ccording to the Scriptures, the second coming of Jesus Christ and his appearance to the world, will involve both a religious as well as a military confrontation. World statesmen, their military chiefs and their ecclesiastical leaders will gather together against the Son of God when he comes. This is the astonishing, yet clear teaching of the Bible -- and it can be demonstrated from both Old and New Testaments.
The idea can be briefly and conveniently shown from the book of Revelation (chapter 16:13-16) where the gathering to Armageddon is seen to involve political powers -- "the kings of the earth" -- and a "false prophet". The same elements are seen again in chapter 19:11-21. In both cases, the context is that of Christs coming.
A Religious Enemy
Another New Testament passage of Scripture makes it clear that when Christ comes he will destroy a particularly obnoxious foe. In 2 Thessalonians 2, the apostle Paul describes the development of a "man of sin". He says (verse 3) that there would come "a falling away" from the original Christian Faith -- and that when this had happened, a "man of sin" would be revealed. "And then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the Spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming" (verse 8). So from a "mystery of iniquity" already at work in the time of the apostles (v. 7), the "falling away", would develop into a system that would remain in existence until the coming of Christ.
This "man of sin" would be the product of a Christian falling away, or apostasy. If we allow the force of the apostles message to guide our understanding here, it leads us to but one inevitable conclusion: when Christ returns, he will confront an ancient and apostate Christian Church, at whose head will be one who has exalted himself above all. Further, as we consider the language of 2 Thess. 2:9-10 with that of Rev. 19:20, we find that there are firm grounds for identifying this man of sin with that "false prophet" of the book of Revelation. Consider the two passages side by side in the box above.
A Pre-Adventual "Gathering"
There is to be two stages in the confrontation between Christ and his enemies. There is a preliminary "gathering" of nations and peoples prior to the first stage in the conflict, and a careful study shows that the gathering has strong religious overtones. Take, for example, the prophecy of Ezekiel 38 where the latter-day "Gog" prepares for himself and his "great company" (38:1-7).
In Ezekiel 38:7 the word "company" is translated from the Hebrew Qahal, which in other places is rendered "congregation" (e.g. Leviticus 16:17 and many other places). The Greek Septuagint has the word "synagogue". Not only so, but this company or congregation are to be "assembled"; the Hebrew means that they are to be "called together" -- convoked. There is a definite religious overtone to this gathered company of Ezekiel 38.
This is interesting when we consider Ezekiel alongside the passage from Revelation 16. Here also worldly powers are seen to "gather" (Gk. sunago: as in the word "synagogue") together in preparation for a great battle. They do so in response to the policies and teachings which "come out of the mouth" of those who call together the assembly. The spirit which gathers those powers is both political and religious -- and it goes "forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world (Gk. OIKOUMENE, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.
This then is an "ecumenical" (OIKOUMENE) gathering convoked by both political and religious leaders. This is the sense conveyed. In the light of this, we do well to note the great ecumenical movement of our time.
"Ecumenism" is a word taken from the Greek OIKOUMENE and literally means "the whole inhabited earth". A booklet issued by the Catholic Enquiry Centre in the U.K. entitled "Unity" declares: "We call this world-wide endeavour to gather together "the whole inhabited world" (Greek: Oikumene) for Christ, the ecumenical movement."
In the important Second Vatican Council "Decree On Ecumenism" (De Oecumenismo, 1965) we are told:
"...this movement...has been given the name of the ecumenical movement. Its active members are those who call upon the God who is Three, and who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour."
"All Christians must make a proclamation before all nations of their belief in God, who is One and Three, in the Son of God incarnate, our Lord and Redeemer."
Other quotations from several other sources could be provided to show that for the Roman Church, the one essential item of belief is that of the so-called "Trinity". It is around this that "the whole inhabited world" is to be "gathered". For example, in the recent encyclical UT UNUM SINT (1995) the Roman Pontiff speaks of "the hope of Christian unity, which has its divine source in the Trinitarian unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."
It is interesting to note the fact that other churches too, now make this doctrine an essential test. For example, a small booklet entitled Examining the Cults (Harold J. Berry, 1982) says in its introduction:
"A fair question that usually is raised concerning a book of this nature is "What is your criterion for considering a certain group to be a cult?" We have considered a group to be a cult if it denies the fundamentals of the Scriptures as believed by historic Christian-ity. In writing about the doctrinal beliefs of each group we have sought to learn what that group teaches concerning the Bible as Gods revelation; the Trinity -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and the means of salvation."
Apostolic or Historic Christianity?
The phrase "...fundamentals of the Scriptures as believed by historic Christianity" is emphasized so that we might consider just what that is saying. First, this is not simply an appeal to "the fundamentals of the Scriptures," but to a particular understanding or interpretation of them. Secondly, the particular view that forms this test is that of "historic Christianity". What is "historic Christianity"? If the apostolic warnings of a great Christian apostasy are to be heeded -- and if that "falling away" had already begun during apostolic times as they declare that it had (e.g. 2 Thess. 2:7; 1 John 2:18-19 etc.). then what kind of test is "historic Christianity"? This, surely, is but another phrase for what the Roman Catholic calls "Church tradition" -- the results of historic "Ecumenical Councils" which formalized such doctrines as the Trinity.
As the Christian world gathers together around its "historic Christianity" (which is really Catholicism), let the reader take warning from the Scriptures themselves (see 2 Peter 3:17). The Apostles of the Lord have left us their inspired writings -- and their criteria. Their test should be noted:
"We are of God: he that heareth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error" -- 1 John 4:6.
Let us not be deceived by the spirit of an ecumenism based upon "historic Christianity". Let us hear the apostles themselves through their writings in the New Testament, and seek to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:22-24). Let us be sanctified (separated) by the truth (John 17:17) that we may be among those whom God has chosen to salvation "through sanctification of the spirit and belief of the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13). There is no substitute for this. The truth revealed in Scripture is that when Christ comes, he will be opposed by a powerful gathering under the spiritual leadership of a great false teacher, or prophet. This ecumenical gathering will be a "synagogue of satan" (c/p Rev. 2:9 with 2 Thess. 2:9); it will have developed from an historic "falling away" or apostasy from the Christian Faith.
A Holy War
As the prophet Joel describes the nations assembling for war, he says (chapter 3:9) "proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war..." As marginal notes in both the A.V. and R.V. point out, the Hebrew here is "Sanctify war." The wording denotes the calling of a holy war, a war that is seen to be justified on religious and moral grounds.
Most people are familiar with the idea of a "holy war" from its Arab connections -- but the Roman Church has its equivalent in what they call a "just war". An example of this was seen recently when Rome called upon the international community to intervene in the former Yugoslavia. The Orthodox Serbs were depicted as being the aggressor in this conflict, thus Rome stated that it was "the duty of countries to disarm the aggressor." The pontiff stated that States no longer had the "right to be indifferent". The result was the NATO bombing of the Bosnian Serbs -- an intervention on the side of Catholic Croatia and her Muslim allies.
According to John A. OBrien in his book The Faith of Millions, "Catholic moralists teach that four conditions must be fulfilled before a war can be morally justified." Those conditions, we can be sure, will be seen to exist prior to the great invasion of Israel by Gogs "company" (or congregation) when the time comes. That ecumenical gathering under Gog and the "false prophet", or Man of Sin, will "Sanctify war"...against Israel!
Ezekiel, in his 38th chapter (verse 12) gives the following reasons for Gogs future invasion of Israel:
1. To take a spoil...a prey
2. To occupy the desolate places now inhabited.
3. To move "against the people" that are gathered out of the nations (R.V.).
In the 16th verse the prophet depicts the northern confederacy as coming "against my people of Israel" and "against my land". This military inundation is clearly directed as much against the Jewish people as it is against their goods and their land. Why?
In describing the same invasion, the prophet Joel (chapter 3) points to divine intervention at this time -- and God says through the Prophet: "I will plead with them (the gathered nations)...for my people and for my heritage Israel..." (v. 2). The issue, clearly, is Gods people -- this is a judgement upon the nations for their great wickedness (verse 13) and for their anti-semitism.
Both the Roman Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches have long traditions of anti-semitic sentiment -- and they also have a long and dreadful history of anti-semitic behaviour; including pogroms, massacres and general persecution. As the memories of the Holocaust during World War II fade, we can expect anti-semitism to raise its diabolical head yet again. Indeed, signs of this are already visible.
As the spirit of ecumenism expands to embrace Islam (as it is doing), the anti-semitic character of Gogs confederacy will be strengthened further.
If the fulfillment of Malachi 4:5-6 now be added to the situation, and a rise in Jewish fundamentalism of some kind results -- then we can expect an international crisis to develop in which an ecumenical gathering will move against the people of Israel and occupy their land.
We now emphasize the fact that there are to be two stages in the coming confrontation. There is purpose in this. The first stage, involving many nations in an invasion of Israel will bring Christ and his saints on to the scene. They will appear as Israels deliverer and saviour -- and they will destroy Gentile power in the Holy Land.
This first stage will be followed by an interim period during which Jesus Christ will make himself known to the world as Israels Messiah and King -- and he will demand the subjection of the nations to his will. This is to be a period of proclamation providing opportunity for obedience.
Some nations, recognizing the true character and identity of the power confronting them will submit -- receiving untold blessing in consequence. The majority however will have:
A Reason for War
"When Christ and the Saints begin their rule, they will introduce laws and take actions which will horrify the modern world. The character of Christs government -- and his essential teaching -- means that freedom of religious worship will be officially abolished as it was in ancient Israel. Consider the following points:
-- The worship of only one God (that of Yahweh, God of Israel) will be permitted -- Exodus 20:3; Matt. 4:10; Psa. 81:8-9; Zephaniah 2:11.
-- There will be compulsory worship at Jerusalem -- Zechariah 14:17-19; Rev. 14:6-7.
-- All nations will be brought into subjection to Israels king -- They will have to obey him or face destruction. In judgement he will break the nations with "a rod of iron" -- Psalm 2:6-9; Isa. 60:12; 1 Thess. 1:7-9; Psa. 72:11.
Such a system of government imposing its principles and religion upon other states, will enrage the world. They will be gathered together against Israel in a "just" or holy war. OBrien in his book The Faith of Millions states his Churchs first condition for a war to be "morally justified":
"The State which declares war must be morally certain that its rights are being actually violated or are in certain and imminent danger".
This will be the situation exactly! The False Prophet and his ecumenical gathering will stir up the nations to war in order to protect their "rights".
Thus will they "sanctify war"... against Christ.