People are becoming more secular and atheistic. Because religion is often seen as an oppressor, atheism is viewed by many as a liberator. However the Bible predicts a future time when a breakdown in world order will threaten civilization and, to prevent this collapse, two powerful figures—one political and one religious—will step onto the stage.
Political and economic conditions will come to a point where world order will appear to be collapsing. almost overnight. The comfortable, functioning, convenient global world man has created will seem to be over. At the last minute, an extraordinary power, described in Revelation, will take control. Order will be restored. Banks will be safe. Retirement funds will be secure. Life will return to normal, but at the cost of personal freedom and life as we know it today.
Revelation chapter 13 tells of the rise of two distinct power centres, one is political and the other is religious. Both are called “beasts” which is a biblical image for powers and empires that impact God’s plan and His people. They will derive their power from the dragon, which is a symbol for Satan—clearly identified earlier in the book of Revelation, and their power will be exerted over many nations and peoples.
A charismatic political leader will combine forces with a powerful religious leader to bring about a new world system. These powerful leaders will appear to handle the crisis and bring peace to the world, with religion playing a key role. Many atheists will become believers in a false god. It will be a time of great religious deception, prophesied to occur just before the return of Jesus Christ.
Revelation 13:11 describes what seems to be a lamb rising out of the earth, symbolising a great religious power, which appears to be harmless like a lamb, but speaks like a dragon—meaning its words are deceptive and alluring like Satan can be. This world religious leader will cause those who dwell on the earth to worship the secular beastly power. He will perform miracles in large public displays before many thousands with multiple millions watching on television around the world, convincing even the unbelieving sceptic. We are told: “He performs great signs, so that he even makes the fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast…” (Revelation 13:13-14).
Many atheists, agnostics and non-believers will become religious, and will be deceived into thinking God is working through these individuals. Their influence will continue for three and one half years, with policies and laws being made contrary to God’s teaching and biblical instruction. The name of God will be abused, and any church or body seeking to promote and guard God’s true teaching will be endangered. They will be singled out for persecution because they will recognize the diabolical unearthly power behind this behemoth and will not be taken in by its deceptive and alluring influence.
Satan, who possesses the Beast and the False Prophet, will even lure the world’s great armies to fight against the returning Jesus Christ (Revelation 13:4;16:13-14), but Christ will be victorious and atheism and religious deception will cease to exist forever. Satan has always corrupted the true teachings of God, and even today there are many false religions, opposing biblical truth and the true God. Now is the time for us to really get to know our Creator and to carefully study God’s word so that we will not be deceived.
Herod had ruled the province of Judea, which encompassed most of the geographical areas of the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah, for almost 40 years at the time Jesus Christ was born, with secular history and archaeology confirming his reign (Matthew 2:1-3, 7-8).
He was a great builder, initiating construction projects in at least 20 cities or towns in Israel and more than 10 in foreign cities: "Archaeological excavations have uncovered a surprisingly large amount of evidence pertaining to Herod the Great ....an Idumean who, in 41 B.C., was granted provisional rule of Galilee by Mark Antony [the friend of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra´s last lover] .... In 30 B.C. Octavian (Caesar Augustus) affirmed Herod's rule over Judea, Samaria, and Galilee .... Herod remained in power until his death in 4 B.C…." (Archaeology and the New Testament, 1997, p. 91).
But Herod was not just known for his great building, political and military skills, but also for his great cruelty. The Bible records his utter disregard for human life by describing his reaction to the birth of Jesus. When his scheme to identify the newborn Messiah failed (verses 7-8, 12), Herod lashed out with great violence: "Then Herod … sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under [the approximate age of Jesus], according to the time which he had determined from the wise men" (verse 16).
This massacre in Bethlehem was not out of character for Herod, who also had many members of his family put to death: “Herod in his rage over his family rivalries and jealousies put to death the two sons of Mariamne [his wife] (Aristobulus and Alexander), Mariamne herself, and Antipater, another son and once his heir, besides the brother and mother of Mariamne (Aristobulus, Alexandra) and her grandfather John Hyrcanus." (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Bible Explorer Software, 1997).
The New Testament description of Herod the Great is thus confirmed by what historians and archaeologists have found concerning his rulership, building projects, political strength and uncontrollable wrath toward anyone threatening his kingship.
The Census of Caesar Augustus
Luke, a meticulous historian, introduces other famous personages in his account of the birth of Christ. "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered … So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city" (Luke 2:1-3).
Ancient papyrus census decrees have been found for the years 20, 34, 48, 62 and 104. These show a wide-ranging census normally took place every 14 years, although local counts were, at times, taken more frequently. A papyrus in the British Museum describes a census similar to Luke's account, taken in 104, in which people were ordered to return to their birthplaces: "Gaius Vibius Mazimus, Prefect of Egypt: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those ... to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments" (Frederick G. Kenyon, Greek Papyri in the British Museum, 1907, plate 30).
Joseph's Occupation in Nazareth
Joseph was a skilled craftsman who worked not only with wood, but with stone masonry. The usual term translated as "carpenter" in the Bible (Mark 6:3) is from the Greek term ‘tekton’, which has the broader meaning of 'artisan,' referring to a skilled worker who works on hard material such as wood or stone or even horn or ivory. “In Jesus' day construction workers were not as highly specialized as in today's workforce. For example, the tasks performed by carpenters and masons could easily overlap" (Richard A. Batey, Jesus & the Forgotten City: New Light on Sepphoris and the Urban World of Jesus, p. 76).
Although Nazareth was a small village in Galilee of no more than a few hundred inhabitants, Joseph and Jesus likely found steady work in the city of Sepphoris four miles away, where huge construction projects were transforming the city into a large, regional centre.
Recent archaeological excavations in Sepphoris show it to have been a bustling, prosperous city during the years Jesus grew up in nearby Nazareth. Shirley Jackson Case, professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago, remarks “.... It requires no very daring flight of the imagination to picture the youthful Jesus seeking and finding employment in the neighboring city of Sepphoris. But whether or not he actually labored there, his presence in the city on various occasions can scarcely be doubted..." (Batey, pp. 70-71).
These historical records help us better understand the background of Christ's teachings, which included illustrations drawn not just from farming and animal husbandry, but also construction, rulers and nobility, the theater, government, finance and other aspects of city life.