31 July 2019

The Beasts Within

Lake Washington Sunset
        The term “Antichrist” occurs in the New Testament only in John’s epistles. 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” (1 John 2:18).
       John did not deny that an individual “antichrist” would come; his point was that even in his day many “antichrists” had already arrived on the scene.
       The Greek term behind “antichrist” is antichristos. The preposition anti prefixed to it signifies “instead of” rather than “against.” An “antichrist” in this letter is not someone who opposes Jesus but 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” (1 John 2:19); that is, false teachers that rose up from within the Church (see also 2 John 7).
       John’s term is probably derived from Christ’s repeated warning about future deceivers. “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 him as a political figure, His description focuses on the man’s 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 2:21).
       Paul’s description alludes to a passage from the book of Daniel that originally applied to the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV (Daniel 11:30-39. Cp. Daniel 8:10-14). 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.

      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 is not on this man’s political influence or authority, but on his power to deceive and turn people from the truth.
       The “Beast” of Revelation chapter 13 has some characteristics of a political figure but the book never identifies the “Beast” as the “Antichrist”; the term appears nowhere in Revelation.

     The grammatical gender of “beast” or thérion is always neuter and in the Greek, the pronoun used with it is also neuter; “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.
False prophets and teachers come not to deceive the world but to hoodwink disciples of Jesus Christ. The agenda is to cause apostasy from the true faith.
       Warnings of 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” (2 Peter 2:1). Apostasy is presented as a direct result of the activity of deceivers.
       The Antichrist may turn out to be a world political leader but, in light of warnings from scripture, perhaps we should not be surprised if he first rises up from within the Church of God. His purpose is to deceive the elect and destroy the church.
      In any case, this man's modus operandi will be to offer a different and false version of Jesus; “instead of Christ.” He will proclaim “another gospel” and a “different Christ” that the one revealed on Calvary.

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