The Three Angels of the Apocalypse—4

All true worship is based on loyalty to God's commands, and nothing can take the place of absolute obedience to His will.

J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry.

 

Since the articles in Ms series build closely upon one another, we would suggest that readers refer to the first three (March, May, and July, 1980) as a back ground to this discussion. Those who did not receive the preceding articles may obtain them by sending $1.00 to cover the cost of copying and postage. —Editors.

In our last installment we pointed out that the concept of antichrist, portrayed by various symbols in the books of both Daniel and Revelation, is not merely some past, present, or future personage but rather a system that deceives and destroys God's truth and people. Of course, systems and organizations do not exist apart from individuals. Naziism, for example, cannot be separated from Hitler. And just as Hitler and his system collapsed after a short, horrible period, so, too, will the beast-antichrist confederacy collapse when the great controversy between Christ and Satan culminates in victory for Christ at His second coming.

Blasphemy—contempt for God, His character, His will, His laws—is a major hallmark of this system (see Rev. 13:1, 5, 6). This contempt for God and all He represents is characterized by the worship, not of the true God, but of the man-made beast system. One of the parallels between the beast system and God's last message for earth (symbolized by the three angels' messages) is that both require man's worship. In fact, according to Revelation, chapters 12 to 14, the final struggle between Christ and Satan is over this feature of worship. Man was created to worship God, and even fallen man will worship some thing, system, or person.

Thus the world will be divided into two camps—those who worship the beast, or antichrist, system and those who worship the Creator God.

In light of these thoughts, note that the blasphemous antichrist system so vividly described in Revelation 13:1-10 is not necessarily an avowed atheistic power. Atheism, by its very nature, is part of this worldwide system opposed to God, but the worst blasphemy is not that of an atheist who shakes his fist in God's face. Far more reprehensible and insidious (and therefore more dangerous) is the professed Christian who, despite his outward appearance, is a stranger to the actual character of Christ and who allows himself to be used as Satan's agent within the church itself. The rebuke of Christ to the Laodicean church (Rev. 3:14-22), which is symbolic of the condition of His followers in these last days, is significant: "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth" (verses 15, 16).

The open rebellion of the avowed non-Christian is a far less threat to Christ and His church than the lukewarm pro fessed Christian who worships God only on his own terms. Thus the word lukewarm describes far more than sitting in the pew only at Easter and Christmas accompanied by spasmodic financial support. Lukewarmness includes failure to ascertain God's will through carelessness in serious study of the Scriptures; parroting of error because the majority would have it so; loyalty to a religious system merely because of family tradition; rationalizing disobedience to specific commands of God for the sake of unity and peace; acceptance of false principles in order to satisfy self-indulgent desires; and attempting to control men's minds through illicit use of religion. Numerous illustrations of these and other blasphemous characteristics of lukewarmness are to be found in history and current events. The point is that blasphemy in one of its ugliest forms rears its head within the church itself in the person of those who claim God's name but reject His authority over their lives. These may appear to be worshipers of God, but in essence they worship other gods.

Too often we preach on Jesus' parable (Matt. 7:21-23) of the home built on foundations of sand and forget the preamble as well as the point of the parable itself. The introduction reveals that not all professed Christians will enter the kingdom. The Saviour here is not speaking to atheists or to a non-Christian society, but to those who have prophesied, cast out devils, and performed many wonderful things—all in the name of Christ. Why is it that many of these will hear the words "depart from me, ye that work iniquity"? The answer is plain. They have failed to conform their lives to God's will and to operate on the principles of His kingdom. They have created their own religious system and labeled it Christianity. Revelation 14:12 indicates that obedience is the foundation of true worship. Anything less is iniquitous. What could be more blasphemous than a self-proclaimed Christian who is actually working at cross purposes to God? Such are "workers of iniquity."

Returning to the parable, we find two homes on two different foundations sand and stone. Note that the common denominator is that both builders erect homes and both builders are aware of how to build safely and correctly. The variable is that one obediently built on the bedrock according to the instructions of the Master Designer while the other contemptuously, blasphemously, built in his own way on the flimsy sand. Here again we see the element of true worship versus false worship.

Obviously, the rock foundation represents Christ. Building on Him represents those who base their lives on Him. Connecting this parable with the prophet Isaiah's words gives a more complete picture. "Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste" (Isa. 28:16).

All true worship is based on loyalty to God's commands, and nothing can take the place of absolute obedience to His will. King Saul at Gilgal appeared to be quite conscientious as he stood before Israel's army and offered a sacrifice to God, but his piety was hypocritical (see 1 Sam. 15). The king of Israel performed a religious worship service in direct opposition to the explicit commands of God! This was not the first time Saul had set aside God's commands to follow the way that seemed right to him. Like many today, Saul was accustomed to making decisions on the basis of political, economic, or special expediency rather than on the basis of strict fidelity to God. Thus God gave him his final opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty by commanding him to utterly destroy the Amalekites, including their livestock.

Despite God's careful instructions, presumption led Saul to follow his own inclination. On his way home from the most brilliant victory that he had ever gained, Saul met the prophet Samuel, who had been sent to him by God. De based by his disobedience, Saul greeted Samuel with lying lips: "Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord. And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?" (1 Sam. 15:13, 14).

Saul began to excuse his disobedience by explaining that he had spared the best animals for sacrifices to God. When Samuel began to relate God's message of rebuke, Saul defiantly protested that he had done God's will. Samuel replied, "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king" (1 Sam. 15:22, 23).

This story perhaps best describes the issues at stake in the conflict between Satan and Christ as carried out by their followers—the beast worshipers of Rev elation 13 and God's remnant of Revelation 14:12 "that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." This latter group build on Christ the true foundation, not on some man-made sand foundation that cannot stand the test. Those who build on Him learn that worshiping the true God requires careful obedience to His building instructions.

It should be emphasized repeatedly that the only truly important thing in life is our eternal salvation. "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mark 8:36, 37). The incomparable value of our salvation is best seen in the cost of the cross. In the light of the pricelessness of salvation, any attempt to change, ignore, or reject God's plan to save man is blasphemy! Any attempt to divert men's minds from Christ to an organization, a theory, or a person is blasphemy. Any substitution or counterfeit for the true gospel is blasphemy!

Thus, the Lord's ultimate concern for humanity is salvation—nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. The ultimate concern of the prince of evil is to destroy humanity, and his most insidious way of destruction is to entice man with a counterfeit gospel. No wonder Jesus describes Satan as a murderer and such a liar that there is no truth in him (John 8:44; 10:10). The beast described in Revelation 13:2 receives his power, throne, and great authority from Satan the dragon (see Rev. 12:9), and thus has similar characteristics. It is this beast, antichrist conglomerate, that is the object of the most fearful threatenings God ever addressed to mortals: "If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation" (Rev. 14:9, 10). Only those whose names are in the Lamb's Book of Life will be spared (see Rev. 13:8).

What is the basic difference between those who worship the beast and his image and those who worship the Lamb, Christ Jesus? It is the same difference found between those who build on the Rock and those who build on the sand. As previously noted in other articles, that difference is found in two methods of salvation that can be traced from Genesis to Revelation. One is salvation by man's own methods and works, the other is salvation through grace by faith in Jesus Christ.

In recapitulation, consider the following salient points made in this brief ex position of chapters 13 and 14 of Revelation.

1. The three angels' messages of Revelation 14, although mysteriously symbolic, should be carefully studied and understood, for their messages constitute God's last invitation to mankind and culminate in the second coming of Christ.

2. The first angel's message (verses 6, 7) is a combined command and announcement. The command to fear, or honor, God and worship Him as the Creator implies the doctrine of creation, which is the indispensable foundation for life now and for eternity. It is a vitally appropriate command in these last hours of earth's history when the inroads of evolutionary concepts have largely obliterated from men's minds the creative power and acts of God.

3. All three messages are in the setting of the "everlasting gospel," which is to be preached to "every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" (verse 6). The word everlasting, when used in connection with the gospel, indicates its basic continuity from Eden lost to Eden restored.

4. The second angel's message reveals a new aspect of the everlasting gospel. It is a call to come out of the religious confusion existing in these last days and yield allegiance to "God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:3, 4).

5. The third message (Rev. 14:9-12) constitutes the most vehement and fearful condemnation to be found in Scripture. This beast—its image and mark—portrays a worldwide antichrist system that has as its focal point a false system of worship and salvation in contrast to God's one and only plan of salvation. In the setting of the three angels' messages, these two opposing systems represent the final phase of the bitter controversy between Christ and Satan.

6. From the New Testament stand point, this antichrist system applies first to pagan Rome, second to the medieval abortion of the faith with its persecution by a state-church system, and last to its revival in a world-encompassing, religio-political conglomerate that will pose a threat to the very existence of God's faithful remnant, who steadfastly worship God according to His commands.

7. Central in this life-and-death struggle over the true gospel is the valid relationship of law and grace (see Rev. 14:12).

8. Finally, ultimate victory in the great struggle is assured to Christ and His followers, who, by His grace, have resisted the beast and his mark (see Rev. 15:2-4). —J.R. S.


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J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry.

September 1980

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