I’ve got Christian friends who know way more about what Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow, or CNN or FOX teach than what Jesus teaches. It’s an unhealthy addiction that has lured God’s people to think their version of a righteous empire and the Kingdom of Jesus is the same.
The Third Angel’s Message
Here’s a relevant thought or two in the third of the Three Angels’ Messages.
A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name. This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus” (Revelation 14:9-12, NIV).
Three Phases: Empire vs. Kingdom
From this set of verses, I will address three phrases that teach us the importance of empire vs. Kingdom as taught in the third angel’s message.
- Mark on the forehead or on their hand
- They too
- No rest day or night
Mark of the Beast
Let’s start with the whole idea of the Mark of the Beast. That mark is on a person’s forehead and hand.
Remember, John is writing the whole book of Revelation in code language. In first-century Israel, this style of writing used coded and hidden messages, often in apocalyptic writing. This writing style wasn’t uncommon in the Jewish tradition of Jesus’ day.
John is trying to tell us something when he talks about the mark of the beast being on a forehead and a hand. So, what’s he trying to say to us?
The Ancient Texts
To know, we have to go back to the ancient texts. Let’s look at Deuteronomy 6:4–9, and Deuteronomy 11:13–21.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, NIV).
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth” (Deuteronomy 11:18-21, NIV).
Believe and Do
Essentially, these admonitions to tie the teachings and love of the Lord on their foreheads and their hands were symbolic of the right beliefs and practicing the right behaviors. By the time Jesus hit the scene, people had started taking these admonitions literally. They were strapping little boxes on their foreheads and on their right hands, each box holding little copies of the Torah. They were called phylacteries. It was an outward display to show everyone that they believed in the law of God and that they practiced the law of God.
Jesus even commented on them in an unflattering tone. He said, “Everything they do is done for people to see. They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long” (Matthew 23:5).
All this to say, when John talks about having a “mark” on your forehead and your right hand, he’s talking about believing and practicing the right things.
In the Book of Revelation, people who receive the “mark of the beast” on their right hands and foreheads believe the rhetoric of the empire. They practiced what the empire prioritized over what God prioritizes. They are greedy, violent, selfish, and rebellious. As Revelation 13 teaches, they deceitfully try to bring the Kingdom and the empire together. They teach and say things about God that bring a lot of confusion to folks on this earth.
Next, focus on the two important words, “They too.”
“If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath (Revelation 14:9, 10).
This references back to the second angel’s message. Babylon is fallen. Babylon, the empire’s political rhetoric, and the dragon behind it are a lost cause. Don’t invest in Babylon!
The Book of Revelation teaches us that if you immerse yourself in empire rhetoric and behavior, if you buy into empire life, if you think the emperor of the empire can somehow save humanity from itself or its sins, you are in danger of suffering the fate of the Beast. You, too, will be fallen. You, too, will be broken in the ways described in the third angel’s message.
This is why my constant plea to church members is to stop trying to defend the emperor and its/his/her minions. Left or right, they are all emperors, and they are all tools of the empire. They might look like a lamb, but behind every empire curtain is a dragon. They are part of an empire that will one day be obliterated by the Rock cut out with no hands (Daniel 2). Turn off the empire radio hosts who always talk about how their political rivals are the enemy. Turn off the talking heads on cable news that are trying to tell you what to think about their version of the empire.
An Unhealthy Addiction
I’ve got friends who attend church weekly and know way more about what Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow, or CNN or FOX teach than what Jesus teaches. It’s an unhealthy addiction that has lured God’s people to think their version of a righteous empire and the Kingdom of Jesus is the same. They are not! The empire is NEVER the Kingdom! And it never will be.
The second angel is clear, Babylon is fallen! The third angel is even more clear! Stay away from all the nonsense of the empire! Be about the kingdom! If you are going to get swept up in empire talk and empire rhetoric, you are going to have less peace, less joy, and less love. Turn it all off and focus on the King and the Kingdom. You will have more of all the good things the Kingdom has to offer.
But this isn’t just about politics. It’s about the world the empire has created and all the things that can distract us from a great Kingdom life.
No Rest Day or Night
The third angel declares there is no rest day or night. This is for those who invest their time and thoughts into the beast and the empire.
In other words, stay clear of empire life. The world will try and swallow you up in its empire ways. Don’t let it. The only thing in this world that can give you rest is a walk with Jesus. The world will offer you all kinds of things to entice you into the empire. Don’t fall for it. You can have all this world but give me Jesus. Hear Him as He beckons you, “Come unto me, all you political junkies, and I will give you rest.”
Our focus needs to be what the third angel calls us to. He calls us among those last-day people who “Keep the commandments of God, and remain faithful to Jesus.”
Mark Witas writes from the Pacific Northwest.
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