EARTH'S final conflict of men and nations, of ideologies and philosophies, of war and peace, will resolve itself into a warfare between the commandments of God and the commandments of men. "And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed." Why? Because they "keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 12:17).
In this time of universal apostasy, anyone daring to be so bold as to seek to obey God implicitly becomes a target for Satan's wrath. The dragon arranges the laws of the land so as to bring those who "keep the commandments of God" into conflict with the commandments of the state and the church. He makes it appear that those who render strict obedience to the teachings of the Bible are enemies of the will of Heaven and traitors to the government of earth.
Through supernatural demonstrations (Rev. 13:13, 14) and spiritualistic communications with fallen angels (chap. 16:13, 14) men are convinced that Satan's counterfeit system of worship is the genuine. Thus deceived, secular authorities, influenced by the united counsel of all churches, invite the citizens of the nation in a national referendum, to vote authority to the legislature to form what becomes a replica of the medieval system of church-state relations. "He . . . deceiveth them . . . by the means of those miracles . . . ; saying . . that they should make an image to the beast. . . . And he had power to . . . cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed" (Rev. 13:13-15).
Worship, devotion, is measured by our works, our obedience, our loyalty. Jesus said, "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me." How did He know? Because they were "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt. 15:8, 9). Paul, emphasizing the same principle, said, "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey?" (Rom. 6:16).
Whenever we transgress God's law, however high may be our profession, we worship the satanic majesty. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt. 6:24). To disobey God is to give homage to Satan. No one understands this better than the enemy of God and man, the devil himself. To obtain the worship of men in this final conflict, he inspires the religious leaders to influence the state to pass a law that to obey means to disobey God. The voters have given permission to the republic to allow the great religious confederacy to speak in the legislative assemblies of the state: "It was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast so that the image of the beast should even speak," saying that "all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, ... be marked . , so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark" (Rev. 13:15, 16, R.S.V.).
There you have this second beast speaking "as a dragon" and exercising "all the power of the first beast before him."
That the mark of the beast is a direct violation of the law of God is obvious from the solemn warning that God gives against receiving the mark: " 'If any one worships the beast and its image, and receives a mark . . . , he also shall drink the wine of God's wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger. . . Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14: 9-12, R.S.V.).
History repeats itself. The same crisis over the commandments of men and the commandments of God that has arisen in every church-state union in the past arises in this final confederacy. The sacred annals record that in ancient Babylon the conflict was over the second commandment: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image . . . : thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them" (Ex. 20:4, 5). King Nebuchadnezzar made a huge image of gold and set it up on the plain of Dura and commanded that all fall down and worship it, "and whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace" (Dan. 3:6).
Observe how similar in language is the decree of ancient Babylon and that of the second beast in Revelation 13:15: "As many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed."
Now let us notice how the crisis developed in the kingdom that succeeded ancient Babylon, Medo-Persia. In this second example from history the test is over the first commandment, 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Ex. 20:3). This ancient church-state union made "a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any god or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, . . . shall be cast into the den of lions" (Dan. 6:7).
In each of these cases a law had been passed that was in direct conflict with the Ten Commandments. To obey, the commandments of men meant to disobey the commandments of God. To obey the law of heaven meant to disobey the law of the land.
In such a crisis the followers of God through the centuries have said with Joseph, "How then can I do this great wickednes's, and sin against God?" (Gen. 39:9). In every age men have stood for principle in the face of death as did Peter and John, who under religious and political censure by the Jews answered, "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:19, 20). In ancient Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood up in obedience to the commandments of God when all the rest of the world bowed down in obedience to the commandments of men. Immediately the report was brought to the king. "'These men, 0 king, pay no heed to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up'" (Dan. 3: 12, R.S.V.).
"Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought;. . . 'Is it true,'" he said, "'that you do not . . . worship the golden image which I have set up?'" (verses 13, 14, R.S.V.).
In humility, but with courage, they answered, "'O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, 0 king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up" (verses 16-18, R.S.V.).
God hasn't always delivered His children from the oppressor's death as He did in the case of these three men. He allowed His Son to die a martyr's death at the hand of the Roman Empire through the instigation of the apostate Jewish church, but His permission was for the salvation of the world. The oppressor's heel may be allowed to become heavy over the heads of the righteous but the hand that is omnipotent is overruling all for the accomplishment of His purposes.
So shall it be in this last hour. God will allow deceived men, urged on by evil angels, to go only so far in the persecution of His commandment-keeping people. The law will be passed that those who keep the commandments cannot "buy or sell." The decree shall go forth that they "should be killed." But in that hour when the wrath of the dragon is making war upon "the remnant . . . which keep the commandments of God," the Lamb will interpose. As the enemy of all righteousness is about to pounce upon his foe, the Lord wrests the prey from his hands, and John beheld "them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. . . . And they sing .. . the song of the Lamb" (Rev. 15:2, 3).
Their captivity was turned. "The beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone" (Rev. 19:20). Thus is brought to an end all coercion. Tyranny shall never rise again. Sin and sinners are no more. The entire universe is clean, for our God has destroyed "them which destroy the earth" (Rev. 11:18).