Have you noticed that all the talk over the last two years has been about the economy? Will the United States go into debt so deep that our economic system will collapse under the strain of all the loans this country can never pay back? Have you heard about all the “doomsday” scenarios about what will happen when our economic system collapses? Have you thought about running out and maybe getting a second job for supplemental income in the event a catastrophe takes place in this country? Are you fearing that your lifestyle, hobbies, and life as you know it will be forever changed in the near future? Have you begun tightening your belts and triple checking what can be eliminated from your family’s budget should we find ourselves paying more and more for necessities with less and less available for “diversions?” In general, are you fearful of where this economy is headed?
Those are a bundle of hard questions to look at and answer after deliberating over the many “what ifs.” If we’re not careful, it will be easy to get sucked into the wave of fear sweeping across the country that is slowly infiltrating not only our homes and churches, but also our spiritual lives. I bet you didn’t realize how much fear affects the spiritual decisions we make on a daily basis. And, in today’s world, I don’t think there is a greater motivator for poor spiritual decisions than the fear of our own family’s potential economic instability. Of course, it makes perfect reasonable sense to be concerned about financial provisions, but that fear need not grip us, nor paralyze us. Most importantly, that fear need not lead us into sinful acts.
Right now, we take a very important fact for granted. The entire world as we know it can earn money in any way they so choose (legally is the most preferred), and we have the ability in this capitalist system to buy and sell whatever and whenever we want, regardless of our race, ethnicity, country of residence, or religion. But one day, it will not be that way. If you read Revelation 13 and 14, you’ll find a very different world that has a much more restricted economic system than we are faced with today. The Apostle John, on the Island of Patmos, saw this world and reported these future events for us to learn from today, before we ever get to that point described in Revelation 13 and 14.
During the Tribulation, a false prophet under the influence of Satan will arrive on scene, and he will be given power to do many great and mighty works that will impress the world’s citizens in that day. At this time, an evil figure will demand allegiance and to be worshipped by all the citizens of the world. Now this false prophet “…causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads; And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (Revelation 13:16-17).
Do you see what’s happening here? All people in the Tribulation have to receive a mark (vs. 16) and that mark is necessary to participate in the economic system of the world in that time. No one will be able to buy or sell anything without first having taken that mark (vs. 17). It’s nothing anyone could plan around. One won’t be able to save up their money in case of a rainy day. You could have all the money you want (rich and poor) but without taking the mark, your money is useless. You could not buy or sell…your hands are tied unless you take the mark.
The problem is that this mark is an identification of your allegiance to the beast and your renunciation of God. The false prophet feeds on the economic fears of people to get them to turn their back on God and give their life over to the beast. There will be a remnant of people who do not identify with the beast, and this will separate the true believers from the unbelievers. But something terrible happens to those who take the mark, and, conversely, something wonderful happens to those who do not take the mark. This is where the spiritual application for today is found.
“And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God…and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name” (Revelation 14:9-11). The sad thing here is that the false prophet played on the fears of the people. The people feared not even being able to buy their basic necessities like food, clothing, shelter, etc. Fear grips the world during this time. Unfortunately, receiving the mark seals damnation for that person. But that’s just the half of it…
Remember I said a wonderful thing happens to those who do not take the mark? “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. And I heard a voice from Heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; AND THEIR WORKS DO FOLLOW THEM” (Revelation 14:12-13). Essentially, if you study it out, all those during the Tribulation period who do not take the mark of the beast will die a martyr’s death and, in doing so, identify with God and put their faith in Jesus and go to be forever in the presence of God in Heaven.
Here in Revelation 13 and 14 you have two distinct types of people. These two groups of people exist today. Their actions and consequences are also somewhat similar to those experiences of the Tribulation peoples. First, you have the people who are so gripped with fear of this world’s economic state that they will put more faith and trust in the uncertain economic system than they do God. These people today are the ones who accept promotions that require more hours away from the family and church. These people are the ones who will begin saying it’s more important for me to be “honorable” and work in lieu of midweek services in order to earn more money to provide for the “needs” of their family. Oh, they don’t take any “mark” per se, but what they do show is an allegiance to the world’s system and a lack of faith in God. Just like those who took the mark during the Tribulation, today’s Christian that abandons God and buys into the world’s system will one day feel God’s wrath upon their home, lest they repent. For those in the Tribulation, they’ve sealed their fate. But for the misguided Christian of today, there’s time to make things right.
The other group of people today is the ones who renounce the world’s system and refuse to “take its mark.” The Tribulation martyrs saw the splendor of Heaven. Their faith was such that what they believed and acted upon, and based on their faith, demonstrated to God their allegiance and trust in Him. Consequently, what they did (refuse to identify with the beast and thereby risk their lives and those of their family) demonstrated the faith God needed to see to save them and allow them to enjoy the blessings of Heaven. We, who trust in God during these uncertain economic times will enjoy many blessings here in this life, as well as the life to come…and I can prove that…
What we do in the name of God as it relates to sacrificing, faith, obedience, acts of love, and the like, will be rewarded in this life (Galatians 6:9), and in the life to come: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal: for where you treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Are material things more important to us when they can be either stolen or simply decay, erode, and otherwise succumb to the environment? Only rewards that are laid up in Heaven will endure for us to enjoy for all eternity!
Now we’ve all heard preachers make the statement, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” But now consider that question in the context of Revelation 13 and 14. Is your heart with this world? Would you be one to take the mark and seal damnation for all eternity for a few years of economic certainty? Or would you be like the Tribulation saints whose heart was with God and were willing to die to identify their allegiance and faith in God? They saw beyond this present world and saw what God could do for them for all eternity. Sure, they gave up their life, but got back eternal life! Today, what have we to give up in this world as money gets tight and we’re forced to choose between church and working an extra shift? May we need to consider canceling our cable subscription? May we have to give up our season tickets to the regional pro team? These are minor sacrifices today compared to what the Tribulation saints will have to give up for eternal life. But you have to decide. If you work that extra shift and skip church…your treasure is in this world…and you’ve proven that by being at work and absent from church.
The heart is very much involved in worship. So Matthew 6:21 paraphrased can read like this…Will your heart be with God or will it be with the world? Will your heart be involved in worshipping God or participating in idolatry? Is your heart after spiritual things or temporal things? Are you living for the future or just the here and now? Those who take the mark in Revelation 13 have their heart squarely in the world, participating in idolatry and focusing on temporal needs to satisfy their here-and-now desires. The Tribulation saints had hearts that worshipped God and focused on spiritual endeavors and believed God for lasting and meaningful provisions in eternity.
Now I know I spoke about money and economics, and that is the context of Revelation 13 and 14, but the underlying spiritual application is this one basic point. When your faith is tested…will you trust God or not? God promises to take care of us if we are willing to put our faith in Him. Psalm 35:27 reads, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” Juxtapose that with those who receive the mark during the Tribulation, or those misguided Christians of today who lack faith in God’s ability to provide. God will take care of you properly (Matthew 7:8-11).
It’s a blessing when God takes care of us and comes through on our behalf. But many times, the blessings are conditional. “If you do A-B-C then I will give you D-E-F.” But obedience takes faith to pull off. Here’s how…God asks you to do A-B-C, but you fear many negative potential consequences. You easily could bow out and disobey God and forfeit blessings, but if you exercise faith, blessings will be yours. But why does exercising faith in obedience to God bring us blessings? Because faith is what gets to the heart of God: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). When God is pleased with us, He is not going to chastise us, but rather, He will bless us. So our obedience shows faith, which pleases God, which moves Him to bless us.
Now let’s wrap it all up with one final look at the title of this week’s article, taken from Revelation 14:13, “And I heard a voice from Heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yeah, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.” These Tribulation saints endured great struggles. They labored and endured persecution, uncertainty, disrespect, and eventually death. What they did for God in the way of being martyred followed them into eternity. Their faith had works associated with it, which proved it to be a lively and vibrant faith.
James 2:17 says; “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” The Tribulation saints who were martyred had a faith that was evidenced by their works (enduring persecution, ridicule, renunciation of the beast, eventual death), while any one of those who took the mark may have claimed a faith at some point in their lives, it proved to be a false faith lacking any validity or substance. Remember, taking the mark separated unbelievers from true believers. So the crossroads and the choice we have to make is this…are the “works” we’re doing evident of a vibrant and substantive faith or not, and where will our works follow us to? Will our faith-filled lives produce works that will bring about blessings on our family and will those works follow us to a richer family experience in this life? Or, are we going to doubt God with a lack of real faith and let our “works” follow us into an inevitable destruction of our family under the chastising hand of God?
The one bright spot in all of this is what I mentioned earlier…in this life…it’s not too late. If you’re truly saved but just misguided, you’re mistakes can be fixed by making better choices. Those who take the mark are unsaved Tribulation citizens who seal their fate in Hell, but for you, today, your fate of experiencing the chastising Hand of God forever does not have to be experienced. Consider your “works” and to where they will follow you.