishing increases and government dependence decreases. But with a decrease in government dependence comes a decrease in government power, which goes a long way toward explaining the emphasis on positive rights so prevalent today.

In order to return our culture to health, we must recover the understanding of positive versus negative rights and restore negative rights to their place of honor.

What is the Mark of the Beast?

Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666. – Revelation 13:16-18

What is the Mark of the Beast?
“The Number of the Beast is 666” by William Blake

This passage has caused much speculation among Christians through the years. People are keen to know who the beast is and what it means to take his mark. The two questions have to be answered simultaneously because what you believe about the beast determines what you believe about his mark and vice versa.

Two things must be remembered about Revelation to properly understand it:

  • Revelation was written to people in the first century as a warning and an encouragement. Therefore, what is written had meaning for them in that day and not just for people in some far distant future time (Rev. 1:1).
  • Revelation is written in apocalyptic style meaning it is highly symbolic. We must be careful when reading it not to do so as if it is the newspaper or an historical narrative.

If Revelation was written as a warning and an encouragement to the first century church and to the church throughout history, then the beast and his mark must be something relevant to both groups. I believe the beast is a specific person in ancient history, a persecutor of the church, perhaps a Roman emperor. However, in warning the church about this person, John also warns future Christians about those who govern the same way. There may also be a final manifestation of this type of ruler before the return of Christ who is worse than all those before him. So he could be a specific person in the future as well.

However, our concern needs to be identifying the characteristics of the ruler described rather than identifying an individual by name. Kim Riddlebarger in his book “The Man of Sin” says:

It is more important to understand what the number means than to identify the individual to whom it is referring.”

Several characteristics of the beast are mentioned in the extended passage but I want to concentrate on those associated with his mark.

The mark is required to engage in commerce. In other words, this ruler requires people to have the mark in order to make a living, buy food, etc. The mark is equivalent to the ruler’s name. So the ability to buy and sell is related to the person’s support for and acknowledgment of the ruler. The mark is to be placed on either the hand or the forehead. This last point is especially interesting.

Why the hand or the forehead?

Think back to God’s instructions concerning His law after freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt:

You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. – Deuteronomy 6:8

The Lord’s commands were to be with the people of God always. They were the guide for their actions (hands) and thoughts (foreheads). Their ultimate allegiance in all things was to God. So in describing the locations of the mark, John reveals it is usurpation of God that the beast seeks – the desire to be worshiped and to be the source of ultimate authority.

I believe the beast is any government or ruler who sets themselves up as God and demands ultimate allegiance. Nazi Germany was a manifestation of the beast as are the communist governments in places like China and North Korea. The beast has risen and fallen many times throughout the history of the world and will continue to do so until Christ returns.

His mark is not necessarily physical, not a tattoo or a computer chip or a bar code. It is something more sinister. We take the mark when we acquiesce to the state’s demand to be worshiped, when we remove Christ from His throne and replace Him with a golden statue of the state. This is why first century Christians refused to worship Caesar even under penalty of death – because to do so was to dishonor the Lord and abandon the faith.

Those claiming to be followers of Christ in the United States have by and large not had to make this choice. But, recent events remind us that the beast is crouching at our door. The day will soon come when he will demand that we choose whom we will serve. My prayer for the American church is that we be given grace and strength from the Holy Spirit to choose as Moses did, “rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.