Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bab 4 An Unfolding Revelation

John's vision in Revelation 17 of the woman riding the beast is not the first time that this ominous creature has been seen. It is in fact the culmination of a series of visions which began 600 years earlier. The first vision was the dream King Nebuchadnezzar had in which he saw an image with "head ... of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay" (Daniel 2:32,33).

The interpretation given to Daniel by God revealed that the image with its four parts of different metals depicted four world empires: Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Grecian, and Roman. The Babylonian empire existed at the time. That it was succeeded by the other three and in that order is a matter of history.

Why are only four empires seen? What of the many others which history records and which have occupied territories at least as great as any of these four? The Bible ignores them all. Why? Time has passed them by. They will not rise again. Only Rome will be revived, its "deadly wound" healed (Revelation 13:3).

For centuries the seat of world power was Egypt. There were great dynasties in China. There was Genghis Khan's far-ranging empire, and the vast Mayan and Aztec kingdoms of Central and South America. At one time the Arabs controlled most of North Africa, the Middle East, and much of Europe. None of these empires, however, will rise again.

Only Rome will recover its greatness. As she controlled the ancient world, so will she be the headquarters for the new world order, the dream of the United Nations.

The United States has been the dominant industrial and military world force for the last 50 years. That dominance, however, is waning and is doomed. The prophecies are clear: The Roman Empire will be revived, with Antichrist's seat in Western Europe and the world religion's headquarters in Rome, as we shall see. So the Bible has said for the past 1900 years in the New Testament and for centuries more in the Old. The United States is not mentioned.

An Empire Divided

The two legs in the image foretold the division of the fourth empire, the Roman, into East and West, and so it occurred. In A.D. 330 Constantine established Constantinople (today's Istanbul) as his new imperial capital, leaving the Bishop of Rome in charge in the West and setting the stage for the later political and religious division of the empire. The final break came religiously in 1054 when the Orthodox Church in the East broke off from the Roman Catholic Church in the West and Pope Leo IX excommunicated Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople. That division between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy remains to this day and is at the root of the current bloodshed in the Croatia-Sarajevo-Bosnia-Herzegovina region of Yugoslavia, as we shall document.

Politically the Roman Empire was several times revived in the West-for example, in A.D. 800 under Charlemagne. The Eastern and Western kingdoms, however, were never united again. The full Roman Empire passed away altogether as a political entity, but religiously it grew larger, to extend around the entire world. Today the Roman Catholic Church has some 980 million members worldwide. Eastern Orthodoxy has something less than half as many. The breach between it and Roman Catholicism will be healed under Antichrist.

Protestants of various denominations comprise the remainder of what has become known as Christendom, a total of about 1.7 billion persons, nearly 30 percent of the world's population today. According to Revelation 13:8, "All that dwell upon the earth shall worship him [the beast, or Antichrist]...." This indicates that not only Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy will be united, but that Protestants will join together with them, along with all of the world's religions, including even the Muslims, to form one new world religion. It will involve emperor worship, as in the days of the Caesars, with the death penalty for those who refuse to comply (Revelation 13:14,15).

This revival of Rome's religion will undoubtedly be a blend of Christianity and paganism, as occurred under Constantine and continued thereafter. That perverted and paganized form of Christianity eventually became known as Roman Catholicism. Claiming to be infallible and unchangeable (semper eadem, "always the same"), the Roman Catholic Church stands poised today to become the vehicle for the final ecumenical union of all religions.

The Importance of Prophecy

The ten toes on King Nebuchadnezzar's image represented ten future kings, concerning whom Daniel 2:44 declares in the most straightforward and unmistakable language: "And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed...." Inasmuch as ten kings have never ruled the Roman Empire, that simple statement tells us that it must be revived under ten heads, to be ruled of course by Antichrist.

That one verse of Scripture told Christ's disciples (and John the Baptist and the rabbis as well) that it was not the time for Christ to take His father David's throne. The reason was obvious: Ten kings were not ruling the Roman Empire at that time. Failure to understand this prophecy caused those in Christ's day to become disillusioned when He didn't immediately set up His earthly kingdom. Here again we see the importance of an accurate understanding of prophecy.

In his vision, Nebuchadnezzar saw a "stone ... cut out without hands." It "smote the image upon his feet" and smashed it to a powder that was blown away in the wind. "And the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth" (Daniel 2:34,35). The interpretation is clear: The true church will not gradually take over the world, but God's kingdom will be established suddenly by a cataclysmic intervention from heaven. Christ will return to destroy Antichrist and his revived Roman Empire, and He will then set up His millennial kingdom to rule the world from Jerusalem on David's ancient throne as reinstituted by God Himself.

That interpretation is confirmed by other Scriptures, notably 2 Thessalonians 2:8, which clearly says that Christ will destroy Antichrist at His "coming": "Then shall that wicked [one] be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit [breath] of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming...." Thus the second coming (as distinct from the rapture of Christians) will not occur until Antichrist has been revealed and has established his one-world government. Only then will Christ return, in the midst of Armageddon (with the believers He has previously raptured to heaven-Zechariah 14:5; Jude 14) to rescue Israel from the armies of Antichrist which are about to destroy her, to execute judgment upon the earth, and to establish His messianic kingdom by ruling the world from David's throne in Jerusalem. (See Zechariah 12-14.)

History Written in Advance

Some time after Nebuchadnezzar had his dream, Daniel was given a vision of his own as the next stage in the unfolding revelation from God concerning Antichrist's coming world kingdom. In it Daniel saw the same four world empires once again, this time depicted as ferocious beasts. The fourth beast, representing the Roman Empire, had ten horns, which signified, like the ten toes on the image, ten kings or regional rulers who would arise in the future (Daniel 7:24).

Daniel's vision included remarkable details concerning the Medo-Persian and Grecian empires, so astonishingly accurate that skeptics have sought desperately but without success to show that the book of Daniel was written after the fact. Otherwise it would have to be admitted that valid prophecies had been made. Of course, the Bible is filled with valid prophecies given centuries before their fulfillment. Unquestionably, the prophecies we mentioned briefly in the previous chapter concerning Israel and the Messiah were all written many centuries before their remarkable fulfillment.

As for Daniel, he clearly foretold the division of Alexander the Great's Grecian empire into four parts (Daniel 8:20-22; 11:4). The next 16 verses give amazing details of the wars of Ptolemy (the Grecian general who took possession of Egypt after Alexander's death) and the wars of his successors against the Seleucids of Syria. That prophecy climaxed with details concerning Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes (Daniel 11:2136), a type or foreshadowing of Antichrist. It is this history, declared in advance, that the critics have desperately tried to prove was written after it already occurred.

That the book of Daniel was in fact written during the Babylonian captivity, long before these events took place, has been thoroughly authenticated. Moreover, Daniel 9:25 specifies the very day the Messiah would ride into Jerusalem on the colt of an ass and be hailed as the promised One. Even the most skeptical critics must acknowledge that Daniel was written long before that event.

Between the writing of the Old and New Testaments there were four centuries of silence before God spoke again through His prophets. And not until we come to Revelation 12:3 do we see Daniel's fourth beast again, this time without any reference to the other three, which will be seen no more. Furthermore, from this point onward the fourth beast is seen only in its future revived form.

Enter the Dragon

As the prophecy unfolds, Daniel's fourth beast appears to John as "a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns upon his heads" (Revelation 12:3). This is Satan, for a few verses later we are shown a future "war in heaven: [Archangel] Michael and his angels fought against the dragon.... And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world" (verses 7, 9).

The interpretation is clear: The revived fourth world empire under Antichrist will be so utterly evil that it is seen as Satan himself. What horror lies ahead for this world after Christ has taken His own to His Father's house in the rapture!

The same "fourth beast" is seen again in chapter 13:1 rising "up out of the sea," as all four beasts did in Daniel 7:3. Here again it has the telltale "seven heads and ten horns," but now with "ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy." The beast is described in the next verse as "like a leopard ... a bear, and ... a lion. . . ." So although the other three beasts no longer appear, we are not allowed to forget the continuity that exists between the revived Roman Empire and the three world empires which preceded it all the way back to Babylon. Remember, the beasts representing these three previous world empires were described as like a leopard, a lion, and a bear (Daniel 7:4-6).

In Revelation 13, the fourth beast clearly depicts both the revived Roman Empire and Antichrist, whom "all that dwell upon the earth shall worship" (verse 8). In this remarkable vision of the future, the world also "worshiped the dragon which gave power unto the beast" (verse 4). So Satan is again shown to be the power behind Antichrist and his kingdom: "The dragon [Satan] gave him [Antichrist] his power and his seat and great authority" (verse 2).

During His temptation in the wilderness, Christ was shown by Satan "all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them" (Matthew 4:8). The devil then offered it all to Christ, saying: "All these things will I give thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me" (verse 9). The love of the world and the lust for power ultimately lead to partnership with Satan and his worship. Of course, Christ refused Satan. Tragically, a persecution-weary church would fall for the same offer when it would later be made through Constantine.

Christ did not dispute Satan's claim to ownership of the world: "For that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will I give it" (Luke 4:6). As John reminds us, "The whole world lieth in [the hands of] wickedness [i.e., the wicked one, Satan-see verse 18 and 2 Thessalonians 2:8]" (1 John 5:19). It is Satan, permitted by God for His own purposes, who delivers to Antichrist the world which Christ refused.

Coming World Religion

An image will be made of the beast, and all who do not bow down and worship it, and through it the Antichrist as God, will be slain (Revelation 13:15). Such was the practice in the ancient Roman Empire. We are thus being told that the religion of Rome with its emperor worship will be revived as well. Religion must, in fact, not only be involved in Antichrist's new world government, but it must be preeminent, for Satan, who controls both Antichrist and the revived Roman Empire, is "the god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4) and desires its worship with a passion. The woman who rides the beast in chapter 17 undoubtedly represents that world religion, as we shall see. Religion was always the dominant element in ancient world empires, including the four depicted by Nebuchadnezzar's image and Daniel's four beasts. Priests, soothsayers, and sorcerers were the closest advisers to rulers for thousands of years, and in most instances were the real power behind the throne, manipulating sovereigns by their "magic" and devious counsel. Science itself had its roots in occultism, beginning in astrology and alchemy. Materialism, skepticism, and atheism are of fairly recent origins and will be submerged in the tidal wave of renewed interest in "spirituality," which is already gathering momentum exactly as Jesus foretold for the last days (Matthew 24:4,5,11,24).

Atheism is not Satan's major weapon in his campaign to deceive mankind into following him. He himself is not an atheist, for his great ambition, "I will be like the Most High [i.e., God]" (Isaiah 14:14), itself acknowledges God's existence. Satan wants to be worshiped as God, but since he is a nonphysical being without a body of his own he will have to be satisfied in receiving this worship through the man who represents him, the Antichrist.

As "the god of this world," Satan's weapon is false religions and the deceitful promises they present, which turn aside those who believe them from knowing God's truth. The fact that religion will play a dominant role in the revived Roman Empire, as in ancient times, is clearly portrayed by the fact that the woman, who -represents the new world religion, has mounted the beast and is holding the reins.

Satanic Resurrection?

In the further unfolding of the revelation of the fourth beast, John saw "one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed, and all the world wondered after the beast" (Revelation 13:3). To many interpreters this vision means that the Antichrist himself will be killed and raised to life again. Others believe that an Antichrist figure from the past, such as Hitler or Nero, will come back to life and rule the new world order. On the contrary, neither a past evil ruler nor the future Antichrist will come back from the grave because Satan does not have power to create life. (This does not eliminate the possibility that the world may be deceived into believing that a resurrection has taken place. However, the language in Revelation 13:3 does not encourage that idea.)

That "one of his heads" received a deadly wound would not indicate that the entire beast was dead but rather that he was mortally wounded in one aspect of his being. Although the heads are said to represent kings, it could not be a literal king who was killed and raised to life for the reasons already given. The beast and its heads represent several things at once: kings, kingdoms, Satan, the Antichrist, and the revived Roman Empire. The latter has within it the elements of death and apparent resurrection. The Roman Empire did indeed "die," though not completely, inasmuch as the fragments remained along with the perpetual hope of ultimate resurrection. When that "resurrection" does take place under Antichrist it will be as though an empire-not a person-came back from the dead.

That God intends to establish His own kingdom on earth and that the revived Roman Empire stands in its way and must be destroyed for God's kingdom to appear is clear as well. This was shown at the very beginning of this progressive revelation in the stone smashing the image and filling the earth. It is equally clear that Antichrist is Satan's counterfeit of Christ and that the revived Roman Empire is a counterfeit of the kingdom of God on earth.

The First and Future Antichrist

The prefix "anti" comes from the Greek language and has two meanings: 1) opposed to, and 2) in the place of or a substitute for.1 Antichrist will embody both of these meanings. He will indeed oppose Christ, but in the most diabolically clever way it could be done: by pretending to be Christ and thus perverting "Christianity" from within. Indeed, Antichrist will "sit in the temple of God showing himself that he is God" (2 Thessalonians 2:4).

If Antichrist pretends to be Christ and is worshiped by the world (Revelation 13:8), then his followers are of course "Christians." Not Communism but Christianity will take over the world, and not real Christianity but an Antichrist counterfeit thereof. Thus the great apostasy precedes the revelation of Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Part of the apostasy is the ecumenical movement, which is literally setting the stage for a union between all religions and even influences evangelicals as well. An Antichrist "Christianity" must be created which embraces all religions and which all religions will embrace-precisely what is occurring today with astonishing speed. We have documented this development in other books, such as Global Peace and the Rise of Antichrist, and will have much more to say about it later.

The Latin equivalent of the Greek "anti" is "vicarius," from which comes "vicar." Thus "vicar of Christ" literally means Antichrist. Although the Roman Catholic popes have called themselves vicar of Christ for centuries, they were not the first to do so, but inherited that title from Constantine (see below). His future counterpart, the coming world ruler over the revived Roman Empire, will be the Antichrist.

As already noted, in the ancient Roman Empire the Emperor was worshiped as God. As such he was the leader of the pagan priesthood and of the official, state-sponsored pagan religion of the empire. An image was made to the Caesars, before which the citizens were required to bow in worship. Those who refused to acknowledge the emperor as God were killed. And so it will be when the Roman Empire is revived under Antichrist. This fact is clearly presented in the extensive vision Christ gave to John:

And he ... causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast ... saying to them that dwell on the earth that they should make an image to the beast ... and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed (Revelation 13:12-15).

The Paganization of Christianity

When Emperor Constantine supposedly became a Christian in A.D. 313 (really a clever political maneuver), he gave freedom to Christians as well as official status alongside paganism to the Christian church. Since the church was now a recognized religious body in the empire, Constantine, as emperor, had to be acknowledged as its de facto head. As such, he convened the first ecumenical council, the Council of Nicea, in A.D. 325, set its agenda, gave the opening speech, and presided over it as Charlemagne would over the Council of Chalon 500 years later, Interested not in the truth of the gospel but in unifying the empire, Constantine was the first ecumenist and introduced that error into the persecution-wearied church.

While heading the Christian church, Constantine continued to head the pagan priesthood, to officiate at pagan celebrations, and to endow pagan temples even after he began to build Christian churches. As head of the pagan priesthood he was the Pontifex Maximus and needed a similar title as head of the Christian church. The Christians honored him as "Bishop of Bishops," while Constantine called himself Vicarius Christi, Vicar of Christ. He meant that he was "another Christ" acting in the place of Christ. When translated into Greek, however, as we have seen, Vicarius Christi literally means Antichrist. Constantine was the prototype of the Antichrist prophesied in Scripture and who is yet to come.

In the Middle Ages, the bishops of Rome began to claim that they were the sole representatives of Christ upon earth. Demanding that the entire church worldwide must be subject to their rule, they forbade any other bishops to be called "papa" or pope and took to themselves the three titles of Constantine-Pontifex Maximus, Vicar of Christ, and Bishop of Bishops-which they retain to this day.

As the popes' claims to absolute power over kingdoms, people, and property were realized, great corruption entered the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformers and their creeds were unanimous in identifying each pope as the Antichrist. Scripture, however, does not support that claim. The Antichrist is a unique individual without predecessors or successors. He will be the new "Constantine," the ruler of the revived worldwide Roman Empire.

A Staggering New Insight

The final revelation of the fourth beast comes in the vision which God gave John as recorded in Revelation 17. This time, in a staggering new insight, a woman sits astride this horrible creature! That this is the same beast which Daniel saw and which is presented to us in chapters 12 and 13 of Revelation is quite clear, for it has the now-familiar "seven heads and ten horns" (verse 3). One other identifying feature is recorded: The beast is "full of names of blasphemy," an obvious elaboration upon what was seen in chapter 13, "and upon his heads the name of blasphemy."

There is a remarkable change of perspective this last time the beast is seen. The woman riding it rather than the beast itself is now the focus of attention. The description of the beast is brief, only sufficient to let us know that it is the same one we have seen before. No further insights into the nature or meaning of this horrible creature are given. A new figure has taken center stage, and two entire chapters of Revelation, 17 and 18, are devoted to detailed discussion of the woman-far more space than has been given to the beast itself in all its prior appearances.

John has never indicated in any of the three times he has seen the frightening creature that he was shocked or even amazed by it. But now, at last, he expresses great astonishment-not for the beast, however, but for the woman on its back. It is the sight of her that staggers John.

How did this woman mount such a fearsome creature? Why should it allow her to sit on its back, holding the reins and controlling it? Obviously, she will play a key role in the revival of the Roman Empire, the reign of Antichrist, and future world events leading to Christ's second coming.

What will that role be? When will it be revealed? Who is this woman? To answer such questions and more is the purpose of this book.

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