Sunday School Notes: Revelation 13:9-10

9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear: 10 If anyone is [taken] into captivity, he departs into captivity. If anyone [is] to be killed by a sword, he is to be killed by a sword. Here is the steadfastness and faith of the saints.

We spent our time discussing these difficult verses. It’s not the meaning of the verses that makes them difficult. The Greek is a little awkward when rendered literally into English, but the intention of the Greek is quite clear. And that’s what makes the verses difficult: the implications of these words not only for John and his audience, but for us today.

Verse 9 should sound familiar. In the letters to the churches (chapters 2 and 3), the Lord uses the phrase, “he who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” near or at the end of each letter. Jesus also used a similar phrase after delivering the parable of the sower (or, better, the parable of the seeds): “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9). This is a call for those to whom it has been given to understand to pay attention. After Jesus gave the parable, his disciples came to him asking about its meaning, and Jesus explained it to them. In the letters to the churches, Jesus calls on the members of those churches, and all who read the letters (including us) to pay attention to his words. He gives encouragement to those who are his own, those who “overcome,” that they will have an eternal reward. But these words are not for everyone. They are only for those that will hear them–i.e., his elect.

John is using that phrase in the same way here, I believe. Having just talked about the first beast, his blasphemies, and his intent to destroy God’s people, he calls on the church to pay attention to what’s being said. The gist of verse 10 is, if you’re being led into captivity–arrested, or otherwise taken away against your will–then go into captivity, and if you are to be killed by the sword, then be killed. If the reader doesn’t have the context of the letters, and all that has preceded chapter 13, this sounds bleak, hopeless, and fatalistic. But we must recall that Revelation is a letter of hope. John has been reminding us through his visions that our goal is not world domination. This physical world, as good and pleasant as it is, cannot be the final focus of our lives. We are not kingdom building here on earth. Our focus is on the eternal. God’s promises to us are heavenly rewards. This life is but a fleeting breath. Our few years here are nothing compared to eternity. If we suffer here, it’s a small thing compared to the glory that is to come. That thought shouldn’t make us negligent about the physical world. We ought to care about the planet, and our bodily well-being, since these are good gifts from God (see Genesis 1). But our hope is not here; our salvation and security is not in the things of this world.

With this thought in mind, John tells his readers that they should be willing to accept whatever comes their way as a result of their faithfulness to the gospel, and to Christ. If that means being led away, perhaps into exile as John was, then so be it. Or if it means paying the ultimate price, then Christians should be willing to face death for the Lord’s sake. And this is, indeed, the steadfastness, or the endurance, and the faith of the saints. By this willingness to take the consequences of standing firm in Christ, God’s people bear witness to their faith, and shine the light of the gospel broadly. And that steadfastness glorifies God.

This leads to some interesting questions, which we spent the rest of our time discussing: Does this mean we should offer no resistance to authorities when we are punished for our faith? Should we just lie down and passively take what comes our way? Is there a place for taking action against evil and injustice at the hands of the civil authorities? I’m not going into everything we discussed, but these are some thoughts we considered. First, we are privileged in the West to even be able to ask these questions. There are still countries in the world where ruling authorities wield absolute power, and private citizens have no legal mechanism to oppose them. In the West, particularly in the US, we have a Constitution and system of laws that can be used to make our case and uphold justice. We also have the ability to change bad laws and promote just legislation. As God has given us such privileges, we ought to make use of them, rather than try to subvert them, even in a good cause. For example, abortion is clearly a practice condemned by Scripture, and abhorrent in the sight of God. It is, therefore, right and proper for Christians to oppose the practice of abortion, and to try to influence governmental powers to work to protect life from conception to death. However, it is clearly wrong, indeed, hypocritical, to murder abortionists–one sin does not justify another. And it is also not biblical to destroy abortion clinics, even if there’s no loss of life, since such destruction of property is a criminal offense.

But what if the law of the land is contrary to the command of God? To what extent must the Christian obey the ruling authorities? I think this is the situation Revelation 13:9-10 describes. If the beast represents the government, whether it’s the Roman government, or some other oppressive regime that opposes Christ and his church, then this is what faithful Christians can expect. If the Christian has recourse within the bounds of the law to state his case and try for justice, I see nothing in Scripture to prevent him. However, if the state rules against him, then he must accept the punishment, knowing that divine justice is on his side, and divine judgment awaits those who rule unjustly against God’s people. Again, our fight is not against the rulers of this world, but against spiritual powers and principalities, and they have already been defeated at the cross.

This is how the saints endure. This is our testimony to the world, that our hope is not in political leaders and government, but in the Lord who is truly God of all.

We’ll start at verse 11 next time.

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