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29 December 2018

The Antichrist: What Sort of Figure?

Domitian


The Antichrist is popularly portrayed as a global political leader, often a militaristic tyrant bent on global conquest. Perhaps, in the end, this will be the case.
However, New Testament warnings place far more stress on future deceivers, often ones that originate from within the church. Furthermore, the target of the Beast’s “war” in the book of Revelation is the church, which is comprised of faithful followers of the Lamb (Revelation 13:7).
The only New Testament author to use the term ‘Antichrist’ is John in two of his letters. In the first, he warns, “it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come to pass” (1 John 2:18).
John does not deny that an individual “antichrist” will come; his point is that already many “antichrists” have arrived from within his churches.
 “Antichrist” is a compound Greek word formed with the noun christos (“anointed one”) and the preposition anti, which signifies “instead of” rather than “against.” “Antichrist” refers not to one openly opposed to Jesus but to someone who attempts to replace him.
The “antichrists” (plural) to whom John refers are those who “went out from us, but they were not of us; …but they went out that it might be plain that they all are not of us,” false teachers from within the church that among other things deny the true humanity of Jesus.
John admonishes his churches to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God,” then warned about “the spirit of the antichrist of which you heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.”
The “antichrists” against whom John contends are false teachers, not national or political leaders (2 John 7, “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in flesh; this one is the deceiver and the antichrist”).
Paul warned of a coming “man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12). While his words could suggest a political figure, his focus is on this man’s ability to deceive. Thus, he begins, “let no one in any way deceive you.” He describes one event that may picture a public political act, the man “takes his seat in the sanctuary of God” where he opposes every so-called god (“proclaiming himself to be God”).
This sounds more religious than political but could be both. But elsewhere Paul uses “sanctuary” metaphorically for the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21). This “man of lawlessness” is linked to an “apostasy.” When he is revealed his activities will be “in accord with those of Satan”:
(2 Thessalonians 2:3-12) - “…with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who are perishing, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.”
Paul’s stress falls not on this man’s political activity or authority, but on his power to deceive and to turn people from the true faith.
The “Beast” from Revelation Chapter 13 appears to have the characteristics of a powerful political leader, but the text does not explicitly identify it with the “Antichrist” (to use John’s term). The grammatical gender of “beast” (thérion) is neuter and its pronoun in the Greek is always “it,” despite masculine renderings by some English versions.
The Beast from the sea combines features of the world empires from Daniel’s vision of four beasts that ascend out of the sea (“the beast was like a leopard, and his feet as of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion”), although in Revelation it is a single beast not four (cp. Daniel 7:1-8). Possibly this “Beast” represents a political system rather than an individual man since it is based on Daniel’s vision of four kingdoms or empires.
The Beast possesses the character and the authority of the Dragon (“behold a great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns” [12:3]. “A beast ascending out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns…they worshipped the dragon which gave power to the beast” [13:1]).
The Dragon’s wrath is not against the fallen inhabitants of the earth, for he was enraged against the Woman who birthed the son and “went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (12:17). Like the Beast: “it was given to it to make war with the saints and to overcome them.” Both passages allude to Daniel where the “little horn” speaking great things “made war with the saints and prevailed against them” (Daniel 7:21).
In Revelation, the Devil wars against the seven churches of Asia by means of persecution and deception (2:10; 2:18-29). Consistently in this book Satan through his earthly agents' wages war against the Lamb and those who follow him.
The Olivet Discourse of Jesus begins with dire warnings to disciples about coming deceivers: “beware lest anyone deceive you. For many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ; and lead many astray.”
They will point to “wars and rumors of wars… famines, earthquakes” and the like, as purported signs of the end. Disciples must not be disturbed; such things must come but are not signs of the end (“but the end is not yet”).
Christ’s warning is like Paul’s words. Deceivers will in his name mislead many (Matthew 24:4-23). As a result, “many will fall away” and “many false prophets will arise and mislead many”. Only he who endures to the end will be saved. “False anointed ones and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.”
False prophets and deceivers come not to deceive the world, which already lies in the lap of the Wicked One, but to hoodwink disciples of Jesus; to cause apostasy from the true faith. Warnings of this kind are common in the New Testament:
1.     (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) - “False apostles and deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.”
2.    (1 Timothy 4:1) - “The Spirit explicitly warns that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”
The Apostle Peter warned of coming “false teachers among you who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality and because of them, the way of the truth will be maligned” (2 Peter 2:1). Apostasy is the eventual result of deception and deceivers.
The Antichrist may turn out to be a world political leader. But considering the warnings from scripture, perhaps we should not be surprised if he first rises up from within the Church.

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