Three Angels Messages Part 45

Thanks again for joining us, as we continue our study of the Three Angels’ Messages found in Revelation 14. We are just now beginning our study of the message of the third angel, the first part of which reads, “Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation.’”

            There are a number of topics that are posed by this third message, as we noted before. Our first quest must be to identify what or who is represented by the term “beast,” a term which is obviously used in a symbolic way. We saw that Scripture uses animals to represent kingdoms or powers, a technique revealed in Daniel 7. We saw that, although there are no identifying clues given in the third angel’s message itself, in Revelation 14, as to whom this beast refers, in chapter 13 clues are given regarding a beast. Actually, there are two beasts brought to view in chapter 13, but as we saw in our last study, the beast with the mark must be the beast introduced in the first 10 verses of that chapter, the beast from “the sea.”

We remind you again that knowing about the beast is important; knowing the “Lamb” is even more important! You can be an expert on prophecy and still be lost!

As we being our study of the identity of the beast, it is important to consider how the Bible reveals information to us. We must not allow ourselves to be misguided by what we might call, “excessive literalism.” It is true that we should “take the Bible as it reads,” but at the same time, we must be acquainted with how the Spirit uses symbols and illustrations to teach us. This understanding is critical as we approach the study of the beast and its mark.

A popular concept that is being circulated currently is that the “beast” is a giant computer in Belgium, capable of retaining and processing the names of everyone alive today. Is that true? Is that what the Bible is speaking about? When seeking the identity of the beast of Revelation 14, whose deadly mark must be avoided, serious and competent work must be done to arrive at reliable conclusions. Just because a theory sounds good isn’t enough. Just because many people believe and promote an idea, and many books are published preaching that idea, doesn’t make it correct. We must allow the Scriptures to clarify and identify this prophetic term. Because this is such a pivotal point, we must spend some time studying how the truths of Scripture are presented. Remember, it was misinterpretation of prophecy that prepared the Jews to reject Jesus.

            Here’s a pitfall to watch out for: a failing among the Jewish expositors of Jesus’ day was being too literalistic in their interpretations. For example, the Old Testament said, “You shall bind them (God’s words) as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” Deuteronomy 6:8. It is clear that what God really wanted was for them to have His words in their hearts and minds.  Just before this He had pled, “Oh that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” Deuteronomy 5:29. Then, right after He had said this, He told them that they should “bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” We’ll give more scrutiny to this passage when we study the mark of the beast and the seal of God a little later.

            But what did they do? They took this counsel literally, making small boxes which contained Bible verses and mounting them on their foreheads. They inscribed scriptural passages and covered their forearms with them. These were called “phylacteries” from a Greek word meaning “to guard” or “protect,” or “tephilim,” (or “tefillin”) from an Aramaic word meaning “prayer.” Jesus addressed this when He spoke of their hypocrisy saying, “They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.” Matthew 23:5. Excessive literalism caused them to miss the point.

            Was God as interested in their making physical scripture boxes to wear on their foreheads as He was in their allowing the Spirit to inscribe His law on their minds? Was He as interested in the physical wearing of verses on their arms as He was in their hands engaged in working righteousness? We don’t read that Jesus wore a scripture box on His forehead, but we do read of Him, “I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within My heart.” Psalm 40:8.

            Another example: when Jesus said “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees,” the disciples thought He was referring to the fact that they had run out of bread. Only later did they catch on that He was not speaking of literal leaven or bread. “Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Matthew 16:6, 12. Excessive literalism had stood in the way of their understanding Jesus’ meaning.

            This same Jesus identified the ministry of John the Baptist as a fulfilling of Malachi’s prophecy of the return of Elijah. “His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ Then Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Elijah truly is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.” Matthew 17:10-13. Earlier He had said, “And if you are willing to receive it, he (John the Baptist) is Elijah who is to come.” Matthew 11:14.

            This poses a puzzle, for when John the Baptist was questioned as to his identity, he denied being Elijah. “Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’” John 1:19-21. How can it be that Jesus said John was “Elijah” but John said he wasn’t “Elijah”? Is this a contradiction in Scripture?

            It’s not really that hard of a question. Before John was born the angel Gabriel appeared to his father Zachariah and said, “He (John) will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah.” Luke 1:17. No, John the Baptist was not literally the reincarnation of Elijah, and he properly denied being him when asked by the delegation of priests. It is also true though, that in another sense he was “Elijah,” for he came in the same Spirit and power of Elijah and his role was similar to the role of the ancient prophet, for just as Elijah did through his ministry, the angel said, “He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.” Luke 1:16. But you would never understand the truth that Jesus spoke about John being “Elijah” if you saw only through a literalistic lens. How much truth was lost because the people didn’t understand His way of illustrating! How important for us in these last days to make sure we’re “rightly dividing the word of truth” when it comes to interpreting the important prophetic symbols of Revelation! II Timothy 2:15.

            We have a number of illustrations of this same principle at work in the Gospel of John. When the Jews asked Jesus for a sign He replied, “‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Then the Jews said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body.” John 2:19-21. Notice how they missed the point that Christ was bringing because they were mired in a literalistic rut of interpretation.

            In the next chapter Jesus told Nicodemus, “‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’” John 3:3, 4. Nicodemus didn’t yet understand the illustration Jesus was using because he was stuck in literalism.

            In the following chapter, again Jesus’ speech was misunderstood. As He rested beside Jacob’s well, Jesus spoke with a Samaritan woman who had come to draw water. He said to her, “‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, “Give Me a drink,” you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water?’” John 4:10, 11. The true meaning of Jesus’ words did not penetrate her thinking at that time because she viewed them in a strictly literal sense.

            Even those who walked with Him sometimes struggled with this ailment. Later in that same chapter when the disciples returned from the village, they invited their Master to partake of some food. “In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’ But He said to them, ‘I have food to eat of which you do not know.’ Therefore the disciples said to one another, ‘Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?’” John 4:31, 32. Jesus was completely comfortable in using every day things as illustrations of spiritual truth. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. I Corinthians 2:14.

            The disciples were confused by the fact that Jesus spoke in many parables, but He explained to them, “‘To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that “Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”’” Luke 8:10. “And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.” Mark 4:34. Sometimes the Bible presents its truths coded in symbolic format, but the sincere, diligent and obedient seeker of truth will never be left in ignorance. According to the introductory verse of the book of Revelation, to His “servants” truth will be revealed. Revelation 1:1.

            These examples in the New Testament illustrate that the Jews were trapped in a maze of excessive literalism which prevented them from understanding spiritual truth. This affected their understanding of Bible prophecy as well. Looking for a political redeemer, the Jews were unprepared to receive Christ, the suffering Lamb. Here’s the point as it applies to those desiring to understand the coded truths of the book of Revelation: their misunderstanding of Bible prophecy was fatal! It led to the rejection of God’s plan and the crucifixion of His Son. Truly the angel spoke of them, “None of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.” Daniel 12:10.

            Here’s the all-important question then. Could it be possible that history will repeat itself? Could the overly literalistic mistakes that were prevalent at the First Advent be duplicated at the time of the Second Advent? Could it be that many of the professed followers of God in these last days will be unprepared for His coming as were the Jews of old, being locked into a system of excessive literalism and false interpretations of prophecy? Is the devil trying to deceive people today, suggesting overly-literalistic and incorrect interpretations of the “beast” and its “mark,” and thus leading people to perdition?

            Jesus’ first words were, as He began His discourse on the signs preceding His return, “Take heed that no one deceives you.” Matthew 24:4. By this language we may be assured that the devil will indeed seek to deceive and twist the prophecies, signs and issues that pertain to Jesus’ second coming. What is the beast, and what is its mark? Is it some computer in Europe? Is the mark a visible tattoo or bar code? Let’s not indulge in fanciful human theories on these matters, but allow the Scriptures to give us the answers to these most important questions. The Bible is its best interpreter.

            Please join us next time as we continue to explore Bible answers to the mysterious symbols of the book of Revelation. God wants us to understand, apply and be ready for Jesus’ coming, which will take place very soon!

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