This is one of those blog posts that really shouldn’t have to be written.
There is yet another book about the book of Revelation that has risen from the sea (so to speak). It is full of speculation about current events and completely unwarranted biblical interpretation, adding additional confusion to the way well-meaning Christians read the book of Revelation and think about the end times. And just as I’m nearing the release of my co-authored book with Dr. Larry Helyer entitled The Good News of Revelation, I can’t resist writing about someone who differs with us so profoundly.
During an interview with the Christian Post, pastor Robert Jeffress associated the actions of President Obama with the antichrist in his book Perfect Ending: Why Your Eternal Future Matters Today, adding headline grabbing speculation that will surely help his book sales and win adulation from conservative pundits.
Obamacare paving the way for the antichrist, you say? We MUST know more.
Early in the interview, Jeffress tried to strike a conciliatory, reasonable tone. He used the word “if” in relation to the rapture, even if he gives the impression that he completely buys it. He comes across as a sincere believer who cares about evangelism and fighting the lures of materialism that draw us away from God.
This guy just wants to save the lost, right? He can’t be all that bad…
So far so good, but halfway through the first page of the interview, Jeffress finally tips his hand regarding his interpretation of Revelation and general worldview. He shares:
“We’re not going to prevent the ultimate destruction of this world, but I think we can delay it by pushing back against the evil that’s in the world. And the reason we want to push back, and give this world more time, is so that we have an opportunity to share the Gospel with more people.”
Ah, so there are two huge assumptions he’s making:
1. Revelation predicts the future destruction of our world.
2. God’s plan can be manipulated by our actions against evil (such as Democrats).
It’s nice that he wants more people to hear the Gospel. I do too. However, I also want the people who hear the gospel to learn accurate information about God.
“Accept Jesus before God blows the earth up!” Isn’t the most biblically accurate or effective line for an evangelist.
I suspect Jeffress also wants to take the Bible seriously, but in this case sincerity cannot compensate for accurate or responsible biblical interpretation. There are some very good reasons to reject his two assumptions about Revelation.
Revelation Doesn’t Predict the Destruction of the World
Yes, there are plagues, bowls of wrath, and horsemen galloping through the pages of Revelation. And yes, it sure looks like the world gets blown up and put back together. Even Peter predicted that the earth would be destroyed. Looks like an open and shut case, right?
Well, not so fast.
For starters, Revelation is a work of apocalyptic literature that doesn’t quite predict the future in ways we would expect. While it surely speaks to God’s future judgment and the restoration of the earth, it was written to seven suffering churches in Asia Minor. These are the Christians we often forget about when we jump right into forecasts and prophecies of the future.
Apocalyptic literature pulls back the curtain on spiritual events, so to speak, revealing the ongoing battle between good and evil. It offered an explanation to the burning questions suffering Christians were surely asking: If God is all-powerful, why does it look like Rome is winning? Will God ever defeat evil? When will God recognize our faithfulness and punish those who do evil?
We need to replace our timelines with a series of scenes or portraits that aren’t necessarily in chronological order.
The plagues, bowls of wrath, and even the visions of the antichrist provided a spiritual picture of present and future spiritual struggles. To a certain degree, the visions of Revelation are still taking place among us. And they will continue until the return of Christ.
The apparent “destruction” of the world is far more likely a dramatic recreation, a purifying with fire. In other words, God’s new creation will not take place after an unprecedented act of violence from God. The violent destruction of God’s creation, no matter how stained it is with sin, doesn’t fit with the Kingdom of God narrative where God is moving into this world and reading the fire of judgment as a refining process makes far more sense with the overall picture of scripture.
So while we can say that a new creation and restoration is coming and that it will look far different from anything we can imagine, Revelation hardly guarantees the destruction of the earth.
As to Jeffress’ second point…
Jesus Did Not Put America In Charge of the End Times
Jeffress’ second point assumes that evil must reach a certain peak before Jesus will return. It’s a Noah’s ark kind of theology—evil must become completely pervasive before God will intervene in the world. As such, God’s plan hinges on whether Christians, especially American Christians who can vote against Democrats, can uphold a moral standard in America and preach the Gospel to the lost.
It feels good to be so important. Gosh, God is watching you and me to see what he should do next.
Unfortunately for American exceptionalism, that narrative runs smack into the throne of God in Revelation. All eyes are on God and what will happen next. The martyrs crying out for justice aren’t saying, “How long American Christians? How long?” They’re addressing their pleas to God.
The sovereign, unknowable plan of God for our world is unmistakable in Revelation. God is sitting on the throne and everyone is looking to God, worshipping God, and waiting on God’s commands. We get a clear picture that God and the angels of God are moving together according to a greater plan to bring justice and restoration to our world, and there is nothing the Christians on earth can do about it.
In fact, we get the sense that the Christians in Revelation are telling God to get moving. If they were suffering persecution and struggling with the rise of false teachers, we can understand a little bit of the tension they faced.
At the center of Revelation is the dramatic scene where a woman gives birth to a child while a dragon waits to devour the child (Revelation 12). The child triumphs over the dragon, but that doesn’t stop the dragon from making war against the woman—most likely standing in for the people of God.
This drama in Revelation takes us away from a chronological prediction of the future, rather, John was once again revealing the spiritual realities behind the times of his audience, and most likely for our times as well. The battle between Christ and Satan culminated in the defeat of Satan through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, but the church will still face trouble until the final return of Christ.
There is nothing we can add to the war against evil. Christ has already won and is sitting on the throne. While we play a role in advancing his kingdom by sharing the Gospel, healing those who suffer, and bringing justice to our world, there isn’t a divine scale in heaven that is tipping back and forth based on our actions that nervous little angels are watching as they pace back and forth.
Revelation is about worshipping the all-conquering Christ, not rallying conservative Americans to take back their country for God in order to stall the end times.
I wish I could end my response to Jeffress here, but his interview only goes downhill…
Obama’s Opening Act to the Antichrist
To be fair, Jeffress suggested that George W. Bush’s surveillance programs will surely play into the plans of the antichrist, but he reserved his most salacious remarks for president Obama. I’m going to quote extensively from the interview so that it’s clear I’m not taking him out of context:
“I want to be very clear, I am not claiming that President Obama is the Antichrist. In fact, I’m absolutely certain he is not the Antichrist. The reason I can say that is the Bible indicates the Antichrist will have higher poll numbers. But I do believe that the president is paving the way for a future world dictator.
The Bible says the seven years of history before the coming of Christ will be characterized by this world dictator that we commonly call the Antichrist. He will usurp people’s basic freedoms, such as speech, worship and commerce. He will launch an attack against God’s people. And he will seek to change God’s moral law, according to Daniel 7:25. And he will be able to accomplish all of these things with little to no opposition – at least at the beginning.”
He conveniently overlooks the Anti-Christ breeding ground of Europe and, gasp, Canada when he shares,
“How will the Antichrist be able to usurp such freedom without any opposition. And my answer is that people will have been conditioned to the giving up of their rights long before this final dictator comes. And I think you see that in President Obama.
You have to agree, whether you’re for or against Obamacare, that the president has successfully seized control of one-sixth of the nation’s economy, causing people to give up basic freedoms, like the freedom of the choice of a doctor and a health care provider.”
Besides his grossly irresponsible claims about Obamacare dictating one’s choice of a doctor, I mean healthcare companies already have a lot of power over who our doctors will be and which treatments we can receive (to say nothing of denying coverage for pre-existing conditions), Jeffress deftly grafts today’s American politics with his conspiracy theories about the end times and the identity of the antichrist. Once again, he provides an American-centric reading of the end times that aligns conservative politics with the will of God.
Oh, and since you’re wondering, the gays are also adding their fair share of bricks to the Antichrist’s road to world domination. Of course they are!
But hey, let’s give the gays a break for a minute because we have bigger fish to fry if Obama and Bush have indeed been preparing us for the antichrist. Let’s keep in mind that Jeffress isn’t talking about the war in Syria that has claimed the lives of thousands, the persecution of Christians in Nigeria or Pakistan, or the ongoing suffering of Christians in countries such as China. No, warfare and bloodshed aren’t the clues we’re looking for with the end times. We really need to just focus on U.S. domestic policy that imitates every other prosperous western nation by providing health care for its citizens through taxes.
Is it getting hot in here, of is that just the presence of Satan in the democratic party?
Even if this embarrassingly American-centric take on world events isn’t enough to discredit the interpretation offered by Jeffress, the Bible itself should do the trick. Let’s take a quick look at the Bible.
For starters, Daniel and Revelation never mention an Anti-Christ rising.
Daniel has this to say in chapter 7:
“He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time.”
This section of Daniel is another example of highly symbolic apocalyptic literature written for Jewish exiles and Jews who returned to Israel under foreign rule. There is nothing here suggesting that the beast is the antichrist or that this chapter can be inserted into any kind of timetable with Revelation. If anything, it is referring to the Greek rulers of Israel who brutally persecuted Jewish believers, desecrated the temples, and tried to rid the land of Jewish culture altogether.
And just to be safe, let’s take a look at what Revelation has to say about the antichrist…
Well, not much! We only have another beast rising out of the sea (ho, hum) to meet the dragon—I would presume that Jeffress would identify the dragon as Satan and the beast once again as the antichrist. So, even if we want to turn Revelation into a chronology of the end times, it’s shockingly silent on the antichrist.
Rather, the beast rising from the sea is most likely a symbol of the Roman government and any other government that follows in Rome’s footsteps by oppressing its citizens and attacking God’s people. The description of the beast most likely refers to the seven hills of Rome: “The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name.”
The beast also correlates with Rome in that Caesar was worshipped as God and Rome had conquered the known world to John and his contemporaries. “It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.” The point is that Satan had empowered Rome, the beast, to attack God’s people, but those who ally themselves with Rome/the beast, will not be saved by God. The beast most likely stands in for any world government that demands our allegiance over God, and therefore we can say that there will be other beasts, but we should be very careful to allow our political ideology to influence who we accuse of being in league with the beast.
Nevertheless, the beast isn’t necessarily the same as the antichrist, so the burden of proof is on Jeffress for this one. The antichrist is only mentioned in John’s epistles. Here’s a quick survey:
1 John 2:18
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.
1 John 2:22
Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son.
1 John 4:3
but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
2 John 1:7
I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.
Who is the Antichrist? It sure looks like there’s a spirit of the Antichrist in the world and there are many antichrists among us. The problem isn’t that we should fear an antichrist to come. The problem is that we’re already working against a spirit of the antichrist in our world, and there will be times when people will embody that spirit in opposition to us.
It’s flat out irresponsible to suggest that the American political system plays such a significant role in the plans of God. While followers of Jesus are called to work for justice in our nation, to share the Gospel, and to wait for the return of Christ, such speculation that ignores the historical context of Revelation only obscures the meaning of scripture and confines our perspective within the American experience.
This Isn’t Over
I understand that I’m reacting to an interview with Jeffress about a much longer book. There may be some points he’d like to clarify within the pages of his book. That’s fair. I encourage people wrestling with this topic to read his book and give him a fair hearing.
However, I’ve grown up learning about the rapture, the tribulation, the antichrist, the one world government, and everything else Jeffress offers in his book. I know what he’s offering, and I don’t want it. I’ve taken time to read Jewish literature from the time of Revelation and worked on The Good News of Revelation with Dr. Larry Helyer, a life-long New Testament scholar. If anything, I hope that we have provided an alternative interpretation of Revelation that is worthy of consideration.
I’m certain that interpreters of Revelation will continue to speculate about the implications of the American political system for Bible prophecy just like Jeffress.
Today, I’m declaring that I’m tired of such irresponsible readings of Revelation. There are plausible, biblically grounded alternatives out there. Our book is just one of many. It’s my hope and prayer that Christians across America will learn to read Revelation with new eyes so that they can see the message of encouragement and hope about the justice and peace of God’s coming Kingdom. That is the good news of Revelation.
Learn more about the original meaning of Revelation and how it applies to us today:
The Good News of Revelation by Dr. Larry Helyer and Ed Cyzewski (kindle version is coming soon!).
Reading Revelation Responsibly by Michael J. Gorman
The Apocalyptic Imagination by James Collins
Revelation for Everyone by NT Wright
Discipleship on the Edge: An Expository Journey through the Book of Revelation by Darrell W. Johnson
All scripture citations are from the NIV at BibleGateway.