Who are the antichrist, the ‘man of lawlessness’, and the beast?

For those engaged in end-times speculation, whether provoked by the Covid-19 pandemic, global warming, or war in Ukraine, there has been another rash of speculation about the identity of the Antichrist—that end times personal figure who is now somewhere secretly in the world but who will very soon be revealed. (It is worth noting, for the sake of perspective, that every perceived crisis since at least the 1960s has provoked such speculation. For earlier modern end-times expectation, see the example of the followers of William Miller, who predicted that Jesus would return in 1844.)

I am not sure that anything I write here will persuade those committed to end-times schemes, in which the Book of Revelation predicts in detail our age alone (as if we are the most important generation that ever lived), but I think a lot of ordinary readers of the Bible are unsettled by such theories, and are not sure how to respond. Part of the reason for this is that such schemes look so coherent. Here is one, influential, example, part of Dispensational Premillennialism based on the teaching of J N Darby:

The man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12 is the Antichrist who will come on the world scene at the beginning of the Day of the Lord. This Day, sometimes called the “end times,” starts after the rapture of the church in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:1–11). It is good to note that the Day of the Lord is not a twenty-four-hour period of time; rather, it is an extended period of time that includes the seven-year tribulation, the return of Christ to put down all rebellion against Him, the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth, the final defeat of Satan, and the Great White Throne Judgment.

This looks very convincing—until you realise that the coherence of this scheme belongs entirely to the writer, and bears little or no relation to what the Bible actually says! The New Testament nowhere identifies the ‘man of lawlessness’ with the ‘antichrist’; it does not describe a ‘rapture’ of the church (this arises from a poor misreading of 1 Thessalonians 4); nowhere does the NT mention a ‘seven-year tribulation‘; the 1,000-year reign of Christ is a literal reading of a symbolic text in Rev 20; and the ‘Day of the Lord’ which is everywhere in the NT described as a specific moment at the end of history has now been extended, in this scheme, to a period of more than 1,007 years! One of the key proponents of this kind of scheme in a previous generation, Hal Lindsay (who wrote The Late, Great Planet Earth) actually admits that this is a ‘hopscotch’ approach to reading the Bible, taking one bit from one place and another from another in order to put together a picture like assembling the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. But look at the wonderful picture that results, is his defence!

So it is worth noting from the outset the basic assumptions of this kind of approach. First, the Bible doesn’t actually make sense as a narrative as it is written; it needs some mysterious key to open up its meaning. Secondly, the truth about the ‘end times’ and Jesus’ return is a great big puzzle, and the truth of what will happen has been missed by most people in history—indeed, it continues to be missed by most people who simply read the Bible. Thirdly, we therefore need an authority figure who will help us put together the different pieces of the otherwise unintelligible text of the Bible, and we then find what we need to know not in reading the Bible, but in reading the writings and teaching of this important person. All these features make this approach perfect for an age of conspiracy theories—and offer a potential publishing bonanza, since all faithful Christians will need to buy their book!

The best answer to all this is to return to the text, and what it actually says. So let’s look at the text of the Bible, and the passages about each of these three figures, and see what we can learn.

The ‘man of lawlessness’ is only mentioned in one short passage, 2 Thess 2.1–12.

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters,  not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time.  For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

There are some things here worth noting. First, Paul clearly thinks that, whoever this mysterious ‘man of lawlessness’ (ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἀνομίας) is, he is ‘already at work’. This is clear from the fact that he ‘will set himself up in the temple’ which was still standing when Paul was writing (I am convinced by the arguments that 1 and 2 Thessalonians are early, are by Paul and not forgeries, and were written in quick succession to one another); there is no suggestion whatever in the text that ‘the temple’ here is used symbolically to refer to the people of God. Something is currently holding him back—and he is clearly a human figure, and not an angelic or demonic power.

Secondly, Paul is referring rather obliquely and in summary form to something that he has explained in more detail to the Thessalonians, and we will never know the full explanation that he has already given. Like many issues in Paul, we wish that he has said more! But we need to face the reality that we do not know any more details, so have to decide whether it is worth speculating.

But thirdly, and in answer to the dilemma of our ignorance, we can know the purpose of Paul’s teaching in this area—and it is not in order to encourage speculation or the drawing up of end-times calendars! On this, I think John Piper’s exposition is really helpful:

But persecution and suffering are not the only issue at Thessalonica, and Paul, now in chapters 2 and 3, takes his instruction about the second coming to a new level of detail in dealing with this second issue. The issue is that some in the church have ceased to do their ordinary vocational jobs, and started to make a nuisance of themselves as busybodies, mooching off the other Christians, since they’re not earning any money. And evidently, though Paul doesn’t say so explicitly, this delinquency is owing to a kind of hysteria in the community that the day of the Lord is not just near, but is already present.

In other words, Paul is saying to them: don’t panic; you have not been left behind; there is no need to speculate; get on with living your lives, working with your hands, instead of dropping everything for the sake of end-times speculation. You can trust God who will ultimately triumph, no matter how bad things appear to be getting. As Martin Luther is believed to have said, ‘If I knew Jesus was coming tomorrow, I would still collect the rent and plant an apple tree’. Or we might say ‘Jesus is coming; look busy!’

It is also worth noting that this is a very minor point in Paul’s teaching about ‘the end times’. In Romans 8, he talks about the longing of the created order to be redeemed; in 1 Cor 15, he offers a long and detailed discussion about the implications of the resurrection at the end; all through his writings there is a constant sense of expectation, and the hope that confidence in the ultimate victory of God in the return of Jesus. And yet, only in this one passage is the ‘man of lawlessness’ mentioned. So it can hardly be claimed to be central to Paul’s teaching.

The ‘antichrist’ is only mentioned in four verses in the NT, all in the letters of John:

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 1 John 2:18 

Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Messiah. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 1 John 2:22 

…but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. 1 John 4:3 

Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 2 John 7 

Again, there are several things worth noticing simply by reading the text carefully.

First, although the author does talk about ‘the antichrist’ at several points, he is also clear that there have and continue to be many such people. Many ‘antichrists’ have already come; every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is of the antichrist, and ‘any such person’ who denies Jesus came in the flesh ‘is the antichrist’.

Secondly, the eschatology of these passages is highly ‘realised’—that is, the writer talks as though he and his readers are already in the ‘end times’ when he says several times ‘it is the last hour’. This might look as though there was an expectation that Jesus would return in his lifetime, an expectation that was mistaken. But in fact it matches the language of the Fourth Gospel, which talks about ‘life of the age [to come]’ or ‘eternal life’ as though is starts now, rather than being something we have to wait for. This also agrees with Peter on the day of Pentecost, who quotes Joel 2’s description of the ‘last days’ and says that it is what is happening in the outpouring of the Spirit (‘This is that… Acts 2.16). And it agrees with Paul’s description of those who put their faith in Jesus: ‘If anyone is in Christian there is new creation’ (2 Cor 5.17).

Thirdly, the concern here is (once more) nothing to do with ‘end times’ speculation and timetables, but to do with sound doctrine. The writer is encouraging his readers to stay true to the faith. Overall, the letters of John have two concerns: that his audience hold onto the truth about Jesus, and that they live out that truth in lives of love.

We also need to note that the description of [the, many] antichrist[s] appears to have little or nothing in common with Paul’s description of the ‘man of lawlessness’ other than the theme of ‘deception’ and the concern that the believers should not be deceived by those who do not tell the truth. This is hardly a concern uniquely related to the ‘end times’…!

With mentions in four verses, in two short circular letters, again this is hardly central to the theological concerns of the writers of the NT overall.

Lastly, the beast is a central figure in the drama of the Book of Revelation. Although there are anticipations of the figure earlier in the text, the ‘beast from the sea’ is fully introduced in Rev 13 as one of an ‘evil trinity’ along with the dragon/Satan, and the ‘beast from the earth’ (Rev 13.1) which later in the text is described as ‘the false prophet’.

The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name.  The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority.  One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast.  People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can make war against it?” (Rev 13.1–4)

The beast from the sea look very much like the dragon which is described in chapter 12—and both together combine the features of the four beasts that emerge from the sea in Daniel 7, which many commentators believe symbolise the four great world empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. And far from making this beast future and mysterious, he appears to go to some lengths to help his readers understand who this beast is, by asking them to ‘calculate’ (the Greek term psephizo) or work out, the number of the beast, which stands for a man’s name.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 08.31.31For some time, there has been a strong scholarly consensus that 666 refers to Nero by means of a numerology known as gematria or isopsephism—adding the value of the letters in a word so that every word has a value, and equating two words with equal value. We know that Nero’s name was sometimes spelled with a final -n; ‘Neron Caesar’ when written in Greek, but transliterated into Hebrew letters adds up to 666 (see the image to the right for the sums).

There are several significant pieces of supporting evidence for this. First, when you write the Greek for ‘beast’, therion, in Hebrew letters, you also arrive at 666, making it clear that 666 is the number of ‘the beast’. Secondly, when you do the same with ‘angel’ in Rev 21, you get the number 144. Third, an early manuscript from Oxyrhynchus in Egypt corrects 666 to 616, which you would do if you understood the gematria, but thought that ‘Nero’ should be spelled without the final n. (There isn’t really any other plausible explanation for why this variant should arise.)

This ‘beast’ is identified with neither the ‘man of lawlessness’ in Paul nor the ‘antichrist’ in John, and in fact neither of these terms occur anywhere in Revelation.

So where does this all get us? First, it is clear that the three terms belong to quite different traditions within the NT, and none of these three traditions attempts to make any specific connections with the others in terms of language—despite the fact that the later writers (of the Johannine letters and of the Book of Revelation) almost certainly knew Paul’s writings.

But it is also clear that there is some kind of connection, particularly since the concern of all three writers appears to be to encourage his readers to stand firm in the truth of the apostolic teaching in the face of pressures from outside the Jesus community to renounce faith and pressures from within to distort the truth about Jesus. Here, Piper makes an interesting observation, but I think then reaches the wrong conclusion from it:

Therefore, the man of lawlessness will be unparalleled in his ability to deceive, as 2 Thessalonians 2:10 says, “with all wicked deception for those who are perishing.” It really could be “in all deception of unrighteousness,” because we are going to see in just a moment that the way he deceives is by making unrighteousness seem pleasurable. (Notice how the word adikia is repeated in verses 10 and 12.) Again, I would argue, Paul is unpacking the prophecies made by Jesus. Jesus said,

Then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. . . . For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. . . . So, if they say to you, “Look, he [one person!] is in the wilderness,” do not go out. If they say, “Look, he is in the inner rooms,” do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:21, 24, 26–27)

At the close of this climactic period of lawlessness and a great deception led by a person, Paul is saying, the coming of the Son of Man will be unmistakable. Like lightning flashing from horizon to horizon.

Piper is noting the connections between Paul’s language in 2 Thess and Jesus’ teaching in the first half Matt 24. But what he does not notice is that Jesus’ teaching here is not about the distant (for him) future and a remote ‘end times’ that we might be living in, but what the disciples he is teaching will face in their lifetime. He makes this crystal clear by stating emphatically:

Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (Matt 24.34).

It is only in the second half of the chapter, from Matt 24.36, that Jesus turns his attention to issues around ‘the end of the age’.

There are connections too between Paul’s discussion of the man of lawlessness,  who will ‘use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie’ (2 Thess 2.9) and the ‘signs and wonders’ performed by the second beast on behalf of the first in Rev 13.13–14, but this is a description of magical tricks and propaganda performed by Roman rulers of which we have documentary evidence. In other words, both Paul and John are writing about things already happening in the world of their readers.

The concern of all these texts is to encourage their readers: don’t be deceived by clever schemes and novel doctrines; don’t get caught up in ‘end-times’ speculation; stay faithful to the truth that God came to us in Jesus, and has made our salvation secure in him; and continue to live lives of industry, generosity and grace as you wait with confidence for his return in a world that is looking very shaky. We need the same encouragement!

To find out more about what the NT says about eschatology, the end of the world, and living in hope, you might be interested in my Grove booklet on Kingdom, Hope and the End of the World.

To find out more about how to read the Book of Revelation, see my Grove booklet or my commentary on Revelation in IVP’s Tyndale series.

The image at the top is a detail of The Deeds of Antichrist by Luca Signorelli (1505). Published previously.

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91 thoughts on “Who are the antichrist, the ‘man of lawlessness’, and the beast?”

  1. Ian,

    You have published a book (which I’ve read) performing verse-by-verse analysis of the Book of Revelation and you argue with vigour against some understandings of the endtime scenario. But I find it harder to discern what you *do* believe will happen. When debating these things I find it helpful to ask people to summarise in their own words what they reckon will happen, and to include answers as to to where on this earth Jesus Christ will return to in visible glory, and why there and then, i.e. what will trigger his return?

    For the record I am a (classical) premillennialist, I do not believe in any pre-tribulation rapture, and I reject the phrase “Mystery Babylon” and would add a fullstop or colon between the two Greek words in the Book of Revelation (although I am unsure whether the scarlet woman is the world financial stystem or a syncretic faith system). If I had to recommend one book on the subject it would be David Pawson’s “When Jesus Returns”, although I have read others too.

    • Nothing will trigger his return. The repeated theme of the eschatological material from Matt 24.36 through Matt 25 is complete surprise. He will come like a thief in the night: thieves give no notice.

      When he comes it will be completely unexpected. That is the one thing that is consistent across the NT.

  2. While I certainly agree with your final conclusion about the interpretation of all the texts, Ian, and while I am not a theologian or an expert… when I read the New Testament, I do find a consistent expectation by the writers (which is not the same as a promise of God) that it was all going to be over within at least one or two lifetimes. When I look at history, I deduce that this expectation, while understandable, was wrong. I find it irritating that the undeniable fact that two thousand years have passed (during which churches have surely made many wrong turns) since the Resurrection do not seem to have impacted on our reading of these passages, or taught us humility.

    • They were very clearly told by Jesus Christ on the mount of Olives that the end would not come until the gospel had been preached to all peoples, and the Roman Empire was well aware of the existence of China and India far to the east and of sub-Saharan Africa.

      I think there is merit in the suggestion that the Book of Revelation was written *after* the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70, not before it, in order to explain to believers who were confused that Jesus had not returned to prevent it that the scope was rather larger than that and was nothing less than a reversal of Genesis 3 applied to the whole world system, not just in the church. Absence of mention of the AD70 destruction of Jerusalem is because John was writing Revelation like writing notes on a film you are viewing on TV, and was forbidden to edit it afterwards.

    • Thanks Penny. But their language is exactly the same language that you can find in any generation. There has always been a sense of immanent expectation of Jesus’ return.

      How could it be any other? It makes no sense to say ‘Jesus will return…but I don’t think it will be in my lifetime’! Their sense of expectation arose from being aware of this dramatic new thing that God was doing in Jesus, and it was indeed the turning of the ages. I think we would do well to share that enthusiasm!

      (It is also worth noting that, alongside texts of expectation, there are even more texts of ‘continuing to live life as normal’. If Paul thought that Jesus was coming any minute, why did he include so much ethical instruction for continuing ordinary life?)

      • I’m with you on a lot of what you are saying here, but few things in the Bible are more clear than the fact that Jesus, Paul and their followers all thought the end was within their lifetimes.

        Jesus is quoted telling people they would see the end. Paul said don’t get married because the end is near!!! When the end didn’t come and people were dying, he had to answer the question what’s happening to those people? I could go on and on.

        Christians don’t want to admit this because it blows holes in their theology, but facts are facts.

        • ‘few things in the Bible are more clear than the fact that Jesus, Paul and their followers all thought the end was within their lifetimes’.

          Sorry, I don’t agree. In Matt 24 Jesus is talking about the destruction of the temple in his lifetime—and in the second half of the chapter and in Matt 25 the emphasis is repeatedly on long delay.

          And if Paul thought the end was so near, why on earth did he bother with all that stuff about how to live your life?

          And if John thought the end was so near, why did he talk about the need for ‘patient endurance’?

      • To turn your argument around, why would Jesus and Paul tell people the end is near if what they meant was that the end was in 2000 years? That goes against logic and the way people communicate and pretty explicitly what they say in places.

        Clearly they expected God would establish a kingdom on earth that would be ruled with justice and fairness and overseen by a Jewish priest and king. The ethics they teach describe how people would act in this kingdom, where the oppressive kigdoms that ruled over the Jews for so many centuries would be overthrown.

        That’s the only thing that makes sense, and I say this as someone who believed for nearly a half century before I couldn’t ignore the facts and logic.

          • Deluded is not the word I would use, but yes, I agree with the mass of scholars that Jesus and Paul were devout Jews who believed and taught what a lot of other Jews did that God was going to establish an earthly kingdom led by Jews.

          • Your attitude is hostile, as if the only choices are that your version of Christianity is correct or that the whole thing is a con. There are many options in between in which people are sincere about their beliefs, and that many aspects of those beliefs are admirable, but they turn out to be wrong.

            Jesus and Paul longed for a just society where people would not be oppressed and brutalized, which is very attractive. Doesn’t mean there ever will be a “second coming.”

            I found this as a link from James McGrath, so I (mistakenly I guess) thought the site was more scholarly. Sorry

  3. Really interesting. A few things:
    1. “and he is clearly a human figure, and not an angelic or demonic power” That doesn’t seem to clear to me. I don’t see it in the text at all – unless it is just the word “man” doing the work?

    2. “Secondly, when you do the same with ‘angel’ in Rev 21, you get the number 144.” I understand that 144 is a special number. But isn’t this just a coincidence? John says the Beast is 666 and using this method we get both Beast and Nero – that’s really good. But why would we apply it to “angel”?

    • On your second point, why wouldn’t we? The text says that the wall is ‘144 cubits by the measure of a person, which is of [an] angel’. So it is worth considering, and lo and behold…

  4. The NT does not mention a 7-year tribulation (the tribulation described in Rev 8-9), but possibly Nebuchadrezzar’s dream in Daniel 4 foreshadows such a period. One day the living will know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and has given it to the lowliest of men.

    Perhaps we shall see who is right on 16 September, the day of trumpets.

    • Presumably if we don’t think it’s happened it won’t mean it hasn’t really happened – it will just mean that we aren’t faithful enough to have perceived what has happened as being significant. That is the problem with these end time predictions. They are a bit like the special glasses that Smith needed to read the Book of Mormon when he went up the mountain.

        • Anton it probably won’t surprise you to know that I find the work of C H Dodd and Joachim Jeremias more interesting. We need to live as though the kingdom has come rather than worrying about signs of its coming.

          • The Book of Revelation is part of holy scripture and is given by God to his church for a purpose. It should be studied by Christians, therefore. That some Christians have become obsessed by it is not a good reason to ignore it. So, what is the endtime scenario as you understand it, please, Andrew?

            The kingdom is at present the (faithful) church; someday the kingdom will be the whole world. So it is a bit confusing just to say that we need to live as though the kingdom has come – though far be it from me to differ from Lord Jesus!

            Joachim Jeremias’ book about the parables is excellent.

          • Do you think that it is honest to duck a question by asking one back?

            If by realised eschatology you mean that none of the eschatological passages in scripture refer to the future and all refer to the ministry of Jesus at his first coming and its outworking, that is excessively spiritualised nonsense which nobody who called themselves Christian believed for some 1700 years after Christ.

          • Anton, two things. Firstly. I’m not trying to duck a question. I’m trying to find out more information so that I can answer your question more fully.
            Secondly, Jesus answered a question with a question many many times. It was part of his Jewish practice.

            I find your remarks about realised eschatology rather rude and immature. Here is a useful summary of the arguments. Have a read and by all means let’s talk again:


          • Andrew, ~I can bear being considered offensive but allow me to ask you a simpler question: Do you believe that Jesus Christ will return bodily to this world on a definite albeit unknown date in our calendar? Please include a clear yes or no in any answer.

          • Anton

            He will come again in glory
            to judge the living and the dead,
            and his kingdom will have no end.

            Now, please do, kindly, have a read of the article I have posted.

          • I read the Abstract, which confirmed the view of realised eschatology I took above. I am familiar with the view but not its rather pompous name.

            What prevented you from answering my unpremised binary question with a clear yes or no? To repeat it: do you believe that Jesus Christ will return bodily to this world on a definite (albeit unknown) future date in our calendar?

          • What is unclear about my thoroughly Orthodox statement on the matter? This is what Christians have believed about this issue since the earliest times. I’m not at variance with that statement. Are you?

          • And reading the abstract will not give you the context and counter arguments. It never does.
            It is not a long article. But obviously you can’t be bothered……

          • Anton, I don’t see that Andrew G. has not answered your question. Not only has he affirmed his belief that Jesus will physically return but also qualified it by affirming that Jesus will also judge the living and the dead using an entirely orthodox and unambiguous credal statement. I do not see many affirm that Jesus will return to judge the world but he believes this also. His answer is what I would have stated in reply to your question to him.

            As to exactly when Jesus will return and the exact manner of his coming then there is a wide differing of opinion among evangelicals, as to how this will actually take place.

            However, I suspect Steven Robinson thinks it might happen later this month.

          • Chris: I politely asked Andrew to incljude a Yes/No reply to whether Jesus would return physically to this word and he replied but declined to do so. He also poses as more knowledgeable than me about eschatology without ever having had an in-depth discussion with me about it. At this point I am content for readers of this blog to form their own opinions from our dialogue.

          • No, I asked to have a short discussion on here with you after reading a short article on one very relevant aspect of the matter. You refused to read the article, so no discussion was possible.
            In depth discussion is never possible on a chat site 🙂
            My answer was a very clear and Orthodox one. If you were unable to see that, it rather suggests that your own position isn’t quite so Orthodox.

          • Andrew, I have read the article, and it is wholly unconvincing.

            Dodd’s view was widely discredited at the time, which is why it has not persisted. His claims about language are incorrect, and the article offers no real defence.

            Bultmann’s view is existentialist, and has been rejected for being an anti-semitic, dehistoricised reading of the NT.

            There is a repeated inescapable future dimension to the NT, and that is why the most common view (at all levels) is of ‘partially realised’ eschatology, the ‘now and the not yet’ of the kingdom.

          • I think the idea that the kingdom is partially realised is what comes
            across to me as being the most likely understanding of the kingdom of God means at the present epoch of history. The devil is still at work in the world and his kingdom is of the world. Paul sees us as ‘ambassadors for Christ’. I understand that verse to mean that the church should be a showcase for what the kingdom of God is like in the way we conduct ourselves and our ministry to others. An Ambassador is a representative of another country. We should not follow the world yet we are in it and should represent something different.

          • Which is why, Ian, it is important to read and engage with the whole article and take the objections to realised eschatology seriously. Also crucial to engage with Jeremias. If you really read my replies you would see that I absolutely believe in a future aspect as well.

          • Exactly so.

            ‘So realized eschatology is a great conceptual tool for understanding what’s happening in the New Testament. But it’s not enough, and Dodd’s theology came under some deserved attack for being one-sided. Realized eschatology has to be kept in constant, creative tension with future eschatology. In New Testament terms, “this Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Jesus may be the eschatological man, but that doesn’t mean his eschatological work was complete in AD 33, AD 70, or last year.’

          • ‘Huh Andrew G? So you tell Anton he needs to be more realised, then it turns out you are not yourself??’

            Ian, as I’ve said on this site about a million times the Kingdom is now and not yet. Partially realised. Anton asked what the endtime scenario was. Answer: it’s partially happened.
            He then asked if Jesus was coming again. I answered in a totally Orthodox way.
            I still have no idea what’s supposed to happen on September 16th?

          • Andrew,

            You claim to be totally orthodox but you also cite the unorthodox views of CH Dodd. It is a waste of time to argue with incoherence, which is why I withdrew.

          • Andrew Godsall – well, Peterhead won on 16th September – they beat Bonnyrigg Rose 2 – 1. This must surely be an event of cataclysmic eschatological importance ……

          • Well indeed Jock. And I hope someone blew some trumpets!
            As for other significant trumpets on September 16th….did the thunder count? Was anyone whisked away to heaven in a chariot? Or was it just another Joseph Smith movement? Steve Robinson?

  5. Hi Ian

    Although I tend to agree with much of what you have written on this subject, Im not wholly convinced. And as Anton has said above, you havent really said what you think the writers ARE referring to!

    For example, John clearly says that his readers were aware of a coming ‘antichrist’ whom he seems to call ‘THE antichrist’. Yes he says antichrists are already present in the world in the 1st century, but the impression I get is that John is saying there will be THE antichrist but some people are already exhibiting the same spirit/mindset. In other words, that doesnt rule out THE antichrist coming in the future (future to John’s time of writing, though could be within his lifetime).

    Regarding the beast of 666 fame, I agree that is Nero – for me the 616 occurring in other manuscripts strongly shows the scribes were aware of whom John was speaking, and just chose to calculate his name slightly differently, based on (perhaps) a more common spelling. Im pretty much convinced of that.

    As for Paul’s ‘man of lawlessness’ again I think Paul is referring to a specific individual who is still to come at the time of Paul’s writing. When you posted about this previously, another commentator gave a decent argument that this individual was also Nero, so that in that understanding, Paul’s man of lawlessness and John’s beast of 666 fame referred to the same person, Nero. But the main issue I had with that was the fact that Paul seems to say that individual would be dealt with at the time of Jesus’ return. Whilst you could interpret his ‘coming’ in different ways, in this particular passage Paul seems to be talking about Jesus’ return in glory, when believers will be ‘gathered up’ with him. Clearly Jesus has not returned, and Nero appears to have committed suicide, which to me does not fit with the picture Paul painted. You could of course interpret Jesus ‘coming’ here similar to the letters in Revelation, that is ‘coming’ in temporal judgement, but again that is not what Paul seems to be saying. Indeed Paul seems to be saying to his readers at the time that Jesus could not have already returned because at that return he would destroy the man of lawlessness, and as that hadnt happened yet, duh!

    Id appreciate a response to the points above.


  6. Ian,

    I broadly agree with your analysis. However, I have always been perplexed by the extent to which the American Church has such an elaborate set of ideas about the “End Times”.

    I enjoy poking fun at Americans as much as the next person, but the fact is there are a lot of them and they are serious about their Christianity. There must be something to what they say ??

    • What there is is the wooden reading of Scripture which treats it as a kind of science or care maintenance manual, which rips it from its historical context, and ignores its diversity.

      I think the difference passages say one thing, but in many different ways. But if you cannot conceive of different genres, styles, or theological emphases, these different ways will look like different elements in a complex schedule.

  7. Isn’t Revelation a pastoral letter fo Christians of all eras?

    Are we really to know, the how, when and where when we are are make sure of our salvation in Christ and remain faithful in Him in the fire and furnace of hostility to Him in all its guises, even in the climate of icicles of indifference.
    Get right with Him, before it is too late, the time of our end. There is no post death repentance. There, our fascination with eschatology will come to an end with realised delight or horror.

  8. We do not have the luxury of Ian’s column inches on this issue however;
    Back in the mid sixties there was a very intense focus on the 4 versions of the Second coming of Christ, lots of books and pamphlets published etc.
    I well remember one irate preacher saying “Even Martin Lloyd Jones has come out as A Millennial!” [ I have no way of knowing this]
    In short, all this led to much confusion in many minds, and almost as suddenly as the issue was “fashionable” it suddenly subsided and been pretty much avoided ever since.
    Of my reading of Scripture, I find that there will be a general decline/ ”falling away”[lit. meaning of Apostasy] in moral, cultural and spiritual behaviors; perhaps echoing Jesus saying “when the son of man comes will He find faith on the earth”?
    Some things are yet to be revealed i.e., the man of sin etc.
    If Christs’ coming is to be *like a thief in the night* it seems unlikely that there will be such a revelation warning the *householder * of His coming. So, will the revelation be at Christ appearance?
    What does puzzle me is what happened to John after the revelation?
    Did he write anything post revelation, how was his ministry affected?
    Perhaps he concluded that his earlier writings were his best thoughts and to be ready for * we know not the day or the hour of Christs return*; don’t be one who misses the boat.
    Just as the twin parties of the Pharisees and Sadducee the *theologians* of the day, did not see the event even when clearly prophesied in Scripture, as Ian indicated; We should be very careful not to put our trust in *princes*. Search the Scriptures [OT] * For in them you think you have eternal life*

    • There are the ‘thief in the night’ verses and there are the ‘know the signs and keep watch’ verses. How can they be reconciled? I suggest that Christians who understand eschatology correctly will heed the latter verses while the unbelieving world sees the very public return to ths world in glory of the Lord Jesus Christ as like a thief in the night.

      It has been wisely said that too many Christians either never get into the Book of Revelation or never get out of it. I went through a period of obsession with it two decades ago, and I don’t regret it for it has left me with a holy fear of God that I take to be wholly good. After that I learnt to integrate it and balance it with the rest of the scriptures, and that was good too.

        • I’m not sure what timescale you mean by ‘just’, but I believe that Jesus will return when leaders of the nation of Israel in the Holy Land repent and cry out to him for help (“You will not see me again until you say Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”). They need help because they have run out of their own human resources, as Israel – or at least part of it -is the last holdout against a world dictator. So there will be globalisation and a world government, and the Jews back in the Holy Land – something unthinkable just two centuries ago but a lot more plausible today. The gospel will have been preached to all peoples.

          In the hours before Jesus’ return the sky will be darkened worldwide and there will be a thunderstorm in the Holy Land.

          I can’t tell you what year but I can tell you the time of year. Jesus will return at the Festival of Tabernacles, the only one of the big three festivals of Israel yet to find fulfilment in him. (Exodus – the Crucifixion; Firstfruits – Pentecost).

          It might be that the leader of the world government makes a treaty with Israel seven years earlier and stands on Temple Mount at that time, and breaks that treaty after three and a half years. I’m not sure.

          One thing I don’t believe is any miraculous vanishing of Christians alive on the earth to heaven ahead of Jesus coming down. This happens *when* He comes down, not before.

      • Have you read what Ian and others say about this split? What is wrong with the reading that the “signs of the times” and “like a thief in the night” refer to different events? A starting point is the difference in the questions in Mark 13:4 and Matt 24:3. The first asks about “these things” and the second asks two questions, one about “these things” and the other about “your perousia and the end of the age”. The context gives the reference to “these things”.

      • ‘the ‘know the signs and keep watch’ verses’

        They all relate to the fall of Jerusalem. Then there is a switch to the ‘thief in the night’ verses about Jesus’ return. Nowhere are we commanded to ‘know the signs’ in relation to Jesus’ return.

        • If you are correct, and I am impressed by the argument, it solves more problems than it creates always a good sign (and 2 Thessalonians is by Paul), then Paul must be thinking that the destruction of the temple must happen first. Why not say this rather than talking about the lawless one? It is possible that Paul was in enough trouble and wanted to steer clear of any anti temple rhetoric; and as you say he has spoken to the Thessalonians about this and might not need to say more. That sort of works. Assuming this is correct and given Paul’s very flexible use of metaphors where Jerusalem is concerned, we might be looking in the wrong direction. The language of rebellion is telling.
          Has any one considered that the one holding ‘lawlessness back’, is James in Jerusalem. The man of lawlessness could be one of the rebellion leaders; John of Gischala or Simon Bar-Giora. Spoiled for choice.
          Many thanks again for a very thought provoking article; so II Thessalonians might be by Paul after all?

  9. I believe what was done, and continues to be done, on the back of Covid-19 (and how it came to exist) was a widespread and serious assault on individual human autonomy globally. And whatever one’s belief about the extent and causes of global warming, I think the same kind of assault (seizing power over individual liberty – mind and body) lies at the heart of the abusive and anti human way the issue is being used. And I think the pointless sacrifices (at least 400,000 Ukrainian soldiers) in Ukraine are the result of a dispute which, at its heart, involves a difference in world view between a USA led cabal which shares cultural Marxism’s aspiration to international dominance and a traditionally minded Russia which will do what is required to secure her own borders and also repel the West’s newly acquired atheistic ideology.

    The sudden emergence of these three global issues which are directly affecting the formerly comfortable certainties of life for people in the West may seem alarming but none of them are new: they simply represent today’s examples of the same human folly and wickedness which is recognisable throughout human history. So it could be considered small minded to jump to the conclusion that our painful exposure in comfortable Western ‘democracies’ to the kind of evils that have regularly plagued people across the world must signify that we are indeed living through the end times. Whatever our individual views about the above issues, they signify nothing of certainty regarding the end times.

    On the other hand I am concerned that Christians are tending to avoid the battles involved with confronting the above mentioned evils done either in our name or directly against us, our families and the more vulnerable among us. Whether or not we are at the end times, one aspect of living ‘lives of industry, generosity and grace’ (as Ian put it) must surely mean that we need to be engaged with matters of truth and justice wherever the battle between good and evil is taking place. And that requires us to inform ourselves of what’s really happening in our world and at least speak up against atheistic ideologies, intentions and policies which have already started to deprive people of their essential human dignity and freedoms – part of which may soon enough involve their chances of hearing the Christian gospel.

    • I think youre being rather paranoid!

      The Spanish Flu a century ago killed many millions around the globe. Perhaps if governments had taken a stricter view of isolation, a significant number of those could have been saved and the amount of suffering reduced. I do think, with hindsight, governments went too far during this latest pandemic. But I think it was with best intentions, trying to stop the spread and therefore reducing the number of casualties. They should be praised for that.

      As for climate change, as someone with a physics background, I have little doubt that this is largely due to mankind, beginning from the onset of the industrial revolution. I dont see how an ‘assault’ is being perpetrated against humans in this regard, rather we are assaulting the natural world and suffering the consequences. Again, governments are simply doing their best (though in many cases are not doing their best) to try to mitigate. I dont see anything wrong in that. Even if global warming was not happening, fossil fuels would eventually run out so it makes sense to invest in renewables.

      As for Ukraine, well wars have happened in every decade since whenever. And I dont think the West can be viewed as atheistic, at least not yet. Generally secular yes. But dont forget its not that long ago that Russia really was an atheistic regime, with no doubt many, particularly in government, still trying to hang on to that mindset. I doubt Putin actually believes in God, but if he does its a god in his own image. If he knew the God of the Bible he’d know judgement will be coming to him and his henchmen.

      • Dear PC1, isolation would have slowed the rate of spread of the Spanish flu but I don’t see how it would have reduced the total number of casualties by the end of the epidemic. Lockdown was originally touted as to quash the curve, ie save the NHS so that A&E could continue to operate for eg car crash victims etc, rather than save people. I bellieve the government put in place a quietly rehearsed plan that would have been appropriate for a considerably more lethal pandemic and then doubled down because it dare not admit that it had been wrong in real time. It is more convincingly explained by cock-up than conspiracy.

        I too have a physics background and I am sceptical that manmade climate change of dangerous extent is taking place. Note the caveats. In slightly more detail, I affirm that the climate changes. I affirm that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. I deny that that we know accurately how strongly water vapour amplifies the greenhouse effect of CO2 . I deny that CO2 (from fossil fuel burning) is the main cause of changes in climate. So I deny that we should live in fear or that there is great urgency to reduce fossil fuel use.
        I affirm that we should seek smarter ways to generate electric power. I deny that renewables can reach Net Zero without power cuts and economic catastrophe. I affirm that nuclear power is the only alternative that can keep the lights on. Decide for yourself whether I am a ‘climate change denier’! Again, I believe that the sociology of science and then financial vested interests are driving an incorrect narrative. I have no interest in linking it all up with Klaus Schwab or the Book of Revelation.

        • I think you would be classed as a climate change denier, at least in that you deny that man made CO2 emissions (and I presume other gases such as methane) is not the main cause of the overall increase in global temperature, even if you accept that temperature is indeed rising.

        • “Financial vested interests are driving an incorrect narrative.” Perhaps, indeed likely. However, over the last 30 years when anthropogenic climate change (ACC) has been discussed, it is the fossil fuel lobby who have been the source of much of the “it isn’t fossil fuels” arguments. They are a pretty powerful financial group, who knew about the whole issue in the 1970’s in a report commissioned from SRI.

          The other major factor in this is the love we have for the things which fossil fuels give us. If ACC holds any truth, then we need to change the way we live. We don’t like that prospect. We love our cars and our warm – or air-conditioned – homes.

          There is a strong comparison with the link between smoking and ill-health. Except that for ACC, our actions in the rich countries are affecting the lives of people in other parts of the world, generally poor countries.

          Do you deny that the the 50% increase in CO2 in the atmosphere is the result of fossil fuel emissions?

          Given the record temperatures we keep seeing in so many places (e.g. never before has Britain seen such a period of high temperatures in September!) if it is not ACC, then what is the driver?

          • Financially, themoney in the green subsidies is massive and fossil fuel companies long ago diversified to harvest it. Also, Ex-Bank of England Governor Mark Carney leads the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), a cartel spurred by COP26 that is based on UN carbon targets. GFANZ absorbed Net Zero Asset Managers (NZAM) founded a year earlier. Carney was also prominent in the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS) founded in 2017. GFANZ controls $130 trillion in assets (BlackRock, State Street, Goldman Sachs etc). Its members block investment in fossil fuels and threaten boards of companies they invest in unless anti-CO2 climate policies are enacted.

            You say September has never been so hot here. If we are talking about global warming then we aren’t much of the globe – an argument shouted loudly when we had a cool July and August and other nations had hot ones. Don’t be selective. And our peak temperature for the summer is a lot lower than last year. The lesson is that it isn’t easy discerning what are random variations (‘weather’) and what is an underlying trend. I do accept that July was globally hot, and here is a good explanation as best we have it so far:


            As you see the explanation is multifactorial.

            I’m not convinced that 270ppm was the pre-industrial CO2 concentration. This is orthodoxy based on ice cores and stomatal numbers but there is reason to think it could have been higher. The increase is due to fossil fuel burning; that is not in contention.

      • It has been said that our UK population (and presumably that of many other Western nations) is currently split into three groups: those who are awake to the kind of assaults on truth and freedom to which I referred; those who are still open to being persuaded either for or against the truth of that narrative; those who will believe and comply with whatever their politicians tell them, come what may. I suspect the last group either restrict their sources of information to what they are offered by the mainstream media or are (as I once was) too fearful of the real truth to face it head on.

        But we Christians are not called to a spirit of fear (including paranoia!): I think we should search out what is true and not be inhibited in passing on what we have discovered. Since this is Ian’s blog and I’ve already gone off on enough of a tangent I’d just urge people to find things out for themselves rather than take anything I say on trust. They could do worse than start by following the money (the ‘root of all evil’).

        Coincidentally the offering below was put out a matter of hours after I made my own somewhat less eloquent comment:


        • regarding the video, yes leaders and those who often have the microphone are hypocrites (such as the BBC flying their main climate reporter around the world when locals could do the same job) but that does not negate science.

          • I’m all for science but the recent overt politicisation (and consequent policing) of the science world has made it far harder for laypeople to discern where the truth really lies. And then when the engineering and social solutions promoted to solve a problem around which a near universal ‘consensus’ among scientists allegedly exists turn out to necessitate dystopian controls over the lives of ordinary people, one would be foolish not to suspect a malign combination of ideological and financial interests is at work. Given the biblical narrative, we Christians should be particularly awake to the use and power of half truths!

    • There is too much here to respond. However, I have to rise to your apparent apologia for Russia under Putin. He has clearly stated that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a bad thing, and that he wishes to restore a ‘Russian’ area, which seems to correspond to the old Russian Empire. The ‘traditional’ values of the USSR were, of course, good old-fashioned Marxist-Leninism. Not much individual human autonomy there. The Russian Empire abolished serfdom – basically slavery – in 1861. Perhaps the tradition would restore that. Perhaps more importantly, Russian Orthodoxy was and is hand in hand with the state. In the USSR, initially all religion was bad. But the Great Patriotic War meant that Stalin had to have some kind of pact with the Orthodox Church, and that remains with Putin’s Russia. However, Russia has always persecuted non-Orthodox. For instance, the ‘Old Believers’ were persecuted from the 17th Century until the 20th. (I was puzzled until recently by the reference to ‘Old Believers’ in Russian literature.)

      In the late ’90s my church developed a link with a Protestant church in Russian speaking Eastern Ukraine. I was part of one group which visited, and a Russian speaking friend was in one the next year. When the link subsided, she kept in touch with the church and its leaders. So, when in 2014 the town became part of the region controlled by the insurgents, she was able to find out directly how things were, albeit with increasing difficulty. Basically, persecution of Protestants (and Catholics) has resumed. As in Russia proper in recent years, being a Protestant is difficult, perhaps as difficult as under the Soviet regime.

      The actions of Russia in Georgia and now Ukraine bear a striking similarity to the actions of Nazi Germany towards the Sudetenland and the Austria in 1938, which had the intent of establishing a larger place for the German Volk – except that the Nazis only needed the threat of military action until they invaded Poland.

      Present-day Russia is no friend of individual human autonomy.

      • Nothing I’ve said was an apologia for Russia or Putin and neither did I comment on Russia’s respect for human autonomy.

        Intelligent geopolitics requires that you see things through the eyes of other national leaders whether or not you happen to like them. The neocons in the USA have a dismal record on that score, and their hatred of Russia is irrational to the point of insanity. The death count so far in Ukraine is appalling, as is our own UK’s role (via Johnson’s intervention in April 2022) in derailing the negotiated peace agreement between Zelensky and Russia. Sending ever more arms to a nation which has already suffered such losses is as shocking as it is pointless.

        • If Western countries stopped sending further weapons to Ukraine tomorrow, what in your opinion would be the situation in say a year’s time?

          • Who can say?

            But I would hope that, if sense prevailed, there would be serious negotiations for a peace settlement where Ukraine would return to being a neutral buffer state between NATO on its western border and Russia on its eastern border (similar to the Minsk agreements of 2014/15).

            I don’t claim specialist diplomatic insight but we know that something along these lines was on the verge of being signing by Zelensky and Moscow before Boris Johnson deliberately scuppered the deal with cheap and reckless talk about the West backing Ukraine to the hilt thus enabling Ukraine’s military defeat of a weak and unstable Russia.

            I’ve not seen any evidence that Putin has ever wanted to seize the whole of Ukraine; it’s the security of Russia which is his concern. His initial foray across the border was a miscalculation: he assumed the West would have the good sense to take the hint and return to realistic diplomatic relations. Instead he was forced into a gruelling and costly (in every sense) campaign. Understandably he will now never be willing to cede Crimea and the Russian speaking territory that has been gained during the current SMO. There can never be any question of Ukraine joining NATO.

            So, despite the West’s military support for Ukraine and its self defeating financial and trading sanctions (including its environmentally wicked destruction of Nord Stream 2), Russia has proved to be far more measured and resilient than Johnson and his neocon friends in the USA supposed. Putin has clearly been extremely reluctant to do anything which might give the neocons justification for launching what could be world war 3 and very possible nuclear annihilation of us all. In that sense, we may one day look back and be grateful that someone of Putin’s tough but cautious calculating ability was what saved us from something infinitely worse than what might have been. We have yet to find out! We Christians need to be praying.

            Whatever deal is done, Johnson’s hubristic folly has cost Ukraine dear in blood and territory: wasted lives can not be resurrected and the relatively painless 2022 deal will no longer be on offer.

          • Yes I agree, Anton; that is the only narrative that makes sense. However he could have refused to be Washington’s messenger boy in such a morally dubious enterprise. Apparently he went back to see Zelensky in Ukraine a day ago, presumably as a private citizen. He’s reported (in the Guardian) as saying “The only way to end this war is for Ukraine to win – and to win as fast as possible. This is the moment to double down and to give the Ukrainians all the tools they need to finish the job. The sooner Putin fails, the better for Ukraine and for the whole world.”

  10. ‘This generation’ clearly does not refer to Jesus’s contemporaries. See Luke 21:

    ‘ “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
    ‘And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the treesthe fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.” ‘

    Anyone who thinks that the events described in the first paragraph happened in the first century just isn’t taking in what the text says.

    • So Steven please can you explain what you expect to happen on the 16th September and where you get this expectation from? And what might have gone wrong if it doesn’t occur?

    • It is difficult and I have struggled with it but I think we might have a simple choice; either these things did happen in the 1st century or Jesus was wrong and the generation would pass away. Or perhaps prophecy is chronologically mixed up some how and we just don’t know, in which case it provides no help to anyone. The simple split that Ian outlines; that 1. those in Judea must beware the fall of Jerusalem and get ready to flee and 2. every one else must be constantly prepared for the end, which comes we no not when, is actually helpful and keeps us alert. It was meaningful at the time and is meaningful for us.
      Luke either wrote after the fall of Jerusalem and re-wrote the first chapters of Acts to fit what Jesus said, or Luke wrote before the fall and thought these things had taken place. You have Jesus in the clouds of glory in chapter 1 and Stephen confirms this in chapter 7. You have the whole world listening to the gospel in chapter 2 (v5) and you have Peter proclaiming in apocalyptic language the blood fire and smoke and portents, as if they have now been fulfilled. It looks like all they were waiting for was the fall of the temple (and some kind of rebellion), with one stone not left on another. Not perfect but I think it solves more problems than it creates, at least for me. More importantly, it motivates me to ensure that I and those I preach to, are awake and ready when he comes. Everything can be going along just fine and He could still come, at any time.

      • The problem with Luke quoting Joel is that it simply says ‘in the last days’. That doesnt mean that all he quoted had already happened. It could mean quite reasonably that what the crowd was witnessing then was the outpouring of the Spirit as prophesied, and the rest would follow, leading up to the ‘day of the Lord’. He isnt necessarily saying the ‘day of the Lord’ had already come and that is what they were seeing. Many Christians, including Ian, believe the ‘last days’ will continue up to Jesus’ return in judgement, which I think is probably what the ‘day of the Lord’ refers to in Luke.

        • I would also ask, if the first part of the prophecy is literal – there were literally men and women prophesying by the Spirit – why is the rest suddenly metaphorical?

          • One of my tutors was fairly confident that we lose the meaning of apocalyptic language and symbols over time; they have a very local context. This must be correct to a certain extent. However, more modern art is a mixture of identifiable allusions and symbols some of which have no factual meaning, they communicate in a different way. TS Elliot is a good example. I was in the Holburne Gallery today and noticed this inscription;
            ‘This portrait celebrates the Florentine marriage of Costanza de’ Medici to Francesco Caetani.
            She holds a sprig of orange blossom, associated with chastity, while the three rings on a folded sheet of paper and the ruby and pearl pendant were gifts from the groom.’
            Who would know? How do we know. Symbols and observations mixed up together.

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