In the Garden of Eden, Satan diverted Adam and Eve from the real issue—obedient trust—to secondary concerns: Adam’s pleasing his wife and Eve’s gaining wisdom through a new experience. Ever since, Satan has been diverting and distracting human beings away from the main point again and again and again. The worldwide interest in 666 is just another example. The central issue in Revelation 13:16-18 is not 666, but, “Who will be your master, God or Money?” Many years before, Jesus had announced how impossible it is to serve both (Matt. 6:24).
Tempted to sell out
Not all Christians in first-century persecutions lost their lives by martyrdom. Some lost their souls by selling out.
“You don’t understand,” they might have explained. “I’m just about to get sacked for being a Christian. My business is floundering because my pagan customers are dropping out. I’m getting ostracized at the trade guild, and my name is about go on the blacklist. My property will be confiscated. How will I be able to buy or sell without making a few compromises?” (see Heb. 10:32–34).
Easy to miss the point
It is easy when studying Revelation to “miss the forest” while minutely examining the bark. If you take a step back, you will see that this economic theme is elsewhere in the Apocalypse. To the believers of Smyrna, the Lord of the churches says, “I know… your poverty—yet you are rich!” To the Laodiceans He observes, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich” (Rev. 2:9; 3:17–18). The eyes of the Christians in both cities seem to be focused on their economic situation. Also, the vision at the end of the book concerns a city in which pure gold replaces what would normally be concrete or asphalt. No one who lives there is in need of anything worth having.
Economic risk increasing today
Living in an era when genuine Christianity is more and more being misunderstood, misrepresented, slandered, and ridiculed, we do not find it difficult to extrapolate to a future in which being a Christian is not only unpopular, but also an economic risk. Even today, Christians in every honorable occupation daily have to choose which master they will serve. Some have rationalized themselves by tiny steps into dishonorable though lucrative pursuits.
The spiritual battle
The Lord’s challenge is clear: “If you want to follow Me, you must walk with Me on weekdays as well as on Sundays. With every dollar you earn, you fight a spiritual battle. With every dollar you spend, you make a moral decision. Will you align your values with Mine, or will you sell out to the Enemy?” Sin’s pay-out is accelerating wickedness leading to death, but the incomparable riches of God’s treasury belong to all who choose loyalty to Him over friendship with the world (Rom. 6:16–23; Eph. 1:7, 18; 2:7; 3:8; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15–17).