Allegiance to Whom?

Discussions on the “mark of the Beast” often focus on the significance of its number, ‘666.’ We wish to understand it, and thereby avoid taking it. But to better appreciate the ramifications of taking its “mark,” it is imperative to see how the Book of Revelation contrasts the “mark of the Beast” with the “seal of God,” for the fundamental issue is where one’s loyalties lie - do you follow the “slain Lamb” or the Dragon's “Beast from the Sea”?

And this conflict in Revelation is relevant to the life of every disciple of Jesus today. The demand of the “Beast” for absolute allegiance has characterized virtually every government in human history. And since Jesus is the absolute Lord of all his followers, the kind of conflict portrayed in Revelation between church and state is inevitable.

Augustus - Photo by tommao wang on Unsplash
[Augustus - Photo by tommao wang on Unsplash]

Moreover, 
Revelation presents to its audience the dire consequences for every man and woman who makes the wrong decision.

In the book, the “mark of the Beast” is the satanic counterpart to God’s “seal,” and everyone who takes it pledges his or her allegiance to the “Beast.” In contrast, the men who receive the “seal of God” are those who follow the “Lamb wherever he goes.”

In this way, humanity is divided into two groups: Those whose “names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life,” and those whose names are expunged and excluded from it. And all who fall into the latter category are destined for the “second death,” namely, the “Lake of Fire.”

THE ORIGINAL AUDIENCE


The book is addressed to seven churches in Roman Empire at a time when some believers were undergoing pressure to conform to local religious practices, especially the imperial cult that paid divine honors to the emperor and offered incense to his image along with other tokens of fealty to Caesar.

In the ancient world, there was no concept of the separation of religion and state. Political ideology and religious and cultural practices were all intermixed. One’s religion was determined by one’s place of origin. The Roman government left local populations alone to practice their indigenous religions, though Rome expected all its subjects to pay homage to Caesar as the Lord and Patron of the Empire.

At least five of the seven cities named in Revelation featured temples dedicated to the emperor or Roma, the patron goddess of the city of Rome. Citizens were free to worship traditional gods, but on public occasions, they would offer incense to the image of the emperor and otherwise acknowledge him as chief patron and lord.

To venerate the emperor was both a religious act and political duty. It demonstrated allegiance to the Empire. Refusal to participate constituted disloyalty, a crime against the state.

The disciples of Jesus were taught to be law-abiding citizens, but their faith prevented them from acknowledging anyone as “Lord” except Jesus Christ. Thus, persecution by Rome was inevitable - (Romans 13:1-7).

That conflict is reflected in the Greek verbs used in Revelation for “worship.” The terms employed include the verbs latreuō and proskuneō. The former denotes the “rendering of divine service” to a divine person or image. In the Greek scriptures, it is applied to priests serving in a Temple.

The second verb occurs twenty-four times. It is a compound of the preposition pros or “toward” and the verb kuneō or “kiss,” hence the idea, “to kiss towards,” to prostrate oneself. Derived meanings include “render homage,” “give obeisance,” “revere,” and “venerate.” It applies to the deference and honor paid to a superior being, human or divine. To “render homage” is to give absolute allegiance - (Revelation 7:15, 22:3).

HUMANITY DIVIDED


In Chapter 13 of Revelation, two groups are presented - The “inhabitants of the earth” and those who “tabernacle in heaven.” The first group “renders homage to the Beast,” demonstrating that “their names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb.” The “slander” of the “Beast” is directed against those who “tabernacle in heaven.”

Next, the “Beast from the Earth” appears, the “False Prophet.” He mimics the “Lamb” and uses religious deception to encourage the “inhabitants of the earth” to erect an image to the first “Beast” - (Revelation 13:14-16).

In verse 10, those who “tabernacle in heaven” are identified as the “saints,” the same group targeted for destruction by the “Dragon” - those who “keep the commandments of God and have the faith of Jesus.” Their names are “written in the book of life.”

The “mark of the Beast” is the counterfeit of the “seal of God” that was received by the “servants of our God.” Elsewhere, this group is identified as the followers of the “Lamb.” This “sealed” company is identical to the “great innumerable multitude from every nation and tribe and people and tongue” redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

The “seal of God” identifies those who belong to Jesus. They are preserved through the coming tribulation. Their identification with the “Lamb” spares them from God’s judicial “wrath,” the “Second Death” - (Revelation 2:11, 7:1-3, 20:6).

Men who “render homage to the image of the Beast” are “branded” with its “mark,” and anyone with it may participate in the economic life of society. Anyone who refuses the “mark” is ostracized and faces economic deprivation and even execution.

SEALED BY GOD


In contrast, the men who belong to the “Lamb” have “his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” They are found before the Throne. They have been “purchased from the earth by the Lamb.” Anyone who “renders homage to the image of the Beast” automatically takes its “mark.”

If the “seal of God” is figurative, the same holds true for the “mark of the beast.” This is how Revelation divides humanity into two groups. God “seals” all who give their allegiance to the “Lamb,” whereas, all who render homage to the “Beast” take its “mark” by default, and they have their names excluded from “the Book of Life.”

This connection is made clear when an angel warns that “anyone who renders homage to the Beast and his image and receives its mark will drink of the wine of the Wrath of God.” ALL who do so will partake of God’s “wrath” - (Revelation 14:9-11).

The coming “wrath” is not a series of plagues, but the full and everlasting “wrath” “prepared unmixed” and poured out at the final judgment, the time when the wicked are cast into the “Lake of Fire” - (Revelation 20:11-15).

The “saints” who “keep the faithfulness of Jesus” will overcome the “Beast” and find themselves “standing on the glassy sea” before the Throne. There, they “sing the song of the Lamb.” In contrast to the “inhabitants of the earth,” they participate in the “first resurrection,” and therefore, they “live and reign with Christ.”


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