One does not have to look around too much in our world today to come face to face with the reality of religiously motivated aggression. As this is being written, the United States of America is leading a coalition of forces against a militant, terrorist group called ISIS (or IS, or ISIL) whose appalling acts of violence have been done in the name of Islam, and toward the goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate. This group targets not only Christians and other non-Muslims, but also targets Muslims that do not share their ruthless ideology. And of course earlier in the summer, we saw another flare up between Israel and the terrorist leadership of Gaza, Hamas. While this conflict may not demonstrate the same degree of religious fervor as ISIS displays, the Arab-Israeli conflict is situated within the wider tension that has long existed between Judeo-Christian civilization, and the Islamic world (though with this particular conflict, religion is only part of the story). Indeed, today’s major cultural divide lies between the Judeo-Christian West and the militant factions of Islam in the East. I insert the word “militant” so as to distinguish between the terrorists, and those many peace-loving Muslims who do not share the terrorist’s murderous ideology.
Interestingly and perhaps predictably, parallel to recent “religious wars” has been the recent call for religious unity. Earlier this month, the former President of Israel, Shimon Peres, proposed to Pope Francis the idea of a “United Religions”. It would be a “United Nations of Religions”. Peres noted that the United Nations had already had its day, and that what we need is an organization of United Religions. Peres also praised Francis, stating that the Pope is not only respected by many people, but also by different religions, and the leaders of those religions. He noted that Francis is perhaps “the only truly respected leader” in the world today. The Italian spokesman for Islam “fully” agreed with Peres’ proposal to the Pope. These points can be found in the September 9, 2014 online article in the Jerusalem Post called “Peres, the Pope, and a Plan for World Peace”.
Earlier in the summer, BBC News Magazine online carried the story of a proposed “worship” centre called the House of One to be erected in Berlin, Germany. The House is to be a worship centre for Christians, Muslims, and Jews – a “church-mosque-synagogue.” And of course, there was the famous prayer meeting at the Vatican in June of this year – hosted by Pope Francis – that involved Christians, Jews, and Muslims – including Shimon Peres, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (click here to see the video). All of this stands in stark contrast to some of the religious conflicts brewing in the world today.
On the surface, all this talk of religious unity sounds pleasant, promising, and positive. After all, who would object to world peace between religions? Who would object to harmony among human beings of different faiths? For the Christian community (I am a Christian, so I will speak from the perspective of Christianity), there are, of course, two ways of looking at this. If religious harmony means that members of different faiths agree to get along, despite their differences, then that is to be encouraged and welcomed. If harmony between faith groups means we agree to respect each other’s right to believe as one so chooses, and to not discriminate on the basis of religious persuasion, then harmony between religions is a step in the right direction.
If, however, religious harmony means that we so unite the religions that we cease to maintain the unique particularity of who God is, then we have drifted into apostasy. The Bible makes definite claims, and gives definite revelation, about a definite God: There is only one God (John 17:3); This God is a Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit (Matthew 28:29); This God has a Son named Jesus (1 John 5:5); this Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 14:6); There is salvation in no other name but Jesus (Acts 4:9 – 12); This God pours out His Spirit on human beings (Joel 2:28). Since the Bible makes these claims about God, any claim about God that contradicts these claims contradicts the Bible’s witness of who God is. Thus, the Bible’s testimony of who God is cannot be reconciled with the testimony of another differing faith without altering one or both of the faiths. For example, one cannot rightly say that Islam’s Allah and Christianity’s YHWH are the same. Allah is not a Trinity, while YHWH is. Allah does not have a Son, YHWH does. One cannot rightly say that Hinduism and Christianity speak of the same God. Hinduism has multiple gods. Christianity has only one.
To say that the God of Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism is really the same God, is to actually say there is no Islamic, or Christian, or Hindu God. A more familiar way of saying this is as follows: “We all worship the same God, we just do so differently”. Christianity will not tolerate such a statement, and rightly so! We cannot makes such a statement without abandoning the Christian God. To say such a thing is really to invent our own God, since we have discarded the objective revelation of who God is, and have instead constructed a God of our own making by harmonizing the testimonies of multiple faiths to present one, unifying deity. The Bible testifies of God’s own objective reality. To discard that testimony is to reject God. To try and redefine that testimony in order to fit it into a religious union is to abandon the true God and create a god in our own image. In actual fact, saying that all religions worship the same God is actually a subtle, hidden way of saying “man is God”. Why? Because by saying that all religions worship the same God, we are ignoring the objective, actual, reality of who God is – according to His own Self-revelation – and instead making our own god to suit our wishes.
It certainly appears – based on the sacred prophetic writings of the Bible – that religious unity in some sense is coming! We are told in Revelation 13:8 and 13:12 that those who dwell on the earth will worship the Beast, the one identified by many as the Antichrist. The Antichrist, who will also blasphemously display himself to be God (2 Thessalonians 2:4) will be the object of the world’s worship for a time. This implies religious unity in some sense. For this to happen, confidence in every other so-called god, and in the true God, must be shaken and replaced with confidence in the Antichrist. Indeed, we are told that the Antichrist will oppose and exalt “himself above every so-called god or object of worship…” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). We are also told that those who do not worship the image of the Beast will be killed (Rev. 13:15). Thus, tolerance in this system will only go so far. Those who refuse to bow to Antichrist, and those who maintain their allegiance to the true God will be killed. We are specifically told that during this time of tribulation shortly before the Second Coming of Christ, Satan will persecute those “who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 12:17). It is difficult not to see in this statement both Jews, and believers in Christ. The Jews, of course hold to the commandments of the Old Testament, while those who hold to the testimony of Jesus are obviously believers in Christ. Yes, it appears that a form of religious unity is coming, and all those who reject the object of worship in this new system – the Beast – and remain faithful to God will be the object of Antichrist’s wrath.
Revelation clearly depicts the coming of a False Prophet who will aid the Antichrist in his world agenda (Rev. 13:11-18, 16:13, 19:20, and 20:10). The Bible also depicts what many have believed over the centuries to be a world system incorporating spirituality identified as “Babylon the Great” (Revelation 17:1 – 18). Space does not permit us to do a detailed exegesis of this passage here. This we will do in a future blog. What we need to draw attention to here though is the apparent spiritual dimension of this world-wide system. She is identified as a “harlot” (Rev. 17:1), and in the Bible, God at times used the term “harlot” to describe His unfaithful people. In Isaiah 1:21 God said of Jerusalem: “How the faithful city has become a Harlot”. At that time, the people of Israel forsook the covenant they had with God and formed alliances with nations that worshipped other gods. Since the same term (harlot) is used of this entity in Revelation 17 (in fact, the woman in Revelation 17 is referred to as “The Mother of Harlots”), it stands to reason that religion and spiritual unfaithfulness are in view here.
Yet an astonishing thing is revealed in Revelation 17:3: The harlot sits astride the Beast! Thus, for a time, the Antichrist and the harlot work together to establish global control. Of the woman, it is said that she sits on seven mountains (Rev. 17:9) and that she is “the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev. 17:18). On both accounts, the city of Rome seems to fits the scenario! Rome is known as the city of seven hills. There are, of course, other cities said to be situated on seven hills. However, the most obvious “great” city to have reigned “over the kings of the earth” in John’s day (that is, when John wrote the Revelation) that comes to mind is that of Rome. If we are to understand the reigning over the kings of the earth as the literal, political reign of a city contemporary with John, then Rome seems to be the best fit. Concerning this entity in Revelation 17, Dr. Charles Ryrie notes: “In Chap. 17 Babylon represents the false religious system that will centre in Rome during the Tribulation” (The Ryrie Study Bible). Another opinion is that the Babylon of Revelation 17 refers to the ancient city of Babylon that some feel will be rebuilt in Iraq at some point in the future.
If indeed Rome serves as the centre for world religious matters during the times of Antichrist, and if indeed some sort of religious union is established under the “headship” of the Antichrist, then what we are seeing today, with the drive to religious unity – particularly that involving religious Rome – is nothing short of intriguing. There will come a time when the name of Jesus Christ will not be tolerated within the world religions scene – and if it is tolerated, it will likely be a “redefinition” of who Jesus really is in order to satisfy the spirit of religious unity that will govern the day. What is for certain is that the unique claims of the Bible regarding Jesus Christ as God in human form and the only way of salvation and eternal life, will not be tolerated. And I think we can already see signs of this attitude increasing all around us. Unpopular is the Christian who maintains that faith in Jesus is the only way to heaven – to the exclusion of all other religious claims! Let us remember, and heed the words of the Book of Hebrews concerning Jesus Christ (1:1 – 4):
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.