Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Antichrist: Alive and Well? - Part Three

Anybody out there remember Baghdad Bob? He was probably the best (or perhaps worst) propagandist out there. He was the Iraqi "minister of information," or more accurately "disinformation". His real name was Mohammed Saeed, but because our geniuses in our news media couldn't pronounce his name, they nicknamed him "Baghdad Bob".

During the war in 2003 he repeatedly made the claim that the Iraqi forces were decisively winning every battle against the US and coalition forces. He became best known for his daily press conferences near the end of the war, because they were borderline comedy routines. His newest story would be even more far-fetched than the last, culminating when he exclaimed that there were no American troops in Baghdad and that they were committing suicide by the hundreds at the city gates. But . . . if you looked carefully at the footage of that interview, you could see American tanks rolling down the streets of Baghdad not even 100 yards from his press conference. In the US, Baghdad Bob gained somewhat of a following. People made T-shirts of him holed up in the Death Star as it was being destroyed, claiming that everything was fine. Unfortunately, many in the Arab world believed everything this guy said and were shocked when Baghdad fell, because they really believed Iraq was winning.

When I think about the Antichrist, I think about Baghdad Bob. Satan has been defeated already by the cross of Christ. According to Revelation 12 he is confined to the earth and is striking out in rage. However, he still thinks he can win, so Satan drafts two more soldiers in his army, the antichrist (the beast) and the false prophet. These guys are going to be his ministers of information, finding him worship and deceiving people into believing his lies, even though they know that he is already a defeated power. The Antichrist will stand up and declare victory for Satan, even while God's tanks are rolling by in the background.

We have learned some things about the Antichrist from some very clear passages. In 2 Thessalonians we learned that he will exalt himself above every god, set up an abomination of desolation, perform false miracles, and deceive many. In the Synoptics and 1 John we learned that a large "A" Antichrist is coming in the future, but a more pressing concern is the small "a" antichrists which are already here and leading many astray. Now I want to look at the last and most difficult NT passage about the Antichrist, Revelation 13.

It is difficult, because it is embedded in an apocalyptic work. Apocalyptic language is filled with allusion and metaphor, and can be difficult (or even impossible) to interpret precisely. It is exactly this imprecision that makes apocalyptic language beautiful and emotional. It is more art than science. It is more like throwing paint onto a canvas and creating a picture than rational explanation.

Let's start with the description of the beast in 13:1-2 and see what we can learn:

1. Dripping wet (just came out of the sea)
2. Seven heads
3. Ten crowns (ten crowns on seven heads?)
4. Ten horns
5. A blasphemous name written on each head
6. The appearance of a leopard
7. The feet of a bear
8. The mouth of a lion

So, is this otherworldly description what the beast actually looks like? No, this isn't a description of the Antichrist's physical appearance, instead each attribute is meant to tell us something about the Antichrist. In this passage he comes up out of the sea. In chapter 11 he came up out of the abyss. The abyss is associated with Satan and the sea often personified evil in ancient Jewish thought. So, this description teaches us right away that this guy is a minion of Satan.

The fact that he has seven heads associates him with his master, the dragon, who also has seven heads. So, the Antichrist's power and authority derive from the dragon, and he is an enemy of the church. The ten horns most likely refer to military might and the fact that there are crowns on each one suggests that he will rule politically probably through this military might. The blasphemous names were probably names of other gods or of Caesars claiming to be god like many did in John's day.

So who is this beast from the sea? Who do you associate this beast with? What pops into your mind when you read this description?

Who would John most likely have associated this beast with? Most likely John would have thought of the Roman Empire. Doesn't the Roman Empire fit this description? The Roman Empire fulfilled the will of Satan by killing and torturing saints The Roman Empire blasphemed when its emperors declared themselves "gods". The Empire made war against God's people at many times. The Empire received worship from the pagan world.

The Roman Empire DOES fit this description at many points, but I personally believe that the beast is broader than just the Roman Empire, a revived Roman Empire, or any empire for that matter. This image finds partial fulfillment in any government or power that wars against God and his people, but I think that 2 Thessalonians makes clear that ultimately it refers to a man at the end of history. He will rise up and call himself "god" and demand total allegiance and praise.

This beast has a jumble of characteristics from Daniels four beasts in Daniel 7. He is not like just one of the beasts, he is like them all. He has the mouth of a lion, associating him with the winged lion that represented the Neo-Babylonian Empire. He has the legs and feet of a bear, associating him with the bear that represented the Medo-Persian Empire. He has the appearance of a leopard, wrapping his image up with the four-headed leopard that represented Alexander's Greek Empire. He also has many horns associating him with the fourth beast that represented the Roman Empire. In combining these beasts which were all opposed to God at one point or another, John sets forth the Antichrist as the epitome of opposition to God and his saints.

All the power and authority that the Antichrist possesses are given to him by Satan. Satan offered this same type of power to Jesus, wanting him to not wait for the Father's timing. But . . . Jesus turned him down. This beast will have no such will power.

What have we learned about this guy so far, from the first two verses of Revelation 13?

1. He is a minion of Satan
2. He is evil
3. He is powerful
4. He is the embodiment of all previous opposition to God and his saints
5. His end is wrapped up in Satan's end
6. His will power is weak

The main point though is that he will team himself up with a defeated power. He will focus worship on Satan and proclaim loudly from the rooftops that Satan is winning, but in the end it will have all turned out to be just propaganda. God will win.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Antichirst: Alive and Well - Part Two

People have thrown the term Antichrist at many people over the centuries. Today, if you go to you can even see an entire article debunking the claim that Barack Obama is the Antichrist. He is not the only one that has been branded with this title over the years. Here are some more . . .

1. Antiochus Epiphanes - The little horn of Daniel who is a type of Antichrist and did many of the same things that a future Antichrist is likely to do (like desecrate the temple and outlawing the true religion).

2. Nero - Nero was a Roman Emperor who persecuted the church like crazy. After his death, people didn't believe he was dead. Many thought he left Rome and went over to their enemy and was going to lead an army back into Rome to destroy it. Many Christians today still believe that Nero was the Antichrist.

3. Many Popes - Many Protestant believers have assumed that the Antichrist will come from this powerful Christian denomination. Although, from even a superficial reading of 2 Thessalonians and Revelation 13 it appears that the Antichrist is more of a political figure who will push down ALL religions and make himself out to be God.

4. Emperor Charlemagne - He lived mostly in the 8th century. He conquered much of Europe feeding the idea that he was the Antichrist, whom some believe will gather together a revived roman empire.

5. Napolean - Same thing as Charlemagne. He loved war and tried to conquer Europe.

6. Aleister Crowley - A English male witch who was so evil that he was called "the beast" by his contemporaries. Many rock and roll singers have immortalized him in their tunes like the Doors and Ozzy Osbourne.

7. FDR - If you add up the letters of his name by Gematria, his name equals the number 666. The same thing is actually true for Nero. Many thought FDR was the Antichrist because of his power hungry ways, including trying to add Justices to the Supreme Court so that he could push through his New Deal.

8. Mussolini - A dictator of Italy, the seat of the former Roman Empire. He was arrogant, which fits the picture of Antichrist that we get from 2 Thess. 2 and Rev. 13.

9. Hitler - Just because he was evil incarnate

10. Stalin - Killed 30 million people. Believed to be the biggest mass murderer of all time.

11. JFK - He was slick and everybody loved him, which many people believe will be a character trait necessary to deceive the masses. He was also the first Roman Catholic president, and at the Democratic Convention he received 666 votes to acquire the nomination. After he was shot in Dallas, many Christians waited for his head wound to be healed, but of course it never was.

12. Henry Kissinger - Because of his constant work in the Middle East

13. Ayatollah Khomeini - Just another evil dude

14. Gorbachev - Have no idea why! But people still have their beady eyes on him

15. Reagan - What? Reagan? Please no!!! He has six letters in all three of his names: 666.

16. Barney the Dinosaur - a beast who is definitely evil

Also, Sun Myung Moon, Yassir Arafat, Farrakhan, Clinton, Bill Gates, Prince Charles, and Chirac. All this to say that Christians have guessed and been wrong so many times, I wonder why we keep guessing. Is it really that important? Let's hold fast to what is clear and let God worry about the rest.

Last time we looked at 2 Thessalonians 2 and saw a number of things we should clearly believe about this guy. He will exalt himself above every god, set up an abomination of desolation, perform false miracles, and deceive many. Now I want to look at the only other references to the Antichrist in the NT that aren't in Revelation. They can be grouped into two: (1) the Synoptic references to false messiahs, and (2) the Johannine reference to small "a" antichrists.

Let's start with John (1 John 2:18-22; 4:3; 2 John 7). 1 John 2:18 says, "Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come." John points out that a big "A" Antichrist will come in the future, or at least he acknowledges that this is a generally accepted truth. The big "A" Antichrist will come in the last hour.

Then, he moves on to point out what seems to be a more important truth for him, that many small "a" antichrists have already come. These are men (or women) who were once part of the church, but have moved away from orthodox doctrine and are now trying to lead others into their heresy. The small "a" antichrists of John's day were Proto-Gnostics, holding to a Docetic view of Christ. In other words, they rejected the humanity of Christ, believing that his body was an illusion or that the spirit of Christ was separate than the human Jesus. In John's mind these false teachers are antichrists. Why worry about a future big "A" antichrist, when these small "a" guys are running around. In John's mind then the last hour is already here because of these small "a" guys.

I think this is instructive for us because we need to stop worrying so much about a future big "A" guy and who he is, and instead worry about the small "a" guys that we deal with day in and day out. That is the more pressing concern, keeping God's people from fatal heresies.

Finally, let's look at the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and their references to the Antichrist (Mark 13 par. Matt. 24 and Luke 21). In these passages we find Jesus talking about the future destruction of the temple, but is he talking about a third temple during the period of the end (?) or the destruction of the second temple (66-70 CE)? Some of the language points in each direction. As I have studied these sections, I have concluded that Luke refers mainly to 70 CE (i.e. "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies"), Matthew refers mainly to the end (i. e. "At that time the Son of Man shall appear in the sky. . . coming on the clouds with power and great glory"), and Mark seems to point in both directions. I think that what happened in 70 CE, like what happened with Antiochus in 167 BCE, is a pattern for what will again happen in the end. So, I believe in a both/and approach. But . . . interestingly, we have a mention of the abomination of desolation here in the Synoptics but no specific mention of an Antichrist. Our attention is directed again to small "a" antichrists which pop up and try to deceive the many, including the "elect".

It seems to me that these two portions of Scripture are trying to discourage us from worrying about identifying the large "A" Antichrist, and instead focus on safeguarding God's people from the false doctrine of the small "a" guys. But . . . that's just not as much fun is it? What do you think? Who do you think our big small "a" guys are today?