An excerpt from the draft of my forthcoming book:
In Revelation, faithfulness is portrayed positively as following the Lamb (14:4) and thus being marked with God’s seal of ownership and protection (7:3). It is also portrayed negatively as not following the beast or receiving the mark of the beast (13:16-17; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 20:4). Together, these two images of faithfulness demonstrate that we cannot have it both ways: beast and Lamb, imperial power with Lamb-power, civil religion mixed with worship of God and the Lamb. Those who follow the Lamb will enter the new Jerusalem; those who follow the beast are doomed. This is an either-or proposition with very serious consequences. There is no synthesis, no syncretism permitted here. The clarion call of Revelation is to forsake the idolatrous worship of secular power and to worship God alone.
But most of us do not like such either-or propositions when it comes to “religion.” We especially do not like having to choose between “God and country.” What makes the “both-and” approach so attractive is that it seems so right, so noble, so pious. Like adultery, it can feel very good (which is why followers of the Lamb are called virgins [14:4]). Why is the both-and option so seductive? Because it is the deliberate, deceitful work of the devil through the propaganda mechanisms of the idolatrous imperial powers (19:20). Nationalistic allegiance or devotion, especially when dressed in religious garb, may not feel like idolatry—but it is (13:4, 8, 12, 15; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20). Once deceived, we are hooked, persuaded, and, sadly, doomed. If history is any clue, the unlearning of such deceit—perhaps we should say the liberation from such deceit—is nothing short of miraculous.