Lecture 6 of 11 on "The Hopes of the Church of God"

Daniel 7:16-27.

The Two Characters of Evil: Ecclesiastical Apostasy, and Civil Apostasy.

J. N. Darby.

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Up to the present, dear friends, we have only spoken of the happiness that pertains to the church, save that, at our last meeting, we traced the progress which evil will make on the earth until the very end. This evil has a twofold character, upon which I will speak a few words, seeing that the relations which exist between the power of evil and the judgments which await it, have a special interest for the children of God. When the evil has come to its height, God will destroy it.

The verses which I read are the interpretation which the angel gives to Daniel of the vision of the beasts which the prophet saw; and, as always occurs in symbolic prophecies, the interpretation contains many new features. In the explanation given to Daniel, all that will happen to the saints is added; but the principal subject of the chapter is the beast who exalts and elevates himself against the most high God.

I say, dear friends, that there are two characters in the evil which manifests itself on the earth: the first is ecclesiastical apostasy; and the second, apostasy of the civil power itself.

First, apostasy of the church - viewed in its outward responsibility here below - has in principle taken place. Later on there will be a more open manifestation. As to the second, the civil power will rise against Him to whom all government belongs - against Christ, whom God will establish king over the earth. It is in the time of the fourth beast, the Roman empire, that this revolt will take place.

Before entering directly on our subject of to-day, I desire to make a few remarks on Matthew 25, to which we shall return when we speak of the nations; for all the peoples of the earth which shall exist at the end of the times shall be either subject to Christ and, consequently, saved, or in rebellion and, consequently, destroyed. But to remove doubts on the subject of this chapter, a few words must be said on it. People believe ordinarily that the judgment of which this chapter treats is the last or general judgment; but they are wrong. It is the judgment of the living nations on this earth, and not of the dead. Accordingly I did not speak of it when we treated of the resurrection of the dead. In this chapter of Matthew, I repeat, there is no question whatever of resurrection. In chapters 24 and 25 are seen the judgment of the Jews, what will happen to that nation; next, what will happen to believers; then, what will happen to the Gentiles. It is the judgment of the quick, and not of the dead. It is this when we read, "Before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats." What has given rise to the notion that it is the judgment of the dead is the statement that "these [the wicked] shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal." But this would only tell us that the judgment of the living would be final like that of the dead. Certainly, when God judges the living, His judgment sends some to eternal punishment and others to life eternal. The judgment of the living is as certain as that of the dead. We shall be able to speak of it in its place.

322 Last time I was speaking mostly upon the tares, that is, the ecclesiastical apostasy - of the progress of evil there, - of that which has happened to the church as on earth. Now I am going to look into the apostasy of the civil power in its outward form, and the judgment which will come on it from God; for His wrath will fall upon this power. If at the close, ecclesiastical evil in some sort disappears in the character of secular power; and if the civil power has exalted itself, ecclesiastical power, is not the less vigorous: only it has not the supremacy; and herein is the difference. In other words, it is not that ecclesiastical power has improved itself, only it is not exercised in the same way; but its influence is not the less pernicious. It is no longer an ecclesiastical power wielding the secular arm, which is seen riding on the beast, and ruling it; but it takes a more mysterious form, and consequently a more dangerous one. Its occult influence continues, though deprived of its outward splendour; for by their pride men now begin to lift themselves up and combine against God, and so prepare the way for the son of perdition.

Although ecclesiastical wickedness is always the worst, nevertheless, as we have been saying, civil apostasy will have its time of manifestation. Scripture tells us that all civil power is of God. Now, in the same way that the church loses its proper force and character by its rebellion against God, so the civil government will be found in a state of revolt and apostasy when, instead of confessing fealty to God, it sets itself up against God, who is the source of its authority.

323 The Spirit of God being the true strength of the church, the church's revolt begins when, instead of being subject to Christ, it gives itself over to the will and power of man, leans upon man's aid, and renounces truth to follow error. Christ is the Head: the Holy Spirit is the only strength by whose means the church can act; and when the church is not guided by the Spirit, and is not in this sense truly subject to Christ, Christendom is practically apostate. Now, at the end of the present dispensation, the civil power will be found in this same state of revolt; and be it remembered that apostasy in the civil power is a thing much more manifest and prominent than in the church. This will take place in the bosom of Christendom; and it would seem that ecclesiastical wickedness will be its moving power. We have examples of this in Scripture. When Absalom was in revolt against David, Ahithophel was his counsellor; 2 Sam. 15. The instigator of the rebellion was, without doubt, Satan; but Ahithophel directed the conspiracy against the king. It was Dathan and Abiram, simple Israelites (though men of renown), who rebelled against Moses; but the revolt is called that of Korah, who was a Levite, and seduced the others. In the same way, God accuses the priests and the prophets of Judah of the iniquity of the people, since the civil power had only followed their evil counsels. The same has been the order of things in Christendom. Those who ought to have instructed the church, who ought to have represented the wisdom of God, and have recalled governments to a sense of their duty towards God, being themselves in a revolt against Him, have concealed the truth, have taken a form which has seduced the world, and have thus led the civil power into the same departure from God. There will be a revolt of this latter, but the ecclesiastical power will be the soul of it.

What do we find at Armageddon? A false prophet who falls there along with the beast. From the beginning to the end, there is always a beast, and with the beast a false prophet. It is the one or the other who guides the rebellion. But at the end the beast takes the lead, as being able to act more directly and freely: thus it is the beast which at the last is the direct object of judgment. Such we find to be the case from Daniel 7. But spiritual energy has been ministering to its power.

324 From the instant that the beast, or the civil power of the fourth monarchy, shall set himself in revolt against God, this monarchy will be found in relation with the Jews; and it is this which introduces us anew into the history of this people. You remember, dear friends, that when the fourth beast appeared on the scene of this earth, there were Jews at Jerusalem; Christ was presented as King of the Jews to the fourth beast, represented by Pontius Pilate, who rejected Him in this character which He is never to lose. At the end of the age the same fact will be reproduced: the Jews - returned to their own land, though without being converted - will find themselves in connection with the fourth beast. There will be saints among them; and this fourth beast, exalting himself against God, will put himself in direct opposition to Christ, as the King of the Jews. It is true, indeed, that his deadly opposition to Christ will go much farther than at the time when Christ stood before Pontius Pilate; for he will then arrogate to himself His rights as King of the Jews; and it is then that Christ, coming down from heaven, will destroy the beast, together with the Antichrist, and will take the remnant of the Jews to be His earthly people, and will put all nations under His feet.

This being the case, you will readily understand that many things in Scripture apply to the Jewish saints, that is, to this faithful remnant of the Jews, and not to the church. We know, e.g., that, during the time of the ecclesiastical apostasy, there have been many persecutions against God's faithful children; in such cases, the saints of all times could draw comfort from the consolations of God found in such passages; but in these last times, when it is a question of persecution of the saints, the application must be made to the remnant of the Jews, whose "blood will be shed like water," Psalm 79:3.

If we consider the history of the beast in a general manner, whether in its pagan form, as under Tiberias Caesar, and the other emperors; or, under the influence of the corrupted Christianity of the Middle Ages, we see there have been, at every succeeding epoch, persecutions against the saints; and we may use as of them the scriptural expressions, "And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth," Rev. 18:24. But when we come to the time when the civil power will openly raise the standard of revolt - to the moment when these prophetic facts have their full realisation, it is upon the Jews that the persecutions will fall; to whom, therefore, these citations have their primary application. From the moment that the rights of Christ, as King of the Jews, are agitated, it is the Jews who will appear on the scene; for the Jews are God's earthly people. But where is the church then? It will be entirely out of the scene at the time of these last persecutions.

325 Before we quote the chapters which treat of the apostate civil power substituted for the apostate ecclesiastical power, we would insist again upon this, that the revolt of the ecclesiastical power is not the less dangerous because it has not the supremacy. On the contrary, we repeat, that this power is the secret counsellor of all the evil. The only change that will take place is, that it will cease to have outwardly the preponderance; and the not seeing this has led many into error. Because men, in the use of ordinary observation only, have perceived that it could no longer depose kings, they have supposed that the ecclesiastical power had absolutely disappeared. No attention has been paid to that which the children of God might ascertain out of His word, namely, that its moral influence would survive the destruction of its political existence; and that it was precisely this influence which would urge on the power, properly so called political, to revolt against God, and thus to its destruction.

I am not saying that it is not the will of man which, by its own energy guides the beast to its eternal ruin. This is indeed true; but in the meantime, it is the ecclesiastical apostasy which, either arrogating to itself the power, or shutting the door to the manifestation of the will of God, seduces by its machinations the inhabitants of the earth to acknowledge and adore the beast.

I advert to the passages which refer to the observations just made. First, the end of Daniel 7, where the fourth beast is found; afterwards, Revelation 16, and especially Revelation 17, where the two are distinguished, namely, the great whore or Babylon, and the beast. In chapter 17 we get the woman clothed with scarlet, a power whose principal element is ecclesiastical; she is mounted on the beast (civil power). After that, "the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore (ecclesiastical power), and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. For God has put in their hearts to … give their kingdom to the beast."

326 Let us now examine the passages which concern the sources of evil, and more particularly the kind of evil which is exhibited in that power which is in rebellion against God, namely, the fourth monarchy. Let us see the form which the rebellion will take.

In Revelation 12:3 we find the source of the power, "the great red dragon." We are there, as it were, admitted behind the scenes, and see Satan desiring to destroy Him who is to govern all nations with a rod of iron - Christ; and, in Christ and with Christ, the church. It is properly the power of Satan, and the great combat. The word of God puts in contrast the Father and the world; flesh and Spirit; Satan and the Son of God. Here we have the great dragon or Satan, who wants to devour Him who is to govern the nations with a rod of iron; but it is in heaven that we see it. Afterwards (v. 9), he is cast out - an event which has not yet taken place.

Here there is a difficulty to some minds. Because the devil is cast out of the conscience, which is true,* they suppose that he is cast out of heaven. Satan has indeed no power over our conscience if we have understood the value of the blood of Christ; but he is still in heaven, where he accuses the children of God. We see from Ephesians 6:12 that the wicked spirits (margin) are in the heavenly (margin) places: by reason of this, there will be a battle in heaven - a battle, the effect, not of intercession or of priesthood, but of power, which will take place, perhaps, with the help of angels; but which will ever be a work of power. At the same time, though Satan shall be cast down from heaven, he will not yet be chained to the bottomless pit; and the fruits of his wickedness will not yet have found their limit; so it is said, "the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has but a short time."
{*That is, his accusing power is rendered null by virtue of the blood and work of Jesus Christ.}

Satan, cast down from heaven to earth, will act there by the agency of the Roman empire. Revelation 13 describes what will appear on the scene as the providential instruments by which he will seek to make good his power on the earth: "I saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns."* This is the terrestrial agency. This beast will unite all the characters of the three previous beasts.
{*It is remarkable that the dragon has his crowns on his heads; the beast of chapter 13 has them on his horns. There is no question of crowns on the beast in the last form of all that he takes.}

327 The authority of the dragon becomes established in the Roman empire - in the beast with seven heads and ten horns. "I saw one of its heads, as it were, wounded, to death"; that is, one of the governing forms of the Roman empire ruined. But afterwards the mortal wound is healed, and the form which was destroyed re-established. Now, if we compare the acts of the little horn of the same beast in Daniel, we shall find that the little horn "whose mouth speaks great things, before whom three [horns] fell" - that this very one, we say, becomes the beast itself. That is, the beast will find itself under the dominion of this little horn; as we might say, that Napoleon was the French empire, because he wielded all its resources. This beast will be the civil power, the Roman empire, in apostasy, or in open revolt against God.

But there is also another beast (which is not the Roman empire) which exercises all the power of the first beast before him.

Verses 11 to 14. "And I beheld … and deceives them that dwell on the earth." Here is something which has the semblance of Christ's power, and which later, in the midst of the Jews, will wear the form of Christianity; but, as understood by the apostle, it is Satan's. It is, then, the second beast who will seduce the inhabitants of the earth, and who will cause them to follow the first, namely, the civil power of the Roman empire.

"And I saw one of the heads, as it were wounded to death." This has already happened to the imperial form of the Roman empire; but the wound is to be entirely healed. Thus the beast loses its imperial character for a time, and its wound is afterwards healed. When this takes place in all the astonished earth, men go after it.

The imperial beast will therefore again be seen on the earth, and in all the earth they will wonder after it. But we have also read that the second beast, by the great wonders which he does, seduces the inhabitants of the earth. This second beast will appear at the end under the character, not of a beast, but of a false prophet; all his secular power will be lost. He will no longer be a beast ravishing, devouring; this feature will be entirely effaced. And he will be seen as the false prophet,* who will be recognised as the second beast already spoken of, by the perfect resemblance of his character, as the person, in short, who has done the things which the second beast has done, but who appears at the close under this new form. Compare Revelation 13:14, with Revelation 19:20. If we take the moral side of the events already accomplished, we know who has exercised all the power in presence of the civil authority; but there will be one also who will do great wonders and seduce the inhabitants of the earth.
{*The false prophet is not Mahomet. "He exercises the power of the first beast before him." Now Mahomet has never done this.}

328 Farther on we shall have to look into the consequences of all this; in the meanwhile, let us gather up what we have been saying. Chapter 12 shows us the dragon in heaven, as the origin, the first cause of all this rebellion. Chapter 13 gives us the Roman empire under its imperial form, as the providential visible agent. This beast is wounded to death, but his mortal wound is healed. There is also in its presence another power who seduces the inhabitants of the earth; and it is when the mortal wound of the first beast is healed, "that all the world wondered after the beast." Add to this the circumstance of chapter 19, namely, that the second beast ceases to be one, and appears at the end as a false prophet.

In chapter 17 there is a description of the first beast, which gives us other particulars. Verses 7, 8: "And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and ten horns. The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is."

It ascends out of the bottomless pit, i.e., becomes positively the power of Satan towards the end; and this is what will happen when Satan, being cast out of heaven (which event will occur when the church has been caught up into heaven), will come down to the earth in great wrath. Then, under his influence the beast (the Roman empire) "that was, and is not, and yet is," resumes his strength and form; that is, the civil power, instead of being in submission to God, takes the character of Satan, and signalises itself, at his instigation, by an open revolt against the power of God.

329 To find all the marks for recognising this last form of the beast, we must wait until the imperial head of the Roman empire, the eighth king, shall appear in the world. This must take place before its ruin.

When the Roman empire existed under its pagan form, it had not ten kings; but when this beast reappears (let us keep in mind that it is the Roman empire), ten kings will give their power to it, instead of ten kings replacing it. More than this, it is after having been destroyed that it will come again into existence. In a word, it is not the pagan beast, nor the history of the middle ages, nor of ten barbarian kings (if indeed ten could be pronounced upon with any certainty), who have taken the place of the empire, but "and yet is";* that is, the mortal wound will be healed, and the imperial beast will re-appear.
{*[It is well known and sure that the genuine reading is according to Greek "and shall be present" (not "and yet is"). This evidently confirms the case, besides removing a sort of enigma, or paradox, in the vulgar text. - Ed.]}

The ten kings "shall give their strength and power unto the beast"; there will be an imperial head - an emperor, and ten kings, who will give him their power; the kingdoms will continue in existence, but it will be a confederation of them. As an illustration, we may refer to the kingdoms of Spain, Holland, Westphalia, etc., under Napoleon. There has been the beast; there have been, it may be, ten kings; but never yet ten kings giving their power to the beast who was not, and who came anew into existence."

"The seven heads are seven mountains." (We are still occupied with the Roman empire.) "And there are seven kings; five are fallen, and one is" - namely, the imperial one which existed in the time of John, - "and the other is not yet come; and when he comes, he must continue a short space. And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth (because the seven have passed), and is of the seven, and goes into perdition." That is, there will be an eighth head, one of a peculiar character, who will re-unite all the power of the beast, who will be the beast himself, and who, whilst a head apart, is still one of the seven. It is the imperial head under a new form; for there are to be ten kings, who will give their power to this eighth head; and it is in this form that it will go down to destruction. It is exactly here that the coming of Christ, and of the church, connects itself with the subject of which we are treating; Rev. 19; 2 Thess. 2.

330 We must yet quote from Daniel 11:36-45: "And the king shall do according to his will." (Compare this with 2 Thess. 2:3-4, and following verses.) We may observe, that in Daniel 11 the question is not one of ecclesiastical supremacy, but rather of wars between civil powers in the East. With verse 36 begins the history of Antichrist, of "the king who shall do according to his own will," just like the little horn in chapter 7, and who at last, after dealing in an idolatrous and apostate way in Jerusalem, finds his end with that first beast. It is a king like any other, a king of the earth, but exercising his power in the holy land at the close. Christianity, as such, is not brought before us, nor the mystery of lawlessness in it: that had preceded the appearance of the lawless one according to 2 Thessalonians. Again, I say, it is no question of ecclesiastical matters, but of a king of this earth, who becomes an object of attack to the kings of the North and of the South.

One remark on 2 Thessalonians 2 for our consolation in the midst of this sad concourse of events. "Now we beseech you, brethren," says the apostle, "by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind," etc. Those who love the truth will entirely escape this deceivableness of unrighteousness, to which, on the contrary, all those will be delivered by the judgment of God, who have "not received the love of the truth"; but "have pleasure in unrighteousness." This is the evil which is coming, and the world ought to be warned of it; because some may be salutarily frightened at the thought and led to consider the word of God. And why is all this announced to the children of God? It is in order that they may draw out of it the fullest comfort, and may separate themselves from all that which drags men on to destruction. I say not that we Christians shall be involved in the catastrophe; but that, by being told beforehand of the judgments which will take place at this dreadful crisis, we are led to detach ourselves, even at this present time, from the causes which, by their nature, and by the justice of God, bring it on.

331 The apostle, it would seem, had spoken a good deal of these things to the church of the Thessalonians, and had taught them to expect the coming of the Lord. Now, what had Satan done? He had tried to terrify them, in telling them that the day of the Lord was there (Greek, present, 2 Thess. 2:2). No, says the apostle, I beseech you, by the coming [presence, see Greek] of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to him [which will precede that day], that ye be not soon shaken in mind, etc. (as if we were already in it). This day will come upon the lawless one, and not upon you; you will already have been caught up to Him, and you will accompany Him personally in that great day when He will appear.*
{*The idea which usually prevails in the interpretation of this passage is, that parousia and heemera have the same meaning affixed to them by the apostle, and that he uses the words interchangeably. Parousia means "presence," not necessarily involving manifestation to the world; heemera "day," on the contrary, always has to do, in the Old Testament, with judgment. Here the apostle uses the presence of the Lord, and our gathering together to Him, in contrast with the day: "I beseech you, by his presence and our gathering to him, not to be distracted about the day, as if it were here."}

The day is present, said the seducers; the day is come! No, says the apostle, the day will not come until you, the Lord's faithful ones, have been caught up into the air, and until the lawless one shall be revealed.

These consolations are again confirmed (2 Thess. 2:9-10): "Even him whose coming … is with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, because they received not the love of the truth." It is only needful to add, that in this chapter it is the description of the moral character, and of the unbridled iniquity of the lawless one, and of the power of Satan; whilst, in Daniel 11 it is the picture of his outward character.

It is to be feared, dear friends, that the exposition of prophecy this evening has not been the view which you have been hitherto led to take of it. I have been endeavouring to open out the distinction, and at the same time the connection, which there is between the civil and ecclesiastical power; as well as the distinction, and at the same time the connection, between the ecclesiastical apostasy and the civil apostasy. The two things are closely allied, because we read that the second beast exercises all the power of the first beast before him; and that the false prophet, which is the second beast, is thrown into the lake of fire with the first.

332 We have also noticed that this fact connects itself with the presence of the Jews at Jerusalem, in whose vicinity the beast will come to his end - an event which will close this present dispensation, in bringing out the power of Christ upon the earth, which will lead to the union of Christ with the remnant of the Jews; and in consequence of that, to the bringing of all nations under His sceptre. I have only spoken of the fourth beast.

There are two points worthy of remark in connection with the history of Israel; firstly, as to those nations who were in league against Israel, when this people were owned of God; and, secondly, as to the nations who carried them into captivity. As yet we have only been discussing the times of the Gentiles, that period during which the kingdom was transferred from the Jews to them; that is, the time of the four beasts - the times of the Gentiles. Daniel speaks of the four beasts only; Ezekiel speaks of the nations before the four beasts, and after; but never of "the times of the Gentiles," so called.

It is during the period comprised in the history of these four beasts that Christianity comes in, and that the moral rebellion takes place. But we have seen that the ecclesiastical power, which has been the instrument of leading to such a result, by assuming the place of God - taking away faith, and, at the same time, disgusting reason; putting aside natural religion, and, under the pretext of the rights of revelation, corrupting and perverting this revelation itself, so that men should have no other objects than themselves - this power, I say, having played a part in the drama of iniquity, which the enemy of our souls and of the Lord, has brought to pass, will itself fall a victim to the violence of the human will - that will which itself has withdrawn from subjection to God; and as incapable, by its pretensions to religion, openly to serve Satan, as it is of serving God with sincerity - in one word, incapable of truth, it becomes the cowardly counsellor and abettor of that iniquity of which it cannot constitute itself the actor. It provokes crimes which it dares not consummate, and of which the civil power is to be the active chief and executor. Dear friends, when the natural conscience is more upright than that resulting from religious forms, it is all over with the church - it is near its end; and the candlestick will be removed where it serves only as the instrument of wickedness, such as the world can hardly imagine. As men say, the corruption of that which is most excellent is the worst of corruptions. As to the Antichrist properly speaking, he will deny that Jesus is the Christ; he will "deny the Father and the Son" (John 2:22); he will not confess Jesus Christ coming in the flesh (2 John 7); he will deny everything sacred - the Father, the Son, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus come as Man. We have seen his character, his acts, his form, and the source of his power. Satan will work directly by him. It will be a sort of satanic imitation of what God has done. The Father has given the throne to the Son, and the Spirit acts according to the power of the Son in the church before Him: in the same way the dragon (Satan) will confer the throne on the beast, and great authority; and the second beast (spiritual power, real Antichrist, and false prophet) exercises all the power of this last beast (civil power) before him; Rev. 13:12.

333 The judgment will decide in such a state of things. May God make us attentive to the character and to the end of the pride of man! The energy of his will is able to employ, and put to use, all the means which God has delegated to him - and they are great; and the results, so long as God has patience with him, will be great also. But man will be the centre of all this; the feeling of his responsibility before God goes for nothing. God is, in reality, dishonoured and degraded. The end of all man's most noble, most worthy aims - God - is wanting in it all. In fine, it is the same principle and the same source - sin - from the beginning to the end. Man, acting of his own will to satisfy his lusts, ambitious of knowledge for selfish ends, exalting himself to a level with God, disobedient, and, as a consequence, acting under the influence and energy of Satan - such is the character of Antichrist; such is the history of Adam in his first fall - his first sin. It is the commencement and consummation of the same wickedness, whose evidence and contrast appeared in the death of our beloved and perfect Saviour, who made its expiation for us. May His name of grace and glory be eternally blessed; and may He engrave these things upon our hearts! Certainly He will preserve His church from all these evils which menace the world for His church is united to Him.