January 27, 2023

The Man of Lawlessness

There are some moments in your life that you never forget. They make an indelible imprint upon your heart and mind. One of those moments for me was in a Greek class in Seminary.  It was a class on the Thessalonian epistles, studied right out of the Greek New Testament.  Not the whole of the classes in that course, but one session in particular. It established two core truths upon which much of my life has been built upon. First, I came to the conclusion that knowing how to interpret Scriptures from the Greek is not an infallible, indispensable means of understanding God’s truth. Because, even studying the Greek, the interpreter still brings with him all of his theological presumptions and biases. Baggage, you might call it. Second, I look back in my life-long venture to understand the prophecies of the Last Days, and I view this moment as the launching pad.

We were studying and interpreting II Thessalonians 2 that day in class. It is one of many passages in Paul’s writing where he speaks very pointedly and prophetically about the Last Days. In this passage Paul wrote about the day of the Lord, and the second coming of Jesus, that it will not happen until after the man of lawlessness is revealed, and after the great rebellion has occurred. And then Paul wrote that the man of lawlessness “will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” Then one more detail is reveled by Paul. The man of lawlessness will be restrained until the time that the restraint is taken out of the way. That is when he will be revealed. Oh, yes, and one more detail. The Lord himself will overthrow this man of lawlessness and destroy him by the splendor of His coming.

I cannot describe to you the emptiness in my heart as I sat and listened to all the theories proposed as to what these various concepts might mean. And how hollow the consideration of these theories was as we quickly retreated to the tried and true theology of the Baptist, dispensational eschatology. The man of lawlessness was determined to be the Antichrist, and I would agree with that, even to this day. But no mention was made to the fact that Paul never uses the term antichrist in all of his writings, nor that the term antichrist is not used anywhere in all of Revelation. It was presumed that the man of lawlessness was the same person being prophesied by the imagery of the Beast in Revelation 13. But that is not accurate. I did not know it at the time, so I could not disagree. But it has become absolutely fundamental to understanding Revelation to interpret accurately that the Beast is a nation, not the antichrist. That leaves this passage written by Paul as the most significant description of the antichrist, the man that most of have made bigger than life. It is very misleading to think that antichrist will be a supernatural imitation of Christ, who can do incredible miracles, even rising from the dead. Those images need to be jettisoned, since they come from Revelation 13, where the beast is revealing a nation at the end of the age, not a man, not the antichrist.

The rebellion at the end of the age, prior to the second coming of Jesus, was determined to be a great apostasy, linked to the statement of Jesus, “many will fall away.” But in reality, it is the overwhelming rebellion that will be led by the man of lawlessness, the Islamic mahdi, when he leads 200 million soldiers against Israel and Jerusalem in a jihadi attempt to destroy and annihilate the Jews. That is what is revealed clearly in Revelation 17.

Also in that class, it was determined that the man of lawlessness would set himself up in the temple in Jerusalem, in the middle of the Great Tribulation. That did not come from studying the Greek, I guarantee you, but from theological blinders so restrictive that truth could not be seen. The temple is not ieron in the Greek, meaning the brick-and-mortar temple in Jerusalem, but it is naos in the Greek, meaning the holy dwelling place of God. The man of lawlessness will declare himself to be God, usurping the place of the one true God, and millions of Muslims, worldwide, will be caught up in this great deception.

The rebellion that holds back that great rebellion until the appointed time was suggested, in that class, to be either the Holy Spirit or the church itself. Either, or both of these would be removed at the pre-tribulation rapture, thereby removing the restraint of lawlessness. That fits well with the theological baggage of a seven-year tribulation and pre-tribulation rapture. But all of those presumptions need to be jettisoned to understand correctly the prophecies of Revelation. The restraint is clearly identified in the vision of Revelation, in the seventh trumpet judgment and the seventh bowl judgment. The angels who hold back the enormous army at the Euphrates river will be released, and the armies will be led in to the Valley of Decision, the battle of Armageddon. (Rev 9:14-16)

Yes indeed, that Greek class proved to be quite momentous for me. I am so glad, so thankful, that the Holy Spirit stirred my heart to keep seeking for the truth.


I Am Against You, O Gog

“This is what the sovereign Lord says: I am against you, O Gog [of the land of Magog], chief prince of Meshach and Tubal. I will turn you around and drag you along.  I will bring you from the far north and send you against the mountains of Israel” (Ezek 39:1-2; also Ezek 38:3-4).

Ezekiel recorded some incredible prophecies about the end of the age, on par with Daniel and with the Apocalypse itself. Many of them were focused upon events that would relate to Israel in the far distant future. One of those events was the prophecy about Gog, in chapters 38-39.

Who is this person named Gog? He is a chief prince who leads a huge army against Israel at the end of the age just before Messiah comes back. He is called the man of lawlessness by Paul in II Thessalonians -- they are one and the same. And he is the leader of the alliance of ten kings who give their authority to him as the eighth beast in Revelation 17. Some would call him the Antichrist, although that name is not even used in Revelation. One of the great misunderstandings about Revelation is that chapter 13, the vision of the beast with seven heads and ten horns, is describing the Antichrist. But that is not true, even though it has been postulated since the early centuries of the Church. The beast of Revelation 13 depicts the great beast nation of the end of the age, a seventh beast nation, whose demise is to be accomplished before the rise of the eighth beast, which is highlighted in Revelation 17.

Gog is a powerful, deceptive, war-mongering Arab leader arising at the end of the age. He is not truly a world leader, yet his influence and effect will be felt world-wide. It might be best not to call him the Antichrist. The image conjured up by most people when Antichrist is mentioned is the image of a miraculous, powerful, larger than life, leader of the entire world. In the Left Behind series, the Antichrist becomes the leader of the United Nations and leads a one-world government. He favors Israel, seductively, then turns on them, destructively, all of this in the course of a seven-year Great Tribulation. But that is not the Gog of Ezekiel, nor the man of lawlessness described by Paul, and does not derive from an accurate interpretation of Revelation.

Here is what we do know about Gog, from Ezekiel 38-39. He is from the land of Magog and he is the chief prince of Meshach and Tubal (38:2). These are the names of three of the sons of Japheth (Gen 10:2), and probably refers to regions in western Asia Minor, what is today Turkey. Most interestingly, these three tribes are descendants of Japheth, not of Shem and Ham. And it was the Semites and Hamites who were the constant, historical enemy of Israel for 2000 years before Christ. But Turkey became part of the Arab bloc of nations after the birth of Islam, and in fact lead the Islam world for centuries.

Gog will lead an army that combines the forces of many nations, predominantly Arab nations (38:5-6, 9). This correlates to Revelation 17 where it is prophesied that ten kings will give their authority to the eighth beast, specifically ten kingdoms that did not exist at the time of John’s writing (Rev 17:11-14). Gog’s army is described as “hordes”, and will advance “like a cloud” (38 :7, 9). This description probably correlates to the description in Revelation of an army of “200 million” (Rev 9:16). Gog will “have thoughts come into his mind, and he will devise a scheme” (38:10). This first scheme is to invade unwalled cities, peaceful and unsuspecting people, and plunder and loot their lands (38:11-13). This is probably referring to an initial campaign against nations in the Middle East, the Saudi Peninsula, and in northern Africa – other Arab countries – in an effort to bring them into submission to himself as the final Imam-Mahdi, and purify their beliefs and submission to Allah. (Dan 11:36-45 also describes this initial campaign.) Eventually God will turn him around, drag him along, and send him against the mountains of Israel. (38:14; developed more fully in 39:1-20). This is the great battle of Armageddon, described at several places in Revelation. When Gog attacks Israel God’s great wrath will be aroused (38:18; compare the winepress of God’s wrath in Rev 14). Jesus will defeat this great army, and give the flesh of the soldiers as a feast to the vultures (39:4, 17-20). It will take seven months to bury the dead and cleanse the land (39:12, 14-16). God’s wrath will culminate in the final judgment of earthquakes, crumbling cliffs, plague, bloodshed, rain, hailstones and burning sulfur (38:19-23; obviously correlating to the sixth seal, the seventh trumpet, and the seventh bowl judgments of Revelation).

God is uniquely against this Arab leader, Gog, and will providentially draw him into these great battles. This is not just a madman that excites God’s wrath, but the culmination of a just anger and wrath against one particular enemy of Israel -- judgment and vindication that has been mounting for several millennia. All of this great rage and wrath, war and destruction, and judgment serves one great purpose. God will show his greatness and holiness, and “the nations will know that I am Lord” (38:23). Also, from that day forward the house of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God (39:22).  Those “days forward”, the era following this great battle and defeat of Gog, will be the earthly kingdom of Messiah, the Millennial kingdom.


January 16, 2023

Sword, Famine, and Plague


Warning American Christians that the very near future will bring sword, famine, and plague to our homeland seems futile. The odds of convincing anyone is about the same as winning the lottery, or being struck by lightning. Two huge obstacles stand in the way of believing such a warning.

First, Americans believe, wholeheartedly, that we are the most God- blessed country the world has ever seen. We believe that all of our prosperity, dominance and safety are a gift from God. We see absolutely no ill-gotten gain in achieving our wealth and status, as described in Revelation 17 and 18. The description of the Great Babylon of the end of the age, the Great Prostitute of the whole earth, it must be describing someone else. We cannot fathom the idea that we are the seventh beast of Revelation 13, as deserving of God’s judgment as the previous six. And it is inconceivable that the fifth beast of Daniel 7, the little horn beast, the one that is destroyed and not allowed to exist even in a crippled state, could be a prophecy of America. No, we are blessed, and we earned the right to be blessed. And God will see to it that we continue to be blessed – safe, at peace, and affluent.

Second, American Christians believe, wholeheartedly, unswervingly, that the rapture will take them out of this world before any sort of turmoil or tribulation will be unleashed. We will not experience sword, famine, or plague because we will be gone, taken up by Jesus in an early installment of His second coming. This pre-tribulation rapture teaching has dominated our eschatology for nearly 200 years now, and it completely hinders the understanding from Revelation to prepare for pre-rapture tribulation. Tribulation has always been God’s means of threshing and winnowing, of purifying His chosen people. But American Christians think they are exempt.

The same deception dominated the scene in Judah when Jeremiah was trying to warn the people of what was really on the horizon – the immediate horizon. God was telling Jeremiah to prophesy that God was about to bring upon them the sword, famine, and plague (Jer 14:12; also 5:12-13 and 27:8). But Jeremiah was overwhelmed by the futility of his warning, saying to God, “Ah Lord, the prophets keep telling them ‘You will not see the sword or suffer famine. Indeed, God will give you lasting peace in this place.’” That is so much like our present-day response to the warnings of Revelation. The Lord responded to Jeremiah, “they are prophesying lies, delusions of their own minds. They are saying no sword or famine will touch this land. Not only will those prophets perish by the sword and famine, but the people to whom they are prophesying will be thrown into the streets because of sword and famine. I will pour out on them the calamity they deserve” (Jer 14:13-16, paraphrased).

Our theologians who write and preach that Christians will be raptured before a seven-year tribulation are dangerously instilling false hopes. God said, and He still says, “I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message” (see Jer  23:16-21).

Because America is guilty of blood-guilt, idolatry, greed, pride and arrogance, and selfish affluence, God will mete out His judgment. Repentance is probably too late. God has been warning the world of coming judgment for over 100 years, with the seven trumpet warnings of Revelation, but no one has repented. That is the purpose of the prophecies of Revelation, to warn of impending judgment, and to give hope to the saints of redemption out of the horrible distress of the last days.

We must not hope for escape. We must be prepared for the worst. How can we as God’s shepherds help one another through the dark days ahead? Our people, our churches, our families, our very own hearts and minds, need to increase in faith, not in false hope.