This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints. (Revelation 13:10; NIV84)
Yes, the saints are protected.
Yes, God will wipe away every tear.
Yes, victory is within God’s hands, and he offers it to us.
The future is ours, because the future is his.
But patient endurance can melt. Revelation 13, to me, poses one of the most difficult temptations for the church.
In the vision, the dragon, the supreme force of evil, on earth, gave incredible power to the beast who seemed to withstand a wound that should have killed him. This beast became the object of worship for all of humanity. He was aided by a second beast, who led this unholy worship by force, marking the foreheads (or hands) of everyone, to control the world’s economy, in the name of the beast who was worshiped.
So to me, of most of the symbols in John’s vision, this one is pretty clear.
The first beast, which was seemingly invincible, was the Roman empire. It was an evil government, particularly when it began various local persecutions against believers. Many emperors accepted worship from the entire Empire as if they were gods.
The second beast? Undoubtedly those who pushed this agenda in the various imperial cities across the Empire.
But there must be some real-time significance, and I think for us, it means we need to be especially careful about what we decide to worship.
Presidential elections, in America, cause such a state of frenzy, as if our hopes and dreams depended upon the person in the White House. How petty are we, to believe something like this. The book of Revelation, with its visions and signs, declares, at the beginning, in Revelation 4, that God is on his throne, and not one human action escapes his sovereignty. He knows everything. And, if there are times of caution and danger, then we are only told to have patient endurance and faithfulness.
God knows what he’s doing.
It’s not just that he knows what he’s doing, though, but what’s happening here, on planet earth, even in modern America, is a continued sign that this is not heaven.
If a secular government could provide for every longing and need (which they can’t, even when they make awfully big promises), then what need would there be for God? For heaven? For rest?
Revelation 13 speaks of the danger of falling in line with such worship, with such frenzy. No mortal can provide for your implicit safety. The only way that can happen, according to Revelation 13, is if they mark every single person, and control every single moment. If a mortal can only provide for you by limiting you, then that certainly is no god worthy of any sort of worship. And obviously, there is only One who can control everything.
Yet, in our reading today, we find, again, that God is not willing to overwhelm John with such despair that he cannot see the ultimate hope. Revelation 14 opens to another sign of the Lamb, and the protected church, on Mt. Zion, with beautiful music and new songs and supreme worship of the true deliverer.
Because in the next few verses, in Revelation 15, we see the beginning of the end. As the multitude praises God Almighty, the God of all, the sovereign God over time and space, angels leave the tabernacle with golden bowls of wrath, and then the doors of the temple are closed, and smoke fills John’s vision. This final judgement against evil cannot be stopped.
I agree, too, with some commentators, that these visions aren’t to be interpreted in a chronological order, but rather, should be seen as the vision John sees – a God, orchestrating every moment in history and at the end of time. If that is the case, then, for today, we get the result of our decisions to worship anything other than God.
And we see the result of our allegiance to the Lamb.