Apostasy and Its End
John Heading, Aberystwyth
The Link with Revelation 13.
In just the same way as the book of Daniel traces the end times in several different ways, so too does the book of Revelation. We have already stated that chapters 6-11 show men in moral and social apostasy; chapters 12-14 show men in political apostasy, while chapters 15-19 show men in religious apostasy. Here, we are concerned with the most abominable beast—the first beast of chapter 13, representing both an emperor and the Roman empire revived from the days when it was once at its height. But we readily recognize that other expositors take a different point of view regarding these two beasts in this chapter. They suggest that the first beast is the anti-Christ, that the second beast is the anti-Spirit, forming with the dragon of chapter 12 the anti-Trinity of evil. This is very instructive, but it hardly fits in with the fourth beast of Daniel 7 which represents a kingdom and a political head. Here we shall understand that the first beast in verses 1-10 represents the revived Roman empire and its head, and that verses 11-17 give the second beast as the anti-Christ, called the "false prophet" elsewhere.
The first beast rises from the sea, standing for the nations appearing in the Old and New Testament history (called the "great sea" or Mediterranean in Daniel 7. 3). In Revelation 13. 2, the reader will notice that this beast partakes of the character of the previous three beasts—the emperor copies previous activity that is suitable for his policy. Verse 3 presents the gap of the Church age; one head was wounded to death, but was healed in these last times, In 17. 8 it is presented as "the beast that was, and is not, and yet is". This beast is worshipped by men, and he has power for "forty and two months", called "a time and times and the dividing of a time", Dan. 7. 25. The only men who will not worship this beast are those whose names are in the book of the slain Lamb, this writing having been there "from the foundation of the world", Rev. 13. 8. That this is the correct interpretation of this verse is seen from 17. 8; the A.V. translation of 13. 8 suggests that the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world, but this has no support from Scripture.
The Second Beast of Revelation
13. The second beast arises from the earth, v. 11, speaking of the anti-Christ of the future, though there have been many anti-Christs abroad in the world since John's day, 1 John 2. 18. The "earth" would speak of the land of Palestine, and one rising from it would be a religious Jew, engaging in apostate activity to eliminate the true Christ. "Like a lamb" would be to mimic the Lord as Lamb. "As a dragon" shows that his character is copied from Satan. He is the "man of sin" and the "son of perdition", 2 Thess. 2. 3; that is, his destruction will be irreversible. In John 17. 12, Judas is given that name. It is wrong to dogmatize on such a matter, but some suggest that Judas will rise again to be the anti-Christ, in the meantime having gone "to his own place", Acts 1. 25, in just the same way as some suggest that Nero will rise again to be the beast this superstition having been abroad since his death. In Isaiah 11. 4, he may be referred to as "the wicked (one)"; in John 5. 43 as one who "shall come in his own name". In Acts 12. 22, Herod is seen typically as the anti-Christ, "it is the voice of a god". In 1 John 2. 22; 4. 3, the spirit of anti-Christ is seen—in lying and denying. In Acts 8. 9-11, Simon of Samaria is seen as "the great power of God", history telling us that he was a skilful magician seeking to pass for God. Anti-Christ's future sphere of influence will be the temple, where he will seek to show that he is God, 2 Thess. 2. 3, 4.
His main work will be to direct the attention and affection of men to the political beast, this being the outcome of the political aspirations of Christendom throughout the centuries. Outwardly, he may well appear respectable—he does not encourage men to worship the dragon, but the political system on earth. The first beast is not described in this chapter as being able to perform miracles, but the anti-Christ has the miraculous powers of darkness, "whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders", 2 Thess. 2. 9. The headquarters of the first beast will be in Rome, so to keep the interest of the people of the land directed to this beast far away, the anti-Christ arranges for an exceptional idol to be placed in the temple as a substitute for worship. It is made to speak, with power to kill the faithful. We do not believe that this is merely some technical device such as television, since this is not miraculous. Thus men are constrained to worship the godless political system and its head, together with a replica as an idol.
The Lord had predicted that there would be false Christs and false prophets, to deceive, if possible, the very elect, Matt. 24. 24. However, this will not be possible, although the elect will be in an almost impossible position. For Revelation 13. 16 shows that the whole spectrum of society will be satisfied, receiving an identity mark in their right hand or in their forehead, which seems to be an attempt to copy the marks sustained by the body of the Lord Jesus. The mark of the beast has solemn consequences, for such men "shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God", 14. 10. Many will die, unable to purchase the necessities of life without the mark of the beast—these are seen coming out of the great tribulation through death, 7. 14. For safety, the Lord warned them to flee to the mountains, Matt. 24. 16. So much has been suggested and written about the meaning of the number "six hundred threescore and six" that it is not profitable to enter into the arena of discussion; certainly it represents the sum total of human depravity and apostasy in this coming day.
Mystery Babylon—Religious Apostasy. Apart from the activity of the two beasts, there is a third feature that spreads its apostasy around the world. Babylon is described in chapters 17-18. The latter chapter gives details of its riches, while chapter 17 shows how it is associated with the political beast, and also how the system falls never to rise again. John sees this "woman" in the wilderness, 17. 3, so distinct from the glowing account in 18. 9-19. This latter account is seen through the eyes of men who prosper through her idolatry, but the idea of the "wilderness" is seen through the eyes of heaven—a place of barrenness and unfruitfulness. The description of the woman in 17. 4 is one of priestly mimicry; the reader may care to compare this with the corresponding and similar items occurring in the priestly garments and activity in the Old Testament tabernacle and temple. The idolatrous religion being described is a travesty of ceremony originally introduced by God to foreshadow Christ typically. But the religion of the flesh uses it to displace Christ completely.
The interpretation of the woman is beyond doubt. The first beast carries the woman, 17. 3, who is also seen as seated on seven mountains, v. 9. The beast is imperial Rome, supporting both now and in the future papal Rome, the city being known as the city of the seven hills. This support has existed over the centuries, and will blossom out in absolute defiance against God in this future day. The whole subject is not academic; words of practical exhortation come to all believers, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins", 18. 4.
The End of all Apostasy on Earth. The Romish system of religion will be world-wide in its embrace— she "reigneth over the kings of the earth", 17.18; she "sitteth upon many waters", v. 1; "the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk", v. 2. The beast will be emperor over his empire, but this will not cover the whole earth. Originally, the beast supports Babylon, since they both have a common aim, to eliminate Christ in the testimony of His elect on earth. But the time will come when the beast will seek world dominion, and this means a world-wide conflict undertaken between massive armies of the beast and of the nations, gathered for this purpose at "a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon", 16. 16, a valley in the middle east. The ultimate motivation for this gathering of armies is the dragon, 16. 13-14, influencing "the kings of the earth and of the whole world". One prior difficulty in overcoming these other nations is the common bond connecting them all, namely the bond exerted by Babylon in its widespread religious network. Consequently, the beast will propose to eliminate Babylon first. To do this, the emperor will require outside help, and to this end gains the cooperation of ten kings, who become unified with the beast with "one mind", giving their power and strength to the beast, 17. 12, 13. For "one hour" they present a common front possessing sufficient strength to overcome the woman throughout the world. "These shall hate the whore . . . and shall . . . burn her with fire"; thus will be fulfilled the cry, "Babylon the great is fallen", 18. 2; 14. 8. In spite of the policies of men, the will of God for the fall of apostate Babylon is behind this activity of the beast; "God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will", 17. 17; "strong is the Lord God who judgeth her", 18. 8. By this means, the religious structures throughout the world will be destroyed and the mourning of men will be great. With this success, the beast and the ten kings now embark on their set task of eliminating the armies of the nations at Armageddon; "the kings of the earth and of the whole world" are brought in, 16. 14. In the heat of this battle the Lord comes forth from heaven with power and great glory in order to eliminate from His kingdom all that offends, Dan. 7. 13; Matt. 24. 30; Rev. 19. 11. The warring factions will see the Lord in glory, and for the first time will take to themselves the opportunity of fighting against Him directly, rather than against His people as previously. Their weapons (of a sophisticated, ultra-modern type) will be turned upon Him instead; "these shall make war with the Lamb", 17.14. Of course, the Lamb will overcome them! The armies from heaven with the Lord will not take part in the battle. The beast and the false prophet are cast directly into the lake of fire, 19. 20, without passing through the usual channels of death and hades. The rest of the armies are slain with the sword— the Word—proceeding out of His mouth, v. 21, to await their final judgment at the great white throne. By this means, apostasy in its political and religious forms is clean swept from the earth, not through preaching the Gospel, but through a swift eliminating judgment.
Further details will be found in the author's new book From Now to Eternity, the Book of Revelation, soon to be published.
To be concluded in next issue.