Having mentioned the recurring reminders that he will return to earth – false messiahs, wars, famines, earthquakes etc., “the beginning of birth-pains,” Jesus mentions extensive persecution as one of the later signs. Extensive persecution is an indication that the return of Christ is beginning to draw near. And there certainly is extensive persecution of Christians in the world today. Our first concern should be to pray for and support our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted. But we should also see it as a sign of the End Times.

 

2015 was widely seen as the worst year for persecution of Christians ever.[1]  Estimates vary between 100 million Christians facing persecution (Open Doors[2]) and 200 million (Christian Freedom International). They suffer torture, rape, imprisonment and death.

 

Open Doors reports that 7100 Christians were killed in 2015 (up 3000 from 2014), 4028 of them in Nigeria. These are conservative estimates and exclude North Korea, Syria and Iraq, where accurate records do not exist. 214 churches and similar Christian buildings are destroyed per month and 722 Christians (in addition to the above 7100 figure) suffer violent treatment every month.

 

At least 53 countries place restrictions on religion. Many are Muslim (35 countries) but extreme Hindus also persecute Christians. It is reported that one Pastor is beaten and one church burned every week in Hindu areas.[3] A “Religious Freedom Bill” is being introduced in India to “prohibit conversion from one religion to another by the use of force or allurement or by fraudulent means.” “Force” is defined as “including threat of divine displeasure.” This bill will outlaw basic Christian doctrines, such as salvation, heaven and hell.[4]

 

In India, the Hindutva movement within Hinduism argues that every Indian must belong to a religion which has originated in India. This view has become increasingly popular and is now a dominant force in Indian politics. Mob attacks on pastors and members of congregation, with attempts to force them to convert to Hinduism, have increased greatly, so much so that there was an average of one incidence of violence against India’s Christians for every day in 2015”[5]

 

Russia is now placing serious restrictions on Christians (and other religious groups). Religious activities can only take place on Christian property, not private homes (except private prayers) or secular land. Neighbours are obliged to report any breach of this law. Teaching about Christian beliefs can be carried out by clergy and directors of Christian organisations who have a state permit. Even private prayers in a home must not be said if a non-believer is present. Evangelism is banned even in church buildings. Encouraging an unbeliever to convert to Christ is illegal.

 

Pope Francis describes all the persecution as a third world war. Speaking about the Middle East, he said: “In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place.”[6]

 

Cardinal Nichols and the Bishop of Leeds said that Christians are the most persecuted people.[7]

 

The Roman Catholic organisation Aid to Church in Need said that Christians are fast disappearing from entire regions in Middle East and Africa.

 

In summer 2012 the International Society for Human Rights based in Frankfurt … estimated that 80% of all acts of religious discrimination were against Christians. In terms of outright persecution, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMEVE) resported that 75% was against Christians. But controversy surrounds reports that up to 150,000 Christians are being killed for their faith every year …

 

In France March 2014 Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Seko of Baghdada said: “Interventions [by the West] in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya have not helped to solve the problems of their peoples. On the contrary, they have led to chaos and conflict that do not bode well for the future, especially for Christains…. 1400 years of Islam have not been able to take us away from our lands and our churches; now Western policy has scattered us to the four corners of the earth. More and more Christians are being victimized, and their exodus from the Middle East appears upstoppable.”[8]

 

Leaders of the European Parliament commented that the persecution of Christians around the world is not getting the attention it deserves. The President, Martin Schulz, said: Europe cannot afford to continue ignoring the fate of Christians, who are ‘ clearly the most persecuted group’ in the world.” The Vice President Antonio Tajani commented: “No religious community is as subject to hatred, violence and systematic aggression as the Christians. The West must break the silence on the persecution of Christians in the world and Europe must promote a model of society in opposition to religious radicalism and brutal and criminal projects, such as creating an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria and then extending its tentacles into Libya.”[9]

 

We need to pray regularly for our persecuted brothers and sisters, and to support them where we can. We can also remember that Jesus spoke of greater persecution pointing to the drawing near of his return.

[1] Open Doors http://www.opendoorsuk.org/persecution/trends.php

[2] http://www.opendoorsuk.org/news/stories/world_watch_150108.php?ref=storylnk1

[3] http://www.opendoorsuk.org/news/press_releases/pr_160112_worldwatch.php

[4]http://www.christiantoday.com/article/india.plan.to.ban.religious.conversion.sparks.fears.of.heightened.attacks.on.christians/68638.htm

[5] Barnabas Aid Sep/Oct 2016

[6] http://tribune.com.pk/story/918279/third-world-war-pope-deplores-genocide-of-christians-in-middle-east/

[7] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/we-must-stop-shilly-shallying-about-the-fact-that-christians-are-most-persecuted-people-says-a6785211.html

[8] https://issuu.com/acnusa/docs/p___g_2015_executive_summary_webver

[9]http://www.christiantoday.com/article/european.parliament.leaders.call.for.end.to.western.silence.on.worldwide.persecution.of.christians/72573.htm

In view of the pending UK referendum on whether to stay in the European Union, this is an important subject. However, many Christians think that the EU is even more important in terms of the End Times. Sadly, there is a great deal of misunderstanding and even misrepresentation as well as paranoia on the subject. Here is a brief outline.

 

MISUNDERSTANDINGS ABOUT THE EU

 

The antichrist spirit?

 

For example, one favourite ‘quotation’ amongst those who are suspicious about the EU vis a vis the End Times is attributed to Paul-Henri Spaak, former Belgian Prime Minister and President of the Consultative Assembly of the

Council of Europe nearly 50 years ago. The ‘quotation’ is: “We do not want another committee. We have too many already. What we want is a man of sufficient stature to hold the allegiance of all people, and to lift us out of the economic morass in which we are sinking. Send us such a man and, be he God or the devil, we will receive him.”

 

For some people that shows the antichrist spirit behind the EU. The problem is that, like other people, I have never been able to find proof that Spaak (or anyone else) actually said this. Yet dozens of Christian websites quote it.

 

The Tower of Babel?

 

People worry about the Louise Weiss Building in Strasbourg where the European Parliament meets. It is a circular building which looks unfinished. Some have said that it looks very much like the Tower of Babel and that it is modelled on a painting of the Tower of Babel painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in about 1563. There is a remarkable similarity between the two although others have said it is based on the model of Roman amphitheatres. However we must not be paranoid about this. Even if it is modelled on the Tower of Babel the likelihood is that it was to symbolise the idea of the (European) nations coming together in contrast to the nations being divided in the Tower of Babel story.

 

Obviously, to think that we can reverse what God did over the Tower of Babel is a serious sin of arrogance, which is the very sin associated with the story of the Tower of Babel. However, if the image is of the Tower of Babel, I suspect that those responsible hadn’t thought that through. It is likely to be a superficial attempt to portray nations coming together rather than being divided. Bear in mind that many people today would think that the account of the Tower of Babel is not literal.

 

I respond similarly to an EU poster which shows the Tower of Babel and the caption “Europe: Many tongues, one voice.”

 

Pentagrams?

 

Some point out that the eurostars on the EU flag and the above-mentioned poster are pentagrams and pentagrams are used in witchcraft. However the eurostars are 5-pointed stars, not pentagrams (there is a difference). There are 5-pointed stars on the flags of many countries (47 to my knowledge). It is therefore not necessary to read anything sinister into the eurostars. Some Protestants think that the 12 golden eurostars are related to the Virgin Mary because she is often depicted with a halo of stars.

 

The prostitute riding the Beast of Revelation 17?

 

Others have worried that there is a bronze statue of a woman riding a beast outside the Council of Europe building.  The image of this has been used on EU postage stamps, the euro and elsewhere. They fear that this is a representation of the vision in Revelation 17 of the prostitute riding the scarlet beast symbolising the godless world system. However this is actually based on the Greek myth of the maiden Europa riding the bull. It is not an official symbol of the EU but obviously has some artistic relevance.

 

A pagan anthem?

There is also some concern about the European Anthem “An Ode to Joy” which is based on the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony. It is based on a poem by Friedrich Schiller which is about all men being united in brotherhood by entering the shrine of a goddess. However, to regard this as sinister is extreme since the European Anthem only uses the music and not the lyrics.

 

666?

I can also add that the seats in the European Parliament are numbered and they include seat number 666 which some claim is left vacant. However this claim is not true.

 

Is the EU the new Roman Empire?

 

A few years ago Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business editor of the Telegraph, wrote an article entitled “Art show sees Europe as ‘new Roman Empire.’” He reported that one title used at the EU exhibition was “Roman Empire returns.” It predicted that the EU would become the premier superpower and that “the euro will break the ‘overbearing monopoly of the dollar’ by 2010 as China and India switch their reserves to punish America for its ‘stratospheric deficit’ which, of course, didn’t happen.

 

He did add: “the display is not a formal expression of EU policy but it captures views that can be heard every day in the corridors and canteens of the Union’s institutions.” But he doesn’t say how many people in the EU institutions say this so it is misleading and difficult to substantiate. However such an article confirms the fears of those who are paranoid about the EU. In actual fact the official description of the exhibition said it gave a history of European political representation, diagrams about the EU structure and then speculated on its possible future. “The story closes somewhere in the 2020s, in a speculative conclusion on Europe’s possible future(s).[1]

 

Does the Bible predict a revival of the Roman Empire?

 

Many interpreters believe that the Book of Revelation predicts a revival of the Roman Empire in the End Times. Some of them see this End Times revival of Roman Empire as related to the establishment of the European Union and believe the EU will have a major role in the rule of the Antichrist. They base their belief in the revival of the Roman Empire on the following arguments:

 

  1. Daniel prophesies the rise of four empires (in one passage symbolised by four beasts) which these interpreters see as Babylonia (which ended in 626BC), Medo-Persia (626-330BC), Greece 330-63BC and Rome (which began in 63BC). The fourth “beast” (Rome) “had ten horns.” Some interpret the horns as referring to Rome’s immense power. The number ten often symbolised completeness and horns symbolised strength. Others see the horns as ten kings or kingdoms because the horn can symbolise royal power. (See Daniel 2:41-44 which uses different symbolism to describe the same thing and Daniel 7:3-7).

 

  1. The Book of Revelation also prophesies the coming of a beast in the End Times with ten horns which had great power and authority. “The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast.” (Rev 13:1-3). The symbolical beast is also said to have seven heads. It interprets the ten horns as ten kings and the seven heads as seven hills (Rome was built on seven hills). Many interpreters see Revelation here predicting an End Time revival of the Roman Empire. See Rev 13:1-3 and 17:3-11.

 

John Walvoord gives further reasons for expecting the revival of the Roman Empire and I will critique each of them:[2]

 

  1. It is unthinkable that prophecy would not include the Roman Empire which was the greatest empire in history.

 

This is a good point. It seems clear to me that the fourth empire predicted by Daniel was Rome.

 

However some interpreters say that the ‘beast’ in Revelation 13 is not the same as the fourth empire in Daniel 2 because the ‘beast’ is a combined version of the first three of Daniel’s ‘beasts’ (empires). It is a Leopard-Bear-Lion (“resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion”). However it should be noted that Daniel speaks of the first beast as a lion with the wings of an eagle (7:4) and the third beast as a leopard with four wings (7:6) so there is some combination (of animal and bird) in them. Hendricksen says: “This composite beast cannot symbolize merely one empire or government. It must indicate all antichristian governments.”[3]

 

  1. The two legs of the visions of the fourth empire in Daniel 2 represent the eastern and western divisions of the later Roman Empire.

 

However, some interpreters disagree because the western ‘leg’ (the Western Roman Empire) disappeared almost a thousand years before the eastern ‘leg’ (the Byzantine Empire or the Eastern Roman Empire). Also the Byzantine Empire became isolated from Europe. Others add that the prediction in Revelation will not be fulfilled by a revival of the western ‘leg’ of the Roman Empire (including the EU) because Europe is not strong enough to become a politically and militarily dominant world power. Some, though, may respond that this situation might change in time.

 

  1. The centre stage of the End Times is the Middle East which is in the territory of the Roman Empire.

 

This is true but the Middle East can’t be limited to the Roman Empire. It is dominated by Muslim nations. The

Ottoman/Turkish/Islamic Empire controlled much of SE Europe, most of the Middle East, and parts of North Africa. This empire saw the development of four Islamic Caliphates (political and religious systems of governance). Some interpreters point out that the Bible always centres on Jerusalem not on the West. Hence, they say, the idea that Scripture predicts a revived Roman Empire based in Europe is a foreign concept to the Bible. The End Time empire must rule over or directly affect Jerusalem.

 

  1. The first part of the biblical prophecy was clearly fulfilled so we should expect the last part (the ten horns etc) similarly to be clearly fulfilled in the future.

 

So, it is argued, there will be a ten-nation confederacy within the bounds of the ancient Roman Empire (which extended from the Euphrates to N Africa and Europe). There will be a “strong man” who will unite the empire and eventually it will take control of the whole world. Mounce writes: “There is little doubt that for John the beast was the Roman Empire as persecutor of the church. It was that spirit of imperial power which claimed a religious sanction for its gross injustices. Yet the beast is more than the Roman Empire. John’s Vision grew out of the details of his own historical situation, but its complete fulfillment awaits the final denouement of human history. The beast has always been, and will be in a final intensified manifestation, the deification of secular authority.”[4]

 

Revelation also describes a symbolic woman riding on the ‘beast’ and she is called “Babylon the great, the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.” Some say this symbolises Rome in its opposition to the church. Others say it symbolises the godless world system.

 

However other interpreters think that the ‘beast’ of Revelation 13 and 17 will be the Islamic empire – a reincarnation of the Ottoman Empire (which once was, then was not, then was again Rev 17:11). They say that the ten toes of Daniel’s vision of the statue (Dan 2) can be an altogether different kingdom from Rome, which seems possible. They also point out that the fourth ‘beast’/kingdom of Daniel 2 and 7 is predicted as totally crushing the empires which preceded it. Yet Rome never did this. It did not take over all the geographical areas of the Babylonian, Medo-Persian and Greek empires. But the four Islamic Caliphates between 661 and 1924AD did cover the whole of those geographical areas. Irrespective of the interpretation of Daniel and Revelation, the idea that Islam should play a major role in the End Times seems more than credible.

 

Some of a more Protestant position think the power of the Pope and the Catholic Church will be part of the revival of the Roman Empire. One very old commentary I have comments on the scarlet beast and the woman wearing scarlet: “It is applicable in the description of papal Rome, because it is the favourite colour there … It is remarkable that nothing would better represent the favourite colour at Rome than this, or the actual appearance of the pope, the cardinals, and the priests in their robes, on some great festival occasion.”[5] This is rather naïve fanciful interpretation. More modern Protestant commentators tend to interpret it as an ecumenical apostate church.

 

I do not find the arguments that the Bible predicts a revival of the Roman Empire convincing. The idea that it could be a Muslim Empire seems more credible because of the history and current developments of the Muslim world. However this is not clear in the biblical text.

 

What should be our attitude towards the European Union?

 

I have written that I do not find the allegations of sinister EU symbols etc., convincing. Nor do I find the idea that the Roman Empire will be revived, with the EU at the heart of it, convincing. But that does not mean I have no concerns about the EU. The Bible certainly foretells an End Times anti-christ world dictatorship and we should remember that actions and trends initiated for good reasons can ultimately go wrong and have bad results. We are aware of the quotation “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It would seem that in the future various centres of political power in the world may combine to form a world government (or may collapse with catastrophic results necessitating a world government).

 

However we must remember that the EU was set up for good reasons, and has led to some very good results, not just economic advantage:

  • Maintaining peace in what had been a war-torn continent – and it has succeeded.
  • Promoting democracy and human rights in 28 countries.
  • Sending peacekeepers to trouble spots elsewhere in the world
  • Co-operating closely on crime (and more recently terrorism).
  • Giving twice as much aid to developing countries than the US.

 

However, whilst being grateful for these (and other) benefits we must remember the dangers which come with power. It is clear that there is a strong desire to move towards full political union amongst the countries which have accepted the euro. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 changed the European Economic Community into the political European Union. Full political union could have negative as well as positive effects. This has to be taken seriously. Some Christians will feel that the dangers in the EU growing ever closer (together with its present imperfections) warrants voting against Britain staying in the Union. Others will conclude that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, especially now David Cameron has negotiated that the UK will not be drawn into further political integration.

 

 

[1] http://st-ar.nl/image-of-europe-2/

[2] John F. Walvoord, President, Dallas Theological Seminary, The Nations in Prophecy, https://bible.org/series/nations-prophecy

[3] W Hendricksen, More than Conquerors, Tyndale Press London 1962, p. 146.

[4] Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, New International Commentary on the NT, Eerdmans Grand Rapids 1977 p 251

[5] Notes on the NT, Albert Barnes, London 1851, vol XI p. 415

Some Christians believe that the European Union is significant in teaching on the End Times and will be the context of the revival of the Roman Empire. But is this correct?

In view of the pending UK referendum on whether to stay in the European Union, this is an important subject. However, many Christians think that the EU is even more important in terms of the End Times. Sadly, there is a great deal of misunderstanding and even misrepresentation as well as paranoia on the subject. Here is a brief outline.

MISUNDERSTANDINGS ABOUT THE EU

The antichrist spirit?

For example, one favourite ‘quotation’ amongst those who are suspicious about the EU vis a vis the End Times is attributed to Paul-Henri Spaak, former Belgian Prime Minister and President of the Consultative Assembly of the

Council of Europe nearly 50 years ago. The ‘quotation’ is: “We do not want another committee. We have too many already. What we want is a man of sufficient stature to hold the allegiance of all people, and to lift us out of the economic morass in which we are sinking. Send us such a man and, be he God or the devil, we will receive him.”

For some people that shows the antichrist spirit behind the EU. The problem is that, like other people, I have never been able to find proof that Spaak (or anyone else) actually said this. Yet dozens of Christian websites quote it.

The Tower of Babel?

People worry about the Louise Weiss Building in Strasbourg where the European Parliament meets. It is a circular building which looks unfinished. Some have said that it looks very much like the Tower of Babel and that it is modelled on a painting of the Tower of Babel painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in about 1563. There is a remarkable similarity between the two although others have said it is based on the model of Roman amphitheatres. However we must not be paranoid about this. Even if it is modelled on the Tower of Babel the likelihood is that it was to symbolise the idea of the (European) nations coming together in contrast to the nations being divided in the Tower of Babel story.

Obviously, to think that we can reverse what God did over the Tower of Babel is a serious sin of arrogance, which is the very sin associated with the story of the Tower of Babel. However, if the image is of the Tower of Babel, I suspect that those responsible hadn’t thought that through. It is likely to be a superficial attempt to portray nations coming together rather than being divided. Bear in mind that many people today would think that the account of the Tower of Babel is not literal.

I respond similarly to an EU poster which shows the Tower of Babel and the caption “Europe: Many tongues, one voice.”

 Pentagrams?

Some point out that the eurostars on the EU flag and the above-mentioned poster are pentagrams and pentagrams are used in witchcraft. However the eurostars are 5-pointed stars, not pentagrams (there is a difference). There are 5-pointed stars on the flags of many countries (47 to my knowledge). It is therefore not necessary to read anything sinister into the eurostars. Some Protestants think that the 12 golden eurostars are related to the Virgin Mary because she is often depicted with a halo of stars.

The prostitute riding the Beast of Revelation 17?

Others have worried that there is a bronze statue of a woman riding a beast outside the Council of Europe building.  The image of this has been used on EU postage stamps, the euro and elsewhere. They fear that this is a representation of the vision in Revelation 17 of the prostitute riding the scarlet beast symbolising the godless world system. However this is actually based on the Greek myth of the maiden Europa riding the bull. It is not an official symbol of the EU but obviously has some artistic relevance.

A pagan anthem?

There is also some concern about the European Anthem “An Ode to Joy” which is based on the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony. It is based on a poem by Friedrich Schiller which is about all men being united in brotherhood by entering the shrine of a goddess. However, to regard this as sinister is extreme since the European Anthem only uses the music and not the lyrics.

666?

I can also add that the seats in the European Parliament are numbered and they include seat number 666 which some claim is left vacant. However this claim is not true.

Is the EU the new Roman Empire?

A few years ago Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business editor of the Telegraph, wrote an article entitled “Art show sees Europe as ‘new Roman Empire.’” He reported that one title used at the EU exhibition was “Roman Empire returns.” It predicted that the EU would become the premier superpower and that “the euro will break the ‘overbearing monopoly of the dollar’ by 2010 as China and India switch their reserves to punish America for its ‘stratospheric deficit’ which, of course, didn’t happen.

He did add: “the display is not a formal expression of EU policy but it captures views that can be heard every day in the corridors and canteens of the Union’s institutions.” But he doesn’t say how many people in the EU institutions say this so it is misleading and difficult to substantiate. However such an article confirms the fears of those who are paranoid about the EU. In actual fact the official description of the exhibition said it gave a history of European political representation, diagrams about the EU structure and then speculated on its possible future. “The story closes somewhere in the 2020s, in a speculative conclusion on Europe’s possible future(s).[i]

Does the Bible predict a revival of the Roman Empire?

Many interpreters believe that the Book of Revelation predicts a revival of the Roman Empire in the End Times. Some of them see this End Times revival of Roman Empire as related to the establishment of the European Union and believe the EU will have a major role in the rule of the Antichrist. They base their belief in the revival of the Roman Empire on the following arguments:

  1. Daniel prophesies the rise of four empires (in one passage symbolised by four beasts) which these interpreters see as Babylonia (which ended in 626BC), Medo-Persia (626-330BC), Greece 330-63BC and Rome (which began in 63BC). The fourth “beast” (Rome) “had ten horns.” Some interpret the horns as referring to Rome’s immense power. The number ten often symbolised completeness and horns symbolised strength. Others see the horns as ten kings or kingdoms because the horn can symbolise royal power. (See Daniel 2:41-44 which uses different symbolism to describe the same thing and Daniel 7:3-7).

 

  1. The Book of Revelation also prophesies the coming of a beast in the End Times with ten horns which had great power and authority. “The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast.” (Rev 13:1-3). The symbolical beast is also said to have seven heads. It interprets the ten horns as ten kings and the seven heads as seven hills (Rome was built on seven hills). Many interpreters see Revelation here predicting an End Time revival of the Roman Empire. See Rev 13:1-3 and 17:3-11.

John Walvoord gives further reasons for expecting the revival of the Roman Empire and I will critique each of them:[ii]

  • It is unthinkable that prophecy would not include the Roman Empire which was the greatest empire in history.

This is a good point. It seems clear to me that the fourth empire predicted by Daniel was Rome.

However some interpreters say that the ‘beast’ in Revelation 13 is not the same as the fourth empire in Daniel 2 because the ‘beast’ is a combined version of the first three of Daniel’s ‘beasts’ (empires). It is a Leopard-Bear-Lion (“resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion”). However it should be noted that Daniel speaks of the first beast as a lion with the wings of an eagle (7:4) and the third beast as a leopard with four wings (7:6) so there is some combination (of animal and bird) in them. Hendricksen says: “This composite beast cannot symbolize merely one empire or government. It must indicate all antichristian governments.”[iii]

  • The two legs of the visions of the fourth empire in Daniel 2 represent the eastern and western divisions of the later Roman Empire.

However, some interpreters disagree because the western ‘leg’ (the Western Roman Empire) disappeared almost a thousand years before the eastern ‘leg’ (the Byzantine Empire or the Eastern Roman Empire). Also the Byzantine Empire became isolated from Europe. Others add that the prediction in Revelation will not be fulfilled by a revival of the western ‘leg’ of the Roman Empire (including the EU) because Europe is not strong enough to become a politically and militarily dominant world power. Some, though, may respond that this situation might change in time.

  •  The centre stage of the End Times is the Middle East which is in the territory of the Roman Empire.

This is true but the Middle East can’t be limited to the Roman Empire. It is dominated by Muslim nations. The

Ottoman/Turkish/Islamic Empire controlled much of SE Europe, most of the Middle East, and parts of North Africa. This empire saw the development of four Islamic Caliphates (political and religious systems of governance). Some interpreters point out that the Bible always centres on Jerusalem not on the West. Hence, they say, the idea that Scripture predicts a revived Roman Empire based in Europe is a foreign concept to the Bible. The End Time empire must rule over or directly affect Jerusalem.

  • The first part of the biblical prophecy was clearly fulfilled so we should expect the last part (the ten horns etc) similarly to be clearly fulfilled in the future.

So, it is argued, there will be a ten-nation confederacy within the bounds of the ancient Roman Empire (which extended from the Euphrates to N Africa and Europe). There will be a “strong man” who will unite the empire and eventually it will take control of the whole world. Mounce writes: “There is little doubt that for John the beast was the Roman Empire as persecutor of the church. It was that spirit of imperial power which claimed a religious sanction for its gross injustices. Yet the beast is more than the Roman Empire. John’s Vision grew out of the details of his own historical situation, but its complete fulfillment awaits the final denouement of human history. The beast has always been, and will be in a final intensified manifestation, the deification of secular authority.”[iv]

Revelation also describes a symbolic woman riding on the ‘beast’ and she is called “Babylon the great, the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.” Some say this symbolises Rome in its opposition to the church. Others say it symbolises the godless world system.

However other interpreters think that the ‘beast’ of Revelation 13 and 17 will be the Islamic empire – a reincarnation of the Ottoman Empire (which once was, then was not, then was again Rev 17:11). They say that the ten toes of Daniel’s vision of the statue (Dan 2) can be an altogether different kingdom from Rome, which seems possible. They also point out that the fourth ‘beast’/kingdom of Daniel 2 and 7 is predicted as totally crushing the empires which preceded it. Yet Rome never did this. It did not take over all the geographical areas of the Babylonian, Medo-Persian and Greek empires. But the four Islamic Caliphates between 661 and 1924AD did cover the whole of those geographical areas. Irrespective of the interpretation of Daniel and Revelation, the idea that Islam should play a major role in the End Times seems more than credible.

Some of a more Protestant position think the power of the Pope and the Catholic Church will be part of the revival of the Roman Empire. One very old commentary I have comments on the scarlet beast and the woman wearing scarlet: “It is applicable in the description of papal Rome, because it is the favourite colour there … It is remarkable that nothing would better represent the favourite colour at Rome than this, or the actual appearance of the pope, the cardinals, and the priests in their robes, on some great festival occasion.”[v] This is rather naïve fanciful interpretation. More modern Protestant commentators tend to interpret it as an ecumenical apostate church.

I do not find the arguments that the Bible predicts a revival of the Roman Empire convincing. The idea that it could be a Muslim Empire seems more credible because of the history and current developments of the Muslim world. However this is not clear in the biblical text.

What should be our attitude towards the European Union?

I have written that I do not find the allegations of sinister EU symbols etc., convincing. Nor do I find the idea that the Roman Empire will be revived, with the EU at the heart of it, convincing. But that does not mean I have no concerns about the EU. The Bible certainly foretells an End Times anti-christ world dictatorship and we should remember that actions and trends initiated for good reasons can ultimately go wrong and have bad results. We are aware of the quotation “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It would seem that in the future various centres of political power in the world may combine to form a world government (or may collapse with catastrophic results necessitating a world government).

However we must remember that the EU was set up for good reasons, and has led to some very good results, not just economic advantage:

  • Maintaining peace in what had been a war-torn continent – and it has succeeded.
  • Promoting democracy and human rights in 28 countries.
  • Sending peacekeepers to trouble spots elsewhere in the world
  • Co-operating closely on crime (and more recently terrorism).
  • Giving twice as much aid to developing countries than the US.

However, whilst being grateful for these (and other) benefits we must remember the dangers which come with power. It is clear that there is a strong desire to move towards full political union amongst the countries which have accepted the euro. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 changed the European Economic Community into the political European Union. Full political union could have negative as well as positive effects. This has to be taken seriously. Some Christians will feel that the dangers in the EU growing ever closer (together with its present imperfections) warrants voting against Britain staying in the Union. Others will conclude that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, especially now David Cameron has negotiated that the UK will not be drawn into further political integration.

Is the UK more Christian than the rest of Europe?

Some British Christians seem to imply that the UK’s Christian heritage will be undermined by remaining in the EU. It would be naïve to ignore the fact that the political leadership of the EU, like all political leadership might go wrong, or become undemocratic. But it is not true to say that the EU is less Christian than the UK. In the following statistics many of those claiming to be Christian may, of course, not be practising. Nevertheless the comparison of percentages in the various countries is useful in answering the question “Is the UK more Christian than the rest of Europe?”

According to the 2011 Pew Forum, the percentage of people calling themselves Christians in a number of other countries is greater than in the UK. The UK had 72.6%. Italy had 85.1%, Spain 78.6%, Greece 89.5%, Ukraine 83.8%, Poland 94.3% and Romania 99.5%. Other countries included Germany with 70.8% and France with 63%.[vi]

A 2012 Eurobarometer Poll found that 72% of EU population call themselves Christians.

A 2010 Eurobarometer Poll found the following percentages of population don’t believe there is “any sort of spirit, God or life force”

Greece 4%, Poland 5%, Italy 6%, Austria 12%, Portugal 12%, Spain 19%, Denmark 24%, UK 25%, Germany 27%, Netherlands 30%, Sweden 34%, France 40%.

Some British Christians point to the rich Christian tradition of the UK but don’t seem to realise that other EU countries also have state churches.

England has an established state Christian Church, the Church of England, of which the Queen is the supreme governor on earth and similarly Scotland has the Church of Scotland. But the following EU countries also have state churches:

Armenia (Orthodox), Denmark (Lutheran), Finland (Lutheran and Orthodox), Greece (Orthodox), Greenland (Lutheran), Iceland (Lutheran), Liechtenstein (Catholic), Malta (Catholic), Monaco (Catholic), Switzerland (Catholic and Protestant according to canton) and of course Vatican City (Catholic).

Norway had a state church until 2012 but the monarch must still be a Lutheran. Sweden ceased to have a state church in 2000. The Spanish state church was disestablished in 1978. Austria has no state church but regards the church and state as partners.[vii] Germany and Italy have no state church. France and Belgium are secular.

The issue isn’t whether the UK is more Christian than the EU but rather that the whole of Europe needs an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Revival.

[i] http://st-ar.nl/image-of-europe-2/

[ii] John F. Walvoord, President, Dallas Theological Seminary, The Nations in Prophecy, https://bible.org/series/nations-prophecy

[iii] W Hendricksen, More than Conquerors, Tyndale Press London 1962, p. 146.

[iv] Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, New International Commentary on the NT, Eerdmans Grand Rapids 1977 p 251

[v] Notes on the NT, Albert Barnes, London 1851, vol XI p. 415

[vi] Global Christianity – A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population, Dec 2011. See http://www.pewforum.org/2011/12/19/global-christianity-regions/

[vii] http://www.austria.org/religion/

Britain has joined in the bombing campaign against ISIS. This is a controversial decision. The traditional Christian definition of a Just War includes six conditions:

1. It must be fought by a legally-recognised authority. Government, not private individuals or corporations.

This has been fulfilled because the UN (as well as the UK Parliament) has approved it.

2. The cause of the war must be just.

Combating the Satanic evil of ISIS is a just cause.

3. There must be an intention to establish good or restrain evil.

This is the intention.

4. There must be a reasonable chance of success.

This is more difficult because many people do not believe that bombing alone will defeat ISIS, although it will weaken them.

5. The war must be a last resort.

It is difficult to see how ISIS will be defeated without military action.

6. Only sufficient force must be used and civilians must not be involved.

This is a controversial point as ISIS deliberately mixes with innocent civilians. It seems inevitable that many innocent civilians will be killed in the raids.

However, it is all very well to debate the ethics of the bombing campaign. But how are the nations to defeat this terrible evil? It seems unlikely that western nations will be willing to provide ground troops, having been stung by the difficulties resulting from the invasion of Iraq. If local ground forces were strong enough to defeat ISIS, supported by the bombing campaign and other non-military action by the western nations, that would be the best way forward. But it is not clear that they are strong enough.

The solemn fact is that the western nations don’t really know how to cope with the terrorists. The bombing campaign won’t be sufficient and the security measures at home will not be adequate. Terrorism is now much more sophisticated with modern communications, weapons and many other resources. For example, Detective Chief Inspector Colin Smith, a security expert and adviser to the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology, warned that a small quadcopter could easily be used by terrorists for attacks and propaganda purposes.

War, in the form of terrorism, poses a very serious new threat to the nations. No country can feel secure because even more extensive surveillance (which, in itself, has negative consequences) is not adequate.

Nicolas Henin, who was held hostage by ISIS for ten months, says that ISIS are not superheroes but “street kids drunk on ideology and power.” They see all that is happening as an apocalyptic process towards the defeat of the “crusaders” by the Muslim army. He adds: “They will be heartened by every sign of overreaction, of division, of fear, of racism, of xenophobia.”

Dangers from immigration

I want nothing to do with the idiotic and offensive comments of Donald Trump. Nevertheless, there are dangers in the refugee movement. I have already mentioned the report that a Syrian ISIS operative has said 4000 covert terrorists have infiltrated the refugee movement into Western Europe. Such a report could be propaganda but it is also credible.

On a different level, the huge influx of Muslims is bound to make significant pro-Islamic changes in western nations. Over 2.6 million refugees from Muslim nations entered the US in 2014, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. That compares with 2.2 million in 2010 and 1.5 million before that. European leaders have said the “greatest tide” of refugees is yet to come.

There are now nine civil wars taking place in Muslim nations in the Middle East and North Africa (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, SE Turkey, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and north-east Nigeria). Five of them have begun since 2011.

The Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, commented on the influx of refugees: “Most are not Christian, but Muslim. Is it not worrying that Europe’s Christian culture is already barely able to maintain its own set of Christian values?” Donald Tusk, President of the EU, responded: “For me, Christianity in public and social life carries a duty to our brothers in need. Referring to Christianity in a public debate on migration must mean in the first place the readiness to show solidarity and sacrifice. For a Christian it shouldn’t matter what race, religion and nationality the person in need represents.” I agree with Tusk’s response but it would be naïve to ignore that having so many more Muslims, with a higher birthrate, will have a profound effect on western nations. Islam is a missionary religion which aims to win the world. Current events greatly further that mission.

Other threats

Boko Haram

Whilst we major on thinking about ISIS, it has emerged that Boko Haram, the Nigerian-based terror group, also known as Islamic State’s West’s Africa province (ISWAP), is the most deadly terrorist organisation. In 2014 it was responsible for 6644 deaths, as opposed to 6073 for ISIS.

Iran

It is reported that Iran has stopped dismantling nuclear centrifuges in two uranium enrichment plants due to pressures from the hard-liners who complained that the move was too fast. They produce low-enriched uranium for nuclear power plants but this can also provide material for bombs if refined much further.

Russia

Russia, under Putin, is reasserting itself after the US has dominated the world for over 20 years. In 2014 Moscow re-opened 10 former Soviet-era military bases which were closed in 1991. Russia is also flying more long-range air patrols off the US shores.

China

China is also flexing its muscles. I have noted before its reclamation projects on the Spratley Islands in the China Sea. It has built an air strip and harbour there. China is ignoring the territorial claims of Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei over this area. The US has decided to put a missile destroyer to patrol within 12 miles of disputed islands. China responded by saying that it will seek to “convince the White House that China, despite its unwillingness, is not frightened to fight a war with the US in the region, and is determined to safeguard its national interests and dignity.”

However, Xi Jinping, President of China, said recently: “War is like a mirror. Looking at it helps us better appreciate the value of peace. Today, peace and development have become the prevailing trend, but the world is far from tranquil. War is the sword of Damocles that still hangs over mankind. We must learn the lessons of history, and dedicate ourselves to peace.”

Nuclear threat

Russia’s actions in Ukraine and China’s expansionism has caused the US to look again at its nuclear arsenal. There are signs that US adversaries, especially Russia, want to be ready to employ nuclear weapons to deal with any escalating conflict with the United States.

We need to be alert and to pray about these threats.

The number of deaths per year from terrorism has risen nine-fold since 2000, according to the Global Terrorism Index. In 2014 32,658 people were killed by terrorists – an 80% increase on 2013. Steve Killelea, chair of the Institute for Economics and Peace said recently: “Terrorism is gaining momentum at an unprecedented pace. The Paris incident in many ways is a watershed within Europe.”

However the horrific terrorist attack in Paris has profoundly changed the situation. Although the highest death toll from terrorism has been in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria, Europe now feels very vulnerable. Shortly after the Paris atrocity Brussels (a European capital city) shut down for several days because of intelligence about an imminent attack.

It is also clear that terrorists are mixing with the huge number of genuine refugees entering Europe, which heightens the insecurity felt by Europeans. BuzzFeed, an American internet media company, claims that an ISIS operative told them that 4000 terrorists had been smuggled into Europe.

I am convinced that some of most serious dangers in the world are not caused by totally evil actions but by good actions going wrong. These actions will further trends towards various End Time scenarios. For example, it is clearly right and necessary for governments to protect their citizens from terrorism, including by tightening security and strengthening surveillance. But these actions can go wrong in the hands of failing human beings. They can lead towards a totalitarian state. I do not believe that such a thought is paranoid but rather a serious concern we should pray about.

 

Is there a sinister conspiracy to establish a repressive world government or is this simply the view of paranoid extremists?

Dr Seth Baum, Executive Director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, wrote that many people do not appreciate that “Global government might begin benevolent, but it could turn sour, even becoming the oppressive disaster that the conspiracy theorists fear. And if it does, there would be no other government out there to keep it in check.” He added: “It’s worth noting that there have been several major oppressive governments throughout world history, resulting in some of the biggest disasters ever. Fortunately, a historical trend has been that other, more open societies have eventually out-competed them, leading to the oppression declining. But if that oppressive government is a global government, then there is no chance for another society to out-compete it.”

The steady development of globalisation

Globalisation is an inevitable process, a lot of which has already happened. Some people may not appreciate that there is already a huge amount of international co-operation and control. Much of it is for positive motives and has the potential to improve the lives of human beings. But, as Seth Baum says, well-intentioned and helpful developments can go wrong. There are various contributory factors to globalisation some of which I’ll mention briefly:

POSITIVE TRENDS

Economic Cooperation

One of the biggest factors driving the movement towards globalisation is economic. There has been an increasing exchange of products, services, capital and labour across national borders which has led to closer integration of economies throughout the world. This is linked with a large fall in transport costs over time. Also modern communications facilitate global trade and an international work force, and enables companies to split their work between different countries. The great increase in speed of travel and transport assists this trend. These developments require international laws to govern economic activity. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) founded in 1945, is composed of “188 countries working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world.”

Peacekeeping

Another factor which has brought nations together in global co-operation is the experience of the world wars. Both the United Nation and the European Union have grown out of the aftermath of war as an attempt to promote and maintain peace. Dag Hammarskjöld, UN Secretary General, said the UN “was created not to lead mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell.” In addition to providing peacekeeping forces around the world, the UN set up the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1957, to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to inhibit its use for any military purpose, including nuclear weapons.

Upholding Human Rights

The disturbing oppression and inequalities in many countries has led to attempts to bring nations together to promote human rights and welfare across the world in the 20th and 21st centuries.
• The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948 in Paris.
• The International Labour Organisation (ILO), set up in 1919, was inspired by the idea that social justice was crucial to world order and peace.
• The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, set up in 1946, contributes to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through education, science, and culture to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights.
• UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women was set up in 2010.

Overcoming Hunger, Ill-Health and Poverty

The need to overcome the huge challenge of world poverty has also led to global co-operation which has drawn nations together.
• The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, set up in 1945, leads international efforts to defeat hunger.
• The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, was created 1946 to provide food, clothing and healthcare to European children who faced famine and disease. It now works in more than 190 countries with families, local communities, business partners and governments, to help protect children in danger.
• The World Health Organization (WHO), established in 1948, is concerned with international public health
• The World Food Programme, which was set up in 1961, delivers food and other relief supplies to about 80 million people in more than 80 countries every year.
• The UN Population Fund, UNFPA, set up in 1969, aims to ensure every young person has their potential fulfilled, every pregnancy is wanted and every childbirth is safe.
• The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), set up in 1977, is dedicated to eradicating rural poverty in developing countries.

Caring for Refugees

The increasing problem of people fleeing war and oppressive regimes has also brought nations together to provide for them.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), was founded in 1950 to help displaced Europeans. Globalisation encourages people to move. In 1970 there were 70 million international migrants. Now there are over 200 million.

Professor Alexander Betts is director of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford believes that refugees and displacement are likely to become a defining issue of the 21st century. This is because an increasing number of states are very weak and so are unable or unwilling to ensure the most fundamental human rights of citizens. The UN Security Council has not dealt well with this increase in migration and there will need to be a more effective international co-operation on the issue.

It is interesting that in September 2015 for the first time, at a meeting of EU Interior Ministers, a majority decision was made on the sensitive issue of refugee quotas which was binding on all EU countries. Previously such a decision would have been left to individual states to make. This was based on the new mechanism whereby 55% of EU countries representing 65% of the EU population can decide for all 28 members of the EU. This was a significant step forward in European solidarity and a corresponding weakening of national sovereignty.

Combatting Climate Change

One of the biggest challenges facing the world is, of course, global warming and this requires much more global co-operation. In 1988 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up to assess scientific information relevant to the impact of human-induced climate change and options for adaptation and mitigation. It is essential that the nations of the world work together to combat this problem.

In August 2015 President Obama launched his Clean Power Plan which sets achievable standards to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030. His action encourages the possibility of a realistic international agreement at the UN Climate Conference in Paris in December 2015. It is possible that such an agreement could limit global warming to a maximum of 2oC.

Obama predicted what would happen if world leaders don’t take action on climate change: “Submerged countries. Abandoned cities. Fields no longer growing. Indigenous peoples who can’t carry out traditions that stretch back millennia. Entire industries of people who can’t practice their livelihoods. Desperate refugees seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own. Political disruptions that could trigger multiple conflicts around the globe.” He added: “Climate change is already disrupting our agriculture and ecosystems, our water and food supplies, our energy, our infrastructure, human health, human safety—now. Today.”

Sustainable Development Goals

In July 2015 24 Heads of State and Government met with other politicians in Addis Ababa to discuss ending poverty in the world and combatting climate change. They put forward 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General said the agreement “encompasses a universal, transformative and integrated agenda that heralds an historic turning point for our world.” The UN General Assembly endorsed the Addis Ababa agreement and Ban Ki-moon commented “We launch a new era of cooperation and global partnership.” Then at the end of September 2015 the 193 countries of the UN ratified the Goals. Ban Ki-moon commented: “They are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success. To achieve these new global goals, we will need your high-level political commitment. We will need a renewed global partnership.”

The 17 goals including ending poverty and hunger, ensuring people have healthy lives and access to water, energy and education, achieving gender equality, promoting economic growth and employment for all, tackling climate change, pollution and promoting sustainable use of ecosystems, etc. They also include “promoting the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensuring equal access to justice for all.” In addition it involves “promoting a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization.”
Another aspect of the Addis Ababa conference was that developing countries are demanding a global body on tax co-operation. Currently global tax standards are decided privately by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which any see as the “rich countries’ club.” Developing countries lose more money through international tax dodging than they receive in aid. They want this to be stopped.
Achieving all this will require much greater international co-operation between governments and nations. The pressure is on and this will move the world more in the direction of world government.

Others

In addition to the numerous international bodies mentioned above, the following also encourage globalisation:
• The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), set up in 1947 to encourage the planning and development of international air transport to ensure safe and orderly growth.
• The International Maritime Organization (IMO), set up in 1948 to regulate shipping.
• The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), originally founded in 1865, as the International Telegraph Union, is now responsible for issues that concern information and communication technologies.

As can be seen, global co-operation has led to many very positive developments.

NEGATIVE TRENDS

One of the ways in which world government could “turn sour” is by it seriously limiting human rights and freedom, despite the organisations set up to promote human rights. There is already disturbing evidence of such a trend. The reason may be international crime, cyber war and the spread of Islamic terrorism. But counter measures carry serious dangers. One aspect of an oppressive world government would be a powerful surveillance system.

The dangers of surveillance

David Anderson QC produced a report in June 2015 in which he said: “Modern communications networks can be used by the unscrupulous for purposes ranging from cyber-attack, terrorism and espionage to fraud, kidnap and child sexual exploitation. A successful response to these threats depends on entrusting public bodies with the powers they need to identify and follow suspects in a borderless online world … But trust requires verification. Each intrusive power must be shown to be necessary, clearly spelled out in law, limited in accordance with human rights standards and subject to demanding and visible safeguards.” He recommended replacing the current legislation on surveillance. He also proposed safeguards against snooping on journalists, lawyers and other groups. He rejected the idea that the threat from terrorism is “unprecedented” and questioned whether the intelligence services need the power laid out in the Government’s proposed “snooper’s charter” to search through people’s web browser histories to see what they have been looking at online.

He also suggested that control over the intelligence services be transferred from politicians to judges, which does not seem to have gone down well with the government. Sir David Omand, the ex-head of GCHQ (Government Communications HQ), commented that it would be “unconscionable for a judge to authorise a very sensitive intelligence operation where the political risk, if it went wrong, fell on the home secretary, or overseas the foreign secretary, who would know nothing about it and wouldn’t have approved it.”

However he has agreed with demands from GCHQ that bulk data gathering should continue. Although the security authorities claim it is an anonymous exercise in tracking, it is clear from the US that personal information can be extracted from it.

In February 2015 GCHQ was found guilty of illegal behaviour in the period leading to December 2014 when it allowed American security authorities to access private personal information about UK residents. However the government strongly defended GCHQ and said this judgment would not affect its operations.

Tony Porter, the UK government’s Surveillance Camera Commissioner, said he was very concerned about the “burgeoning use of body-worn videos” by police, university security staff, housing and environmental health officers – and even supermarket workers. He added: “If people are going round with surveillance equipment attached to them, there should be a genuinely good and compelling reason for that. It changes the nature of society and raises moral and ethical issues … about what sort of society we want to live in … I’ve heard that supermarkets are issuing staff with body-worn videos. For what purpose? There is nothing immediately obvious to me.”

The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has criticised the level of secrecy surrounding the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), saying it allows the police to “engage in acts which would be unacceptable in a democracy.” Keith Vaz, the committee chairman, said: “Using RIPA to access telephone records of journalists is wrong and this practice must cease. The inevitable consequence is that this deters whistleblowers from coming forward.”

The Intelligence Services Committee (ISC) report into the murder of Lee Rigby confirms the existence of the Tempora programme – which taps undersea cables off the Cornish coast in order to collect the communications data of every UK internet user.

Whilst avoiding a paranoid reaction to the security services, it is important to recognise that modern surveillance, although claimed to be about combatting terrorism, is disturbing. It is easy for it to be misused and to be open to facilitating political oppression.

Another factor which can encourage oppressive political action is terrorism and there is growing evidence of this trend today.

Counter-radicalisation strategy

One of the most disturbing recent developments is the establishment of the UK governments Counter-Radicalisation Strategy. There is widespread concern that this could lead to censorship. One of the problems is that “radicalisation” has not been defined. Also “British Values” is a term which lacks clarity. Roger Mosey, former editor of the Today programme on Radio 4, commented: “There are difficulties sometimes in deciding what is extremism and what is not; hardline religious conservatism is one thing, inciting terrorist violence another. I’m not sure politicians are the best to judge which is which.”

Sajid Javid, when he was UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, told David Cameron that he couldn’t support the Home Secretary’s plan to vet TV programmes which might contain extremist material before they were screened. He added: “It should be noted that other countries with a pre-transmission regulatory regime are not known for their compliance with rights relating to freedom of expression and government may not wish to be associated with such regimes.”

Sir Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police supports the UK government’s new counter-terrorism measures. But he commented: “If these issues [defining extremism] are left to securocrats [police officers with power to influence government] then there is a danger of a drift to a police state. …There is a danger of us being turned into a thought police. This securocrat says we do not want to be in the space of policing thought or police defining what is extremism.”

There is a real danger that views such as that homosexual practice is sinful or Jesus is the only way to God (and thus other religions are false) would be deemed extremism.

Growing restrictions on human rights is a serious issue in many parts of the world.

Limitation of human rights

James Savage, Human Rights Defenders Programme Manager for Amnesty International, commented on the fact that, in the last three years over 60 countries have drafted or passed laws that curtail human rights groups and 96 countries have inhibited them from operating at full capacity. He said: “This global wave of restrictions has a rapidity and breadth to its spread we’ve not seen before, that arguably represents a seismic shift and closing down of human rights space not seen in a generation. There are new pieces of legislation almost every week – on foreign funding, restrictions in registration or association, anti-protest laws, gagging laws. And, unquestionably, this is going to intensify in the coming two to three years. You can visibly watch the space shrinking.”

Contributory factors are the shifting of political influence away from western countries which tend to fund such groups, reaction against pro-democracy uprisings in former communist states and the Middle East and counter terrorist actions which, intentionally or otherwise, adversely affect human rights groups.

As is often the case, the truth lies in the middle. Some people dismiss the danger of oppressive world government as the stuff of fiction. Others oppose genuinely positive developments to promote human welfare on a global level because they read everything as sinister. Both of these approaches are unhelpful. A more balanced view is that globalisation has many positive aspects but there is a real need to be alert to unhelpful and sinister developments. The New Testament envisages an eventual oppressive world global regime. But that does not mean that Christians should oppose the positive trends which benefit

 

 

One important difficulty with taking eschatology seriously is that we are creatures of tradition. Our attitude is that everything with respect to God’s relationship with the world will be “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.” We therefore find the idea of spectacular divine intervention on a world scale difficult to accept. We find the idea of Christ ruling on earth, of the Antichrist etc., difficult. But Jesus was on earth. Also, for centuries up until the early 20th century, people would have found it difficult to accept that the State of Israel would be re-established. Yet it has been and is either a most remarkable coincidence or the beginning of a fulfilment of prophecy.

Another difficulty is that we tend not to stand back and see the bigger picture of trends and dangers in the world. We are aware that:
• we have the ability to destroy all life on earth,
• one fifth of the world’s population is already under a godless dictatorship (China) (and adding other smaller countries the figure is higher),
• we now live in a global village with constantly developing globalisation and the potential for world government.
• a religion with an alternative Christ can attract millions of followers and have huge and growing influence around the world (Islam),
• secular scholars and authorities are concerned about Earth being struck by large asteroids.
But we tend not to see the significance of these things with respect to eschatology. Of course, the unbalanced and paranoid prophets of doom don’t help.

Why do we not stand back and see the bigger picture of trends and dangers in the world? It is a spiritual blindness to prevent people preparing for eschatological events and particularly for judgment. Many people don’t even prepare spiritually for the inevitability of death. The church’s neglect of sensible teaching on eschatology, and especially our individual accountability to God on the Day of Judgment, is a spiritual deceit and a profoundly unloving failure to prepare unbelievers and believers for eternity.

Some Christians are predicting that the Second Coming of Christ will happen this month because there will be a “blood moon” on the 27th/28th. (The Earth will eclipse a full moon blocking direct sunlight reaching it. But rays from the sun travel through the Earth’s atmosphere and reflect a red or brownish light onto the moon). This prediction contradicts the New Testament’s teaching that we do not and cannot know the time of Jesus’ return. I am all in favour of doing what Jesus said – noting occurrences such as wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, etc., as reminders that he will return to sort out our needy world. But these are REMINDERS (“the beginning of birth-pains” of the Messianic Age) not signs of Jesus’ imminent return. Sensationalist predictions do damage by bringing a serious study of eschatology into disrepute and putting many people off taking the Bible’s teaching on the End Times seriously.

Matt 4:17 “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus was a teacher but he didn’t just come to give a series of lectures or to tell religious stories. Jesus was a healer but he didn’t just come on a healing campaign. Jesus was the baptiser in the Holy Spirit but he didn’t just come to give people exciting experiences. Jesus was a founder of the church but he didn’t come just to encourage people to be religious. No, primarily his message was that the rule of God had drawn near in his presence. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:15-17). His rule is an everlasting rule (Dan 7:27) of righteousness, justice and peace to be established over the whole earth (Isa 32:1; Mic 5:2; Zech 9:10; Rom 15:12). So Jesus’ message was an eschatological message of his coming rule on earth. He was and is calling individuals to submit to that divine rule now and we need to proclaim the same message. What we see of the rule of God now is a foretaste of what we shall see in the future.

On the 4th August the Manchester Evening News reported that Councillor Pat Karney Manchester’s “city centre chief” said that street preachers do not have the right to speak about morality. I’d be the first to say that insensitive, condemnatory street preaching hinders the gospel. But if Mr Karney thinks preachers should not preach about sin (i.e. morality) he doesn’t know much about Christianity. Christianity is about Jesus dying for our sins but we don’t appreciate that if we don’t know we’re sinners! Of course preachers must be free to preach about morality – sensitively, lovingly and in the context of God’s mercy and forgiveness. If people who are ignorant about the faith are allowed to control the expression of faith that will lead to oppression and ultimately persecution. http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/thousands-goods-seized-during-council-9787370