Thursday, June 1, 2017

No One Will Be Able to Buy or to Sell, Except...

“Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon. He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life. And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six” (Revelation 13:11-18).

I love the last book of the Bible – “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). In recent years, however, I have come to the conclusion that teaching it belongs in the small group setting, and then with people who’ve been sitting under my teaching for some time. Outside of that context, it’s too easy to be misunderstood or get bogged down in fruitless arguments. Still, I do love teaching this blessed book, and, because of that, feel compelled to write down a few thoughts on a single phrase found near the middle of it.

I don’t want to talk about the “beast…out of the earth,” “image of the beast,” the “mark,” or “the number of the beast,” though I certainly have an interpretation of this chapter. Can we look at the single phrase emboldened above without getting lost in those other items for a moment?

“…no one will be able to buy or to sell…”

The glorified Jesus, through His Spirit, spoke of His knowledge of the believers in Smyrna, which included their “tribulation and…poverty” (2:9). Financial difficulty, it would seem, it a natural (though malevolent) part of persecution for the covenant people of God in Christ.

We read about the Tennes family in the headlines, farmers who’ve sold at East Lansing’s farmers’ market for years – until recently. Because (on their farm twenty miles away outside the boundaries of East Lansing) they refuse to allow same-sex wedding ceremonies, they are not allowed to participate in the farmer’s market. They are, of course, just the latest business to be barred access from the economic system because of their non-conformity with what seems to be the official religion of the land (an assertion I make because of both law and culture). This farming family joins a growing list of florists, bakers, photographers, and even a pizza parlor.

(And don’t forget the Iowa Civil Rights Commission’s attempt to force the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ to conform its bathrooms to the new gender regulations last year).

(Or the CEO of Mozilla, who, three years ago, had to step down because of a personal donation he made to an organization which supported traditional marriage. A personal donation.)

(I’m sure I’m forgetting some other examples.)

Regardless of how you interpret Revelation 13, we need to see (at the least) a strong parallel in principle between what we read in verse 17 and what seems to be a growing reality in the United States of America (and the world, for that matter).

I’m going to leave this here before I get further into Revelation interpretation and the observation I’m trying to make gets obscured – an observation that does not speak to an absolute interpretation of 13:17, but merely hopes to note the ominous parallel with our current situation as believers in the world and the trajectory of things from here.

“…no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name…”

"Whose likeness and inscription is this?" (Matthew 22:20//Mark 12:16//Luke 20:24).
For the sake of the global propagation of the “glorious Gospel of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11), which is the “Gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4), may God grant that the U.S.A. return to being a land of freedom, for His name’s sake and His glory alone.

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