Ever since Great Britain decided in a June 23, 2016, referendum to leave the European Union, the big questions have been: What will this mean for Britain, what will it mean for the EU and even what will it mean for the United States and its relationship with both the United Kingdom and Europe?
The immediate impact of the decision has been currency fluctuations, stock market shocks and a great deal of speculation about Britain’s future role in the global economy and about its historic leadership role.
For students of Bible prophecy it has also raised the question of what this might mean for the world in light of Bible prophecies about events leading to the end of the age. It is this question that most concerns readers and viewers of Beyond Today.
Through the years we have described in detail what the Bible calls Babylon, a great religious and political power that will rise to dominate the world in the period prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ. We have shown that the modern roots of this coming system are to be found in present Europe. The cultural and spiritual history of that region point to the place where this prophesied power will emerge.
The biblical book of Revelation describes this power in terms that leave no doubt that the world will be controlled by this system that will hold the nations entranced with its promise of order and affluence. Our study aid The Book of Revelation Unveiled describes in overview the magnificent prophetic hope contained in the Bible’s final book. But first come events that help set the stage, as we see taking shape in today’s world. Following is a brief summary.
A woman and a beast
Revelation 17 opens with a description of a woman clothed in purple and scarlet riding a ferocious-looking beast with multiple heads and horns. On the forehead of the woman is a name:“Mystery, babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Revelation 17:5). The woman is drunk with the blood of saints and martyrs of Jesus Christ. She is a symbol for a great religious system that opposes God and His people.
The beast the woman sits on is described in other parts of the Bible in terms that fit significant political systems that control large parts of the world at times in history. The prophet Daniel saw such images while in exile in Babylon, and they continue here in the book of Revelation.
The apostle John here sees a multiheaded beast with horns. It rises from among the nations. He mentions “kings,” or leaders of state, who give their power for a time to a single leader also called “the beast” (Revelation 17:12). While there is a time of mutual benefit and cooperation between the religious power represented by the woman and the political power represented by the Beast, it will not end well. The Beast turns on the woman and consumes her power and continues to make war on the Lamb, Jesus Christ. This system will even fight Him at His coming.
The global spiritual deception described here is unprecedented. Daniel presents a time of world trouble unlike any ever seen in human history (Daniel 12:1). Jesus even warned His disciples of a time of deception that could possibly lead astray those among God’s elect, His Church (Matthew 24:24).
The book of Revelation describes this deception as coming from Satan through three powerful spirits working though his chief human minions of the end time, the Beast and the False Prophet. The call to defend the corrupt world order created by this system called Babylon will bring the military powers of the world into one final battle against God at the time of Christ’s appearing (Revelation 16:13-14).
The events and setting for these scenes are beyond anything in today’s headlines. Frankly, they are beyond even the best fictional scenarios of apocalyptic disorder turned out by Hollywood or the best techno-thriller writers.
The facts of history can only give us faint foot tracks to guide us in discerning what they mean. The key to understanding is God’s Word and His Holy Spirit. It takes submitting your life to God, like the prophets of old had to do, to understand the times and what God is doing.
Bible prophecy provides stunning details of key events in history that impact His salvation plan for mankind. In coming to understand these, we can begin to discern the events of our time and their meaning and where we are heading in this unfolding plan.
To understand where the events of today’s world are leading, we must keep our focus on the hope and understanding God’s Word gives us.
Britain’s decision to leave the 28-member European Union—of which it has been a member for more than 43 years—stunned the world. Even British voters were surprised. News reports and commentators were in a fog for several days trying to explain what happened, why it happened and what it meant. Much is still unknown about the impact Britain’s exit from the world’s largest trading bloc will have.
The vote immediately triggered the resignation of British Prime Minister David Cameron, who led the failed effort to remain in the EU. On July 13 Theresa May formed a new government and stated intentions to begin the difficult process to disentangle Britain from the EU, which could take several years.
In the immediate aftermath of the vote, the value of the British currency, the pound, plummeted. London has grown to become the center of European finance. Will companies begin to move their operations away from Britain to maintain competitive advantage in the global economy? What will happen to Britain’s trade with other EU members? Many questions remain unanswered.
But no question is bigger than what will happen to the EU itself. The union has been troubled with other crises in recent years, such as the economic plight of such member nations as Greece and Italy. It has also struggled with how to cope with Russian aggression and intransigence along its eastern borders.
Most challenging, however, was the flood of more than a million immigrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and North Africa. The raging conflicts in the Middle East and chaos and poverty in northern Africa have driven huge masses of people to seek asylum and a better life in the EU.
The sheer size of such immigration has ripped the social fabric of Austria, Germany and Hungary in particular. Gains by right-wing political movements in these nations are fueled by the fears of those who feel their culture, financial stability and future threatened by strangers from vastly different cultures and completely different outlooks on life.
Radical Islamist terrorist attacks and skyrocketing migrant crimes have added to the uncertainty of life. British voters who opted to leave cited such immigration and migrant problems as a major factor in their desire to get out—and shut the door behind them.
The EU response to each of these crisis points has been lacking in vision and resolve. And now a major player in the EU has decided to go it alone. Speculation is that other EU nations may decide to hold referendums on the question of continued membership. The present EU has changed and will undoubtedly change more.
A world drawing inward
Britain’s vote to withdraw to its island is an example of the reaction occurring in other parts of the world. The march toward a global order, a world without borders, frightens people.
While people in the upper-income levels have grown richer, those in the mid- to lower-income areas have stagnated or grown poorer. Millions have seen their jobs displaced, and whole communities have been permanently changed. Add in vast cultural and moral change, and people worry over what the future holds. Fear and uncertainty are driving not only Brexit, but also the American presidential campaign and other cultural clashes.
Britain’s decision to leave the EU should be understood in a larger historical perspective. Britain has always been influenced by affairs on the European continent while at the same time developing within itself a distinct personality and worldview.
Historian Margaret McMillan wrote about this in The Financial Times: “The British, like all Europeans, have been part of a shared European civilisation. Ideas, goods, tastes and fashions have spread through a web of trading and communications networks for centuries. Even before the Emperor Claudius made Britain a Roman colony, the British were adopting Roman ways and trading for Roman goods. The Norman invasion brought what we now think of as a British tradition of aristocracy, along with castles and cathedrals” (“Britain and Europe: The Ties That Bind,” July 8, 2016).
English kings once ruled parts of France. When a new king was needed at the time of the 17th-century Glorious Revolution, the English turned to the House of Orange in the Netherlands. And the current House of Windsor, of which is Queen Elizabeth II, was brought into Britain from Germany, it having shared ancestry with the royal family in England.
The connections between England and the continent have been strong and consistent even as a distinct Anglo culture developed through law, language and tradition. England pursued a different destiny through the period of colonization that spread out of Europe in the 15th century.
Through the generations, Britain pursued a policy of keeping any one continental power from dominating all others. This was why England led a coalition to finally defeat Napoleon’s universal ambitions at Waterloo. It was these alliances that led England into both World Wars of the 20th century. The present EU is in part the result of the vision to prevent future war by maintaining an economic union. That dream is threatened by Britain’s exit.
The idea of Europe
The concept of Europe, what it is and what its boundaries are, has shifted through the ages. In the Roman period Europe was centered around the Mediterranean, what the Romans called Mare Nostrum or “Our Sea.” That concept of Europe spanned the present continent as well as North Africa and large parts of the present Middle East as far as the Persian Gulf. It was only after the rise of Islam, when European culture was driven out, that these perceptions and borders shifted.
Through the Middle Ages into the modern period, Europe was dominated by the church-state union called the Holy Roman Empire. This system collapsed after the defeat of Napoleon. With the fall of empires after World War I (Russian, Hapsburg, Hohenzollern, Ottoman), we’ve had a pause in this historic pattern.
The present world of Europe and the Middle East, both created in the aftermath of the two World Wars, is going through a strained and challenging period. War, mass migration, globalization and in particular the changing position and influence of both Britain and the United States, is having a major impact.
The UK’s departure from the EU is a significant statement against globalization, which dilutes national identity. In England many fear the nation is changing beyond anything they recognize. In many ways this is true. The same can be said of the United States. Terrorism, uncontrolled immigration and the elimination of traditional borders of trade, economies and culture have created a new world that unsettles many.
The world is now watching to see what will happen in Europe. How will Germany and France, the two largest nations, react? Will others decide to go? Will the present EU be reconfigured to a smaller but stronger grouping of core nations that go forward with a closer political, military and economic union? What will bind them together more tightly than anything to the present? Does Bible prophecy give any indication?
Some feel the key to a closer union of European states is the spiritual element, religion. Historical pattern provides precedent for this. And this brings us back to the subject of Babylon.
The religious-political system the Bible calls “Mystery, babylon the great” arises from among the world’s nations at a time of global crisis. The established order is threatened. Economic collapse could upend years of work and effort. World leaders unwilling to let that happen will come together to create what they see as the solution to strife, fear and an uncertain future.
Revelation 17:12, in describing 10 rulers giving their sovereign power to one figure, presents a critical moment where power is consolidated. “Peace and safety” will be proclaimed, and the world will wonder at what has been created (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6). But we are not there yet.
What Britain has said with its Brexit vote is a resounding “no” to further cooperation within a growing supranational system that seeks conformity to a model of global unity. The EU’s present course is a union of nations without borders, where immigrants, workers and anyone can travel, work and live. The EU seeks a world order that alters the present idea of the nation-state. Its recent struggles reflect the immense challenge to this ideal, given the fact that most people want to remain French, Austrian, Greek or British.
In Genesis 11 the human intent was to build a city and a tower and to make a name to keep from being scattered across the earth (verse 4). God saw this would propel the human family more rapidly toward a crisis point than His plan intended. So He scattered the people of that day by confusing their language (verse 7).
The place of this ancient dream was called Babel, and it was the beginning of the human aspiration to create a world apart from and in defiance of God. Babel is also called Babylon, a city and empire that stood through the ages as the antithesis to everything God planned and worked toward on the earth. Babylon reappears in Revelation 17 in one grand final manifestation of opposition to God. It will astound the world and end in defeat at the coming of the Lord.
If you haven’t yet read our study guide The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy, go online now and begin reading the fascinating story of America and Britain in today’s world. See what lies ahead for these two nations. It will fill in the details of what this article addresses, giving vital background to Brexit and current world affairs.
What about you?
Revelation 18:4-5 contains a command from God that impacts us all: “And I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her [Babylon’s] sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.’”
This final system of Babylon is forming today and will make its appearance in God’s timetable as the events of the end of the age fall into place.
It’s hard for most of us to envision this. We live in a time of great wealth and technological marvels. Our global world contains innovations, comforts and pleasures that make life enjoyable, exciting and fulfilling. The challenge for the people of God is to navigate this world without being taken in by its charm and deception.
God says the sins of Babylon “reach to heaven” and that He will not overlook them (Revelation 18:5). Babylon will grow in power and luxury and then suddenly, virtually overnight, collapse in the final judgment God imposes (Revelation 18:7-9).
It’s difficult for God’s people to discern this without the spiritual insight and power He provides. You can study these passages and apply the history of Babylon and come up with a level of understanding. Babylon is portrayed in the Bible as the head of gold in the dream of Daniel 2. Babylon’s religion and culture has migrated through history, manifesting itself in Persian, Greek and Roman forms. Babylon’s roots live on and await the day when they will spring forth in full view of the world.
How will you know when it comes? How will you avoid the deceptive allure of the system and not be joined to it spiritually or culturally? This will be a challenge for all of us. Christ’s words to us to discern the signs of our time have never been more important!