In our exploration of how the relationship between God and man helps to illuminate concerns about larger issues, including questions about the nature of unity and diversity in God and the church, both of which are rightly considered to be mysteries, let us begin by looking in an unusual place and perhaps what may seem to be an unusual subject, and that is the question of what one is forbidden to worship and what one is obligated to worship in the book of Revelation. Since we are looking to relate questions of God and mankind and questions of unity and diversity, and how it is that a study of prophecy can relate to questions of seemingly esoteric theology, Revelation is a good place for all of these mysterious issues to be addressed in ways that can shine a light in multiple areas at once.
Let us begin with the question of the negative. What things are we absolutely forbidden to worship in the book of Revelation? One of those things is angels. There are, of course, two types of angels. Of demons, there is one reference to worshiping demons that takes place in Revelation 9:20-21, which reads: “But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” This suggests to us that the worship of the last days of mankind will be of a kind that actually worships demons, and that this demon worship is also related to sexual immorality, theft, murder, and sorcery, which is a word connected with the making of potions and possibly to the abuse of drugs and other chemicals. These are all characteristic sins of our times, and it is telling that the Bible connects these sins and crimes which run rampant in our society with the unrepented worship of demons.
If demons long for worship and it is improper to worship them but also common for people to do so in decadent ages such as our own. How do angels respond to the offers of worship? We find out in two passages towards the end of Revelation. Revelation 19:9-10 reads: “Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.” And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”” A similar event, with a similar response, happens in Revelation 22:8-10: “Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.”
The angels in both cases, who are godly angels and not demons, both reject the worship of John, who is admittedly awed by all that he has seen in this vision. Instead, they properly direct John (and indirectly the reader of this book), to worship of God alone, stating that no man or angel is worthy of worship but only God the Father and Jesus Christ are. One of the things that makes demons fallen beings is their desire to receive honor and worship that is due to God alone. This plays into the other thing that is forbidden to worship but is worshiped frequently throughout the pages of the book of Revelation, and that is the beast system that rules over mankind during the last days, and is emblematic of the heathen and ungodly and authoritarian governments that have long ruled over mankind and that are making a comeback in our present evil age.
To discuss the worship of the beast in depth is beyond the scope of this particular examination, but it is worthwhile to note that this practice is so notable that it pervades the writing of Revelation, and it is worthwhile to at least note how extensive this problem is. Revelation 13:1-17 introduces both a false political and religious system that work together to enforce compliance and that prevent people from buying and selling unless they worship the beast, and even to the point of being put to death if they refuse to worship this ungodly and wicked system: “Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name. Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority. And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast. So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?” And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. If anyone has an ear, let him hear. He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon. And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived. He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 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, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.”
What we see is something that happens from time to time in human history, and that is the way that worldviews and political enforcement on people to accept the sovereignty of mere human beings–and corrupt and satanically inspired human beings at that–has often come with the rule of people who seek to blaspheme God’s way and persecute God’s people and take upon themselves regard and respect that is only due to God above. There has always been a desire among wicked leaders to be seen as gods in the flesh–a tendency that goes back to the beginnings of human history, and those who have refused to follow in such devotion to the false messianic state and its god-kings, be they called Pharaohs or Emperors or by some other name, have found themselves to be exiled, imprisoned, persecuted, and put to death for their refusal to worship idolatrous and arrogant rulers.
From there throughout the remainder of Revelation, up to Revelation 20, the worship of the Beast or the worship of God becomes the litmus test of humanity during the last days. Revelation 14:8-12, for example, reads: “And another angel followed, saying, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” 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. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” Those who worship God eschew worship of the beast and his image. Those who seek to avoid the wrath of human governments who demand worship from those they should be serving instead face the wrath of God. To belong to the New Jerusalem as citizens and as future kings and priests is to be a vagabond, stranger, and pilgrim in wicked and corrupt human nations. Ultimately, people will be forced to decide whom they worship and serve and will not escape consequences either now in one case or afterwards in the other.
Revelation 19:20 tells of the fate that ultimately befalls the beast and the false prophet who have demanded to be worshiped in a way that belongs only to God above: “Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.” And in Revelation 20:4-5, we are told for the final time : “And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.” To be sealed into the first resurrection requires a rejection of the corrupt ways of the world, and to be viewed as fit to judge the world and its rebellious and wayward inhabitants. In such a contest there is no neutrality.