The Three Angels of the Apocalypse—3

The message of Revelation is the story of the great struggle between Christ and Satan in its ultimate issues.

J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry.
Since the articles in this series build closely upon one another, we would suggest that readers refer to the first two installments (March and May, 1980) as a background to this discussion. Those who did not receive the preceding articles may obtain them by sending $1.00 to cover the costs of copying and post age. —The Editors.

The previous article in this series emphasized the great conflict brought to view throughout Scripture, centering on the everlasting gospel (see Rev. 14:6, 7). The "mark of the beast" principle versus the "seal of God" principle runs through Scripture like a black-and-gold thread of death and life. On one side stands a faithful remnant who have understood and accepted God's true plan of salvation. On the other stands the mighty host of rebellious sinners who have failed or refused to believe and accept it. This "great controversy" theme permeates all of Scripture. There we see the great controversy between Christ and Satan over universal leader ship, the great controversy over the salvation of men, the great controversy over the way of salvation.

These are supreme and ultimate issues.

It should be repeatedly stressed that both the Old and New Testaments speak of a twofold concern. First is the vindication of God's character, which is in separably linked with His right to be the supreme commander of the universe. Second is the method and plan of God to save man. Both of these concerns are priority targets at which Satan aims his special blows. Our one little lost-sheep planet is the battlefield on which the great controversy struggle is being fought.

Although the principle of the mark and seal may be traced throughout Scripture, there are unique, identifiable elements in both, which have fulfillment only in these last days. The seal of God and Satan's opposing mark are brought to their final, universal struggle and resolution in the verses constituting the three angels' messages of Revelation 14.

Daniel 7 throws light on the symbolism of the beast found in Revelation 13. In Daniel 7 we find world history clearly symbolized by a lion, leopard, bear, and a horrendous, indescribable fourth beast. The identification of Daniel's beast symbols is not left to speculation. Daniel 7:17 specifically states that the four beasts represent four kings (or kingdoms, according to the LXX, Theodotian, and the Vulgate). Daniel 7:23 equates the fourth beast with the fourth kingdom. Most scholars agree that the four beasts of Daniel 7 represent the same world empires symbolized by the image of gold, silver, brass, iron, and clay of Daniel 2. Beginning with the Babylonian Empire, symbolized by the head of gold in Daniel 2 and by the lion in Daniel 7, we can easily trace the identity of the other symbols as verified by history (see box).

Coming to Revelation 13:1, 2, we find the beast depicted there to be a composite of the four beasts found in Daniel 7. John alludes to these characteristics in the reverse order of their appearance in Daniel, since he starts with the world government at the time of his writing, Rome, and then traces the line back to Babylon.

We should note also that the beast with its mark that God warns against in Revelation 14:9-12 is undoubtedly the same as the beast of Revelation 13:1, 2. Revelation 14 specifically refers to the beast and his image, while Revelation 13 describes this beast and the creation of an image to it. The beast and its image are united in their demands that men receive the mark of the beast. Thus, anyone who worships the beast also worships the image and is a bearer of the mark.

In our study of the beast and its mark, we need to keep in mind that the story of Revelation is the story of Christ versus antichrist. Especially in chapters 11 to 20 do we find antichrist occupying the scene. Next to Christ Himself, antichrist is the most promiment feature of the book. The actual word antichrist is not found in Revelation, but the meaning is. It is a term that clearly refers to one who is opposed to Christ, against Christ, in stead of Christ. All these rebellious roles assume the prerogatives of Christ and militate not only against His person but also against His spirit and principles. The term antichrist appears in the New Testament only in the writings of John (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). In these passages the apostle assumes his readers' knowledge concerning antichrist and that they believe the antichrist's full manifestation will be in connection with the last days. As a result, John does not specifically identify antichrist as a particular person or organization. So also the beast symbolism in Revelation 13 and 14 far transcends any identification of a specific individual, emperor, or other personage. Rather it is a composite power. Paul describes the same power in 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12 as a developing apostasy, beginning in the days of the apostles and culminating in the manifestation of the "man of sin" or "man of lawlessness," who opposes God by sitting in the temple of God and equating himself with God. Furthermore the work of this spiritual kingdom of evil climaxes with the second coming of Jesus Christ, who will destroy the antichrist, the beast, the dragon, the scar let-clad woman, and all those associated with them.

It should also be noted that the dragon of Revelation 12, specifically identified as Satan, is the one who gives the beast his power, seat, and authority (see Rev. 13:2). Thus there is an unholy confederacy of evil that permeates earthly powers and kingdoms manifested throughout history. It is an unholy union of political and religious power, which seeks to dominate and control the minds of men not only through force but by means of intrigue, falsehood, and error.

The controversy theme is continued in the two women of Revelation 12 and 17, embracing the faithful and the faithless of all ages. In Revelation 17 we see what some interpret as a symbol of an apostate church—a woman riding on a scar let-colored beast, full of blasphemous names, with seven heads and ten horns. This gaudily clad woman is in marked contrast to the sun-clothed woman rep resenting true Christianity, in Revelation 12. The apostate woman is arrayed in purple and scarlet, bedecked with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication, and on her forehead is written the name of "mystery: Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth's abominations" (see Rev. 17:4, 5, R.S.V.). Many Bible students have identified this woman, drunk with the blood of saints, as Rome in both its phases of pagan and spiritual apostasy. The apostle Paul saw this spiritual apostasy working within the church very early (see Acts 20:29, 30). The persecutions and martyrdom of pagan Rome were few compared with those in later centuries.

It is not our purpose to indict any now living, whatever their spiritual heritage. All who oppose Christ and His church, either by persecuting cruelty or doctrinal counterfeit, come under the heading of antichrist. Above all, Satan himself, as Revelation 12 portrays him, is the supreme antichrist. Yet he rarely works against Christ in a direct, open confrontation, but through individuals and religious and political institutions.

Thus the beast has a repeated application. First to pagan Rome, second, to the medieval persecutions of the state church, and last, in the final days of earth's history to a revival of a political and religious persecuting power that seeks to destroy Christ's faithful, patient remnant.

The climax of Revelation 13 combined with the third angel's message of Revelation 14 describing God's warning against those who receive the mark of the beast, clearly indicates a worldwide enforcement of a "mark" under pain of boycott and death. The Greek word for "mark" is charagma, which means an etching, a stamp, a badge of servitude, or a sculptured figure. Note carefully that the image to the beast figures prominently in Revelation 13. This symbolism draws heavily from Daniel 3 where a death decree initiated by Babylon is connected with the worship of an image. In essence John is saying that the same situation found in ancient Babylon (in which a political-religious power demanded worship on pain of death) will prevail on a worldwide basis in the last days.

The climax of the third angel's mes sage with its warning against worshiping the beast and receiving his mark is found in Revelation 14, verse 12: "Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, for those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (R.S.V.). Central in the -controversy between Christ and Satan is the relationship of law and grace, which is so greatly misunderstood by many today. Organized religion seems to fluctuate between the equally fatal extremes of antinomiariism and legalism.

In connection with this concept, it is significant to note that God's faithful, who are protected by His seal instead of receiving the mark of the beast, are described as commandment keepers (Rev. 14:12). The worshipers of the beast, in contrast, violate the first commandment, for they worship the beast (chap. 13:8); the second commandment, for they worship an image of the beast (verse 15); the third commandment, for they prefer the name of the beast to the name of the Creator (verse 17); and the fourth commandment, for no idolater can rightly observe the memorial of Him who created all things.

The fourth commandment, which calls men to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy on the basis of God's Creatorship, is echoed in the first angel's message of Revelation 14:6, 7, which commands every nation, kindred, tongue, and people to worship God who made "heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters." What an appropriate command in these last hours of earth's history when the inroads of evolutionary concepts have to a large extent obliterated from the minds of earth's inhabitants the creative power and acts of the God of the universe. These are memorialized by the fourth commandment. Those disloyal to their Creator and Redeemer find it impossible to experience true worship.

When Babylon's King Nebuchadnezzar recovered from the beast syndrome (see Daniel 4), the record says that he lifted his eyes to heaven and his own testimony states that "my reason re turned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives for ever" (Dan. 4:34, R.S.V.). When will men know and understand that God is supreme, God is the Creator, God rules the universe? Beasts look down to the earth, not up to their Creator in praise and acknowledgement. Not until Nebuchadnezzar lifted his eyes to Heaven was his reason restored. This is an important point. Nebuchadnezzar's disgraceful downfall to be a subject of the beast kingdom was a result of his own self-glorification and pride of achievement. "Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power and as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?" (verse 30, R.S.V.). The record states that while the words were still in his mouth his kingdom was taken from him and he became like an animal. The same self-magnification is the basic principle also of those who worship the beast and receive his mark. The line is thus drawn between those who ac knowledge that they are but creatures and worship their Maker in harmony with His prescribed way and those who worship the creature—themselves and others like themselves—and worship not in the way God prescribes but in their own way.

Thus John paints the issue as obedience or disobedience to God's commandments. The test in the last days will not center primarily on the commandments of the second table of the law—man's relationship to man—but on the first four, which deal with man's relation ship to God. All unrighteousness grows out of ungodliness. Man cannot behave properly toward his fellow man if he is not in a right relationship to God (see Rom. 1:18). Thus the test centers on the first table, not the second. And the first table of the law revolves around the recognition of God as Creator. In fact, the whole plan of salvation has as its basic underpinning the doctrine of Creation. Think it not strange that throughout all Scripture prominence is given to the Creation doctrine. We will discuss this more fully in our next installment. Carl H. F. Henry says: "The doctrine of creation is so basic as to be the indispensable foundation for any tolerable, viable human existence. The proof of this is being spelled out in the progressive dis integration of the spirit and life of modern, homeless man. When the truth of this is clearly seen, the Church will speak about God the Father, Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, with a new relevance to today's growing crowd of lonely men, to its lost and nameless, to its homeless and hopeless men." —Christianity Today, Jan. 5, 1962, p. 3.


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J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry.

July 1980

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