There are according to the Scriptures many precursory signs which point to the return of Christ to judgment, and which at the same time serve to bring about the kingdom of Christ. They are therefore important to the people of God, not only because they provide an indication of the approach of Christ’s kingdom and its connected events, but also because they help to point out our calling as pilgrims and strangers in a world that is bound for destruction.
These signs of the end, often called signs of the times because they indicate the nature of the times in which we live, are sometimes divided into four different though connected categories. There are signs in the realm of nature, the physical creation, such as famine, earthquakes, pestilence, signs in the heavens, and judgments upon the earth, all of which increase in frequency and intensity as the end approaches; there are signs among the nations, especially as they relate to each other, such as wars and rumors of wars, a gradual movement towards world unity, a short time of peace under the rule of the antichristian kingdom, and finally the battle of Armageddon; there are signs in the church, notably a great apostasy from the faith leading to the domination of the false church under the power of antichrist, the great persecution of the true church or the great tribulation, and the gathering of the elect from all nations; and there are signs in society, including gradual increase in prosperity, many signs and wonders among men, the universal allegiance of all to antichrist, and the impossibility of buying or selling without the mark of the beast.
Of most of these signs we are perhaps conscious, or at least we should be if we are discerning people of God. Some of these signs, such as earthquakes, famines, wars, and apostasy are especially prominent in our minds because of their unusual and outstanding character. But there are other signs which, because they are less obvious, are sometimes neglected in our consideration of the signs of the times. I refer to those signs which take place in society. They are for the most part somewhat obscure in their manifestation, almost to the point of being imperceptible. But these signs are present, and they are important. The events which take place in our society are important not just because we must know what is happening in the world around us, so as to be able to speak and live antithetically in faithfulness to the Scriptures. This is reason enough to be aware of the various social phenomena which transpire in our ever-changing world. But an awareness of these signs is necessary also because these signs are indicators of the coming of the kingdom of antichrist and the kingdom of Christ. They also in themselves serve as .means to bring about the antichristian kingdom and the kingdom of Christ. Especially these signs in their second significance spelled out above are important for us. We therefore intend to concentrate upon some of the signs which are presently taking place in society from the viewpoint of the development of the kingdom of antichrist.
There have been many significant events, movements, and trends in society recently. There is the movement towards equality of the sexes, manifested in the women’s rights movement and today in the controversy over the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution. There is the push for equal rights for homosexuals and the current backlash against this trend. This issue of racial distinctions and discrimination is still very much with us, and will be for some time, as evidenced by the recent decision of the Supreme Court in the. Bakke Case. The problem of inequality among classes of people in society is brought home in the present ferment over inflation and the tax revolt phenomenon, which began in California with Proposition 13, and which is now spreading across the country. What do all these phenomena mean? The answer, on the basis of Scripture, is that they signify a movement toward social uniformity. What do these movements tell us? That the kingdom of antichrist is indeed coming, and growing in power and nearness all the time; but at the same time that his kingdom is not yet, for much more development needs to take place.
The Scriptural basis of all of this we must see first, in order that it may be clearly established that these social phenomena are genuine signs of the times.Revelation 13 is perhaps the clearest passage of Scripture that speaks about the rise and character of the antichristian kingdom, and to this passage we must first turn our attention. In this chapter two beasts are symbolically depicted; one arises out of the sea and one out of the earth, and together they give a picture of the antichrist in his fulness. The first beast, described in verses 1-10, represents the political and authoritarian power of antichrist. Even his symbolical appearance is frightening, and the power divinely given him is awesome, for with seeming impunity he blasphemes God, and at the same time in making war with the saints he is able to overcome them. Beyond this, he has power over all the nations of the earth, and all will serve and worship him, with the exception of the elect. The picture in brief is one of total authority and control, of one totalitarian world government, of absolute power of life and death and all aspects of life. This is presented as a fact that shall come to pass: The universal dominion of antichrist will happen.
But if the description of the first beast has a factual emphasis, then the description of the second (verses 11-18) indicates how the power of antichrist shall be realized. We are not to think that the universal rule spoken of in this chapter shall be accomplished by sheer force. Indeed, this has been the weakness of all the world empires of history, for they have sought and failed to achieve world unity by virtue of superior force. But with antichrist this is not the case, for the deadly wound of Babel is healed in him (verse 3), so that the unity of the world under his rule is not forced, but spontaneous. The question of how this will be achieved is answered in the description of the second beast, which arises out of the earth. This beast is pictured as being in the service of the first beast, as possessing and exercising his power, as speaking for him as his prophet, of being able to do lying signs and wonders, and of being able to make the image of the first beast, come to life. The idea is that the purpose of this beast, principally united with the first, is to make a reality this universal rule of antichrist. He does not make laws, give commands, or authoritatively enforce his power, for his function is not primarily political or governmental, but social, so that-he deceives, charms, influences the minds and lives of mankind to serve the antichristian kingdom willingly. To this end he is able to utilize all the forces of modem man’s technology to accomplish amazing feats. He will be able to put to use all the aspects of and forces in society: Social forces themselves, the opinions of men which shape the norms and goals of society, philosophy, science, religion, home life, economic life, and eventually political life.
The question is, then, What does this description of the second beast of Revelation 13 have to do with the various social phenomena mentioned earlier? There is a most close connection, for vital to the cause and success of antichrist is not just unity among the nations of the world in their relations with each other, but internal social unity within these nations as well. The key idea in Revelation 13 is unity, an idea that recurs several times. Diversity and division work against the cause of antichrist, whereas unity is indispensable. And central to unity is a measure of equality; without some sort of equality, even if it may be imperfect, unity is impossible. Now all the social phenomena described earlier have in common the fact that they are attempts to achieve equality among men. Their success or failure says much about the achievement of unity which is the prerequisite of the antichristian kingdom. As does the kingdom of antichrist itself, the social factors that bring about this unity develop slowly, but in a very definite direction. At some of these social factors we intend to look in future articles. Especially the factors of equality among the various social groups, economic equality, and equality between the sexes will be the focus of concern, perhaps with some added observations about the state of the family in our society which has contributed to some of the social factors observable today.
Having laid a Scriptural foundation for this brief study, it is also necessary to limit its scope just a bit. Not all factors which operate in society can be taken into account, for society is simply too complex to allow this; rather, certain important or, outstanding factors must be reckoned with. Further, the observations made will be limited to American society for the most part, for more than one reason. American society is among the more advanced in the world, and should therefore provide a clear picture of the advance of the process of social unity. Besides, it is the only society which I am at all qualified to evaluate. But the conclusions drawn should be generally applicable to most Western societies, for they do not differ radically from one another. Besides, since it is the presentation of Scripture that the antichrist will arise from a nominally Christian nation (such as our own), such a study should be directly pertinent.
If we bear in mind this principle of unity and equalitarianism in society which is one of the signs of the times necessary for the rise and rule of the antichrist, and in that light evaluate these signs, then we will also be able to discern the approach of the kingdom of Christ, and at the same time be instructed and comforted concerning our place in the world as citizens of the heavenly kingdom.