An excerpt from a sermon preached by the Rev. Justin Clemente, September 16, 2018 at New Creation Church (Anglican) Hagerstown, MD. Part of the sermon series “Revelation: 2018 Lectio Continua Study.”
Have We Trivialized This Passage?
Let me open briefly with this question: is it possible we have trivialized two of the most deadly serious pictures given in Revelation, found here in chapter 13? I’m thinking here of the mark and number of the beast. Think about how people sometimes treat these images – considering getting that microchip under the skin? Don’t do it (not that I’d want that, just sayin’)! You know, barcodes all have 666 on them, or something like that (that’s what the Enquirer said, anyway). Newborn’s SSN includes 666? You’re gonna want to that changed! Looking at a nice new house on 1666 Oak Lane? That could be a sign, we say. Don’t go! Or, perhaps, we push these things so far into the future that we really don’t think through the relevance of the mark and the number of the beast for right now. Let’s focus in on the mark of the beast and take a closer look.
The Mark of the Beast
Well, guess what? It’s not a physically identifiable mark. How do we know? Look just two verses later:
14 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.
This is the seal of the living God (the Gospel, visibly signed and sealed upon us in baptism) mentioned back in chapter 7, protecting believers. No one, that I know of, has ever seriously interpreted this as something that will be branded into your head by God!
The mark of the beast is a counterfeit to THIS other TRUE mark. If this mark is symbolic, why would interpret the counterfeit any differently?
Which leads us to what the mark of the beast truly is: something far more insidious (because it’s not visible!), a far more clear and present danger, something far more relevant: it speaks to the temptation to worship, that is to give ultimate allegiance to, the idols of any given culture, especially human institutions.
In his book, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, G.K. Beale defines the mark of beast as a “way in which the state keeps check on whether people are submitting to compulsory idol worship.” Beale also calls it an economic and political “stamp of approval.”
That was particularly true in John’s day. There is a direct reference to commerce here – the churches that John wrote to in his day knew this reality well. For example, in Ephesus, you could not enter the market place without first praying tribute and worship to the Emperor.
But Revelation isn’t just a book for the church of the first century. It’s written in such a way as to be a book for the church of EVERY century. Meaning this power, symbolic picture of a counterfeit mark should speak directly into our time and our culture. In fact, I believe that is exactly why the Holy Spirit has given us this image.
So, think with me – what are the idols of our culture? And which of them are Christians tempted to worship? Name some them…
Tolerance? A political party? Is it America’s past? A by-gone “golden era” of American life? Technology? Sexual “liberation”? Success? Money? Whatever in our culture pulls our heart, our mind, our affections away from God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there is found a deadly idol.
Perhaps it’s more simple than we imagine: if you want to avoid the mark of the beast, learn how to be faithful in your thinking, your praying, your speaking, your living, as a Christian in the midst of your culture! That’s John’s call to wisdom!