|All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)|
Even if we don’t understand the meaning of the prophetic symbols, there are lessons we can take from Revelation. We can understand its basic message as a continuation of the whole Bible story – the conflict between those who follow man’s thinking and those who follow God’s thinking. We see this theme throughout the Scriptures, in Isaac and Ishmael, Esau and Jacob, Moses and Pharaoh, Saul and David. So, in Revelation, we see the conflict and contrast between Christ the Lamb and the various Beasts, between the true Bride of believers, and the Harlot, representing those whose thinking is against God.
Take a look at Revelation chapter 17, focussing particularly on verse 5 – but here's the whole context:
|And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration. (Revelation 17:1-6)|
I'll leave the full explanation of that to someone else, but for the purposes of this study we can see this woman as a symbol of those who at various times have been in rebellion against God and have persecuted the true believers. Here is a woman who is finely dressed and decked with jewels, and yet on her forehead she has this name of reproach.
'A mark on the forehead' is mentioned eight times in Revelation. Yet we will see that there are two very different marks, associated with different groups of people.
We might think most readily of the mark of the beast, which has been identified with everything from christening to barcodes.
|Rev 13:16: And he [the beast of the earth] causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads|
Later on we’re told what the mark is:
|Rev 14:11: 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.|
So we have a group of people who receive a mark on their foreheads, the mark being the name of the beast.
In contrast, we see another group of people who represent the followers of God:
|Rev 7:3: [...] Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.|
|Rev 14:1: And I looked, and lo, a Lamb [i.e. Christ] stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.|
Throughout Revelation, we get pictures of these two groups of people – the followers of man’s thinking who have the name of the beast in their forehead, and the followers of Christ who have the Father’s name in their forehead.
Without understanding the symbology, we can still note the differences between the two groups. And there is one small difference I want to highlight.
The followers of God have a seal in their forehead
The followers of man’s thinking have a mark in their forehead.
From a 21st century Western perspective, that’s perhaps not an obvious difference, but we can begin to see the significance when we consider what life was like in the 1st century.
A seal was used on letters and official documents to show that they were genuine. The seal was made by pressing a cylinder seal or a signet ring into warm wax so that an impression was made on the wax.
The Greek word for ‘mark’, on the other hand, was sometimes used to refer to branding. In Roman times, if a slave escaped and was recaptured, he would be branded on his forehead. They would burn the letters FUG into his flesh, to show that he was a fugitive. Even in our own age, some cultures use a mark in the forehead. Take for example the red dot worn on the forehead of Hindu women – which is at least in part to show that they are married, and have taken their husband’s name.
So we can see that while the followers of God are marked with a sign of genuineness, the followers of man’s thinking are marked with a sign of slavery and servitude.
Perhaps it is a deliberate allusion to several Old Testament passages. Take a look at three references in the Law to the Israelites having ‘frontlets between their eyes’.
Ex 13:14 and 16 – The Law of the Passover:
|And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage. [...] And it shall be a token upon thine hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes: for by strength of hand the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt.|
|And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead.|
Note the similarity with ‘the mark on the forehead’ in Revelation.
The same phrase comes up in different contexts in Deuteronomy.
|Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.|
|Therefore shall ye lay up these words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.|
These passages are taken literally by the Jews – hence the phylacteries mentioned in the New Testament – little boxes worn on the forehead which contained passages of Scripture. But the context makes it clear that it is talking about remembering the words of God, recalling them, and recounting them to the following generations. The commandments were to be part of everyday life; a pattern of thought that would affect everything the Israelites did, whether sitting, walking, going to bed, or getting up.
A further reference to a sign in the forehead is in the description of the priestly garments. Ex 28:36-38:
|And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD. And thou shalt put it on a blue lace, that it may be upon the mitre; upon the forefront of the mitre it shall be. And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.|
Aaron had been separated to God and was responsible for the things that the people had consecrated. So the outward sign of ‘Holiness to the LORD’ engraved (cp. sealed) on his forehead should have been matched by a holiness of mind – that Aaron’s very thoughts were separated and sanctified to God.
Both of the Old Testament examples we’ve looked at are related to the positive mark in the forehead – the seal of God. Now we come to a contrasting example, in 2 Chronicles 26.
Uzziah was king of Judah about 750 years before Christ. He started off doing what was right in the sight of God…
But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the LORD his God, and went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense upon the altar of incense. And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the LORD, that were valiant men: And they withstood Uzziah the king, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the LORD, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense… Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense: and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of the LORD, from beside the incense altar… and Uzziah was a leper unto the day of his death. (2 Chron 26:16-19)
Uzziah had rebellious mind, and so this was reflected by a mark in his forehead – leprosy, the symbol of sin. As the eighty priests stood in the temple, what a contrast there would be between the true priest who had ‘Holiness to the LORD’ on his forehead, and false priest who instead had a mark showing his sinfulness.
If we are seeking to be followers of Christ, we should be trying to develop his mind, his attitude, within us. When we read of the Father’s name sealed in the believers’ foreheads, we should see this, not as some literal, physical thing, but as the influence of the things of God on our minds. Like Moses, we have to recognise that the Father’s name is about the character, the mind of God – the qualities of mercy and grace, goodness and truth, patience and justice. Having the Father’s name in our foreheads means having those qualities in our minds. And as Aaron had ‘Holiness to the LORD’ written on his forehead, so we should consecrate or sanctify our minds to God.
Thinking once more about the seal... The wax has to be warmed, so that is pliable, and able to receive an impression. Then the signet ring is pushed into the wax until the image of the signet is formed.
|Rom 8:29: For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.|
Our minds are to be gently conformed to the mind of Christ, not seared with the hot iron of branding (1Tim 4:1-2), not conformed to the thinking of the world.
|Rom 12:2: Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.|
And how do we develop the mind of Christ within us? Surely it is by doing what the Israelites were commanded to do.
|Therefore shall ye lay up these words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. (Deut 11:18-19)|
Only by reading the Word of God can we know the mind of God. As it is, it can be hard to discipline ourselves to read the Scriptures every day. But this in itself is not enough. We might ‘do the readings’, but if we don’t think about what they say, then what use will they be? Nor is it enough just to think - we need to talk to each other about the Word. Those words of Deuteronomy again:
|Thou shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.|
If we bring the Scriptures into every part of our daily lives, it will be so much easier to serve God faithfully. We can easily be distracted by our own failings and problems, so that we focus on them rather than the wider picture. But the advice from the Scriptures is to put aside those things, to concentrate instead on developing the mind of Christ, and with God’s help, and through His grace, the rest should fall into place.
|Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfil my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted him and given him the name which is above every name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:1-11 [NKJV/NIV])|