Tag Archives: book of revelation

Is the Ukraine Crisis Revealing Russia’s Role in the End Times?

Events over the last few weeks in Ukraine have triggered a renewed interest in the End Times. Christians should pay attention to what is happening in the Ukraine, due to concerns about a possible World War III, for many reasons. But while the End Times could be near, it probably has nothing to do with the reasons why many Christians think Russia is a key player in future events.

Evangelist Pat Robertson recently entered the fray by suggesting that the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel predicted centuries ago that Russia would ultimately fulfill prophetic events associated with the Second Coming of Jesus. In fact, according to Robertson, Vladimir Putin is being “compelled by God” to invade Ukraine:

Pretty impressive, right? Well, let us take a closer look.

The story about Russia and the End Times finds its connection from a reference in Revelation 20:8, in the last book of the Bible, where “Gog and Magog” are associated with a great battle, that some say is elsewhere described in Revelation as Armageddon. The “Gog and Magog” reference points back to Ezekiel 38, where Ezekiel gives a prophecy about Gog and Magog, and a future invasion of Israel, led by these foreign powers.

There is a lot to unpack here, but we can just focus on where “Russia” is said to come in, at verse 2, in Ezekiel 38. Here is how the New American Standard Bible (1977/1995) and the New King James Version (late 1970s) render this verse:

Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him…” (NASB 1997/1995)

Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him...” (NKJV)

Notice that the word “Rosh” is capitalized, which makes it a proper name, of a particular place. Many prophecy pundits will tell you that “Rosh” sounds like the word “Russia,” which would suggest Russia is somehow involved with this future invasion of Israel. Pat Robertson identifies “Rosh” with “Russia” on his map in the video. This gets a lot of attention: Is is possible that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is yet a prelude to a future invasion of Israel, that might signify the End Times?

Ah, but just compare the same verse with a few other translations, such as the ESV and the CSB:

“Son of man, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him…” (ESV)

“Son of man, face Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. Prophesy against him…” (CSB)

And finally, let us consider the venerable KJV:

Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him... (KJV)

Notice what is different. In these other translations, that word “Rosh” is instead translated as “chief.” In these other translations, “Rosh” is no longer a place name. In other words, “Rosh” is no longer “Russia.”

Let that sink in for a moment.

So, what is going on here?

John of Patmos, receiving the Revelation, by Gasparde Crayer. The Book of Revelation makes a curious reference to “Gog and Magog,” somewhat cryptic names that go back to the Book of Ezekiel. Is the current Ukraine/Russia crisis somehow tied to the events of the Last Days?

 

Sorting Out the Whole “Russia” / Ezekiel / Revelation / End Times Quandary

Back in the 1970s, the United States and Russia (technically the U.S.S.R.) were involved in the height of the Cold War. Both the NASB and NKJV translations, as shown above, were developed in the 1970s, and these translations tended to reflect a lot of popular prophecy thinking of the time.

Interestingly, the venerable KJV, dating back to 1611, predated the Hal Lindsey craze of the “Late Great Planet Earth” by several centuries, and did not associate “rosh” with a place name, like Russia. That word “rosh” has an ancient Hebrew meaning of “chief” or “head,” and it appears over 500 times in the Old Testament. The KJV translators simply followed the traditional Hebrew “rosh” to mean “chief” in Ezekiel 38, following the example set by Jerome, in his translation of the Latin Vulgate, in the late 4th century.

So, what really drove the translators of the NASB and the NKJV to change the translation of the Hebrew “rosh” in Ezekiel 38 from “chief” to a place name, like “Rosh?” Well, they were not entirely crazy. It turns out that the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, dating back to a couple of hundred years before Jesus, translated the word to what appears to be a place name, simply “rosh” (or “Rhos” in some English versions). Therefore, the NASB and NKJV were not making this up. The “rosh” name translation is a real possibility. But how plausible is this translation?

Now, it must be said that ever since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, many scholars have come to the conclusion that the Septuagint might offer superior understandings of the original Hebrew text, thus suggesting that certain translated portions of the Greek Septuagint correspond to an earlier Hebrew text, that predates the Masoretic text, the Jewish Hebrew Bible that serves as the basis for most translations of the Old Testament today.

However, it is important to realize that this conclusion is complicated by the fact that there is no one, single Septuagint translation. There are actually multiple “Septuagints,” whereby various Jewish scribes over a good hundred of years, or more, put together different sets of Greek translations of the original Hebrew Scriptures. As a result, some Septuagint translations of certain texts work better than others.

The key to resolving this quandary is to try to locate where Ezekiel might have thought “Rosh,” as a geographical place, might have existed. This is where the massive stumbling block behind the “Rosh” as “Russia” argument really lies. To date, no one has been able to establish the location of “Rosh” anywhere in the ancient near east, or anywhere remotely near Russia, in any ancient record. Not a single reference. None.

Mmmmmm…..

Defenders of the “Rosh” as “Russia” thesis often make a rather bizarre argument that the name “Russia” comes from the phrase, “The Rus,” which is said to be the same as the Hebrew “Rosh.” The problem with this argument is “The Rus” actually comes from the Vikings, in the Medieval Period, when they came down from Scandinavia, and settled around Kiev, in the Ukraine, and parts of modern Russia. There is absolutely no connection between the ancient Hebrew “rosh” and the medieval Swedish “rus.”

This is just a form of bad logic, and faulty use of evidence. Just because a word in one language sounds the same as another word in a different language does not definitively mean that the two words mean the same thing. For example, flat-earthers take a Hebrew word, transliterated into English as “nasha”, which means “to deceive,” to mean that “NASA” is deceiving us in thinking that the earth is a sphere, simply because “nasha” and “NASA” sound alike. Really???

To make matters worse, some then go ahead and claim that the word “Meschech” in Ezekiel 38:2 and the word “Moscow” mean the same thing, because the words sound the same. There you go, Russia still is in Ezekiel 38, right?

However, is there any ancient historical evidence to support the claim that “Meschech” and “Moscow” are referencing the same geographical place?

Nope. We strike out again here.

The word “Meschech” (or “Meshech“) actually comes from the Table of Nations in Genesis 10:2, and in 1 Chronicles 1:5, and refers to an area in Asia Minor, in what we today call Turkey, which is on the south side of the Black Sea. Moscow is way, way far away to the north, on the north side of the Black Sea. We do not have a single scrap of ancient evidence that associates the area of modern Moscow with the ancient Hebrew “Meschech.”

The same goes for identifying “Tubal” with “Tobolsk“, a town in Siberia. The words sound the same, but “Tubal” is often paired with “Meschech” in the Bible, and was located in Turkey as well. Likewise, we have zero ancient evidence for linking “Tubal” to “Tobolsk.” This lack of evidence pretty much changes the possibility of Russia being in view, specifically, in Ezekiel 38, to that of being improbable.

Other arguments associating the story of Gog and Magog specifically with Russia pretty much go downhill from there. Here is the point: I personally do not find this to be a hill that I am willing to die on. I would much rather rely on evidence that we already have instead of depending on supposed evidence that we do not have. However, if it turns out that new evidence surfaces that clearly has an ancient source identifying “rosh” with a particular geographical location, way up north from Israel, then I am perfectly willing to change my mind. Furthermore, it is still possible that a great battle at the end of the age might still feature Russia as a major player in it. You just can not clearly get this from Ezekiel 38. So until we get more clarity, we probably do not need to stock up yet on a 3-month emergency food supply.

Looking forward to the ultimate Second Coming of Jesus Christ is something that all historically orthodox Christians anticipate. However, it is probably best to regard this “Rosh=Russia” issue as a matter of wishful thinking among a certain group of Bible commentators and prophecy specialists. For decades now, Russia has always featured prominently in Bible prophecy speculations. Russia fits neatly in many End Times schemes. Certain commentators have a lot invested in defending their future prophecy fulfillment timelines by placing Russia squarely in the center of the action. But as even progressive Christian scholar John Barton says, the Bible can be “shape shifted” to make it mean whatever you want it to mean.

Simply wanting something to be true, does not make it true.

For more information on this topic, I would suggest that Veracity readers check out Dr. Michael Heiser on his Naked Bible Podcast, number 152, where Heiser goes into the various place names discussed in Ezekiel 38, in great detail.  Regarding the Septuagint “rosh” translation in Ezekiel 38:2, Dr. Heiser concludes that the Septuagint translator simply did not know what to do with the Hebrew word “rosh” and therefore left it transliterated into Greek, without suggesting any particular meaning for the word. For a quick 8-minute summary on YouTube, you can listen here.

As an aside, it might be worth noting that the good folks at the Lockman Foundation, who produce the NASB translation, have since the 1970s made an update to the 2020 revision of the NASB. This change reflects the conclusion made by the KJV, ESV, and CSB translators, by rendering “rosh” as “chief” and not as a place name (In fairness to the earlier NASB translation, the “chief” translation is actually mentioned in a footnote. It just is not in the main text). If you go back and view that YouTube video with Pat Robertson, you will notice that they actually use this 2020 revision of NASB in that clip, where the place name “Rosh” is strangely absent, not even in a footnote! My guess is that my fellow Washington and Lee University graduate, Pat Robertson, and his crew at CBN, never picked up on that.

No matter what one thinks about the Ukranian/Russia crisis and its connection to the “End Times,” this utter tragedy in that part of the world is something that all of us as believers should be in prayer about, looking for ways to try to help people who have been bitterly impacted, and offer a ray of hope in a very dark time.


Does Bill Gates Want to Use a COVID-19 Vaccine to Give Us the Mark of the Beast?

Bill Gates is working on a vaccine for COVID-19. Is this the “mark of the beast,” that the Book of Revelation warns us about?

For a number of Christians, what Bill Gates is doing is alarming. If it is not a vaccine, laced with some possible hidden microchip technology, it could be some type of universal ID system, using a chip implant of some sort. Should Christians be concerned? Should Christians resist taking the vaccine?

Does Bill Gates have a plan to give everyone the “mark of the beast?”

There are a number of problems with this type of thinking. First, fears about a chip implant are a bit late in the ball game. We already have a technological means of tracking people with a computer chip. You are probably using something like this to read this blog article.

It is called a smartphone.

Secondly, fears about the “mark of the beast” have a long, long history, of attempts to identify the “mark” with something that turned out to be nothing to fear. For example, when the New England Puritans, like Cotton Mather, started to promote inoculation against small pox, in the 1720s, a number of other Christians resisted such vaccination efforts. At one point, someone even firebombed Reverend Mather’s home in Boston, in protest. The vaccination itself left a permanent scar, on each person, which was nicknamed “the mark of the beast.” So, these type of prophecy speculations today are nothing new to church history. Thankfully, small pox today has been eradicated due to vaccinations, so we don’t have to worry about small pox anymore.

But the most difficult and third problem with all of this has to do with how we read the Bible.

The way to start is to read the relevant portion of Scripture. Some just look at Revelation 13:16-18, but a longer reading puts it all in context (Revelation 13:5-8, 11-18 ESV). Highlighted below are key phrases to consider:

And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain…. 
Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666. 

The popular idea, when reading about the “mark of the beast,” is to think that some demonic figure (the “beast,” as in the first and/or second beast mentioned in this passage) will try to force everyone, including believing Christians, to have this “mark of the beast” implanted in our bodies. The implication is that Christians should do whatever they can to be wary of the imposition of such a mark, and resist it with every means possible…. even if it means rejecting something like a COVID-19 vaccine.

I have thought about adapting a maxim, that is surely appropriate for a blog article like this: Having an open mind on all things is surely good, yet on the whole, it is far better to follow the evidence we already do have, instead of speculating on the possibility of evidence we do not currently possess.

Here is what I mean by that.

The popular interpretation summarized above makes a number of assumptions. First, it assumes a futurist interpretation of the Book of Revelation. A futurist interpretation suggests that the bulk of what is described in Revelation corresponds to future events. Many Christians are not aware that there are other, faithfully-orthodox methods of reading Revelation that do not assume a futurist framework.

For example, we have good evidence to indicate that the prophecy regarding the “mark of the beast” has already been fulfilled in the past, specifically in the first century of the church. Interested students of the Bible might want to at least consider this preterist, or past-fulfillment based, approach to interpreting this passage, as a reasonable alternative to the futurist approach.

Furthermore, we also have evidence that suggests that a more symbolic approach to the “mark of the beast,” exemplified by either an historicist or idealist approach to interpreting this passage, might carry more weight than a futurist reading.

But let us lay all of the above aside, and assume for now that the futurist reading is correct. It very well might be. Even though it is nearly impossible to figure out evidence for something that might happen in the future, most evangelical Christians today take a futurist approach, so it is not without precedent nor credibility. Regardless of approach, a more thorough attention to the context of the “mark of the beast” will help to illuminate why more popular understandings are problematic.

Does even the futurist approach really line up with the popular idea of “the mark of the beast” being imposed on Christians?

Notice first, in the passage above, that “and all who dwell on earth will worship it,” namely the “it” being the first and/or second beast. Who are those “all who dwell on the earth?” Well, the next phrase in the highlighted verse tells us, “everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” In other words, those who are not believers in the Lord Jesus Christ will worship the beast.

This little nugget of Scriptural truth helps us to decipher what is meant later on by “the earth and its inhabitants [who] worship the first beast” and “it [the second beast] deceives those who dwell on earth.” The ones who are deceived by the beast are not believing Christians.

It is also helpful to realize what is meant by the “forehead,” which is where the mark of the beast might be placed. Elsewhere in the Book of Revelation we can read that the people of God, those who worship Jesus and put their trust in Him, will be “sealed” with a “seal” placed on their forehead (Revelation 7:3; 9:4; 14:1; 22:4 ESV), as in Revelation 7:3, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” Furthermore, “foreheads” alludes to the concept in Hebrews 10:16, that associates the covenant of God, placed upon the hearts of believers, as also being written on our “minds.”

In other words, those who worship and love Jesus will have this forehead seal. This is contrasted with those others who are “marked on the right hand or the forehead;” that is, those who have “the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.” 

The “mark of the beast,” whether it be a literal or symbolic mark, represents those who have identified with the powers that oppose Christ. Consider the “mark of the beast” to be like an oath of allegiance. Or think of it as the mark of someone passing a loyalty test. It can not be coercively forced on someone else. Instead, the “mark of the beast” is taken upon someone willingly.

What do we conclude from all of this? Those who possess the “mark of the beast” are simply those who worship the antithesis of the Gospel. Those who reject Jesus, and subject themselves to worshiping that which is opposed to Jesus will be the ones who receive the mark of the beast.

So, should Christians be concerned that someone might force the “mark of the beast” upon Christians? NO, not according to what is taught in Scripture. Therefore, unless you are planning on committing apostasy anytime soon, followers of Jesus need not worry about any potential threat of having the “mark of the beast” imposed on them, against their will.

Should we be concerned about those influences associated with the power behind the “mark of the beast?” Absolutely. That which opposes the Gospel should not be taken lightly. In the case of vaccines, we should do what we can, as believers, to promote the development of a safe, effective vaccine, freed from the influences of those who might try to use something like this, as an act of bioterrorism, or for some other nefarious purposes.

Should we be concerned about others who might take upon themselves the “mark of the beast? Again, absolutely. But the way we are to go about this is by spreading the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus. We are to pray that the Holy Spirit might penetrate hearts, that others might turn from their rebellion against God, and embrace the Savior.

Despite whatever you may think of Bill Gates, followers of Jesus should support vaccination efforts, like his, that are intended to save lives. We have evidence that people, like Bill Gates, are at least trying to do good, to help people. Now, surely, Bill Gates is not perfect, but we do not have evidence for Bill Gates, that he wants to implant the “mark of the beast” on ChristiansSadly, such hyper-vigilance against the “mark of the beast” is associated with all sorts of conspiracy-type thinking, that mars the reputation of the Gospel, and invites an unbelieving world to view Christians with needless mockery and derision. Instead, let us all pray for the development of a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19, as soon as reasonably possible.

 

 


Who Are the 144,000? — A Case Study in Understanding the Book of Revelation

From a 12th century commentary on Revelation 7, by Saint John of Lorvao, Portugal, depicting the 144,000. The variety of existing interpretations that attempt to decipher the 144,000 are legion. Which is the “correct one?”

Have you ever tried to read the Book of Revelation, and wondered to yourself, “Huh? What is this all about?

Despite its early reception in many quarters, Revelation was one of the last books to be accepted into the New Testament canon of Scripture. Eastern Orthodox Christians, even today, do not publicly read Revelation in their worship services. The early church fathers were reticent about Revelation, not because they did not value it, but because they were concerned that overly-enthusiastic, misguided readers might misuse it, and read all sorts of crazy stuff into it.

History has proven this reticence to be 100% correct. Remember Family Radio’s Harold Camping? Or David Koresh in Waco, Texas? All of the crazies have looked to Revelation, believing that they, and they alone, have figured out the true message of this book. Yet, they were all 100% wrong.

Still, Revelation simply fascinates people.

I once had a friend in college who supposedly “knew” all about Revelation, what the bowls and trumpets all mean, and those spooky, multi-headed beasts. My friend knew very little about what the rest of the Bible talked about, such as the basics about sin, our need for a Savior, and what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus. But he sure knew all about the Antichrist!

It seems like there are two kinds of people in the world when it comes to the Book of Revelation. First, you have folks, who are simply curious about understanding Revelation. Most folks are at least mildly interested, but more than a few are sort of like my college friend, simply obsessed with all things “End Times.” Many of them watch late night cable TV channels devoted to figuring out “Last Days” prophecies, reading New York Times bestsellers all claiming to reveal the “true secrets” about Bible prophecy, while others love to go to various, church-sponsored Revelation seminars. It is fine to take an initial interest in these things, I suppose, but only if it gets people to read the rest of the Bible.

The second group are those who just get really fed up with all things “End Times,” or at least the cacophony of voices that surround the discussion. They are bothered by the fact that there seems to be endless theories as to how to interpret the Book of Revelation. Even the great Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, observed that “everyone thinks of the book whatever his spirit imparts.” For Luther, at one point, he went so far as saying that Revelation is “neither apostolic nor prophetic, for Christ is neither taught nor recognized in it.” Nevertheless, despite discouraging its use, Luther recognized that the church historically did view Revelation as part of the New Testament canon, so he did include it in his 16th century translation of the Bible into German.

So that is where we are at: Some feel absolutely compelled to defend their own pet theory about Revelation, and demonizing others, while others simply just want to skip that book of the Bible all together! Well, that is all quite understandable, but both of those attitudes, too, are wrong-headed.

In this “deep-dive” blog post, I want to do a case study in Revelation, by explaining why this book is so difficult to understand, just by examining one, short passage, comparing different approaches, and then draw some positive lessons from the study of Revelation. The bottom line: We should not neglect the Book of Revelation, but neither should we cling too tightly to a particular interpretive tradition of the book. But before I start, I must issue this disclaimer: If you are new to Revelation, I would strongly encourage you to stop reading this blog post, and then click through to first read my introductory post on the Book of Revelation from a few years ago here on Veracity. Otherwise, this will get too confusing way too fast. 

So, who are the 144,000 spoken of in Revelation 7:1-8? Let us walk through this very intriguing question. This is not a short blog post, so you may want to pour yourself a beverage before we move on. Continue reading


Revelation … (and the Rapture Reboot)

Clarence Larkin (1850–1924), a Baptist pastor, produced this intricately detailed chart showing the structure of the events described in the Book of Revelation according to a dispensationalist system of Bible interpretation. Note how Larkin splits the event of the Second Coming, into two parts: the first where Christ "raptures" the church and the second where the Christ comes in glory with his Church to begin the millennial reign. In between the two parts of the Second Coming is the "seventieth week of Daniel," which forms the basic narrative of the last book of the Bible.

Clarence Larkin (1850–1924), a Baptist pastor, produced this marvelously intricate and detailed chart showing the structure of events described in the Book of Revelation according to a dispensationalist system of Bible interpretation (Click to enlarge). Note how Larkin splits the event of the Second Coming, into two parts: the first where Christ “raptures” the church out of the world and the second where Christ comes in glory with his Church to begin the millennial reign. In between the two parts of the Second Coming is the “seventieth week of Daniel,” which forms the basic, if not sometimes terrifying, narrative of the last book of the Bible… You really need a chart to keep track of everything! (Source: clarencelarkincharts.com)

The subject of the End Times can be very daunting. Various places in the New Testament address the topic, but by far the most fascinating discussion in the Holy Scriptures that digs into End Times issues can be found in the very last book of the Bible: The Revelation.

As I was nearly completing this blog post on the Book of Revelation, I read about a new Christian movie coming out this year, Left Behind. What? Nicholas Cage in a Christian movie?

Yep. That’s right. What a great lead in on a blog post about the Book of Revelation! How did this all come about?

Well, the story is that some years ago, best selling Christian authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins wrote a series of popular books of the same name. The only book series that has topped Left Behind in sales in recent years is Harry Potter.

In 2000, Cloud Ten Pictures released a theatrical version of the book, starring Christian actor Kirk Cameron. Left Behind: The Movie was a total bust at the box office. Unlike the Harry Potter films, Left Behind: The Movie never went very far.

In response to the poor sales and lackluster quality, author Tim LaHaye sued the film company claiming a breach of contract. LaHaye was expecting a much better movie and wanted Cloud Ten to make amends. Cloud Ten eventually settled with the author and agreed to remake the movie. As the subject of the film is “the Rapture,” you can call it a “Rapture Reboot.”

Well, here is the trailer. Does this look like your idea of a Christian film?

I am still working on the concept of Nicholas Cage being in this film…. Anyway… Undoubtedly, the film will be controversial, particularly among Christians. Fans of the book series might flock to the theatre, just to see if the “Rapture Reboot” with Nicholas Cage was really that much of an improvement over Kirk Cameron. Nevertheless, the film does raise a lot of questions about the Bible, the type of issues you simply will not be able to resolve just by going to a movie theater, or viewing later on Netflix.
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