On Monday, we began a new series in Revelation, starting with chapter 13. You really need to start there for this week’s material to make sense. We identified the mark of the beast as emperor worship, then saw how the beast from the sea represented the Roman emperor, and the beast from the land was the imperial cult.
The mark of the beast today
So we come back to what we began the week with: the mark of the beast. The mark of this idolatry that society tries to force upon us. And it’s not really an outward mark. That becomes pretty clear when in the very next chapter, believers get their own mark written on their foreheads: the name of Jesus and of God the Father. A mark that shows who they belong to. Not to the beast, not to the empire—but to God and his Son. It’s a sign of your inner allegiance.
When it comes to the crunch, who are you going to choose? Caesar, or Jesus. The expectations of society, or the commandments of God. Do you go with the flow, or stand up for what’s right? Whose side are you on?
As a Christian in the first century, your inner allegiance to God meant that you couldn’t just go along with the idolatry of society; with the worship of the beast. You had to resist the mark, by not sacrificing to the emperor—no matter what the cost. And the cost was potentially high: you might lose your job, your family, your freedom—even your life. Choosing to be on God’s side can be costly.
As a Christian today, what does our inner allegiance to God mean? What can’t we just go along with in order to fit in? What “marks” do we need to resist?
As we saw earlier, it was more obvious in the first century. You had an emperor who claimed to be a god. You either chose to worship him or not. A difficult choice, but at least it was a clear choice. These days the empire is more subtle. We’re faced with little choices every day, which either display an inner allegiance to God, or a preference for fitting in with the world. They might not seem to be all that significant at the time. And in isolation they’re probably not. But they build habits; patterns; lifestyle; character. Ultimately, they characterise a life that’s either on God’s side, or not.
The person who at the age of 40 finds themselves completely absorbed in their work 24/7 and having all but given up the commitment to God they had in their early 20s—they didn’t just decide that overnight. Little by little they made decisions to sacrifice at the altar of career. They chose the world over God almost by stealth.
The person for whom holiness used to be a goal to strive for didn’t just give up trying at one point in time. It’s the outworking of a whole series of decisions; choices to go along with the prevailing culture rather than obeying God.
The person who five years ago used to be at church and their home bible study group every week, but now shows up maybe once a month—it happened slowly. As every week a little decision to put the urgencies of life ahead of meeting with the community of believers slowly built a habit. Uni assignments; a concert; getting the washing done before Monday; finishing off the renovations; feeling a bit tired…
The person who quite justifiably took time off from serving God in ministry to raise a young family, but never went back—they didn’t just decide one day that their family was more important than the kingdom. It’s simply the result of a whole lot of little choices over time.
The person who once had a passionate desire to share Christ with their family and friends, but now never seems to have the time, or find right moment—they didn’t go off the boil all of a sudden. They just got into the habit of choosing to remain silent; to go along with the rest of the empire, rather than rocking the boat. Over time, they chose to align themselves with the world—and the easier life it promises—rather than with God and his gospel.
The mark of the beast, as it were, needs to be actively resisted.
Resisting the Mark of the Beast
And that’s what chapter 14 of Revelation is all about. Resisting this mark. Giving us the motivation to worship God, rather than Caesar.
It tells us to align ourselves with God, not the empire. To stay on #TeamJesus, and resist #TeamBeast. An angel appears and says in a loud voice:
Revelation 14:7 Fear God and give him glory because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.
Worship God alone. Why? Well, he made the world, and pretty soon he’s going to judge his world. And at that point, whose team you’re on is critical.
First, let’s look at the fate of Team Beast:
Revelation 14:9-10a If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, 10 they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath.
I hope you like to take your wrath straight up, because you won’t even be given a twist of lemon. There are no Alcopops in this apocalypse. He continues:
Revelation 14:10b-11 They will be tormented with burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.
Frightening stuff. And that’s the point. Reminding us that however much we might fear the emperor—however much we might fear the disapproval and rejection of the society around us—God is the one we should most fear.
By contrast, those who remain on Team Jesus have a far different future:
Revelation 14:12-13 This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus. 13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them
Did you notice the not-so-subtle contrast? There will be no rest day or night for those who worshipped the beast. But for those who resist, for those who patiently endure—there will be rest.
Resist the temptation to do whatever it takes to fit in with our society. To put its priorities ahead of God’s. To think that there’s any advantage in gaining its approval. Because in the end, that path leads to compromise, and on to destruction.
Instead, remain faithful to God’s priorities. Pursue his approval. However much it might cost you right now. Because that path leads to life.