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Justification by Faith and the Spirit of Antichrist

The historic Protestant identification of antichrist is not a matter of cheap polemics against the papacy. Rome is the religious personification of human nature. "We cannot reproach Rome with anything which does not recoil upon man himself."—J. H. Merle D'Aubigne, History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, Vol. 1, p.32.

It is for good reason that the apostle calls the antichrist the "man of sin." 2 Thess. 2:3. St. Paul's words hark back to the book of Daniel. The prophet describes this power which grew up out of the Roman Empire and among the ten nations of Western Europe as having "eyes like the eyes of man." Dan. 7:8. And the leopardlike beast of Revelation 13, which is obviously the same power as the horn of Daniel 7, is said to have "the number of a man. Rev. 13:18. The papal system was developed by man — and we want to say very decisively, by many great and good men. They worked with great energy and foresight to build up the church of God on earth. But they gradually shaped the development of the church according to "the eyes of man" — man's wisdom and understanding. Great men like Augustine, who nobly combated the heresy of Pelagianism, helped build the Church of Rome into the papacy. Augustine combated Pelagius by showing that there was much evil in the best saints — and his own impact on subsequent church history proved his own words.

More and more the Church of Rome bore the image and superscription of man until it sat in the temple of God acting as if it were God. It was the expression of the one sin of all ages — man taking the place of God.

Casting the Truth to the Earth

The focus of the Christian's affections is above. It is "where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God." Col. 3:1. The Old Testament scripture most frequently alluded to in the New Testament is Psalm 110: "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at My right hand..."

It needs to be made startlingly clear that Christ at the right hand of God, and not Christ in the human heart, is the great focal point of the apostolic proclamation. Christ has redeemed, perfected, justified and secured the salvation of His people, and He has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. But all these blessings are in Christ, reserved in heaven for all who are kept by the power of God through faith (1 Peter 1:3-5). The Christian does not possess these blessings within himself, for they are found outside of him in the person of Christ. Christ Himself at the right hand of God, absent from His saints on earth, is the redemption, righteousness, security, perfection, life and immortality of His people. ". . . our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ . . " Phil. 3:20, R.S.V. The Spirit of Christ dwells in the saints to direct their affections, their faith and their attention outside of themselves to Christ at the right hand of God.

In contrast, let us look at the spirit of antichrist. Daniel, that great prophet who described the antichrist, said, "...it cast down the truth to the ground; and it practiced, and prospered." Dan. 8:12.

Consider how the truth of justification by faith was thrown down to the earth. We have seen that the Christian's righteousness with God is at the right hand of God. But through the influence of human nature — the man of sin — the church lost this great truth of justification. More and more it focused on the inward work of grace in the human heart (which is very necessary and proper to give attention to in its right place and perspective). Finally, the church was found teaching that the Christian's righteousness with God is found in the Holy Spirit's work in his heart — the experience of renewal and sanctification. The personal righteousness of the believer on earth was put in the place of the vicarious righteousness of Christ in heaven. Faith was no longer directed to the doing and dying of Christ alone for justification with God. It was directed to the inner experience of the believer. In short, a righteousness on earth (the good works of men) took the place of the all-sufficient righteousness (the good works of Christ) mediated for poor sinners at the right hand of God. Thus did the man of sin throw down the truth to the ground.

The whole development of the Roman system is a demonstration of what happens when the human heart and inward religious experience become the focus of the church's attention. What makes it the more terrible is that it is done under such a pious pretext. It is done under the guise of honoring the Holy Spirit, who indwells Christians.1 Dr. James Buchanan pinpoints the doctrine of antichrist when he says:
 

    There is, perhaps, no more subtle or plausible error, on the subject of Justification, than that which makes it rest on the indwelling presence, and the gracious work, of the Holy Spirit in the heart . . . nothing can be more unscriptural in itself, or more pernicious to the souls of men, than the substitution of the gracious work of the Spirit in us, for the vicarious work of Christ for us, as the ground of our pardon and acceptance with God. — James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification (republished London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1961), pp. 401, 402.
When man's personal righteousness took the place of Christ's substitutionary righteousness, a whole process of putting man in the place of God began. The church usurped the authority of Christ. Its voice was put forth as the voice of God, its priests became mediators in the place of Christ, and its mass was set forth as the sacrifice in the place of the cross. All the abuses of the papal system were only corollaries of its one great error of puffing an inside righteousness of the heart in the place of the outside righteousness of Christ. ". . . it cast down the truth to the ground; and it practiced, and prospered." Dan. 8:12.

The Deadly Wound

Luther did not center his attack against the abuses of the papacy but against its doctrine of justification. Complaining against the radical enthusiasts, who aimed their attack on papal customs and abuses, Luther said:

    We moreover did teach and urge nothing but this article of justification, which alone at that time did threaten the authority of the Pope and lay waste his kingdom . . . Images and other abuses in the Church would have fallen down of themselves, if they had but diligently taught the article of justification. — Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, Middleton edition (London: James Clarke & Co. Ltd., 1953), pp.218,219.
The Reformation restored the truth of the righteousness of faith — a righteousness not on earth but in heaven, not in man but in Christ, not personal but vicarious, not infused but imputed, not experiential but eschatological. This was the sword of truth which inflicted such a blow on the papacy that prophecy described it as a "deadly wound." Rev.13:3.
The Healing of the Deadly Wound

The same human tendencies which corrupted the truth of justification by faith in the early church have been at work in the Protestant movement. The current religious scene is preoccupied with things other than the great article of justification. The human heart and what goes on in the human heart is the overwhelming preoccupation of the current religious scene. This religion of internalism, which never gets higher than. a man's own spiritual navel, takes many forms:

1. It is often taught that faith itself justifies as an ethical act. People are urged to "believe" as if a certain quality in the heart called faith will make them pleasing in the sight of God.

2. Every sinner who comes to faith by the hearing of the gospel and work of the Spirit will make a decision for Christ, but this is far different from urging people to become Christians by their own acts of decision. There is a popular type of "decisionism" which tends to ground salvation on some religious act of the human agent — it may be called "faith," "decision ," "surrender," etc. But justification by grace alone teaches us to flee from our own acts of repentance, contrition, consecration, or even faith, and hide ourselves in the faithfulness of Christ.

3. Evangelicalism in general has far more to say about the psychological and moral change in the believer (regeneration, or renewal) than about God's regenerating act in Jesus Christ. Along with this, baptism is often set forth as the outward sign of this inward experience. Baptism becomes a sign and memorial of the believer's "death" — a memorial of his decision and consecration — instead of a witness to the one efficacious death of Jesus Christ. The gospel is subtly changed into the message of self and him crucified instead of Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). The believer's mystical act of "dying" becomes the focus of attention. This crisis experience of "yielding," "surrendering" and "dying" is said to be the means of getting the Spirit or getting the victory over sin (according to a misuse of Romans 6:1-7). Just as Rome put man's personal righteousness in the place of Christ's vicarious righteousness, so this teaching puts the personal "dying" of the believer in the place of the vicarious death of Christ. It is so easy to forget that it is His unique, unrepeatable death which frees us from sin and the law and brings us the Spirit (Rom. 6:2-7; 7:4; 2 Cor. 5:14; Gal. 3:13, 14). "We have even preferred heroic crucifixion on our own rather than face humdrum crucifixion 'with Christ'. "—J. E. Fison, The Christian Hope (London & New York: Longmans, Greene & Co., 1954), p.32.

4. The apostles proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus with great power, but modern evangelicalism prefers to focus on the resurrected life of the believer. The new birth, of course, is vitally important, but it is nothing short of tragedy when we substitute the "gospel" of the changed life for the gospel which changes lives. Instead of a healthy preaching of the Christ event, the changed life itself becomes the supreme event. Go to an average evangelical "testimony meeting," and you will have full proof of that. But the devotees of the teenage Indian guru also have glowing testimonies about how their master gave them victory over drugs, changed their personalities and filled them with radiant peace. The apostles did not run around preaching a new life style obtainable by believing in Jesus — as if Jesus were a mere means to this end. Modern evangelicalism preaches the conversion event of the believer far more than the Christ event, salvation by new birth rather than salvation which brings new birth.

5. There is no question but that the doctrine of the Spirit's indwelling and the Spirit-filled life has become the center of evangelical interest. The charismatic movement has only carried this evangelical preoccupation with the Spirit's work in the heart a little further than most of its evangelical friends.

When the human heart and subjective inward experience become the center of the church's teaching — and who could deny that this has become well-nigh universal — the truth is cast down to the earth. Man on earth has taken the spotlight from Christ at the right hand of God. It does not matter how this is dressed up in the most pious and splendidly Christian robes; it is the spirit of antichrist. Glorification of religious experience under the sanctimonious pretext of honoring the Holy Spirit is the glorification of man and leads to the worship of the creature (the beast) rather than worship of the Creator. This is what the great issue described in Revelation 13 and 14 is all about.

The church cannot ignore the mighty truth of justification by faith without casting the truth to the ground. When the pursuit of man's religious experience on earth takes the place of faith in Christ's intercession of righteousness in heaven, people "mind earthly things" — even their own "belly," or internals (see Phil. 3:19).

How Views of the Gospel Influence Views on Prophecy

An earthly, man-centered, experience-centered religion will have a corresponding effect on views about eschatology. The evangelical is inseparably linked to the prophetic. For instance:

Instead of looking to the Jerusalem which is above (Gal. 4:26), which descends "out of heaven from God" (Rev. 21:10), the dispensationalism of Futurism looks to earthly Jerusalem. Instead of looking to Mount Zion which is in "heavenly Jerusalem," where Jesus stands as Mediator of the new covenant (Heb. 12:22-24), there is a looking to an earthly Mount Zion, which is as destitute of any significance as the old covenant itself. Instead of looking to the true temple in heaven, where Christ is High Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Rev. 11:19; Heb. 8:1, 2), there is a looking for an earthly temple to be built in Palestine. And the end of all earthly, man-centered religion is an earthly millennium "along the lines of a Moslem paradise on the improved Damascus model." — Ibid., p.42. An "exciting experience of the Spirit-filled life" is to be exceeded by an even more exciting future in the coming earthly utopia. " . . . tomorrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant." Thus, the prophetic along with the evangelical is thrown down to the earth.

Futurism2 (Dispensationalism), with its prophetic vision of modern Zionism which is directed to an earthly Palestine, came out of Rome. Futurism is the extension of Roman Catholic spirituality to the things of prophecy. The only reason that it could take root on Protestant soil is because, as Catholic scholar Bouyer says, there has been "a rediscovery of Catholicism" within the Protestant movement (Louis Bouyer, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism [Cleveland: World Pub. Co., 1964], p.189). We have a situation today wherein the so-called Protestant movement is saturated with Catholic mentality and Catholic spirituality. A Judaizing corruption of the gospel has led to a Judaizing concept of prophecy and eschatology. The Reformers had a lot of insight when they labeled the millennial dreams of radical Anabaptists as "Jewish fables". At any rate, the New Testament gives not a suspicion of a text to show that the apostles preached about a coming earthly, temporal, Jewish millennium. We must not read the prophecies of the Old Testament as if the New Testament did not exist.

"What about Revelation 20?" someone asks. We cannot object to taking this scripture literally in a premillennial sense, but search and look, and as F. F. Bruce acknowledges,3 there is nothing here which says the millennium is on earth. And there is nothing to say it is Jewish either.

The Implications of Revelation 13

However unpleasant and alarming it might be, we ought to take off our Futurist glasses and look at the way Protestantism read Revelation 13 for three hundred years. Just as the Hebrews got a new Pharaoh who knew not Joseph, so the church has new teachers who know not the genuine Protestant system of prophetic interpretation. This generation of Christians needs to be told how our spiritual fathers understood the symbols of the ten horned beast of Revelation 13:1-10 and the Lamb-like beast of Revelation 13:11-18.

Until the last one hundred years Protestants generally understood that the great ten horned beast of Revelation 13 was a symbol of the Roman Empire and that the second, lamb-like beast was a symbol of the Papacy. Says the Revelator:

    And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. Rev. 13:1,2.

    And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon and he exercised all the power of the first beast before him and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast whose deadly wound was healed. Rev.13:11-12.

These texts hark back to Daniel 7, where the prophet describes the four great empires (Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome) under the symbols of the lion, the bear, the leopard and the fourth terrible ten-horned beast. Out of the ten horns of the fourth beast arises a desolating “little horn” which casts the truth to the ground and makes war with the saints of God.

The Roman Empire as the ten horned, seven-headed beast received a “deadly wound” as it fell prey to the invading barbarian hordes, but we are told by John that the beast’s wound is “healed”. The healing of the wound clearly corresponds to the rise of the Roman papacy whose “seat” is located in the same seven hilled city of Rome. Thus the second beast with its lamb-like horns speaks like the Dragon and makes an “image” to the first beast. This papal second beast corresponds exactly with the evil work of the "little horn" of Daniel 7. The papacy has substituted a false morally corrupt “priesthood”, a false gospel, a false system of sacramentalism, and the false prophetic schema of Futurism. Thus the papacy has become the “desolator” of the true gospel; and the “temple” of the Lord’s church is desolated and “cast to the ground” (Daniel 8:9-12) bringing all the world into the bondage of the “Man of Sin” (see 2 Thess 2:3-17).

Daniel 8:9-12 Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land. 10 It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them. 11 It set itself up to be as great as the Prince of the host; it took away the daily sacrifice from him, and the place of his sanctuary was brought low. 12 Because of rebellion, the host of the saints and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground.

Daniel 7:8, 11 While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully... 11 "Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire.

The "little horn" of Daniel 7 grew out of the fourth beast which symbolized the Roman Empire. It is therefore a Roman power. It grew up among and dominated the nations into which the Roman Empire upon its dissolution had been divided. It is described as continuing its existence until the “judgment sits” to take away its dominion. The "little horn" of Daniel 7, the lamb-like beast of Revelation 13:11 and “false prophet” of Revelation 16:13 are obviously the same power brought to view.4 So Protestant expositors of a bygone era have unanimously said that Revelation 13:11 describes the papacy. The Protestant Reformation therefore can be understood in Daniel 8:14 as the “restoration of the temple” through the restoration and renewed proclamation of the everlasting gospel of justification by faith alone. Because of the liberating message of the gospel, the power of Rome suffered a great decline in Europe. The opening of the nineteenth century witnessed a papacy so weakened that most observers saw it ready to die as a world power, never to rise again.

But the prophecy of Revelation 13 does not end there. Even as Christ received His death wound and lived again, so John the Revelator tells us that the wounded Roman antichrist would be revived and live again even unto the second coming of Christ. The prophet focuses his attention upon the lamb-like beast rising from the earth (Rev. 13:11). The Iamb is elsewhere used as a symbol of Christ. Here the papal power which arises is completely different from the wild, ravaging "beasts" that came before. In appearance and profession this power is Christian and lamb-like. But a strange thing happens. This second beast, which revives the first beast, begins to act like the first beast. Instead of preaching the true gospel, it preaches "another" gospel. It becomes a "false prophet" (Rev. 16:13) and the “eighth head” (Rev 17:11) as the beast works false miracles and brings fire 5 down from heaven in the sight of men (Rev. 13:13). It thereby deceives people into once again worshiping the first beast (Rev. 13:11-13). A likeness of the first beast is formed, and together the beast and its image unite to persecute and compel all men to follow in their train.

Now if Revelation 13, 16, and 17 truly describe where the current religious scene is heading, it demands the most urgent and prayerful attention on the part of God's people. The great mistake of the Jewish nation was that, failing to recognize Christ, they fulfilled prophecy by condemning Him (Acts 13:24). The great danger facing the evangelical Christian church today is that, failing to recognize Antichrist, we will fulfill prophecy by promoting Antichrist, his false gospel, his false carnal dispensationalist eschatology, and even assist him in his modern-day Crusader war against the Palestinian "terrorists" in order to rebuild an earthly Jewish temple in Palestine.

One thing from Revelation 13 stands out clearly. Just as Christ, the image of God, is also God, so the lamb-like beast, on becoming an image of antichrist, is also antichrist. The mortally wounded but revived first beast and the lamb-like “image to the beast” will continue to deceive all whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of life. The “man of sin” will sit in the “temple of God” and deceive all who receive not the love of the truth of the pure holy gospel of justification by God’s unmerited grace alone through faith alone in the sinless life and atoning death of Christ alone.

The Final Reformation

As we scan the future, all is not dark. The truth, cast down to the earth, will be lifted up to its rightful place as the Spirit of Christ points men to Christ at the right hand of God. Many will cast away their preoccupation with their own experience and live by faith alone in their Righteousness and Life at the right hand of God.

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Footnotes:

1 Since the Holy Spirit comes to glorify Christ alone (John 16.13), He will not be a party to placing His own work in the heart at the center of attention instead of Christ's work for man.

2 To be fair, we must acknowledge that there is a kind of futurism that is neither Dispensational nor Palestinian. This better kind of futurism is represented by the writings of George Eldon Ladd. We do not deny that some prophecies of the antichrist may have future fulfillment, Like preterism, this form of futurism may be correct in some things which it affirms, but it is wrong in what it denies,

3 Commentary on Revelation 20, Tyndale series.

4 Compare the work of the "little horn" with the work of the leopardlike beast of Revelation 13.

5 Fire genuinely from heaven would signify the outpouring of God's Spirit, but this is seen to be God's Spirit by those who have the eyes of men—that is, by those who themselves have the spirit of antichrist (Dan. 7:8). Therefore, a counterfeit outpouring of the Spirit is here indicated.