Sunday, March 16, 2008

Reformed Chiliasm (Part 10)

By studying the eschatological writings of the early Fathers, and diligently comparing their several descriptions, it is not impossible to put together something like a composite view of end-time events. In our last article, we discussed the Great Apostasy, briefly touching upon its general character. Now we must discuss the rise of Antichrist. Looking back through a number of early writings, it seems that the church always, from day one, held an expectation that some such personage would arrive on the scene in the last days of the world's history. In recent years, however, the doctrine of Antichrist has been pronounced a fable; and since that time, rationalistic theologians have tried to relegate this mysterious individual to the pages of past history. But it won't do. No person in history has ever matched with the delineations given in Scripture of Antichrist; or, if some parallels be found, the discrepancies are too great to admit of any assent.

One common view among modern Bible-critics is that Nero was the Antichrist. But, there is no trustworthy evidence that Nero's infamous persecution ever extended beyond Rome itself. This alone makes the theory highly unlikely; and only a headstrong enthusiast would maintain it in absence of any proof beyond an assumption. Withal, the persecution of Antichrist is to be waged during the last half-week (i.e., three-and-a-half years) of the present age, which period will close with the coming of Jesus Christ in glory. These data do not match up with the Roman emperor. Nero was never "destroyed with the brightness of the Lord's coming" (2 Thess. 2: 8), nor "taken, and cast alive into the lake of fire" (Rev. 19: 20). In fact, he committed suicide in A.D. 68. Nor did he ever sit in the temple at Jerusalem, boasting himself as God. Obviously, he is not the man we are looking for.

In all events, we must have recourse to the proper fountains, and study the ancient church fathers. For they, leaning back to Apostolic tradition, had greater knowledge of these matters than ourselves. One of the earliest allusions to Antichrist is contained in the Didache, or "Teaching of the Twelve Apostles." In this primitive document, he is referred to as "the world deceiver" (ho kosmoplanos). The full text reads: "For in the last days, false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; for when lawlessness increaseth, they shall hate and persecute and betray one another, and then shall appear the world deceiver as Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things which have never yet come to pass since the beginning." (xvi. 3-5). This prediction certainly approximates more closely to the truth. That Antichrist is to exercise his power over the entire world, is evident from various passages of Scripture.

But who is he? From whence does he come? What are his origins? Is he a man, as many believe?--or the devil incarnate? We shall discuss these matters to the best of our ability. Nearly all orthodox writers describe his advent as occurring at a time of great worldwide discord and calamity. We've already seen how the Apostasy creates conditions favorable for a shattering of worldwide peace, and that numerous wars and rumors of wars must first take place before Antichrist comes on the scene. The Apostasy will pave the way for his appearance. Lest we be carried away by conjecture, however, let us study the visions and interpretations of the prophet Daniel. For his accounts are the best starting-point for learning of the times of Antichrist.

We'll remember King Nebuchadnezzar's vision, wherein he saw the great image depicting the prominent world kingdoms from his time to Christ's coming in glory. Daniel says: "Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors. And the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth" (Dan. 2: 31-35).

Daniel then gives us the exposition. He tells Nebuchadnezzar: "Thou art this head of gold. And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. And in the days of these kings, shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (Dan. 2: 38-44).

While Daniel does not identify the successive kingdoms by name, he nonetheless gives an accurate account of those mighty nations that would follow Babylon in dominion of the world. Most commentators agree that the head of gold represents Babylon; the breast and arms, the Medes and Persians; the belly and thighs of brass, the Grecians; while the legs of iron stand for the Roman empire. When we come to feet of iron and clay, however, opinions are divided. Some early expositors believe that the feet represent the Roman empire at its very close. Thus from the beginning there was a strong tradition that Christ would come at the dissolution of the Roman Empire. But, if we look carefully at Daniel's interpretation, we'll perceive that Daniel only attributes the quality of strength to the iron of the feet. Thus, if the legs represent the Romans, the feet must partake of the power of that empire. This does not necessarily argue for the identity of the legs and the feet. At any rate, Daniel's vision of the great stone breaking the image to pieces predicts a time when human governments will be brought to nothing by the Kingdom of Christ.

The feet, then, must represent the last kingdom which shall bear rule over all the world before Christ returns. It shall be one empire divided into ten nations. Interestingly, Hippolytus identifies these ten nations as democracies. If we take his view, it is quite reasonable to assume that the ten nations will be held together by the strength of a Rome-like administration. Howbeit, because of the wide intermixture of various ethnic and cultural classes (represented by the clay) it shall not cleave together. That is, there will be no common interest among the several toes. This I think is the best, or at least the most credible, exposition of Daniel's vision. Of course, we cannot be absolutely certain. But one thing is sure. The world must first be re-organized into ten nations, ere Daniel's prophecy of the feet can be fulfilled. How will this take place? Who knows. Perhaps this preliminary division of the world will be preceded by a Third World War, or some such upheaval so great as to break down the structures of national governments. It is too early to tell.

However, this division will clear the way for Antichrist. And it is here that we must refer to Daniel's vision of the four beasts, which in many particulars lines up with his vision of the great image. In Daniel 7: 3-8, the prophet sees four beasts rising out of the ground. The first is like a lion, having eagles wings. This has been identified as the Babylonian empire. After this arises another beast, like a bear. This was the Persian empire. Then Daniel sees a third beast, like unto a leopard, with four wings. This can be none other than the Grecian power, which after Alexander the Great's death was partitioned into four empires. Following the leopard Daniel sees a fourth beast, "dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. And I considered the horns, and behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things" (Dan. 7: 7-8).

Almost all the early commentators agree that the ten horns of the fourth beast parallel the ten toes of the image, while the "little horn" represents Antichrist. Hippolytus, harmonizing Daniel's visions, writes: "As these things, then, are destined to come to pass, and as the toes of the image turn out to be democracies, and the ten horns of the beast are distributed among ten kings, let us look at what is before us more carefully, and scan, as it were, with open eye. The 'golden head' of the image is identical with the 'lioness,' by which the Babylonians were represented. 'The golden shoulders and arms of silver' are the same with the 'bear,' by which the Persians and Medes are meant. 'The belly and thighs of brass' are the 'leopard,' by which the Greeks who ruled from Alexander onwards are intended. The 'legs of iron' are the 'dreadful and terrible beast,' by which the Romans who now hold the empire are meant. The 'toes of clay and iron' are the 'ten horns' which are to be. The 'one other little horn' springing up in their midst is the 'antichrist.' The stone that 'smites the image and breaks it in pieces,' and that fills the whole earth, is Christ, who comes from heaven and brings judgment on the world." (Fragments from Commentaries, II. iii).

With the sole exception of his identification of the fourth beast as the Roman empire, I agree on the whole with Hippolytus' interpretation. If we concede, then, that the little horn represents the Antichrist, it will be a relatively simple matter to form some notion of end-time events. Firstly, the world must be divided into ten nations. Then, Antichrist shall arise as a great political leader. He shall subdue and conquer three of the nations, and will probably be constituted the head of the entire confederacy. But, we are going too far. We must back up a little and try, if we can, to get some idea of the personal character of this Antichrist. From whence does he arise? Is he a Jew or a Gentile? Interestingly, this latter question seems to be a hot topic of debate among students of prophecy. Some are for maintaining his Jewish origins, whilst others proclaim him to be of pure Gentile extraction. What do we think?

The opinion of the early church was that Antichrist would arise from among the Jews, and be hailed as their Messiah. Moreover, it was believed that he would draw his lineage from the tribe of Dan. The evidence in support of this view is fetched mainly from Jeremiah 8: 16, where the prophet writes: "The snorting of his horses was heard from Dan; the whole land trembled at the sound of the neighing of his strong ones: for they have come, and have devoured the land, and all that is in it; the city, and those that dwell therein." Another proof-text is Gen. 49: 16-17: "Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse-heels, so that his rider shall fall backward." Then, too, there is the likening of Dan to a lion, in imitation of the true Lion, Christ. Moses writes: "Dan is a lion's whelp: he shall leap from Bashan" (Deut. 33: 22). Thus, there is strong support for the view that Antichrist will rise from among the Jews, and constitute himself as their leader.

Moreover, it is likely that he is the one who shall rebuild the temple at Jerusalem. For his crowing act of iniquity will be to sit in the temple of God and demand divine worship (2 Thess. 2: 4; cf. Isa. 14: 13-14). But, we ask, when shall these events take place? It is evident that they shall be fulfilled in the last half-week of the world's history. That is, when the first half of Daniel's 70th week has expired, Antichrist shall arise and deceive all mankind. He shall function for three years and six months, after which he will be brought to nothing. The first half of the week will be taken up by the two witnesses, Enoch and Elijah, who shall preach the Gospel unto all nations, exhorting men to turn from their iniquities and embrace the way of life. These matters are related more fully in John's Apocalypse, and may be verified by comparing Rev. 11: 1-7 with Rev. 13: 1-7.

Again, hearken to Hippolytus: "Thus, then, does the prophet [Daniel] set forth these things concerning Antichrist, who shall be shameless, a war-maker, and despot, who, exalting himself above all kings and above every God, shall build the city of Jerusalem and restore the sanctuary. Him the impious shall worship as God, and will bend to him the knee, thinking him to be Christ. He shall cut off the two witnesses and forerunners of Christ, who proclaim his glorious kingdom from heaven, as it is said: 'And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.' As also it was announced to Daniel: 'And one week shall confirm a covenant with many; and in the midst of the week it shall be that the sacrifice and oblation shall be removed'--that the one week might be shown to be divided into two. The two witnesses, then, shall preach three years and a half; and Antichrist shall make war upon the saints during the rest of the week, and desolate the world, that what is written may be fulfilled: 'And they shall make the abomination of desolation for a thousand two hundred and ninety days.'" (Fragments from Commentaries, II. xxxix).

This gives us a tolerably clear picture of what shall occur during the last seven years of the world's history; that is, prior to Christ's coming in glory to establish His throne among us, and to rebuke iniquity. And our Lord Himself, in His Olivet Discourse, foretells all the events which shall lead up to His coming. As related in our last article, the Apostasy must first break out. Although we feel that the beginnings of the Apostasy have arrived, we have not yet seen the persecutions and betrayals (Matt. 24: 9-10) that shall follow in its wake. Only a calamitous state of the world could give rise to such conditions as pave the way for these tragic events. And what more likely than that a Third World War should occur to shatter the comity of nations? We believe that such an event is not unreasonable, considering the perturbed state of present-day politics. And that two such wars have already occurred, do not render it improbable that a repeat event, on a larger and more disastrous scale, may become a reality. And then only will the long-contested Apocalyptic imagery have its true fulfillment.

To be continued...

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