Revelation 13 is a chapter we need to understand thoroughly because some day we are going to have to explain these verses in courts and in legislatures. We must be able to explain what we believe and why we believe it.
Revelation 13:1–10 talks about a beast that comes out of the sea. There are 23 definitive descriptions of the beast power to help understand who it is and to know how they apply.
Revelation 13:11–17 talks about another beast that comes up later. I have found 17 definitive statements that describe this beast, which is the United States.
We need to study these things and pray that the Lord will help us to be ready for what is going to happen, because it is going to happen suddenly and at an unexpected time.
Revelation 13:15 says, “He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast …” To understand that, you need to know what the image of the beast is. “… the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.” In verse 16, it says, “He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads.”
This beast power, this government, is going to cause everybody to receive that mark. Then in verse 17 it says, “No one may buy or sell except one who has the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of the name.” This will lead up to the death decree, in verse 15, which is not the first thing but the last thing.
When I was a child, we lived in a completely different world from today. When you wanted to pay somebody, you either gave them cash or a check. If you couldn’t pay with cash or a check, then you went to a bank and mortgaged something to obtain a loan. We thought at that time that we understood a little bit about what Revelation 13:17 meant regarding buying and selling.
Those who were alive in the 1940s during World War II experienced a foretaste of what will be experienced in the near future when there are restrictions on buying and selling. My father saw similar restrictions enforced by this country in the 1940s with the rationing system. You could not buy gasoline, oil, tires, shoes, sugar, meat, coffee, and a host of other consumer products without ration stamps procured from the Federal government. Conversely, you could not sell without permission from the same government. Prices were usually fixed for both buyers and sellers. There were very stiff penalties for violators, including fines and jail time. However, a large black market flourished illegally, just as it did during Prohibition in the 1920s. We assumed that restrictions on trade would be something similar. But today we are living in a completely different age.
We have been told that we need to prepare for that time. Ellen White wrote in 1903: “The work of the people of God is to prepare for the events of the future, which will soon come upon them with blinding force.” Selected Messages, Book 2, 142. In the future there is going to be a national Sunday law.
Ellen White also said that, “We have nothing to fear for the future except as we forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 31. The problem is that most Adventists today hardly even know what happened in the past; so how would they forget something they never knew?
In the past, there have been efforts to develop and enact a national Sunday law in the United States, but they have never succeeded. One of the reasons that the effort failed in 1891 was that A. T. Jones, an Adventist minister, went to the United States Congress and explained to them the consequences of doing such a thing, and the law was not passed.
However, even though our nation has never passed a national Sunday law, the states themselves have passed many state Sunday laws.
Let’s review a bit of what has happened in the past with Sunday laws in this country. This is not an extensive or exhaustive account. Events that occurred in the late 1880s in Tennessee were recorded in The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, 471–497. It was in regard to what happened in Tennessee that Ellen White wrote a very lengthy testimony about how we should relate to Sunday laws. This is important for Seventh-day Adventists to know so that when these laws are pushed again we do not take extremes either way.
In Tennessee, one hundred twenty Seventh-day Adventists were arrested, tried, convicted, fined, and imprisoned within a very short time for breaking the Sunday law. That was not a national Sunday law but a Tennessee Sunday law. Over twenty-five hundred dollars were paid in fines. Eighty-seven were put into prison for approximately five years. Twelve were put on a road-chain gang to repair roads, bridges, and break stones. What did they do? What had they done wrong? One of these men had repaired the screen door of his house on Sunday. One man had dug a mess of potatoes from his garden for his family’s meal on Sunday. Another had fixed his shoes, and in the process of fixing his shoes, he made a noise with a hammer, and a neighbor heard it and turned him in.
Another person was turned in by his neighbor after being spotted working in his cornfield on Sunday. The neighbor said he watched him work, then he went off to church, but he couldn’t concentrate on the sermon because he kept thinking how wrong that law-breaker was to work on “his holy day.” So this mental disturbance was sufficient enough to sustain a conviction in court and get the Seventh-day Adventist put in jail. A widow was convicted for returning a borrowed wagon with a load of kindling wood as payment for its use. This is just a sampling of what happened to the Adventists in the 1880s.
Actually, in the 1600s, before the United States became a nation, people were put to death for violating religious laws in this country. In Massachusetts, during the spring and summer of 1692, nineteen persons were hanged. One was killed by being pressed to death and sixty-six were tortured until they confessed. One hundred fifty were imprisoned and two hundred were deemed suspicious and worthy of arrest.
The Review and Herald reported a prominent churchman in the 1880s who said, “If you will look in Noah Webster’s dictionary, you will find the word ‘Sunday’ is defined as the Christian sabbath. It is true that before Christ the Jewish people kept the seventh day. However since Christ, the lines of longitude and latitude have been such that it is impossible to keep it. And furthermore, the custom of this country makes it obligatory upon us to observe Sunday sacredly. But these miserable Adventists come around in the face of all this, and tell us that we must keep the old Jewish Sabbath. They are a set of abominable traitors who are trying to produce dissention in our land and oppose the laws of our country. The place for every one of them is in our state prisons. And what we want is a law that will put them there. And thank God the time is not far distant when we will have it.”
In 1891 Sunday keepers thought they could get the law passed and would have if A.T. Jones had not protested it in Congress, resulting in the majority in the United States Congress voting it down. In 1920, in Virginia, on Tangier Island in Chesapeake Bay, a young man by the name of Roland Parks was shot with a revolver by the local constable because he refused to go to church on Sunday morning or to remain indoors. He was sitting outside on a bench in front of the town store, in violation of the local Sunday laws.
What has happened in the past on a state level is going to happen in the future on the national level. Ellen White wrote about this national Sunday law in Testimonies, vol. 5, 451, and lists a whole series of things that are going to happen when it is passed. She says it will be time when the marvelous working of Satan will come to pass.
She says our people are going to be plunged into those scenes of distress and affliction described in the prophecies and that national apostasy will bring about national ruin. When that happens we can know that it is almost time for the angel of mercy to take flight, never to return. What does that mean? That means that probation closes. Ellen White said these things would come upon us with “blinding force.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 4, 74. We need to be studying and asking the Lord to teach us step by step what to do and when to do it. The time will come when we will have to flee the big cities.
Only the Lord knows where each one of us will be when Jesus comes. Some will be in prison or in a cave, but be sure that life will not be the same as we are experiencing at this present time. Adventists believe and have taught that because of what is coming on the world we must get out of the cities, especially the big cities. Preparation must be made for these difficult times that are ahead of us.
Ellen White wrote in 1902: “The time is not far distant when every city will be visited by the plagues of God.” Ibid., vol. 17, 357. In another place she wrote: “The larger the city, the greater will be the oppression.” Ibid., vol. 19, 337.
Although the Pen of Inspiration states that the United States will lead out in this oppression, the very same crisis regarding buying and selling will eventually be a worldwide event. God’s people will be affected at the time, regardless of where they are when this happens, and “every city will be visited by the plagues of God.”
There are already plagues of God in the earth, but when I read these things and read that Ellen White says that in the last days, God is going to walk through the earth and spoil the whole land, I ask myself, What does that mean? We are yet to find out!
“Those who choose to remain in the cities, surrounded by the houses of unbelievers, must share in the disasters that will come upon them.” Ibid., vol. 17, 350. We’ve been told before it happens so that we can think through where we live and what we are doing, and consider how we will be affected by what’s going to happen.
I don’t fully understand what her statement means, but I do know that if I am there, surrounded by unbelievers, I will be sharing in the disasters that come upon them from the plagues that are coming on the cities.
Now here is what the Lord, Who knows everything, has told us. He knows what the devil is thinking and all of his devious plans and has revealed them through His prophet. “Satan says …
“ ‘For fear of wanting food and clothing they will join with the world in transgressing God’s law.’ ” Prophets and Kings, 183, 184.
They transgress God’s law for fear of want of food and clothing because they will not be able to buy and sell unless they compromise their faith. The devil says, “The earth will be wholly under my dominion.” Ibid. “Then the sabbath, [the false Sabbath] which I (the devil) have set up shall be enforced by laws the most severe and exacting. Those who disregard them [these severe and exacting laws] shall be driven out from the cities and villages, and made to suffer hunger and privation.” Maranatha, 163.
That time is coming. We do not know when or how.
When I studied these subjects many years ago, I thought, like many Adventists, that it was time to find an isolated place. However, further study into this subject revealed that there is a time to do that, but right now we need to get the message to the world. We have been told we should scorn concealment.
But that time is coming and we have to trust the Lord that He will show us at the right time when to flee. We need to go to the Lord and ask for the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us.
Ellen White saw in vision the time of trouble. She said, “During the night a very impressive scene passed before me. There seemed to be great confusion and the conflict of armies. A messenger from the Lord stood before me, and said, ‘Call your household. I will lead you; follow me.’ He led me down a dark passage, through a forest, then through the clefts of mountains, and said, ‘Here you are safe.’ There were others who had been led to this retreat. The heavenly messenger said. ‘The time of trouble has come as a thief in the night, as the Lord warned you it would come.’ ” Ibid., 270.
The Lord knows when we will be driven from our homes. If we are staying close to Jesus, He can send an angel to tell us ahead of time that it is time to get ready to go. There is no way you can surprise the Lord. If you are under His direction, the Lord can direct you when it is time to leave your home, when it is time to flee to the mountains, or similar place of safety.
In one place Ellen White says, “It is impossible to give any idea of the experience of the people of God who shall be alive upon the earth when celestial glory and a repetition of the persecutions of the past are blended.” Ibid., 205. Then she says, “By means of the angels there will be constant communication between heaven and earth [for God’s people].” Ibid.
When these prophecies in Revelation 13 are fulfilled, the most important preparation is, “Have you received the Holy Spirit? Are you being directed and guided by the heavenly agencies?”
Ellen White said: “I was shown that it is the will of God that the saints should cut loose from every encumbrance before the time of trouble comes, and make a covenant with God through sacrifice. If they have their property on the altar and earnestly inquire of God for duty, He will teach them when to dispose of these things. Then they will be free in the time of trouble and have no clogs to weigh them down.” Early Writings, 56, 57.
As we draw closer to the end, these things are going to come on us with blinding force. But, nothing comes on the Lord with blinding force. There is no such thing as surprising the Lord. Thus the most important thing is for each one of us to be guided by the heavenly agencies and to be in tune with the Lord and not just going our own way. For that to happen, we need churches. We need the people of God’s church to be praying day by day that we might be led and guided by His Holy Spirit.
We know that our work right now is to get the Three Angels’ Messages to all the world and to help people to get ready in character for Jesus to come. But the time will come when it will be time to do something different. Jesus said we do not know when the time is but He does know and will not be surprised when normality as we know it breaks apart. We need to be people of prayer, continually asking for direction. If our lives are committed to the Lord, and we are seeking for the Holy Spirit to direct and guide us, the angels know exactly what we need to do and will lead us. We have been promised His Holy Spirit so we can face the future without terror.
There are many peopIe who are fearful and cannot figure out what is happening in this world. The economy is collapsing, there is a moral decline, and they do not feel safe anymore. Some worldly people are moving out to the mountains for safety, believing that a terrible catastrophe is going to happen in the United States. There are some worldly people who are hoarding gold and silver and stashing food and water in preparation for their survival.
However, the most important thing is to be guided by the Holy Spirit. The Lord has promised us in Luke 11:13 that if you ask, He has promised to send you the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes, the next thing is, am I going to receive whatever rebuke or reproof or direction He gives me? If I receive that, then the Holy Spirit will continue to guide me.
Guidance from the Holy Spirit is what we need to be able to have the assurance that we will be able to face the future without terror. People that don’t even know the Three Angels’ Messages are terrified today by what’s going on in the world. This is not just in the United States. There is no need for fear if we are under divine direction and guidance. The only way possible to face the future without terror is to be under the direction of the divine agency.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church of Free Seventh-day Adventists in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.