Why church matters matter . . . Revelation and deception

seekersI’ve been working on a post on Rev. 13:16-18 and in doing some commentary diving, was struck by Greg Beale’s commentary on Rev. 13:11.  The passage of Rev. 13:11-14 sets the backdrop of my next post and Beale’s poignant assessment of what this passage is saying;

And I saw another beast coming out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spoke as a dragon. And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. And he performs great signs, so that even he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast who, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life.

As I indicated in my post on reading Revelation, it helps if we understand Revelation to be a series of visions that describe the goings  on of what happens between the first and second Advent of Christ, these visions describe the reality of what occurs during that period particularly in relation to the opposition that comes against Christ’s church. In other words, it doesn’t help to see these visions transpire after the church is taken out of the way via a Rapture and isolated to a 7 year period, but rather describes happens from the tine of Christ’s ascencion until his return. As evidenced by the presence of the church, very much describes the onslaught of deception that eventually pits the mainstream culture against Christianity. (It also helps to see chapter 13 as a reflection of a larger series of visions beginning at 12:1). By way of observation in our culture, I have much to say about this, which I’ll get to in a bit, but I found this section from Beale compelling and sobering.

Like the first beast, this beast speaks with the full authority of the devil; he was speaking as a dragon. This beast is later called “the false prophet (16:13; 19:20; 20:10), suggesting that its role is primarily religious. A true prophet leads people to worship God, but the false prophet leads them to worship the state (and, by extension, the devil). False prophets and teachers have already infiltrated the churches (2:2, 6, 14-15, 20-24), even as Jesus prophesied (Matt. 7:15; 24:5, 11) and Paul warned (Acts 20:28-29). That manifestations of the beastly prophet occur within the church is also suggested in the OT, where false prophecy almost always takes place within the covenant community. The image of a wolf in lamb’s clothing suggests a traitor within the fold of the church. Though the beast professes to represent the truth and appears harmless as a lamb, his inner Satanic nature is revealed through his speaking with the authority of the dragon. His speaking as a dragon reflects the alluring, deceptive speech of Satan, the dragon, which led to the sin of Adam and Eve (cf. 12:9). Therefore, the this imagery and background suggest deception within the covenant community itself. Whereas the first beast speaks loudly and defiantly against God, the second beast makes the first beast’s claims sound plausible and persuasive. False teachers within the church are encouraging compromise with the culture’s idolatrous institutions.

If we understand this description to occur between the first and second Advent of Christ, this paints a powerful picture of how history will unravel, culminating in the return of Christ to judge the living and the dead and set everything right. The message of this passage is clear: there will be widespread deception in the church that will accommodate the culture that works against Christianity.

I’ll speak more next time about the identification of the beasts and what I believe that references.  I realize that interpretations vary but I don’t think this passages references one particular person but rather a representation of Satan’s kingdom that works against Christ’s kingdom through the MO of the “god of this world” (see 2 Cor. 4:4).  Suffice it to say that the reference of Rev. 13 regarding the second beast has everything to do with the religious community giving support to the spirit of the age that not only takes a stand against the historic witness of Christianity, but is supported by those who claim to be a part of the faith community. Or put another way–

those who claim to be part of the church will be complicit in action against the church.

From a global perspective, persecution against Christians has been around for centuries though it is definitely increasing. But here in America, Christianity has enjoyed a majority position for a long time. Now I want to be cautious of reading current events into Scripture, but I can’t help but notice some similarities. It doesn’t take much viewing of current events to know that tide has been turning. It’s no longer just a matter of private beliefs but those beliefs have been responsible for hate even when that is not the case. Consider how quick Christians were scapegoated in the Orlando shooting. As George Yancey, professor of sociology at University of N. Texas, points out in this piece, there is a growing voice hostile to Christianity simply because of sexual ethics.

There is much talk among progressives about cultural tolerance and acceptance. It’s all vapid, in view of the desire many of them have to eliminate Christian influence from our culture. Not everyone who displays a “Coexist” bumper sticker really means it. Christians need to be aware of the degree to which some cultural progressives reject Christianity, and be ready to adjust to a society that has become more Christianophobic.

And here’s the troubling part: those claiming the banner of Christianity raise the voice in solidarity with the mainstream culture as many liberal denominations and progressive Christians are increasingly doing. Do we not see this more and more, especially in context of sexual ethics? If you don’t get with the “love” of LGBT rights, you stand in opposition on the side of hate. It is quickly becoming our nationally shaped agenda supported by government action. Beale offers even more relevant commentary in that regard;

When purported Christian teachers take their primary cues from the surrounding culture instead of from God’s word, they corrupt the covenant community spiritually by encouraging it to live by norms and a faith that ultimately opposes the reign of God and Christ.

So that gets to the point of my title. In our anti-authorian, anti-institutional, existential oriented age where truth is governed by what seems right to an individual, we have to be on guard for how culture might shape Christian belief, ethics and practice. That cries for the church, via our local assemblies, to be on guard for the kind of deception that might infiltrate. That doesn’t mean necessarily taking a nit-picky oriented approach to ministry (as some on-line discernment, antagonistic posture). But rather, a commitment to core beliefs of Christianity based on biblical truth, the historic witness of that truth. This also means clear articulation of what is believed and has been believed by the church throughout centuries in line with the whole counsel of Scripture.

How can this deception happen? Here’s something I’ve been pondering. Rightly so, the church brings correction to how belief and practice have been inconsistent that should raise awareness of how we articulate the faith. While there are mass efforts to reconcile past behavior of oppression, bigotry, and bias, I too notice that efforts can get muddled with a strain of thinking that actually works against God’s elect in support of what the dominant culture is saying about Christianity. God forbid we be labeled as the hateful ones from the past.  As the church in general, even with conservative denominations like mine, seeks to make amends for past transgressions, I’m noticing a lot of loose language in efforts to support justice and compassion, relieve oppression and demonstrate love of neighbor.  And here’s another observation: it doesn’t take too much to observe how ethnic and LGBT persecution are becoming more conflated and intertwined. That’s probably deserving of a separate post. But suffice it to say that taking cues from culture can unwittingly place us on the side against God’s elect in efforts of justice especially when it seeps into the realm of sexual ethics and deception creeps in.

Make no mistake, our American culture has a growing disdain for Christianity as Yancey right points out.  Yes, that means increasingly, articulation and practice of faithful Christianity will be in the margins. But we can be comforted by Jesus’ words that “in this world we will have trouble.” Knowing this should not only prepare us but also be cautious to not let concern over marginalization produce murky lines that actually places us in camps supporting it. In other words, if we are not careful, concerns for justice and compassion without clear distinctions can actually enforce marginalization. As I heard today in a sobering sermon on Esther 3: you are either for God and his chosen people or you are against God and his chosen people. Being for God through belief in Christ and against his people, is really not a viable option. But sadly, as Revelation 13 indicates, will very much be a reality.


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