Larry Farlow

Commentary on Theology & Culture


Leave a comment

What is the Mark of the Beast?

Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666. – Revelation 13:16-18

What is the Mark of the Beast?

“The Number of the Beast is 666″ by William Blake

This passage has caused much speculation among Christians through the years. People are keen to know who the beast is and what it means to take his mark. The two questions have to be answered simultaneously because what you believe about the beast determines what you believe about his mark and vice versa.

Two things must be remembered about Revelation to properly understand it:

  • Revelation was written to people in the first century as a warning and an encouragement. Therefore, what is written had meaning for them in that day and not just for people in some far distant future time (Rev. 1:1).
  • Revelation is written in apocalyptic style meaning it is highly symbolic. We must be careful when reading it not to do so as if it is the newspaper or an historical narrative.

If Revelation was written as a warning and an encouragement to the first century church and to the church throughout history, then the beast and his mark must be something relevant to both groups. I believe the beast is a specific person in ancient history, a persecutor of the church, perhaps a Roman emperor. However, in warning the church about this person, John also warns future Christians about those who govern the same way. There may also be a final manifestation of this type of ruler before the return of Christ who is worse than all those before him. So he could be a specific person in the future as well.

However, our concern needs to be identifying the characteristics of the ruler described rather than identifying an individual by name. Kim Riddlebarger in his book “The Man of Sin” says:

It is more important to understand what the number means than to identify the individual to whom it is referring.”

Several characteristics of the beast are mentioned in the extended passage but I want to concentrate on those associated with his mark.

The mark is required to engage in commerce. In other words, this ruler requires people to have the mark in order to make a living, buy food, etc. The mark is equivalent to the ruler’s name. So the ability to buy and sell is related to the person’s support for and acknowledgment of the ruler. The mark is to be placed on either the hand or the forehead. This last point is especially interesting.

Why the hand or the forehead?

Think back to God’s instructions concerning His law after freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt:

You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. – Deuteronomy 6:8

The Lord’s commands were to be with the people of God always. They were the guide for their actions (hands) and thoughts (foreheads). Their ultimate allegiance in all things was to God. So in describing the locations of the mark, John reveals it is usurpation of God that the beast seeks – the desire to be worshiped and to be the source of ultimate authority.

I believe the beast is any government or ruler who sets themselves up as God and demands ultimate allegiance. Nazi Germany was a manifestation of the beast as are the communist governments in places like China and North Korea. The beast has risen and fallen many times throughout the history of the world and will continue to do so until Christ returns.

His mark is not necessarily physical, not a tattoo or a computer chip or a bar code. It is something more sinister. We take the mark when we acquiesce to the state’s demand to be worshiped, when we remove Christ from His throne and replace Him with a golden statue of the state. This is why first century Christians refused to worship Caesar even under penalty of death – because to do so was to dishonor the Lord and abandon the faith.

Those claiming to be followers of Christ in the United States have by and large not had to make this choice. But, recent events remind us that the beast is crouching at our door. The day will soon come when he will demand that we choose whom we will serve. My prayer for the American church is that we be given grace and strength from the Holy Spirit to choose as Moses did, “rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.


Leave a comment

Why Read the Bible All the Way Through? – Part II

Context is King

“Old Woman Reading the Bible” by Gerrit Dou

If, as we established in the last post, the Bible is one seamless story it follows that no section stands apart from the others. There are certainly some sections of scripture that can be helpful on their own but even then to properly understand them we must have an idea of their context. There’s a saying in real estate that the three most important things are location, location and location. For scripture, it’s not far off to say the three most important things are context, context and context.

What do we mean by context? Context is knowing where the verse or passage fits in relation to the chapter, where the chapter fits in relation to the book and where the book fits in relation to scripture as a whole.

Christian apologist Greg Koukl goes so far as to say “never read a Bible verse.” Of course he doesn’t mean never read a verse at all but never to read it in isolation. I quoted this statement from Koukl while preaching one time in South America and the translator didn’t want to translate it until I explained that I was not discouraging people from reading their Bibles but from reading just a verse apart from the context in which it’s found.

We sometimes forget that every single verse, no, every single word, in the Bible is there because God chose to put it there. Every sentence is set in relation to the sentences around it in just the way God intended. So when we read our favorite passages or verses apart from the text appearing before and after them, we are missing some of what God intends to tell us with that passage.

In their excellent book “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth” by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stewart, they say this about context:

“This (Literary context) is what most people mean when they talk about reading something in its context. Indeed this is the crucial task in exegesis, and fortunately it is something you can learn to do well without necessarily having to consult the “experts.” Essentially, literary context means first that words only have meaning in sentences, and second that biblical sentences for the most part only have clear meaning in relation to the preceding and succeeding sentences.” (How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth, p.27)

And nothing helps us with what Fee and Stuart characterize as the crucial task in exegesis more than reading the entirety of God’s word.


Leave a comment

Don’t Know Much About History

Don't Know Much About History

Gone With the Wind premiere, Atlanta, 1939

History is a mixed bag. Rarely is a cause, a person or a nation all good or all bad. The same Roman Empire that fed Christians to the lions made possible the world-wide expansion of the gospel through the Pax Romana and the best network of roads the world had ever seen. Martin Luther who sparked the Reformation which led to the recovery of the gospel in western Europe also wrote some very troubling things about Jews. The job of a historian is to consider all the information and report it as accurately as he or she can, taking the good with the bad.

The job of an ideologue is different.

The ideologue seeks to manipulate the past to facilitate their agenda in the present. Sometimes that manipulation is subtle as in the altering of text books. At other times it takes the more extreme forms of demonization and elimination. One of the tactics of tyrants is to erase the history of a people or culture so they can remake that people or culture in their own image – in other words, control them.

Consider this from Jung Chang & Jon Halliday’s biography of Mao:

“Mao thus succeeded in wiping out culture from Chinese homes. Outside, he was also fulfilling his long-held goal of erasing China’s past from the minds of his subjects. A large number of historical monuments, the most visible manifestation of the nations’ civilization, which had so far survived Mao’s loathing, were demolished. In Peking, of 6,843 monuments still standing in 1958, 4,922 were now obliterated.”

You saw similar things after both the French and Russian revolutions and in both cases the history purgers made the abuses of the ancien regime look like child’s play. Certainly the public square should reflect different points of view and be a place where people can disagree with one another. However, when one group demands that the public square be sanitized of any historical references they don’t like –  danger Will Robinson! 

What began as a request to remove a single Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol in the aftermath of the racially-motivated murders in Charleston has turned into a full-court press to remove all references to the Confederacy from the public square.

Here are a few of the cries that rang out over the last few days:

If the new standard is that nothing should be displayed on government property that any citizen finds offensive, I need to know where to send my list.

In addition, retailers like Amazon, are removing the Confederate battle flag from sale (while still offering items with Nazi and Communist symbols on them) and Apple has removed all Civil War strategy games from the app store because they contain images of the confederate flag.

I knew we would end up here when this started – as should anyone who’s been paying attention for the last 20 years. There is no such thing as “enough” in the left’s eyes when the specter of racism is invoked. It’s the trump sin. Anything and everything can be justified if positioned as fighting racism – especially things that are purely symbolic and do nothing to actually solve the problem. I also realize most of those originally calling for the removal of the flag in South Carolina did not have this kind of nation-wide purge in mind but unfortunately knee-jerk reactions are often the mother of unintended consequences.

So where do we go from here? Someone needs the guts to stand up and say “enough.” However, I can think of no one either in politics, business or among the evangelical elites with that kind of courage. Perhaps when other expressions of history are in the cross-hairs of the cultural sanitizers (and they will be), someone who values whatever the sledge-hammer is being swung at then will arise and stand in the gap. But I’m not holding my breath.


Leave a comment

Don’t Mistake God’s Patience for His Approval

Don't Mistake God's Patience for His Approval

Remains of Turkish Airlines flight 981 outside Paris.

On June 12, 1972, an American Airlines, McDonnell Douglas DC10 took off from Detroit, Michigan. The DC10 was a new plane at the time, one of the first “jumbo” jets of the jet age. Within minutes of take off, passengers and crew heard what sounded like an explosion followed by a sudden decompression of the cabin due to a huge hole in the floor toward the rear of the plane. Also damaged were the plane’s control cables making it extremely difficult for the pilots to control the aircraft. Thankfully for the passengers on board that day, the pilots were able to use their considerable skill to maneuver the plane back to Detroit and make an emergency landing. There was no loss of life and only a few minor injuries.

Investigation of the accident revealed that the cargo door on the DC10 had blown out when the plane reached around 12,000 feet, taking with it part of the cabin floor and damaging the plane’s control system. It was further revealed that the design of the DC10’s cargo door made it possible for the door to appear fully closed and locked from the outside even though the locking mechanism was not fully engaged. Several recommendations were made to McDonnell Douglas to remedy this problem.

Two years later, on March 3, 1974, a Turkish Airlines DC10 took off from Paris bound for London. Within ten minutes of take off, the remains of the plane were strewn across the French countryside and all 346 people on board were dead. At the time, it was the worst air disaster in history. Sadly, the investigation showed the cause of the accident to be the same as the one in Detroit two years earlier. McDonnell Douglas had not made the recommended improvements to the cargo door design and this time the plane’s control system was so badly damaged that the pilots had no hope of regaining control of the plane and making an emergency landing.

In our lives, God is often gracious to us by not allowing the consequences of our sin to be as severe as they might be. Unfortunately, we sometimes take that grace for granted and assume because we’ve acted a certain way with minimal or no consequence in the past, we can continue to do so indefinitely. But we have no such guarantee. In fact, we have an opposite guarantee. The Bible is clear that all our sin has consequences and eventually we will reap the consequences of our sin if we continue in it (Job 4:8). For the Christian this takes the form of God’s discipline of those He loves (Proverbs 3:12, Hebrews 12:4-12). Make no mistake, God will not allow one claiming the name of Christ to continue in sin with impunity – there will be discipline. In fact I believe the Bible teaches that such discipline can be up to and including death (I John 5:16). For the non-Christian this ultimately takes the form of eternal damnation in Hell.

If you’re a believer involved in a sin with no thought of God’s discipline, I urge you to turn from that today. Reach out to a fellow Christian, confess your sin, repent of it and seek accountability. If you  are outside the body of Christ, I urge you to turn from your sin and turn to Christ in repentance seeking forgiveness before it’s too late. For one day as with the DC10, a situation will arise from which no recovery is possible.


Leave a comment

The Case of the Cagey Chromosome

The Case of the Cagey ChromosomeA courtroom in America, the year 2025.

“Ladies, gentlemen, fluid, nonconforming, questioning and neutrois of the jury, you’ve heard the prosecution’s claim that my client’s DNA was found under the victim’s fingernails. You’ve also heard that my client’s blood was found on the victim’s body and clothing. However, let me remind you that according to the testimony of the pathologist who examined the blood evidence, the perpetrator of this crime was a man.

“Let me remind you also that my client is a woman, having transitioned from male to female approximately two years ago. Since this crime was committed only six months ago and, by the prosecutions own admission, by a man, you cannot convict my client for this crime. Per the federal Gender Violence Reduction Act of 2021, misgendering someone is considered a violent act and can result in prosecution for assault with the possibility of additional penalties under hate speech statues.

“I ask you to consider carefully whether a woman can be convicted of a crime, that according to the evidence, was committed by a man. I ask you also not to violate my client’s civil rights by misgendering her in a misguided effort to convict.

The defense rests.”


1 Comment

Why Read the Bible All the Way Through? – Part I

“Old Woman Reading the Bible” by Gerrit Dou

God’s Word is One Seamless Story

The Bible is an amazing book. However, it’s not really a book but sixty-six books written by 40 different authors across hundreds of years. Yet despite the different authors and extended time spans, it tells one story from beginning to end.

Of course, as Christians, we realize this is so because ultimately the Bible has one author – the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul tells us in II Timothy 3:16 that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Despite this we often read the Bible piecemeal, a passage here, a verse there, and while there’s value in that, we can miss some important biblical truths that way.

For example, Malachi 3:6 tells us that the Lord never changes and Hebrews 13:8 says Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today and forever.” One of the best ways to learn that or at least have it reinforced for us is by experiencing that truth through the pages of the scriptures. When you read in the Old Testament about God choosing Abraham to be His and Abraham being justified by faith and then see that same pattern revealed throughout scripture as God deals with His people, God’s immutability is reinforced.

And what about things like God’s holiness or His justice? These attributes are illustrated over and over in the pages of the Bible. When you’re familiar with all parts of scripture they come into sharper focus. I believe the lack of a healthy fear of God we see in the church today is a direct result of a church that has no familiarity with large portions of God’s Word.

Unfortunately, a lot of us learned Bible stories, especially the ones in the Old Testament, as disjointed morality tales with the hero being Moses or Daniel or David. But these accounts are not morality tales they are links in the chain of the story of redemption, a story that began, not in Bethlehem, but in the Garden of Eden:

Sometimes called the proto evangelGenesis 3:15 says:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

    and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

    and you shall bruise his heel.

This is the first reference in scripture to God sending a savior. From that point forward, all the way to the cross, all of scripture is about God doing that – preparing people and circumstances so that “at the right time” (Romans 5:6) Jesus Christ would come into the world and bruise the serpent’s head.

All of scripture before the cross leads to the cross; all of scripture after the cross points either back to the cross or forward to Christ’s second coming.

If you doubt that, look at how Jesus viewed the scriptures. In the last chapter of Luke’s gospel, the risen Christ appears to some travelers on the road to the village of Emmaus. As they walk along they talk about recent events in Jerusalem, and express their disappointment. Jesus then helps them understand why these things happened by referencing the Old Testament. In Luke 24:27 we read:

“And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in the Scriptures concerning himself.”

The Bible is one seamless story and it’s all about Jesus Christ – not just the red letters. Therefore if we want to know all the Lord has to tell us about Christ we must read the entirety of scripture.


1 Comment

Why Has Tony Campolo Rejected the Bible’s Teaching on Sex & Marriage?

Why Has Tony Campolo Rejected the Bible's Teaching on Sex and Marriage?Because he’s not a Christian.

So stop with the “evangelical leader” stuff when describing him.

Sorry if that took all the air out of the room but it needs to be said. You can parse his arguments (such as they are) all you want but the bottom line is he’s come to this conclusion because Jesus is not his Lord – the culture and public opinion are.

J. Gresham Machen puts it well:

It is no wonder, then, that liberalism is totally different from Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men.

Before you accuse me of being too harsh, let’s think about what his endorsement of homosexuality means:

  • He is calling good what God calls evil, putting himself in the place of God. (Leviticus 18:22Isaiah 5:20)
  • He is rejecting God’s design, as affirmed by Jesus Christ, for marriage, again, putting himself in the place of God. (Genesis 2:24Matthew 19:3-6)
  • He is giving his blessing to soul-destroying sexual immorality. (I Corinthians 6:9)
  • Like the false prophets in Israel, he is speaking peace when there is no peace to unrepentant sinners, whitewashing their sin and dancing before them like the Pied Piper leading them to Hell. (Ezekiel 13:10)

When this is the fruit of your ministry, your assurance that you are a follower of Jesus Christ should be nil.

I pray Campolo will repent before it’s too late, both for himself and for the many he is leading astray.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ – Matthew 7:21-23

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,156 other followers