As we begin a new year, we are faced with violence, immorality, and war on every hand.  Gunmen enter schools, theaters, and even school buses with no other purpose than to kill and hurt.  The leaders of our nation don’t seem to know what to do about it other than make acquiescing gestures toward the criminals hoping that appeasement will convince them to act nice.  Homosexuality is quickly becoming the sin of choice in our nation.  Many who would be appalled at violence see nothing wrong with homosexuality.  If it doesn’t hurt anyone, they figure, what’s the harm?  This sin is being pushed, legislated, and forced upon society, schools, and now even organizations like the Boy Scouts.  It has been glamorized by the entertainment industry for years.  War is being waged against peaceful peoples because they are peaceful and prosperous and their “ill-gotten” gains must be spread around the world.  People riot in the streets because they covet and demand things for which others have labored.

I heard a conservative news commentator say that violent people act as if they had no souls.  That tells  you a lot about why we are in trouble.  To people void of Biblical understanding, human souls are innocent and would do no harm to anyone.  Violence and activities that harm others are the only real sins, and they only show that such individuals have no “souls” and are less than human.  The fact is, of course, that such human acts only show the sinful nature of all humanity and the need for, on the societal level, a rule of law and, on the religious level, the need for personal regeneration. 

It is not that humanity has gotten off the upward track and needs to find solutions to a few problems; it is that humanity is displaying its true nature and the world is poised for an end-time scenario.  Now, we know that we don’t know that the Biblical tribulation is within our life-time.    Every generation of believers has had the privilege and responsibility of looking for the Blessed Hope of the church (Tit. 2:13, 1 John 3:3) because it has been imminent throughout the church age.  Yet the fact that it has not happened means that we are closer to it than ever before.  Only God knows when the last person will be saved and the church will be called out.  The moral condition of our world gives us pause to think of the dreadful time when God’s grace will be withdrawn and His judgment will be poured out.

Before delving into the Biblical descriptions of that end time, let me say that Christians are not monks or hermits who withdraw from their responsibility in the face of dire circumstances as Paul warned the church at Thessalonica (2 Thes. 3:11-12).  If we knew for certain that the Lord would come tomorrow, we would still plant an oak tree today.  The Blessed Hope keeps the believer working because time that is short is also precious.  Paul encouraged the Corinthians to be steadfast in their stewardship for God in the light of the Lord’s coming (1 Cor. 15:58).

Also, believers know better than to set dates and to insist that the current circumstances are the final ones (Matt. 24:36).  Believers surely could have thought that the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party, with all of its ugliness and inhumanity, was THE end time but it was not.  We can be assured that the real antichrist will be worse than Hitler and the real tribulation worse than the holocaust.

At the same time, however, we are to “look” (Tit. 2:13; Phil 3:20).  As with the proposed visit of a special loved one, we can work while we wait, and look earnestly for His arrival.  We can observe the world situation around us, discerning the signs of the times more than the face of the sky (Matt. 16:3).  There is no Biblical truth that will encourage us in this world than the promise of His coming.

Revelation 13 gives us a description of three prominent characters who will come to power in the middle of the great tribulation; the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet.  Rev. 16:13 describes them by saying, “and I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.” This is the satanic trinity that is about to deceive the whole world.

They don’t gain control overnight, but through a process of time they are allowed by God to have their moment in history, bringing about their own end and destruction.  The dragon is Satan and the beast is the antichrist.  When the rapture of the church occurs (at the beginning of the tribulation), the antichrist will rise to power in a short three and one half years.  If the rapture is imminent, the coming of this evil trio is only slightly less so.

The Dragon

Paul told the church at Corinth that believers are not ignorant of Satan’s devices (2 Cor. 2:11).  Satan is the enemy of the church, the accuser of the brethren.  John delineates his names in  Rev. 12:9-10,  “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”  He does it again in 20:2, “And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years.”  At the middle of the tribulation Satan is cast to the earth and given a short time to organize his forces.  At the end he is bound and cast into the bottomless pit for the duration of the millennium.

Throughout the church age, Satan has had terrific power and influence.  He is “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2).  He is the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), as “a roaring lion, [he] walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).  We can only imagine a time when his power will be multiplied and his hatred of God’s people accelerated. 

For the time being, this world is under the control of Satan.  Not that God is out of control, but that He is allowing Adam’s sin to run its course as was promised in Gen. 3:15, the first prophecy of Christ given specifically to Satan himself.  The kosmos is his legacy.  This is the culture that lost people create with their fallen natures, directed and conducted by the one whose “pipes” and “tabrets” were perfected when he was the “anointed cherub” before the throne of God (Ezek. 38:13-14).  He knows what he is doing.  He is so confirmed in evil that even after being confined for a thousand years, with his doom assured, still rises to make a last attempt at the overthrow of God! 

Luther penned these familiar words:

And tho’ this world with devils filled,

Should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed

His truth to triumph through us.

The prince of darkness grim,

We tremble not for Him—

His rage we can endure,

For lo, his doom is sure

One little word shall fell him.

Surely this is true.  Although Satan has the power of death and hell (Heb. 2:14), the gates of death and hell cannot prevail against the church (Matt. 16:18) because Christ has the keys to both (Rev. 1:18).  But what is about to come when the church is gone?  This world that belongs to Satan and the people who are his spiritual children (Matt. 8:44), will be plunged into terrible sin and blasphemy in the tribulation period.  Rev. 13 repeats the word “blasphemy” both of the dragon (vs. 1) and of the beast (vs. 6).

Our current age is one of outright blasphemy in its language, immoral behavior, love of evil darkness, and its attack on all that is sacred.  It is blinded by the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4), taken captive by him at his will (2 Tim. 2:26).  With all the intelligence that is in this world, it does not realize its affront toward God.  “Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8).

The Beast

John writes, “And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea” (Rev. 13:1).  For sake of brevity let me give what I believe is the Biblical description of this beast.  He is “the man of sin” (2 Thes. 2:3) who will be revealed to the world about half way through the tribulation period.  Though he pretends to be a messianic-type figure (Matt. 24:5, Rev. 6:2), even making a treaty with Israel to end the middle east conflict (Dan. 9:27), he will have a vital role in defeating the northern threat at the middle of the tribulation (Ezek. 38:21), and will become the sole ruler of the world, the little horn (Dan. 7:8, Rev. 18:7-11) who rises to great power. 

The antichrist is a westerner politically, though he may be of any nationality, including Jewish (Dan. 11:37).  He revives the template of the old Roman Empire with geographic and religious boundaries (Dan. 2:33; 7:7).  His ten-nation confederation of western kings (Dan. 7:7-8; Rev. 17:12) carries a religious conglomerate on its back (Rev. 17:1—which I personally believe is the Roman Church, though there is room for disagreement.  It is at least a world-wide ecumenical movement).  These kings use the harlot woman (the religious conglomerate) only to a point, then discard her in a terrorist-type attack (Rev. 17:16).

This antichrist is a smooth-talking orator (Dan. 7:8; 11:36) who can compel followers and blaspheme God at the same time (Rev. 13:6).  He is controlled by Satan (Rev. 13:2) so much that he can convince the world to worship him while at the same time worshiping Satan (Rev. 13:3-4).  He desires worship so much that he will pretend to be God (2 Thes. 2:4) and will accept the accolades gladly. 

This man could be alive as we speak, or he may be a few years off.  I don’t see any current politician who is intelligent and charismatic enough to fulfill this role, though one may be on the horizon.  We must remember, however, that this antichrist will be so completely filled by Satan himself when he comes to power, that we could not recognize the difference that such a filling will make in a person. 

We cannot equate America with the church or the kingdom of God.  We have been so blessed to live in a country founded on Christian principles but no human organization will be exempt from this end-time disaster.  We are already seeing our own government dictate anti-religious views (on homosexuality) and laws (forcing contraceptives) on its people, erasing the reminders of its Christian heritage (ten commandments) in every way possible.  Some issues (as gun control) have no religious connection other than they can be used for a government’s power over its people.

America is part of the western world and will no doubt have some significant part in the antichrist’s power.  Christians who live in the last days of the age of grace will surely suffer the beginnings of the persecution to come, including in America.  At some point we will have to refuse to give to Caesar what belongs only to God.  May God give us wisdom to know the difference!  Praise God that He has not appointed us to the wrath but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thes. 5:9).

The False Prophet

One of the most intriguing characters in the book of Revelation is the false prophet mentioned first in chapter 13.  It seems that every Hitler has his Himmler, the spiritual head who works behind the scenes pulling the strings.  Somewhere in the antichrist’s rise to power this false prophet rises with him.  As John wrote, he had no idea of how a man could manipulate phenomena the way we can understand it today.  How could he make an image of the beast that could speak (fr. lale?, to talk, make verbal sound)?  Today we don’t even stop to wonder how such image-making can be done.  Neither do we wonder how he could make the image have “life” (fr. pneuma, breath, air, motion—not bios nor z??, biological life nor spiritual new life).  We see these kinds of technological tricks everyday.  We also see how such a multi-media presentation can sway crowds of cheering, hand-waving, religious people. 

By these wonders the false prophet will have the charismatic ability to persuade the peoples of the world to worship the beast by doing obeisance to his image.  Not only that, he will persuade them to do it or be killed (Rev. 13:15).  The most famous characteristic of his career is to use the deteriorating economic situation to force people to receive the mark of the beast “in their right hand, or in their foreheads” (13:16) or be killed.  God will have marked the 144,000 faithful Jews  with a “seal” (sphragis, a seal, proof, token) in the first half of the tribulation (7:1-8).  Unable to duplicate God’s own mark, the false prophet devises his own “mark” (eik?n, icon, resemblance) “in” (always epi, “upon” or “on” the surface) to imitate what God had done to those notable and godly Jews. 

Whereas the beast arises out of the sea (usually a description of multitudes of people), the false prophet arises out of the earth (13:11), evidently signifying a connection with nature, the green earth, the environment.  He is a new-age type of leader.  Having cast off the harlot woman and her traditional religion, this dynamic duo forces the new religion on the whole world.  He also performs “miracles” and “great wonders” which Satan and his ministers have always been able to do, as Pharaoh’s magicians could duplicate Aaron’s miracles (Exod. 7:8-13). 

Hitler and Himmler, Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans, could only give commands to annihilate part of their own populations.  Imagine someone who has the authority to command that people all over the world be executed if they do not worship in the prescribed way!  We could be a short few years from this being reality!

Not long ago I read Hitler’s Mein Kampf (“my struggle”) specifically to find a quote that I had often heard.  Hitler used the first multi-media presentation to persuade masses of people to do what he wanted.  That description from Hitler himself is this,

The mass meeting is also necessary for the reason that in it the individual, who at the first, while becoming a supporter of a young movement . . .  For the first time gets the picture of a larger community, which in most people has a strengthening, encouraging effect. . . When, as a seeker, he is swept away by three or four thousand others into the mighty effect of suggestive intoxication and enthusiasm, when the visible success and agreement of thousands confirm to him the rightness of the new doctrine and for the first time arouse doubt in the truth of his previous conviction—then he himself has succumbed to the magic influence of what we designate as ‘mass suggestion.’  The man who enters such a meeting doubting and wavering leaves it inwardly reinforced: he has become a link in the community.  The National Socialist movement must never forget this  (p. 478-479). 

Hitler admitted, “I was a master of this art.”  But the beast and the false prophet, with Satan’s direct influence, will put Hitler to shame. 

And So . . .

I believe that our culture today is preparing people for this mass hysteria.  The massive, multi-media, hand waving, mindless concerts are today’s idolatry.  I have been many places in the world and have not been able to escape the noise, images, attitude, and fierceness of its influence.  Sadly, even the church, both false and true, by claiming that culture is morally neutral, has brought this  idolatry into its method of worship.  Like Ahaz, who duplicated the worship of Damascus in God’s temple in Jerusalem (2 Kings 16), even the church is aiding the coming idolatry of the Dragon, the beast, and the false prophet.  May God give us grace to stand in these last days.