Text: Rev 14:6-13
OT Text :Exodus 20:1-6 (The first 3 commandments)
Featured Verse: Rev 14:7 And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
Main Idea: The war being waged between Satan and the church hinges on the question of who we will worship. The consequences of that choice are enormous.
This is the fifth vision in a series of seven visions. It has some similarity to the fifth seal judgment and the fifth trumpet judgment.
The first four visions of this series have shown the opposing sides in a cosmic war.* Now three angels from heaven narrate the drama. It makes me think of a boxing announcer calling out the introduction to a heavy weight fight.
"In one corner we have the ferocious enemies of God. The reigning champions of human empire, the unholy trinity of dragon, beast and false prophet.** Who----ooooo is like the beast?"
"And in the other corner, wearing the blood washed robes of the lamb, we have 144,000 followers of the lamb."
"Ladies and gentleman, this has the look of a slaughter."
From an earthly vantage point, the battle seems hopeless. But God's Spirit works through his church even when they are small and seemingly insignificant. Those who resist the beast - even at the cost of their own lives - "conquer." They will conquer the same way that Jesus conquered, but "not loving their lives unto death." (12:11)
But what really comes to the forefront of this vision is the way in which the whole battle hinges on the question of worship. On one hand, the first angel reminds us that God alone is the creator and he alone is worthy of worship. (14:7) On the other hand, the second angel announces that coming judgment on the enemy city of man, and the third proclaims judgment on those who "worship the beast and his image." (14:9)
As the armies close for battle, it becomes apparent how this will be fought. This spiritual battle will not be fought with swords and spears. Instead it is a war of worship. The dragon wins when he convinces people to worship the beast. he will use power, seduction, and any form of manipulation to accomplish this task. On the other hand, when the church resists this call - they are victorious. Even if resisting means that they face physical death in this world. John reassures them, "blessed are the dead who die in the Lord." (14:13)
Conclusion and Application
Christians reading this in the late first century would have been very familiar with a battle being waged on those lines. The Emperor Domitian had pushed the envelope on Emperor worship even further. In a display of beastly power, he trumpeted his own claims at divinity and presented this idolatrous worship as a test of political allegiance.*** As we saw in prior readings, there is evidence that the regional powers of Asia Minor encouraged this sort of thing in ways that mirrored the actions of the false prophet (the second beast from the land.) For some Christians, the question of whether to worship the emperor would be a question of life and death. These visions help them to see that conflict as being the heart of the cosmic battle. A small act of false worship could satisfy the emperor and avoid persecution, but even a small act of worship was complicity with the dragon. Even a small act of false worship was surrender in the front line of the battle. The consequences were catastrophic.
For some Christians today, this remains a very real threat.**** But, for most Christians in the West, the trial of false worship remains less overt and more subtle. We are not called to worship literal idols, but there are battle lines that run throughout our soul. Money, sex and power are presented to us as absolute masters and we are often called to worship them in ways that deny our discipleship and compromise our witness. At first, the compromise may seem small, but small actions are linked to a larger cosmic conflict. Small compromises lead to bigger compromises, which flow down stream into the pool of apostasy.
Where do you find the battle lines to be drawn in your own heart and life?
* Remember, that the dragon was said to "war" against the church (12:17) and the followers of the Lamb are an assembly in the visionary form of an army mustered for battle.
** Since the second beast has a type of religious role and directs worship back to the first beast (that rose from the sea), it seems that John takes to calling this second beast (that rose from the land) by the name of "false prophet." That term is found in Rev 16:13, 19:20 and 20:10 seemingly as a replacement for "second beast." Understandably, it would not be easy to keep using the titles "first beast" and "second beast."
*** J. B. Caird wrote, "It would be within the realm of legal competence of the local authorities to bring a capital charge against anyone who did not join in the worship of the emperor; how systematically they did this would be another matter." (The Revelation of Saint John, p 177)
**** As we pray for the church in China, or learn about the church in India during the adult SS time at CRPC, we see many examples in which Christians are being pressed with this choice.