Rev. Mark H. Creech
In his classic book, World Aflame, the late Dr. Billy Graham shared a quote from Harper’s Magazine about a coming world ruler. The quote, a description of the Antichrist, was made 121 years ago. It reads:
“There will arise ‘the man.’ He will be strong in action, epigrammatic in manner, personally handsome, and continuously victorious. He will sweep aside parliaments and demagogues, carry civilizations to glory, reconstruct them into an empire, and hold it together by circulating his profile and organizing further successes.”
Revelation chapter 13 speaks of the rise of the Beast and his activities. The Bible calls him a “Beast” because, in the eyes of God, that’s what he is. However, the world will not see him this way. He will be idolized and adored around the globe. Academia will love him. He will inspire the arts. The sciences will hail him. He will craftily secure peace among the nations, and no one or country will want to go to war against him. He will cater to humanity’s sensual pleasures without considering the moral or negative consequences. He will lead people to indulge in immediate gratification rather than long-term satisfaction or well-being. His approach to leadership is the kind that people have always wanted. After having suffered a mortal wound, he will deceitfully appear to resurrect from the dead, sealing his place as a worldwide dictator. Although he is seen as Earth’s incomparable benefactor, he is beastly and profane in nature, wanting to supplant the authority of God. The Scripture says:
“And he spoke terrible words of blasphemy against God, slandering his name and his dwelling—that is, those who dwell in heaven.” And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation” (Revelation 13:6-9).
Some Christians believe John’s reference to a ruler’s speech of “words of blasphemy against God, slandering his name and his dwelling” may have had an immediate application about Caesar worship in his day.
It is said that the Roman Emperor Caligula, AD 37-41, insisted on being worshiped as a god by everyone from every nation. The Jews, however, under Roman occupation, had always been exempt from Caesar worship because Rome knew they were unbending about worshipping only one God. But Caligula would not relieve them of this requirement. Instead, he stipulated that an image of himself be placed in the Temple of Jerusalem within the Holy of Holies. The emperor was quite prepared to enforce his mandate. But in a death shrouded by mystery, Caligula died, and the Jews were spared what would have likely been a blood bath for them.
As the renowned Scottish Bible commentator William Barclay wrote:
“If ever there was an insult to the dwelling place of God, this action of Caligula was one. And it may well be that this notorious incident was in John’s mind when he speaks of the insults which the beast launched against the dwelling place of God.”
No doubt, the requirement of Caesar worship was blasphemous. It was the highest of insults of all things sacred for one to exalt himself in place of God and demand to be worshipped.
Christians faced Caesar worship, too, and were martyred by the thousands. Refusal to participate in it was seen as a threat to the stability of the Roman Empire. Christians, who refused to worship the emperor as a god, were seen as disloyal and subversive, and were therefore targeted for persecution.
Rome was a place of many gods – a place of religious pluralism. People could worship any god they pleased, but they were also required to bow before an image of the emperor.
Now the way a Christian was supposed to do this was seemingly a small thing. They were to take a small pinch of incense and put it on an altar of fire before Caesar’s image as an act of loyalty and patriotism – an act to say that the emperor was Lord. But Christians refused to do it. For them, only Jesus was Lord.
Christians who would not comply were arrested, tortured, and killed for their beliefs, including being thrown to wild animals in arenas or burned alive. The most notorious example of this persecution was under emperor Nero in the 1st century AD, but it continued sporadically for several centuries.
Today, we are living in what is mostly, especially in the West, religious pluralism. It is not considered chic to believe in anything absolutely. As the former pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, the late W.A. Criswell once said:
“We come now to our modern world. What kind of culture do we face…Dogma is decried; conviction is discarded; belief is discredited. And a man is to be open-minded, and broad-minded, and liberal, and he is not to come to a conclusion about anything, much less believe in a salvation in one Lord alone.”
Apologist Josh McDowell, in his book, The New Tolerance, expounds on this further, writing:
“[T]raditional tolerance…asserts that everyone has an equal right to believe or say what he thinks is right, the new tolerance – the way our children are being taught to believe – says that what every individual believes or says is equally right, equally valid. So not only does everyone have an equal right to his beliefs, but all beliefs are equal. All values are equal. All lifestyles are equal. All truth claims are equal…
“The Bible makes it clear that all values, beliefs, lifestyles, and truth claims are not equal. It teaches that the God of the Bible is the true God (Jeremiah 10:10), that all his words are true (Psalm 119:160), and that if something is not right in God’s sight, it is wrong (Deuteronomy 6:18). “This is not just the view of Hebrew culture or Christian culture or Western culture; it is the truth, according to the God who rules over all cultures, revealed in God’s Word.”
In the context of today’s culture of tolerance, the Beast, the Antichrist, is a strong warning against the dangers of blind acceptance of progressive beliefs and behaviors that contradict orthodox Christian teaching. Free thinking toward irrational, scandalous, unbiblical ideas and lifestyles prepares people to embrace an individual or movement which is hostile to God and his ways.
All truth is narrow. And all truth is God’s truth.
Every century, the Evil One has declared and waged war on the people of God. It will be no different during the Tribulation, except more intense than at any other time in history. John Phillips, in Exploring Revelation, eloquently explains:
“He [the Beast] cannot harm the glorified saints in heaven, but he can harm the believers on Earth, at least those not specially sealed against him. The age-old mystery of the suffering of the saints is again brought into focus. It was given unto him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, just as it was given unto Herod to imprison and behead John the Baptist, and just as it was given to Satan to persecute Job, and just as it was given to Pilate to pass sentence of death upon Jesus. It is all a deep mystery now, but it will be an eternal weight of glory for the sufferers when God gives out the Martyr’s crowns.
“This is the devil’s last fling against the people of God. The great dragon will drink his fill of blood, and the beast, summoned from the sea and from the pit, will be unmasked at last for what he is, a monster with a quenchless thirst for blood.
“He must dominate the globe. North, south, east, and West, all peoples must yield obedience to him. It will not last long, it is true, but for a brief season, his power and authority will be acknowledged worldwide. Satan will achieve his goal of unifying the nations, dazzling some, browbeating others, cementing the whole tricky structure together with the mortar of the indulgence of every evil passion and with the epoxy of horrible, merciless, unrelenting persecution.”
The apostle John continues revealing more about the Beast and the perilous days of the Antichrist. He writes:
“And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life that belongs to the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand. Anyone who is destined for prison will be taken to prison. Anyone destined to die by the sword will die by the sword” (Revelation 13:8-10).
Providence, predestination, and foreordination are words that make many people very uncomfortable. Yet, they shouldn’t. They are taught in the Bible and should comfort everyone who has received Christ.
Whether we realize it or not, there is a sense in which all of us are practical predestinarians, and to deny it would be inane. We were not asked whether we should exist, what period in history we should be born in, or what race we should be. God is sovereign over these things. He established these matters in eternity past – before the foundation of the world. Most people know this to be true.
People also believe certain events or situations were predetermined or predestined to happen, regardless of their actions or decisions. For example, a person may believe they were meant to meet their spouse at a particular time and place or were destined to pursue a specific career path from a young age.
Innumerable examples might be cited to show that God has a plan, and even the smallest of events in life have their place in his divine scheme.
Someone might protest, saying, “Yes, but I can’t believe a person’s eternal salvation is foreordained.” The idea might rub us wrong, but if God is sovereign over everything (and he is), matters of the soul or salvation are no different.
Scholars have endlessly argued over this doctrinal issue, trying to reconcile how God can be completely sovereign and man still has free agency. The fact is, however, the two can’t be reconciled. Nonetheless, both are true.
Although some would argue it’s an oversimplification of the issue, the evangelist D.L. Moody clarified what about this doctrine is essential for us to understand. He said, “The elect are the ‘whosoever wills;’ the non-elect are the ‘whosoever won’ts.'”
In other words, do you know that you are a sinner? Do you know that Christ died for your sins on the cross? Then everything you need to know as to whether you were predestined from eternity past for salvation is to put your trust in Christ as your Savior.
In A Commentary on the Revelation of John, George Eldon Ladd makes this part of the text even more transparent, arguing:
“That their names were written before the foundation of the world carries the assurance that even though they [God’s persecuted people] seem to be powerless before the attacks of the beast, they are really in the keeping providence of God and have been since the foundation of the world…
“[T]he persecution waged by the beast will be carried out within the providence of God, and therefore violent resistance is out of place. If one is destined for captivity, he must be willing to go meekly as a Christian. However, persecution is not the last word; there is divine retribution, and the final punishment of those who kill with the sword will fit the crime. The last word is not with the persecutor.”
Indeed, the last word isn’t with the persecutor; it’s not with anyone, not even the Beast; it’s with God alone.
O, what tremendous comfort! No matter how terrible it gets, God is still in control. He will never give up his throne. His plan for his people will come to pass. The Dragon and the Beast will be utterly defeated, and everyone who believes and keeps the faith will know the joy of Christ’s coming Kingdom.
It’s not too late for you to get on board. Trust Christ right now.© Rev. Mark H. Creech
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