Special guest post by my good friend Curt…enjoy!
The year 2020 and the beginning of 2021 have been full of stress and challenges for many people, including those who love Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. COVID 19, lockdowns, rioting and destruction in the name of “Black Lives Matter,” calls to defund the police, and political upheaval have created unsettling times for many to say the least. Worship in churches has been impacted by governmental orders and decrees, raising tension – and in some cases outright hostility – concerning the boundaries of civil government and the Church. More recently, the upheaval and chaos of the elections and events in Washington, D.C. raise the specter of increasing division and hostility on our land. America has become a battleground between camps with radically opposing and irreconcilable views on political and moral issues.
While our culture and civil government are heading in a sobering if not ominous direction, this is not the first time believers in the Lord have had to deal with hostility from those in authority. Down through history, people devoted to worship and serve the Lord have had to struggle with the boundary between submitting to civil government and serving the Lord. Christians who have refused to compromise on the central doctrines of faith and on clear standards of Biblical morality have faced rejection and ostracism from family and neighbors. Some have faced open hostility and persecution from those in authority.
A number of passages from Scripture are instructive on this subject. I will offer some thoughts and questions to consider from a few verses in the Book of Daniel in light of issues Christians in America face today.
Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabean Revolt
The last three chapters of the Daniel discuss events that happened between the fall of the Persian Empire and the time of Jesus Christ. This includes prophecy of an evil king who ruled Judea about two centuries before the time of Jesus’ ministry.
And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm (or display strength in NAS) and take action. And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder. (Daniel 11:31a-33) (ESV)
This passage in Daniel refers to Antiochus IV (also called Antiochus Epiphanes). He was a wicked pagan king who ruled over God’s people from 175-164 BC. He sought to unify the people under his reign by having them worship the same god, a god that he chose of course; and that was Zeus, the chief god of the Greek pantheon. In calling himself “Antiochus Epiphanes,” he considered himself to be the manifestation of Zeus; and he demanded people under his reign to worship him as the manifestation of a god.
Antiochus IV desecrated the temple, which included setting up an altar in it dedicated to Zeus. He forbade observance of the Sabbath and prohibited circumcision, worship of the Lord and observance of Jewish festivals. He sought destruction of the Law of Moses, and he commanded Jews to offer sacrifices to idols and to eat pork.
The height of desecration occurred in 167 B.C. when Antiochus Epiphanes entered the temple and offered a sacrifice to Zeus, probably sacrifice of a pig. Thus, he brought corruption, forbade worship of the true God, and completely defiled the temple when he – a gentile – entered the temple and offered the blood of an unclean animal to a pagan god. Verse 31 refers to the event as “the abomination that makes desolate.” Two centuries later when Jesus referred to the abomination that makes desolation during the Olivet Discourse, He was alluding to that event.
It was during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes that the Maccabean revolt was birthed. A priest named Mattathias Maccabee and his sons refused to worship Zeus, and they led a revolt against the king’s decrees. Over the next century, his descendants slowly added territory until it encompassed much of the area that Joshua had given to the Israelites centuries earlier.
The Maccabees and the rest of Israel faced pressure from an evil king who used “flattery” to deceive and lead people astray. Antiochus IV pressured God’s people to embrace Greek philosophy and religion, substituting pagan sacrifices for worship of the Lord. He pressured God’s people to worship a false god, brazenly mocked and defiled worship of the Lord by imposing his own form of worship to Zeus, and actively persecuted those who would not obey his command to worship a false god.
Those who knew their God “stood firm” or “displayed strength” and “took action.” They had a living faith in the God revealed in the Bible, refusing to yield to the pressures and temptations of the day. They chose instead to remain faithful to worship of the God revealed in Scripture.
In the process, some were able to help others “understand” what was going on. They were able to help others who were tempted to waiver and compromise in their walk with the Lord. They brought some back to worship of the true God, the God revealed in the Bible. They preserved worship of the Lord.
But as in any war, some “stumbled by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder.” Some who stood their ground, fought in the war, and refused to yield to the pagan pressures of the day paid with suffering, loss and even death.
Thoughts and Questions for Today
As noted above, Jesus alluded to the abomination that causes desolation in the Olivet Discourse. Christians remembered Jesus’ warnings of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in that passage when the Roman army imposed a siege on Jerusalem in the First Jewish Revolt that occurred in 66-70 A.D. Historians indicate that the siege was lifted for a time; and Christians in the city, recalling Jesus’ warnings in the Olivet Discourse, were able to escape before the Romans captured and destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
Many scholars believe this passage from Daniel also points to what believers will face with the Antichrist before Jesus return. An antichrist is a person who will deceive and draw people away from worship of the Lord; he also will persecute those who do not yield to his doctrine. An antichrist opposes the true Christ (Jesus Christ) and substitutes a false christ in His place. (1 John 2:22-23; 4:2-3) An antichrist offers a gospel of redemption contrary to the Biblical gospel that eternal salvation and inner peace only can come through faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ.
I do not know if we are in the time of “the Antichrist,” and I am not about to speculate whether we are in the “last days” before Jesus’ return in glory. But antichrists have been active since the beginning of the Church 2,000 years ago. (See 1 John 2:18; 4:1) Both Jesus and the apostles warned of false christs and false prophets who would seek to lead God’s people astray. (Matt. 7:15-20; 24:4-5, 11; 20:28-30; 2 Thes. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 2:1-22; 1 John 4:1) This passage from Daniel raises questions for us if we name Jesus Christ as Lord, regardless of when He will return.
Are there people today who use “flattery” to lead people astray to adopt moral values and a worldview contrary to what the Bible reveals? De we have politicians, prominent businessmen, entertainers, people in the media or even some prominent leaders in the Church who use smooth talk to corrupt the moral values, character, and faith of the people? Do they tempt or even pressure Christians to compromise on Biblical morality and doctrine?
Are there prominent people today who talk of restoring “unity” to our nation? Do they “celebrate diversity” and speak of “tolerance”? Unity in the church is vitally important when it is based on a common faith of Biblical doctrine and worship of the Triune God. (Eph. 4:1-6) But do those who call for unity seek to impose their worldview on others to achieve that goal? Do they ask – no demand – that others embrace and affirm their views on sexual morality, homosexuality, marriage, gender-identity and transgender issues? Do they insist on the right of a woman to sacrifice the life of her child through abortion? Perhaps people today are not sacrificing a pig on an altar to a pagan god, but how much blood of millions of infants has been offered on the altar of a “woman’s right to privacy”? How many have worshiped at the altar of sexual pleasure outside of marriage with the expectation that they should not have to deal with the consequences of their choices? Some in our nation call for unity but only on terms of moral standards and worldview that they choose for us. They essentially would choose the “god” we must worship – or face the consequences.
Do we face a time when there is pressure to forsake or compromise worship of the Triune God? Do we face hostility to the message that all men and women are sinners who deserve eternal judgment from a just and holy God? Is there growing animosity to a message that the only means of salvation is through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ as the sole mediator between man and God? A growing number of Christians in America are compromising on central issues of Biblical doctrine and moral standards, and they are conforming to the current culture to avoid rejection of their peers. There is little difference between the Church and the world in many places. We face a time when those who stand for Biblical truth face growing hostility, false accusation, and persecution for refusing to compromise on the central issues of their faith and moral standards. That hostility will come from both within and without the Church.
Do we “know our God”? That question involves more than whether we know the correct theological terms about God’s nature and attributes. It involves more than knowing the doctrine of how a person is saved. Do we know God personally? Do we have a relationship with the living God based on repentance and faith in Jesus Christ? Do we talk with Him, seek to know Him, study the Bible, and seek to please Him by His grace and strength?
Will we “stand firm” or “display strength”? Will we just grumble or grieve about what is happening in our congregation, our city, our state or our country? Will we just complain about the corruption, hypocrisy and evil in the government, the media, and even in some parts of the Church? Or will we do something? Will we find the strength and courage to “take action,” to obey the Lord in something we can do?
Can you or I do something, whatever that “something” may be? It might not seem like some big dramatic step of faith. It may involve a fresh investment in our marriages and families, or in the life of our home congregation. Perhaps it will be to be more active in local political issues or communicating with your governmental representatives. It may be sharing your testimony with a co-worker or family member. Maybe it will be some act of kindness toward a neighbor or someone at the store who is rude. It may be some other step of faith, even if it seems to be an insignificant thing. What talent, skill or gift has God given you?
God used a small, smooth stone in the hands of a teenage boy to slay a giant who defied the living God. A young man, David, took a stand of faith with a sling shot and a smooth stone – something he was familiar with that he could use with skill. How small, how laughable, how unimpressive and unthreatening he and his slingshot were to Goliath and the Philistines. But God used that young man and his simple slingshot to turn the tide of the battle – and to give birth to a new era in Israel.
Don’t belittle the “little thing” in your hand, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem to be. What is your “slingshot and smooth stone”? Is there something that you are gifted with, something that you are familiar with, something you can do to express the love of God, the truth of the Bible, and the message of the gospel to others?
The warfare in the Maccabean Revolt involved spears, swords, and arrows. We need to remember that the weapons of our warfare in the Church are not rooted in guns, bombs or other such physical instruments. While we face a time of major political upheaval and struggle in our nation, the ultimate answer will not be found in politics or violence. The Kingdom of God is not vested in a political party or politician.
Let me be clear that I believe Christians have a duty to express their views to our governmental representatives and support godly people for political office. We have been blessed in America with liberties that include the right to participate in choosing those who rule in civil government. Being salt and light in a fallen world includes seeking to elect people to government who will conduct themselves with godly wisdom and character, and who will enact and implement laws based on Biblical wisdom. We need to avail ourselves of the opportunity to influence those who are in authority.
But the answer for America ultimately will not reside in who is elected to political office, for the central problem facing our nation is not in Washington, D.C. or in our state and local governments. The root of our nation’s condition is in the hearts and minds of millions of people who are either ignorant of Biblical truth or who have rejected and abandoned it. What we see happening in our civil government is a reflection of the moral standards and worldview that are prevailing in America. We have a spiritual and moral disease in our land that is not merely one of politics; it is a pandemic spawned by a secular, post-modern culture that reflects a worldview hostile to Scripture. Therefore, the ultimate answer will not be found in politics; for laws enacted by civil government will not change the human heart. While seeking to change our government for the better is vital, the answer will not be found solely through politics.
Our real enemy is not other men, politicians or political parties. Our warfare involves wrestling with Satan and his army, and we will need spiritual weapons and armor to wage that war. (Eph. 6:10-20) The power is in the gospel, not in us. (Rom. 1: 16-17) The weapons of our warfare are not physical but are spiritual – the gospel, the truth of God’s word – to challenge the lies and deceptions that surround us. (Eph. 6:10-20; 2 Cor. 10:3-6; Rev. 12:10-11) The battle centers on the source of truth itself, which the Bible reveals is Jesus Christ Himself. (John 14:6)
The life is in the truth of God’s word, planted in the hearts of other people; for the seed of His eternal truth brings forth life and fruit of itself. The life is not in the one who plants the seed. (Mark 4:26-29) The power of God’s word is not dependent on how eloquent we are or how polished our conversation may be. It does not depend on a person’s IQ, academic degree, social status or economic position. It comes from the Lord Himself who uses ordinary people, people who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, to stand firm, to display strength and take action.
But are we willing to face the realities of warfare? Are we willing to face “sword and flame” or “captivity and plunder”? Will we “love not our lives, even unto death”? (Rev. 12:11) Down through the centuries, believers from the time of the early church until today have paid a price for following Jesus in the form of hatred, ostracism, loss of their earthly possessions, imprisonment, and even death. (Acts. 5:40-41; Heb. 10:32-34; 11:32-40) Are we willing to sacrifice our social position, our wealth, our jobs, even life itself for the truth of God’s word?
Believers who have gone before us have had to grapple with these questions when faced with false accusations and persecution for their faith. They are issues that fellow believers in other countries, such as China, South Korea, and Iran have faced for years. The heat has been rising for Christians in America; these are not just rhetorical questions for us.
By God’s grace, may we soberly search our hearts before Him. May He grant us a fresh understanding of His love and His strength to stand for the truth revealed in the Bible. May we seek to know the Lord more intimately, and may He give us wisdom and courage to take action to make a difference for good in our homes, our churches, and our nation.
Curtis Roggow is a lawyer with extensive experience in handling complex litigation. He also is an elder and member of the leadership team for Hope Family Fellowship in Kansas City. He has a heart for sound doctrine and encouraging Christians to remain faithful to worship and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.