In this second article exploring the meaning of Revelation 14:9-12, the key point is the relationship between "the everlasting gospel" proclaimed by the first angel (verse 6), the announcement of Babylon's fall by the second angel (verse 8), and the third angel's denunciation of a global system of deception, symbolized by the beast power (verses 9-12). First, however, perhaps we should recapitulate a few significant points made in the previous article (see the March, 1980, MINISTRY, pp. 18, 19):
1. The warning given in Revelation 14:9-12 constitutes the most vehement and fearful condemnation to be found in Scripture.
2. This fact is good reason to believe we can understand its meaning. A God of love would surely not impart to His servants an incomprehensible warning involving death as the ultimate penalty.
3. The beast, its image and mark, symbolizes a worldwide, influential power or system that is antagonistic to God and His people.
4. The negative aspects of this pas sage imply the existence of corresponding positive truth—a victorious group who refuse to worship the beast and who stand in stark contrast to those who capitulate to it.
5. The warning against beast worship is the last of the three messages whose context indicates that they are given with peculiar force in the latter days to prepare a people to stand victoriously with the redeemed of all ages when the Saviour appears (chap. 1:1-5; 14:14-20).
6. All three messages are inseparably woven together, and cannot be fully understood unless studied as a whole.
7. The first angel's message, involving the proclamation of "the everlasting gospel" to the entire world, is the foundation and unifying theme of all three messages, including the warning against worshiping the beast.
Let us continue, then, to examine the relationship between these three mes sages, using "the everlasting gospel" as the key to decipher their symbolism especially that of the fall of Babylon and the mark of the beast. The grand, introductory theme of the first angel's mes sage is the preaching of "the everlasting gospel" to earth dwellers of "every nation, tribe, language and people" (verse 6, N.I.V.).* This "everlasting gospel" is basic to all that follows in this passage.
Some may wonder what is so unique or startling about the "everlasting gospel" to warrant the position of cruciality that is given these end-time messages. The answer lies not so much in the nature of the gospel itself. Indeed, the fact that it is the everlasting gospel indicates that it is the same gospel that was delivered to Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Daniel, the New Testament apostles, and that has been preserved intact through the vicissitudes of church history to the present. The uniqueness of the gospel in this setting lies in its relationship to the succeeding messages of the second and third angels who accompany the first.
The announcements and warnings found in the second and third angels' messages must be seen in the context of right versus wrong, of the true (everlasting) gospel as opposed to a false gospel or gospels. In vivid contrast to the principles of the "everlasting gospel" a religious system undoubtedly composed of "every wind of doctrine" (Eph. 4:14) is brought to view, which defies not only the loyal subjects of Christ's spiritual kingdom but God Himself! For that reason it is proclaimed to be in a fallen condition, and dire warnings are issued against submitting oneself to it either voluntarily through deception or in voluntarily through fear. With almost painful clarity, verse 12 draws this distinction between the genuine and the false—between those who retain the living principles of the "everlasting gospel" and those who clutch to their bosoms the fatal counterfeit. Yet, amazingly, this rebellious system sweeps the world with its false gospel, deceiving all except those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life (chap. 13:13-18; 17:8).
God has not overreacted to this challenge against His gospel. He directs the third angel to deliver denunciations unequaled for severity against the beast and his worshipers precisely because the nature of the false gospel so insidiously attempts to negate all that He has in tended to accomplish (and will accomplish) through His "everlasting gospel." It is significant that the word John uses thirty-six times in chapters 13-17, 19, and 20 to denote the "beast" is the Greek word therion, meaning a dangerous, wild, even venomous, beast. His choice of words leaves no doubt of the malignant, evil, malicious nature of this power.
When man sinned and came under the curse of death, all heaven was filled with the deepest sorrow. Then God's most precious Gift, Jesus, was given for the salvation of man. The result? Pro found rejoicing when a lost sheep is found. Universal praise throughout all heaven when a single sinner is saved (see Luke 15:3-7).
The Incarnation, the cross, the Resurrection, the Second Coming, are the grand focal points of Scripture, and beautifully declare that nothing is of greater importance than the redemption of mankind. This is the theme, the gospel, of Scripture. Although proclaimed in a thousand ways through prophecy and parable, the point is that nothing can excel, or even equal, the "everlasting gospel." For that reason, nothing could be more execrable than a perversion of that gospel. What could equal in danger and deceptive terribleness a false plan of salvation that results not in salvation but in damnation? Jesus asked, " 'What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?'" (Mark 8:36, N.I.V.).
When Pilate examined our Lord in regard to His kingship and work as the Saviour of men, He stated, " 'In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth'" (John 18:37, N.I.V.). Christ came, lived, died, and was resurrected for the express purpose of seeking and saving "that which was lost" (Luke 19:10).
When we contemplate the mystery of redemption—the unbelievable love of God for a rebellious world—we must kneel before the Father and exclaim with Paul, Who can "grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge" (Eph. 3:18, 19, N.I.V.)! "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself" (2 Cor. 5:19). From beginning to end, the "everlasting gospel" is the core, the theme, the foundation, of Scripture. It is the focal point of heaven, and it should receive the constant attention of all mankind, especially the clergy. Our business and joy is to know the true gospel, to have a deep relationship with our Lord, and to communicate this glorious truth in the most loving and persuasive manner possible.
Whatever precise identification one gives to the beast and his mark, it must ever be remembered that the basic concept is the irreconcilable conflict be tween the truth of the "everlasting gospel" on the one hand and the deceptive cunning of the beast on the other hand a beast who is followed and worshiped by a majority of earth's multitudes. Both the issue and its results are delineated in Revelation 13 and 14. Those who, in loyalty to the Creator, refuse to worship and follow the beast and all that goes with it, will endure the wrath of man (chap. 13:8, 12, 15, 16). Those who yield allegiance to the beast and all that goes with it will endure the wrath of God (chap. 14:10).
Astonishingly, the controversy centers over the understanding or misunderstanding of the "everlasting gospel." Thus is emphasized the need for the first angel's proclamation of the "everlasting gospel" to all the inhabitants of earth. Thus is also emphasized the necessity of having a clear under standing of the gospel. Yet how many, even among Christians, clearly under stand this all-important subject?
One may wonder how it is possible for persecution, penalties, and death decrees to be heaped upon those who accept the "everlasting gospel." Yet this should not be too surprising. Since the plan of salvation was put into effect, such opposition has been the case, although never on such a worldwide scale or with such intensity as is brought to view in Revelation 14:6-12.
The reality of Satan is expressly taught in Scripture. Jesus Himself not only knew the authenticity of Satan, but constantly felt the effects of the great conflict raging between Himself and Satan over His plan to save man. If the gospel plan runs like a golden thread from Genesis to Revelation and constitutes the ultimate theme of Scripture, then what must be the battle plan of Satan? The answer is obvious! It is to destroy, wreck, pervert, oppose, down grade, and make of none effect God's gospel with every artifice at his command. This is the great purpose of the enemy and his cohorts.
This conflict between Christ and Satan, between the true and the false gospel, can be seen at the gates of Eden itself in the antagonism of Cain toward Abel. Both were the sons of Adam. Both were sinners. Both were acquainted with the plan of salvation, as illustrated in the system of sacrificial offerings. Both knew that without the shedding of blood there was no remission of sins. Both acknowledged God's claim for reverence and worship. Both knew that the sacrificial system typified the coming of the Redeemer. Both erected altars. Both brought an offering. But now comes the difference, and it is a vast one! Cain followed his own wishes by bringing a bloodless offering, the fruits of his own labor. But .Abel, in submissive obedience, by faith "offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain" (Heb. 11:4). Note carefully that the wrath of Cain, symbolic of the world's wrath upon those who follow Jesus fully and explicitly in these last days, was directed toward his brother, and his jealousy, which turned into hatred, found fruitage in murder! He murdered Abel, not for any wrong Abel had done, but "because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous" (1 John 3:12, N.I.V.). How true it is that " 'everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed'" (John 3:20, N.I.V.).
Here, very early in Scripture, one sees what may be called the "mark of the beast" principle, as opposed to the"seal of God" principle. In Revelation 7, John speaks of the servants of God who are sealed by Him, as opposed to those described in chapters 13 and 14 who are marked by the beast as a symbol of their allegiance to his system. Although this mark and seal principle may be traced throughout Scripture, there are unique, identifiable elements in the seal and mark that have fulfillment only in these last days. The same opposing principles underlying the seal and mark that are to be found throughout sacred history are brought to their universal and ultimate struggle' and resolution in these verses. Indeed, despite the fearful excoriation of the beast, his worshipers, and their false gospel, the entire passage carries a triumphant ring. Every word seems to breathe ultimate victory over the enemies of God and His truth.
The context of this passage shows that from a chronological viewpoint these messages are designed for the last days, both to confront every individual on earth with the inescapable responsibility to decide for or against God's everlasting gospel, and also to prepare and enable those who choose God to stand with heaven in spite of almost overwhelming pressure from the worshipers and fol lowers of the beast. John gives these messages their proper place in prophetic history when in the verses following them he relates that he saw "a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle" (Rev. 14:14). (The sectional title for the verses following the three angels' messages as given by the translators of the New International Version highlights the eschatological nature of those messages—"The Harvest of the Earth.")
In conclusion, what is the true gospel? How is it distinguished from the false gospel? How much of the true gospel must one understand before being safe from worshiping the beast power? Can professed Christians be among beast worshipers? From Adam until now, the issue confronting all men is that of being lost or saved. And being saved is not an accident. Salvation is a plan instituted by God, given to man repeatedly over the centuries, and yet no plan has ever been under such fierce attack. When the gospel is correctly understood and believed, man has true freedom and assurance. Only then does man have realistic hope. Satan's aim is to rob man of this assurance and hope.
In our next article we will take up these and other questions regarding the mark of the beast and the seal of God. —J.R.S.
Who Wants to Be a Hypocrite?
One of our readers recently wrote, "I appreciated your editorial entitled 'A Surprise or a Secret?' but would like to see sometime a little more complete treatment of one aspect that was only alluded to. I agree that the time of Christ's return is a secret, and would interpret this to mean particularly the day and the hour (see Mark 13:32). But is the Christian to be in ignorance with regard to the season (see verse 28)? I would interpret this to mean that we can know that the time is really close, even within a decade (when the time does, indeed, get within a decade). Is this trying to be too specific?"
In answer to this legitimate question, I must confess that we have been negligent in not publishing more articles on the signs of Christ's coming and its nearness. This we plan to do. We are firm believers in the soon return of our Lord. My own personal belief is that we are living in the very last days of this earth's history. May I add to that the fact that my near-90-year-old father still continues to make the major part of every letter to me a treatise on the soon coming of Jesus.
But here is the catch. Some years ago (more than I like to think about), when I was in full-time public evangelism, many of my sermons centered on the soon return of Jesus. Several of them dealt exclusively with such signs of His return as wars, crime, infidelity, parental problems with children, worldliness in the church, lawlessness, famine, earth quakes, floods, et cetera. During those years of the second world war and shortly thereafter, one almost had to search consciously for items or happenings to illustrate the point. Well do I remember when atomic power was first realized by the masses after the bombing of Hiroshima. The fantastic power of the split atom boggled the mind. But what happened? Gradually the unexpected, the uncommon, and the spectacular be came the expected, the common, and unspectacular. As every kind, type, and breed of happening that could be categorized as a sign of the end took place, it seems that Christians paid less and less attention. We hardly realize anymore that Paul's declaration to Timothy reads like our morning newspaper. There will be "terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, dis obedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God having a form of godliness but denying its power" (2 Tim. 3:1- 5, N.I.V.).*
Of course the same quality of sins were performed thirty, forty, fifty, one hundred, even one thousand, years ago. But in quantity and intensity, nothing seems to match the mess our planet is in today, especially when one considers the enormous amount of gospel truth avail able to our civilization. Some of our older readers may remember the concept of man's inevitable and glorious progress in both the moral and material world that was the theme song of many a preacher and scientist a few decades ago. Anyone who raised the idea that the world was getting worse was looked upon as some wide-eyed, Bible-thumping, fundamentalist maniac. But today who would deny that the notion of ever-ascending human progress is hopelessly on the defensive? A man whose profession is in the financial world called me as I was writing this piece. Among other things he said, "There is a horrendous amount of uncertainty in our world." As he spoke, I could almost hear the voice of Jesus loudly declaring the signs of the end: " 'Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world' " (Luke 21:26, N.I.V.).
The point I am trying to make is that there are so many .awful events that the Bible-believing Christian can equate with the signs of the end, so many calamities daily piercing our eyes and ears via print, radio, and TV, that we are numb. Nothing seems to awaken us; nothing is real. Even words have changed. Great, fantastic, and big are archaic. To be current, we now speak of mega this and mega that. Even millionaires are a dime a dozen. Only the billionaire attracts our attention today.
We could go on and on, but we must not let the microwave intensity of shattering world events pummel our brains and anesthetize us. We must not become victims of electronic overkill. Rather, wake up; banish fear, shout for joy! Why? Jesus said it—" 'When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near' " (verse 28, N.I.V.).
To the Pharisees and Sadducees of His day, Jesus exclaimed, "When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?" (Matt. 16:2, 3).
Who wants to be a hypocrite? —J.R.S.
* Texts in this article credited to N.I.V. are from The New International Version. Copyright 1978 by New York International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.