In some Seventh-day Adventist circles, the observance of Sunday as a day of worship is regarded as the taking of the mark of the beast mentioned in Revelation 13. This notion is a legacy of Ellen White who said, “The sign, or seal, of God is revealed in the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, the Lord’s memorial of creation…The mark of the beast is the opposite—the observance of the first day of the week.” The Sabbath is a sign of the Mosaic covenant but is nowhere in Scripture called a seal of the people of God. Christians are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1.13).
Let it be known that Mrs. White in her Early Writings said that before the end of time SDAs would and should suffer persecution because they will not cease working on Sunday. Yet in 1909, in light of a governmental threat to arrest workers and lock down the SDA publishing house in Melbourne, Australia, on Sundays, The SDA prophetess got a convenient revelation.
She wrote in “Testimonies for the Church”, Vol. IX, No. 37, pp. 232 and 238, “The light given me by the Lord at a time when we were expecting just such a crisis as you seem to be approaching was that when the people were moved by a power from beneath to enforce Sunday observance, Seventh-day Adventists were to show their wisdom by refraining from their ordinary work on that day, devoting it to missionary effort…Give them no occasion to call you lawbreakers…Give Sunday to the Lord as the day for doing missionary work…This way of spending Sunday is always acceptable to the Lord.”
The idea of some kind of mark as in some sense indicating ownership or allegiance was very common in the ancient world. Slaves were sometimes branded with a mark of ownership, especially if the slave had been a runaway. Such a runaway slave would be branded on the forehead with the letters FUG which stood for fugitivus (Latin for runaway). There is also evidence that soldiers were branded on the hand with the name of their general and devotees of gods with the symbol of the god whom they worshipped.
To bear the mark of a person would then mean either that one belonged to that person as a slave or a soldier or that one was devoted to that person as a worshipper to a god. The mark of the beast was a mark of allegiance on the part of those who received it and designated them as worshippers of the beast.
The mark of the beast could not have been meant to indicate observance of Sunday because, consistent with what marking meant in John’s time, Revelation 13 makes it quite clear that the issue is WORSHIP OF THE FIRST BEAST OR HIS IMAGE. Note the frequent references to ‘worship of the first beast’ in verses 4, 8,12,15.
That worship of the first beast is the issue in vv.12-18 should be understandable because the first beast seeks to replace God – he has names of blasphemy (v.1), speaks blasphemies against God (v.6), wages warfare on the saints (v.7) to ensure that ‘ALL THAT DWELL UPON THE EARTH SHALL WORSHIP HIM’ (v.8).
The mark of the beast therefore SERVED TO IDENTIFY THOSE WHO
WORSHIPPED THE BEAST, and the mark allowed them, and them alone, to engage in even the simplest and most vital commercial transactions of the day.
The mark of the Beast in Rev. 13 had nothing whatsoever to do with the observance of Sunday as a day of worship but had everything to do with the refusal of Christians to participate in the rituals associated with the Roman Imperial cult which involved showing religious respect and sometimes even worshipful reverence for the Emperor. Hence the mark of the beast in Rev. 13 was not literal but symbolic similar to, indeed a parody of the mark/seal of God associated with the servants of God in Rev. 7:3; 9:4 (see also Rev.14: 9, 11). The idea of “on his forehead or in his right hand” simply suggests visibility of allegiance to whomever owns the mark.
Mark of the beast = worship of the beast = non-worship of God = SURVIVAL. Rejection of the mark of the beast = non-worship of beast = worship of God = DEATH. The compound theme of suffering and martyrdom is a dominant motif in the book of Revelation and Christians are suffering and being executed because of “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (see 1: 2, 9; 12:17; 19:10).
The SDA claim that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” means having a living prophet in Ellen White is bogus because that meaning to Rev. 19.10 could not have been countenanced by the 1st century audience of the book and worse for Adventism, Ellen White’s death “killed their argument”.
What really is the meaning of the expression “the testimony of Jesus”? In Greek, the expression as found in the last part of Rev. 19: 10 is hē marturia Iēsou. Marturia (testimony, witness) is the word from which we get martyr and the force of the word in the context of Revelation is declaration of truth regardless of cost. The word Iēsou (of Jesus) is the possessive case (a genitive) and can mean either the source of the testimony (=from Jesus) or the content of the testimony (=about Jesus). Either option for the kind of genitive is grammatically feasible so “the testimony of Jesus” would be “the declaration of truth from/about Jesus regardless of cost”
John’s usage of the term marturia or marturia Iēsou confirms the meaning we have suggested (see 1:1-2, 9; 6: 9; 20: 4). If the testimony of Jesus is equal to the spirit of prophecy then the spirit of prophecy must be telling forth or foretelling the truth from/about Jesus regardless of cost. It is most definitely not a person, especially of the 19th century. Again we mention the compound theme of persecution and martyrdom in Revelation resulting from bold witness for Jesus!
The Authorised Version (KJV) of 13.17 can be misleading. There is no ‘or’ after ‘mark’ in the original Greek thus THE MARK OF THE BEAST IS THE IMPRINTED NAME OR ITS NUMERICAL EQUIVALENT 666 [or 616 as some manuscripts have]. A better translation of the verse would be, ‘…save he that had the mark [even] the name of the beast or the number of his name’.
SDA folk especially stake claim to Rev. 12:17 as suggesting their Church because of their interpretation of “the commandments of God” as suggesting the Ten Commandments. This link is without substance if one explores the language of the text. In Greek the expression reads tas entolas tou theou. The problem for the SDA view is that John in his writings never refers to the old covenant law or commandment by entolē (singular of entolas) but by the more traditional nomos. Entolē is almost always used of the new covenant law of love.
On another score, some Sabbatarians mention that Isaiah 66 indicates that the Sabbath will be kept in the New Earth to come hence it must still be valid and should be kept now. Well, do not overlook the fact that Isaiah’s prophecy is cast in the idiom of the Old covenant and so uses Old covenant time-markers like New Moon and Sabbath just as it also suggests the resurgence of the Levitical priesthood in vv. 20 and 21.
Moreover it does not follow that what is to be in the New Earth is necessarily to be happening now because in Is. 65. 25, which also deals with realities in the New Earth, the wolf and the lamb will feed together and the lion will eat straw like the ox. Would anyone try those things now?
Finally let me say, if you are a Sabbath-keeper bless the Lord and do what you think God demands of you but please do not impose your practices on anyone else as a requirement from God.
If you observe Sunday then do not allow anyone to disturb your mind or your peace just remember the material we have shared with you here and remind yourself of Colossians 2. 16-17, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”
 See her Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 8, 117, cited in Dale Ratzlaff, Truth About Adventist “Truth”, 2007, 39.
 In D.M. Canright, Life of Mrs. E.G. White Seventh-day Adventist Prophet: Her False Claims Refuted, 1919/1998, 180. Canright, a contemporary of Ellen White left the SDA Church and exposed many of the Church’s errors and hypocrisy.
 So D.M. Canright, op. cit., 53.
 Ratzlaff’s approach is very similar in Sabbath in Christ, op. cit., 377.
 See Ratzlaff, Sabbath in Christ, op. cit., 374-376 for all the references.