As we continue to find our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the questions I’ve heard most often is, “What will the ‘new normal’ be like?” Though quarantines and pandemics aren’t unprecedented in history, it’s the first time at least since 9/11 that we’re recognizing that life isn’t going to be the same when this is all said and done. Some experts are wondering if this marks the end of the economic dominance of the West; others fear a loss of basic freedoms. Is this just fear-driven paranoia or is there substance behind the concerns?
For Christians, such world-pivoting questions usually involve considering where current events fall on an eschatological timeline. Talk of a New World Order (of the sort mentioned in Revelation 13) isn’t new, even if it often gets relegated to conspiracy-theorist chatrooms and subsequently dismissed by the mainstream. But as Americans try to figure out how to weather the massive economic downturn, we’re also coming face to face with one of our oldest sins—the grotesque specter of racism and questions about our ability to live up to the promise of equal opportunity in our Constitution.
I’ve heard uncertainty from so many people about the true nature of this time we’re in—asking if it’s the end of days. After all, Jesus mentioned “pestilences” when He spoke of the indicators of the world’s last days (Matthew 24:7), and certainly COVID-19 seems to qualify. Though it might be the beginning of the end, Jesus described end-time events as “the beginning of the birth pains” (Matthew 24:8, ESV).
As hard as it’s been to deal with this pandemic—the sickness, death, joblessness, unrest and anxiety—this is not the end. This is just a dress rehearsal for history’s culminating season: the seven years of truly unprecedented global destruction, death and despair that the Bible calls the tribulation.
When people think about the end times, they tend to think about the person of the Antichrist. Because he will be the embodiment of evil in the last days, they see him as dark and sinister. While the Bible certainly describes his character and motivations as wicked, his personality won’t be—at first. He’ll come on the scene poised, charismatic and brimming with confidence—sort of like someone we might hope will provide us with a cure for a worldwide pandemic or some other crisis. That’s not to say a coronavirus vaccine would be evil, for example, but if such events and policies start operating on a global scale, we have to follow the Bible’s warning to keep our eyes peeled. The Antichrist will have worldwide appeal and near-universal approval to carry out his plans. So what will he be like?
Revelation 13 gives us a sixfold description of the Antichrist:
- Wickedness (see Revelation 13:1). This man is called a beast because that’s how God sees him. Paul dubbed him the man of sin and the son of perdition (see 2 Thessalonians 2:3), as well as the lawless one (see 2 Thessalonians 2:8). He’ll begin as a winsome peacemaker but end wickedly. In evaluating world leaders today, we should look for those who put people’s highest good first, but not at the cost of personal or institutional freedoms.
- World dominance (see Revelation 13:2, 7). This leader will form a global confederacy, a final, world-governing empire—dominating, rapid and ferocious, just like Daniel saw (see Daniel 7:23). With the global response to the pandemic and the resulting lockdowns in effect, we can see how desperation can quickly drive widespread compliance. It’s as though the world is being readied for domination. If authoritarian tendencies happen for something relatively simple like a virus, they will certainly happen when the natural disasters brought on by God’s wrath mount up. And there are groups around the world that have planned for years for a type of worldwide government, which in the name of equality, pluralism and fairness will be hostile to Christianity’s claims to exclusive truth.
- Wonder (see Revelation 13:3). Verse 2 tells us that “the dragon gave him his power”—the dragon being a symbol for Satan himself. Verse 3 says one of the Antichrist’s heads will be mortally wounded and then healed. Some believe he’ll receive a fatal head wound and then be able to stage some sort of simulated resurrection. The world would certainly be awed and moved by that. Technology has made it possible both to deep-fake such a wound and to make sure it makes the rounds on everyone’s devices. Since fake news seems to spread more quickly than truth, scrutiny and discernment will be tested.
- Worship (see Revelation 13:4, 8; also 2 Thessalonians 2:4). This is what Satan has wanted all along (see Isaiah 14:12-14). When we talk about the Antichrist, most people think the little prefix anti means against. But anti also means instead of. He will be the guy who wants to be the messiah instead of the real, authentic Christ. There’s already no shortage of leaders who want to control every aspect of people’s lives, but this guy will take it to the next level.
- Words (see Revelation 13:5-6). This leader will have the ability to sway people with his “pompous words” (Daniel 7:8, 11, 20, 25). He will be a master politician, exuding self-confidence. He will charm and understand us; endear himself to every faction; and express well-read, scientific concern for all. But it will all go downhill as his true colors show. In this season of tension, we should be praying that truth will come out in every season, and that those who manipulate the narrative for personal gain would be shut down.
- War (see Revelation 13:7-10; see also Daniel 7:25). Once the Antichrist succeeds in influence and domination, wickedness will flourish. He will persecute and kill the tribulation saints—those who come to faith in Christ during the tribulation period. I can’t help but wonder if we’re getting a small taste of persecution for our beliefs in America these days, particularly in those states where governors appear to be letting every kind of business and gathering place open except churches. Such persecution happens regularly in many other countries. The Antichrist, though, will effectively outlaw Christianity and go to war against anyone who claims the Name of Christ.
So—is there any good news in all of this?
Yes—in comparing the Antichrist to Jesus Christ. The Antichrist is called the man of sin;
Jesus Christ was the sinless man. The Antichrist is called the idol shepherd (see Zechariah 11:17, KJV); Jesus is known as the Good Shepherd (see John 10:11). In Revelation 13, the Antichrist is pictured as a beast; in this same chapter, Jesus is seen as a lamb (see verse 8). The Antichrist’s death will deceive the world; Jesus Christ’s death saved the world. Jesus is the good news, and He’s the one behind the curtain of world affairs, pulling the stage strings. Ultimately, He will return to rule the planet He created.
He will unmask the massive deception and reign with dignity, righteousness and grace.
But for now, the world is already being deceived. Well before we were all told to stay home, people were losing the thread of righteousness. What was once wrong is now right, and what was once right is now wrong. Deception is on the move and will increase in epic proportions.
However, we follow the true Christ—the authentic, real, legit Jesus Christ. And we’re not even told to look for and identify the Antichrist—we’re called to look for Jesus Christ, for “the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
As good Christians, we must continue to be good citizens (including keeping a watchful eye on world leaders and events) until being a good citizen means being a bad Christian. Make yourself available to God and see what He does in these strange but potential-filled times. God alone knows if we will see the actual end of days during our generation, but we should take full advantage of this dress rehearsal. ©2020 Skip Heitzig
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version. The quotation marked ESV is taken from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version. The quotation marked KJV is taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version.
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