January 3, 1993

THE FORCES OF THE FUTURE

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.  Revelation 19:11

There’s something about approaching the year 2000 that gets our imaginations going.  Some of those who look into the future say that we’ll be establishing colonies on Mars, that we’ll all have personal telephones that fit into a piece of jewelry, that we’ll be swallowing microrobots that perform surgery on internal organs, and the list goes on.

Some of the most fascinating and important predictions say that the line between persons and machines will be blurred.  Some futurists think that we’ll have robotic computers that can improve themselves and perhaps think for themselves and even reproduce themselves.  Computerized robots may become like expert assistants or even like personal friends (unless, of course, things take a nasty turn and these forms of artificial intelligence go berserk and become “Terminators” that take over the world).

Ironically, as computers become more like humans, according to futurists, the reverse will also be true:  humans will become more like computers.  People will more and more be what they are programmed to be.  Already the Human Genome Project is spending $200 million a year to indentify the specific genes that produce each inherited trait.  Once the various genes are identified and mapped out, and with continued advances in DNA replication and gene therapy, it may be possible to order up “designer babies,” test tube embryos that are customized to specification.  Parents–or, if parenting became obsolete, the government–could determine a child’s gender, size, strength, eye color, intelligence level, and so forth, and make sure there are no genetic tendencies toward things like cancer or alcoholism or mental illness or retardation.  Meanwhile, research in brain chemistry is also advancing, and in the future it may become possible to read the way people think and, for better or for worse, to even control how they think.  If scientists ever figure out how to program people the way they program computers, the result could be a paradise of perfect humanity, or a hell of inhumanity, depending on your viewpoint.

All this is fascinating, of course, but before we get too enthusiastic or too frightened about what lies beyond the year 2000, there are a few things we need to keep in mind.

One is that the year 2000 may never come.  The Lord Jesus Christ could return before then, and that would render all our other predictions meaningless.

And even if the Lord doesn’t return in the near future, predictions based on current trends are tricky business.  Trends that seem headed in a certain direction may well reach a divinely created barrier that can’t be crossed.  Attempts to give computers a personality may well run into a wall.  No matter how much technology advances, the best a robotic computer could ever do would be to simulate personality, not actually achieve personality.  Also, attempts to completely decode human behavior and reprogram it is bound to fail.  No matter how much we learn about genetic engineering, we’ll never be able to reduce people to machines.  People will always be more than the sum total of their DNA, brain waves, and environment.  Creatures made in God’s image will always have an element of mystery.

A final caution about using current trends to predict the future:  the future is usually full of surprises that no one can predict in advance.

Think for a moment about the last 100 years.  Who could have predicted a century ago all that has actually happened?  One hundred years ago there were no radios or TVs, no computers or silicon chips, no photocopiers or fax machines.  Now we live in the information age.  A hundred years ago there were no expressways, no mass production of cars, no airplanes, no birth control pill, no atomic bomb, no understanding of DNA or gene splicing.  If someone 100 years ago had tried to predict the future based on what was happening at the time, he would have failed miserably.

And even if someone had managed to predict all the inventions and innovations, who could possibly have predicted the individual people who would shape the world?  In 1900 no one could anticipate the impact of Gandhi or Pope John XXIII or Einstein or Betty Friedan or Churchill or Hitler or Oswald or Lenin or Madonna.  Individual people can change the course of history in ways that none of us can predict in advance.  And so as we look toward the year 2000 and beyond, we need to realize that current trends may not tell us much.

Sometimes the present just can’t tell us much about the future.  On the other hand, strange as it may seem, the future can sometimes tell us a lot about the present.  You see, with the help of the Bible, it’s possible to know the future.  Not everything about the future, of course, but some very important facts about what will be the dominant forces at the end of history, and what the final outcome will be.  We can know how the story ends, and once we know that, we are better able to make sense of each chapter along the way, including the chapter we’re living in right now.  The future can help us understand the present.

The Bible says that near the end of history there will be great forces and persons that will rise to prominence and dominate the world.  The last half of the book of Revelation records a number of powerful visions which portray the final conflict between the forces of evil and the forces of good.

Revelation 12 introduces us to a great red dragon, and this dragon is none other than Satan himself (12:9).  In the vision the dragon is waiting for a woman to give birth to her child, and he has every intention of devouring that child.  But instead, the child is delivered from his clutches and caught up to heaven.  Then there is a great war in heaven between the dragon’s evil angels and the angels of heaven, led by the great archangel Michael.  The dragon’s forces are defeated, and he is cast out of heaven.  Somehow, the birth of the child and his ascension to heaven has made it possible for the forces of heaven to defeat the dragon and expel him.

At this point of the vision, we’re not yet looking into the future.  Instead, the Bible is giving us a behind-the-scenes picture of events that have already happened.  The birth of Jesus Christ, his victory over death, and his ascension to the throne of God have defeated Satan.  The forces of God have already won a great and decisive triumph.

That’s not yet the end of the story, however.  The dragon is defeated but not destroyed;  he is wounded but not dead.  And a wounded, angry dragon is very dangerous.  Revelation says, “Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you!  He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”

Satan is so vicious, not because he’s winning, but because his doom is already sealed, and he’s running out of time.  So when you see all the terrible things Satan is doing in our world, don’t think for a moment that he’s winning.  Jesus has already won the decisive battle through his death and resurrection, and Satan is just trying to do as much harm as he can in the time he has left.

With that in mind, let’s look at the forces of the future and see also what they tell us about the present.  As we move on to Revelation 13 and beyond, the dragon himself remains mostly in the background, while he uses three major entities to do his dirty work.

The first part of Revelation 13 introduces us to a beast who rises up out of the sea.  Without getting into all the details of the vision, it’s clear that this figure called the beast is the same person that the apostle Paul labeled “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3), and that the apostle John elsewhere calls “the antichrist” (1 John 2:18).

The antichrist will be a political ruler.  He will take control of the entire world and establish one world government.  His power will be an extension of the power of Satan himself, and most people will find it impossible to resist.  Revelation says, “Men worshipped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshipped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast?  Who can make war against him?”  Anyone who doesn’t submit to the antichrist and worship him–and this includes all those who genuinely belong to Jesus–will be hunted down and killed.  This man will intimidate and persecute and overwhelm people so completely that he will have the entire world under his thumb.  The antichrist will be the ultimate in political coercion.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the antichrist has a henchman.  Revelation says, “Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth.  He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon” (13:11).  In other words, this second beast bears an outward resemblance to Christ, the Lamb of God, but he’s a counterfeit.  He doesn’t speak the word of God;  his words are those of the dragon, the devil himself.  Elsewhere the book of Revelation refers to this second beast as “the false prophet” (16:13, 19:20, 20:10).  The false prophet has just one aim:  to deceive people and get them to worship the antichrist.  In the vision of Revelation 13, the false prophet

performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men.  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….  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 of the first beast to be killed.  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, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark of the beast or the number of his name.

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.

It’s not easy to understand every detail in this vision, but one thing is very clear:  near the end of time, false religion will be united with a totalitarian political system.  The false prophet will spearhead this effort.  With his cunning words and flashy miracles, the false prophet will be the ultimate in religious deception.  He will also tap into the first beast’s powers of persecution, killing those who reject the beast and making it impossible to buy or sell without wearing the code of the antichrist.

A bit later, Revelation introduces us to a third force of the future:  a prostitute by the name of Babylon. This prostitute, says Revelation, “is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth” (17:18).  Going back to the Babylonian empire, and even further back to the tower of Babel, Babylon in the Bible symbolizes human culture and civilization united in opposition to God.  The prostitute does not symbolize any one person, but an entire civilization with enormous powers of seduction.  Revelation 17:4 says, “With her the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”  The picture is of a drunken orgy, an overwhelming mixture of sex and booze, where the prostitute seduces and corrupts everyone.

There may well be a literal dimension to the images of sex and drunkenness associated with the prostitute–all the great cities wallow in such things, and the ultimate evil civilization will, too–but the Bible says that the prostitute’s main method of seduction is that she helps to make people rich.  She is the center of world trade and finance and commerce and culture; and people are willing to do almost anything with her if only she will give them a piece of her wealth.  The prostitute Babylon is the capital of a worldwide civilization that is obsessed with money.  Under her evil charm, the people and leaders of the world care only about one thing:  the economy.  This decadent, seductive civilization will eventually come under the control of the antichrist and serve his purposes.

So there you have it:  three evil forces of the future, three tools in the hand of the devil.  The beast is the ultimate in political intimidation and persecution.  The false prophet is the ultimate in religious deception.  The prostitute is the ultimate in cultural seduction.

When we realize that this is what history’s final chapter will be like, we can’t help wondering whether the world we’re living in right now is ripe for the end.  Despite current revivals of democratic government, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where one person would rule the world in the near future.  We already see more and more globalization in world economics and politics.  All it would take to bring us to a single world government would be a military crisis involving nuclear weapons, a worldwide environmental crisis, or a collapse of currencies and a global depression, in which one man seemed to have all the answers.  And if one that man, the antichrist, took control of all the world’s intelligence agencies with their high-tech eavesdropping and satellite surveillance, there could be a totalitarian regime like none the world has ever seen.

It’s not hard to imagine the rise of the false prophet in our current setting, either.  Imagine a spellbinding religious leader with the power to make fire fall from heaven, who can also do other dazzling signs and wonders for which there is no scientific explanation, all carried around the world live by CNN.  The secularists among us would be so shocked at a genuine miracle that they’d fall down and worship, without bothering to ask whether the miracles and teaching were from God or from Satan.  Meanwhile, of course, the New Agers and spiritists would hail the false prophet as the ultimate guru and shaman.

And what about the power to have complete control over buying and selling?  Well, it’s easy enough to see how that could happen.  Most of the technology is already in place.  We already have electronic scanning systems and computerized credit checks.  According to Tom Sine, the average American already has information about his or her private life stowed away in 18 federal computers, 16 state and local computers, and 25 private sector computers.

Now imagine a future where all that data is merged into one supercomputer network, where all business transactions are conducted on a credit system through one central computer, and where if a credit check turned up the word “Christian” in your file, you would be denied the right to make any transaction.  Imagine a computer scanner which would respond only to the code of the beast, and you could be marked with that code only if you worshiped the antichrist.

The rise of the antichrist and the false prophet seem all too plausible, and as for the rise of Babylon, the final corrupt civilization, it appears that we’re already most of the way there.  How could the final world civilization get much more sex-crazed, drug-and-alcohol infested, or money-hungry than the civilization we’re in right now?  When you really think about it, the world does indeed appear to be ripe for the final manifestation of the forces of the future.

It’s often interesting–and more than a little frightening–to speculate about these matters, and to wonder how long it will be until the antichrist makes his appearance.  The Bible doesn’t tell us these things just to fuel our speculation, however.  There have been times in the past when people became certain that the end was near, or that a particular person was the antichrist, but the end of the world did not come.  So even if it looks to us like the times are ripe for the end, it may turn out to be many years, even many centuries, before history reaches its final chapter.  But even if these forces of the future don’t reach their final and most malevolent form for a long time yet, we need to know about them because they are at work in our world right now.

In 1 John 2:18 the Bible warns that although there will be a final antichrist in the future, the fact of the matter is that there are many antichrists at work in the world right now.  We shouldn’t waste so much time wondering about the final antichrist, or the final false prophet, or the final seductive civilization, that we don’t see the antichrists, false prophets, and seductions all around us right now.

You see, Satan’s basic methods don’t change very much.  His methods right now are very much the same as they will be in the future, although at the end of history, all restraints on those forces will be taken away for a brief time.  When we see what Satan will do in the future during that brief period when his activity is unrestrained, we get a much clearer idea of the methods he is employing right now.

So even if the final antichrist doesn’t appear in our lifetime, it’s important to realize that political pressures against following Jesus are alive and well.  It’s estimated that right now, there are 230,000 martyrs dying for the cause of Christ each year.  And even where faith won’t cost you your life, Satan will use peer pressure, disadvantages in finance and business, and other forms of persecution and intimidation that make it hard to follow Jesus.

Satan’s second method of attack, religious deception, is also alive and well.  Even if we haven’t yet encountered the ultimate false prophet, there are already plenty of false prophets with us, people who deny the truth of the Bible, reject the claims of Jesus Christ, promote corrupt moral teaching, and plunge many people into ruin and destructions.  They may sound intelligent, they may claim amazing mystical experiences, but if they deny that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is the only way to God, then beware!  They are false prophets, tools in the hand of Satan.

And whether or not our civilization is the one that will become the ultimate Babylon, it’s a fact that the forces of seduction are all around us.  It’s almost impossible to pass through your teenage years without being offering drugs;  bars line every street;  casual sex is the order of the day; our magazines, movies, and TV programs are saturated with sex.  We’re surrounded by a consumer culture which sucks us into an obsession with making money and then finding new ways to spend it.  So even if you never live in the final Babylon, you need to be alert to the ways in which you are being attacked right now by the corrupt and seductive power of our decadent society.

Satan is out to destroy your soul, and by reading the end of the story, you already know what his three favorite methods are.

So how can you resist being overwhelmed and smothered by these things?  The only way to resist these evil forces of the future is to be in touch with the ultimate force of the future.  The book of Revelation shows us that the antichrist, the false prophet, and Babylon won’t have much time to enjoy their power.  Just when it appears Satan has won, the ultimate force of the future will ride onto the scene.  Revelation 19:11 says,

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war…  The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean… On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:  KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

There is no doubt who this rider represents.  It is the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

The beast and the false prophet and the people who follow them gather for war against the forces of Christ, but their end is swift and terrible.  The beast and the false prophet are captured and thrown into the fires of hell.  All the people who followed the antichrist and the false prophet, and were trapped by the seductions of Babylon, are condemned.  Finally, Satan himself is crushed, and he and all his demons are cast into the lake of fire.  There, says the Bible, “They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

The evil forces of the future will melt away before the vast, unimaginable power of the rider on the white horse.  Jesus Christ will reign supreme, and only those who put their faith in Jesus and resist the powers of evil will be spared.  They will share forever and ever in the glory of the Lord’s new creation.

That’s ultimately why it’s so important to know the end of the story.  There are times when it doesn’t seem to make much sense to follow Jesus, when it seems advantageous to choose another way, but in the final analysis, it’s far wiser to follow Jesus than to find yourself on the losing side.

Jesus is the ultimate force of the future, and his power is at work in our world right now.  We’ve seen that the powers of evil are at work, but so is the saving power of God’s Holy Spirit.  The gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus continues to spread throughout the world, rescuing millions from the clutches of Satan, guarding their souls and giving them the strength and courage to resist the forces of intimidation and deception and seduction that are all around us.  This gospel continues to spread, and when it has been preached to all nations and the Lord has brought all his chosen ones to faith, then the end will come and Jesus’ victory will be complete.  Until that day comes, each of us must respond to Christ in faith and resist the attacks of evil.

The very fact that you are listening to this message means that Jesus is confronting you with the power of his gospel.  Now that you know the future, what are you going to do about the present?  Wouldn’t it be wise to start following Jesus before another day goes by?

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.