My new book, ENCOURAGEMENT IN A WORLD OF HURT: The Message of the Book of Revelation is now available on Amazon, and through Amelia Plantation Chapel, 36 Bowman Road, Amelia Island, FL 32034 for $14.99. This is an extract taken from chapter 9, Discerning Evil Empires and False Prophets on Revelation 13.
On March 8, 1983, President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union, the “evil empire” in a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando. He said: “They preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man and predict its eventual domination of all people on the Earth. They are the focus of evil in the modern world… I urge you to beware the temptation of pride… to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire…” He was roundly criticized for demonizing the Soviet Union. The Soviet Press Agency TASS said the ‘evil empire’ words demonstrated the Reagan administration ‘can think only in terms of confrontation and bellicose, lunatic anti-communism.’
President Reagan had good company. He followed in the steps of St. John who described the Roman Empire under the Emperors Nero and Domitian as blasphemous beasts. He in his turn was using the language of the prophet Daniel, who received a vision of four great beasts rising up out of the sea, representing the four empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Alexander the Great and Rome.
John’s vision revealed that the evil empire of his day received its power, throne and authority from the dragon, who is the devil or Satan. The political power waged Satan’s war against the Lamb and his church by insisting that it be worshiped and obeyed rather than God in heaven. Opposition to it seemed futile, for the totalitarian state has all earthly power at its command. All citizens worship the beast, all, that is, whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world. It takes endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people to resist such blasphemous tyranny.
A second beast comes out of the earth. It looks like a lamb but it speaks like a dragon. It is a false prophet. It represents the first beast, and deceives the inhabitants of the earth. It wields power through its deceptive words. In John’s day the imperial cult and priesthood fostered ‘worship’ of the Roman empire and the emperor as divine savior and lawgiver. The abuse of religious devotion to manipulate thoughtless allegiance to the state is an ageless phenomenon. We see it throughout history and throughout the world today: N.Korea, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia etc.
If the first beast is a godless government that takes upon itself the prerogatives of divine wisdom, and authority, the second beast must be those agencies that support and encourage the propaganda and ideology that sustains such blasphemy. What are such agencies today?
John writes about the mark of the beast. The mark of the beast is that identification which qualifies citizens for acceptance in the godless state, whether it be membership of the party in power, or conforming to political correctness. Without it you cannot buy or sell or hold a job.
Which agencies seek to deceive people by promoting a godless society and establishing criteria by which it may judge people to be acceptable to their world view? I would like to suggest that there are three, an unholy trinity, that seek to set up an image of the beast. John tells us that this calls for wisdom. “Let those who have insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.” We have the responsibility to identify the beast of our day.
We know that the number of perfection in Scripture is seven. It is the number of the days of creation. It represents the seven spirits of God and the seven golden lampstands, and the seven churches. There are seven seals and trumpets and bowls. It is the number of completion. It is the number of God. The number of 666 falls short of that number. It aspires to seven but falls short of the Holy Trinity. It is the number of the beast, the number of evil, the number of human deception. Throughout history the beast has been identified as the antichrist of the day, the embodiment of evil and its acolytes. We are called to calculate it in our day.
N.Y. Times columnist, Ross Douthat in Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, argues that there is a slow-motion collapse of traditional faith in the USA and the rise of pseudo-Christianities that stroke our egos, indulge our follies, and encourage our worst impulses. They offer distortions of biblical Christianity – not the real thing – debased versions of spirituality that breed hubris, greed and self-absorption. His conviction is that there is an unholy trinity today in many churches, in the atheistic and agnostic educational and intellectual establishment, and in the mass entertainment media. It is these three groups who influence the inhabitants of the earth by setting up images in honor of the beast, and promote an idolatrous culture.
Many of the mainline churches have so accommodated themselves to the secular culture that they have abandoned biblical authority, the centrality of Christ crucified and risen, the content of the historic creeds and sexual morality. Some of the megachurches and television ministries are promoting a prosperity Gospel that preaches that God wants nothing more than to shower material riches on believers. “Ask and you shall receive” is the central tenet of their theology. Heresy is a truth taken to an extreme. “Name it and claim it, pray harder! Trust more! Widen your horizons and God will bless you,” they proclaim. But, to the contrary, the Gospel message is that Jesus suffered and died on the Cross for our sins and we are called to take up our cross and follow him.
The educational and intellectual establishment in our schools and universities has banished consideration of Christianity from the classroom and instead enthroned rationalism and skepticism. Discussion can only take place within the iron cage of secular rationalism, and a scientific reductionist view of reality. No wonder the younger generation of scholars is being brainwashed into doubting its faith, and, according to the latest Pew poll, one in five Americans say they have no religion. Even many religious studies departments have bought into the Jesus Seminar thesis that the New Testament is history rewritten by the winners rather than including the so-called ‘lost Gospels.’ Dan Brown popularized this myth in his best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code. This ‘history’ is pure hogwash. His so-called ‘real’ Jesus couldn’t save anyone.
The entertainment industry promotes immorality as mainstream and acceptable. Any criticism or dissent from that point of view is regarded as ignorant and narrow-minded. Marriage, the family and sexual faithfulness, is mocked and derided. The mass media is dominated by pundits and celebrities who promote a therapeutic, amoral God who is felt within oneself. Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, is representative of the gospel preached by a cavalcade of contemporary gurus that our highest obligation is to honor the divinity that resides within us. It is the religion of feel-good Disney cartoons and Discovery Channel specials. As Morgan Freeman stated in an interview: “I am God.” There is no fear of God before their eyes.
What comfort can we take from this vision of political and social reality. “The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for forty-two months.” There is a limit to their power. One day they will be held accountable for their blasphemies. Empires come and go. Celebrities come and go. Politicians and parties come and go. Spiritualities come and go. In the meantime we are called to discern the beasts, not to be seduced by them, not to be co-opted by them. We are called to exercise wisdom, to maintain our own identity in Christ, and to be faithful to Jesus and his commandments.
When King Nebuchadnezzar erected an image of gold to be worshipped by everyone on pain of death, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to do so. They were cast into the burning, fiery furnace. A fourth man joined them who was like a son of the gods. They were delivered out of the fire without harm. (Daniel 3) God had sent his angel to rescue his servants. They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.
How can we stand for Christ and the Gospel in our culture? God’s people are doing this and suffering for it in hostile environments throughout the world. The church is growing there despite persecution and false prophets. Jesus walks with us when we are able to witness to his truth and love. He will give us discernment, and he will deliver us, if we trust in him.