Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 38, The Antichrist

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 38
The Antichrist

This week we've been studying the wicked king known as Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a man who hated the Jewish way of life and persecuted the Jews when they would not forfeit their God and their culture for his god Zeus and the Greek culture. It's not clear exactly how Antiochus met his end. Some accounts say he died of a sudden illness, others that he went mad and succumbed to a progressive psychosis, and others that he perished in battle. What we do know is that his time on earth came and went. And what we do know is that his life did not fulfill the predictions of the king depicted in the remainder of the book of Daniel. Antiochus IV was the "little Antichrist" of the Old Testament, but now Daniel's revelation moves very far into the future to another king: the Antichrist of the end times.

There's nothing unusual about the way Daniel's prophecy moves so seamlessly from the time before Christ to the time of the end. The Lord Jesus Christ presented a revelation in this same manner when prophesying the signs of the coming fall of Jerusalem and the signs of the end times in Matthew 24. Jesus wove this prophecy together as a whole, though two separate events were involved. Only half His prophecy has been fulfilled with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The rest remains to be fulfilled: wars and rumors of wars, kingdoms rising and falling, earthquakes and famines, false Messiahs, the persecution of the Jews and the church as never before. There remains to be fulfilled the "abomination of desolation" in the temple, which cannot possibly refer to Antiochus placing a statue of Zeus in the temple and defiling the altar by sacrificing a pig on it, because in Jesus' day that was in the past. He was speaking of the wicked king of the end times, of a third temple, and of a desecration of the temple that would be the sign that people should flee Jerusalem while they still can. 

These things still remain unfulfilled in our own day, but a leader will rise or is already on the earth who will broker a seven-year peace deal in the Middle East that allows the Jews to rebuild the temple. In the middle of the seven years he will do something Antiochus Epiphanes did: he will cut off all sacrifice and offering in the temple and will demand the worship of only one god. In Antiochus' case, that god was Zeus. But in Antichrist's case, that god will be himself. He will set "himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God". (2 Thessalonians 2:4) Antiochus Ephiphanes was a prideful and arrogant man who claimed to be Zeus' representative on earth, but even he acknowledged the gods of Greece. He didn't proclaim himself the one and only god but recognized higher powers, pagan though his ideas were. Antichrist is going to go much farther. He is going to outlaw the practice of every religion on earth except the religion he presents to world, and that is the worship of himself.

"The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place. He will show no regard for the gods of his ancestors or for the one desired by women, nor will he regard any god, but will exalt himself above all." (Daniel 11:36-37) This man will show no regard for the gods (the Hebrew elohim) of his ancestors. This gives us no clue as to the man's ancient heritage, but the Hebrew elohim is plural except when it refers to Almighty God in the person of the Trinity, and that does not clearly appear to be the case here. Some scholars have used this to suggest the Antichrist will be a Jew, but the Apostle John's revelation indicates Antichrist will be a Gentile, for he comes out of the sea. Since "the sea" or "the waters" or "the nations" are used in the Bible as symbols of the Gentiles, I tend to believe the Antichrist will be a Gentile world leader. The use of the word elohim suggests to me that his ancestry is of a nation that had many gods. And since in the book of Daniel we found the kingdom of the Antichrist rising from the remains of the ancient kingdom of Rome, I believe this indicates he will be a Gentile whose original heritage was Roman, though his forebears may have been living in another country for generations or even centuries.

There is a great deal of confusion over who the god "desired by women" is. Some suggest it was the Adonis cult of the Greek Empire or the Osiris cult of Egypt, in which women were heavily involved. In some translations this verse is rendered in a different way, that Antichrist will have no regard for the desire of women. This could mean he will be unmarried and will have no interest in establishing family relationships. Another, and more likely interpretation, is that the god "desired by women" is the Lord Jesus Christ, because it was the hope of all young godly women of Judea that they might be the one chosen to be the mother of the Messiah. 

Antichrist will care nothing for pagan gods of this world or for the one true God. "Instead of them, he will honor a god of fortresses; a god unknown to his ancestors he will honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly gifts. He will attack the mightiest fortresses with the help of a foreign god and will greatly honor those who acknowledge him. He will make them rulers over many people and will distribute the land at a price." (Daniel 11:38-39) Antiochus Epiphanes did not worship a god of fortresses or a god unknown to his ancestors, nor did he dole out riches or lands to his subjects. Since we know Antichrist will allow no worship of anyone or anything but himself, the "god of fortresses" is probably not a god in the traditional sense but the worship of power, military might, and control. This fits well with the Antichrist's one-world government, a dictatorship in which subjects must obey him or die. It also suggest an enormous war machine, a one-world military into which Antichrist will pour all the resources he can get. It's interesting that the word "fortress" is synonymous with "stronghold" which is what Satan has always wanted. Since he made his first attack on mankind in the Garden of Eden, Satan has sought to gain a stronghold in people's minds and hearts. If he could not get mankind to worship him outright, he was willing to settle for giving mankind something to worship in place of God. These strongholds have taken many forms such as various types of addictions, idolatry, and even atheism which elevates man to the status of a god, because if there is no God then man is the most superior being. 

Antichrist will not rule without opposition. "At the time of the end the king of the South will engage him in battle, and the king of the North will storm out against him with chariots and cavalry and a great fleet of ships." (Daniel 11:40a) For several days in Daniel 11 we looked at kings of the North and South, but in that case they represented the Seleucid Empire (Syria) and the Ptolemaic Empire (Egypt). These cannot be the same kingdoms in view in the end times prophecy. Rome conquered the Seleucids in 65 BC and the Ptolemies in 30 BC. These dynasties are no more and the kingdoms, as they existed in ancient times, are no more. But the geography is probably the same in that the directions of north and south mean north and south of Jerusalem. Antichrist will be engaged in battle by an army coming in from south of Jerusalem. He will also be attacked by an army coming in from north of Jerusalem. Daniel uses battle images he would have been familiar with, such as warhorses and chariots, but we don't need to assume the battles of the end times will be fought with such primitive equipment. Like the Apostle John in his revelation, Daniel must resort to describing his visions with his limited knowledge of what the world would look like in the future. John could not explain to us how all the people of the whole world would be able to view two dead men lying on the streets of Jerusalem. But in our times this is no mystery to us, when we can view the news twenty-four hours a day by television or internet. With the push of a button or the click of a mouse we immediately open a window to the world and watch breaking news as it unfolds. The main thing to take away from Daniel's vision is that he foresaw both ground forces and naval forces coming against the Antichrist.

This probably occurs because, "He will invade many countries and sweep through them like a flood. He will also invade the Beautiful Land. Many countries will fall, but Edom, Moab and the leaders of Ammon will be delivered from his hand. He will extend his power over many countries; Egypt will not escape. He will gain control of the treasures of gold and silver and all the riches of Egypt, with the Libyans and Cushites in submission." (Daniel 11:40b-43) It's not clear why Edom, Moab, and Ammon will escape him except that these are age-old enemies of Israel. And since this man will be an enemy of Israel, maybe he ascribes to the adage "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". It could be he doesn't conquer these particular peoples because he doesn't have to: they are already on his side.

"But reports from the east and the north will alarm him, and he will set out in a great rage to destroy and annihilate many." (Daniel 11:44) Those of you who studied Isaiah with me will recall that at one time King Sennacherib of Assyria was threatening siege on Jerusalem. He sent his field commander to stand outside the gates and speak blasphemous words against the God of Israel. Sennacherib wanted the people to surrender, and if they did not, his field commander promised they would soon run out of food and water and end up eating and drinking their own waste. But God said to King Hezekiah of Judah through the prophet Isaiah, "Listen! When he hears a certain report, I will make him want to return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword." (Isaiah 37:7) Sennacherib got word that the king of Cush was marching out to fight against him, so he had to abandon his planned siege on Jerusalem to return home and defend his own territory. He threatened Hezekiah that he would be back, but he never conquered Jerusalem. He was assassinated by his own sons while worshiping at a temple in his own land. Something similar will happen to the Antichrist. While he marches victoriously through other nations, laying waste to them and perhaps being on the verge of annihilating the Jews, a disturbing report will come to him, causing him to have to concentrate only on defending himself.

But like Sennacherib, his end is coming. "He will pitch his royal tents between the seas at the beautiful holy mountain. Yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him." (Daniel 11:45) The angel inserts this information out of order, before he tells Daniel in Chapter 12 of the terrible persecution to come upon the Jewish people. It's important for Daniel to know beforehand that God's people win in the end. He needs to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that as the Apostle Paul would later say, the Lord Jesus will overthrow this lawless one with the brightness and splendor of His appearing. (2 Thessalonians 2:8) Daniel needs to remember that when he interpreted the vision of King Nebuchadnezzar there was a rock, not cut out by human hands, that would destroy all the other kingdoms of the world. (Daniel 2:34-35, 44-45) This Rock is Christ and His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. Just as the night is darkest right before the dawn, the world will be at its darkest right before the arrival of the King of kings and Lord of lords. "Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." (Luke 21:27) 

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