Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

Religion and Politics

Cal Thomas, syndicated columnist for the Los Angeles Times, often writes on the subject of politics and religion. In the Grand Rapids Press, April 19, 2000, he addresses the question under the heading, “Falwell should keep pulpit out of politics.” He makes some interesting and true remarks.

At a news conference last week in Washington and on his “People of Faith 2000” Web page, Falwell announced a drive to register 10 million new voters in order to impose a moral code through government which most citizens, comfortable in their materialism, are not willing to impose on themselves.

Falwell will not register 10 million new voters who will vote as he wishes because there aren’t that many unregistered. People who still believe the solution to moral decline lies in Washington registered to vote in the ’80s and found that, even in the idealized Reagan era, not much changed. In fact, with the exception of a slight decline in abortions (due not to legislation but to the establishment of thousands of centers to help women with unplanned pregnancies), things have gotten worse. Many church members are following the ways of the world, divorcing and consuming pornography in increasing numbers, according to several surveys.

On his Web page, Falwell claims that “people of faith are persona non grata in the American political process.” No, they’re not. They just shouldn’t expect to constantly run the Republican Party to which his wing of the church has attached itself.

The lower kingdom (politics) is about compromise. The higher kingdom (The Gospel) is about no compromise. Falwell is trying to apply the principles of the higher kingdom to the lower one. Such attempts are futile.

Thomas continues by pointing out that the situation for the Christian today is as Christ Himself declared:

Falwell says he resents Christians being treated as “second-class citizens.” But that is precisely what Jesus told His true followers they could expect. He said, “If they hated me, they’ll hate you,” and “if they persecuted me, they will persecute you,” and “a servant is not greater than His master.” If such people are truly living godly lives, they should expect to be persecuted. They are not commanded to form a political movement to stop it. They should instead increase their godly behavior….

“People of Faith 2000” will raise some money and make noise, but it will change little. The message of Easter can change everything.

Judas on Trial

What if Judas were tried today for his betrayal of the Christ? The Greeley (CO) Tribune reports such a mock trial which took place at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Greeley:

For a Bible study group at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, even 2,000 years doesn’t exceed the statute of limitations for a crime.

The group put Judas Iscariot on trial Friday night—and in the process changed the way church members perceive the disciple who betrayed Jesus.

In their play, “The Trial of Judas Iscariot,” the group charged Judas with three crimes: crimes against humanity, conspiracy to commit murder and the murder of Jesus of Nazareth.

Complete with opening and closing statements, sworn testimony and objections, the mock trial asked a jury of audience members to determine the guilt or innocence of Christianity’s most famous betrayer.

“Throughout history, Judas has been deemed guilty. But guilty of what?” asked Roberta Meehan, who acted as judge in the play. “Betraying a friend is certainly not nice, but it is also not a crime.”

Prosecutor Steve Mallett argued that Judas acted in free will and chose to betray Jesus. Judas, he said, traded the life of Jesus for 30 measly pieces of silver.

But defense attorney Thomas Peterson argued Judas was just a pawn in a prophecy. Judas didn’t have control over what he did because the crucifixion of Jesus was supposed to happen. 

In the end, the jury could not decide whether Judas was guilty or innocent and came back to the mock courtroom as a hung jury.

Audience member Marcella Gallegos understood why the jury couldn’t make a decision.

“I had thought Judas existed because the prophecy had to be fulfilled—somebody had to do the dirty work,” Gallegos said, “But at the same time, I think Judas had a free will.”

It is a sad commentary on man’s evaluation of Judas’ act that some should consider it excusable and not punishable because it had been eternally determined that Christ must die to deliver His people from their sins. It is the old “conflict” between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. And the old evil is proposed: because God sovereignly determined the cross, therefore Judas cannot be held accountable. But that is not the judgment of Christ—and His judgment is infallible: “And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me…. The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matt. 26:21, 24).

The “Antichrist”

It is a matter of interest and curiosity: what of the Antichrist? Many theories have been set forth. Stories have been written concerning the coming Antichrist. There are those also who deny the existence of a personal Antichrist—whether in the past or in the future. The subject was discussed in the religion section of the Redlands (CA) Daily Facts of April 11, 2000. This is the answer given:

The traditional answer to this question is that the Antichrist is the leader of Jesus Christ’s enemies. The term is used for a character who has developed more in Christian mythology than in actual biblical evidence or responsible research.

The term “antichrist” (Greek: “antichristos”) appears in the Bible only in the Epistles of John. There, the author tells us that “you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know it is the last hour.”

I John 2:18

The epistle goes on to define the antichrist as the one who denies the Father and the Son. The Second Epistle of John adds that the antichrist is a “deceiver” who denies the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.

II John 7

So in the Johnannine epistles the term “antichrist” is applied to anyone who opposes the mainstream Christian understanding of the incarnation of Christ.

The author uses the plural and says that many such have already come. He does not seem to be referring to one specific person or thing as “the Antichrist.”

Christian ideology has also tended to identify the antichrist with an unnamed figure mentioned in II Thessalonians, the “man of lawlessness” who is going to be revealed, who will lead many astray and will be under the power of Satan, but whom Christ will ultimately destroy.

II Thessalonians 2:3-12

Many commentators have associated the words of these epistles and have assumed that these two figures, the “antichrist” of John and the “man of lawlessness” of Paul, are one and the same. Further identifications between these two shadowy figures have been drawn with the Scarlet Beast of the Apocalypse, who is said in the Revelation to make war on the saints, and whose number is 666. He is also said to be full of blasphemous names, bearing seven heads, and ten horns, doing all

manner of horrible things to the faithful.

Revelation 17:1-13

It has to be said that while all three of these biblical texts identify evildoers (the “man of lawlessness,” the “antichrist” and the “beast”) it may very well be that each author has a different religious problem or villain in mind. My own academic opinion is that this is indeed the case, and that the New Testament does not profess that there is one single or unique Antichrist.

The writer nicely summarizes the passages in the New Testament which speak of the Antichrist. He continues in his article by identifying those individuals in the past who have been labeled the “Antichrist” by some in the church. He speaks of those who have identified the papacy with the Antichrist. Of this he states, “Although I am not a Roman Catholic, I find this a bigoted and biased interpretation.”

When one compares these various Scriptural passages, two things should stand out. John reminds that there have been “many antichrists.” Jesus Himself gave as a sign of His return that “many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many”(Matt. 24:5). But the second truth which stands out is that all things become worse and worse. The “lawless one,” the “man of sin,” the “Beast” (the kingdom of Antichrist) of Revelation 13 all indicate that there is development in sin. The climax of the development in sin is seen in the coming of the final Antichrist, ruling over the antichristian world power. And that time can well be close at hand.

Was Christ a Vegetarian?

The question, of course, is absurd. Even our children can show that He was not. Still, there are the activists in many causes who will make preposterous claims to support their foolish positions. The Associated Press reports on a billboard at Cheyenne:

A billboard that claims Jesus was a vegetarian has drawn criticism from pastors, including one who called it “almost blasphemous” because it ties Jesus to a political cause.

The Interstate 80 billboard is part of an Easter-timed campaign by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that asks people to “show respect for God’s creatures” by not eating them.

One critic points out that Jesus ate fish and lamb at the traditional Jewish Passover. We certainly know that He must have eaten Lamb at the Passover if He celebrated it—and He did. Scripture does also record His eating of fish. But the nonsense of all of this ought to remind us of the fact again that Christ demands that He be presented in His crucifixion and resurrection. He is the Savior of His people—not an advocate for animals which might otherwise be eaten by man.