Westney Heights Baptist Church ~ April 1, 2007


A few days ago I was discussing recent advances in technology with a client when we happened to say something about the mark of the beast. When I mentioned that it would be wrong for me as a Christian to receive the mark he said “But what if it makes life easier?” His reply reveals a very common attitude. People are willing to accept almost anything, from ionized bracelets to memory foam mattresses, with little or no consideration as long as “it makes life easier.” Even we who are Christians are not immune to this behaviour, with many of us accepting things of questionable value into our lives for reasons no greater than to improve our health or wealth. Before I go too far into this message I want to say that our use of many of these things may not be evil in and of themselves but that our unthinking/uncritical acceptance of what the world accepts could well be evil.


Over the years there have been many events which have caused Christians to believe that the Return of Christ was at hand. The destruction of the World Trade Center by terrorists in 2001 was no exception, with many Christians believing that this event was the destruction of Babylon referred to in Revelation 18 and that the Return of Christ was imminent:


Revelation 18:8-24 ESV ~ For this reason her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her."  (9)  And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning.  (10)  They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, "Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come."

There are many problems with concluding that the terrorist attacks on America were a fulfillment of this prophecy, not the least of which was the fact that America at that time was an essentially God fearing nation and in no way completely met the description given in Revelation 18. In our current time we can be fairly confident that America, as it exists today, is not the nation spoken of in this passage. America has neither been destroyed in an amazingly short time nor does it appear to be on its way to destruction. It may be true that America will at one time become the Babylon of which John was writing (I do not believe this to be true but it is possible and there are certainly many people the world over who believe that America is now or will become the Babylon of Revelation) but regardless of whether or not this is true America’s discovery of terrorism on its own soil indicates how another event spoken of earlier in Revelation could take place:


Revelation 13:11-17 ESV  Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon.  (12)  It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed.  (13)  It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people,  (14)  and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived.  (15)  And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.  (16)  Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead,  (17)  so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.


The final verse of this chapter, in which the number of the beast is actually given, has been deliberately left off as I believe we too often focus our attention on calculating the number instead of considering its purpose. (This is part of an overall habit Christians have of reading Revelation to stimulate our imagination rather than to glorify God.) The purpose of the mark of the beast will be to prevent those who love God from obtaining the necessities of life. This will happen because only those who have the mark of the beast upon their bodies will be able to buy anything and only those who pledge allegiance to the beast will have the mark of the beast on their bodies. Christians will not pledge allegiance to the beast, will therefore refuse the mark of the beast and consequently will not be able to buy what they need to live.


How does the destruction of the World Trade Center show how this can take place? Since September 11, 2001 there has been a great effort on the part of the rulers of America to make the lives of its citizens more secure. One of the proposed options would be to have each citizen carry a form of high tech security card which would enable the authorities to verify the identity and history of the individual to protect the safety of the population at large. With the advances in modern technology it is very easy to extrapolate from this card to an electronic chip that would be embedded beneath the skin, much like the RFID tags we find now on almost everything we buy (at least here in North America). Please note that I am not trying to say that America is in any way associated with the beast, simply that in pursuit of security for its citizens America shows very clearly how the mark of the beast could initially be perceived as a beneficial thing when it is finally imposed. Just as many Americans will willingly accept such an identity card because they believe it will enhance their security people will want the mark of the beast because they believe that without it they will not be able to buy what they need to live or to enjoy life. Much has been said in recent years of the loss of personal liberty following the terrorist attacks but it has been accepted overall as the price that must be paid for improved personal safety. The sacrifice is tolerated because the benefit is life. The point that I am trying to make is that the mark of the beast may not be understood so much as an act of worship as an act of practicality: Without the mark one goes hungry, with the mark one eats. From a purely pragmatic point of view there is no question as to what makes the most sense. To receive the mark will not be a spiritual decision but a practical decision. Yet it will be worship, for the Bible makes very clear that those carrying the mark will by wearing it express their allegiance to the beast.


I have said earlier that I do not believe that America is the nation spoken of in Revelation 18. I also do not believe that we are close to the time when the beast will be revealed nor that the church will be raptured before the tribulations of the last days. I believe that it will be an analogous situation to that which occurred when God’s judgments were being poured out upon Egypt in the form of the plagues that ultimately led to Israel’s release from captivity and yet Israel was protected from the worst of them. So why have I spoken so much of the mark of the beast? The answer, quite simply, is to call our attention to the fact that the mark of the beast is in a very real sense a form of compromise with the world. It is a deliberate alignment with a power opposed to God so that a form of life on Earth may continue. Even though the mark of the beast is an indefinite period of time in the future this type of compromise occurs today as well. You and I, we compromise. We give up certain (Christian) liberties so that a form of (worldly) life may continue. We align ourselves with the world in order to take pleasure in the things it provides. We watch movies and TV shows that perhaps we shouldn’t so that we can be entertained or have something to talk about with others the next day. We think thoughts no Christian should ever think for our pleasure. We hate those who hate us. We get divorced in spite of our promises of “For Better Or Worse.”


Recently many Christians were of the opinion that they could safely “enjoy” the Harry Potter books and movies in spite of God’s telling us not to have anything to do with witches. Many Christian men secretly enjoy questionable works of art in spite of God telling us to be satisfied with the beauty of our wives. Many Christians delight in hateful talk about others in spite of God telling us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. On a regular basis we do things that shame God and bring dishonour to His name.


It has been said that statistically speaking there is no discernable difference between Christians and non-Christians in North America. In fact, in some areas of our culture non-Christians live more exemplary lives than Christians. We have come a long way from John’s admonition:


1 John 2:15-17 ESV ~ Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  (16)  For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world.  (17)  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.


How many of us here this evening can honestly say that we follow these words consistently, that when we are tugged between God and the world we regularly choose God. I know for myself that I all too often choose personal pleasure over God’s glory. Jesus made it very clear that such a situation would eventually lead to our preferring one allegiance over the other, we would eventually love personal pleasure more than serving God or loving God more than personal pleasure.


Matthew 6:24 ESV ~ No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.


The point that I am trying to make is that in compromising with the world we are revealing our true allegiance. When we decide to do anything that the world enjoys in spite of God’s words to the contrary we are showing that we love the world more than we love God. John said that the world and its desires will be destroyed but that whoever does the will of God will live forever.


Every decision we make shows whether we will live or be destroyed. Every decision we make shows whether we love God or the world most. We are, however, unable on our own to make the right decisions. Paul writes of himself that:


Romans 7:18-19 ESV ~ For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  (19)  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.


It is not just a question of wanting to do the right thing and not doing it but of wanting to do the right thing and not being able to. How do we get past this to where compromise with the world is no longer an issue? On our own we can’t. Our sinful nature affects every aspect of our lives like a teabag dunked in water turns all the water into tea. We need help from beyond ourselves. We need help from Jesus who, though tempted by sin even as we are, remains untainted by sin. Kind of like water not being changed by the teabag in the slightest. Paul continues his complaint by saying that:


Romans 8:1-9 ESV ~ There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (2)  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  (3)  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,  (4)  in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  (5)  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  (6)  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  (7)  For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.  (8)  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  (9)  You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.


We belong to Christ! We have been reclaimed from sin and reoriented with God through the sinless Jesus who triumphed over sin even though He was tempted in every way just as you and I are. Paul writes that “those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” In each decision we have a choice. But now, because of Jesus, we are not powerless in that choice. Through the power of God given to us through Jesus ministry we can set our mind on the Spirit and choose life instead of death. It is not impossible, just difficult, but Paul writes as well that:


1 Corinthians 10:13-14 ESV ~ No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.  (14)  Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.


I would add to this that each decision that we make should be made with prayer. We should pray for the wisdom to be able to determine what is beneficial and what is harmful. Quite often we do not even know that we are being tempted when we are being tempted. The enemy presents himself all too often as “an angel of light” and we are ill equipped on our own to diagnose whether or not he is right. Sin presents itself to us as merely another option, not always as something obviously evil. We are often unaware of the evil that is present in the choices before us and need to pray for wisdom. The final decision may be hard, it may cost us greatly, but our ultimate goal is not a long and pleasant life on Earth but an eternity praising God in Heaven. In this life trust God, He will enable you to do all that is necessary in preparation for the kingdom of Heaven.


Matthew 6:25-34 ESV ~ "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  (26)  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  (27)  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  (28)  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,  (29)  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  (30)  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  (31)  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  (32)  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  (33)  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.