As soon as we heard of an infectious respiratory disease that spreads through human interaction, we should have seen the writing on the wall South Africa, but did we? The “Writing is on the Wall” is an idiom that is generally understood to mean that there are clear signs that something difficult, challenging or even disastrous is going to happen. Although this is a common English idiom, it really comes from a historical account in the Bible, about king Belshazzar – the king of the Babylonians and Nebuchadnezzar’s son and successor (see Daniel chapter 5). Here is the summary of the story of king Belshazzar in Daniel chapter 5: the king is having a royal party with his nobles, wives, and concubines. During the party, he uses sacred Jewish goblets that had been taken by his father from the temple in Jerusalem – he uses sacred things for pleasure. “Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appear and write on the plaster of the wall” (verse 5). Out of a deep sense of fear, and a desire to know the meaning of the writing, the king calls for his magicians to come and interpret the words on the wall. When the Babylonian magicians fail to interpret the writing, the queen (king’s mother) steps in and advises the king to call for prophet Daniel, and the prophet successfully interprets the writing as follows, “God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. You have been weighed on the scale and found wanting. Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians” (verses 25-28). The following is important to note in how prophet Daniel steps into the situation:
Firstly, it was on the advice of the queen that Daniel was called. Her understanding of the historical dealings of God with the kingdom and the significance of Daniel allowed her to think beyond the primary network of Babylonian cadres and analysts (the magicians).
When Daniel steps in, he does not rush to give a simplistic “thus says the Lord” prophecy. He begins by giving a historical account that led to the moment.
There is a bridge between the Aramaic words on the wall, “mene, mene, tekel, parsin”, and Daniel’s prophetic analysis and insight. In other words, Daniel does not simply translate the obvious, he gives prophetic insight and analysis with a historical background.
In his service to the king, Daniel stands as a historian, political analyst, intelligence officer and a prophet. Or put differently, he stands as a prophet with historical understanding, intelligence and political insight. In other words, up until this moment, Daniel has been reading every newspaper about Babylonian politics just as he has been praying to God.
If the writing was always on the wall for king Belshazzar, then maybe he had been having a party, even using sacred goblets, in a time when the Medes were planning an invasion. Instead of having a party, the king clearly should have been meeting with his council to discuss the imminent invasion. It was not long, and Daniel’s prophecy was fulfilled: “that very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom…” (Daniel 5:30&31). A lot happened on that one day: from the king’s royal party, to the writing on the wall, to analysis, Daniel’s coronation, and invasion. It is all recorded in one chapter of Daniel’s book for us.
If an infectious respiratory disease was sweeping across the world, what was the writing on the wall for us, South Africa? The dangers were clear:
A Spatial Design that does not allow for Social Distancing (crowded communities in townships and shacks).
A Poor Public Healthcare System.
A crowded Public Transport System.
Poor and immobile villagers who do not have immediate access to Healthcare.
A significant population of comorbidities.
The conditions listed above are our vantage point in dealing with the pandemic because they characterize the majority of South Africans. And like prophet Daniel, we must understand these conditions with a deep sense of historical insight. We must appreciate political and even racial nuances they represent, and how they make governing a nation like South Africa a complex task, in this pandemic.
This second wave should have us ask the question, did we let our guard down? Did we “start to have a party” in the midst of imminent danger and invasion like Belshazzar? Did we choose pleasure in a time of deliberation and caution? “Relax the lockdown, Ramaphosa”, we lobbied, one by one, “and we shall observe Social Distancing”, we promised. But we went on to leave face masks on chins, to have Rage parties etc. Did we lobby for the essentials only to engage in non-essentials? Active and Responsible Citizenry is the other important component in a Social Contract. The State cannot be functional without active citizenship. If we do not want a Nanny State that will have to tell us how to behave, then we better grow up as a society.
The words that President Ramaphosa uttered earlier in the year, “we shall err on the side of caution”, must still be our guiding wisdom. For our kind of systemic and social conditions, we must clearly continue to be cautious. For us, the debate on “saving lives versus saving livelihoods” cannot afford to be one that is “clever” or merely academic. It will have to be one that deeply holds the principle of sanctity of life as our core motivation.
As our loved ones start dying in our communities, it seems like Covid-19 will have round 1. We have time in the next couple of weeks to prepare for round 2, in 2021. Well, some voices are now demanding, “where is the vaccine”? “Give us the vaccine and it will all be over”, they say. And yes, we all want a vaccine to mitigate the situation, but we have no guarantees in the face of a virus that is quickly mutating before us. Up to this moment, we have lived in a perpetual state of uncertainty. Given this reality, I think the following steps and considerations will be important for us:
A decisive leadership by the Government – a government that consults broadly but that leads decisively, guided by Political Wisdom, Science and Socio-Economic realities.
A consolidated Governing Party that can put aside its divisions in order to lead the nation.
A broad-minded Political Opposition that operates beyond Presidential speech analysis and narrow interests, but one that mobilizes the wider public. The kind of Opposition that can become a Political Platform for a nation-wide active citizenship.
An active and responsible citizenry.
Economic Practitioners who are stewards and gate keepers of Social Distancing rules in their environments.
An acknowledgement that a prolonged pandemic will put restrictions on social activity and public gatherings.
A continued community mobilization by Faith-based Organizations and Community Groups.
Public education about Covid-19 vaccines in particular, and the science of vaccine development in general.
A carefully considered cost-benefit analysis that accepts that there will be some form of economic loss in the process of dealing with this pandemic – there will be economic loss in saving lives as there will be in saving livelihoods. Are we going to save industries and jobs at the cost of losing breadwinners (heads of families) to the virus (as they go out to engage in economic activity) or are we going to save lives at the cost of poorer families and communities due to some form of contained (economic) activity? These are all difficult decisions.
An acknowledgement that a self-regulating and Social Distancing South Africa that we all hope for, will in fact bring harm to economic industries that rely on human leisure and social interaction, i.e. Hospitality and Tourism industries.
What we must acknowledge is that most of the revised Lockdown level 3 regulations that were pronounced by the President yesterday, look like what we should have been doing as self-regulating Social Distancing measures anyway. And if this Lockdown level 3 version brings some harm to the economy, then it goes without saying that a strictly self-regulating and social distancing South African society will in fact harm the economy in some ways, and the sectors of the economy that rely on human interaction will suffer the most. This is a difficult reality we must accept.
The writing has always been on the wall. Let’s read it, analyze it and develop an effective and a sustained response.
Note: if you wish to listen to the podcast I referred to earlier in this article, on the story of my Personal Salvation and journey of Transformation, please follow the link A conversation with Ps Robert Ntuli.
The kind of public reaction arising from Chief Justice (CJ) Mogoeng Mogoeng’s prayer about Covid-19 vaccines requires discernment, in order to understand its nature and implications. It’s important to acknowledge upfront that Covid-19 has not only been a systemic pandemic affecting broader socio-economic and political issues, it has also been surrounded with suspicion and controversy. At the beginning of the pandemic, some political leaders downplayed this disease as “another flu”, which in turn created suspicion around the necessity for severe measures like lockdowns and vaccines. Fast forward to December 2020, millions of people have been infected by the disease and many have died. It has since become clear to the world that Covid-19 is a serious and fatal respiratory disease. On the other hand, development and manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccine has been achieved within a short space of time, something that has been considered a “scientific miracle”. However, the short development timeframe has left some in the public wondering and perhaps even suspicious concerning the safety, quality and efficacy of the vaccines coming out. All of this breeds an environment of suspicion, and it takes place against the background in which pharmaceutical and food industries have had long standing questions of suspicion. There are ongoing questions on whether the foods we are eating are making us sick? Do vaccines help us against viruses or they themselves make us sick? In other words, outside of issues of anti-Christ and 666 that came out in CJ’s prayer, there is a standing issue of public trust deficit towards these two industries. The fundamental question being, are these industries able to elevate sanctity of life over profit-making? Now these are valid concerns, and they should rightfully inform the missional burdens of the Church, in her pursuit of truth, righteousness, justice and human wellbeing. However, do they justify the kind of prayer that Chief Justice prayed? And or, do they have a direct theological relevance and connection to the subjects of anti-Christ and 666?
The need to discern the noise that’s emitting from the public about CJ’s prayer reminds me of one of the moments of Joshua’s leadership training by Moses: “When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of war in the camp.” 18 Moses replied: “It is not the sound of victory, it is not the sound of defeat; it is the sound of singing that I hear” (Ex. 32:17-18, NIV). This story reflects the need to correctly distinguish and characterize public voices at any given point in time. Therefore, my burden on the matter of Chief Justice is twofold: (1) to analyse the nature of public reaction to the CJ’s prayer, (b) and to reflect on the theological basis of the prayer (and by extension, on (some aspects of) Church’s worldview on current global events, especially as it relates to Covid-19 pandemic).
The following categories are represented in the public reaction to the CJ’s prayer:
There are some people who have supported the CJ, on the grounds that he has a right to freedoms of belief and speech as a citizen of the Republic.
There are some who have supported the CJ because they see his prayer as a “trumpet sound” against a possible Satanic agenda that is being advanced through Covid-19 vaccinations.
There are some who have supported the CJ because they see him as a prominent Christian who is not afraid to engage his Christian faith publicly, and who therefore inspires courage within the Christian community.
There are some who support the CJ because they interpret criticism towards his prayer as an attack to the broader Church.
Others support the CJ not on the fact or merits of his prayer, but because he reflects an image of a Public Official who is above board and who contradicts the prevalent image of a corrupt Public Official (this group has gone as far as expressing wishes for the CJ to go for the Office of the President of the Republic. It must be noted that the same reaction was seen towards the former Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela).
Some are against the idea of a CJ who prays in public.
Some are against the idea of a CJ who engages public discourse beyond and outside his primary duty as the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court – this group is of the view that a judge should speak to public affairs through his or her judgments.
Some are against the contents of the prayer of CJ because as one who heads the Judiciary (one of the three organs of the State), he is seen to be contradicting the Government’s policy and process of procuring a Covid-19 vaccine.
And then there are some who are against this specific prayer of the CJ, not because he prayed, but because of what he prayed – that is, this group is perhaps least concerned with the fact that the Chief Justice prayed, and more concerned with the theological basis and implications of what he prayed.
There may be more categories that can be added to the list above, and there will naturally be an overlap in terms of views held by different people. It is therefore clear that when we are listening to the public sound directed at the recent prayer of CJ, that we are dealing with a matter that is not only broad but that is also complex. That is, not every “positive voice” is constructive, and not every “negative voice” is destructive – at least as far as the Christian Faith and Mission of the Church are concerned. Not only so, but we are also dealing with a matter that reflects Church’s relationship with global affairs on the one hand, and the internal state of theology of the Church on the other.
Having quantified and characterized the public discourse around the prayer of CJ, through the bulleted points above, I do wish to spend some time reflecting on the theological basis and implications of the prayer.
There is no doubt in my mind that Public Officials who are Christians must serve in the institutions of the State in a manner that reflects…
An unquestionable commitment to the values of the Christian Faith,
Respect for the Constitution of the Republic,
Integrity and professionalism in the execution of their vocations and
A good representation of the identity of their public office, to facilitate inclusive public leadership.
This reflection therefore does not seek to question the right that the CJ or any other Christian Public Official has in as far as publicly confessing his or her faith, publicly living out a lifestyle that reflects his or her faith, or in participating in public faith-based gatherings. When we think of Biblical characters like Joseph, Daniel, Esther etc., we realize that the Christian Public Official must in fact serve his or her nation with a passion for God and in a manner that advances peace and public wellbeing (including the wellbeing of those of different faith persuasions). In other words, a Christian Public Official has both a vocational obligation to serve the people professionally and a missional duty to serve people in a manner that leads them to the understanding of righteousness and justice, with the view to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. This missional duty is reflected in the words of Jesus Himself, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). It is also reflected in the prophetic commission to the Jews in Babylonian captivity, “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:7).
Having said that, it is equally true that the Christian Public Official must demonstrate the kind of spiritual passion that inspires fellow Christians to engage their public duty (to advance peace, justice, and righteousness), while at the same time, leading the wider public towards a sense of peace, inclusivity, and public wellbeing. To do this, the Christian Public Official must strike a good balance between spiritual passion and a form of “spiritual radicalism or extremism” that only leads to controversy. It is for this reason that the requirements of a church elder, for instance, include the issue of “having a good reputation with outsiders…” (1 Tim. 3:7). Another Bible translation says, “people outside the church must speak well of him (i.e. the elder)” (NLT). If we have to use this as a leadership principle, the implication is that while a Christian must not conform to the populist dictates of the times, he or she must still carry a degree of burden about the public perception (or the perception of those outside the church) concerning his or her behavior and actions – this includes his or her moral life, theological integrity and public ideas.
Differentiating between spiritual passion and a form of “spiritual radicalism” further requires a good judgment in engaging public life and activities, as well as a credible theological engagement that facilitates public redemption, edification, and benefit. It is for this reason, I think, that people like Esther, Nehemiah, Daniel (and even our Lord Jesus Christ) sometimes administrated prayer points of public significance through private channels and networks. For example, when queen Esther was given the mandate to confront the public policy of king Xerxes towards the Jews, she privately mobilized Mordecai and the Jews of Susa to pray and fast with her (Est. 4:13-17). When Nehemiah felt the burden to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, he activated the project by engaging only a “few leaders” (Neh. 2:11&12). Daniel mobilized his close friends about a life threatening and an apocalyptic event that would shape the very history of mankind – the interpretation of the dream of king Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2:17-18). Our Lord Jesus Christ had the most private prayer moment at the Garden of Gethsemane (with a few of his disciples), concerning a matter that was universal, cosmic, and eternal – the salvation of mankind (Matt. 26:36-41). These examples do not reflect the kind of privacy that’s motivated by fear, but one that considers the need to administer beliefs and knowledge in the most profitable and effective way. As Paul says, “we speak wisdom among the (spiritually) mature” (1 Cor. 2:6).
The objective behind this reflection on CJ’s prayer is therefore not to focus solely on the Chief Justice himself (Mogoeng Mogoeng’s term as Chief Justice will come to an end), it is to reflect on the theology, worldview and missional approach of the Church. It is a self-introspection on the state of the Church.
As a theological Reflection – it seeks to establish how does the modern-day Church interpret the teachings and instructions of the early Church on issues such as anti-Christ and 666?
As a reflection on Christian Worldview – it seeks to establish how do beliefs and theology of the Church inform her relationship with global events?
As a Missional Reflection – it seeks to establish what is it that guides the process of differentiating between issues of internal Church consumption and those of public consumption? Do we have an unhealthy inclination for publicity? Have we fallen for the trap of confusing Christian populism for evangelism, where we maximize the actions and utterances of a few prominent Christians to profile the Church and as a platform for the Great Commission?
Introspection has always been the major tool of the Church, it has served to bring the Body of Christ to a place of self-correction, healing and recalibration. I think of the conference of Acts chapter 15, which came about because there was some theological controversy that needed to be addressed (concerning some who claimed that physical circumcision was the requirement for salvation in Christ). I think of the dinner that Priscilla and Aquila had with Apollos, to help correct and equip him in his theological understanding of the Gospel (Acts 18:24-28). There have been many such instances of introspection and self-correction throughout the history of Church. For this reason, Church does not need the State to regulate it, except when it comes to matters of criminality. Church is fully empowered to introspect and to self-correct, and it should remain open to such processes so that as “the Body of Christ, it may continue to grow” (Eph. 4:15&16). Consequently, the public reaction to the prayer of CJ should allow us as Church not to be sensational and sentimental, but to reflect seriously in an effort to see whether there are things that we need to learn, improve and refine within our ranks.
What does the Bible teach about prayer?
Prayer is one powerful tool that we have as Church, it gives us direct access to the heavenly Father, the Creator of life. Through prayer, we lay our petitions on the basis of what we regard as our needs, and we are comforted by the fact that “our heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask Him” (Matt. 6:7-8). The principle that prayer is an expression of petitions based on what we regard as needs and perhaps even as threats to our life of salvation and livelihoods, reveals a deeper reality about prayer. It shows that prayer is not only a spiritual activity, but also an intelligible process. That is, we pray what we have processed and appreciated as reality or a possible reality of life. We pray what has been conceived as a reality or possible reality within our minds. If I pray, “God, protect me from accidents as I drive on the road”, I am in fact expressing something that has not necessarily happened but that I conceive to be a possibility. Equally, the CJ’s prayer about a possible use of a vaccine to infuse 666 in human beings and or to advance an anti-Christ agenda, reflects a possible reality he has conceived in his mind. The deeper question is, what is the connection between a vaccine and the Biblical concept of 666? That is, we of course can conceive realities in our minds that are so strong that we take them to prayer, only to find that there is a disconnect between our prayer point and reality as outlined in the Scriptures.
This brings us to another issue – that prayer reflects our theology. That is, we teach our hearers through the things we pray. Jesus tells a parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14. “11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” (Luke 18:11-12, NIV). 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”” (Luke 18:11-14, NIV). Through this parable, Jesus is showing that we pray out of a theological position and conviction: the Pharisee has an idea of a God who is pleased simply by human works, while on the other hand, the Tax Collector has an idea of a holy but merciful God who hates evil but who will pardon our sins. Theology (or doctrine) undergirds prayer and prayer expresses theology. In other words, prayer is a teacher; this is why we teach out of John chapter 17 till today, a prayer by Jesus for the unity of the Church. We equally use Psalms of Prayer (from the Book of Psalms) as the basis for instruction and teaching in the Church. Therefore, the prayer by CJ is not simply about technical correctness according to legal terms and definitions. It’s not about whether he said “there are 666 vaccines” or “if there be 666 vaccines”. When the CJ prayed, “if there be vaccines that are being used to infuse 666…”, not only was he expressing a realm of possibility, but he was in fact establishing the same as a possible reality in our minds. The CJ was leading us to a place, but did this reflect a theologically correct pathway? The issue is therefore twofold: firstly, his prayer reflects the realm of possibility in his mind, secondly, is that there is need for that realm of possibility to be tested against the guiding wisdom of the Scriptures. If it is found not to be consistent with the Scriptures, then we have a deeper issue to deal with because the prayer was made in public.
The fact of prayer vs. the content of prayer
Having briefly established what the Bible teaches about prayer, then we can ask the question whether the issue is the fact that the CJ prayed or it’s the content of what he prayed. I personally have no issue with the fact that the CJ prayed. As a disciple of Christ, I celebrate this and quite frankly, we can do with more prayer in our nation. I equally agree with the CJ about the fact that we have reflected belief in the existence of God as a nation, through our Constitution and National Anthem, and that we do open our parliamentary proceedings by prayer and silent meditation. We simply cannot have an issue with people and or Public Officials praying publicly. Having said that, I do however think that in this instance, the contents of the prayer of CJ reflect some theological concerns. And when we consider the fact that the prayer was made publicly, the profile of the Chief Justice, and the fact that prayer is a teacher etc., then we realize the nature of the issue we’re dealing with.
The Christian faith and the End Times
When CJ was clarifying his prayer utterances, he made mention of the End Times – “we, Christians believe that we are in the end times”, the CJ correctly stated. And it is in this context that subjects like anti-Christ and 666 become critical. Just as it’s important to appreciate the deficit of public trust towards food and pharmaceutical industries, and how this has in turn contributed to suspicion around vaccines in general and Covid-19 vaccine in particular, it is equally important to appreciate the significance and influence of End Times theology in the Christian Worldview.
What does the Bible teach about the timeline of humanity since Creation?
Humans were created by God in His image and as immortals (they could not die) (Gen. 1:26).
Humans violated the command of God and chose to live out of greed instead of obedience – this is what the Bible refers to as sin (Gen. 3:1-9).
The consequence of sin was death, which meant that humans lost their immortality and became mortals (Gen. 2:16&17, Gen. 3:19, Rom. 5:12, Rom. 6:23)
Just as mortality had a definite beginning, it will also have a definite end (Matt. 24:14).
Jesus has come, not only to bring redemption to mankind, but to also initiate the process to destroy death in order to restore the age of immortal humanity (i.e. to wrap up this mortal human age) (1 Cor. 15:24-28).
The first coming of Jesus Christ marked the beginning of a period referred to as the End Times (Heb. 1:1-2).
Jesus taught about the end of mortal human age (Matt. 24).
The apostles of the early Church taught about “the Last Days” (an alternative phrase for “the End Times”) as a futuristic season that was coming upon the earth (2 Tim. 3:1)
The “anti-Christ” as well as “666” features significantly in the teachings concerning the End Times.
It is therefore clear that according to the Scriptures, we have been in “the Last Days” or “End Times” since the first arrival of the Messiah.
What does the Bible teach about “anti-Christ” and “666”?
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 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. 4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 John 4:1-6, NIV).
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. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us (1 John 2:18-19, NIV).
7 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. 8 Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully (2 John 1:7, NIV).
Firstly, it’s important to understand the term, “anti-Christ” (antichristos) – which is made up of two words (anti and Christos). And the word “anti” is critical in our understanding of the nature and spirit implied in the concept of anti-Christ. The word “anti” means the opposite substitute, a replacement and an equivalent, that which is an exchange for something else. There are two fundamental ideas here: (1) for the equivalent to thrive, there must be a belief in the existence of the original (Christ) in the minds of people, (2) the opposite substitute must take the form of the original. Anti-Christ therefore speaks of the opposite substitute that seeks to replace Christ in the minds and hearts of the people (i.e. it seeks to distort the concept of God and by extension, the concept of human life). The realm and environment in which the anti-Christ must thrive, is the same environment in which the original Christ operates – it is the realm of human heart and mind. And so just as salvation in Christ is a spiritual experience, so does the anti-Christ come as an alternative spiritual experience.
The anti-Christ manifests as a spirit, in the form of doctrine that must be held as truth in the hearts of people.
The anti-Christ uses a human agency, a collective called “false prophets”.
The anti-Christ manifests through false doctrine – it is a spirit that advances through false knowledge.
It is therefore clear from the books of John (as we’ve seen above) that anti-Christ is characterized as a spirit that seeks to deceive Christians in particular and humans in general. The battle against anti-Christ is understood to be primarily doctrinal – it is neither technological nor political, although it can use these platforms.
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10 and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness (2 Thess. 2:1-12, NIV).
The scriptures above show us that there was already a degree of doctrinal confusion in the early Church around issues of the End Times, anti-Christ and the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul refers to the “coming rebellion”. The word “rebellion” is the Greek word “apostasia” (or apostacy), which means – “defection from truth, a falling away or to depart”. This is consistent with the teachings of John about anti-Christ (in the books of 1st and 2nd John) as referred to earlier. Jesus equally stated, “many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other” (Matt. 24:10). This means that the coming of the anti-Christ is consistently associated with the falling away from truth.
Paul also refers to “the revelation of the man of lawlessness, the man doomed to destruction”. It’s important to note that in prophetic scriptures, there are metaphors that are used consistently throughout the Bible, not just in certain books like the Book of Revelation. For example, in Ephesians 4:13, the maturity of the church is described through the metaphor of a “perfect man” . In Revelation chapter 21, the metaphor of the Bride is used to describe the Church – not meaning a literal woman. The metaphor of the “man” therefore refers not to an individual but to a human state and condition. Just as the Church will grow to become “a perfect man”, so will there be “a man of lawlessness” – both are human conditions.
Paul continues to say that the man of lawlessness “will oppose and exalt himself over everything that is called God”. Therein comes the word “oppose” again, this one meaning – “to lie opposite, to be an adversary or to take on someone’s position as an adversary”. Basically, the word means “to oppose and replace”.
Paul continues to say that the man of lawlessness “will set himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God”. Just as the word “man” refers not to a literal human being but a metaphor of the human condition, so does the word “temple” refer not to a literal building but Church. In New Testament teachings, the temple is the Church of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:16, 1 Cor. 6:19, 2 Cor. 6:16).
“The man of lawlessness” therefore refers to a spirit, doctrine and human condition that is liberal in its orientation and that will produce a people who will not subject themselves to the command of God. The Bible communicates the command of God to humanity, and the spirit of anti-Christ wants to give people a kind of spirituality that contradicts God’s command.
Paul says that “the coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders…”. Clearly, the characterization of anti-Christ takes a spiritual-religious form manifesting right within the House of God (the Church). According to Paul, the main issue behind all of this is “a refusal to love the truth” – meaning that doctrine and devotion to Christ is at the centre of all of this evil.
Ultimately, the man of lawlessness will be destroyed by “the breath of the mouth of Jesus Christ” – referring to the proclamation of truth by the servants of the Lord, backed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Mark of the Beast and 666
3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads (Rev. 12:3, NIV).
1 And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. 2 The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority (Rev. 13:1-2, NIV).
11 Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. 12 He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men. 14 Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17 so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. 18 This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666 (Rev. 13:11-18, NIV).
The issue of the Mark of the Beast begins with the Dragon (Rev. 12:3), who is understood to be “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (Rev. 12:9, NIV). That is, the dragon is not an actual snake, it’s an evil spirit called Satan.
It is therefore important to not think of the anti-Christ and 666 as something different or new, but as the work of “that ancient serpent” who deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden. We are dealing with the same old evil spirit that seeks to seduce humans away from God. It is the same old devil who comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10).
In Rev. 13:1, we then see a beast emerge out of the sea (the metaphor of the sea generally refers to humanity or masses of people – Rev. 17:15). “The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne” (Rev. 13:2). Let’s remember the account of the temptation of Jesus by the Devil, “the devil led Him (Jesus) to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world, and he said to Him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours” (Luke 4:5-7, NIV).
The word “beast” means “a wild beast or a wild animal”. Again, this is a metaphor of a human system, power and condition. John goes on to describe the beast – “the beast resembled a leopard but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion…” (Rev. 13:2). The point is this – to understand the nature of the human system, power and condition being described here, one has to study the characteristics of the animals that the beast resembles.
This is not the first time animals are being used to describe spiritual and human realities. The book of prophet Daniel and other books use animals as metaphors to communicate spiritual truth and to interpret human conditions.
11 Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. 12 He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf… (Rev. 13:11, NIV).
John then speaks about “another beast”, that “exercised all the authority of the first beast”. So we have delegation of power and authority here – from the Dragon (Satan) to the first beast right through to the second beast.
The word “another” in Rev. 13:11 means “another of the same kind”. So here, we are dealing with two distinct human systems, powers and realities but that have the same nature and motivation.
This second beast clearly operates within the realm of religion – “he has two horns like a lamb and he performs miraculous signs”. That is, this second beast – this second human system is operating within the religious-church world with the idea of deceiving many peoples, in Church and in the world.
The second beast sets up an image of the first beast and he brings the image to life (Rev. 13:14-15): the word image (eikon) means a statue, a profile, an image, a resemblance In Biblical language, the word image speaks of Definitions, Concepts, Standards and Patterns of Life. God said, “let us make man in our image and in our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). According to Genesis 1:26, humans were supposed to get the idea or the image (Definitions and Concepts) of humanity and of human life from the very nature of God. And now, according to 1 Cor. 15:49, “just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the man from heaven” (meaning the Image of Christ).
In 1 Cor. 15:49, the word “borne” means “to wear as clothing” and the word “image”(or eikon) is the same one that is used in Rev. 13, in the phrase, “the image (eikon) of the beast” (Rev. 13:15).
What are we seeing here? There is a battle of good and evil – the battle of images or of Definitions and Concepts of human life. One is the Image of Christ and the other is the Image of the Beast.
These images are established and brought to life through doctrines and not through vaccines. For them to work, they require humans to believe and embrace them. The duty of the Church is to evangelize the world and advance truth (which is the Image of Christ).
The main battle that Church will have to fight according to these scriptures is – what does it mean to be a human being (or what is the correct image of human life) and how should we administer human life?
Church is called to be the Pillar and Foundation of Truth – or to resemble the kind of humanity that is built after the Image of God and which is characterized by holiness, peace, righteousness, justice, and obedience to God.
16 He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17 so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. 18 This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666 (Rev. 13:16-18, NIV).
“He forced everyone to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead”: this phrase simply captures the idea of being sold and of therefore being owned by something or someone. Again, this is not the first time we see this, God Himself writes His name on our foreheads (Rev. 3:12, Rev. 22:4, Rev. 14:1). God will seal the foreheads of His servants (Rev. 7:3). This simply means to be given to the identity and cause of another.
This idea of being sealed is also found in the Old Testament: “9 This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that the law of the Lord is to be on your lips. For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand. 10 You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year” (Ex. 13:9-10, NIV).
To receive the Mark of the Beast is to accept, yield and conform to a definition of human life and a human construct that is contrary to the command of God, as reflected in the Scriptures.
In other words, you can “rebel” against technological devices and chips, but if you live a life that is conformed to the ungodly standards of the world, you are still “buying and selling” according to the dictates of the Devil.
“He forced everyone…”: this shows that this Satanic agenda is in fact aimed at everyone (at the Church and at the World). It is aimed at all race-groups, social classes, gender, and age-groups.
The Mark of the Beast connects to trade and commerce or to economic activity – “so that no one could buy or sell” without the mark. The idea here is one of human wellbeing and survival – it is an attack on livelihoods. Do we live in a world in which transacting in life and doing commerce requires the selling of one’s soul and a buying into a culture and value system that violates God’s righteous standards? The very system of Capitalism which is the modern doctrine of commerce and economics turns a blind eye not only on certain principles of human life but also on the very standards of righteousness that God has outlined for mankind. It’s a system in which monetary value outweighs the sanctity of life. For this reason, Revelation chapter 18 says, “the merchants of the earth grew rich from excessive luxuries” … and from selling “cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones… and even of souls of men” (Rev. 18:1-15, NIV).
Church on the other hand, must reject not the idea of doing business, but the capitalistic idea of doing business. There is a doctrine in the circles of the Church that masquerades as truth, and that promotes greed and excessive material gains in the name of “faith”. In other words, what the Church calls “faith for material accumulation” is referred to as Capitalism in the world. It is perceived as a theological position in the Church, and as an ideological position in the world – it’s basically the same thing. This is the kind of deception that Church must confront.
When reading the Bible in general and prophetic books (like Revelation) in particular, it is important to understand that God uses metaphors of creation and of the natural order, to illuminate us about spiritual realities and human conditions. For truly, creation testifies of the Nature of God, and of spiritual realities (Rom. 1:20, Ps. 19:1-4).
1 O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old (Ps. 78:1-2, NIV).
34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world” (Matt. 13:34&35, NIV).
10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” 11 He (Jesus) replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand… 16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it (Matt. 13:10-7, NIV).
Just as Jesus used parables to communicate spiritual truth (as we see in the Gospels), so does the Book of Revelation use natural phenomena to communicate prophetic realities to us. Truly, the Bible is a parable to mankind.
17 so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. 18 This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666 (Rev. 13:17-18, NIV).
In Revelation 13 verse 17, the Mark of the Beast is the Name of the Beast or the Number of his Name (i.e. the mark is the name and the mark is the number – it’s a man’s number). If the “mark” is the “name”, then we must consider that in the Bible, names always refer to the nature, character and profile of a person or thing. For example, God’s Name is the revelation of His Nature and Character to us – His Name reveals the quality of life to which we have been called. This principle does not change when it comes to “the Name of the Beast”. And if we understand “the Name of the Beast” not to be a technological riddle, then we must also understand that “the Mark of the Beast” is equally not some technological riddle (because “the Mark is the Name, and the Name is the Number”). In Rev. 13, we are dealing with a situation in which people are being deceived and forced to live according to a standard that is contrary to God’s nature. The word “mark” means to engrave, something sculptured, to stamp a mark. Now, there are words related to the idea of being marked and that are used in the context of our salvation: e.g. “having believed, we were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13, NIV). The phrase “marked with a seal” or the word “sealed” (depending on the Bible version one is reading) means, “to stamp with a signet, to set a seal or mark upon a thing”. In another Scripture, Paul is praying that “Christ will be formed in you”, when writing to the Galatians (Gal. 4:19). The word “formed” means “to form and shape an image”. The word describes the work of an artist forming and carving a sculpture out of a material. Again, we understand this not to mean a literal sculpture, but as a metaphor indicating the nature of our transformation from worldliness to the Nature of Christ. There is yet another word relating to the “putting of the mark” in our lives – this is the word “pattern”. Paul says, “take note of those who live according to the pattern (or example) we gave you” (Phil. 3:17). This word (pattern) means, a stamp, a model, a mark, a figure, an image or a statue. Therefore, it is clear that the idea of being “marked with a seal” or of being “formed into an image” is a common spiritual metaphor in the Scriptures.
If we put the phrase, “calculate the number of the beast”, alongside the phrases, “the mark of the beast” and “the name of the beast”, we can see the following: (a) “the name of the beast” speaks to us about the nature and character of life that is contrary to God’s nature; (b) “the number of the beast” speaks to us about the systematic nature of the character of life we’re dealing with; (c) “the mark of the beast” speaks to us about how Satan seeks to influence humans and the way of life – this agenda began in Genesis 3 and has been developed to influence global humanity; and (d) “to calculate the number of the beast” speaks to us about the spiritual requirement to analyse and understand the ways in which this particular life influences humanity. Unless we see and understand the Mark of the Beast, we will become its victims. The warning against conforming to the world is not uncommon in Scripture – in Romans 12 verse 2, we are “not to conform any longer to the pattern of this world”, instead, we are to be “transformed by the renewing of the mind”, so that we can “test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will”. The word “conformed” (or the phrase “conformed to the pattern”) means a “fashion, style or an arrangement of an object” – the word means to be molded after the arrangements of life around you, in the same way that liquid takes the shape of its container. Not only is the warning against the Mark of the Beast a consistent theme in the Bible, but like Abraham, Church must be a people of “reasoning, reckonings and accounting”. “Abraham reasoned (calculated or did the accounting) that God could raise the dead…” Heb. 11:19, NIV. The word “reasoned” means “to put together with one’s mind, to count, to occupy oneself with reckonings and calculations”. Using the wisdom of the Scriptures under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we must not only calculate the flow of God’s plans and purposes, but also the construct and flow of ungodly life around us.
To count or calculate the number of the beast therefore calls for the kind of wisdom that is spiritual (and not natural wisdom). The word “count” in Rev. 13:18 describes small stones or pebbles used by Greeks, Romans and Egyptians in their calculations. Pebbles or small stones were placed on a counting board to determine the value of such things as livestock, grain etc. The word (“count”) means to reckon, compute, calculate or to figure out. The usage of pebbles on a counting board therefore captures the idea of determining quantity, value, and developments of elements. In the same way, we must use the “counting board” of the wisdom of the Scriptures, to work out and compute the constructs, trends and developments of human life. The meaning of the word “Word” (logos) becomes significant here: “expression of thought, conception, intelligence, reasoning, computation, discourse, declaration, motive or intent”. We use the Word of God (the logos) not only to compute the Nature of God but also to understand the human construct of this world (the Mark of the Beast).
The issue is not to try and understand barcodes and technological devices or chips (the fact is that we carry a lot of these already in our wallets), but it is to understand definitions and constructs of human life, and their relationship to God’s human order as outlined in Scriptures. The Mark of the Beast is not a chip that can be received via a vaccine, it is a false doctrine (a false image) and a false human construct that is received through deception and deviation from truth or the knowledge of God! Just as we speak of the Image of God, not as an implant of a technological device or chip, but as His Nature (or a way of life), so does the Image of the Beast refer to a condition of life (a way of life) that is contrary to God’s nature. The Biblical idea of 666 is not about an “automated production of disobedient humans” via a technological chip, but it’s about the ongoing persecution for living the life of Christ in this ungodly world. No Christian believer can be forced to renounce God, not by another human or through a technological device, except in a case where there is fear of persecution and death. Just like the early Believers who confronted persecution, the Disciples of Christ will have to continue to live for God with boldness and courage, strengthened by the Holy Spirit. The need for boldness and courage in the midst of persecution should inform and inspire our prayers.
What does this all mean? The prayer of CJ gives us an opportunity to reflect on what we believe and how what we believe informs our worldview. It requires us to refuse to be sensationalistic or sentimental, but to be doctrinal, in a true spirit of humility characterized by a quest for truth. This will in turn allow us to become effective in (1) advancing the Kingdom of God, (2) in evangelizing the world (3) and in engaging in a Kingdom Advocacy that tackles global human affairs guided by Biblical theology and wisdom.
Furthermore, we must consider the following issues….
A sensationalist approach to the issues of the End Times actually reflects an underlying fear towards persecution for what we believe – the reality is that Church has been going through intense persecution since the days of Nero of Rome.
Church has always been able to face and overcome persecution but has tended to be vulnerable when it comes to dealing with incorrect and false doctrines within its ranks.
Since the anti-Christ spirit and the Mark of the Beast are ushered through platforms of doctrine and knowledge, our focus should be to (1) establish truth through instruction and doctrine and (2) to possess a spiritual understanding of human constructs that are contrary to Scripture and the Way of Christ.
We must refrain from Christian populism that’s driven by a few prominent Christians and Celebrities (as this brings undue pressure on these Christians), instead, we must go back to the kind of Christianity that is subversive and that’s advanced by those regarded as “the foolish and weak things of this world”.
We must ensure that prominent Christians who serve in the public square are well equipped theologically and in Kingdom Worldview.
Just as Joshua and his army relied on the report of Rahab in their military advance, we must engage Christians who are placed by the Lord in specific Spheres of Life (like queen Esther, Moses, Daniel, Joseph, Nehemiah etc. were in the palaces), to process technical information and developments relating to respective spheres, while we all stand on the absolute authority and uniting wisdom of the Scriptures, guided by the Holy Spirit and Church leadership.
We must always appreciate the fact that public prayer is equally a public teacher.
We must think carefully about matters we take to the public domain.
May the Lord Jesus Christ continue to build His Church (Matt. 16:18)!
Note: if you wish to listen to the podcast I referred to earlier in this article, on the story of my Personal Salvation and journey of Transformation, please follow the link A conversation with Ps Robert Ntuli.
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