Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Church & the Antichrist

The most popular sideshow in Christian circles is trying to figure out the identity of the Antichrist. The Roman Catholic Church has historically been the main bogeyman for Protestants, being identified as the Beast of Revelation by such leaders as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Roger Williams and John Wesley.

In modern history, Hitler and other Hitleresque characters have been common targets. Faddish variations on this theme in recent decades have been identifying Ronald Reagan or George Bush, Bill Clinton or Barak Obama as the Big Bad Guy, depending on which party of the congressional oligarchy you embrace.

I will not add my voice to this specious speculation. My guiding principle is this statement from Jesus: "For false christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect." (Matthew 24:24) That means that the False Christ (Revelation 13:1-10) and False Prophet (Revelation 13:11-18) will be very attractive to Christians. So beware whom you champion.

It is more helpful to see these two beasts of Revelation 13 in general terms. The John who wrote Revelation also wrote these words: "As you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come." (I John 2:18) Each age has its antichrists. There are many incarnations of the two beasts before the final ones. Who are they today?

I paint the two beasts of Revelation 13 in broad strokes as Government and Religion, especially big government and big religion. In a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, Lord Acton wrote this famous line: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

The greatest danger to believers - now and in the "last hour" - are those who hold worldly power - political, economic and religious power. Power corrupts. The best defense against the Antichrist is to rob him of his power. Small government and small religion are the best defense against this Great Offense.

But Revelation says that this advice will not be heeded in the future. People looking for some Great Leader to solve their worldly problems will embrace the Beast. Those who look to religion to save them from their sins will get what they desire - the Anti-Savior.

"Are you listening to this? They've made their bed; now they must lie in it. Anyone marked for prison goes straight to prison; anyone pulling a sword goes down by the sword. Meanwhile, God's holy people passionately and faithfully stand their ground." (Revelation 13:9-10)

(Painting is "The Double Cross" by Fritz Hirschberger)

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