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Friday, June 12, 2020

Hard Things in the Bible, Part 2: The Antichrist






The word “antichrist” has become a punchline. People have, with absolutely straight faces, claimed that the Antichrist is:
  • Donald Trump
  • Barack Obama
  • Hilary Clinton
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Mark Zuckerberg
  • Bill Gates
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • The current pope
  • Most of the previous popes
... and many, many more.

“Antichrist” clearly makes a handy insult to slap on whoever your current enemy is. But should we be looking for an individual to turn out to be ‘the Antichrist’? Who or what, really, is the antichrist? Since it is a term found in the Bible, it makes sense that we should turn to the Bible to find the explanation. And it really isn’t all that mysterious.

The term is found 4 times in the Bible, all in the letters of the apostle John. Perhaps he coined the word (which is easy to do in Greek) or perhaps it was already in common use in his day. ‘His day’ is something we need to talk about.

John wrote these letters in the year 98 on our calendar. He would have been pretty old by then; perhaps even 100 or more. He addresses those in the congregations to which he wrote as “young children”, which you’re allowed to do at that age. He'd spent nearly 70 years watching the growth of Christianity. He'd also begun seeing a disturbing trend away from the teachings he'd heard directly 'from the horse's mouth', during three and a half years he'd spent in Jesus' company.

One of those teachings, one of the things Jesus foretold very clearly, was that true Christianity was going to be polluted and watered down almost immediately after his death. Jesus gave a famous illustration about two roads, two gates:   
"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad the road which leads to ruin, and many there are who enter by it; But the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:14, 15)

He was not here describing the difference between say, Christians and Jews, or Christians and Pagans, or even, as the world is currently divided, Christians and Muslims; no. How do we know? Just a few verses later he said: “On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.'” (Matthew 7:22, 23) Jews, pagans and Muslims don't call Jesus ‘Lord’; They do not do 'mighty works in his name'. Jesus was talking about Christians, people calling him “Lord”, who would turn out to be the opposite of Christians – anti-Christians, if you will. 
 
And, he said the fake Christians would actually outnumber the real Christians. "Many" on the broad road; "few" on the narrow road.

He made the same point in his parable of the wheat and the weeds: 
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also...” 
Jesus knew that after he fell asleep in death Satan would begin diluting Christianity with weed-like, fake Christians, anti-Christians. Furthermore, he warned that this would be the case throughout the history of Christianity. “Let both grow together until the harvest,” he said.  (Matthew 13:24-30)

Though they may not have quickly coined the phrase “antichrist”, his apostles clearly understood the warning. Paul showed he understood it: “That day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3) His words harmonize with Jesus’ own, about fake Christians, anti-Christians, being visible, notable on ‘the day’ of judgment.

A person unfamiliar with biblical wording could take Paul’s expression to suggest a single individual, but John makes it clear that “antichrist” is not singular: “. . .Young children, it is the last hour, and just as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared, from which fact we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us...” (1 John 2:18, 19)

Notice that John repeats the point Jesus made: the antichrists ‘went out from’ Christians. Do you think they called themselves something other than Christians at that point? Of course not! No doubt they contended that they were the real Christians, and John and his friends were the anti-Christians. Jesus’ warning about Christians being misled didn’t say they would start following Buddha or Mohammad; he said, “. . .false Christs and false prophets will arise and will perform great signs . . .” (Matthew 24:24)

So, if you're looking for the antichrist, you need to look among people calling themselves Christians.

Think about the fake ‘Christian’ leaders flying around in their private jets, wearing their royal robes, boasting sacred-sounding titles, claiming that Jesus wants them to have their huge paychecks, pretending to be holy while covering up their decidedly non-Christian behavior and completely undermining Christ’s teachings... those people, individually and collectively, are the real antichrists.

If you follow one of them because, 'She's a powerful speaker,' or because 'His sermons make me feel good,' or 'He heals people', or whatever your reason is, just focus on this: Jesus promised there would be both true Christians and false Christians, anti-Christians, from his death until the end. The Christian groups you see around you all fall into either one class or the other.

If the person or church you're following teaches anything different from what Christ taught, which side do you think they're on? Click here to go to Part Three of this series.

Bill K. Underwood is the author of 3 novels: The Minotaur Medallion, Resurrection Day, and Unbroken, and the non-fiction self-help book 99 Ways to Fire Your Boss, all available on Amazon.com.You can help support this site by purchasing a book.



Tuesday, June 9, 2020

How to understand the hard things in the Bible




If you are a Bible believer, like me, you no doubt have found many comforting passages, and many easy-to-understand life principles. But the bible also contains some things that, as Peter admitted, are “hard to understand.” (2 Peter 3:16) And Peter warned that these things would get twisted.

Over the years, I’ve heard some whoppers:
  • The pope is the antichrist
  • Martin Luther was the antichrist
  • Trump is the antichrist
  • The whore of Babylon in Revelation means New York City
  • The whore of Babylon is Las Vegas
  • The whore of Babylon is the Vatican
  • The ‘Mark of the Beast’ will be getting a chip implanted in your hand
  • The ‘Mark of the Beast’ will be getting a Covid-19 vaccine
Clearly these can’t all be right. Perhaps none of them are. But if there isn’t a sure way to know, then what use is the Bible? The Bible becomes a joke. 

There is a way to tell. 

Not surprisingly, Jesus own words provide a formula: In his prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem, he warned his Jewish followers: "When you have seen (to use the language of the Prophet Daniel) the `Abomination of Desolation', standing in the Holy Place --let the reader observe those words—then let those in Judea flee to the mountains.” (Mt 24:15)

His apostles had no idea what he meant by “the abomination of Desolation”. But they were familiar with the prophecy of Daniel; and Jesus’ counsel was for them to carefully observe Daniel’s words. What words? 

Daniel had indeed used similar words. Daniel 9:26 prophesied that “Messiah will be cut off.” Although the apostles hadn’t gotten their head around that idea when Jesus was alive, a few days later, he was “cut off.” No doubt his apostles re-read Daniel 9 very closely after that. Just a couple sentences after describing the cutting off of the Messiah, Daniel said that “on the wing of disgusting things there will be the one causing desolation; until an extermination...” (Daniel 9:27)

By itself, that sentence didn’t enlighten those new Christians very much. But Jesus told them to study Daniel. He didn’t specify which part. Another prophecy in Daniel gave them another clue: “How long will the vision of the constant feature and of the transgression causing desolation continue, to make both the holy place and the army things to trample on?” (Daniel 8:13)

Those Jewish Christians would have easily figured out that the ‘constant feature’ referred to daily sacrifices on the altar in the temple in Jerusalem. “This is what you will offer on the altar: two one-year-old rams each day, continually. Offer the one young ram in the morning and the other ram at twilight... It is to be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations.” (Exodus 29:38-42) And the “holy place” had to refer to the temple itself, real estate that was then and still is considered by the Jews to be ‘sacred ground’. 

So Jesus prophecy told them to watch for something that the Jews considered “disgusting” to ‘trample on’ the temple and put an end to the daily, constant sacrifices there.

Thirty-three years went by. The Jews got more rebellious against Rome until, finally, Rome sent an army, complete with portable “idols” in the form of the Legionnaires’ standards – basically, a flagpole topped with a pennant and a gold-plated symbol (such as a lion, wolf, sun, snake, medusa, etc.) that represented each legion. Each soldier literally worshiped his legion's standard, and pledged to give his life for it. They brought these idols right up to the gates of the temple, and they even began tunneling under the wall so that their idols, disgusting things to Jews, were literally standing on holy ground.

That was the sign Jesus had given his followers. It was unclear before it happened. But once it happened it was obvious.

From this example, we learn two vital tools to determining what some of the “hard to understand” things in the Bible mean:

  1. Use the Bible to explain the Bible.
  2. Prophetic passages may not make sense until the events prophesied are happening.

With this foundation, then, let’s take a look at some of the things we mentioned at the outset: The antichrist; Babylon the Great (also called ‘the whore of Babylon’); the Mark of the Beast, and other hard-to-understand things. We’ll go there in the rest of this series.

Bill K. Underwood is the author of the novels The Minotaur Medallion, Resurrection Day, and Unbroken, and the non-fiction book 99 Ways to Fire Your Boss, available on Amazon.com