Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 96: Whose Side Are You On?
November 25, 2012
Last week I said the Revelation is supposed be about exhortation, not speculation. This week I am going to teach you the most important key I can to help you read it for yourself.
* I will also tell you what the “MARK of the Beast” is.
PRAYER//SCRIPTURE READING: Rev. 13:15-18 (Eddie Kelley)
I grew up assuming that Revelation was all about the future. Maybe you did too. So I was very surprised when learned there were FOUR LEGITIMATE WAYS of interpreting Revelation for Christians who believe the Bible is the world of God:
1. FUTURISTS: The majority of the events will occur in the end times.
This is most common view among evangelical Christians and it’s the view of the “Left Behind” series. But it’s only been popular since 1850; before that it was the crazy-talk option.
2. IDEALISTS: The majority of the events are strictly symbolic, describing timeless truths.
The idealist looks for themes, such as God triumphing over evil. For 1500 years, this was how almost all Christians and theologians understood Revelation.
3. HISTORICISTS: The events cover the span of history, not the end times.
And so, the Antichrist may have been Hitler or Napoleon or Caesar; there is little agreement on interpretations.
4. PRETERISTS: The majority of the events occurred in lifetime of John’s original audience.
The preterist believe John was writing about “current” events and events soon to come. Technically I am a “Partial-Preterist,” since I believe some of Revelation is future.
* Given all this, we must approach Revelation with humility, lest claim certainty where there isn’t any.
OPENING UP REVELATION
The most important question is not how you interpret Revelation, it is if GOD is able to SPEAK to you through Revelation.
* The reason why I loved “BREAKING the CODE” is that this took me past speciation to LIFE-change; it freed the Bible for me.
Again, the key point was that Revelation was written to be an ENCOURAGEMENT, to promote exhortation, not SPECULATION.
Q What is the THEME of Revelation?
“God wins, and we are on his side.”
When the FIRST READERS got their copy of Revelation, they did not think, “Wow, this is weird,” but, “Wow, God is good.”
* I want you to read Revelation and be BLESSED, ENCOURAGED, and CONVICTED.
My goal is to OPEN Revelation up for you as I did last week. That is what we will do today, beginning with the single most important interpretive tool I can give to you.
Let’s look at one of the most CONFUSING CHAPTERS of Revelation, one that has perhaps caused MORE SPECULATION than any other passage.
* But it also one of the MOST PRACTICAL ones for us in 21st century America:
Revelation 13:1-4 And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. 2 The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was astonished and followed the beast. 4 Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?”
Q Can you imagine what John’s FIRST READERS would have thought?
Actually, it would have made PERFECT SENSE to them. Let me show you why.
Take a look at this political cartoon:
Q Who is this guy?
Q Where is he?
Now imagine someone a 1000 YEARS from now, who knows nothing of the context, trying to understand this bizarre picture.
Q Is he supposed to be a giant? Is he turning into stone?
You know why his legs are steel, his feet are buildings, he’s surrounded by smoke, and he’s staring resolutely to the East. You can easily understand the artist’s intent, because:
* When we know the CONTEXT, we can identify the SYMBOLS.
THEOLOGY IN PICTURES
Revelation is all about SYMBOLISM. Instead of using LOGICAL ARGUMENT and deductive reasoning like Paul the apostle, John uses SYMBOLS, METAPHORS, IMAGES and PICTURES.
* John’s symbols are WILD, especially because we are unfamiliar with them. They are like the PICASSO of the Bible.
If you miss the symbolism and try to take everything too LITERALLY, it gets really weird really fast: Do you think JESUS will really be a BLOOD STAINED LAMB? Have a SWORD for a tongue?
Like the 9/11 cartoon, many of his symbols are rooted in John’s CULTURE. These would have been EQUALLY OBVIOUS to his readers.
* A good STUDY BIBLE or COMMENTARY is invaluable because you can’t understand the symbolism without help.
They are also deeply rooted in the OT; there are 250 different REFERENCES to the OT in Revelation especially in DANIEL and EZEKIEL. It’s impossible to understand it without the OT.
FINDING THE BEAST
CASE in POINT: Daniel 7 contains a vision of “four great beasts came out of the sea.”
These beasts include a LION, a BEAR, a LEOPARD, and some sort of TERRIFYING forth BEAST that had TEN HORNS. Most importantly for us, Daniel tells us exactly what they represent: FOUR EMPIRES. We are pretty sure of which empires:
* Lion: Babylon
* Bear: Medes and Persians
* Leopard: Greece
* Terrifying beast: Rome.
With that in mind, and understanding about symbols, let’s take another look at Revelation:
Revelation 13:1-2 And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea.
* John quotes this almost VERBATIM from the Greek translation of Daniel.
He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority.
So this new BEAST has to be a EMPIRE, but what empire? Here is where it gets interesting: This beast includes PORTIONS of Daniels beasts, including ten horns for the terrifying beast.
* John adds “SEVEN HEAD” which he later says represents seven hills – ROME is frequently called “The city of seven hills.”
This beast represents none other than the ROMAN EMPIRE, which contained the all of the other fallen empires.
* But the most important addition is that “The DRAGON gave the beast his power”; Satan is the power behind Rome.
Q WHO do you think that represents?
Revelation 13:3 One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was astonished and followed the beast.
Probably a reference to the instability after NERO’S DEATH.
Revelation 13:4 Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?”
The beast is FIGURATIVE, but the WORSHIP was NOT. By John’s day, all good Roman citizen literally worship the emperor – there were temples, priests, and sacrifices for him.
* The “EMPEROR CULT” flourished more in ASIA MINOR, where John was writing to, than anywhere else in the empire.
In the letter to PERGAMUM, Jesus says “I know where you live –where Satan has his throne.” This was not figurative:
In 9 B.C. they set memorial that expressed their gratitude to Caesar Augustus, their Savior, who “exceeded the hopes of all who had anticipated good tidings [literally: “Gospel”].
* The Christian proclamation that Jesus was “LORD and SAVIOR” and brought peace was a subversive POLITICAL MESSAGE.
The state is not god; the EMPEROR is NOT LORD, he does not save.
THE MARK OF THE BEAST
Q So if the beast is Rome, what is the Mark of the Beast?
Revelation 13:18 This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.
In John’s day, it was common for names to have a numerical value based on its letters. In Pompeii they found some graffiti that said “I love her whose number is 545!”
* The number of the deranged emperor Nero was 666.
* John had to be DISCREET or he’d be executed for sedition.
And the Mark of the Beast? On one level, it simply a HIGHLY IMAGINATIVE way of referring to MONEY with Nero’s name and face. You had to use Nero’s image to buy and sell.
* I believe this is the infamous Mark of the Beast.
But on another level, it was very difficult for Christians to be involved in COMMERCE without participating in PAGAN WORSHIP.
* The entire commerce system was based on guilds and these GUILDS included worshipping false gods, including the emperor.
The MARK of the BEAST was a SYMBOL of ALLEGIANCE, just as the JEWS were commanded to place the COMMANDS of GOD on their hands and foreheads.
WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?
The SECOND key THEME of Revelation is “COME OUT from among them” and be holy and separate.
* John is warning his readers to NOT COMPROMISE, to stay FAITHFUL to Jesus, even in light of the persecution.
WORSHIPPING the EMPEROR and false gods in order to get a job was not being “PRAGMATIC,” it was choosing to be on SATAN’S SIDE, the power behind the empire and the emperor.
So far this has all been very INTERESTING and intellectually stimulating, but I said this chapter was one of the MOST PRACTICAL in Revelation.
* Now I get to show you how this all relates to you, and might not like it very much.
The problem with the FUTURIST view of Revelation is that it puts all of the ATTENTION debates about WHAT HAPPENS, when. It never asks what is happening NOW in the church.
Convinced that the Mark of the Beast is a COMPUTER CHIP, we spend more time sharing stories of CATS being given The Mark that we never look at the SUBTLE WAYS we are caught up in our culture’s cult.
Even if the PRETERIST is right and the beast was Rome, or the FUTURIST was right and it will be China or Canada, the IDEALISTS are RIGHT – there still is and will be many BEAST-LIKE nations.
* Rome was like Babylon and Assyrian before it, and many nations since have been very beast like.
NOW, DON’T STONE ME...
Years ago, I read an ARTICLE in about Revelation in Christianity Today written by an American teaching at a seminary in South America:
We had located John’s Beast, and it was the Roman Empire that had turned blasphemous by calling the emperor divine. John believed the Roman Empire had become so violent, so oppressive, and so idolatrous that Christians were told: “Come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins” (18:4, NRSV). People of the ancient world were so awed by Rome’s power that they asked, “Who is like the Beast, and who can fight against it?” (13:4).
Now, in modern Uruguay, I put the same question to my class: “Who is like the Beast today?” Uruguay recently had emerged from a decade of military dictatorship, and several of my students had been imprisoned and tortured. The answer, in that context, seemed obvious to me.
There was a pause — and then a thoughtful student said, “For us the Beast is the great power from the North. Our military dictators were trained in the United States. They cooperated with the American empire and got rich from it. Companies and policies that shape our economy come from the United States. Your coins say ‘In God we trust,’ but actually you trust in your weapons and your dollars.”
“You’re in bed with the Beast,” my student was saying. Hard words to hear from a fellow believer. Isn’t America, after all, a Christian nation? But John of Patmos had the chutzpah to say that any earthly power can warp toward blasphemy, violence, and arrogance. Don’t confuse loyalty to any government or human society with loyalty to Jesus. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
Wow. How do you like them apples? What do you think? Can you see the ways that America is very BEAST-LIKE? Despite being a supposedly CHRISTIAN NATION, we impose our POLITICAL POWER around the world and our MORALS and VALUES through HOLLYWOOD.
* As I read REVELATION 18, the lament over the fall of Babylon, I noticed just how much we do sound like her.
WHERE IS YOUR ALLEGIANCE?
John’s message to us is the same as to his first readers: “COME out of her.” John’s message is no less vital for us, perhaps more so because THEY DIDN’T have any ILLUSIONS about Rome’s anti-God nature.
This doesn’t mean (for us or them) to literally move to Canada. It means to carefully EVALUATE your ALLEGIANCE.
* On FACEBOOK, I have listed my political view as “Christian 1st, American 2nd” and it really must be a distant 2nd.
TAKE A DEEPER LOOK
If I were to say this type of this on Facebook, I would get a predicable response: “Why don’t you just move to CANADA? America – love it or leave it!”
* But that is not the point – I DON’T HATE AMERICA, I love it, it is a great country and has also done much good.
The point is that we are so deeply ENMESHED in this country and this culture that it is also most IMPOSSIBLE for us to sort out which parts of our American BELIEFS, ATTITUDES, and ACTIONS are not Christian.
RENEWING OF OUR MINDS
Put another way, we aren’t REQUIRED to WORSHIP the emperor, but there are many ways we are DEEPLY INFLUENCE by the American Cult without knowing about it.
Q In what ways are you “AMERICAN 1ST, Christina 2nd?”
Q When is the last time you evaluated how much of the AMERICAN CULT you have participated in?
I DON’T think we CAN will ourselves to see correctly; it takes a divine act of the Holy Spirit of renewing our mind.
Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will.
This is a PASSIVE IMPERATIVE – passive means it happens to you, imperative means you are being commanded to do it. How do you do that? It begins by SUBMITTING.
* The previous verse makes the analogy of WILLING SACRIFICE, a lamb that puts itself on the altar.
But it doesn’t end there; it doesn’t do any good to say you are SUBMITTING to God and ASKING him to RENEW your mind, but WATCHING TV for 40 hours.
* Get free of the HUM of CULTURE.
* Read your BIBLE.
* PRAY and DEVELOP relationship with God.
* Spend time with godly friends.
* I deeply believe in TRAVEL and READING outside of my context to help me understand a little better.
I look forward to taking our daughters to MEXICO so they can start to get a picture of life outside of America
THE AMERICAN CULT
But the other thing you need is TRUTH, clarity about how Americanity contradicts Christianity. So I want you to evaluate:
Here are some of the KEY FALSE TEACHINGS of the American Cult that we must reject and “come out of”:
1. 1ST FALSE TEACHING: INDEPENDENCE
The first false teaching is that we are our OWN MASTERS.
We are FIERCELY INDEPENDENT. Did you read about UN ELECTION MONITORS observing US elections? Did you react as strongly to that as I did?
* The point isn’t that we need election monitors, it is our response of DEFIANCE.
We ELECT our leaders and DEPOSE them at our will.
Q Have you ever considered that DEMOCRACY ISN’T a BIBLICAL form of government?
Reading Dante’s Divine Comedy helped open my eyes to that. I think that democracy is the best we can do, but not the best.
The problem is that we transfer that INDEPENDENCE to EVERY OTHER AREA of life – you aren’t the boss of me! The deeply Biblical idea of MUTUAL SUBMISSION and obedience is shunned as old-fashioned.
* EG: Church
2. 2ND FALSE TEACHING: IT’S ALL ABOUT ME
Fill in the blank for me: The CUSTOMER is ALWAYS ________. Where in the BIBLE is that? It isn’t. The entire COMMERCIAL SECTOR is driven by the philosophy that it is ALL ABOUT YOU, they live to serve you.
* Just think how you responded the last time a business told you “NO”; think of the RIGHTEOUS RAGE the erupted in you.
The marketplace does not exist to SERVE you – it exists to provide a FORUM to MUTUALLY SERVE each other. We all serve each other in various ways and that service can be converted and traded via money.
* CUSTOMER SERVICE, as Americanism views it, dupes you into believing that you are ONLY SERVED, never served.
I see this very often in the way that we TREAT WAITERS and EMPLOYEES – they are not your servant, you are MUTUALLY SERVING each other.
Q What does YOUR TREATMENT of WAITERS reveal about you?
That perspective is unhealthy enough, but is downright when we start to view GOD as your SERVANT.
* It becomes “What’s in it for me?”
* Please text “Sunday School Teacher” ; service is almost over
3. 3RD FALSE TEACHING: SELF-SUFFICIENCY
This the entire point of last week’s teaching, yet it is the single BIGGEST HERETICAL TEACHING of the American Cult: I don’t need Jesus. I am good enough, I can do this on my own.
Even after hearing last week’s sermon, some of you are unconvinced, “I am not THAT BAD, I am a pretty GOOD guy. I take care of my FAMILY, pay my TAXES, don’t CHEAT on my spouse.”
Like the Laodiceans, you need to see that you are NOT GOOD ENOUGH, you are broken, you are weak.
* Because you were made in the IMAGE of GOD, you still reflect much that is ADMIRABLE, but apart from God you have nothing.
As near as I can tell, there are only THREE WAYS to realize the truth about our helpless dependence on Christ and his forgiveness and restoration:
a. Accept it BY FAITH, “I don’t see how much I need you, but I believe that I do. Help my unbelief and help me throw myself at your feet for mercy and grace.
b. Take a FIELD TRIP: Hit the BOTTOM and be forced to see the truth.
c. If ignore what we see at the bottom, the only way left will be when it is TOO LATE, when you see Jesus FACE to FACE.
When you see Jesus, the RISEN LORD as we read about him last week, when you see GOD in all of his MAJESTY and AUTHORITY, your creator who gave you the very breath of life, then your GREATEST SIN will be FRIGHTENINGLY CLEAR:
* You REFUSED to obey the CREATOR of your soul and refused to glorify him as king.
We are ALL going to DIE and standing before Jesus will be no less TERRIFYING for US than John, but by his grace we may hear “well done, my good and faithful servant.”
But is it is only by his grace – there is NOTHING you can do to EASE that day: No CHURCH ATTENDANCE, feeding the POOR, loving your SPOUSE.
* NOTHING puts God in your DEBT.
EVALUATION AND ERADICATION
As you look at yourself, in what ways have you taken the MARK of the BEAST? In what ways are you part of the AMERICAN CULT?
* I PRAY God CONVICTS you of that in our worship time and in the coming week.
What do you do to “COME OUT of her”?? That is yet another chance to realize your desperate need for Jesus:
2. LEAN into Jesus and ask him to FILL the EMPTY SPOTS that you have filled with AMERICANISM.
Q & A