Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Undivided loyalty to the King, Jesus Christ (3)

Bible Readings

  • Daniel 3:8-18
  • Revelation 13:11-18

Introduction

My dear friends in Christ,

Long before I arrived at uni, Steve had been there. It seemed that Steve had an academic problem: the lecturer to teach him Greek 1, was a classmate who did Greek 1 with him when Steve was repeating it for the third time.  

It took us a while to work out why Steve did not at first succeed.  Before every exam, Steve would go through all the old exam papers and work out the most likely questions.  Even for oral exams, Steve would do his research.  To predict questions, he teamed up with Math students who had access to the mainframe computer.

But Steve did not pass the exams.  Why?  He focussed all his energy on poorly-directed preparation.  Yes, he was spot-on with the questions, but he was unprepared to answer them!

Scores of Christians read copious amounts of books and articles to work out what the number of anti-Christ is — the 666 — and what the signs on the forehead and the hands of his followers mean.  All of these studies remind me of Steve:  one can be occupied to work out what all of this means, but when it comes to standing the test against anti-Christ and his godless strategy against the church of Jesus Christ, the fascination with all the symbols blur the mind to the point that we find ourselves arranging the deckchairs on a sinking Titanic.  

Biblical hermeneutic 

We have to carefully follow principles of Bible exegesis:  This means that we do not go to the text with preconceived conceptions and read those into the text; this can make us biblical ventriloquists.  A real danger is to work from history or read the newspapers first and then go to the Scriptures to see if we can find something to give us light on our pre-shaped mind.  The process really should be the other way around:  we must first of all honestly study the Bible, interpret it within the context of the book itself, understand the type of literal category we are considering, interpret the cultural, and historical background of the author, and know the broader context of the Bible itself. Only then can we come to conclusions and applications for our day.

Reading Revelation 13, we need to understand that the category of literature:  It is apocalyptic—it is full of mysterious and symbolic language, written in times of distress, and puts some emphasis on salvation, either in a new world to come or in another world beyond.

John wrote his apocalypse in a certain historical setting, surrounded by certain cultural and historical events.  The Revelation was not supposed to mean something only for the church just before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  When the letters were delivered to the congregations of Smyrna, Ephesus, Sardis and the others, the Christians then did not only read the first three chapters of the book and disregarded the others because they did not apply to them.

What are the implications of what we have just said?  At least this:  if we interpret the book as if was only written for our day we might, with spectacular mental gymnastics, come up with unbelievable speculations which will surely leave us red-faced in years to come.  

I received an email last week of someone who concluded:  It seems clear to me that the Ottoman empire was the next empire after Romans which was in power when John wrote Revelation, and then there was another empire that controlled the middle east/old world and then this will be revived again at the time of the end. 

Interesting about the articles attached to the email is that there is no solid interpretation of the Scriptures.  At one stage the number 666 is interpreted as pointing to the shape of a set of floor tiles in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem:  the first “6” is the outer lines,  this second “6” represents mini triangle within the bigger one, and the third “6” represents the six-sided polygon.  The conclusion is that this “666” is the symbol of the ancient Rempha (or Chuin) also known as Moloch, which is another representation of Nimrod, husband of Semiramis, queen of Babylon which the Rothschilds, who were papal knights, put in the flag of Israel.  

One can only ask, “What would the folk in the seven congregations make if this interpretation!”  This is not how to read Revelation!

Another common wrong interpretation of Revelation is to narrow the implication of the message down only to the restoration of national Israel. Reformed understanding of Bible interpretation surely sees Israel as the descendants of Abraham out of which the Messiah had to be born.  To understand how we should read the Old Testament is to look back from the New Testament as the fulfilment of the prophecies. To understand the New Testament is to interpret it as a continuation of the prophecies—all having its meaning in Christ and his completed work of salvation. Only then do we understand that all believers in both eras are of Israel because all who believe in Jesus Christ are children of Abraham (Galatians 3:29).  Believers of the Old Testament together with believers of the New Testament together make up the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This means the real Israel of the Old Testament was made up of those who expected the coming of the Messiah, together with those who actually received Christ when He came were included into the true Israel of which Paul writes in Romans 9.  National Israel as we know it today is not the church, and as such not the unique nation of God; it is a political entity.  Some nationals of that state believe in Christ, and many more will come to faith in Christ, and together with believers from all nations of the world who worship Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, they are spiritual Israel.  References to Jerusalem, Israel and the people of God in Revelation should be understood within this framework.

God is control

God gave John the visions “to show his servants what must soon take place.” (Revelation 1:1)  The message was meant to encourage the believers for times of distress.  It was intended to help them interpret what was going on around them on political and church level.  

John writes about Christ, the Living  One, who was dead but who is alive forever. He holds the keys of death and Hades (Revelation 1:18).  John takes his readers to the throne in heaven.  God is on the throne—He rules the world—and worshipping him, were twenty-four elders representing spiritual leaders from both the Old and New Testament era.  (That this is the case, is also seen in Revelation 21 where the new Jerusalem is described as having twelve gates with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel written on them. The wall of the city has twelve foundations with the names of the twelve apostles written on them.  The number of those inside the city is mentioned in Revelation 14 as 144,000.  This number is the complete number of believers from the Old Testament and the New Testament: 12 X12 X 000 = 144,000).  

Before the throne of God is the Holy Spirit of God; there are four living creatures who never stop proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8).  At the right hand of God is Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who triumphed.  He is the Lamb who was slain but lives forever.  To Him those around the throne of God bring the same praise as they bring to God, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” — seven attributes, meaning completeness.   (Revelation 5:12).  

So, never forget this scene:  in whatever comes your way on this world, and in whatever you have to suffer for Christ, He is the Lord of lords and the King of kings.  All other rulers are under Him.  

The anti-Trinty

Over the last two Sundays, we had a brief look at chapters 12-13.  The context is this:  Satan lost his position in heaven and declared war against Christ.  He is focussing on the people of God.  With his two off-siders, they form the anti-trinity:  they parade godlike, they are powerful and fearsome.  John’s readers are warned to be careful to not fall for their cunning and craft.

Godless governments and states are controlled by the Devil, who employs all political and economic tricks to entangle and entice Christians into worshipping him, rather than Christ.  

The false prophet

A false Gospel

The third party in this anti-Trinity is described in verses 13:1-18, our reading of today.  He is a parody of the messianic Lamb of 5:6 and is the antithesis of the Lamb. It, too, is a lamb with horns.  Like the first beast, this beast speaks with the devil’s full authority: “he was speaking as a dragon.” (Revelation 13:11)  

This beast has primarily a religious role since it is later repeatedly called “the false prophet” (16:13; 19:20; 20:10). In contrast with the true prophet, who calls people to worship the living God, this prophet leads them to worship the state. This beast may take many forms and may at times be equal to the state, as well as with false prophets within the church.  Our Lord warned:  

For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. (Matthew 24:5)

They appear harmless but, 

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7:15)

The false prophet professes to represent the truth and appears harmless as a lamb, but he reveals his Satanic nature because he speaks with the authority of the dragon.  His message is the same deceptive speech of Satan that led Adam and Eve into rebellion against the Authority of God.  The first beast, the godless leaders of states, speaks loudly and defiantly against God, but the second beast makes the first beast’s claims sound plausible and persuasive, sounding harmless like a lamb. False teachers in the church are encouraging compromise with the culture’s idolatrous institutions, which are all associated in some way with the Roman cult of Emperor or state worship. The Nicolaitans, false apostles, and Jezebel in chapter 2 show how the churches fell for the deception of this beast. It takes a discerning Christian to detect the evil intrinsic to the second beast.  

In control of the Dragon

The false prophet’s purpose is stated openly in verse 12:

It makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. (Revelation 13:12, ESV)

The false prophet mimics his authority on the credentials of Christ’s apostles:  [1] Just as Christ sent out his disciples under his authority (Acts 1:1–11), the false prophet too is the successor of his master in both ministry and authority, [2] Just like the apostles preached about the risen Christ in Acts 2:22–47, he too attempts to persuade others to worship his master who looked like his was slain but somehow was resurrected, [3] Just like the apostles did in Acts 2:43; 5:12, and  15:12, he too performs miraculous “signs” as concrete manifestations of his authority. [4] Like the true prophets receive their inspiration from the living Christ, likewise the false prophet receives his inspiration in the presence of the beast. 

He employs every trick in the book to convince people that his master represents the real object of worship.  He tries to present his master as the one who controls the nations, who has the power to overthrow all who dare stand against him. As a master of deception, he performs miracles, even causing fire to come down from heaven.  Do you remember the magicians in the court of the pharaoh who mimicked Moses when his staff turned int snake?

Controlling science

In our day modern inventions, “new” scientific research, and electronic wonders are getting a controlling influence over the minds and actions of people. People are absolutely in its spell, and cannot live without it. 

Computer forecast models for climate change is referred to as “science has spoken”. Just last week a professor of the James Cook University was fired because his own scientific research results questioned the acceptable trends, and he is not alone.  What happened to the scientific method which demands that the same tests and experiments must deliver the same results when performed by other scientists?  What happened to peer review?  Students are not taught to think but to just regurgitate the ideas of lecturers.

Fantastic computer models and computing devices, based on augmented reality (miraculous signs?), bring to life extinct animals based on very scanty evidence, and the theory of evolution is projected over it to “with certainty” tell us how they looked like and where they lived.  It is sometimes hard to distinguish between reality and animation. Documentaries with real-live animation are presented with commentary and “science” which makes it almost impossible to argue against it.  

Unscientific prove about the outcomes for children is put forward against centuries of family units between a father and a mother. The sexual revolution, driven by gay and lesbian groups,  as well as hostile feminist propaganda, promoting a society opposite to accepted Biblical norms, and are forced upon civilisations as a tool to force the world to bow before the image of the beast.  

The servant of both the dragon and godless states

The power (verse 15) vested in governments, and even the UN with its handmaiden, the World Council of Churches, is enormous.  Everything has to be sacrificed at the altar of political correctness. Social pressure on Christians is extensive, just ask Christian bakers.  Mass media outlets and TV bosses choose what they want to present, deliberately ignoring opposing ideas — and devout followers of Christ become the target of ridicule. And as a result, they lose their voice.  

When it comes to Revelation 13:16, which talks about receiving the sign of the beast on the right hand and the forehead, very many predictions have been offered, most of them nothing more than wild speculations.  Some are outright preposterous and would leave the folk in the congregations to whom the apocalypse was written in absolute bewilderment. 

A servant of financial institutions

The mark hints to the state’s political and economic “stamp of approval,” given only to those who go along with its religious demands.  Keep in mind that the Devil, along with godless world political structures, as well as the false prophet do one thing very well:  they mimic God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The mark on the forehead, which is the name of the beast and the number of his name, is the parody and opposed to the “seal” of Revelation 7:3–8, which is God’s name written on the foreheads of true believers.  We also read in  Revelation 14:1: 

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. (Revelation 14:1, ESV)

The Name of our Lord is also on the foreheads of those who will be gathered in heaven with Him.  Just as this invisible seal and the divine name on believers signifies God’s ownership and spiritual protection of them, so the mark and Satanic name mean those who belong to the devil and will undergo eternal punishment. It is most likely also invisible.

A battle for our hearts and minds

John writes to the early church which was under attack of the devil, and the same message which applies to us today.  The “forehead” represents ideological commitment, and the “hand” represents the practical outworking of that commitment. Keep your mind free from influence from him who desires your destruction, and keep your hand from doing what he wants you to do.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2).

Just as the early Christians were excluded from trade if they did not set their minds and actions into going along with worldly demands and emperor worship, so Christians in all ages can be excluded from general financial activity.  Is it possible to include a cashless society where all members of society must use prescribed methods to trade?  Someone also thinks that money as we know it will be phased out in favour of an economy of carbon credits.  Our cars and household goods are already carbon measured, and it would not be impossible to read our energy consumption in terms of carbon debits.  To spread the privilege of energy evenly across the populations of the world, individuals will have to earn carbon credits, and will only get what they earn, the rest will be divided with the rest of the world.  This seems plausible if international power grids are developed in a world without national borders.  It will also restrict carbon consumption to prevent so-called climate change. Is it possible, but one must guard against fantastic schemes and speculations.

The identity of anti-Christ

How can we identify anti-Christ?  What does his number 666 mean?  Some ascribe numerical values to letters, and so get possible names.  Indeed, if one would translate the name “Nero” into Greek and then add up the numeral values, one can arrive at 666.  The problem starts when the spelling of Nero in Greek can differ widely between scholars.  One can actually identify Hitler and Henry Kissinger as the ant-Christ if you pick the right language to work from.  The dilemma is that John does not give his readers any indication that they must do some mathematical calculation.  Remember Steve who did all the research but never passed an exam? Don’t miss the point here.

Every time John uses a number in Revelation it has a symbolic meaning.  So, why would he, in this case, use a real number?  The beast, although he parades as God while appearing to achieve divine perfection, always embodies imperfection; he always falls short.    Only God is perfect:  of Him, the number seven is used.  The three Person of the Trinity gives as 777.   Three sixes are a parody of the divine trinity of three sevens. That is, though the beast attempts to mimic God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, he falls short of succeeding.  

My friends, our text calls us to wisdom to see through the deceptive and imperfect nature of the beast.  He is an imitator, nothing more.  Adam and Eve could not see through his schemes and fell for him.  

The beast is the supreme representative of sinful humanity, separated from God and unable to achieve divine likeness, but always trying. God created man on the sixth day, but without the seventh day of rest and communion with God, Adam and Eve would have been imperfect and incomplete. The 666 for the Christians should emphasise that the beast and his followers fall short of God’s creative purposes for mankind. They are fake gods who can offer nothing but death.

Conclusion

Be careful of compromise, not just with the Roman emperor, but with all the facets of the state in collusion with religious, economic, and social aspects of the idolatrous culture, which all epitomise fallen humanity. Be like Daniel and his friends:  when they needed it most, they were on their knees before God where they found insight and strength to combat the evil.  Keep in mind, their steadfastness before Nebuchadnezzar to acknowledge:  

I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honoured Him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34–35, ESV)

Amen.

Sermon preached by the Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 24 March 2019

 

Advertisements

Undivided loyalty to Christ, our King (2)

Scripture Readings

  • Daniel 7:1-14;
  • Revelation 13:1-10

Introduction

My dear friends in Christ,

It was without fail that, before we set off in our old Chrysler—this was long before the days of seatbelts—that Mom, ever-caring for her little brood of children—would look back over the rest of the front seat and asked,  “Have you locked the doors?”  And in one chorus we would reply, “Why?”  Mom’s trump card was, “Because the devil can just open the doors!”

In my little mind I wondered if pressing down the door lock the can really keep the devil from us; wouldn’t he be able to unlock and open the door!

Mom’s warning helped us to understand that the devil is an ever-present pest, and he doesn’t mean any good for us.  But we can sometimes be more aware of the destructive intent of the evil one than we are aware of the authority of Christ over Satan.

So, when we approach Revelation 13 let’s not be overcome by the dread of his destructive persecution of the church of Christ; instead, let us persistently fix our eyes on our Saviour.  Let the words of Revelation 12:10-11guide us:

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down… (Revelation 12:10, ESV)

The title of this short series us therefore not something like “Persecution by the Beast out of the Sea.”  No, for Christians it is always about Christ.  It is not about the power of Satan, it is about how Christians should respond to him in the light of the victory of Jesus Christ.

Persecution always has, and will always be part of the Christian life

The Book of Revelation is not only about what will happen sometime just before the return of Christ.  It writes about the events that have always been part of the Church of Christ—and surely tells about how all of history will come to an end before the last and final judgement.  It is indeed within the bounds of the understanding of the Scriptures to believe that the attack on the Church will become intensified, accelerated and global towards the end of time.  Dr Stephen Nichols uses words like systemic and rapid change which leads to confusion.  Isolated and localised past attacks against the Church are becoming global, orchestrated, and intense. We live in this world.  But are we the first?  No, surely not.

Emperor worship

The churches in the time of John received his letters when Roman emperors began to require worship of their person as divine beings. Christians in Rome were required to recognise Nero’s deity. Persecution emerged because Christians refused to worship the ungodly king. This already happened in the time of Daniel when the whole world was ordered to bow and worship before the massive statue of the king.  

In John’s time, the only escape was to deny being a Christian, bow and conform to the demands of the Emperor.  By the end of the first century A.D., all of the seven cities addressed in Revelation’s letters had temples dedicated to the deity of Caesar.

Trade Guilds

Something else happened simultaneously. There were different trade guilds which held control over certain trades with the effect that only people who belonged to them could buy or sell their goods.  (Trade and labour unions can quickly become something similar). These guilds were influential and generally vied for recognition of the Emperor.  In some ways, these two powers, the political and economic forces, promoted a worldview opposite to the Bible.  After all, the patron gods of the guilds together with the imperial god of Rome were made out to be responsible for the social and economic blessings that the culture enjoyed. Refusal to show gratefulness to these gods was undesired citizenship.  

Religious alliance

There was another problem for Christians.  According to Roman law, religions were considered illegal outside their country, with Judaism enjoying some exemption of Emperor worship.  Initially, Christians were viewed as an arm of Judaism and had the same privilege, but in about 70 A.D. the Jews dissociated itself from Christianity, at least partly because Christians claimed that Jerusalem’s destruction was punishment for the Jews’ crucifixion of Jesus. After this, Christians were exposed to full political, social and economic persecution.  

Some Christians, however, compromised their faith in Christ with the idea that they can still be counted as Jews, or publicly attend Emperor worship, or join the trade guilds, while they privately worshipped Christ.

Others understood true undivided loyalty to Christ as their King in both private and public worship; they were heavily persecuted, and some even died because of their service to Christ alone.  

Why persecution?

Revelation 13 gives us insight into what is happening behind the curtains.  If we don’t understand this, we are bound to fall prey to the attacks of Satan.  And there is more at stake than this life; we may forfeit our eternal life.

The anti-trinity

Revelation 13:1 talks about the dragon on the shore of the sea.  What does this mean?  Well, the dragon is Satan, the devil, the ancient serpent who leads the world astray (12:9).  The sea represents the spiritual storehouse of evil, where wicked spirits are confined under God’s sovereignty.  Little wonder then that 21:1 refers to the new and earth without the sea.  

The beast out of the sea is governed by the dragon.  He is the second entity of the anti-Trinity.   The second beast (verses 11-18) is the third entity; he is the false prophet and anti-Christ (more about him next week).

The Beast out of the Sea and his “ten horns” are based on Daniel’s vision. This Beast is the ultimate evil force behind the earthly kingdoms of the world.  The number of seven heads and ten horns emphasises the completeness of oppressive power and its global effect.  The dragon, Satan, has crowns on his heads, as we read in 12:3, but now the beast has them on his horns, which means that the dragon executes his plan through the beast. 

In all of this Satan puts himself forward as if he has the authority and dominion like Christ.  He and his undertakers are a fake trinity.  Both Christ and the beast (1) have swords, (2) have followers who have their names written on their foreheads, (3) have horns, (4) are slain, (5) rise to new life and are given new authority, (6) have jurisdiction over “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation”, and (6) receive universal worship.

In Daniel 7:3–8 the lion, bear, leopard, and terrifying beast represent four successive world empires, but here in Revelation 13:1–2 these four images are combined in one beast, highlighting the extreme fierceness of this beast. 

Early Christians might have understood this beast to be the political power of Rome, and they would not be wrong.  But for the Church through the ages, it represented every oppressive form of political power.  Today we have godless regimes across the world, even by the United Nations with its program of world dominion.  It can surely point to global political oppression, with godless governments banding together with a unified program of political dominance.  We have already seen the push for the demolishing of national boundaries, the abolition of passports, and the call for a global government, with the so-called aim of preventing individual nations from causing unrest driven by patriotism, or even the drive for war against global warming.  

Satanic evil historically expressed itself through the kingdoms of Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Sodom, and Rome. This evil will continue to display itself in future political regimes of the world and can manifest itself as well in global economic, social, and religious structures on earth. It seems the time will come that even migration will gain one nothing.

We learn from John about the anti-Christ.  

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. (1 John 2:18, ESV)

Another verse:  

and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:3, ESV)

Our confidence living in a world where the antichrist is already at work is that he received a fatal wound. Our Lord, who came to earth to rescue us 

“… that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14–15, ESV) 

Therefore, whenever believers withstand persecution, deception and compromise, the devil and his agents are defeated.  Though Satan and the beasts are repeatedly mentioned as having “authority” in Revelation 13, they have no authority over the saints and no authority but what God gives them.  The power he has to make war against God’s people was “given to him” (Revelation 13:7).  He has a limited time, forty-two months.  Only God, not the devil, sets times and seasons. If left to himself, the devil would never want to limit his work against God’s kingdom to a mere “three and a half years”, which is symbolically a short time measured against God’s power to control all times.  

Deception

The dragon is so convincing in camouflaging his defeat as an apparent victory that “the whole earth marvelled after the beast.” Those whose names are not written in the Book of Life and not protected by God’s seal (7:1–4) fall for the beast’s claims and give him allegiance.  

And they worshipped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshipped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” (Revelation 13:4, ESV)

World leaders have, and will, try to magnify themselves above God.  They will promise peace and prosperity to all who give in to their schemes.  Just think about it:  pay your taxes, don’t question the expense, and what you receive is a clean environment with fresh air and clean water free of all pesticides, a good health system, an education system which will bring freedom to millions, equality between all people and peoples including the sexes, a good retirement plan and even more rain as they will fix global warming.  The beast carries out the dragon’s will to “flood” the church with deception.

All along he blasphemes God’s name, speaking out and mocking God through self-deification. They mock Christians and bring accusations against those who have God’s name written on them.

Conclusion

My dear friend, do you understand that there is a war going on? It’s aimed God, Christ, his church, and at every individual Christian.  How will be able to stand?

It brings me back to the devil who presumably had the power to open the car door.  Are we going to trust God protect us through the journey, or are our eyes going to be fixed on the door, and in the process live in fear?

There is a way.  It is not a way around persecution for the sake of Christ; it might be through terrible persecution.  It surely is not the way of compromise—please, keep your faith pure and serve Christ with undivided loyalty.  What is that way through all of this?  The victory of Jesus Christ, our King. If your name is written in the Book of Life in the blood of the Lamb, Christ will take care of you, whatever comes your way.  Verse 10 gives us a picture of the worst case scenario.  

If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he must; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. (Revelation 13:10, ESV)

Whatever the case, never forfeit your divine rights by bowing to the wishes of the world and him who desires your defeat.  May Christ help us.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 17 March 2019

 

Undivided loyalty to Christ, the King (1)

Scripture Readings

  • Deuteronomy 6:1-9, 17-22
  • Revelation 13:1-10

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord,

They tell of the event when an umpire made a questionable judgment during a footy match. It sent the crowd into an uproar. The line judge was asked for his opinion.  Then just for a brief moment, there was total silence.  In that little window of quietness someone yelled out, “He wants to know how the rules work because he doesn’t know it himself!” 

Can you imagine the confusion on any sports field between the players if there were no rules!  More than that, can you picture the situation on the stands if there were no rules!  We have vivid pictures in our minds of soccer fans being stampeded and even killed in support rage.

God and his law

We don’t read the Ten Commandments every Sunday as we did this morning, be we surely should pay more attention to it.  In God’s Kingdom, there is just no room for people to follow their own minds and make their own laws.  We heard in the children’s address about the need to walk by the Law and to think according to the law.  

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4–5, ESV)

Because God is the one and only God, there is only one law to live by. “For the Lord, your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deuteronomy 4:24, ESV)  He poured out his love on his people, holding back nothing to save them.  

…it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments… (Deuteronomy 7:8–9, ESV)

Moses repeatedly called the people to obey God with an undivided heart.  He used the phrase “Hear now…” in 4:1, 6:4, and 9:1, and in between he repeats phrases like “remember” and “keep”.

The book of Deuteronomy is a section of sermons of Moses which he preached to the people after their forty years of wanderings through the wilderness, but before they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land.  He reflects on lessons of the past and prepares them to occupy their God-given inheritance.  

He stressed the importance of undivided loyalty to God by observing his laws.  One major point of his sermons was his warning not to mix with the heathens and so become like them.  

It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— (Deuteronomy 6:13–14, ESV)

The gift of an inheritance 

You know how one can read the same pages of Scripture for years and still miss things.  In my study last week my mind caught specific threads running through the Scriptures, but previously I just couldn’t make the connections.  To be honest, it is not so obvious, and one needs to cross-referenced through the pages to get it.

In Deuteronomy 7:22, Moses says:  

The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you. (Deuteronomy 7:22, ESV)

Just a few verses further he mentions the silver and gold of the idols and calls them “a testable thing”.

On the surface, the “wild beasts” and the “detestable thing” may just mean what it actually says, but John in Revelation draws from these pictures of the Old Testament.  He leans very heavily on the visions of the “wild beasts” in Daniel who also makes mention of the “detestable thing” of which we read about in Revelation 13.  One commentator thinks that the “wild beasts” can indeed serve as a figure of the demonic which perverts the divine image of man into something sub-human.  

John, as one of the apostles of Christ, wrote the Apocalypse to prepare Christians for an era of unprecedented persecution.  Christ sends his church into the world to spread the good news about his victory over sin and death, and he also prepared them for the abuse they would face. The apostle John received the word of the Apocalypse from Christ Himself (Revelation 1:10), all the while being persecuted himself (Revelation 1:9), to encourage the Christians during the persecution, but also the warn them to serve the Lord with undivided loyalty.   

John uses known elements of the Old Testament in his book.  To all seven of the congregations he wrote to he uses the phrase very similar to the one Moses used to warn the people against the mixing of pure obedience to the Lord.  Moses repeated “Hear Israel”, and John uses “he who has an ear, let him hear” to the six churches in Asia Minor.  He also uses the phrase “he who overcomes” repeatedly, meaning “he who resists” the evil and not give in.  When it comes to Chapter 13 as we read it this morning, he repeats “he who has an ear” in verse 9.  In verse 18 he uses a phrase which connects back to both hearing and overcoming:  This calls for wisdom and insight.

A fierce battle

The connection between Moses in Deuteronomy is more than just accidental.  Moses prepared God’s people to cross the Jordan with the Word of God in their hands and minds, facing fierce resistance in a land filled with idols, false gods, and demons —  wild beasts”.  For them to overcome and settle the land as God promised they had to serve God with undivided loyalty; compromise with any god other than their Covenant God would lead to disaster.  

When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, so as to provoke him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it but will be utterly destroyed. (Deuteronomy 4:25–26, ESV)

But they had God’s promise of his absolute love and compassion, his unfailing love to go ahead of them, to destroy the wild beasts before them, and live with them.  Their inheritance was free, a gift of grace, they just needed to take hold of it by faith and obedience to their God.  

…you shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt…You shall not be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. (Deuteronomy 7:21, ESV)

The same applies to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We will receive a Promised Land one day, but in the meantime, we need to “occupy” the mission field of the world with undivided loyalty to Christ and his Word.  From this Word we shall not take away anything, to it we cannot add; we need to pay absolute obedience to it — it is the only warranty for success.  We are engaged in a fierce battle with the “wild beasts” — not only symbols of resistance but the real deal:  the devil!

I apologise for not really getting into chapter 13 of Revelation today as announced.  But know this: the church of Christ is the target of Satan who seeks to destroy her.  We know that he employs all he can, both political structures and false prophets to try to seduce God’s people away from the truth by all possible means.

Satan hates Christ and his church

Let’s just get the framework which Chapter 12 gives us.  It tells the story of God’s people of the Old Testament from whom the Messiah would be born.  The picture is of a pregnant woman, about to give birth.  But as she was about to give birth an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns appeared.  It was a mighty beast who had much power.  The dragon (verse 9 identifies him as the ancient serpent, the devil, Satan who leads the whole world astray) wanted to kill the child, Jesus Christ, as soon as he was born.  We learn for this scene that the actual war was aimed at Christ, who brought salvation and had authority over him.   

However, as soon as the child was born, he was taken into a place of safety under the guard of God, and Satan was hurled down.  Satan has no authority against the blood of Christ, and Christians loved Him more than their lives.  This is undivided loyalty.  

But Satan is more than ever determined to undermine the work of Christ.  He is filled with fury because he knows his time is short. He knows he has no authority over Christ and focusses his destruction on the church.  What he just cannot understand is that God’s people, those whose names are written in the Book of Life (13:8) live under the protection of Christ.  What he is aware of, is that not everyone in the church is indeed a faithful follower of Christ.  Satan is enraged and makes war against the offspring of the woman, which is the church, those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus (12:17).

Conclusion

My friend, do you get the picture?  If you belong to Christ, if your name is written in the Book of Life, if you are under that protection of the blood of Christ, you are the target of Satan who will try whatever he can, he will employ all the forces he can to drag you away.

Therefore the warning of the Word of God:  serve Christ with undivided loyalty, have his Word in your heart, in your mind, let it reign your thoughts and your decisions.  The battle is fierce and if you don’t stand firm, you will not endure.  But don’t be afraid.  Your Saviour gave you this command:  

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20, ESV)

Lord-willing, next week we will concentrate on the beast out of the sea, and then, the beast out of the earth.

Amen.