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31 July 2019

Beasts Within the Church

SynopsisThroughout the present age, the Church is plagued with deceivers bent on misleading the saints and bringing about their apostasy.

Wolves in Sheeps Clothing
The term “Antichrist” occurs in the New Testament only in two of the three epistles of John. He warned in his first letter that “it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come to pass.” The Apostle did not deny that an individual “antichrist” would come; his point was that many “antichrists” had already arrived on the scene, even in his day (1 John 2:18).

The Greek term behind “antichrist” is antichristos (Strong’s – G500) The preposition anti prefixed to it signifies “instead of” rather than “against.” An “antichrist” in this first letter of John is not someone who opposes Jesus but, instead, a deceiver who attempts to replace the true Christ with something false.

The “antichrists” (plural) to whom John referred were men 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”; that is, false teachers that rose up from within the Church (1 John 2:19. See also - 2 John 7).

John’s term is probably derived from the repeated warnings by Jesus about future deceivers from his ‘OlivetDiscourse’:

(Matthew 24:4, 24:24) - “Take heed that no man deceive you…many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many…many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many… Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”

Paul presented a similar idea in his “man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-10). Whether Paul saw this man as a political figure, His description focuses on his ability to deceive and links him to a future apostasy (“let no one in any way deceive you”).

The “man of lawlessness” will seat himself in the “sanctuary of God…proclaiming himself to be God.” This is the only verse in which Paul expressed an interest in the Temple in Jerusalem, assuming that is what he meant by the “sanctuary of God.” Elsewhere, Paul consistently uses this and similar Temple language metaphorically for the church of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:19-22).

The description in the second letter to the Thessalonians alludes to a passage from the book of Daniel that originally applied to the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV. That ruler was certainly a political figure but is also remembered within Judaism as a deceiver who led many Jews astray with his promotion of Hellenism and pagan religious practices (Daniel 11:30-36, 8:10-14).

Antiochus is most remembered for his desecration of the Jerusalem Temple when he had an altar to Zeus Olympias erected on top of the altar of burnt offering in the court before the inner sanctuary. Additionally, Antiochus attempted to stamp out the Jewish faith by outlawing circumcision, Levitical dietary restrictions and other rituals foundational to the faith of Israel.

Paul links this “man of lawlessness” with a coming “apostasy”; he will act –

In accord with Satan, 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” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).
The emphasis in this passage is not on the man’s political authority or his military prowess but, instead, on his power to deceive and turn people away from the truth. 

The “Beast” in the thirteenth chapter of Revelation has some of the characteristics of a political figure. However, the book never identifies the “Beast” from the sea as the “Antichrist,” in fact, that term never appears in the book of Revelation.
The Beast from the Sea

The grammatical gender of “beast” or thérion is always neuter and, in the Greek text, the pronoun used with it is also neuter or “it,” not “him” or “he.” This “Beast” combines the features of the world empires from Daniel Chapter 7 (“the beast was like a leopard, and his feet as of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion”). It is probable that the “Beast” represents a political system rather than an individual human (Daniel 7:1-8).

False prophets and teachers come to hoodwink disciples of Jesus Christ, not to deceive the world at large. The agenda is to produce apostasy from the true faith. Warnings of such coming deceivers are common in the New Testament. For example, Paul described “false apostles and deceitful workers” of his day who “disguised 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 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Likewise, the Apostle warned that “the Spirit explicitly warns that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).

The Apostle Peter warned his congregations 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” - apostasy is presented as a direct result of the activity of deceivers (2 Peter 2:1-22).

The Antichrist may turn out to be a world political leader but, considering the many warnings from scripture perhaps we should not be surprised if he first appears within the ranks of the Church of God. His purpose is to deceive the elect and to destroy the church. It is only in this way that the “Dragon” can attack and harm the “Lamb,” that is, by waging war on the “seed of the woman” (Revelation 12:12-17).

In any case, the modus operandi of the “man of lawlessness” will be to offer a false version of Jesus, that is, something “instead of Christ.” He will proclaim “another gospel” and a “different Christ” than the one revealed on the Cross on Calvary.

Finally, serious consideration must be given to the challenge of Jesus:

Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he, after all, find the faith on the earth?” – (Luke 18:8).

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