The beheading of some Christians on a beach in Libya by ISIS is the recent news that has caused concern over extremists forcing religion to be a ticket for life and death.
It is indeed a gory site to watch the video. It seems their operations are spreading and their determination to expand throws fear into the heart of many.
Another worrisome trend that has arisen again is a situation where we Christians start to interpret our Bible with the situations happening around us. The headlines now help us explain the scriptures. A situation which is also another extreme ideology that is also suicidal to living the life God has given. It will inhibit the church making advances with the kingdom influence we possess.
There are recent claims in some places that ISIS is the beast in the book of Revelation. I don’t think the scriptures support that notion.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record in their gospels an event referred to as the Olivet Discourse (see Matt. 24, Luke 21, Mark 13) It is Jesus’ longest recorded prophecy in the gospels. In it, Jesus declared the coming destruction of Jerusalem within a generation (forty years), which was fulfilled exactly by AD 70.
Jesus prophesied the end of the Mosaic age which coincided with the destruction of the temple and the land. He gave various signs that would guide the Apostles and secure them in the midst of it.
The gospel of John does not include this notable prophecy. The book of Revelation was John’s version of the Olivet Discourse only that it came in a different fashion. While on the Isle of Patmos, Jesus visits him with a much more detailed and dramatic version of the Olivet Discourse. His writings replayed the pattern that Ezekiel employed when he also wrote about the destruction of Jerusalem that occurred 586BC.
So we have a duty to interpret with audience relevance in mind, time-statements, locality, prophetic language and context which is always KEY.
In Matthew 23 and as well as other places Jesus’ teaching on the vindication of the martyrs is the significant text for understanding the plot of End of the Age which Revelation is a journal about. The elements that he gave includes killing of the prophets, his own martyrdom, the martyrdom of his first century apostles and prophets. He said that it would fill up the measure of sin and imminent judgment upon that generation.
“Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. 33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? 34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”(Matthew 23:31-36)
“Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” (Revelation 1:7)
As regards the beast in Revelation let us also know that 2 Beasts were actually mentioned.
“Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.” (Revelation 13:1)
“Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.” (Revelation 13:11)
In Revelation 13, one thing that we notice is that there is a partnership between the sea beast and the land beast. The land beast supported the sea beast in his opposition to the saints. This partnership is hinted at even in chapter 11, where the two witnesses’ ministry is in the city “where the Lord was slain” and then “the beast” arises and participates in their death. This gives you context as to location. Our Lord was crucified in Jerusalem.
In other words, in Revelation 11 and 13 the two beasts work together in an unholy partnership, persecuting the saints thereby filling up the eschatological measure of sin (Revelation 17-18) resulting in the imminent judgment of “Babylon,” the city guilty of shedding all the blood shed on the earth
“Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles[a] and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!” 21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore. 22 The sound of harpists, musicians, flutists, and trumpeters shall not be heard in you anymore. No craftsman of any craft shall be found in you anymore, and the sound of a millstone shall not be heard in you anymore. 23 The light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore, and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore. For your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived. 24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth.” (Revelation 18:20-24)
In Revelation 17 we see “Babylon” the “Harlot” sit on the beast, and the beast sits on seven hills. What many people are not aware of is that Rome was known in history as the city upon seven hills.
This Babylon was national Israel. She simply sits upon and is carried by the beast. Since the heads are also seven kings, they also symbolize the kings of the empire carrying Jerusalem.” So, the woman (Babylon) is not the beast, the woman rides on the beast. Babylon sits on the seven hills. The seven hills equal the beast.
We should also note that in Revelation 13 the two beasts come from two different sources, the sea and the land. The sea represents the Gentile nations, while the land represents Israel.
What is so crucial for our understanding of Revelation 13 that talks about the 2 beasts is that in Revelation 17, the beast turns on the woman and destroys her.
Then he said to me, “The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. 16 And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. (Revelation 17:16).
Rome destroyed Jerusalem in AD70 and burnt her down. The once friendly relationship turns sour. Whereas the woman once rode on the beast, the beast now turns on her, and, “will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.”
The only time in history that properly fits all of this events is the time period of Nero. He was prompted by the Jews, persecuted the church. However, with the Jewish rebellion, that unholy partnership was terminated. Rome turned on Babylon and destroyed her.
According to church history, the first persecution of the Church took place in 64AD, under Nero, the sixth emperor of Rome. This monarch reigned for the space of five years, with tolerable credit to himself, but then gave way to the greatest extravagancy of temper, and to the most atrocious barbarities. Among other diabolical whims, he ordered that the city of Rome should be set on fire, which order was executed by his officers, guards, and servants. While the imperial city was in flames, he went up to the tower of Macaenas, played upon his harp, sung the song of the burning of Troy, and openly declared that ‘he wished the ruin of all things before his death.’ Besides the noble pile, called the Circus, many other palaces and houses were consumed; several thousands perished in the flames, were smothered in the smoke, or buried beneath the ruins.
This dreadful conflagration continued nine days; when Nero, finding that his conduct was greatly blamed, and a severe odium cast upon him, determined to lay the whole upon the Christians, at once to excuse himself, and have an opportunity of glutting his sight with new cruelties. This was the occasion of the first persecution; and the barbarities exercised on the Christians were such as even excited the commiseration of the Romans themselves.
Nero even refined upon cruelty, and contrived all manner of punishments for the Christians that the most infernal imagination could design. In particular, he had some sewed up in skins of wild beasts, and then worried by dogs until they expired; and others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them. This persecution was general throughout the whole Roman Empire; but it rather increased than diminished the spirit of Christianity. In the course of it, St. Paul and St. Peter were martyred.
This same tyrant banished the Apostle John to the island of Patmos where he wrote the book of Revelation. As Church father Eusebius notes: “Nero was the first of the emperors who showed himself an enemy of the divine religion.” Sulpicius Severus concurs: “He first attempted to abolish the name of Christian.” In his Annals, Roman historian Tacitus points to those who were persecuted as “those who . . . were vulgarly called Christians.” Roman historian Suetonius concurs, for in a list of the few “positive” contributions of Nero as emperor, he includes the fact that Nero persecuted Christians: “During his reign many abuses were severely punished and put down, and no fewer new laws were made:. . . . Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.”
Noted church historian J. L. von Mosheim wrote of Nero’s persecution: “Foremost in the rank of those emperors, on whom the church looks back with horror as her persecutors, stands Nero, a prince whose conduct towards the Christians admits of no palliation, but was to the last degree unprincipled and inhuman. The dreadful persecution which took place by order of this tyrant, commenced at Rome about the middle of November, in the year of our Lord 64. . . . This dreadful persecution ceased but with the death of Nero. The empire, it is well known, was not delivered from the tyranny of this monster until the year 68, when he put an end to his own life.” (L. von Mosheim, Historical Commentaries, I:138,139).
His bestial cruelty is evidenced in the writings of the Roman historian Suetonius (A.D. 70-160), who speaks of Nero’s “cruelty of disposition” evidencing itself at an early age. He documents Nero’s evil and states: “neither discrimination or moderation [were employed] in putting to death whosoever he pleased on any pretext whatever.” Suetonius notes that Nero “compelled four hundred senators and six hundred Roman knights, some of whom were well to do and of unblemished reputation, to fight in the arena.”
Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79) described Nero as “the destroyer of the human race” and “the poison of the world.” Roman satirist Juvenal (A.D. 60-140) speaks of “Nero’s cruel and bloody tyranny.” Elsewhere, he calls Nero a “cruel tyrant.”
Clearly the beast as we know in the bible fits no other person as it relates to proper timing reference for fulfillment is the emperor Nero.
In Revelation 13:7, the Beast is said to “make war with the saints and to overcome them.” Revelation 13:5 says that the beast would conduct such blasphemous warfare for a specific period of time: 42 months. The Neronic persecution was instituted in 64 AD and lasted until his death in June 68 AD, which is three and a half years, or 42 months! Nero fits the bill for the role of the beast!
Revelation 13:10 and 14 says the Beast not only slays by the sword, but ultimately is to die of a sword wound. Do you know how Nero died? According to Suetonius, he “drove a dagger into his throat, aided by Epaphroditus, his private secretary” (ch.49). Nero killed with the sword and was killed by the sword. That Nero did, in fact, kill by the sword is a well-attested fact. Paul, for example, is said to have died under Nero by decapitation by means of the sword. Tertullian credits “Nero’s cruel sword” as providing the martyr’s blood as seed for the church. He urges his Roman readers to “Consult your histories; you will there find that Nero was the first who assailed with the imperial sword the Christian sect.”
Nero died in the middle of the war on June 8th, 68 AD, and Vespasian went back to Rome to fight to become the new emperor. During this time the Christians fled Jerusalem because they heeded the warning of Matthew 24:16; the Jews thought the respite was a sign from God of victory and they gathered in Jerusalem in great numbers. The Romans came back and destroyed the city.
Amidst the challenges, oppression and great tribulation the church continued and has survived centures of persecution. Today’s it’s just getting better because the kingdom of God cannot be stopped. It will continue until the glory of the Lord covers the earth like the waters cover the sea.
ISIS and any other extremists groups cannot stamp out Christianity. It is a personal battle against God himself. There are 2 ways it will end. Some will meet their eventual end in self-destruction and while some will respond the goodness of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ.
We pray for the spirit of wisdom and revelation that appeared to Paul in his quest to waste the brethren to open their eyes to know that you cant fight for God but surrender yourself to His unconditional love as revealed in Jesus.
Grace will always win. The kingdom is taking over.
www.biblestudytools.com, www.ecclesia.org, en.wikipedia.org