Receiving the Mark (Revelation 13:15, 16)
Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 13:15–13:16
Happy Ever After
Receiving the Mark
Revelation 13:16, 17
(One Mission: Through Many Tribulations)
May 17th, 2015
I. Digging In
Even though we worked through all of chapter 13 last week, I thought it would be helpful for us to go back and talk about one of the key themes we find in this chapter. Even though I gave you a lot of information last time, I thought that necessary because of the way in which that lesson will provide us with a foundation as we move forward. But at the same time, just as God wanted to do through John for the sake of the seven churches, it is crucial that we spend time, more time than we had last week, to dig into the main application of this passage. How will, how should this chapter challenge us and change us?
If you haven't done so already, turn back to Revelation 13.
II. Already and Not Yet
Now before we go any further, let me recap what we learned last time. By means of these symbolic images and numbers, God revealed to the seven churches the true power behind the Roman Empire under which they lived. Satan (the “dragon”) was working through the Empire/Emperor (the “beast”) and the official state religion, the Imperial Cult (second “beast”), to seduce, scare, and destroy God's people. It seems what the seven churches were already experiencing was just the beginning of what was to come.
But making these identifications can be very confusing for most people, because most people believe the beast described here is a power or person coming in the future. And this confusion is understandable, especially when you read the rest of Revelation.
But I don't think the solution to this problem is an “either/or”. In one sense, it's a “both/and”. What does that mean? Throughout the pages of Scripture, we see what we might call an “already and not yet” tension. For example, when Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God, He talked about it both as a present reality AND a future reality.
How does that apply to Revelation? Well, you may remember last week how we observed that the beast out of the sea in Revelation 13 is described in verse 1 as similar to the fourth, ten-horned beast Daniel saw way back in Daniel 7. But at the same time, verse 2 seems to describe this beast as a composite of the first three beasts of Daniel 7. I believe this is an indication that, yes, this beast represents the Roman Empire, but it also represents that age's clearest expression of the reigning world system that has assumed many forms and gone by many names throughout history.
This is the world system that Jesus spoke about, especially in the Gospel of John, where the word occurs 58 times. Jesus said:
If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:19) [clearly this is not talking about the world as a place!]
Last week, in talking about the relationship between the dragon and the world system we live in, we saw that Satan has authority over this world and he uses its institutions to achieve his goals, be they political, economic, academic, civic, charitable, media, or even religious institutions. That's not to say all institutions always carry out the Devil's will. The Bible reveals time and time again how God also uses these institutions for His even bigger purposes. Remember, the Roman leaders are called God's servants in Romans 13. It was their census that took Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. It was their laws that protected Paul from the mobs in Acts.
But going back to this “already/not yet” tension, when we move into the next chapter, chapter 14, we see yet another example of this. 14:8 speaks of “Babylon the great”, which we will eventually discover is a name for the city of Rome. But why is Rome called Babylon? Well, there may be a couple reasons, but the main reason is because Rome presently embodied the spirit of what ancient Babylon represented: the corrupt and whorish city of man.
Therefore, the beast, the second beast (“the false prophet”), and Babylon all represent both historical realities in the time of the seven churches, AND the larger spiritual realities that have continued into our time, and will continue into the future...until God's judgment comes.
III. The Passage: “To Be Marked” (13:16, 17; 13:13-15; 14:9-11)
So with that in mind, I want us to think about this present world system, this machine of rebellious humanity that is partly powered by and certainly manipulated by the devil himself. More specifically, I want you to think about your relationship to this present world system, in light of what chapters 13 and 14 tell us about one of the most famous elements in all of Revelation: something called “the mark of the beast”.
1. The Definition (13:16, 17)
You may recall that we were introduced to this image of “the mark” in verse 16 of chapter 13:
Also it [the second beast, later called the “false prophet”] 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.
So based on these verses and the surrounding context, I want us to define this “mark of the beast”. And I think we need to define this “mark” in light of both a narrower historical and a broader spiritual application.
Let me propose this as a definition: The “mark” of the beast is The world's 'stamp of approval' on those who compromise and conform as people-pleasers, rather than God-pleasers. (2x)
In the days of John and the seven churches, there were probably many, many ways in which Christians were tempted to compromise and conform in order to be judged as 'in' and not 'out'; as legitimate and not intolerant; as supporters rather than suspects.
Did you notice how verse 17 gives a prime example of what it means to “be in the club”. Revelation uses the image of buying and selling to communicate the serious consequences of not going along with the system. In practical terms, restrictions on buying and selling are restrictions on surviving; on making money and then making the rent; of earning and then eating. John makes it clear, for those who did not compromise, for those who did not conform, there would be the threat of serious loss.
Think about how the short letters of chapters 2 and 3 describe temptations to compromise. The church at Pergamum is a good example of what was happening. Look back at 2:13-15.
“‘I know where you dwell, where Satan's [where the dragon's] throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.  But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.  So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.”
I believe we see two pressures at work here. First, is some authoritative pressure (hence the word “throne”) to deny Christ. Antipas did not, and thus he was killed. But second, there is also the pressure of idolatry and the immoral lifestyle that often accompanied idolatry. Here it's the Balaam-esque teachings of the Nicolaitans. The other letters in chapters 2 and 3 tell us there were temptations related to the Jews, there were temptations related to poverty, and there were temptations related to excess and power.
I believe all of these and more are symbolized by the marketplace issue of 13:17. It is the perfect picture of civic acceptance, social engagement, and earthly success. The beast says, “Parrot the status quo or be a pariah. Celebrate our view of sexuality or be labelled. Bow down before what is popular or be mocked.”
Do you see how this is just as true for us today as it was for them. Aren't we also tempted to receive “the mark”? To look the part, to go along, to shut up when necessary, to conform, even if that means compromising our faith? Listen, this is not always about wearing different clothes than everyone else. It's about not bowing down to the idol of appearance. This is not about being successful. It's about not bowing down to the idol of greed. This is not about rejecting this or that aspect of media. It's about allowing idols of distraction, vanity, and immorality to fill our heads with sin's ugliness rather than that to which God calls us:
...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
And such temptations can be very explicit, very public. But they can also be very, very subtle. This is where popular understandings of “the mark of the beast” can be very distracting. When people focus on a future of microchips, bar codes, and tattoos, rather than a present of faithfulness in the face of everyday invitations to compromise, we are missing the heart of this warning.
2. The Deception (13:13-15)
But wait. In the face of what God has revealed, what would ever tempt someone to receive this “mark”, to accept or desire “the world's stamp of approval”? Well look back at verses 13-15 of chapter 13. We read:
It [the second beast] performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people,  and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived.  And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.
As we saw last time, the main objective of this second beast is to persuade, promote, and pressure people into worshiping the first beast. This is why he is called the “false prophet” later in the book. Clearly, his is a work of deception. How does he accomplish this deception? There are two examples. Now remember we are dealing with symbolic imagery here. This fire is probably no more real than the fire that was said to come from the mouths of the two witnesses in chapter 11. In both places it is a symbol of judgment and power.
In the same way, I believe the image of the talking idol represents, as one commentator expressed it, the idea of “reviving idolatrous worship, giving it the appearance of vitality, reality, and power.” (Alan F. Johnson)
So for the original readers, these images must have been potent reminders of how the Imperial Cult, along with the various temples to the Roman gods, maintained allegiance, and tried daily to persuade and pressure others to bow down before the power and presence of the Emperor and His empire. Who could argue with the greatness of Rome? But this wasn't about patriotism. It was about idolatry. It was about exalting a person and an earthly power to the same level as the God of heaven.
But aren't we tempted in the same ways? Doesn't the present world system, doesn't the spirit of the beast at work today attempt to deceive us about its power and presence, about its “vitality, reality, and power?” It says, “Look at how happy everyone is, look at how much fun you're missing. Don't you want to be successful?” The world parades its celebrities, its scientists, its politicians, its academics, it artists, and even its so-called pastors in front of us and says “Look at what we can do!”
Or, as we also see here, it threatens us if we do not compromise and conform. In some places, this does mean the very real possibility of being “slain”, as we see in verse 15. But in our society, it reminds us that our jobs, our reputations, our relationships, all of these and more are threatened when we choose Christ over compromise. Remember the assurance that Jesus gave us about such temptations and God's power to bring us through:
And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it.  For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. [cf. the Lamb's Book of Life]  But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand. (Mark 13:21-23)
3. The Danger (14:9-11)
And if the reality of the beast's deception isn't enough to sober us about this present world system, think about the danger of receiving “the mark” of the beast. Look at 14:9-11...
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,  he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. (same fate for the beast and false prophet in 19:20) And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Rev. 14:9-11)
Now think about those hard words in light of I John 2:15-17, where John says something very similar, but without the symbolic language. I've replaced the word “world” here. Listen...
Do not love the [present world system] or the things in the [present world system]. If anyone loves the [present world system], the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the [present world system]—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the [present world system].  And the [present world system] is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
The same warning is made in James 4:4...You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
Brothers and sisters, friends, let's be clear about the slippery slope of compromise and conformity. If in the end, it becomes clear that our ultimate pursuit in this life was the world's stamp of approval, if the overall testimony of our lives show us to have been people-pleasers, rather than God-pleasers, we will share the painful fate of that which we truly worshiped.
III. He is No Fool
So I think we have a clear picture of the warnings and prohibitions here. But what about any positive commands? Well, they are here, and they're like 'bookends' to the passages we looked at today...Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. (13:10) Again, Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. (14:12)
If we are to face the beast and the false prophet, that is, the present world system and the machine that attempts to persuade us and pressure us to compromise and conform, if we are to face these enemies, we must endure through faith. What kind of faith? The same faith the martyred missionary Jim Elliot expressed in his famous refrain: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
We could say receiving “the mark” of the beast means rejecting the eternal acceptance and provision of God in order to receive earthly and temporary counterfeits of those very things.
In the face of how the dragon, how these beasts are at work today, God is calling us to stand firm. To not give in. To not give up. To look at the Lamb, to look at the cross of Jesus and know that buying and selling, that acceptance, that success, that pleasure, that even our very lives in this world are worthless in light of all God has given us in Christ.
Endurance for the sake of endurance is not what God is calling us to. It is endurance and faith. It is endurance inspired by what we believe about the goodness of God, the sufficiency of Jesus, and what lies in store for us when we cross the finish line.
May God help us to see in all of our choices, choices about our schedules, choices about our purchases, choices about our media consumption, choices about our relationships, choices about our goals and priorities, may God help us to see the reality of those temptations to compromise and conform. May we rest that His seal is on our foreheads because of Jesus, and therefore, reject the world's stamp of approval.
More in Happy Ever After (Revelation)
November 22, 2015Keep What is Written (Revelation 1:1-22:21)(overview)
November 15, 2015I am Coming...Come! (Revelation 22:6-21)
November 1, 2015A Tour of Our Future Glory (Revelation 21:9-22:5)