The Beginnings of Christian Reform (34)

                                 Eschatology (1)

Introduction:

The kind of faith we have governs the whole of our lives, and our total outlook. How we view God and Christ will determine how we view ourselves, our calling, and the end times. Our view of the end, of eschatology, depends to a large measure on our view of the beginning, and of all history, and on our doctrine of God and of salvation. Theology is a seamless garment, and a man’s views of the end times are inseparable from his view on God. If he changes his mind on the one, he changes his mind on the other. [1]

Why Study Eschatology?

“Eschatology…means the study of God’s plan for the future.” [2] It is a subject which the Bible begins to discuss in Genesis (such as Genesis 3:15; 12:1-3 and 49:10), and concludes in Revelation. I am indebted to Kenneth Gentry for the following eight points.[3]

  1. Eschatology is a large part of the Bible. The Old Testament contains an enormous amount of prophecy: in the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel), the Minor Prophets (Hosea through to Malachi), the prophecy of Daniel, many of the Psalms, and many other scattered passages throughout the Pentateuch and elsewhere. In the New Testament many of Christ’s parables are eschatological, and two of His major discourses in Matthew are prophecies (the Kingdom parables in Chapter 13 and the Olivet Discourse in Chapters 24 and 25). Two of Paul’s letters are largely focussed on eschatological issues (I and II Thessalonians), I Corinthians 15 deals with the resurrection, and Revelation in its entirety, is prophetic.
  2. Eschatology embodies the believer’s “blessed hope” (Tit.2:13). This confidence in the future distinguishes us from the unbeliever when we face death (I Thess.4:13), for it is us who have “hope in Christ” (I Cor.15:18-19).
  3. Eschatology is a major foundation stone of the Christian world-view. Christianity presents an outlook on life from creation to consummation. Jesus refers to Himself as “the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev.21:6). Eschatology has always figured high in Christian doctrine, because the ecumenical creeds (such as the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed) contain significant eschatological components.
  4. Israel’s eschatological confusion destroyed her. Despite the Old Testament, they did not recognise Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of prophecy, and thus, “did not receive Him” (Jn.1:11). Israel was judged because she did not recognise the time of her “visitation” (Luke 19:44). Jesus said that His own disciples were “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25).

 

  1. Eschatology is essential for apologetics. Atheistic philosophers such as Bertrand Russell, in misunderstanding Jesus’ eschatological comments, have claimed He was in error. In order to defend the truth, Christians must study and understand it.
  2. Eschatology is important for the integrity of the faith, and for confronting error. Naïve people have often been inclined to believe embarrassing, foolish predictions about the end of the world, based on eschatological errors.
  3. Eschatology is a factor in our Christian growth. Paul encouraged Timothy that “all scripture (including its eschatological portions) is inspired by God, and profitable…so that the man of God may be adequate for every good work” (II Tim.3:16-17). The truth of God’s Word is a central aspect of our sanctification, so that we “may growth in respect to salvation” (I Pet.2:2).
  4. Eschatology provides an important motive for labour. Christian people ought to have a future orientation, whose work reflects a Biblical understanding of the future, based on God’s Word. Shall we complete university studies? What about children? Do we hold a long-term vision for the improvement of society based on the progress of the gospel, or do we settle for the notion that it is all too hard? Correct eschatology motivates us towards long-term changes, being confident that “our labour is not in vain in the Lord” (I Cor.15:58). Jesus’ encouragement was “first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head” (Mk.4:28).

 

B. Revelation:

Students of eschatology realise that the Book of Revelation provides many keys for eschatological understanding. Further to that, it is also critical for its implications for our attitude towards the future.

Revelation gives us man’s victory in Christ over sin and death…we may err in our interpretations of many details, but if we stress the note of victory, we are more right than abler men. The vast and total victory, in time and eternity, set forth by John in Revelation is too important to bypass. [4]

In order to understand the historical significance of Revelation, I have decided to examine an aspect of Revelation 13. A complete examination would require another book. I have appreciated the late David Chilton’s observations here.

The Book of Revelation is a covenant document. It is a prophecy, like the prophecies of the Old Testament. This means that it is not concerned with making “predictions” of astonishing events as such. As prophecy, its focus is redemptive and ethical. Its concern is with the covenant… the Bible is God’s revelation about His covenant with His people. [5]

Unbiblical, unwarranted speculations about the historical application of the Book of Revelation, have left many Christians confused. Ill-advised speculations that the book was written with a view to predicting the future of specific individuals or nations thousands of years later, have robbed the book of its true meaning and significance. But the internal evidence from Revelation is overwhelming, if we bear in mind John’s initial warning to his readers, that “the time is near” (Rev.1:3). He was speaking to the believers of his own generation of events that would directly affect them.

What is clear, is that “the period spoken of in the Bible as ‘the last days’ (or ‘last times’ or ‘last hour’) is the period between Christ’s birth and the destruction of Jerusalem [in AD70]. The early church was living at the end of the old age and the beginning of the new.” [6] The destruction of Jerusalem was what Daniel spoke of, when he referred to a “time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time…” (Dan.12:1). Jesus referred to this, when He spoke of “a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will” (Mat.24:21).

Revelation 13:

Prov.28:14 says, “Like a roaring lion and a rushing bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people.” Evil, predatory, destructive governments are pictured in the Bible as predatory animals (see Joel 1:6). This is helpful in understanding Revelation 13. The initial Biblical description of the kingdoms of Revelation 13 is in Dan.2:31-35, but their ethical characteristics are not identified until Dan.7:1-7. The Roman Empire which ruled Israel in the first century, and participated in the execution of our Lord (Jn.19:13-16), is the “fourth beast” of Daniel 7:7, and is the beast of Revelation.

This Beast, however, is not just an institution, but a person; specifically… the Emperor Nero. How could this symbol have referred to both the Empire and the Emperor? Because, in a sense (particularly the way the Bible looks at things), the two could be considered as one. Rome was identified with its leader; the Empire was embodied in Nero.

Thus the Bible can shift back and forth between them, or consider them both together, under the same designation. And both Nero and the Empire were sunk in degrading, degenerate, bestial activities. Nero, who murdered numerous members of his own family (including his pregnant wife, whom he kicked to death); who was a homosexual, the final stage in degeneracy (Rom. 1:24-32); whose favorite aphrodisiac consisted of watching people suffer the most horrifying and disgusting tortures; who dressed up as a wild beast in order to attack and rape male and female prisoners; who used the bodies of Christians burning at the stake as the original “Roman candles” to light up his filthy garden parties; who launched the first imperial persecution of Christians at the instigation of the Jews, in order to destroy the Church.

This animalistic pervert was the ruler of the most powerful empire on earth. And he set the tone for his subjects. Rome was the moral sewer of the world.[7]

Revelation tells us much about “the beast.”

  1. John saw him “coming up out of the sea” (Rev.13:1). Clearly, the Roman Empire did seem to arise out of the sea, from the Italian peninsula across the Meditteranean Sea. But John under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is utilising the Biblical symbolism of the sea.

After the Fall, the picture of the raging deep is used and developed in Scripture as a symbol of the world in chaos through the rebellion of men and nations against God: “The wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up refuse and mud” (Isa. 57:20; cf. 17:12). Thus John is told later that “the waters which you saw … are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (Rev. 17:15). Out of this chaotic, rebellious mass of humanity emerged Rome, an entire empire founded on the premise of opposition to God.[8]

  1. John saw that the Beast had “ten horns and seven heads” (Rev. 13:1), in the image of the Dragon (12:3), who gives the Beast “his power and his throne and great authority” (13:2). The ten horns (powers) of the Beast are explained in Revelation 17:12 in terms of the governors of the ten imperial provinces, while the seven heads are explained as the line of the Caesars (17:9-11): Nero is one of the “heads.”[9]

 

  1. Rome is the one city in history that has been distinguished by and recognized for its seven mountains, spoken of in Rev.17:9. As Kenneth Gentry points out,

the famous seven hills of Rome are the Palatine, Aventine, Caelian, Esquiline, Virninal, Quirinal, and Capitoline hills. The Roman writers Suetonius and Plutarch make reference to the first century festival in Rome called Septimontium, i.e. the feast of “the seven hilled city.” Archaeologists have discovered the Coin of Vespasian (emperor A.D. 69-79) picturing the goddess Roma as a woman seated on seven hills.  The seven hills are mentioned by such Christian writers as Tertullian and Jerome, as well as in several of the Sibylline Oracles. This fact- that Rome was universally recognized as the city on seven hills- is widely recognized by evangelical commentators as having a bearing upon our passage.

The reference is virtually beyond doubt that Rome is alluded to in this vision of the seven-headed beast. By everyone’s dating, Revelation was written sometime during the period of the Roman Empire. Furthermore, both secular and ecclesiastical history record that the first imperial persecution of Christianity was begun in the seven-hilled city, Rome, by the emperor Nero Caesar in A.D. 64.[10]

  1. On the beast’s heads were “blasphemous names” (v.1). The Caesars were gods in their nation and culture.

Each emperor was called Augustus or Sebastos, meaning “One to be worshipped”; they also took on the name divus (god) and even Deus and Theos (God). Many temples were erected to them throughout the Empire, especially, as we have seen, in Asia Minor. The Roman Caesars received honor belonging only to the one true God; Nero commanded absolute obedience, and even had an image of himself built, 120 feet high. For this reason Paul called Caesar “the man of sin;” he was, Paul said, “the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God”(II Thess. 2:3-4).[11]

  1. John writes that “I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed” (v.3). The image of a head wound to a beast should remind us of Genesis 3:15, where God promised the serpent that “He [Jesus] shall bruise you on the head…”

Even though Daniel had prophesied that Christ’s kingdom would crush the Satanic empires and destroy them (Dan.2:44), and Jesus clearly said from the cross that “it is finished” (Jn.19:30), the Satanically motivated beast (personified in Nero, and represented in the Roman Empire) which had received the head-wound still lived.

Why? Because the cross established Christ’s victory legally; it now had to be worked out progressively through His saints, in human history. The Bible teaches us that “we do not yet see all things subjected to Him” (Heb.2:8b). “The reality, of course, was that Christ had defeated the Dragon and the Beast; but the implications of His victory still had to be worked out; the saints had yet to overcome, and take possession (Dan. 7:21-22; Rev. 12:11).”[12]

  1. “The whole Land was amazed and followed after the beast; they worshipped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshipped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war against him?’ ” (Rev.13:3b-4)

Almost every translator of these verses utilises the English word “world” for the Greek word ge, (used only once in the New Testament). But Young’s Concordance points out that this word means “land” or “earth.”

John is not speaking of the world following the beast; the word he uses here should be translated Land, meaning Israel. We know this because the context identifies his worshippers as those who dwell on the Land (Rev. 13:8, 12, 14)-a technical phrase used several times in Revelation to denote apostate Israel… it is Israel in particular which is condemned for Emperor-worship. Faced with a choice between Christ and Caesar, they had proclaimed: We have no king but Caesar! (Jn.19:15). Their reaction to Caesar’s apparently victorious war against the Church (Rev. 11:7) was awe and worship. Israel sided with Caesar and the Empire against Christ and the Church. Ultimately, therefore, they were worshipping the Dragon, and for this reason Jesus Himself called their worship assemblies synagogues of Satan (Rev.2:9; 3:9). [13]

  1. The beast was given “authority to act for forty-two months (v.5), and “to make war with the saints and overcome them” (v.7).

The period of 42 months (three-and-one-half years – a broken seven) is a symbolic figure in prophetic language, signifying a time of sadness, when the enemies of God are in power, or when judgment is being poured out (taken from the period of drought between Elijah’s first appearance and the defeat of Baal on Mount Carmel). Its prophetic usage is not primarily literal, although it is interesting that Nero’s persecution of the Church did in fact last a full 42 months, from the middle of November 64 to the beginning of June 68. [14]

  1. The apostle John positively identifies the Beast. “Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty six” (v.18). Numbers in the Bible are significant.

Solomon (a Biblical type of both Christ and the Beast) received 666 talents of gold in one year, at the height of his power and glory (I Kings 10:14; 2 Chron.9:13). That number marks both the high point of his reign and the beginning of his downfall; from then on, everything goes downhill into apostasy. One by one, Solomon breaks the three laws of godly kingship recorded in Deuteronomy 17:16-17: against multiplying gold (I Kings 10:14-25), against multiplying horses (I Kings 10:26-29), and against multiplying wives (I Kings 11:1-8). For the Hebrews, 666 was a fearful sign of apostasy, the mark of both a king and a State in the Dragon’s image.

The second point to consider about the number 666 is this. In both Greek and Hebrew, each letter of the alphabet is also a numeral (see the table of numerals at the end of this chapter). Thus, the “number” of anyone’s name could be computed by simply adding up the numerical value of its letters. Clearly, John expected that his contemporary readers were capable of using this method to discover the Beast’s name-thus indicating, again, the contemporary message of Revelation…the unexpected element in the computation was that it had to be worked out in Hebrew, a language which at least some of the members of the churches would know…

It is significant that all early Christian writers, even those who did not understand Hebrew and were therefore confused by the number 666, connected the Roman Empire, and especially Nero, with the Beast. There should be no reasonable doubt about this. John was writing to first-century Christians, warning them of things that were “shortly” to take place. They were engaged in the most crucial battle of history, against the Dragon and the evil Empire which he possessed. The purpose of the Revelation was to comfort the Church with the assurance that God was in control, so that even the awesome might of the Dragon and the Beast would not stand before the armies of Jesus Christ.[15]

 

 [1] Rousas Rushdoony, “God’s Plan for Victory,” 1980, p.3.

 [2] Andrew Sandlin, “A Postmillenial Primer,” 1997, p.3.

 [3] Kenneth Gentry (Ed.), “Thine is the Kingdom,” 2003, p.ii-vii.

[4] Rousas Rushdoony, “Thy Kingdom Come,” 2001, p.1.

[5] David Chilton, “Paradise Restored,” 1999, p.175.

[6] Chilton, p.115.

[7] Chilton, p.176.

[8] ibid., p.177.

[9] Chilton, p.177.

[10] Gentry, K., “The Beast of Revelation,” 1994, p.13.

[11] Chilton, p.177.

[12] ibid.,p.178.

[13] Chilton, p.179.

[14] Chilton, p.179.

[15] Chilton, ibid., p.180-181.