Let us run a thought experiment in which everything Evangelicals believe is actually true. Now let’s all set our secret decoder rings, aka The Book of Revelation, to see how this crazy world will all turn out.
For those unfamiliar with Evangelical eschatology,1 a hard rain is gonna fall. There will be tribulations and widespread disaster and famine, and then lots of slaughter before Jesus, in his lesser known role of Attila of Nazareth, steps in to mop the floor with the devil and his minions. All of this will culminate in a new heaven and a new earth which will be pretty sweet if you didn’t get caught up in the slaughter. Also you have to be the right sort of Christian to hang around for the afterparty. If you gotta ask, then you probably aren’t.
An important part of all this mayhem will be the rise of the Antichrist. The Antichrist will carry some sort of distinguishing mark. In Revelation, the Beast (Anti-Christ) receives a seemingly fatal wound to the head that miraculously heals, the infamous “mark of the beast.” We spent lots of time looking for potential Antichrists to fear. My favorite was Gorbachev and his funky birthmark. See how simple it all is? Lots of bears, symbolic and real, cavort around in the scripture2, and connecting the dots to godless Russia proved easy during the Cold War.
You probably know a patchwork of the other details: the Antichrist will rise to power and form a one-world government (who’s making fun of the black helicopters now?); he’ll do some signs, do some wonders, appear to possess supernatural abilities; to live under the government, do business, and buy necessities, people will carry the “mark of the beast” on their hand or forehead. Good ole 666. A brief hysteria erupted at my church when bar codes were introduced in grocery stores. I knew people convinced we would be required to scan a tattooed barcode on our hand when the Antichrist came to town. Some of the faithful boycotted stores that adopted the new technology. That was nonsense. Everyone now knows the Antichrist will just disable your smartphone until you get a chip placed in your hand, courtesy of 666 Industries. Just got real didn’t it, screen junkie?
The fastest way to undermine an authority figure among Evangelicals is to point out his similarities to the descriptions of the Antichrist in the Bible. But the part Evangelicals conveniently leave out is the fact the faithful will prove just as gullible as everyone else to the Antichrist’s charms. Jesus indicates plenty of potential Antichrists3 will arise and the “very elect” will sometimes be deceived. Paul indicates the Antichrist will be allowed to “sit in the temple” and declare himself God. So it appears pretty apparent plenty of Evangelicals will roll out the welcome mat for the Beast and find themselves part of the away team for Armageddon. Awkward when Jesus comes out for the coin toss and you’re the opposing captain.
Which brings us to the point of this experiment. I am not going to claim President Trump is the Antichrist, although Jared Kushner’s major real estate holding in Manhattan resides at 666 Fifth Avenue. Google it up. But if Evangelicals are right and the Antichrist ever arrives, he will look just like President Trump. He will say everything Evangelicals want to hear, hammering home his desire to protect and empower them, while committing the most despicable acts. He will insinuate that anyone that opposes him opposes the will of God. He will be invited to the largest Christian gatherings and hailed as a hero. He will explain away every sin, every foul act, every murderous decision. To protect our borders and real Americans, he will institute security chips under the skin that no innocent person would ever refuse. There will be natural disasters and shadowy rumors of terrorism requiring special powers. Then one afternoon in the Rose Garden, he will introduce his new cabinet members: Conquest, War, Famine, and Death. They’ll ride horses to work because they’re not elitists like those whiners languishing in the concentration camps. I mean Freedom Education Centers.
These things happen when you convince yourself you could never be the villain of the story. Even when God himself suggests otherwise. Amen.
- Eschatology is the theological study of how things will end, from individual judgement, to the end of humanity, to the demise of the planet. Teenage Evangelical boys love discussing eschatology and how not to have sex. Sometimes you can combine both, such as a deep and thorough consideration of the Whore of Babylon.
- My favorite biblical bears show up in 2 Kings. Elisha the prophet is strolling through Bethel, when some local hooligans start calling him baldy. Elisha utters a curse: “Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.” Well played Elisha. My favorite part of the story happens after the mauling. “And then he went on to Mount Carmel.” Nothing to see here; just a pile of boys and some divine retribution. Elisha won’t be taking any questions at this time. There’s way too few sermons on that passage.
- A strong undercurrent of the Bible suggests humanity has much more control over events than some Evangelicals claim. Perhaps Hitler was the Antichrist but we chose to defeat him. The world will end when we stop fighting for its survival. Like, I don’t know, denying climate change or refusing to take care of each other in community or equating hatred with goodness. Just a thought.