The Antichrist

Many students of Bible prophecy would contend that in his final attack on God’s people, satan will indwell a person who will take control of the end-times, one world government described in the Revelation.

antichristThis person is alluded to in a number of biblical passages (Dan 7:24-25; 2 Thes 2:3-4; Rev 13:3-8), and in his letters, John identifies him as the antichrist (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7). The Christian writer Arthur Pink says of him:

……this one [who] will be the full embodiment of human wickedness and the final manifestation of satanic blasphemy. (1)

According to Isaiah (Is 10), he will rise up out of the land that was once called Assyria, and Revelation 17:12-13 further tells us he will lead a coalition of ten nations in a war against God and His people. These ten nations are represented in the Bible by the ten toes of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan 2:42), the ten horns of the fourth beast in Daniel’s dream (Dan 7:7) and the ten horns on John’s beast in the Revelation (Rev 17:3).

The Feet Empire

In my last post, I put forward the idea that the iron and clay feet of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream statue represented a seventh pagan world empire that followed Rome.
Feet
Most commentators agree that the legs of the statue represent the Roman Empire, but the significance of the feet is a point of contention. In my last post I suggested the feet of the statue do not simply represent the end of the Roman Empire, as many Bible prophecy students hold, rather, I proposed they are a representation of a further empire – the Ottoman Empire.

In the Revelation, John saw a seventh kingdom, which he explained had “not yet come” in his time. This was the seventh head/kingdom of the scarlet beast (Rev 17:10). From history we learn that the Roman Empire was changed into the Ottoman Empire in 1453, one year before Gutenberg printed the first Bible in Germany. While most of the Eastern Empire was overtaken by the Ottoman Empire, the area that had once been the Western Roman Empire began to grow and expand with the dramatic spread of biblical Christianity through the advent of printing.

Christianity and the Western World

From this growing Christian foundation grew the civilization of the western world. The so-called Dark Ages were transformed by access to God’s Word, as faith in the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, which are revealed in The Bible, influenced almost all areas of human existence. Bible believing Christians made invaluable contributions to the arts and literature, science and law, politics and economics, health and education. Many of these areas of human endeavour owe their very existence to their Christian foundations. As American historian R. R. Palmer put it:

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the coming of Christianity. It brought with it, for one thing, an altogether new sense of human life. For the Greeks had shown man his mind; but the Christians showed him his soul. They taught that in the sight of God, all souls were equal, that every human life was sacrosanct and inviolate. Where the Greeks had identified the beautiful and the good, had thought ugliness to be bad, had shrunk from disease and imperfection and from everything misshapen, horrible, and repulsive, the Christian sought out the diseased, the crippled, the mutilated, to give them help. Love, for the ancient Greek, was never quite distinguished from Venus. For the Christians held that God was love, it took on deep overtones of sacrifice and compassion.” – R. R. Palmer, A History of the Modern World.

The Toe Empire

In my last post I also made the case for the coalition of ten nations John outlined in the Revelation being an eighth empire (Rev 17:11), which will be the final, pagan world empire to overrun Israel. Like the former empires represented by the dream statue and John’s vision of the beast, this empire will occupy Israel. And just as the toes grow from the feet, so this empire will arise from the remnants of the seventh empire – the Ottoman Empire.

Daniel Explains a Dream

Daniel Explains a Dream

While Daniel’s dreams foretold the history of the Jewish people, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream gave an outline of gentile history. In Daniel’s prophecies Christianity is not highlighted: Daniel’s message was for Daniel’s people, the Jews (Dan 9). Although the dreams of both Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar looked forward to the end-times, Daniel’s beast dream did not include any obvious reference to the Church Age.

However, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and the Revelation included representations of the gentile Christian era, when “an altogether new sense of human life” became more commonplace and the notion of human rights entered western society.

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During this era God turned His attention away from the Jewish people to the Body of Christ, which carried His message of redemption to the four corners of the world. While the feet empire trampled God’s Holy Land underfoot (Dan 7:7, 19), God’s Christian foot-soldiers tramped all over the world carrying His message of mercy and forgiveness to all humankind.

But when the Church Age comes to an end, and the Body of Christ is withdrawn from the world, the Father will once again turn His attention back to the Jewish people during the Tribulation period. It will be during this terrible time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer 30:7) that the antichrist will emerge as leader of the eighth and last pagan world empire.

From Daniel’s dream we learn:

….. The fourth animal is a fourth kingdom that will come on the earth. It will be changed from all the other kingdoms that went before. It will devour the whole land and it will trample it and break it into pieces. (Dan 7:23)

When the kingdom represented by Daniel’s fourth beast was changed and became an empire like none before it, it became the iron and clay feet empire Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream. The change that Daniel refers to was the unifying force behind the seventh empire; it was the introduction of the great, false, monotheistic religion – Islam. What Daniel saw in his dream was the feet of this fourth changed beast trampling the land and breaking it to pieces. Thus, comparing Daniel 2, Daniel 7 and Revelation 17 we find:

Antichrist chartAfter examining the historical data and the relevant biblical passages, it seems clear that the kingdoms represented in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream statue all occupied Israel and we know the Ottoman Empire occupied Israel for 400 years. During this time the land God had promised to Abraham was broken into pieces. However, shortly after this seventh empire fell, the State of Israel was reborn. The seven pagan kingdoms, which are represented by the seven heads of the scarlet beast (Rev 17:10), had completed their occupation of God’s Beautiful Land (in Hebrew the number seven represents completion) before His chosen people returned to dwell in the land God had given to Abraham.

The Great Pretender

Having aligned these three passages it is easier to consider the ten toe/horn coalition of nations, which will be led by the antichrist. From Daniel’s dream we learn that “the ten horns out of this (changed) kingdom are ten kings who will rise” (Dan 7:24). When we align this with Nebuchadnezzar’s dream we find:

As the toes of the feet were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. (Dan 2:42)

And from the Revelation we learn:

The beast that was and is not—he himself is the eighth, and is one of the seven, and is heading for destruction. The ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. These kings are of one mind, and they give their power and authority to the beast. They will make war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them—because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with Him are called and chosen and faithful. (Rev 17:11-14)

Thus we discover that the beast represents the eighth kingdom – the final pagan world empire – and he receives power and authority from the ten king coalition. But earlier in the Revelation we find:

Now the beast that I saw was like a leopard, his feet like a lion’s, and his mouth like a bear’s. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority. (Rev 13:2)

Therefore, we know that this beast will already have received great power and authority directly from satan. He will be controlled by satan before he assumes leadership of the eighth empire, when the coalition of ten kings submit themselves to him.

Artist/Photographer: Phil McKay from Goodsalt

Artist/Photographer: Phil McKay from Goodsalt

Turning back to Daniel’s fourth, changed beast we find that while Daniel was thinking about the significance of the ten horns, another small horn appeared amongst them. Then three of the ten horns were torn out by the roots to make room for this little horn, which had eyes like human eyes and a mouth that was boasting arrogantly. (Dan 7:7-8)

In the Revelation we also learn “the beast was given a mouth uttering great boasts and blasphemies” (Rev 13:5). The little horn in Daniel’s dream and the scarlet beast of the Revelation have similar characteristics to those of the individual John calls the antichrist (1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7). These are all references to the same person. Daniel further explains this strange beast dream when he writes:

And the ten horns out of the area of this kingdom are ten kings who will rise, then another will rise after them, he will be a change from the earlier kings and he will humble three of those kings. He will speak words against the Most High and wear out the saints of the Most High. And he will attempt to change their times and law and they will be given into his hand until a time and times and one half time. (Dan 7:24-25)

Thus we find that after deposing three coalition leaders this person, who is sometimes called the “little horn”, will begin his campaign by verbal attacks on the God of The Bible. This is not unusual in today’s post-Christian, anti-Semitic climate, but he will go one step further, he will attempt to totally remove any reference to the God of The Bible from calendars and the law.

Is He a Man or a Supernatural Being?

Despite the fact that Paul calls him the man of sin (2 Thes 2:3), some commentators have suggested the beast/little horn will not be a human person. Instead, they see him as a purely supernatural being, while others suggest he is actually a kingdom. However, others point out that he rises from the sea (Rev 13:1), which we are later informed is symbolic of humanity (Rev 17:15). Once again we are confronted with the question of symbolism in the Revelation. Just how much can we take literally and how much is purely allegorical?

This is a difficult question to answer when we are talking about the end of this present world order. It is more than likely that the usual, natural world order will not apply when, for a limited period of time, God allows satan to virtually do his worst (Rev 13:5-7). Even though God has, for His own purposes, allowed satan limited access to humanity, this powerful angelic being has been held back throughout the history of the world (Job 1:12; 2:6; Eph 6:11-12; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-10).
god is my refuge
Although God gave the angels free-will, Satan has always been incapable of truly harming those who turn to their Creator for refuge (Ps 18:2; 46; 91:2). But the Bible tells us that in the final 7 years of premillennial Earth history, people who have not chosen God’s Way (Mat 12:30-31; Luke 11:23; John 8:43-45), will finally get a clear picture of the true nature of this fiend, whose lies they have chosen to believe.

We know certain parts of the Revelation definitely contain symbolism, because John is specifically told that aspects of his vision are representations of future people and events (Rev 17:7-17). Nevertheless, it is quite feasible that many of the demonic creatures mentioned throughout the Revelation may be quite real. When the Body of Christ is withdrawn (1 Thes 4:15-17), the Restrainer is removed from the Earth (2 Thes 2:7) and the angel of the abyss is let loose (Rev 9:2, 11), there is no doubt all hell will break loose and it is quite conceivable that the creatures from hell will be found roaming the earth (Rev 9:3-10).

The Angel of the Abyss

In Revelation 9:1 and 2 we learn that a star will fall from heaven to earth; this star is then given the key to a hole in the bottomless pit.

Abaddon by Jérémie Fleury

Abaddon by Jérémie Fleury

The bottomless pit is also called the abyss and it appears this hole is a distinct compartment of the abyss where God has confined a demonic horde in preparation for the end-times. A little later we also learn there is an angel of the bottomless pit, who is called Abaddon (Rev 9:11). He is the destroying angel, who is king over the demonic creatures that ascend from the abyss.

It seems reasonable to propose that the fallen star is this angel, because in Revelation 1:20 Jesus explains that stars can represent angels. This star has fallen from heaven – he is a fallen angel, who is also the king of the abyss. Thus, he is given the key to the abyss to unleash the demonic creatures God will allow to torment those who stubbornly continue in their outright rejection of, and rebellion against, their Creator.

Christians throughout the ages have had many different opinions on who this angel is, but I believe it is satan. In The Bible we find Luke records Jesus’ words:

And he told them, “I saw satan fall as lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing will in any way hurt you.” (Luke 10:18-19)

Artist/Photographer: Justinen Creative - from Goodsalt

Artist/Photographer: Justinen Creative – from Goodsalt

Jesus prophesied this future event, which is also recorded twice in the Revelation. The first of these records is when the star/angel falls from heaven to release the demonic hordes from the pit (Rev 9:1, 2). The second record is when the dragon sweeps a third of the stars from heaven and drags them to the earth with him (Rev 12:4). Most commentators agree that these stars are also angels, they are the fallen angels who have pledged allegiance to satan.

The demonic hordes that satan releases from the pit, are creatures with scorpion tails. These creatures of torment and destruction are not God’s holy angels, as some would have us believe, but God is their Creator and He is able to use their fallen natures to His own ends. Jesus said:

You fathers, if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? So if you, being sinful people, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. (Luke 11:11-13)

And

The thief only comes to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I came so that people can have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

In the first passage Jesus points out that the Father would not give His children something evil, like a snake or a scorpion, He is the giver of good gifts. In the second passage Jesus is comparing His role with that of His adversary, satan. Satan is the thief who comes to destroy, he is the agent of destruction – it is his nature to hate and to destroy.

The name abaddon means destruction and God is able to use the natural bent of this fallen angel to achieve His own ends throughout the seven years of Tribulation. Just as the Father used Nebuchadnezzar to carry out His judgment on Israel, He will also use satan to fulfil His purposes during the Great Tribulation.

Following this terrible time of destruction, the Lord Jesus Christ will reign on the Earth for 1000 years. During Christ’s millennial reign, God will confine satan in chains (Rev 20:2), but eventually, satan will himself be destroyed (Rev 17:11), because he is simply a corrupted part of God’s creation and he will have no place in the New Heavens and the New Earth the Father will create (Rev 21:1). This new creation will be totally submitted to the rule and reign of God the Father, our Creator.

The Rise of the Beast

In Revelation 11:7 we discover that the beast also arose from the abyss. We must therefore ask the question: Is the beast also the angel of the abyss? Does the leopard-like beast (Rev 13), which morphs into the scarlet beast (Rev 17:3), also represent the angel of the abyss?

We can assume that this beast is a symbolic representation of something or someone, because the angel who is conversing with John makes this clear (Rev 17:7-18). The seven heads of the scarlet beast are representative of seven powerful kingdoms, but I believe the beast as a whole is also representative of a powerful person, who will be indwelt by the angel of the abyss – satan.

This beast represents the man of sin (2 Thes 2:3), the antichrist (1 John 2:8, 22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7), the lawless one (2 Thes 2:8), the son of perdition (2 Thes 2:3) – the second person of the evil trinity satan presents to the tribulation world. This person will be like all the other great pagan world rulers represented by the heads of the beast (Rev 17:11), in that he will be submitted to satan and will propagate the godless lies of satan; but he will be greater than all that have gone before (Dan 7:20), because he will allow himself to be totally possessed by satan (Rev 13:2). Of this seven headed beast we are also informed:

The beast that you saw was, and is not, and yet is about to rise up from the abyss and head for destruction. Those who dwell on the earth—whose names have not been written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world—will be astonished when they see the beast, because he was and is not and is to come. (Rev 17:8)

Counterfeiting Truth

We can contrast “he was and is not and is to come” with “Holy is the Lord God of Hosts, who was and who is and who is to come” (Rev 4:8). In his futile attempt to usurp God’s kingdom, satan is constantly preoccupied with counterfeiting God’s redemptive plan for humanity. Thus, we discover that during the end-times, satan will manifest a counterfeit trinity – the dragon, the beast and the false prophet (Rev 16:13). John gives us a very clear picture of this evil, counterfeit trinity in the Revelation.

By the time the Tribulation events unfold, people will be so biblically illiterate they will have no idea how they are being duped by this satanic threesome, when the dragon/satan is the pretender to the very throne of God the Father, the beast/antichrist assumes the role of false messiah, and the false prophet is satan’s attempt at counterfeiting God’s Holy Spirit.

During the period of the Great Tribulation satan will be allowed to manifest this demonic trinity and his horde of fallen angels will be part of his retinue on the earth (Rev 9:3; 12:9). This horde will reek havoc on unredeemed humanity. At present God’s Holy Spirit indwelling the Body of Christ on the earth has satan restrained and the prayers of the saints have been a powerful tool in this work (Acts 2:42; 10:4; 1 Tim 2:1; 1 Peter 3:12; Rev 5:8; Rev 8:3-4).Jesus vs satan

While the saints have been constantly active in battling the principalities and powers (Eph 6:12), physical manifestations of these demonic powers have not been a common part of the church age. Indeed, the church is the salt and light Jesus mentioned in the gospels (Mat 5:13-16). Those who belittle the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and its powerful restraining qualities will soon understand that it was not the people of God who were holding back the evil that constantly threatens humanity (1 Peter 5:8), it was God in His people, the Body of Christ, which quietly performed this miraculous work.

The Age of Deception

One need only turn to any of the multitude of godless media outlets swamping the airwaves in this present age, to observe that in the minds of the majority of “progressive” people, satan “is not”, he has been delegated to the realms of mythology. But his time will come, he and his retinue will be released when he “is to come” upon the earth, and then he will empower the beast/antichrist and the false prophet to assume control of all those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Ex 32:31-33; Ps 69:27-28; Dan 12:1; Mal 3:16; Luke 10:20; Phil 4:3; Heb 12:22-23; Rev 3:5; 9:4; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27), because they have recklessly and foolishly rejected the glorious gift of Eternal Life the Lord Jesus Christ died to procure for them (John 3:16).

When writing to the Thessalonians Paul told them:

For the mystery of lawlessness is already operating, but just now there is One who holds it back until he is taken out of the way. Then the lawless one will be revealed. The Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of His mouth and disempower him with the appearance of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is through the working of satan, with all power and signs and false wonders and with every kind of wicked deception toward those who are perishing. They will perish because they did not accept the love of the Truth so that they can be saved. For this reason God will send them strong delusion, so that they will put their trust in a lie, in order that may all be judged, who did not believe the Truth but delighted in wickedness. (2 Thes 2:7-12)

During the millennia since Jesus’ incarnation satan has been carefully constructing a web of lies and deceit to ensnare those who reject the Truth. In the last two centuries he has successfully captured the popular imagination with just-so stories, which are woven daily in schools and universities, churches and the media. darwin in churchThrough this flourishing campaign, satan has been able to reinforce his Machiavellian plan to keep people from knowing and worshipping their Creator.

In the place of good, evidence based science, the popular dominant paradigm now almost universally rests on blind faith in processes that have never been observed. These mythical mutations are claimed by blind academics to be the driving force behind evolution. Thus we see the blind leading the blind (Mat 15:14) into satan’s arms. Satan has cleverly introduced this intricate fabrication to replace faith in God the Creator and Redeemer.

Into a world totally blind to a true understanding of the robust science behind biblical creation, will step the person who will deceive the masses into worshipping satan’s false trinity. The antichrist will be a truly gifted person, who will prey on pride and arrogance, which are the negative human traits growing out of God-given human ability and achievement. He will elevate human endeavour, while dismissing God the Creator, as he leads people away from the Truth into satan’s snares.

The Father Has Revealed His Plan for Humanity

To understand the last book of the Bible we need to have an understanding of the books that precede it. The final chapter of The Bible is like the final chapter of any book, it draws on all that came before it. God has given humanity a clear understanding of His plan for humankind in His Word. He sent His Son to die so that we might have Eternal Life, and He gave us all the information we need to understand His purpose, provisions and program.

The Father has declared in His Word that He will allow the antichrist to enter the last phase of this Earth’s history to carry out the destruction of all that is in rebellion against His reign and rule. We are first introduced to the antichrist in Daniel’s dream about the four beasts. Naturally, as Christ was yet to be born of a virgin (Is 7:14), the antichrist was not given this title in the Old Testament, but the majority of commentators see a number of passages in the Book of Daniel as referring to him. Daniel also introduced “the prince that shall come”, he wrote:

And after the 62 weeks Messiah will be cut off and have nothing. Then the people of the prince that shall come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. But his end will come like a flood. Until the end of the war that is decreed there will be destruction. (Dan 9:26)

Daniel tells us the people of the prince would destroy the city and the temple. Many commentators point to the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in 70AD as being the fulfilment of this prophecy. Therefore, they predict the coming antichrist, who they claim is the prince Daniel is referring to, will come from Rome. However, I believe this prince is “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2), he is “the spirit who is now operating in the children of disobedience”. Jesus said of those who reject the Creator God, who has revealed Himself to humanity through His Son and His Word:

You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. (John 8:44a)

Satan was the power behind all of the great pagan world empires and he will be the force behind the antichrist and his false prophet. However, this beast-leader of the eighth empire will be different to all the other leaders that went before him: this beast and his prophet will be totally possessed by satan and will be able to manifest supernatural powers. The beast/antichrist will be “one of the seven” (Rev 17:11), in that he will be a human person, but he will have supernatural powers. The miracle that will capture the attention of the public, is that he will be fatally wounded but will recover (Rev 13:3). This false messiah will appear to rise from the dead.

The false prophet will also have amazing powers; he is also a beast and like the first beast he will be possessed by satan. John tells us of him:

He exercises all the authority of the first beast before him, and he makes the earth and all those who dwell in it worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. He performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth through the signs he is permitted to perform, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image in honor of the beast who has the sword wound yet lived.

The second beast was permitted to give life to the image of the first beast, so that the image of the beast could even speak and cause all who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. He also causes all—the small and the great, the rich and the poor, the free and the slave—to receive a mark on their right hand or upon their forehead. (Rev 13:12-16) TLV

Artist/Photographer: Phil McKay - from Goodsalt

Artist/Photographer: Phil McKay – from Goodsalt

Between them the antichrist and the false prophet will make people’s lives a living hell. They will take over the world-wide government and economy and create a great religious system like none that has come before. They will set up an image of the beast that can speak (perhaps screens or holograms in every place of worship?) (Rev 13:15) and insist everyone must worship this image under threat of death. They will also force people be tattooed or chipped if they wish to buy or sell goods (Rev 13:16-17).

The only way to avoid being part of this horrific scenario is to be in Christ; to be part of the Body of Christ, which will be taken out of the world before these events come to pass (1 Thes 4:17). Satan is presently working frantically to line up all the players for this, his final thrust at ruling God’s world. He has sown seeds of delusion and seductions into the pagan kingdoms of this world. People now believe that all of the miraculously fine-tuned workings of the universe happened by chance, by random minute mutations (that have never been observed) and natural processes. Not only do they disparage their Creator, they are also being swept away by the false belief that human affections and sexual desires can fill that place in their hearts reserved for God alone.

The world is ripe for the entry of the antichrist. He may even now be walking amongst us. If you have not looked into God’s alternative to this man, who will be the personification of evil, do it now. Jesus died to save you from the destruction this fiend will bring to the world before God’s millennial kingdom is ushered in. The Father has given us a choice, it is up to each one of us to make that choice. Will you choose God’s Way and Truth or satan’s lies?

(1) Pink, Arthur W. (2012-06-17). The Antichrist (Arthur Pink Collection Book 1) . Prisbrary Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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Seven Great Mysteries – Part Seven

The final mystery mentioned in the New Testament is The Mystery of Babylon the Great (Rev17:5). This is probably the most complex of all our mysteries because it involves visions and dreams given to God’s people over hundreds of years.

Some translations of the main verse relating to the unfolding of this mystery infer it is simply a rather long and pejorative name that is the mystery. That name is Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations on the Earth. Thus we find:

A mysterious name was written on her forehead: “Babylon the Great, Mother of All Prostitutes and Obscenities in the World.” (Rev 17:5) NLT
and also
And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” (Rev 17:5) ESV

However, other translations indicate there is a mystery hidden behind the name. The mystery is actually a great, concealed evil that bears this title and produces detestable things throughout the earth. Thus we find:

And on her forehead was written a name, a mystery: “Babylon the Great, the mother of prostitutes and the detestable things of the earth.” (Rev 17:5) TLV
and also
And upon her forehead was a name written: `Secret, Babylon the Great, the Mother of the Whores, and the Abominations of the earth.’ (Rev 17:5) YLT

The promiscuous woman called “Babylon the Great” is “the Mother of the Whores.” Throughout the Bible the word “whore” is used again and again for idolatry, which is a turning away from the Creator to false gods and false religions. An example of this can be found in the Book of Judges where we read:

And yet they did not listen to their judges, for they went a-whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves down to them. They quickly turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, those who obeyed the commandments of the LORD; but these did not do so. (Jdg 2:17)

For God So Loved the World

The concept of God is not a human construct. Rather, it is the truth about the Eternal Truth, which has been handed down through the generations of humankind from the beginning of time. In some communities, this truth has been corrupted and contaminated over time, but the Eternal Truth continues to reach out to humanity.

Throughout history the Creator has been making Himself known to anyone who will turn to Him and some of these people were selected to record His Word. While much of humanity turned away from their Creator and followed false paths, the Father ensured His Word was freely available throughout the whole world, either by print or by word of mouth, or by His Spirit. Each and every person will have the opportunity to respond to their Creator – to either accept or reject His Truth.

After Jesus sanctified God’s Word and paid the debt for humanity’s sin, God poured out His Spirit on millions of people who accepted His Way, enabling them to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15). It is this gospel – the Good News of God’s great gift of eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ – that false religion seeks to debase and conceal.

From a biblical perspective, we understand that any teaching that is about god, but not from God, is a false religion. If we want to know the Creator we must do so through His Way. Jesus was quite clear on the subject, as John’s gospel points out:

Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered him, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father, but by Me. If you have known Me, you have known my Father also, and from now on you know Him, and have seen Him. (John 14:5-7)

Our last mystery is about the evil that seeks to keep people from knowing the Father through His only Son. The apostle John was guided by the Holy Spirit to carefully record the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him to declare to His servants (Rev 1:1), thus giving us an insight into this evil. The Father wants His people to be prepared with understanding before the end-time events begin to unfold (Prov 22:3; 27:12); He wants us to understand His Truth and He tells us we will be blessed by reading, hearing and meditating upon His Revelation (Rev 1:3).

The Great Whore

Babylon the Great is also called the Great Whore (Rev 17:1; 19:2), but she is not simply a whore, she is the progenitor of whores. There are good biblical reasons to believe that most false religions, and the abominations that accompany many of them, began in Babylon. From her came a multitude of idolatrous practices, which I have no doubt were sown and grown by satan to keep people from knowing their Creator. The whore symbolises these false religions.

The Bible mentions Babylon hundreds of times and the biblical history of this city reveals a great deal about John’s vision. Even though in John’s time the actual city of Babylon was a faded remnant of its former self, in the Revelation, we find Babylon referred to as the “great” (Rev 14:8; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21) and “mighty” (Rev 18:10) city. John is no doubt referring to Babylon symbolically, he wrote:

And one of the seven angels who had the seven vials came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come here and I will show you the judgment of the great whore sitting on many waters. The kings of the earth committed fornication with her, and those who dwell on the earth got drunk with the wine of her immorality.”

And he carried me away by the Spirit into a desert, where I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet-coloured beast that was filled with names of blasphemy and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet and gilded with gold and precious stones and pearls. In her hand was a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her immorality. (Rev 17:1-4)

And also

And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I was totally astounded. Then the angel said to me, “Why are you astonished? I will tell you the mystery of this woman and of the beast that carries her, that has the seven heads and ten horns. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise up out of the abyss and go into perdition. And those dwelling on the earth whose names were not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, will marvel when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sits.” (Rev 17:6-9)

The Beast

From Revelation 17:7 we have discovered that the last mystery is about an immoral woman, who represents false religion and the beast that carries her. leopard-like beast

This beast was first introduced in an earlier chapter of the Revelation where John records:

And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, and on its horns there were ten crowns and upon its heads there were names of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw looked like a leopard, and its feet were like the feet of a bear, and its mouth was like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave the beast his own power and throne and great authority. Then I saw that one of its heads appeared to be fatally wounded; but this fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth wondered at this beast. (Rev 13:1-3)

Although some people feel this leopard-like beast is a different beast to the scarlet beast of Revelation 17, there are so many similarities it seems reasonable to assume they are the same beast with a few minor aspects presented differently in each vision.

The whore is seated on the beast, which is empowered by a dragon. This dragon is none other than the old serpent, satan himself (Rev 12:9; 13:4). From the beginning of time this age-old enemy of humankind had a very specific agenda and John’s vision gives us further understanding of the final phase of this agenda. Not long before we meet the leopard-like beast we read:

And the angel that I saw standing on the sea and on the earth lifted up his right hand to the heaven and swore by the One who lives forever and ever; He who created heaven and all the things that are in it, and the earth and all the things that are in it, and the sea and all the things that are in it. This angel announced that there should be no longer any delay. He announced that in the days of the voice of the seventh angel – when he is about to sound the trumpet – the mystery of God will be fulfilled. It will happen just as He has made known to His servants the prophets. (Rev 10:5-7)

Thus, when we reach chapter 17 of the Revelation, we discover that the “mystery of God” centres on the whore, whose name is Babylon the Great, and the beast she is riding. However, from Revelation 11, where the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, we learn that these beings and events are all part of God’s final judgment on godlessness:

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven: “The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever.” The twenty-four elders sitting on their thrones before God fell with their faces to the ground and worshiped Him. And they said, “We give thanks to You, Lord God, the Almighty, the One who is and who always was, for now You have assumed Your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were filled with wrath, but now the time of Your wrath has come. It is time to judge the dead and reward Your servants the prophets, as well as Your holy people, and all who fear Your name, from the least to the greatest. It is time to destroy all who have caused destruction on the earth.” (Rev 11:15-18) NLT

The Father’s great plan is to establish the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. However, before God’s kingdom is fully realised, satan will carry out the final phase of his evil agenda on earth, and it would appear that Babylon the Great is at the centre of the mystery that will unfold just before the Creator destroys all who have caused destruction on His earth. Only then will His New Heavens and New Earth come into existence, where there will be no more pain, suffering and death (Rev 21:1-4).

We know the Father is the Revealer of mysteries (Dan 2:29). When writing to the Corinthian church Paul assured them that the Holy Spirit reveals things that God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor 2:9-10). Therefore, this age old mystery needs to be pondered, and with godly wisdom penetrated, and the best place to begin is the Bible.

Seven Kings & Seven Kingdoms

Throughout history, numerous false religions have been coupled with and supported by great world powers. After a closer inspection of the Bible we discover that the beast on which the woman is seated represents these world powers. John’s vision depicts the whore – false religion – riding on the beast. However, she is also seated on seven heads, which are seven hills. But we quickly learn that these hills represent seven kings, as John writes:

This calls for wisdom and understanding. The seven heads are seven hills, on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings: five of them have fallen, one still rules, and the other one has not yet come; when he comes, he must rule only a little while. (Rev 17:9-10)

roman-tribute-coin

Tiberius’ Denarius bearing: “Tiberius Caesar, Worshipful Son of the God, Augustus” and “High Priest”

Some commentators have suggested these kings are Roman emperors, but others suggest they are kingdoms. Hills, or as the word can also be translated – mountains, are rather prominent features in a landscape. The same could be said of empires in the landscape of history. Most people would be hard pressed to remember which emperors predated John’s vision, but world empires are far more prominent and stand out in our view of history. We also have the precedent of a number of Old Testament prophets who used the word “mountain” when referring to kingdoms (see Is 13:4; Jer 51:24-25; Mich 6:1-2).

If we accept the idea that the hills, which are kings, represent kingdoms, we can then speculate that the first six kingdoms are probably:

  1. Egypt (2100BC to 1400BC)
  2. Assyria (1100BC to 605BC)
  3. Babylon (605BC to 538BC)
  4. Medo-Persia (538BC to 333BC)
  5. Greece (333BC to 146BC)
  6. Rome (44BC to 455AD)

These kingdoms, or empires, were the major world powers to the time of the Revelation, when Rome was in power. They were also all empires that at one time encompassed Israel, God’s Holy Land.

When John had his vision Rome was in power, but as John stated, there was another king/kingdom that had “not yet come” (Rev 17:10), this is the seventh head of the beast. The “kingdom” scenario convincingly reveals a long history behind John’s vision. It also represents a trend.

Babylon the Great of the Revelation represents humanity organised in rebellion against God. The combination of false religion and powerful, pagan world empires has been a continual reality in the world’s history. These pagan empires rose and fell, but the Creator, in His sovereign wisdom, allowed this march of history. As people continued to ignore His call to turn to Him, He wove His own redemptive plan through humanity’s wayward path.

The Roman Catholic Church

Many Bible commentators believe that Babylon the Great of the Revelation is a representation of Rome, or more precisely, the Roman Catholic Church structure, coupled with a Euro-centric one world government. Most of these commentators base this idea on the biblical text’s reference to the seven hills upon which the whore is seated (Rev 17:9). As one writer proclaimed:

There never has been any difficulty in the mind of any enlightened Protestant in identifying the woman “sitting on seven mountains,” and having on her forehead the name written, “Mystery, Babylon the Great,” with the Roman apostacy. No other city in the world has ever been celebrated, as the city of Rome has, for its situation on seven hills. Pagan poets and orators, who had not thought of elucidating prophecy, have alike characterised it as “the seven hilled city”.(1)

However, we have already determined that the seven hills represent seven kings which most likely represent seven kingdoms. Also, the woman is “drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Rev 17:6). The Roman Catholic Church has indeed persecuted many followers of Jesus, who refused to come under her power, but there have been many others who have also persecuted God’s people throughout the centuries. The whore would appear to be far greater than the Roman Catholic Church.pope

It would be more accurate to say the whore represents religious systems like the Roman Catholic Church. Interestingly, the title Pontifex Maximus is used by the pope. This title was once used by the emperors of Rome in their capacity as high priest of the ancient pagan Roman religion. The pope has absolute rule over a so-called Christian denomination that is riddled with pagan corruption. Whether we call it Christianised paganism or pagan Christianity is a moot point, the fact is, it is not biblical Christianity, and therefore, it is a false religion.

vatican pompThe pope’s role is to usurp God’s reign and rule by representing the Lord Jesus Christ. He claims to be a high priest, when the New Testament outlines no such office. As we learned in our second Great Mystery, individual believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and it is He who guides and instructs (John 16:13). There is no need for high priests under the New Covenant. The high priest’s role was to stand between God and His people, Jesus has removed the need for this role because He is now our eternal High Priest (Heb 2:17; 3:1; 4:14, 15), we need no other.

The Roman Catholic Church certainly fits the picture being painted by the whore and the beast, but it is only one of the many organised systems of religion people have used throughout the ages to help support powerful kingdoms in defiance of their Creator. The Revelation is telling us that ultimately, humanity will unite in opposition to God, and it is this great, united, worldwide system of religion and government that Babylon the Great represents. But let us return to the beginning of our mystery and fill in a few more details.

Babylon the Great is Fallen

From the Revelation we learn that God will judge Babylon the Great for her iniquities (Rev 16:19; 17:1; 8:10) and eventually we discover that “Babylon the Great is Fallen” (Rev 18:2). To understand the deeper meaning of this judgment we need to go to the very beginning of God’s Word, to the first mention of Babylon. There we find that Babel (Gen 11:9), which in the Hebrew language is the same word as Babylon, was one of the first cities mentioned in the Bible.

The Greek word for “city” in the New Testament suggests an area enclosed by a wall, whereas in the Old Testament it can be as simple as an encampment that is guarded by a watch. Common to both is the sense of a gathering place for a group of people who watch over one another, defending themselves against man and beast.

Cities in the Bible tend to nurture either God centred or God rejecting practices, and Babylon has almost universally come to be seen as being synonymous with godlessness. From the Revelation we learn that not only is she godless, she actively promotes rebellion against God. This was not something that developed over many years; rebellion was present at the very beginning, when Babylon was first constructed.

Nimrod

In Genesis, we discover that Nimrod, who was Noah’s great-grandson, built and ruled Babel as part of his kingdom. This is the first mention of the concept of “kingdom” in the scriptures and Nimrod was the first king mentioned in the Bible, where we find:

Cush was the father of Nimrod, who came to be a mighty warrior in the land. He was also a mighty hunter before God. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before Jehovah.” And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went forth to Assyria and built Nineveh, and Rehoboth the city, and Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah, which is a great city. (Gen 10:8-12)

Nimrod

Nimrod

Nimrod is referred to as a “mighty warrior”, the first person to bear this title after the Great Flood. The warriors before the Flood appear to be the main contributors to the wickedness and violence that took over humanity (Gen 6:4-11) and led to the Flood judgment. Tradition has it that Nimrod re-established this godlessness in his post Flood kingdom. As first century historian, Josephus wrote:

Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. (2)

Nimrod’s ancient kingdom predated all of the great empires mentioned above and tradition tells us that Nimrod used false religion and his skill as a mighty warrior to create his godless kingdom. Wikipedia states of him:

Judaic interpreters as early as Philo and Yochanan ben Zakai (1st century AD) interpreted “a mighty hunter before the Lord” (Heb. : לפני יהוה, lit. “in the face of the Lord”) as signifying “in opposition to the Lord”; a similar interpretation is found in Pseudo-Philo, as well as later in Symmachus. Some rabbinic commentators have also connected the name Nimrod with a Hebrew word meaning ‘rebel’.

Nimrod, in a sense, was the original archetype of a godless, tyrannical ruler. He used physical force to achieve his ends as he attempted to usurp God’s rightful reign and rule over the earth. The rulers of our six kingdoms, or empires, followed in Nimrod’s footsteps. The emperors of Rome even went so far as to proclaim themselves gods.

The Tower of Babel

tower of babel unknown flemish artist 1587As noted earlier, Babel was the first of the cities ruled by Nimrod. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that it was Nimrod who ordered the building of the Tower of Babel. He decided to create a strong city made from fired bricks, which featured a magnificent tower. Rather than trusting in their Creator to watch over them, Nimrod and his people decided to trust in their own strength and skills. The tower’s construction was meant to promote the power and prowess of Nimrod and his people for miles around (Gen 11:4).

This rejection of God’s dominion did not go unnoticed and God consequently determined to divide the community and their efforts by creating a number of language groups (Gen 11:7), thereby effectively achieving His original directive. When they could no longer all understand one another, they divided and spread out “upon the face of all the earth” (Gen 11:8a).

It seems reasonable to assume that God gave individual, new languages to individual families, or clans, within the original larger group. The Bible tells us that everyone spoke the same language until that time (Gen 11:1), but when people could no longer communicate with one another, tensions would arise and they would naturally separate into language groups. Consequently, a number of clans separated from the original group and spread out over the earth, creating new nations (Gen 11:8-9).

Nebuchadnezzar

The next time Babylon is mentioned in the Bible, 1500 years have passed and we find that, although building was brought to a halt in Nimrod’s time (Gen 11:8b), in the ensuing years Babylon had grown into a mighty empire, occupying the lands between the Nile and the Euphrates Rivers (2 Kings 24:7).

Nebukadnessar II” by User Hedning on sv.wikipedia – Anton Nyström

This now powerful empire of idolatry and pagan practices was then ruled over by a Chaldean king named Nebuchadnezzar. This name reveals the pagan roots of the nation Nebuchadnezzar ruled, as it means “Nabu has protected the accession right”. Nabu was a Babylonian god – the son of their supreme god of wisdom, Marduk. Isaiah says of the king of Babylon, that he “ruled the nations in fury, with relentless persecution” (Is 14:4-6). Many believe this is actually an allusion to the power behind the throne, satan himself.

Even though Nebuchadnezzar was a gentile, who worshipped a pagan god, we find God was able to use him. He was God’s instrument of judgment on Judah for its idolatry, unfaithfulness and disobedience (Jer 25:9). Satan had an agenda, but God’s sovereignty is demonstrated as He worked through this heathen king.

After defeating Assyria in 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar assumed the rule of the Babylonian empire and reigned from 605BC to 562BC.

“Hanging Gardens of Babylon” by Maarten van Heemskerck

During his reign he conquered Palestine, destroying Jerusalem and Judah in 586BC. When he destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem he took its wealth to the treasure house of his god Marduk in Babylon (Dan 1:2).

The prophet Jeremiah called Nebuchadnezzar the servant of the Lord (Jer 25:9; 27:6). God used Nebuchadnezzar to carry out His judgment on Egypt (Jer 43:10) and Judah (2 Kings 24-25) and consequently Nebuchadnezzar was greatly blessed by the presence of a number of devout men who were forced into his service.

One of these men was Daniel the prophet, who was captured as a youth and transported from Jerusalem to Babylon. Daniel served as a counsellor, wise man, and administrator to the king.

God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to prosper, but at his zenith God showed him he was simply a man, when He reduced him to living like an animal for seven years (Dan 4). Eventually, Nebuchadnezzar recognised that the God of the Jews is the sovereign God of all creation, who is worthy of honour and praise (Dan 4:34-37).

Daniel Interprets a Far-Reaching Dream

Jesus referred to Daniel when discussing the end-times with His disciples (Mat 24:15; Mk 13:14) and, as mentioned in an earlier post, the prophecies found in the Book of Daniel are the key to end-times prophecies.

The Lord gave Nebuchadnezzar dreams that only Daniel was able to interpret. One of these dreams was a far-reaching prophecy concerning the march of history from his time through to the present time and on into the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (Dan 2). Daniel was later given a similar vision (Dan 7), which paralleled Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, but used different symbols. Before he explained the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream we find:

Daniel answered the king, saying: “The mystery about which the king inquired is such that neither wise men, astrologers, magicians, or sorcerers can disclose it to the king. But, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar the things that will happen in the latter days. The dream and the visions that went through your head as you lay on your bed are these. (Dan 2:27-28) TLV

Comparing-Statue-and-Beasts-DanielDaniel specifically told the king that his dream was relevant to the “latter days” or the end-times. Daniel then went on to recount and explain Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which concerned an image of a statue made from a range of different metals and clay.

Daniel’s later dream was about four huge, unnatural, terrifying beasts. The pagan king saw the future as a magnificent statue of a man with a head of gold, while the prophet of God saw terrifying, wild beasts, similar to the beasts the apostle John saw much later and wrote about in the Revelation. The godless man saw only human achievements, the godly men saw what lay behind those achievements.

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream about the statue (Dan 2: 29-45), Daniel’s dream about four beasts (Dan 7) and John’s vision of the whore and the beast (Rev 17) were all about powerful kingdoms. This was made clear to Daniel when he interpreted the king’s dream and to John when the angel told him that the seven heads of the beast were seven kings (Rev 17:10). Daniel told the king:

But after your kingdom comes to an end, another kingdom, inferior to yours, will rise to take your place. After that kingdom has fallen, yet a third kingdom, represented by bronze, will rise to rule the world. Following that kingdom, there will be a fourth one, as strong as iron. That kingdom will smash and crush all previous empires, just as iron smashes and crushes everything it strikes. (Dan 2:39-40)

Daniel explained that the first kingdom was Babylon, and Nebuchadnezzar was the golden head of the statue (Dan 2:38). This kingdom corresponded to Daniel’s lion. The next part of the statue was made of silver, this represented the Medo-Persian Empire and corresponded with Daniel’s bear (Dan 5:26-31). The belly and thighs of the statue were made of brass, this represented Greece and corresponded with Daniel’s leopard (Dan 8:20-21; 10:20-11:14). The fourth empire was represented by iron legs and corresponded with Daniel’s last terrible beast, which represented the Roman Empire.

As noted earlier the seven heads of the beast in the Revelation represent seven consecutive empires (Rev 17:9-10). When Nebuchadnezzar had his dream two of these empires had already fallen, thus Nebuchadnezzar’s dream only referred to the empires that would follow his own – Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. This accounts for six of the seven heads on John’s beast and we know that the seventh kingdom had “not yet come” when John recorded his vision.

Four Empires

Four Empires

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream also gives us another reason to safely assume the hills/mountains upon which the whore is seated in John’s vision (Rev 17:9) are in fact kingdoms. At the end of his dream Nebuchadnezzar saw a great mountain fill the earth (Dan 2:35). Daniel explained that this great mountain was God’s kingdom “that will never be destroyed” (Dan 2:44-45).

It was also noted earlier that some people believe the leopard-like beast of Revelation 13 is a different beast to the scarlet beast in Revelation 17. However, it seems more likely that the leopard-like beast in the Revelation carries with it a hint of kingdoms past from Daniel’s dream (Daniel 7:1-8). These beast kingdoms reveal the true power behind the pagan kingdoms of this world.

In Revelation 12 we are introduced to the dragon, which also has seven heads and ten horns. It is “the ancient serpent, called the devil and satan, who deceives the whole world” (Rev 12:9). One could speculate that the seven heads of the dragon represent the seven powerful, godless kingdoms God will allow to overrun his “glorious land” (Dan 11:41). We have already discovered the dragon will give its power and authority to the leopard-like beast (Rev 13:2); the dragon is the true head of each of these kingdoms and it will be the power behind Babylon the Great – the last powerful, godless kingdom of this world.

The leopard-like beast has aspects of a lion (Babylon), a bear (Medo-Persia) and a leopard (Greece) when it first appears in John’s vision (Rev 13). When it morphs into the scarlet beast (Rev 17) it will enter its final phase; it will be about to take part in satan’s last ditch attempt to deceive the peoples of the world. We now know that its seven heads represent seven kingdoms, one of which was yet to come in John’s time. The kingdom that had “not yet come” would follow Rome (Rev 17:10).

The Princes of Persia & Greece

When John recorded the Revelation, Rome had achieved world power similar to that of ancient Babylon at its height. Rome was a city that had become an empire, just like Babylon; and like Babylon she was a brutal, ruthless power that swept all before her. When Babylon and Rome were both “great cities”, they nurtured many false religions and many false gods within their domains and behind their power it is reasonable to assume there were principalities and powers that were at work in the spiritual realm.

These kingdoms and the kings that ruled them stood against God’s rightful reign and rule on the earth He had designed and created, and from the Bible we learn that powerful pagan nations have powerful supernatural allies (Daniel 10). An angel of the Lord told Daniel about a battle between the angel Michael and the Princes of Persia (Daniel 10:13, 20) and Greece (Dan 10:20).

Michael is the archangel (Jude 1:9), who watches over Israel (Dan 10:21) and contends with the devil (Jude 1:9), battling with him in heaven (Rev 12:7). Most commentators understand Michael’s princely foes to be fallen angels, who were serving satan’s cause in the pagan nations whose names they bore. We know very little about the angelic realm, but this glimpse into these powerful beings gives us some understanding of the influence fallen angels wield over the nations of the world.

Two Legs – Two Empires

From history we learn that both Greece and Rome were divided, just like the thighs and legs of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. In 330 AD, the Emperor Constantine split the Roman Empire into two parts. The Western Empire spoke Latin and was centred in Rome, while the Eastern Empire predominately spoke Greek and was centred in Constantinople.Eastern & Western Roman Empires Map

Over time, the Eastern Empire thrived, but the west gradually declined. The western part of the Roman Empire fell in 476 AD, when Romulus, the last of the Roman emperors in the west, was overthrown by the Germanic leader Odoacer. However, the eastern half of the empire continued to exist as the Byzantine Empire for almost a thousand years.

The Roman Empire was never actually conquered, to be more accurate, it gradually disintegrated. In the west an attempt at revival was made in the form of the Holy Roman Empire, which existed between 962 and 1806, but this empire never again reached the heights of the Roman Empire, and it never encompassed Israel.

Feet & Toes

The statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream also had feet and toes made from a mixture of iron and clay (Dan 2:33), which could be considered another empire, but this is more difficult to determine and opinions differ on what the feet and toes might represent. FeetWhile many claim they were simply a continuation of the Roman Empire in its declining stages, others believe that the iron and clay empire corresponds with the seventh kingdom mentioned in Revelation 17:10, the empire that had “not yet come” in John’s time.

All of the empires represented in Nebuchadnezzar’s and Daniel’s dreams came out of Babylon – out of Nimrod’s original rebellious kingdom – and at some stage they all controlled Jerusalem. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that the God of heaven had given him his kingdom and he was the golden head of the great statue image (Dan 2:38). History tells us that the subsequent empires flowed from his kingdom. One conqueror after another enlarged and controlled the area that is now known as the Middle East, but from God’s perspective, Jerusalem was the centre of this area, not Babylon or Rome. In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, God’s eye was on His Holy Land.

The Ottoman Empire

The last remnant of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, was eventually conquered by the Ottomans in 1453. The Ottoman Empire existed from 1299 to 1920 and it could easily be seen as the iron and clay feet of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. This seventh empire subsequently came to rule over much of the area Nebuchadnezzar had once controlled and during their reign the Ottomans held Israel for 400 years, from 1517 to 1917. From Wikipeadia we learn:

During the 16th and 17th centuries, in particular at the height of its power under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire was a powerful multinational, multilingual empire controlling much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia, the Caucasus, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa.

What Is the Clay?

Before the Ottomans took the reins of Nebuchadnezzar’s feet empire, a new element had been introduced into the existing geopolitical landscape. A new, false, monotheistic religion gradually took hold of the whole area. This religion could be seen as the clay that weakened the iron. Humans came from clay (Gen 2:7) and the human alternative to God’s Way might well be depicted as clay.

Ottoman Empire In 1683

Ottoman Empire In 1683

The Ottoman Empire had some of the strength of the past empires but the new false religion – Islam – had been introduced into the mix. Although religion can unite people, the never-ending conflict between Sunni and Shiite factions means that Islam has a strong, foundational schism, an inherent weakness. It is almost impossible to imagine a stronger but more brittle empire. Conflicts arise almost everywhere this religion takes a hold, shattering communities and nations.

Thus, while the Western Empire was overrun by the pagan pseudo-Christian religion – Roman Catholicism, in the Eastern Empire Islam began to grow and conquer the nations and tribes of people who came under the dominion of the expanding Muslim Empire.

Muslim Conquests

Muslim Conquests

The Muslim conquests were rapid and far-reaching, and by 750AD Islamic monarchs controlled kingdoms stretching from central Asia to Spain. The Muslim Empire grew to surround the declining Byzantine Empire on its eastern, western and southern boundaries.

Many claim the first major Muslim conquests were renowned for their brutality. This is a difficult claim to substantiate as there is little documentation from the time. Nevertheless, brutality has been the hallmark of numerous Muslim sects up to and including the present day and there is no dispute over the fact that Muhammad sanctioned the beheading of prisoners of war and engaged in many battles, setting the stage for ongoing conflict.

Immediately after his death in 632, Muhammad’s successor, the first caliph Abu Bakr, proclaimed a jihad against apostate Arabs. Many of these people had only nominally accepted Muhammad’s teachings during his lifetime, but following Muhammad’s death, these doubters expressed a desire to abandon Islam. The “faithful” labelled such people “apostates” and the battles that ensued became known in Arabic as the Ridda or Apostasy Wars. It is claimed that during these conflicts tens of thousands of Arabs were put to the sword unless they re-submitted to Islam. This is certainly an effective way to build a new pagan religion.

While these first brutal conquests were presided over by Abu Bakr, the latest Muslim force to set its sights on world conquest and the establishment of a worldwide Muslim caliphate is also presided over by a leader who calls himself Abu Bakr and the brutality of his group is beyond dispute. Wikipedia says of him:

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an Islamic extremist group in western Iraq, Libya, northeast Nigeria and Syria self-styled as the “Islamic State”. It is believed that he has been proclaimed by his followers to be a Caliph.

After The Ridda Wars ended around 634AD, the next caliph, Omar, launched the Muslim conquests. Syria was conquered around 636, Egypt in 641 and Mesopotamia and the Persian Empire in 650. By the early 8th century all of northern Africa, Spain to the west, and the lands of central Asia and India to the east, were also brought under Islamic rule.

Corrupting the Truth

Both Catholicism and Islam have distorted God’s Word. Catholicism has introduced goddess/Mary worship and other nonbiblical practices, but Islam has gone much further, Islam has superseded Jesus – the Son of God – with Mohammad.

From a Christian perspective Islam is, by definition, blasphemous. Muhammad plagiarised the Bible, taking from God’s Word many teachings, which he incorporated into his new pagan religion. If Christianity sanctioned the oxymoron “Holy War”, it would be hell bent on destroying every Muslim for their disrespect of the Holy Bible and their appalling irreverence towards the Lord Jesus Christ, when they proclaim Him to be no more than a prophet. But true followers of Jesus know that violence has never been part of Jesus’ teachings; they know that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16), and ultimately His love will conquer all, not the violence that is endemic to satan’s cohorts.

Both Islam and Catholicism claim to represent a god who sanctions the murder of innocent people, simply because these people refuse to accept their lies. Perhaps Catholicism has changed its tune since the Inquisition, but nevertheless, it would appear the father of lies is behind both of these systems of deception. As Jesus said:

But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? (Mat 7:14-16)
And also:
What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds, for their ancestors also praised false prophets. “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. (Luke 6:26-28)

Catholicism and Islam also appear to agree on a fundamental evil doctrine – the eternal torment of souls in hell. This belief can be traced to pagan religions and probably came from Babylon through Zoroastrianism to Catholicism and Islam. The Western Roman Empire would have nurtured the idea in Greek and Roman beliefs about the underworld, while the Eastern Empire would have added satan’s original lie – that we “will not die” (Gen 3:4). Belief in immortal souls is a fundamental teaching in Hinduism and it could well have come to the Eastern Empire through contact with this religion.

Gradually these ideas spread throughout the whole region, influencing even intertestamental Jewish writers. Perhaps such pagan ideas blinded many of Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries to His deity. The Bible teaches an entirely different eternal destiny for those who refuse God’s gift of eternal life through His Son. Jesus clearly declared they will perish (John 3:16).

A closer examination of the Bible reveals that the doctrine of eternal torment hangs on a particular interpretation of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus and one verse in Matthew. The ideas of human immortality and eternal torment were probably introduced into the Christian community in the second century by converted Greek philosophers like Tertullian, whose pagan backgrounds were influenced by the doctrines of Plato and Socrates, both believers in human immortality. Sadly, the Protestant churches have also taken these evil, nonbiblical beliefs on board, but there are many Bereans who have examined the scriptures for themselves and rejected these pagan teachings. May our dear Father continue to open the eyes of His people to this deception from Babylon.

Iron and Clay – Government and Religion

John’s vision of Babylon the Great portrays the whore, which represents false religion, riding on the beast, which represents the last great pagan world empire to conquer Israel. whore_riding_beast2The Hebrew word for seven means sufficiency or fullness. God allowed seven pagan kingdoms, which were dominated by false religion to overrun His beautiful land.

The last of these seven kingdoms came to an end in 1920, and miraculously, the State of Israel was “born in one day” (Is 66:8) in May 1948. The Jewish people are now back in the land of Israel. However, the world is currently poised for the eighth pagan empire, the toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream statue (Dan 2:42-43), which we learn from the Revelation will come “out of the seven” (Rev 17:11). This will be the final pagan world empire God will allow before he brings this present fallen world to its end and His new eternal kingdom comes into being (Dan 2:44; Dan 7:27; Rev 21:1). God Himself will crush this final kingdom of satanic defiance.

The mystery of Babylon the Great is partly revealed. In the time of the Great Tribulation that Jesus mentioned (Mat 24:21) and John warned about (Rev 2:22; 7:14) and outlined in his Revelation, there will be a great worldwide, government sanctioned religion, which pulls together many of the false religions of the world into one great ecumenical religious institution.

This new religion will replace true, biblical Christianity after the Rapture and will be supernaturally united with a one world government that comes out of the last of the seven kingdoms. This last empire will overrun Israel yet again, but it will be short lived, because Nebuchadnezzar’s and Daniel’s dreams and John’s vision all clearly announce the coming of God’s eternal kingdom not long after the toe kingdom comes into being (Dan 2:44; Dan 7:13-14; Rev 22:5).

John also revealed:

And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goes into perdition. (Rev 17:11)

Each of the seven great pagan empires had great leaders who were satan’s emissaries in their time. The beast of the Revelation, will be satan’s emissary and he will be none other than the Antichrist John refers to in his letters (1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7). This man is also mentioned in the Book of Daniel, but we will look at him in greater detail in the next and last post of this series.

Comparing Daniel 2, Daniel 7 and Revelation 17

chart2

(1) Hislop, Alexander (2010-05-14). The Two Babylons or The Papal Worship Proved to be the Worship of Nimrod and his Wife (p. 1). . Kindle Edition.

(2) Josephus, Flavius (2014-07-23). Flavius Josephus: The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus (Kindle Location 709) Kindle Edition.

Seven Great Mysteries – Part Six

The sixth mystery mentioned in the New Testament is The Mystery of Iniquity. This mystery is the counterwork to The Mystery of the Gospel (Eph 6:19), which was the first mystery in this series on The Seven Great Mysteries of the World. Paul also called the first mystery The Mystery of Godliness (1 Tim 3:16).

immensea-6Believers understand that the Father designed and created His universe with a purpose and a plan; He is holy and righteous and His intention is to make His creation holy and righteous, so that He can be All in all (1 Cor 15:28).

However, for a season, He has allowed opposition to the consummation of His plan; He has allowed The Mystery of Iniquity to run its course and godlessness to grow and reveal its true nature.

When we looked at The Mystery of the Gospel – the Good News of the incarnation of Christ (Eph 6:19; 1 Tim.3:16), we also examined the spiritual powers working behind the scenes, which the Apostle Paul called the principalities and powers (Eph 6:12; Col 2:15).

Jesus vs satanThese malign powers are mentioned throughout the Bible and it was noted that whilst promoting iniquity, which in biblical terms is lawlessness, they are also to be found working within the human community; coaxing, driving and influencing people to resist God their Creator.

The concept of lawlessness in the Bible is not an absence of the law, but rather, the violation of God’s divinely instituted law. This is not a subjective law that we ourselves created for our own convenience, we are speaking here of the law of God. Our holy and righteous Creator has made certain decrees, or laws, for us to live by, but the spiritual agents of lawlessness have been working from the beginning of time promoting lawlessness, godlessness and unrighteousness. As Paul explained to the Ephesians:

You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. (Eph 2:2) NLT

The Man of Sin

The New Testament teaches us that the constant, insidious work of these iniquitous powers will come to a climax on The Day of the Lord (2 Thes 2:2). At that time God will personally and dramatically intervene in human history to vanquish the satanic powers (Rev 20:9, 10) and bring His ultimate plan to fruition (Rev 21:1-4). But before that Day arrives two specific events must occur. Paul instructed the church of Thessalonica:

Let no one deceive you by any means, for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first and the man of sin is revealed – the son of destruction. (2 Thes 2:3)

After alerting his readers to the Great Falling Away of believers, Paul announced the coming manifestation of the man of sin – the son of destruction. He then went on to introduce our sixth mystery, The Mystery of Iniquity, which he linked to the revealing of this son of destruction. Paul writes:

And the Mystery of Iniquity (Lawlessness) is already at work, only He who is now holding it back will do so until He is taken out of the midst (of humanity). And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the breath of His mouth and shall destroy with the brightness of His presence. The coming of this lawless one is connected to the working of satan by power and signs and lying wonders, and with every delusion of iniquity against those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, so that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, in order that all might be distinguished who do not believe the truth, but approve of unrighteousness. (2 Thes 2:7-12)

Just as the incarnation of Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:11) was first a mystery and then revealed (1 Tim 3:16; 1 Cor 2:7, 8) at the right time (Romans 5:6); so also the lawless one – the son of destruction – is first a mystery, but at the right time he will also be revealed. Righteousness found its embodiment in Christ the righteous One (1 John 2:1) and sin will find its embodiment in the man of sin.

Until now the Holy Spirit has been actively restraining the manifestation of iniquity as He holds back the powers of the evil one, but at the right time He will be removed and the manifestation of the antichrist (the term used in 1 John 2:18 and 1 John 4:3), will take place.

raptureAs we have shown in The Mystery of the Rapture, which was our fourth mystery in this series, following the Rapture of the Church, the Holy Spirit’s restraining presence will be withdrawn and the Great Tribulation will begin. We can now add from Paul’s teaching that the coming of the antichrist will follow soon after these events.

At that time satan will indwell the man of sin as he attempts to counterfeit the imminent appearing (2 Tim 4:8) and presence (Mark 13:21) of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. Thus, this lawless one will anticipate the Second Coming with a last ditch effort to maintain dominion of this present world.

Meanwhile, the Great Tribulation will be the Father’s last ditch attempt at capturing the attention of a great multitude of people (Rev 7:9). This will be God’s final effort at bringing stubborn people to a place where they will listen, understand and accept the true consequences of rejecting His Way (John 14:6). Many people will be saved from the second death during the Great Tribulation (Rev 2:11).

The Great Falling Away

At present, iniquity is working in a mystery, in a hidden manner, while evil is subtly taking root in the increasingly pagan modern world culture. Many commentators call this godless culture “progressive”. But while godlessness grows and gains ground, satan has been working to convince those people who see themselves as “progressives” that he does not exist. The father of lies (John 8:44) has been extremely successful in this endeavour; large numbers of people now believe satan is a myth, not a mystery.

truth to hateMeanwhile worldly knowledge is increasing exponentially (Dan 12:4) and high-sounding academics are seducing thinking people away from Christianity with arguments so plausible they may well deceive even the elect (Mat 24:24).

In today’s world, respect for the church is rapidly declining while persecution of Christians is rampant. We also see false religions and seriously corrupted forms of Christianity growing in number and popularity, as humanist/naturalist philosophies take the place of Christian teaching. This is exactly what we would expect to see during the Great Falling Away. These are the forerunners of the antichrist; this is the outworking of the first of Paul’s precursors to The Day of the Lord (2 Thes 2:3).

Paul taught that the falling away would be a strong indicator that The Day of the Lord was at hand, and then the man of sin – the son of destruction – would be revealed. I have written about the falling away in an earlier post (The Still Point) and will simply mention here that anyone who was born in a nominally Christian country before 1960 would most definitely have seen the falling away Paul is talking about with their own eyes.

Church and Sunday School attendance were common practices in many people’s lives up until the 50s, but by the end of the 60s the decline had begun in earnest.

Today one would be hard pressed to find a school with scripture classes every week and many churches have been forced to close their doors. It is not uncommon to find many of these churches converted into family homes.

These surplus church buildings, which have been transformed into stylish modern homes, should stand as a constant reminder to the church. It was almost inevitable that when certain so-called Christian groups embarked upon the path of watering down the authority of the Bible, the Great Falling Away would begin.

If It’s Not Bible Based, It’s Not Christian

By accepting the popular notions of long ages and evolution, the very foundations upon which Christianity stands have been weakened and many parents no longer have logical explanations for the questions their scientifically literate children ask them about the Bible. Once certainty concerning the opening chapters of the Bible is removed, faith in the rest of God’s Word flounders.

jesus is born cutThere is, in fact, absolutely no need for a new approach to the teachings in Genesis. Anyone who has taken the time to investigate the science behind the modern creation movement will quickly discover that there is no need to make unnecessary claims concerning genre (trying to convince us that this historical narrative is poetry), or to impose evolutionary pseudo-science onto the traditional understanding of Genesis.

One does not have to look far to realise that creation science is robust and sound and there is a plethora of biological, geological, astronomical, and other scientific evidence to support biblical creation. Those who are prepared to look soon discover that there is no need to compromise or spiritualise the early chapters of God’s Word. Good evidence based science supports the biblical account of creation.

However, what we tend to find in the pro-evolution camp is an abundance of ad hominem arguments against creationists, coupled with philosophically biased interpretations of the data used to support the evolution theory, but no real understanding of the depth of the creation alternative.

A Powerful Delusion

Our Father created each one of us with free will and He has given us the opportunity to choose either to follow His Way or be amongst the people who elect to believe satan’s lies and come under one of the strongest delusion of our age; that is, that the creation made itself, there is no Creator.

darwin in churchSome people who call themselves Christians have chosen to compromise their faith by insisting God used evolution to create. These theistic evolutionists have a prior commitment to philosophical naturalism and long ages and must therefore contort the scriptures to fit their preconceived ideas.

According to the theistic evolution model, death, pain and suffering were a planned part of God’s creative process. This is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is the God of miraculous events. Not only did He create the universe in six actual days and cause a worldwide flood to deal with toxic iniquity; He sent His Son who was born of a virgin, literally died, rose from death and physically ascended to heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father.

death_before_sinNo matter how often the people at the Biologos Forum, and others of like mind, insist they can marry humanist/materialist inspired pseudo-science with biblical Christianity, God has never called death “very good” (Gen 1:31) – it is part of the curse that came upon His once perfect creation after Adam sinned (Gen 3:17-19; Romans 5:12; Gal 3:13). Anything else makes nonsense of the gospel message (Romans 6:23).

What a tragedy it will be for those people who claim to be followers of Jesus, but have been preoccupied in playing the “my brain is bigger than your brain” game. When they stand before the Throne of Grace and realise they have actually been participants in The Mystery of Iniquity, they will find themselves surrounded by cinders (1 Cor 3:13).

The Antichrist

The Mystery of Godliness was revealed in the incarnation of Christ and The Mystery of Iniquity will be fully developed in the revelation of the man of sin, the antichrist.

t shirt cropThe spirit of the antichrist has been hard at work preparing this world for the coming of the son of destruction, and rejection of God’s Word is one of the main tools he is using. Satan not only opposes Christ, he also opposes Christ’s teachings and work, which are at the very core of God’s rescue plan for humanity. Casting doubt on the veracity of God’s Word is a very effective way of keeping people from the Truth and this is the driving force behind the antichrist.

Satan now understands God’s rescue programme, which the Father planned before the creation, but kept secret until all was accomplished (1 Peter 1:20). Satan now understands that individuals can only be saved from the second death (Rev 2:11; 20:6) if they put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning death, and as Paul told the Romans:

Truly, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. (Rom 10:17)

To keep people from coming to faith in Jesus, satan has been working to keep people from hearing the Word of God. Building a fifth column within the Christian community is just one of the many tactics he has used to turn people away from listening to their Creator.

But refusing to listen to God is not a new phenomenon; the Mystery of Iniquity was already at work in Paul’s time and centuries before that our Creator was warning people about the consequences of refusing to listen to His message, He said:

“Your ancestors refused to listen to this message. They stubbornly turned away and put their fingers in their ears to keep from hearing. They made their hearts as hard as stone, so they could not hear the instructions or the messages that the LORD of Heaven’s Armies had sent them by His Spirit through the earlier prophets. That is why the LORD of Heaven’s Armies was so angry with them. “Since they refused to listen when I called to them, I would not listen when they called to Me, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (Zec 7:11-13)

crop trainIgnoring the clear message concerning God’s plans for the future of humanity and refusing to take heed of the dire consequences of disregarding God’s warnings, is like lying down on a busy railway track expecting the driver to stop the train.

God’s plan is on track and He will not be diverted; our Father means to abolish pain, suffering and death. He created this universe and He has the right, the ability and the authority to direct it in the way He knows will best achieve His ends.

Godliness or Godlessness – You Choose

Those who refuse to listen to God’s guidelines make a very foolish choice. God has given us the individual responsibility to choose between godliness and godlessness (Deut 30:19; Josh 24:15; Is 7:15,16 (even Jesus had to choose); Prov 1:29) and the Father has painstakingly explained that the eternal destiny for each and every person is either eternal life or the second death. As we draw nearer to the Day of the Lord, it will become increasingly obvious that there are two distinct paths but sadly many people will no longer be able to distinguish the difference.

The spirit of the antichrist would have us believe that good and evil are relative. At the very beginning of human history satan lied to Eve when she was discussing the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil with him (Gen 3:1-6). He tried to convince her that the fruit of this tree would give her the ability to determine good and evil for herself, rather than trusting in God to guide her. This is exactly the same tactic he has used throughout time.

Solomon was a man generally recognised as having great wisdom, and he wrote:

Fear of the LORD is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Pro 1:7)

We live in a world that is awash with knowledge, but true knowledge can only come from the God of the Bible, and His Word teaches us that we must learn to listen to Him. Our Father is a “God of pardons, gracious, and merciful, long-suffering, and abundant in kindness” (Neh 9:17), but He will eventually complete His original plan and those people who refuse to listen to Him and turn away from their godlessness will find they have no part in His Eternal Kingdom (Mat 7:23).

Choice-300x300God is allowing this time of decision so that “all the people who do not believe the truth might be clearly distinguished” (2 Thes 2:12). There will be no place in His Eternal Kingdom for people who reject God’s Truth (John 14:6).

God has given us His Truth and He has declared it to be good. Even in Isaiah’s time God was speaking to His people concerning this issue. Isaiah wrote:

What sorrow for those who drag their sins behind them with ropes made of lies, who drag wickedness behind them like a cart! They even mock God and say, “Hurry up and do something! We want to see what You can do. Let the Holy One of Israel carry out His plan, for we want to know what it is.” What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes and think themselves so clever. (Isa 5:18-21)NLT

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

Today we often hear people proclaiming that if there was a God He would be interfering more in human activity. They want the God they deny exists to do something to stop the suffering they see all around them. At the same time they choose to ignore the fact that this God they refuse to believe in has given us free will and that the majority of the suffering is actually the result of human activity.

Perhaps they believe God should induce the miscarriage of someone who is destined to perform heinous acts or prevent the conception of any child He knows will be aborted. But where should we draw the line? Should God also prevent people from manufacturing or buying cigarettes?

If God constantly intervened in our lives we would be little more than robots. Instead, He has created us with the ability to choose between right and wrong and given us clear guidelines on how to live according to His Way. He wants us to practice self-discipline and take responsibility for our own actions. This is the mark of a mature person (1 Cor 3:2; Heb 5:12, 13; 1 Peter 2:2).

Hardly a day goes by without someone saying, “How could a God who claims to be a God of love allow all this suffering?” Sadly, these people are actually asking a rhetorical question – they do not really want to hear God’s answer. But this question has been answered many times by many people. Perhaps those who ask the question want a simple answer, a sound-bite answer, to one of the most complex questions anyone could ever ask.

dead flowerBible believing Christians have a very satisfactory answer to this question. Those who know God’s Word understand that when God told Adam he should not eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, He also warned him that if he did eat of it he would die (Gen 2:15-17). God created a universe with natural order and consequences, where certain actions compel specific reactions. The consequence of the first humans eating the forbidden fruit was that death and decay, and consequently pain and suffering, entered God’s perfect world.

Satan tried to convince Eve that she would not die by disobeying God, he told her that instead of dying she would become like God (Gen 3:4,5). This was his first recorded lie and in a sense the beginning of The Mystery of Iniquity. When Adam and Eve listened to satan and disobeyed God’s clear directive, they sinned by disobeying their Creator, even though God had already explained to them that this sin would lead to death (Gen 2:17; Rom 6:23; James 1:15).

The Father of Lies

Free will necessitates the option of rebellion and after listening to satan, Adam and Eve chose this option. From the moment they chose to rebel the first humans began to die; their once perfect bodies were now subject to corruption, as was the entire creation (Romans 8:22). If they had not died then God would have been proven a liar, just like satan. But God simply told them the truth. They sinned and death and suffering became part of the human condition. Jesus told some Jewish leaders who refused to listen to Him:

Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear Me! For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe Me! (John 8:43-45)NLT

Your_Choice_is_Your_Way_by_OsokinBecause Adam and Eve ignored God’s directive and believed satan’s lies they died. In effect satan murdered them, but Adam and Eve had a choice. Tragically the choice they made set our world on a particular path. But God’s rescue plan is powerful, and this season of death and suffering will come to an end when our Father ushers in the Day of the Lord.

This will be a Day of salvation as well as judgement. Those who choose God’s Way will be saved from God’s final intervention, which will end with the destruction everything that is not purified by His Son. However, God will not compel anyone to go into eternity to live with Him forever. But apart from Him there will be no life. Jesus saves cutThose who reject eternal life will perish when they are subjected to the second death (Rev 20:14,15).

The need for salvation is the most important message anyone could ever hear. This message will determine the eternal destiny of every person who was ever conceived. Jesus described God’s rescue plan in one sentence when He said:

For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

This ultimate truth no longer carries the urgency it once did. The father of lies has successfully blinded a large portion of the human population to the truth of his existence. He has also deluded people into believing that their Creator – the God of the Bible, and Adam and Eve – the first humans to walk the Earth, are all mythological characters. Over the past few centuries satan’s deception has grown in power and strength as He has convinced millions of people that they need not listen to The Lord of Life.

There Will Be No More Death

One of the greatest satanic delusions in today’s world is the belief that death was an indispensable component of the ascent of life. Many people have come to believe that death always was and always will be part of the human condition. Some false religions give people false hope; they tell us that we will be reincarnated after death, only to experience an endless cycle of deaths until we reach our ultimate state, the big blend or egolessness. But God’s Word is quite clear, as the writer to the Hebrews explains:

And just as each person is destined to die once and after that face the judgment, even so Christ was offered once as a sacrifice to bear the sins of many people. And to all those who are eagerly waiting for Him, He will come a second time, not to deal with sins, but to bring salvation. (Heb 9:27-28)

As he did when he made his very first appearance on the world stage (Gen 3:3,4), satan has continued to muddy the waters when it comes to an understanding of death and the afterlife. However, Christians know with absolute certainty that death will be abolished (1 Cor 15:26) and eternal life means just that, there will be no more death (Rev 21:4).

It’s All About Love

Throughout the last few centuries satan has been busy elevating pluralism, self-righteousness (a form of political correctness) and false piety while working diligently to have Christianity portrayed as intolerant bigotry. Sadly, a small section of the church may have contributed to this deception by overemphasising moral issues and underemphasising social responsibility. Our Lord gave His people clear guidelines on these issues when he told His listeners:

“Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly the speck in your brother’s eye, to take it out.” (Luk 6:41-42)TLV
And also:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than anyone else? Even the pagans do that, don’t they? Therefore be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Mat 5:43-48) TLV

pentecostGod’s law and moral code were given to us because our Father knew the best way for our species to live. We are not animals, we were made in God’s image (Gen 1:26); we are unique beings, not just amongst our fellow creatures on this beautiful planet, but within the entire creation. We have unimaginable eternal potential (Luke 18:16; John 1:12; Romans 8:17, 21; Eph 5:1), but our Father asks us to live according to His guidelines (1 John 3:10).

However, He does not demand perfection from us without giving us the means of reaching for that goal (Phil 3:13,14). In our second mystery we looked at The Mystery of the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Col.1:27, 1 Cor. 6:17 & 19). God’s indwelling Spirit enables us to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). It is He who enables us to live and love according to His guidelines (Eph 1:5; Phil 2:13-15).

Suffering Will End

God is going to definitively deal with pain and suffering, but He is going to do it His way. This is the big picture God wants people to hear and satan has been working hard to bring it into disrepute.

Our Father has allowed suffering and death to endure for about 6000 years. In a sense we have been part of the great demonstration of the extent of human depravity apart from God’s rule and reign. God has permitted us to see and experience first hand what life outside adherence to His law is like.

from darkness to light2But despite the suffering, millions of people have heard God’s message and taken advantage of His rescue plan. These people have chosen to be part of God’s Eternal Kingdom by becoming members of God’s Family. But one might ask, why has God allowed suffering and death to go on for so long?

The stark truth is, once the Creator begins to wind up this present, broken creation, there will be a terrible time of godlessness and lawlessness on the Earth as God lifts His restraining hand. But God wants as many people as possible to choose His Way before the Great Tribulation begins. Just as the Apostle Peter predicted, in these last days, scoffers have come saying, “Where is this Second Coming He promised?” (2 Peter 3:3, 4), but as Peter went on to explain:

The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some might consider slowness. Rather, He is longsuffering towards us, not willing that any should perish, but that all would come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

It is the refusal of the millions of unsaved people to listen to and accept God’s Truth and His Way that is prolonging the suffering of this world. Thankfully, our Father has seen to it that many cultures have retained some semblance of godliness, and law and order prevail in most countries. We were created with the ability to love and care for others and many of us have benefited from living in countries founded on Christian principals, but we have also inherited a broken nature; loving and caring is not always our natural tendency and some people consciously choose to revel in evil. Also Jesus warned:

Because iniquity will increase, the love of the many will become cold. (Mat 24:12)

As we come to terms with The Mystery of Iniquity we understand that although our Father has restrained evil to a great extent, He has nevertheless allowed satan to work behind the scenes to sift the chaff from the wheat (Mat 3:12; 13:30). There have always been people who choose to reject God’s Truth and disparage God’s offer of eternal life, but when the antichrist is eventually revealed, these God-haters will join satan’s forces and attempt to overthrow God’s ordinances (Rev 9:20; 16:9, 11).

Even though there is no hope for them in this offensive, they will be so far from believing God’s Truth it will be virtually impossible for them to comprehend that in Christ, victory has already been assured and their defiance is futile (John 16:33; Rom 8:28; 1 Cor 15:24, 57; 2 Cor 2:14; Rev 3:21; 6:2; 17:14; 19:1,2). Their true natures will be laid bare and their eternal destinies sealed.

jesus-in-heavenBut for now, during this period of grace, the time is right to turn to God and hear His voice. He is reaching out to the lost, calling them into His Eternal Family. However, as the Great Falling Away we are now witnessing is the precursor to the revelation of the antichrist, and the Rapture will occur before his appearing, the time may be short. Now is the time to repent and turn to God.

Seven Great Mysteries – Part Five

The fifth Great Mystery of the World is The Mystery of the Restoration of Israel. Today we think of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, but before it was used to name a country and its people, Israel was the name given to Abraham’s grandson, Jacob.

Jacob and angel gen_322400_b

The word Israel means “he (who) struggles with God” and this name was given to Jacob after he successfully wrestled with the messenger of God (Gen 32:28). Later, the name was used for the 70 descendants of Jacob/Israel – the people known as the children of Israel – when they went down to live in Egypt because of the famine in their land (Gen 15:13; 41:56; 46; 47:27).

Jacob goes to egypt-gen_460507_bAround 1446BC, the name was applied to the nation that grew out of those descendants, when Israel escaped from slavery in Egypt (Ex 5:2; 12:3) and came back into the land God had earlier promised to Abraham, the father of the Jewish people (Gen 15:18).

Following the Exodus, the name was given to the land the descendents of Israel conquered and ruled for nearly a thousand years. But in 722 BC, after they forsook the God of their father Abraham, Israel was led away into captivity in Assyria, and the great city of Jerusalem finally fell in 586BC. During this long period of conquest and the exile of the Jewish people, many of the faithful Old Testament prophets foresaw the restoration of Israel. The prophet Jeremiah wrote:

“Behold, days are coming”—it is a declaration of Adonai—“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He will reign as king wisely, and execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell in safety; and this is His Name by which He will be called: Adonai our righteousness. “Therefore behold, days are coming,” says Adonai, “when they will no longer say: ‘As Adonai lives, who brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.’ Rather, ‘As Adonai lives, who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and from all the lands where He had banished them.’ So they will dwell in their own soil. (Jer 23:5-8)TLV

promised land

The Land God Promised to Abraham

For over three thousand years remnants of the Jewish community have continuously inhabited the land God gave to Israel (Gen 35:12), but over the past century they have returned in numbers and in May 1948, they reclaimed Israel as their homeland. One need only listen to the world news to understand that they do not as yet “dwell in safety” …. “in their own soil”. It seems the full restoration is yet to come and our passage from Jeremiah tells us that this will happen “in His days”.

When Paul taught about The Mystery of the Restoration of Israel, he was not referring to the same restoration Peter spoke about after he healed the lame man in Solomon’s porch (Acts 3:8).

Peter heals the lameActs030112Peter was talking about the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21), which was a theme he returned to in one of his letters, when he wrote about the new heavens and the new Earth (2 Peter 3:13). That restoration will follow the final episode in the history of the world as we know it and it will happen when all of the end-times events are fully completed (Rev 21:1). However, the scriptures indicate that Israel’s restoration is an intrinsic part of the end-times story God has revealed through His Word (Hos 3:5). The restoration of Israel will be a time when the Branch/King reigns wisely in the land God gave to Abraham.

Throughout the Old Testament there are numerous passages about Israel’s restoration as a nation and many of them refer to a King who will bring justice and righteousness. In Jesus’ day, the Jews were looking for the restoration of the Jewish nation under the reign of a Jewish King, their Messiah, but God’s plan for humanity was far greater than this one nation He had created – God’s plan was for all of humankind.

Jesus the Jewish Messiah

When Jesus was born, many of the Jews were hoping for a Messiah-King, who would destroy the tyranny of Rome and restore their sovereign power.

solomonkingdomThey were looking forward to a time when Israel would again be the great nation she had been under David and Solomon. This nationalistic hope was based on the many messianic prophecies found throughout the Old Testament, with the chief prophet of the Messiah being Isaiah.

However, Isaiah’s Messiah was not only a true King in the line of David (Is 7–12), He was also “the Servant of the Lord”, who would bear away sin. Isaiah foresaw this promised Servant obediently enduring the direst of suffering (50:4–9; 52:13–53:12), which would ultimately prove to be the way of salvation (53:11).

Isaiah_(Bible_Card)

“Isaiah (Bible Card)” by the Providence Lithograph Company

Isaiah’s Servant-King was also depicted as the anointed Conqueror (Is 59:21; 61:1–3; 61:10–62:12; 63:1–6). He would bring both salvation and judgment (61:1–2), not only for the Lord’s chosen people, the Jews (48:22; 49:1–6), but also for the Gentiles (42:1–4; 49:6).

Jesus identified Himself with Isaiah’s Messiah – the One bringing Good News to the poor – in the synagogue at Nazareth, when He announced His arrival as the Servant (Luke 4:16-21). After He was handed the scroll of Isaiah to read, He stopped half-way through a verse (compare Is 61:2 & Luke 4:18). Although He has fulfilled the first part of this verse, the second half of the verse – the part Jesus did not read at that time – is yet to be fulfilled. When Jesus returns as the Conquering King (2 Thess 1:7-10), He will bring “the day of God’s anger against their enemies” (Is 61:2b).

The Suffering Servant and Conquering King

When Jesus was born of a virgin (Mat 1:18-25), many of those who knew the circumstances of His birth would also have known this birth fulfilled one of Isaiah’s messianic prophecies (Is 7:14). God gave the Jewish people many indicators of His plan to be born into their community (Gen 49:19; Ps 2:7, 72:10; Is 9:6; Mic 5:2); He had intentionally formed the Jewish nation so that He could be born into their midst (John 1:1-3). Our Father carefully prepared the nation into which His Son would be born to redeem humanity from the curse of death (Gal 3:13), but the people were looking for a Conquering King (Mat 21:9), not a Suffering Servant (Mark 8:31-32).

Even the apostles hoped that the restoration of Israel would be part of Jesus’ mission during His incarnation. Just before His ascension the apostles asked Jesus:

“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6b)

Jesus responded by telling them it wasn’t their business to know the timing of such events. Instead, He instructed them to wait until the Holy Spirit gave them the power to go and preach the gospel to the ends of the Earth (Acts 1:6-8); thus indicating that a time for the Gentiles to hear God’s message was about to open up.

Hope for the Gentiles

In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote about God’s work amongst the Gentiles, when he told them that he did not want them to be ignorant of our fifth mystery – The Mystery of the Restoration of Israel. Paul told the Romans that even though it might appear that the new Body of Christ would supersede God’s chosen people, the Jews, God had revealed another Great Mystery – His plan to restore Israel. Paul declared that when “the full number of the Gentiles comes to Christ ….. all Israel will be saved.” Paul writes:

I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say, “The One who rescues will come from Jerusalem, and He will turn Israel away from ungodliness. And this is My covenant with them, that I will take away their sins.” Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people He loves because He chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God’s gifts and His call can never be withdrawn. (Rom 11:25-29) NLT

the brideSome people have tried to explain away the clear meaning of this passage, by saying the church is now “Spiritual Israel” and that as such she will inherit all the promises given to the Jews. But it is obvious that Paul is talking about the people whose physical ancestors were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

There is a great deal of discussion amongst believers on this topic, but our passage is unambiguous and the word “until” gives a definite sense of something yet to come for the Jewish people, after God has finished His work amongst the Gentiles. There are good scriptural reasons to believe there will be a time when we see the convergence of the redemption of Israel and the full restoration of the nation of Israel in their own land.

We have already examined Paul’s teachings on The Mystery of the Rapture. It seems reasonable to propose that when “the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ” our Father will take His Church out of the world at the time of the Rapture and once again turn His attention to His chosen people, the Jews. If this is the case it will be during the Great Tribulation that Israel will come to see that Jesus the Christ is indeed the Messiah they have long awaited. It is only then that “all Israel will be saved”. God’s Word tells us:

“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on Me whom they have pierced and mourn for Him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for Him as for a firstborn son who has died. (Zec 12:10) NLT

Has the Church Replaced Israel?

Perhaps we could be excused for believing that God’s purposes in creating Israel were completed when His Son ascended and His focus moved to the Body of Christ. But God made promises to His chosen people (1 Kings 3:8; Ps 105:15) and these promises can never be broken – they were from God and He never lies (Num 23:19; Tit 1:2).

john receives revelationNevertheless many believers insist the Jews have been completely written out of the end-times story, declaring that since the Church are the ones who are “truly circumcised” (Phil 3:3), they have completely replaced the Jewish nation. Some people even go so far as to read “Christian” for the word “Jew” throughout the Bible. However, when Paul explained that God has set a time for dealing with the Gentiles, he also informed his readers that God has not abandoned His chosen people, the Jews.

The New Testament is unambiguous when discussing the Gentiles as opposed to the Jews; each term is used specifically for the particular group being mentioned. Consequently, when we read about people from the twelve tribes of Israel in the Revelation an angel imparted to John, there is no reason to believe John was given information about anyone other than descendents of Israel.

Supersessionism

The teaching that the church has completely and utterly replaced Israel for all time is called supersessionism. Taken to extremes, this notion would appear to be an unnecessary contortion of the scriptures, where a whole new layer of esoteric meaning is superimposed on much of the Bible.

Christians correctly regard many verses in the Old Testament as referring to Jesus the Messiah, because Jesus made it clear that this was the case (Luke 4:21; John 4:25-26). But this does not in any way mean that God’s chosen nation is now removed from God’s plans for the future. The Jews were the chosen people before the Church Age began and there is good reason to believe they will be the focus of God’s work after the Church Age draws to a close, as Paul’s passage seems to indicate.

pharisees Mark030600All Christians understand that God created the nation of Israel as a national entity as well as a holy people (Deut 7:6). God called Israel to be an example of holiness to the world (Lev 11:44; 19:2) and He made them a great nation so that they would be effective in this work. But because they were often caught up in their traditions (Is 29:13) and law (Rom 2:23-29) and in their national, religious and political power, they constantly lost their way (Jer 2; Ezek 20) and stopped trusting in God for their righteousness (Rom 9:32). By the time of Christ the Jewish leaders had so distanced themselves from their God that when He was born into their midst, most of them did not even recognise Him.

NativityGod had carefully prepared the people who would surround and nurture His Son from His birth, and also those who would later realise just who He was and leave all to follow Him. The small band of Jews, who recognised their Messiah during and just after His life on Earth, would be the beginning of a new body of people through whom God would work to proclaim the Truth to the world throughout the Church Age. But does this mean He has completely abandoned the chosen nation (Deut 7:6) He had prepared for His incarnation?

God has fulfilled many prophecies in Christ, but the hope of Israel is still the Lord Jesus Christ, their promised Messiah (Acts 28:20). It will be through Christ alone that Gabriel’s prophecy concerning the Jewish people will finally be fulfilled. Daniel was informed:

Seventy weeks are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to put an end to transgression, to bring sin to an end, to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Holy of Holies. (Dan 9:24)TLV

Daniel’s people were the Jews. No one could claim that this prophecy has yet been fulfilled. Only Jesus can bring an end to sin and usher in everlasting righteousness. When all Israel is saved, this prophecy will have been accomplished.

What Is Spiritual Israel?

The Romans passage above (Romans 11:25-29) can be harmonised effectively with scriptural passages that appear to support supersessionism, when we understand that God works in different ways in different eras. The old covenant is replaced by the new and the old commandments are summed up in the new (Mat 22:37-40). Peter explained:

And you are living stones that God is building into His spiritual temple. What’s more, you are His holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say, “I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honor, and anyone who trusts in Him will never be disgraced.” Yes, you who trust Him recognize the honor God has given Him. But for those who reject Him, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.” And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them. But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for He called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light. “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.” (1Pe 2:5-10)

Scriptural passages like this one from Peter’s epistle are not in conflict with Paul’s message to the Romans when we understand that there are phases in God’s plan for the redemption of humankind. Although the Bible tells us that there is now no distinction between Gentiles and Jews (Romans 10:12, 1 Cor 1:24, 12:13, Gal 3:28, Eph 2:14, 18, 3:6, Col 3:11) and that we will all be equal members in the Eternal Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection (Romans 3:29, 30), the Father most definitely worked almost exclusively through the Jewish people from the call of Abraham to the establishment of the Church at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4); but as Peter explained, following the incarnation, God’s chosen people are those who trust in Jesus for their righteousness before God (2 Cor 5:21).

Despite this new understanding of God’s chosen people, we know from Paul’s letter that when the Church Age is complete, God will complete what He began with the Jews, all Israel will be saved. It is difficult to reinterpret any of the promises God specifically made to Israel by insisting they are now meant for the Church alone. Although Christ is indeed the fulfilment of many of the promises God made to the Jewish patriarchs, and it is as we abide in Him that we share in these promises, this does not wipe out Israel’s future role in God’s revealed plan.

As with the prophecy in Daniel 9:24, many aspects of the Old Testament promises and prophecies are yet to be fulfilled, and many of these unfulfilled prophecies relate specifically to ethnic Israel. There can be no doubt these verses are referring to the Jewish people. Micah proclaimed:

Where is another God like You, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of His special people? You will not stay angry with Your people forever, because You delight in showing unfailing love. Once again You will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under Your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! You will show us Your faithfulness and unfailing love as You promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. (Mic 7:18-20)

Even in the New Testament it seems clear that many promises have definite national aspects to them (Luke 1:46-55; 70-73). However, those who insist the New Testament depicts no future for Israel often quote Romans, which says:

Well then, has God failed to fulfill His promise to Israel? No, for not all who are born into the nation of Israel are truly members of God’s people! Being descendants of Abraham doesn’t make them truly Abraham’s children. For the Scriptures say, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted,” though Abraham had other children, too. This means that Abraham’s physical descendants are not necessarily children of God. Only the children of the promise are considered to be Abraham’s children. (Rom 9:7-8) NLT

This passage establishes the understanding that people will not be part of God’s eternal holy family because of their genealogy, but entirely through the death of Christ. However, this understanding does not in any way nullify God’s promises to the nation of Israel. Instead, it reveals that our Father has extended the promises to the Gentiles, whilst reminding the Jews that they must remain people of faith to become part of God’s eternal family – those who are the children of the promise – spiritual Israel.

The Lamb of God

During the time our Father was preparing the nation of Israel to bring forth His Son, He set up symbolic practises that were intended to point His people to their Messiah.
The tabernacle ex_260135-001The law and sacrifices are domains that God prescribed for the Jewish people in great detail. Both of these areas of Jewish belief and worship were carefully designed to point to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God (John 1:29; Rev 6:16; 12:11; 17:14; 21:27; 22:3).

Throughout the centuries many Jewish people have come to see and understand the function of these practises when they recognised that they were shadows and copies of the true heavenly realities (Col 2:17; Heb 8:5; 9:23-24; 10:1-22), which centre on the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Revelation tells us that there will be a time when many more Jews see and understand that God was born into their community 2000 years ago, even though at that time they did not receive Him. As John tells us:

He came into the very world He created, but the world didn’t recognize Him. He came to His own people, and even they rejected Him. (John 1:10-11)NLT

christ-and-the-good-thief.jpg!xlMedium
Paul confirmed that no one could be made righteous through the law (Rom 3:20), but mercifully, Christ fulfilled the law (Mat 5:17; Rom 10:4); its role was to lead us to Christ (Gal 3:24). The writer to the Hebrews also gave us a new understanding of the sacrifices God instituted when He was working through His chosen people, the Jews.

We now understand that the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, was far superior to any the Levitical priests could ever make (Heb 8). John the Baptist correctly identified Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Even the Jewish teachers who questioned Jesus understood that the sacrifices they made were symbolic, and that there was a better way to serve God. As Mark records:

….. the scribe said unto Him, Of a truth, Teacher, thou hast well said that He is one; and there is none other but He: and to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is much more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices. (Mark 12:32-33)

last supper
The whole point of the Old Testament sacrifices was to focus the attention of the people on the fatal consequences of sin. Paul told the Romans that it is because of sin that we die (Rom 5:12, 8:10). Jesus declared Himself to be the ultimate sacrifice for our sins when He said:

….. “This is My blood, which confirms the covenant between God and His people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many. (Mark 14:24)

A New Covenant

Jesus introduced the New Covenant between the Creator and His people, which replaced the Old Covenant He had made with the Jews. With the death and resurrection of Christ, God created a new covenant people. His people are now those who recognise His Son and accept His gift of eternal life through Him (John 3:16). God has removed the distinction between Jew and Gentile (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11) – anyone who comes to Jesus can be a child of God – but the writer to the Hebrews tells us that God will honour the promises He made to Abraham and his descendants. There we find:

But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for He is the One who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises. If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. But when God found fault with the people, He said: “The day is coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to My covenant, so I turned My back on them, says the LORD. But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. (Heb 8:6-10)NLT

And Paul adds:

This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.(2 Cor 3:6)

God’s Eternal Family

God’s ultimate goal for humankind has always been the creation of an eternal, holy family with whom He can dwell (Ex 25:8; Eph 2:20-22; 1 John 4:16). Although He created us in His image (Gen 1:26), He created us with free will and tragically our first parents chose to trust Satan’s lies rather than God’s Word (Gen 3:4-6).
temptation of eveSin entered our world and immediately distanced us from our Creator. God had already warned Adam and Eve that sin would lead to death (Gen 2:16-17), but when the fall removed our access to immortality (Gen 3:22-24) the Father had already devised a plan, which was for the Lord Jesus Christ to lay down His life that we might have eternal life (1 Pet 1:18-20; Rev 13:8). To this end He created the chosen nation into which He would be born into the world.

The idea that this one Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, would be the substitute, the sacrifice, who takes upon Himself the penalty for the sins of the whole world, is God’s idea, not ours. This concept is not a human construct, God has revealed that it is His Way and the Truth (John 14:6). Our Father designed His redemption plan before He created the world and He painstakingly implemented it so that we might have renewed access to eternal life.

God foreknew all the problems we would have with sin and He went ahead with His creation. His Son paid the ultimate price for our sin, so that we can each be transformed into immortal people, capable of having a loving relationship with our holy Creator throughout all eternity. People of faith understand, as did the apostle Paul, that the suffering and pain of this world will pale into insignificance in the light of the incomprehensible glory to come (Rom 8:18; 2 Cor 4:14-18). The Lord Jesus Christ died that we might live eternally with Him in a new creation that will never, ever be plagued by sin, suffering and death.

Jews for Jesus

There is now no need for sacrifices, because Jesus was the perfect once-for-all sacrifice (Rom 6:10; 1 Peter 3:18); and we need no longer live under the law, because our righteousness is through Him (1 Cor 1:30; Phil 3:9), but a plain reading of Revelation 7:4-8 nevertheless reveals God working through 144,000 Messianic Jews, taken from the 12 tribes of Israel and sealed for His service. Thus, their genealogical heritage is somehow important during the Great Tribulation.
144000 gerung-angels-sealing

How we understand God’s plan for the Jews in the future can be easily determined by a plain reading of the Bible, especially the Revelation. God’s first phase of operation through the nation He carefully crafted for His purposes was to bring His Son into the world as the Suffering Servant. His second phase will begin after He brings the Church Age to an end, then He will work through the Jews to prepare the tribulation world for His return as the Conquering King.

The marvelous truth is that following the Church Age and the Rapture, the 144,000 Messianic Jews introduced to us in chapter 7 of the Revelation, will be the most amazing missionaries the world has ever known. While the Great Tribulation is being played out – as civilisation crumbles and modern society loses all of its technological advantages – these 144,000 Jewish missionaries will be reaching out to the peoples of the world by sharing the gospel message.

It is significant that after the 144,000 servants of God are sealed and go forth preaching the gospel, Revelation 7:9 announces a great multitude of believers “out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb”. It seems clear that the ground upon which the seed of the gospel is sown by these born again Jews during the Great Tribulation reaps a rich harvest of souls for Christ’s Eternal Kingdom.
Book-of-RevelationWhen people finally realise how fleeting are the rewards of materialism, they will let go of the transitory things of this world and turn back to their Creator in astounding numbers. Revelation 7:14 tells us that “These are they which come out of the Great Tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”. This great multitude of believers from all over the world will be saved during the world’s most horrific times, through the evangelistic work of the most blessed Jews the world has ever known (Rev 14:1-4).

I am desperately saddened to think that so many people will have to experience this time of Great Tribulation and so I continue to hope for a great revival of belief in the Lord Jesus Christ before the Rapture. Mercifully, at the end of the seven years of Great Tribulation, the King of kings and the Lord of lords will return to the Earth as the Conquering King (Mat 24:27; Mark 13:26; Rev 19:11-16) to usher in His millennial kingdom, where He will reign in righteousness (Is 5:16; 32:16-18; 33:5-6; 42:6; 56:1; 61:11; Rev 20:1-7). At that time all Israel will be saved and dwell safely in the land.
garden-of-edenEven though Jesus told the people that His kingdom was not of this world (Luke 12:33; John 18:36; 2 Peter 1:4), His promises concerning the restoration of Israel will be fulfilled during the very last episode of this present creation’s history. Before the new heavens and the new Earth come into being (Rev 21:1) and God’s Holy Eternal Kingdom is ushered in, the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus Christ on this present Earth will see an Israel, which has accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their long awaited Messiah and Saviour, dwelling safely in the very land God promised to Abraham 4000 years ago.

Seven Great Mysteries – Part Four

The fourth mystery I want to examine in this series on The Seven Great Mysteries of the World is what has come to be known as The Mystery of the Rapture. This mystery is truly life-changing! The word Rapture comes from the Latin translation of the Greek word ἁρπαγησόμεθα, which is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. This word means “we shall be caught up” or “taken away”.

Rapture of the Church

In the hope of alleviating their fears concerning believers who had already died, Paul taught the Thessalonians about the Rapture. He wrote:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring close to Himself those believers who have already died. We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet Him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words. (1 Thes 4:13-18)

The Rapture is the “catching up” in the clouds Paul mentions here. Paul is assuring them that God has a plan for all believers, even those who have already passed on; as opposed to the people who have no hope, those who are not part of God’s Kingdom. There are many people who would assure us that we have immortal souls, this false idea has led many nonbelievers to hope for an eternal existence beyond the grave. in the beginningBecause this concept is not a biblical teaching , this is a false hope; it does not come from the God who created the heavens and the earth.

The Bible teaches that unless we are given the gift of eternal life and are in Christ we have no hope of being part of God’s coming Eternal Kingdom. Mortal beings cannot inhabit God’s immortal Kingdom and we will remain mortal unless we are transformed at the Rapture. Paul gave further teaching about this mystery when he explained to the Corinthians:

But I tell you this brothers and sisters, our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. Take notice and let me reveal to you this mystery. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died in Christ will be raised to live with Him forever. And those believers who are alive at that time will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; we must be changed from mortal beings into immortal beings. When this corruptible body becomes incorruptible, and this mortal soul becomes immortal, then shall be brought to pass the word that was written, “Death was swallowed up in victory!” (1 Cor 15:50-54)

graveyardDeath will be no more

After this present creation passes away and our Father brings His newly restored heavens and earth into existence (Rev 21:1), death will be no more (1 Cor 15: 26; Rev 21:4). However, the Bible also teaches that those people who have not responded to the love of God and received the gift of eternal life from the Lord of Life, Jesus Christ, will perish (John 10:25-28).

adam and eve

In a plain reading of God’s Word we find that death came into God’s creation through the first Adam (Gen 2:17; 3:6) and was conquered by Jesus, the last Adam (John 10:17-18; Rom 5:17; 1 Cor 15:45-49). It is only through Jesus that we can expect to conquer death. Jesus was very clear – the default position for all of humanity is that we perish – we must accept His gracious gift of eternal life to avoid this destiny. As He said:

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)TLV

Jesus preachingTo realise the joyful expectation of spending eternity with the God who created the heavens and the earth, people must be changed by His unfathomable power into eternal beings. Inhabitants of God’s Eternal Kingdom must be immortal beings and at this point in time only God is immortal (1 Tim 6:16). But as Paul tells us, through The Mystery of the Rapture, we can all be changed into immortal beings (1 Cor 6:14).

AscensionActs010912We know this is not a false hope because Jesus was raised and transformed and His Word assures us that those who are in Him can expect the same (Romans 8:11).

When Jesus ascended to be with the Father, the disciples were told He would return (Act 1:9-11 see also Heb 9:28) and although The Mystery of the Rapture is not spelled out under this specific title in the Bible, the New Testament church certainly looked forward to the time when all believers would be transformed and taken up to be with the Lord Jesus Christ. When this event happens, even those believers who have already died will be part of this miraculous event.

We are in “the time of the end”

Unfortunately, the details of the Rapture are surrounded by a great deal of controversy in the church and in the world. There are many Christians who believe there must be further revelation and a more complete understanding given at the very end of the Church Age concerning this mystery. This idea is linked to the Book of Daniel; he was told:

But you, Daniel, keep this prophecy a secret; seal up the book until the time of the end, when many will rush here and there, and knowledge will increase. (Dan 12:4)NLT

people in carsThere could never have been a time in the history of the world when people did more rushing “here and there”. We rush around our neighbourhoods, we rush around our cities and we rush around the world.

As for knowledge increasing, in my lifetime computers have so changed our ability to process, store and exchange knowledge, we have taken an exponential leap in this area. We are in “the time of the end”.

And what has our rushing here and there and our increased knowledge brought us? On one hand it has brought the Body of Christ an opportunity to spread the Good News throughout all the world (Mark 16:15). But sadly, it has not actually brought an increase in godly wisdom to humankind; the knowledge that has increased is worldly knowledge. People travel to increase their knowledge of human culture, as they systematically undermine a worldwide culture, which was once based on a belief in the God who has revealed Himself to us through His Son.

This great falling away from our Christian roots, which was foretold in the Bible (2 Thes 2:3), is yet another clear indicator of our place on the end-times calendar (I have already covered this topic in more detail in an earlier post titled The Still Point).

You Look But Never See

DNA greenOur spectacularly increased range of human knowledge has also given us the ability to minutely examine God’s magnificent creation. Yet many people fail to “see” His handiwork in its intricate and complex design and construction (Rom 1:20). This is not a new phenomenon, but it has re-emerged with vigour in the last 50 years. As godless academics and media magnates swamp us with their naturalist/materialist version of reality, they fail to “see” the Greater Reality. Jesus said of this blindness:

And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘You will keep on hearing but will never understand; you will keep looking, but will never see. For the heart of this people has become dull, their ears can barely hear, and they have shut their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts. Then they would turn back, and I would heal them.’ (Mat 13:14-15)TLV

Rather than opening people’s eyes to the truth, the increase in travel and knowledge has simply revealed how close we are to the time when our Father will call an end to our rebellion towards Him. In a letter to Timothy, Paul warned:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in the end-times some people will depart from the truth, giving heed to seductive, deceiving spirits, and doctrines of demons. (1Ti 4:1)

Only powerful, demonic forces could brainwash millions of intelligent people into believing the theory of evolution and its plethora of far fetched, unsubstantiated just-so stories. Even people who claim to believe in God’s Word have been seduced into accepting the pseudo-scientific fables that are sent out on the airwaves daily. These otherwise rational people, who claim to require empirical evidence as a basis for their beliefs, cannot “see” the flaws in their doctrine. They refuse to question their strongly held faith in this theory of origins, when there is no evidence to support one of its main pillars.

brainA person with their eyes (and mind) open, could not fail to see that one created “kind” has never been observed mutating into another “kind” – reptiles do not become birds, fish do not become fishermen. Instead, what we actually observe is that adaptation and speciation are designed for purpose, God-given attributes, enabling His created kinds to adapt to a wide variety of different environments.

Natural selection was not Darwin’s idea; it is God’s mechanism for creating variety within kinds. After observing the intricate complexity of a single cell or the overwhelmingly sophisticated construction and function of the human brain, no thinking person could truly believe that the myriad of living organisms in the world around us is simply the product of random chance and purely hypothetical mutations being acted upon by this cleverly engineered attribute, which in and of itself is also the product of random chance.

The fact that this demonic, anti-creation/anti-Creator myth has taken such a strong hold on our culture is yet another of the many indicators of our place on the prophetic calendar. Jesus likened this time to the commencement of labour pains (Mat 24:8). As with contractions, the end-times signs will become even more intense as the time for delivery/Rapture draws near (Mat 24:3-15).

Unraveling the Mystery of the Rapture

The Book of Daniel is an important place to start when considering end-times biblical teachings. Jesus referred to the book of Daniel (Mat 24:15) when discussing the end-times, which could be seen as indicating to His disciples that Daniel is indeed the key to an understanding of end-times prophecy. Just after mentioning Daniel, Jesus warned His followers about a Great Tribulation that would come upon the world in the end of days. He said:

For then there will be Great Tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Matthew 24:21-22)

tribulation

The Great Tribulation is also mentioned in the Revelation:

….. These are they which came out of Great Tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:14b)

Daniel_061011As more people turn their attention to studying end-times prophecies, it would appear the Father is indeed opening the seal on the end-times secrets (Dan 12:4). Over the last few decades many believers have come to accept the concept of the Great Tribulation being the final seven year period of the premillennial world.

This period was calculated from the vision given by the angel Gabriel to Daniel concerning 70 weeks of years (Dan 9:24-27). While others have entirely different views on the duration of the Great Tribulation and the fulfilment of the many end-times prophecies, this approach to Daniel’s 70 weeks is very convincing. However, to examine the Great Tribulation we must look more closely at the Book of the Revelation.

What is The Book of the Revelation all about?

A plain reading of the Revelation would lead one to believe that this book is a detailed account of the Creator’s final judgment and the outpouring of His wrath upon the evil that has been done to His creation and the evil doers who perpetrated that evil. God has clearly warned humanity that there will be a Day of Judgment (Rom 14:10; 1 Cor 4:5; Heb 9:27; Rev 20:11-15). This is partly what the Great Tribulation is all about; the other important reason for the Great Tribulation is the concerted, final effort God will make to harvest souls for His eternal Kingdom (Mat 24:14; Rev 14:6) before He calls an end to sin and suffering (Rev 21:4).

John on patmosGod’s concurrent works of love and judgment are laid out chronologically in the Revelation God gave to John. While the breathtaking love of God is vividly expressed through the redemptive work of His Son, another of Jesus’ works, the final judgment (John 5:22), must also be taken into account. The First Coming of the Son of God to the earth brought love and forgiveness for those who repent of their rebellion and accept His offer of eternal life. However, the Revelation is the frightening warning concerning God’s inevitable, future, final judgement on the people who refuse God’s gracious gift when He comes again. There we find:

For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev 6:17)TLV
The nations were filled with wrath, but now the time of Your wrath has come. It is time to judge the dead and reward Your servants the prophets, as well as Your holy people, and all who fear Your name, from the least to the greatest. It is time to destroy all who have caused destruction on the earth. (Rev 11:18)NLT
Then I saw in heaven another marvelous event of great significance. Seven angels were holding the seven last plagues, which would bring God’s wrath to completion. (Rev 15:1)NLT

As noted earlier there is much debate about how the end-times will play out. Biblical scholars have spent hundreds of thousands of hours examining scripture to find the truth and harmony between the many relevant passages. Consequently, a number of systematic interpretations of these passages have been formulated over the years and one of the main areas of eschatological disagreement amongst Christians today is the timing of the Rapture in relation to the Great Tribulation.

Four Main Approaches to the Rapture

For those who believe in a literal Rapture the main point of contention is where the saints are placed during the final outpouring of God’s wrath upon the earth. This has led to four main schools of thought concerning the timing of the Rapture. These are:

The Pre-tribulation Rapture, which sees the catching away happening sometime prior to the beginning of the seven year Great Tribulation period (Mat 24:21; Rev 2:22; 7:14). In this scenario it is generally accepted that the seven year period begins with the signing of a peace pact between Israel and the antichrist (Dan 9:27). People who hold to the Pre-tribulation Rapture trust God to deliver them from wrath and the evil one (Mat 6:13). Consequently they:

…. await His Son from Heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus, the One delivering us from the coming wrath. (1 Thes 1:10)

Romans 5:9 also mentions believers being saved from wrath and as the Book of the Revelation is generally viewed as the account of the outpouring of God’s wrath, which culminates in His final judgment upon the earth, this group believe the church will be caught up before this time of wrath begins. They also cite the scripture:

Because you have obeyed my command to endure, I will keep you safe during the time of testing which is coming to the whole world to test those living on Earth. (Rev 3:10)

This verse assures believers that Jesus will keep them safe “during the time of testing”. Those who subscribe to the Pre-tribulation Rapture refer to the examples of Noah and Lot and their respective families; pointing out that these godly people were not simply kept safe “during”, but were completely removed from, the devastation being wrought on the earth throughout the past two great events of God’s judgement on fallen humanity.

floodIn both these devastating judgments, the people of God were taken out and kept safely away from the catastrophic circumstances surrounding the Great Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Following closely after the Revelation 3:10 verse we find the invitation given to John to “Come up here!” (Rev 4:1). Pre-tribulationists believe this is the point at which the church will be raptured in the Revelation narrative.

They divide the return of Christ into:

  • An initial gathering of the saints at the Rapture (1 Thes 4:13-18; 1 Cor 15: 50-54; Rev 4:1)
  • a seven year period of Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21-22; Rev 6-18)
  • a very public Second Coming (Rev 19:11-16)
  • the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rev 20:1-7)
  • entry into the new creation (Rev 21:1-7).

The Mid-tribulation Rapture is the next view; it holds that the catching away occurs in the middle, or three and a half years into the seven year period. Those who subscribe to the Mid-tribulation Rapture emphasise the sharp division in time mentioned in the major eschatological passages concerning the seven years of tribulation.

trumpetThe Mid-tribulation view divides the Great Tribulation into two periods of 1260 days each (from Daniel 9:27 and Daniel 12:7) and sees the Rapture of the church occurring at the mid-point between these two halves. They describe the first half of the seven year tribulation period as the wrath of man, and the last half as the wrath of God, or the Great Tribulation. Thus the church will be subject to tribulation during the first half (John 16:33), even though it has no part in the last half of the 70th week.

Mid-tribulationists view the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 and the last trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16 as the same thing. Therefore, they usually place the Rapture in Revelation 14, after the statue (Rev 13:14) and mark of the beast (Rev 13:16). Seals opened -Ottheinrich_Folio287r_Rev4-5

Many writers have examined the trumpets mentioned throughout the Bible and it appears there is enough material on the subject to fill a book. Pointing to OT practices to support their claims, those who disagree with the mid-tribulation view claim the last trumpet (1 Cor 15:52) and the seventh trumpet (Rev 11:15) are definitely different trumpets, which are sounded at different times.
Therefore they see no need for a mid-point rapture.

The Pre-wrath Rapture, sees the Coming of the Lord, and the Day of the Lord as the same event. They also view the Rapture of the saints and the return of the Lord as concurrent events, which take place sometime after the opening of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12) and before the return of Christ with the saints (Rev 19:11-16).

According to this view the saints are raptured just before the wrath of God is poured out after the sixth seal. The pre-wrath rapture is placed at an unspecified time after the midpoint but before the end of the 70th Week.

The Post-tribulation Rapture sees the catching away happening at the end of, or very shortly after the Great Tribulation, which is not necessarily viewed as a seven year period. This view sees a single Second Coming of Christ and dismisses the idea of an earlier Rapture. According to this view the church will suffer tribulation, but will be kept by God’s grace while it continues on Earth throughout all of the Great Tribulation. After this the saints will be given their glorified bodies in order to meet Christ as He comes to Earth to defeat the antichrist at Armageddon and establish His millennial reign in Jerusalem.

Post-tribulationists believe the church will be persecuted by the antichrist, but that believers will be protected from God’s wrath as they are kept from the hour of trial mentioned in Revelation 3:10. In support of their claims post-tribulationists cite Ireneaus and Hippolytus, two early church fathers, as writing from a post-tribulation perspective.rapture

I must confess I find the Pre-tribulation view the most convincing when seeking to find harmony between the many biblical verses and passages relating to this topic. One of the reasons I find this the most likely scenario is that from chapters 4 through to 19, where all of the catastrophic occurrences are described, there is no mention of the church. The words “church” and “churches” occur 22 times in the first three chapters of Revelation (1:3, 4, 11, 20 [twice]; 2:1, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12, 17, 18, 23, 29; 3:1, 4, 6, 7, 13, 14, 22), but are completely absent after John’s call to “Come up here”. In other words, the church does not appear to be part of the era when God pours out His wrath upon the Earth. In answer to their prayers, the church will have escaped (Luke 21:36).
Jesus_w07 astrogems
As the church is significantly absent from chapters 4 through to 19, it seems reasonable to propose that when the call to “Come Up Here” is sounded from heaven, it is a call to the church, through her earthly representative, early in the Revelation narrative.

Along with millions of other believers, I await the unfolding of The Mystery of the Rapture at the return of my Lord. He will catch up the Body of Christ and we will be with the Lord forever in our newly transformed bodies (John 14:1-3; 1 Thes 4:16-17). It would appear there is good reason to believe that, just like Noah and His family, we will enter the safe place God has prepared for us (John 14:1-3) away from the Great Tribulation. He will indeed keep us “from the time of trial” (Rev 3:10).

Until that time arrives I can only hope and pray that many, many more people will hear and understand the gospel and turn to the Lord of Life that they might also be part of the body of believers who have this wonderful expectation. But Peter has warned us:

….. scoffers will come in the last days following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the ancestors fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.”

They deliberately overlook the fact that the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water. Then through water, by the Word of God, the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same Word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the Day of Judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

Also do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:3-9)

Mat 24 -38 noah

Seven Great Mysteries – Part Three

The third great mystery God has revealed to His people could be called The Mystery of the Kingdom of God or The Mystery of the Body of Christ. Before the foundations of the earth, our Father knew that evil would penetrate His world and He designed and began implementing His rescue plan for humanity (Eph 1:4-5) – the image bearers He was yet to create (Gen 1:26). From the beginning of time He has been drawing to Himself His immortal family, billions of people from all eras and nations, who will live with Him in His Eternal Kingdom.

garden-of-eden

Through His grace and mercy, the people who come to the Creator will be saved  from death, which is humanity’s last enemy (1 Cor 15:26). However, in order to complete His programme of redemption, the Father has kept aspects of His plan and purpose hidden, until the right time for their revelation.

Those who come to the Father are able to do so because of Christ’s redemptive work, which acted retrospectively back to the beginning of time (Romans 4:3-8; Heb 10:1-10, 11). The people Jesus called the Children of the Kingdom are the same people the disciples later called the Body of Christ. Collectively, people who have been born again of His Holy Spirit are called the Body of Christ – they are the true church. These are the people God has been preparing to be with Him in eternity.

Jesus and the apostlesMatthew tells us that Jesus traveled throughout Israel announcing the Good News about the Kingdom (Mat 4:23), which He declared was near at hand (Mat 3:2). Those who chose to follow Jesus at that time had already stepped into God’s Kingdom, because they had accepted the reign and rule of their King, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Kingdom of God

Jesus told many parables about the Kingdom of God and through them it becomes clear that the Kingdom of God is actually made up of all the peoples of the world who are drawn to God and submit their lives to Him (Mat 13:47-48; 19:14). Those people who recognise their need for forgiveness will come to the Father, accepting His gracious gift of salvation. It is entirely through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ that they can be made ready for God’s Eternal Kingdom and He will reign over them forever.

When Jesus was talking with His disciples He told them that they could know the Mystery of the Kingdom of God. He said:

Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God: but unto those people who are outside (the Body of Christ) I speak in parables. (Mark 4:11)

SermonOnTheMountJesus taught that anyone who had not accepted His gift of eternal life and been filled with His Holy Spirit, could never completely understand His message; we can never understand the Mystery of the Kingdom of God with worldly wisdom. It is only as God opens His Word to His people by His Holy Spirit (Luke 24:45; 1 Cor 2:4, 14-15; John 14:26; 1 John 2:27) that the full revelation is complete and the Mystery of the Gospel is further unfolded.

The Lord Knows our Hearts

Jesus made a clear distinction between the children of the Kingdom and the children of the wicked one (Mat 13:38). He is able to truly see what is in the heart of each person, and rightly determine whether we are indeed prepared to be part of His eternal Kingdom: He accepts all who revere God and do what is right (Acts 10:35). God tells us in His Word:

“But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.” (Jer 17:10) NLT

Therefore, to be part of God’s Kingdom, we must be in Christ, we must be part of the Body of Christ. It is only then that we can become immortal beings, made incorruptible by God’s great power (1 Cor 15:53) and ready to dwell in God’s Eternal, Holy Kingdom. However, it is my belief that many people will find their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev 20:12), because they have lived their lives responding to God’s love, even though they had never heard the name of Jesus (Rom 2:4-10). When they step into eternity He will be there to greet them, because He is the Lord of heaven and earth (Acts 14:15; Col 1:16).

Out of Darkness and Into the Light

330px-William_wilberforce

William Wilberforce” by Karl Anton Hickel – Image: Bridgeman Art Gallery; Portrait: Wilberforce House, Hull Museum, Hull City Council.

Thankfully, in the last two thousand years, billions of people have heard about how God loved them so much He sent His Son to die for them. Those who have responded to the message of the gospel know the power of God’s Spirit in their lives, which overcomes the darkness of this world.

God wants His church to be a light in the darkness (Mat 5:14). He not only wants us to individually work for good, He has given us His unifying Spirit to bind His people together to be a powerful force for good in this world – and so they have been. No Christian person would claim to be perfect (1 John 1:8-10), just as no one church community is perfect, but over the centuries numerous members of the true church and many church communities have brought invaluable assistance and reforms to the world (see Impact on Modern Society ).

Follow Jesus & Change the World

William Wilberforce, who headed the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade, was just one of many such believers. He, and many other believers, brought light to their communities, showing the people around them how to apply Jesus’ teachings to everyday life. Jesus declared that the Kingdom was within us (Luke 17:21). When we allow the Holy Spirit to take over our lives God’s Kingdom infiltrates the world.

Paul taught the early church about the Mystery of the Body of Christ. He declared that those who are indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit are all part of one body of people. He wrote:

God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made Him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is His body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with Himself. (Eph 1:22-23)

And also

….. by revelation He made known unto me the mystery …… which in other ages was not made known to people, as it has only now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles can be fellow heirs and fellow members of that body of believers who are partakers of God’s promise in Christ by the gospel. I ….. was made a minister of this gospel ….. so that I could preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ and make known to all people just what participation in this mystery means, which from the beginning of the world has been hidden by God, who created all things by Jesus Christ. (Eph 3:1-9)

Men arrive from Cornelius Acts101723Throughout Jesus’ ministry He did not openly extend to Gentiles the promises God had given to the Jewish nation (Mat 15:24). But after His death, resurrection and ascension a great change was announced to the people of God. Acts 10 records the story of Peter’s revelation of a new direction for God’s people. Until this point the Jewish people were required to keep their distance from Gentiles, whom they considered unclean.

The Jews saw themselves as God’s chosen people, set aside for God’s work. They had not all realised that this work was that they would be the nation into which their God would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). However, after Pentecost, Peter (a Jew) was told by God to enter the house of Cornelius, who was a godly Gentile. As he came to a new understanding of God’s plan for humanity, Peter addressed Cornelius and those gathered in his home:

Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. (Act 10:28) NLT

Peter with Cornelius Acts102448Cornelius explained to Peter that an angel had instructed him in a vision to ask Peter to come to his home. Peter was an elder in the new church and God had also given him a vision concerning the Gentiles. God showed Peter that He no longer required His people to be separated from those around them. God had accomplished the main work He set out to do through the Jewish nation; Jesus had been born into their community to bring salvation to the world, the whole world, not just the Jews.

A New Covenant

After hearing Cornelius’ story, Peter realised that God had also spoken to Cornelius. Luke recorded their meeting:

Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation He accepts those who fear Him and do what is right. This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. (Act 10:34-36)NLT

Once again the Father revealed the fullness of this third mystery after the ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. God revealed to the disciples that the people of the New Covenant (2 Cor 3:6), the new Christian community, would consist of people from all nations and be united by far more than blood ties, beliefs or traditions – they would be united by God’s indwelling Holy Spirit.

Israel in the first century was a bustling place filled with a large variety of ethnic groups. The Jewish people had established communities in many different nations but many Jewish people made the trip back to Israel to visit their holy places. When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Christian believers in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, there were people from many different cultural groups in the city. Luke records the response of the crowd when the believers started speaking in tongues:

…..”These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” (Act 2:7-11)NLT

Paul writingWe Are One In the Spirit

Although all of these people came from culturally different backgrounds, their belief in the God of Israel gave them a certain unity. But beliefs alone are not always sufficient to unify people. The conflicts within the Jewish community recorded in the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles exemplify this reality. As the above passage indicates (Eph 3), Paul told the new church in Ephesus that it would be God’s Holy Spirit that would unify them. God would adopt them into a new family (Romans 8:14-16; Gal 4:5-7; Eph 1:4-5), His eternal family, the Body of Christ (Eph 4:12).

Paul gave further details about the Body of Christ when he wrote to the Corinthians:

Just as the human body has many parts and all those parts make up one body, so it is also with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether we are Jews or Greeks, bond or free, we were all partakers of the one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. (1Co 12:12-14)

God indwells us by His Holy Spirit, enabling us to love other members of His body and demonstrate His message of love to the world. As John explained:

No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us. And God has given us His Spirit as proof that we live in Him and He in us. (1 John 4:12-13)

Paul also explained to the Colossians that he wanted them to be “united in love,” having complete confidence that they understood God’s mysterious plan, which is only to be found in Christ Himself. It is only when we are in Him and He is in us that the hidden treasures of true wisdom and knowledge can be found (Col 2:2-3) and the Mystery of the Kingdom is revealed to us. Paul also reminded the Colossians:

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow Him. Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. (Col 2:6-8)NLT

bibleWe can be truly thankful that our Father has carefully preserved Jesus’ teachings in the Bible, His inerrant Word, for the Body of Christ unto this day. Throughout the era that many call the Church Age, God’s Word, the Holy Bible, has been guiding His people. It has been our authoritative source of direction and truth and our Father has ensured it has endured and will endure until the full number of God’s people comes to Christ (Romans 11:25).

Go And Preach the Gospel

Jesus told His disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel (Mark 16:15). From before the world began He knew who would respond to His call (Eph 1:4; John 6:44) and, while He was yet on the earth, He prayed for all the people who would enter His Kingdom. John recorded this prayer:

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in Me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as You and I are one—as You are in Me, Father, and I am in You. And may they be in Us so that the world will believe You sent Me. “I have given them the glory You gave Me, so they may be one as We are one. I am in them and You are in Me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that You sent Me and that You love them as much as You love Me. Father, I want these whom You have given Me to be with Me where I am. Then they can see all the glory You gave Me because You loved Me even before the world began! “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know You, but I do; and these disciples know You sent Me. I have revealed You to them, and I will continue to do so. Then Your love for Me will be in them, and I will be in them.” (John 17:20-26)NLT

When Jesus was born into the world He was born into the nation God had chosen and prepared for His incarnation. God had blessed and guided the Jewish people, but when He was born into their midst, many of them were so caught up in their own human traditions and positions of power they did not even recognise the God they claimed to worship.

St_Peter's_Square,_Vatican_City_-_April_2007

St Peter’s Square, Vatican City – Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Today, the Body of Christ appears to lack unity, one could say it is so fractured by human traditions and people holding onto positions of power, it no longer displays the love and unity Jesus asked the Father to supply. The Body of Christ was not created for people to hold onto positions of power and human traditions, nor is it simply a place to socialise or to separate ourselves away from those we consider unclean.

Like Paul, Christians are called to be ambassadors of the mystery of the gospel (Eph 6:19-20) – the message of God’s great love for the world He created. But sadly, some individuals who call themselves Christians, and some church institutions, have not seen this as their main priority.

God gave gifts of ministry to His church to bring unity and maturity to His people. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul outlined the role of leaders:

Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the Body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. (Eph 4:12-13)

Bereans Acts171011The only way we can come to maturity and enhance our unity is to base our doctrines on the teachings Jesus carefully prepared for us. These teaching are to be found in God’s Word alone, and should never be superseded by human traditions. Together, we can be just like the Berean Christians, who searched the scriptures to see if the teachings they were hearing were from God (Acts 17:11).

As our western culture drifts away from its Christian roots we too can throw off the shackles of entrenched religious traditions and stand together as the true church. We have God’s Word and God’s Holy Spirit to guide us, but as Jesus asked:

When the Son of Man returns, how many will He find on the earth who have faith? (Luke 18:8)

Seven Great Mysteries – Part One

Introduction

People keep secrets for different reasons, some out of spite or malice others in the hope of protecting the people they love. While many secrets are really nothing more than gossip or hearsay, some secrets are such profound mysteries they cannot be penetrated, they must be revealed.

secretOur Creator holds the most crucial of all secrets; He holds the secret of the meaning of life and He has revealed to us the reason death brings this wonderful gift of life to an end. The secret of life has been an open secret from the very beginning of time (Gen 1 & 2) and the reason death plagues all living creatures was also explained to the very first people on earth (Gen 2:17).

The Meaning of Life

With modern technology we have been able to minutely examine the detail of living organisms – or the mechanics of life – but this does not answer the question, “What is the meaning of life?”

offeringsPeople have had access to the answer to this question since the world began. However, those people who have come to know and trust the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ understand that when death first entered the world (Gen 3:1-6), humanity was distanced from such knowledge. Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden and separated from the true source of all knowledge – God their Creator.

Thankfully, our Creator had already determined this would not always be the case; from before time began He began to plan and implement His glorious rescue plan for humanity, which would bring people back into a relationship with Himself, giving them renewed access to His wisdom.

As our Father foreknew all that would happen in the history of our world (Is 46:10); before He created the universe He carefully preordained and set about meticulously implementing a programme to enable those who would choose His Way to be part of His future eternal Kingdom (1 Pet 1:20). From before the foundations of the world God knew who would choose to join Him in eternity (Eph 1:4), but to ensure His plan would succeed, it was imperative for our Father to keep many mysteries hidden until the right time for them to be revealed.

The Seven Great Mysteries of the World

When I was a child I was fascinated by the Seven Great Wonders of the World. When I came to know Jesus I discovered that The New Testament outlines the Seven Great Mysteries of the World that our Father has revealed through His Word to those who would learn from Him. Unlike the wonders of the world, these Great Mysteries are everlasting truths and their implications will reach into eternity.

shepherds watchAlthough the Father holds back secrets to be revealed when He knows the time is right, He has progressively revealed those Great Mysteries that will be to our benefit. Without a doubt, the most precious secret He has thus far unveiled, is what some translations of the Bible call The Mystery of the Gospel (Eph 6:19).

The word gospel derives from the Old English word gōdspel, which means God’s tale; this is a paraphrase of the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον, which translates into modern English as Good News. This Mystery of the Gospel is actually a web of mysteries, all related to the one Great Mystery – the Mystery of Christ (Col 4:3). Our Father has revealed that the first and Greatest Mystery is – God our omnipotent Creator was made manifest in the flesh. As Paul explained to Timothy:

Without question, this is the Great Mystery of our faith: Christ was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and announced to the nations. He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory. (1 Tim 3:16) NLT

This first mystery unlocks the next six Great Mysteries God has revealed. The apostle Paul explained that these mysteries surrounding God’s plan for humanity were carefully hidden from earlier generations, but after the resurrection their full impact could be revealed. Paul told the Corinthians:

….. my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. Yet when I am among mature believers, I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world, who are soon forgotten. No, the wisdom we speak of is the Mystery of God—His plan that was previously hidden, even though He made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. (1 Cor 2:4-8) NLT

christ-and-the-good-thief.jpg!xlMediumWhen we unpack this passage from Paul we find layer upon layer of meaning. Foremost we understand that God has revealed the Great Mystery of His plan and purpose for humanity to all who seek His wisdom rather than the passing wisdom of this world.

He has given us the Good News and those who seek His wisdom will be able to fathom the Mystery of Christ, which is, that although He was instrumental in the creation of the universe (Col 1:16), He became a human person and died a sinless death on our behalf. By this almost incomprehensible sacrifice, He made it possible for anyone who would believe His words and accept His death on their behalf to receive His gracious gift of eternal life and enter His eternal Kingdom.

Spiritual Powers Kept In the Dark

The next layer of meaning we find in this passage from Paul’s epistle is related to the last sentence. Paul explained that “the rulers of this world” did not understand God’s hidden mystery, otherwise they would not have crucified our glorious Lord (1 Cor 2:8).

phariseesIt is obvious the rulers Paul is referring to in the earlier part of the passage are the Romans and powerful Jews who agitated to have Jesus crucified, they are the ones who are soon forgotten. The Greek word used in association with these rulers has a sense of their activity completely ceasing.

However, the deeper meaning revealed by the last sentence goes beyond these mere physical rulers, it goes to those behind them. These powerful beings were present at the very beginning of human history (John 8:44; 1 John 3:8) and this part of our passage alludes to them.

The Ruler of This World

These beings are the spiritual powers working behind the scenes, coaxing, driving and influencing the mortal instruments of their designs. They are the rulers of this world who are also called the principalities and powers (Eph 6:12; Col 2:15). They are mentioned throughout the Bible and their activity will not cease until they are cast into the lake of fire God has prepared for them and their leader (Matthew 25:41).

lake of fireThe apostle John recorded Jesus’ words when He told some Jewish people they were of their father, the devil (John 8:44). Jesus recognised the true motivation behind the machinations of the Jewish leaders who were trying to kill Him (John 8:40).

Later, He talked about “the ruler of this world” in association with His coming death (John 14:30). This ruler is clearly satan, “the prince of the power of the air” mentioned by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph 2:2-3). John also explained that “the whole world is under the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).

God’s Rescue Plan Should Be Announced to All

AscensionSatan and his demonic forces are referred to throughout the New Testament as principalities, powers, rulers, authorities, world forces of darkness, and spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places (Rom 8:38; Eph 6:12; Col 1:16; 2:15; 1 Pet 3:22). Paul tells the Corinthians that not only were the worldly rulers ignorant of what they had set in motion by crucifying their Creator, these unseen powers were also caught off guard by God’s foreordained plan.

Satan would not have prompted people to act in the way they did had he known the true outcome of the crucifixion. That is why our Father, in His wisdom, kept the details of His great rescue plan a mystery. Our Father has very good reasons for keeping things hidden until the time is right to reveal them, but He makes all things plain at just the right time.

Jesus instructed His people to reveal His rescue plan to anyone who would listen (Mark 16:15), no matter what the cost. When writing to his young friend Timothy from a prison cell in Rome, the apostle Paul said:

God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for Him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News. For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was His plan from before the beginning of time—to show us His grace through Christ Jesus. And now He has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. ( 2 Tim 1:7-10) NLT

apostlesThe majority of the apostles gave their lives to share this Good News. They had no intention of keeping secret what the Father had revealed through the incarnation of His Son. The Good News is that Jesus Christ has revealed and carried out His rescue plan for humanity.

While this divine plan was kept secret from the beginning of time, God had been working to prepare the way for His Son’s incarnation. His prophets had foretold the coming of a Messiah, who would reveal this wonderful mystery to people everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey Him (Romans 6:25-26) and share in the eternal Kingdom He has prepared for His people (John 14:1-3).

Although details of His plan are now freely available to those who seek after Truth, many people choose to remain ignorant of the mysteries God has revealed and instead they become wise in their own eyes (Romans 11:25). While claiming to be wise they eschew the wisdom of God their Creator. But the Father has declared He will eventually destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to nought the discernment of the discerning (1 Cor 1:19). He tells us plainly that the wisdom of this world is foolish, because it cannot comprehend His hidden Truth, which He keeps for those who believe in His Son.

School of Athens by Raphael

School of Athens by Raphael

My original intention was to write about The Seven Great Mysteries of the World in one post. However, the more I looked at each one, the more I realised one post would not even scratch the surface. I will now deal with each Mystery individually, making this a seven post  topic. Stay tuned for the next exciting episode!

The Still Point

Most of us, who have had the good fortune to be born into a nation that was established on Christian principles, like to believe we are tolerant, just, humane and well informed about the latest scientific developments. However, an increasing number of people, who have had the advantage of living in a society based on the concepts of freedom, justice, mercy and equality, see themselves as intelligent, rational adherents of empiricism and dismiss out of hand any notion of there being a God who has revealed Himself to humanity through His Son and His Word.

The Thinker from wikiart

The Thinker from wikiart

Many “progressive” thinkers look upon such beliefs as mere superstition: something well educated people would find completely unnecessary as they navigate a path through our evolving world. Self proclaimed progressives are often well read and, having consumed innumerable alternative notions of reality, they frequently dismiss the concept of God presented by the Christian community as an anachronism.

library

Ironically, most of these people will not have read the biblical prophecy that foretold the fact that they would do just that. The majority of people who reject Jesus’ message, would have no idea that almost 2000 years ago the apostle Paul warned the church in Thessalonica that there would be what he called an apostasy, or great “falling away”, before the end of the church age (2 Thes 2:3). For there to be a falling away there first needed to be a building up.

No matter how hard we try to rewrite history, it is impossible to avoid the fact that the church was built up throughout the world, carrying with it the principles God the Father had, across time, purposefully sown into the human community. He communicated His plan, purpose and these principles through His patriarchs, prophets, chosen people and apostles and most of all through the incarnation of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He also ensured that the people of the world would have access to this extensive communication by giving us His inerrant Word, the Bible.

jesus is born cut

People who like to present themselves as “progressive” thinkers can also be found within the Christian community. From the very beginning of the church age there were people who desired to present another gospel, another version of the truth Jesus came to reveal (2 Cor 11). Having aligned themselves with the opinions of unbelieving naturalists and philosophers, this fifth column began to gain traction in the 19th and 20th centuries. They began to sow seeds of doubt about the veracity of God’s Word into the churches and seminaries of the world, undermining the authority of the Bible. It is from this point that we can clearly detect their activity as they determinedly set about subverting the Body of Christ.

Holyrood_Abbey_13

Holyrood Abbey

In today’s world we see a hollow version of what was once called Christendom. What we now see is the development of the great falling away Paul wrote about in the 1st century. This great apostasy began to erode the church’s human structures and then spread out into the societies Christianity once underpinned.

In reality there never could be such a thing as a Christian nation. Christianity is a personal choice and not something one can be born into: to be a follower of Christ one must be born again. However, there certainly were many countries whose laws and governmental institutions were founded on biblical principles and a large portion of the populations of these “Christian nations” would have made that personal choice to believe God’s Word and accept Jesus as their personal Saviour. Many of their leaders would have proudly looked upon themselves as citizens of Christian nations, whilst enshrining biblical teachings within their national ordinances and Christian holy days into their public calendars. There are now no such nations.

2007 federal elections Belgium 13

2007 federal elections Belgium 13 – by Steven Fruitsmaak/Wikinews. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

In the last 50 years we have watched as any pretense for such a claim has been renounced and replaced with the word democratic. We now boast about the rule of the people and decree any role our Christian heritages might play in our nations’ activities is merely the remnants of traditional trappings; any more is declared an infringement of the separation of church and state. Instead of our elected representatives placing their hands on the Bible to be sworn into office, they might now use the Bhagavad Gita or the Koran for these ceremonies.

Throughout these post-Christian nations, churches are closing down and many of their citizens are growing up in complete ignorance of the biblical teachings they would once have heard from childhood. In most of these countries there is what could be seen as a media free-for-all on anything Christian, as the many good works done by believers are ignored in favour of stories about paedophile priests. Christians are portrayed as homophobic, anti-abortionists who hold to outmoded moral codes. These views are seen as evidence of Christian intolerance by those who refuse to tolerate such religious beliefs.

What both the above groups of “progressive” thinkers have in common is a limited vision of God. The former group can not allow that a Supreme Being exists and can therefore not even begin to comprehend the nature of such a Being. Most have blindly accepted the notion that the concept of God is a human construct; something a more primitive people created to explain the unexplainable, before science gave us more naturalistic answers to our questions.

Oxford_walking

Academic dress Oxford walking by Matthias Rosenkranz – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Many in this group choose to look upon those who know God as their intellectual inferiors. I can say this with complete confidence, because I have encountered many of these people, who have bluntly declared this to be true, insisting that people who believe in God do so because they are uneducated or of lower intelligence to themselves. They do this in spite of the fact that many Bible believing Christians hold doctoral degrees from prestigious universities.

This group have no understanding of the true nature of their Creator, choosing to remain completely in the dark concerning the things God has revealed to humankind. Their view of the Christian God is so limited they cannot even begin to perceive their own blindness. As Jesus said:

The minds of these people are dull. They have stopped up their ears and have closed their eyes. If at some time they opened their eyes they would see, if they unstopped their ears they would hear, then their minds would understand, and they would turn to me and I would heal them of their unbelief (Matthew 13:15).

The latter group, the fifth column, insist the god they have admitted into their belief system conform to their own specific set of parameters. S/he cannot override their “progressive” beliefs, which usually include an acceptance of the concepts of pluralism and evolution and a loosening of the moral standards clearly outlined in the Bible. Their god must be restrained within the confines of their own particular set of pre-existing axioms.eyes

Some of this group claim they are believers in the Christian canon, although they admit they would like to rescue the Bible from fundamentalism. To achieve this they contort the scriptures and impose rules of interpretation, which make God’s Word almost inaccessible to anyone who has not been indoctrinated with their particular existentialist hermeneutic. The thought of plain reading God’s Word is anathema to them.

They assert God could not have managed to produce an inerrant document that is timeless – a canon that is accessible and relevant to all people throughout time and from many different cultures. Their god is too small for such an achievement. Instead, they insist the Bible must be reinterpreted by scholars who know how to properly apply their hermeneutic, making it relevant to the modern, scientifically literate reader. By necessity, this approach means the reader must be familiar with “hidden knowledge,” they must be part of the inner circle who are capable of utilising this extra layer of meaning to properly access God’s word. It seems they do not believe their god was willing or capable of giving all of humanity a straightforward, timeless, truthful account of his plan and purpose for His image bearers (Genesis 1:26).

0311_1 Kings solomon3

King Solomon

However, both Solomon and Paul stated that God’s Word can be read in a straightforward way (Proverbs 8:8-9; 2 Corinthians 4:2). As with any text we need to understand differences in genres and the implications of the historical setting of the writer and audience, but this is the sort of literary appreciation we begin introducing children to in early primary school, it is simply part of understanding the nature of written communication. It is also obvious the original languages would be foreign to most readers, but there are many reliable translations of the Bible available today. God has seen to it that His people have easy access to His Word. It is not a coded message that needs demythologising.

For those people who allow God to be just what He claims to be in a plain reading of the pages of His Word, He is the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent Creator; He is merciful, compassionate and just; knowable, awe inspiring and far greater than any person could even begin to imagine. Yet, despite His overwhelming qualities, He has chosen to reveal Himself to humanity through His Son, His Spirit and His Word, but at this time we can only have a limited understanding of who He is, because we must think with limited brains about a Limitless Reality. But for now, it is enough.

The Bible explains that God, in His wisdom, has ensured that no one can use human wisdom to know Him. He understands best what will result in our highest good and He has chosen to save those who would believe through something the unsaved world views as foolishness – the preaching of His Good News. The Father wants His followers to know and trust in His power, rather than in human wisdom. It is through this power that He has guaranteed us access to Him and His eternal kingdom (Romans 1:16; 1 Cor 1:18, 21; 2:5; 2 Cor 13:4; Eph 2:18; Heb 10:19-22) and by the power of His Holy Spirit we can learn more about Him and His plan for humanity through His inerrant Word.

imageOnce we accept our limited ability in the face of the Greater Reality, who is the Creator of heaven and earth, we can start to understand our absolute dependence on His sustaining power. The realisation of this Truth is the beginning of a wonderful journey He tells us will never end. When we choose to give our lives into the hands of our Father we are no longer of this earth, we are destined for eternity. Along the Way our Lord has promised to enlighten and guide us, but we must be prepared to listen. We have filled our world with words, but Jesus alone is the Eternal Word (John 1; 1 Cor 4:20), He alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68), because He is Life (John 14:6).

The Nobel Prize winning poet, T. S. Eliot called Jesus the still point of the turning world. He saw the incarnation of Jesus as that moment in time on which all time hinges. Eliot spoke into a world that was on the brink of the great falling away. Like many great thinkers and writers before him, Eliot saw that it was through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that God’s rescue mission for fallen humanity was accomplished.

T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot

It would be hard to imagine a Bible believing Christian person winning a Nobel Prize today. There is a very reasonable case for assuming it was his creationist stance that prevented one of the pioneers of MRI technology, Dr Raymond V. Damadian, from being awarded this prestigious acknowledgment of his work (see http://creation.com/dr-damadians-vital-contribution-to-mri-nobel-prize-controversy-returns).

The great falling away is now happening at an almost exponential rate. What was once considered a blessing has now become an everyday curse, as people regularly use as a profanity, the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, who died that they might have eternal life.

When preaching to unbelievers Jesus warned:

I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me. If another shall come in his own name, him you will receive. (John 5:43)

the way

The Bible tells those who will listen that this great falling away is a precursor to another event that will be even more troubling.

The verse from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians mentioned above warns:

Let not anyone deceive you by any means. For that Day (of Christ) shall not come unless there first comes a falling away, and the man of sin shall be revealed, the son of destruction. (2 Thes 2:3)

As the great falling away reaches its peak we will draw nearer to the revealing of this “son of destruction”, the “another” Jesus warned of who “shall come in his own name”. This person is mentioned throughout the Bible, but exactly who he is will remain a mystery until the unveiling that closely follows the falling away.

Just as the mystery of Christ the Messiah was revealed in His incarnation (see more on this topic in my next post), Paul explained to the Thessalonians that the mystery of iniquity that is linked with this son of destruction will also be revealed when the power of the Holy Spirit that is holding him back is removed. Paul writes:

And you know what is holding him (the son of destruction) back, for he can be revealed only when his time comes. For this iniquity is already secretly at work, and it will remain secret until the one who is holding it back (the Holy Spirit) steps out of the way. Then that wicked one will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of His mouth and destroy him by the splendour of His coming. This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the Truth that would save them. And because of this refusal, God will send them strong delusion, and they will believe these lies. Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the Truth. (2 Thes 2:6-12)

Battle

The great falling away is now proceeding apace, this will be closely followed by the unveiling of the man who will come to do the work of Satan. Unfortunately, a product of the falling away is that many people have also been deluded into believing there is no such being as Satan. I can only pray that they will turn their eyes upon Jesus, because it is only in Him that they will find the Truth.

The Morality of God

Recently I read an article on a friend’s blog (macarisms.com) about The Morality of God in the Old Testament. As a pastor of a church, my friend has a real gift for clearly laying out biblical teaching. In his article he states that:

…….. this isn’t really the atheist’s problem—this is a problem that the Jews and the Christians need to deal with. For the atheist, the problem is not with God, for he/she/it doesn’t actually exist, but with the people who claim to believe in God. Their criticism is fundamentally toward religious people justifying their immoral behaviours in the name of an imaginary divine being. However, for the Christian who believes that God is real, that he has revealed himself to people, and that he is involved in human history—there are real issues to consider when it comes to trusting that God is morally pure.

I couldn’t agree more, and I believe Christians need to tackle this issue head on if we hope to reach out to the lost in the postmodern, western world. In our 21st century western culture, the Christian church is being increasingly marginalised through a progressively dominant, humanist moral compass. Although there have been many books written on the nature of God, from His Word we learn that God is love (1 John 4:8,16). This Truth has been a guiding light for many followers of Jesus in our Christian walk, but the issue of the morality of God, as revealed in The Bible, has so perplexed me, I’ve spent the last 40 years thinking it through.

Eventually, in an attempt to address criticisms from people like Richard Dawkins, I felt moved to write a book. These antagonists do not know our God and Father, who has revealed Himself as Love, and I believe Christians need to step up and really examine God’s revelation of His own plans and purposes in allowing universal suffering to exist and endure.

BiblebookendscropI have called my book The Bible’s Bookends, because Genesis and Revelation shape our understanding of the nature and character of our Father. These two books of The Bible deal with the perennial question – “Where did we come from and where are we going after we die?” If we get Genesis and Revelation wrong, then we present the Father as a God who is not at all like the loving Father of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). When I consider the way many believers present the God of The Bible I can truly understand the accusations of Richard Dawkins and other vocal atheists. And I sincerely believe both the atheists, and some believers, are slandering our Father unnecessarily.

The Bible is an enormous document to come to terms with, but until I had a sense of, what my friend calls “the overall shape of The Bible,” I simply listened to what other people had to say and compared their ideas to scripture. When I eventually came to what I believe is a basic biblical understanding of the issues involved in understanding the nature and morality of God, I was amazed that I had never really heard it preached from the pulpit.

If we believe death was part of God’s original creation process, then it is difficult to understand the Creator God as an omnipotent but loving Father. However, a plain reading of The Bible reveals death, pain and suffering entered God’s perfect creation as a result of sin, when Adam and Eve exercised their free will, believed Satan’s lie that they would not die (Genesis 3:4) and rejected God’s clear guidance (Genesis 2: 16,17).

Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

With this understanding, it is easier to see how much the Father grieves over His creation, which is now groaning with sin, pain, suffering and death. He is so grieved He has revealed in His Word that He will eventually destroy this present universe and all that is not saved from eternal destruction by the blood of the Lord Christ Jesus. He will then create a new Heaven and a new Earth where sin, pain, suffering and death will be no more (Rev 21:1-4).

At first, the commands of God to destroy all the Canaanites in the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua bothered me greatly, but then I realised they were obviously once-only commands for a very specific purpose – to prepare a nation into which the Messiah would be born and raised to carry out His mission of deliverance from the final, ultimate destruction awaiting this world. The Flood and the other OT commands to remove evil (Sodom and Gomorrah etc.) were necessary to ensure God could be born into a nation with some depth of understanding of His holiness. Even then only a handful recognised their Messiah and went on to become part of the Body of Christ, through which the Holy Spirit would build His church. There is absolutely no mandate under the new covenant Jesus introduced for such genocidal actions to be perpetrated by these new believers. The Messiah has come! The new commandment He brought was to love even our enemies (Mat 5:44).

What really bothers me is that many Christians seem to blindly accept and propagate the idea of eternal torment for unbelievers. Most people understand the concept of eternal judgment. From the scriptures we understand that this is not something God will continue to do throughout eternity, this final judgment will take place once for each person, and it will have dire, eternal consequences. Eternal salvation, eternal destruction and eternal punishment are also actions that have eternal consequences. Without eternal salvation and the gift of eternal life from the Messiah, the eternal punishment of Matthew 25:46 will be the eternal destruction mentioned throughout The Bible (Psalm 92:7; 2 Thes 1:9; Rev 17:8). This is the dreadful default position for all who have not accepted the gift of eternal life. When the Father deals evil its final blow, they will indeed perish, as Jesus succinctly explained (John 3:16).

In His Word our Father has clearly outlined His program to remake His creation without sin, pain, suffering and death. From the very foundations of this present world (Mat 25:34) God put His rescue plan in place to redeem people who choose to be part of His new, eternal family. The redeemed will not be destroyed with the old creation, they will have eternal life and be free from the curse of death brought into the world through Adam and Eve’s sin. God did not lie – we will all die because of that sin unless we accept the gift of eternal life from the only One who can make this offer. This is the big picture The Bible presents.

I can only hope there are more discussions in the Body of Christ on this vital topic. If we get Genesis and Revelation right, we can be prepared with answers for many of the difficult questions our non-Christian friends present us with (1 Peter 3:15), even though there are some questions that are more difficult than others and some that we really can’t answer (1 Cor 8:2). My book, which I have chosen to publish here on WordPress, is an attempt at addressing the issue of the morality of God with scriptural support, sound reasoning and evidence-based science.

Our Father truly is a loving Father, who has prepared a place for us to live without sin, pain, suffering or death (John 14:1-3). He was born onto the planet He created to take upon Himself the death we deserve. He has also revealed that it is only through His gift of eternal life that we can be part of His eternal kingdom. He offers this gift to everyone, everywhere, throughout all of human history, because He loves us so much. To understand the morality of God we must understand The Bible’s bookends and God’s big picture.bible

What is Love?

A few days ago I was asked to make a comment on a facebook page concerning a public venue that was about to host a Christian conference. Apparently some militant people, who label themselves LBGTIQ, swamped the page with hate mail, condemning the venue for giving breathing space to “hateful Christians who object to same sex marriage,” even though this topic was not on the agenda. We were asked to counter the attack with positive posts for the venue.

So many issues are touched on in this incident. The first is the apparent hypocrisy of people who say they have a right to believe what they believe, while insisting others with an alternative worldview should not be allowed to express it. These people say they should be allowed to “love” whomever they want, but what they actually mean is “have intimate sexual relationships with” whomever they want. Some even insist this is what Jesus meant when He taught that we should love one another.

loveEnglish is a rather limited language when it comes to the language of love. While homophiles, who are English speakers, claim Jesus’ encouragement to love everyone included same sex relationships, they conveniently ignore the biblical teachings on homosexuality. The ancient Greeks had five words that can be translated as love and three of them are in The Bible. The one Jesus mostly used is agape, and this has nothing to do with erotic love, which is what the Greek word eros is all about. Erotic love is always described in The Bible as being the physical expression of love between a husband and a wife. There is no other sexual love that the God of The Bible condones.

It is an insult to the Christian faith to claim Jesus condoned homosexuality. And it is a shame some Christians feel they can step outside biblical teachings and take it upon themselves to condone this practice. They are virtually condemning people who are attracted to partners of the same sex to far less than the Father wants for them.love3 God designed the uniquely complimentary sexual organs of His creatures and He gave clear instructions for their proper use when it comes to people. Just as He told us to keep our minds on godly things, He also expects us to use our sexual organs for activity within His clearly outlined, planned purposes.

The love Jesus was talking about is a very different type of love to erotic love. There is a word in the Old Testament that talks about erotic love and it comes from the Hebrew word to boil. The Song of Solomon in the Old Testament has plenty to say about this sort of love, but Jesus was talking about agape love, which is about benevolence and charity, mercy and compassion. This is the love that puts the beloved before self. This is the love God wants us to have towards our fellow human beings. The Christian imperative is to help other people see their desperate need for salvation. The most loving thing we can do as Christians is to share the gospel with others. This has nothing whatsoever to do with sharing another person’s bed.

Another kind of love the Greeks had a specific word for is brotherly/sisterly love, which the Greek word phileo describes. I find this is the love I have for most people to whom I am close. I can love my friends deeply; I enjoy their company and look forward to our times together, without ever needing to include sexual relations in the mix. I think it’s sad that when one of my girlfriends and I were particularly close other people thought we were gay. Why would others think that loving someone of the same sex necessarily leads to sexual activity? Perhaps the answer is that we live in an age where sex is worshiped.

Sex has become a dominant constant in a world that is constantly told we should believe in nothing more than biological evolution and the survival of the fittest. Sex is no longer seen as something private and special between a husband and wife. It is now presented as simply a biological imperative, not much different to hunger. In today’s world even afternoon TV shows, which have traditionally been time-slots for children, openly discuss sexual activity, while children as young as five are being accused of sexual harassment. What a tragic time we live in, innocence is being eroded by in-your-face eroticism.

love2The last Greek word for love I want to mention is storge, which is family love. Although this word is not in The Bible, this is the love that is at the basis of our human society. Family is not a human construct, it is a divinely designed institution. Human beings are distinct from all other creatures because God made us in His own image (Gen 1:26) to become His eternal children. From the very beginning, God designed human families and He intended them to function with the bond of familial love and trust we will share with Him throughout eternity.

God made Adam and Eve sexually complementary, He created them male and female and He blessed their unique union with children. Marriage is a divinely ordained relationship in which two people can produce the most miraculous of all human creations – another human being (Gen 4:1). God has designed marriage as the core of the human family and it is this relationship that God points to as the core of the eternal family.

Throughout The Bible, believers are referred to as the Bride of the Redeemer. It is the marriage covenant that God refers to when He describes His relationship with the body of believers who are brought back into relationship with Him through His Son. This is a relationship based on love, and it is this sort of love Jesus came to Earth to reveal through His life, death and resurrection. He loved us so much that He gave His life that we might have eternal life. To equate this with homosexual relations is an insult to the faith that has changed the world through its insistence that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

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