THIS world needs light. A need summed up by Dr. Otto Dibelius, former chairman of the Evangelical Church in Germany, in these words: "The powers of darkness have never been so consistent nor violent as they appear to be in this century. Never before has the entire sphere of human relations been so much obscured."
But the apostle Peter assures us we need not remain in darkness. "We have also a true word of prophecy; you do well when you look to it for guidance, as you look to the lamp that shines in a dark place" (2 Peter 1:19), according to Lamsa from Aramaic).
The last book of the Bible, the Revelation, is all that the name implies. Here God has made known the hidden things of darkness while focusing the powerful beacon of prophecy beyond the limited horizon of human understanding. In the very heart of this hook is the illuminating guidance that makes intelligible these otherwise puzzling times.
"I beheld another beast," said John, "coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon" (Rev. 13:11). This beast is not the first of his line. He is "another beast." But the prophet pictures him as becoming an admirer and champion of his predecessor, actually aiding him in his recovery to life after having suffered a "deadly wound" (verse 12).
As we turn to John's portrayal of the forerunner, "the first beast before him," we behold a veritable chameleon. "A leopard," with "feet of a bear," "mouth of a lion," having received "his power, and his seat, and great authority" from the dragon (Rev. 13:2), he becomes all things to all men. No marvel that "the whole earth followed the beast with wonder" (Rev. 13: 3, R.S.V.).
It is verse eight that highlights the identifying marks of this first beast of Revelation 13. "And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."
First, we discover he is a religious power, for he is worshiped. Second, he carries universal influence for "all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him." And finally, he represents a counterfeit system of religion, for the names of those who worship him "are not written in the book of life of the Lamb."
Creature Exalted Above Creator
Satan's scheme is to so work as to lead men to exalt the creature above the Creator, to secure all men in a system that will separate them from the one true God and eternal life. He cares not what they worship, so long as they do not worship the Maker of heaven and earth. And strangely, he has had great success in his efforts. When we look out over the world or back through the pages of history we find people worshiping just about everything.
Not only do we today find certain primitive tribes worshiping sticks and stones, serpents and crocodiles, but history also testifies that no less an ancient civilization than highly educated Egypt substituted frogs and beetles and bulls and the heavenly illuminaries in place of God. We also behold modern civilized man worshiping technology, human achievement, position, intellect, knowledge, material possessions. In a crisis that awakens him to an awareness of the inadequacies of his preoccupation with self, causing him to turn to a power outside of himself, this materialistic obsession obtrudes itself and man carves out a god for formal worship in order to practice a philosophy of religion that will retain self while pretending to supply his spiritual needs. Satan twists the hunger of the unconverted heart in its outreach after God so as to focus its attention upon what can be seen and thus forget the One who cannot be seen, "the invisible God" (Col. 1:15).
As soon as Satan can ally such a system of creature worship with the authority of the state, he sets forth a program to bring all into conformity by persecuting those who through faith see "him who is invisible" (Heb. 11:27).
The operation of this principle of coercion is likewise revealed in Revelation 13. "It was given unto him to make war with the saints ["those who keep the commandments of God," Rev. 14:12, R.S.V.], and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations" (Rev. 13:7).
Note how Satan, "the dragon," uses "the beast" to direct man's attention away from the living God. Verse one says that the beast had "upon his heads the name of blasphemy." Further, we read, "There was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies. . . . And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven" (Rev. 13:5, 6).
What can this mean? Paul explains that it was a development that was to come within the church. In a farewell sermon in Miletus he warned, "After my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:29, 30).
Counseling the believers in Thessalonica to beware of heresy, Paul pointed out that before the coming of Christ there would "come a falling away" from the pure faith. As a result of this apostasy "that man of sin" would "be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God" (2 Thess. 2:3, 4).
What Is Blasphemy?
Studying further these presumptuous claims and daring blasphemies that were to occur in the very church of Christ, it is helpful to note how the Bible defines blasphemy. On the occasion of Jesus' healing of a victim of palsy, He assured the restored man with a promise, "Thy sins are forgiven thee." But "the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?" (Luke 5:20, 21). Now, of course, we know that Jesus had the power to forgive sins because He was not a mere man. But this reaction of the Jews, who looked upon Jesus as a mere man, serves to illustrate how Bible writers understood the term.
A similar example is found in John 10: 33: "The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God."
Thus, it is clear that there was to develop in the Christian church a principle that would exalt man above God as church leaders would assume prerogatives that belong alone unto Him.
Paul said this principle, "the mystery of iniquity," was already working in his day (2 Thess. 2:7). This mystery is the outworking of the unconverted heart, moved upon by Satan. It is the desire for position and fame. It is the passion to be first, the ambition to receive power and glory. It is based on conceit, built up with self-exaltation and perpetuated through self-deception. It is the reincarnation of the principle that operated in the heart of Lucifer and led him to seek to exalt himself above the throne of God (see Isa. 14:12-14).
It manifests itself in jealousy, intolerance, and self-deception. It reared its ugly head even among the twelve disciples of Jesus. They quarreled among themselves as to who was to be the greatest (Mark 9: 34) and were ready to call fire down from heaven upon those who would not subscribe to their convictions (Luke 9:53-56). Their key need was conversion (chap. 22: 32). This experience of conversion finally did come to all of them, except Judas, who went on in his delusion until he actually betrayed his Lord and then took his own life.
Conversion Brought Pentecost
It was the conversion of the eleven that brought Pentecost to the early church. And when it "was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place" (Acts 2:1). "And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need" (verses 44, 45). The spirit of Satan had been cast out and the Spirit of God had come in to subdue and conquer the ambition of the carnal heart to reign and rule. But the covetous spirit was not cast out once and for all. Satan stood by watching every avenue and seeking entrance at every opening, and he found a way in through hearts momentarily melted by Heaven's love.
In the midst of the unbounded spirit of benevolence, covetousness again extended its grasping hands. Some subdued but not totally surrendered, who under the influence of the Holy Spirit's ministry had committed their means to the newly founded church, were worked upon by Satan to change their pledge. New converts to the faith, Ananias and Sapphira became so deluded that they covenanted together to lie about their possessions. As a result of this sin both of them were summarily destroyed by the immediate judgments of God. (See Acts 5:1-11.)
Even after God's singular manifestation of His displeasure of the evident workings of the "mystery of iniquity," Satan succeeded in even these very early days of this newborn Christian church to enter again by introducing suspicion and evil surmising. As "the number of the disciples was" multiplying, he inspired "a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration" (Acts 6:1).
Church Popularity Dangerous
As the membership increased, the opportunity for the "dragon" to insert himself increased. The farther we get from Pentecost the more rapidly do we see a deterioration of the pure faith of apostolic times. It was only a score of years later that Paul wrote, "The mystery of iniquity doth already work." It was hindered from coming to full bloom as long as the majority leading the church were under the control of the Holy Spirit. But as Christianity became more popular, more and more unconverted believers crowded into the church. Though they put their names on the church rolls they did not take their lives out of the ways of the world. As the church lost the power of a pure faith, she sought the power of the civil government.
Thus came about the divorcement of the bride of Christ and the remarriage of the church through her illicit relations with the state, followed by centuries of persecution by the apostate union of church and state against those who sought to maintain the true faith. Speaking of this terrible spiritual idolatry, John said he saw "the great whore . . . with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication" (Rev. 17:1, 2). "And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus" (verse 6).
All of this is a matter of history. Constantine "granted toleration to the Christian church and then professing Christianity himself lifted it to a privileged position. The effects were obvious. The church gained tremendous prestige. Its growth and prosperity were assured. But inevitably the church became a worldly institution mixed inextricably with the politics of Rome and Christianity was soon the religion of the S t a te . "—T. VALENTINE PARKER, American Protestantism: An Appraisal, p. 4.
So far did the church depart from the doctrines of Christ as found in the Bible that truth began to be looked upon as error, obedience as heresy, and commandment-keeping saints as enemies of God. The prophet said, "It was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them" (Rev. 13:7). "And power was given unto him to continue forty and two months" (verse 5). This prophetic period is spoken of on several occasions in relation to this development depicted by various symbols.
Daniel, speaking of this religious development coming out of pagan Rome which "made war with the saints," said, "And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time" (Dan. 7:25).
John, viewing this period of persecution, said he saw a pure woman, the true church, fleeing from persecution. "And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and three score days" (Rev. 12:6). Later in the same chapter he refers to the same period as "a time, and times, and half a time" (verse 14).
Thus, it is clear that "forty and two months," "a time, and times, and half a time," and "one thousand two hundred and sixty days" are equal terms prophetically, symbolically representing that period of well-nigh universal apostasy when the church, illicitly linked with the state, used the civil arm to enforce her dogmas, sustain her institutions, and punish heretics.
It is obvious that the period of 1,260 days is more than a mere three and one-half years. The principle of prophetic interpretation on which most scholars of prophecy agree—"I have appointed thee each day for a year" (Eze. 4:6)—is to apply here as it is to be consistently applied to all time prophecies given in days.
This nearly thirteen-century span of supremacy of the medieval church need not be pinned down to specific dates, but it is significant that when we turn to the eighteenth century we have a date of great terminal significance, and that is the year 1798 when the Roman pontiff was taken prisoner.
Observed George Trevor:
The object of the French directory was the destruction of the pontifical government, as the irreconcilable enemy of the republic. . . . The aged pope [Pius VI] was summoned to surrender the temporal government; on his refusal, he was dragged from the altar. . . . His rings were torn from his fingers, and finally, after declaring the temporal power abolished, the victors carried the pope prisoner into Tuscany whence he never returned (1798).—Rome: From the Fall of the Western Empire, pp. 439, 440.
Thus was brought to a dramatic conclusion that development in the church which resulted in the assumption of power that belongs alone to God. Observers at the time thought this was the end of this power in world affairs, but the prophecy does not end there. John said, "And his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast" (Rev. 13:3).
(To be continued)