Which commandments are referred to in the phrase “keep the commandments of God” in Revelation 12:17 and 14:12?
Published on: 01-30-2021
In both passages, obedience to the commandments is a characteristic of God’s end-time people, called the remnant in Revelation 12:17 or the rest of the descendants of the woman and the “saints” in Revelation 14:12. Certainly “keep the commandments of God” sounds by itself too general and in need of clarification.
1. DIFFERENT OPINIONS
When we examine commentaries written on the book of Revelation, we find different opinions. Some commentators do not even take time to explore its meaning and simply quote the biblical text, then move on to discuss other aspects of the passage, as if the reference to the commandments is not that important. For others, the commandments are the Torah, that is to say, all of God’s instructions/revelation found in the Old Testament. Still others argue that the commandments refer to the faith of the Lamb of God who was faithful to God and whom Christians are urged to emulate. More common is the view that the “commandments of God” designate the ethical components of the Decalogue, the last six commandments. The proper interpretation is no doubt determined by the context.
2. REFERENCE TO THE DECALOGUE
The two passages in which the commandments of God are mentioned belong to the central portion of Revelation (chapters 12-15:5). In the introduction to this section John saw the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary, specifically the ark of the covenant. In the earthly sanctuary Moses placed inside the ark of the covenant the two tables of stone on which God had inscribed the Ten Commandments. Therefore, this vision implies that the ministry of Christ in the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary and the Ten Commandments will play important roles on what follows in the book. The implied reference to the Ten Commandments here becomes explicit at the end of the whole section when John again saw the “tabernacle of the testimony” in heaven (Rev. 15:5). The noun “testimony” was used in the Old Testament to designate the Ten Commandments placed inside the ark of the covenant, and that testified to God’s covenant with Israel (Ex. 25:20, 21; 32:15, 16). This reference to the Ten Commandments should be the first piece of information to be taken into consideration in the interpretation of the phrase “the commandments of God.”
3. SPECIFIC COMMANDMENTS OF THE DECALOGUE
Perhaps even more important is the fact that in the context of the two passages there are clear references to some of the Ten Commandments. The most explicit one is found in the call of the first angel for the human race to obey the first commandment by worshipping God, “who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Rev. 14:7, NIV). The mention of God as Creator is taken from the fourth commandment (Ex. 20:8-11), implying that the remnant will also keep this commandment. Humans are not to worship the image of the beast, a violation of the second commandment (Rev. 14:9). The beast blasphemes the name of God in violation of the third commandment (Rev. 13:6). These are the first four commandments of the Ten Commandments, but other commandments are mentioned in Revelation. For instance, Revelation 9:20, 21 mentions murder, adultery, or sexual immorality, and theft (see also Rev. 13:10; 14:4), and lying is found in Revelation 14:5. Contextually, the proper answer to your question would be that God’s people will observe the Ten Commandments as a sign of loyalty and gratitude to the Lamb.