Beasts in the Church

Throughout the present age, the Church has been plagued with deceivers bent on deceiving the saints to cause their apostasy

Wolf Pack - Photo by Thomas Bonometti on Unspla
In the New Testament, the term “
antichrist” occurs in two of John’s three epistles. In his first letter, he warned that “it is the last hour, and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.” He did not deny that an individual “antichrist” was coming, his point being that many “antichrists” were in the church already - [Photo by Thomas Bonometti on Unspla].

The Greek term rendered “antichrist” is antichristos,a compound of the preposition anti and the Greek term for “anointed,” christos. The preposition signifies “instead of,” not “against”; thus, an “anti-christ” is someone or something that replaces the true Christ, a false christ.

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,” false teachers that were active in Christian congregations.

Most likely, John derived the term from the repeated warnings by Jesus about coming deceivers, for example:
  • (Matthew 24:24) - “Many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many… For there will arise false Christs and false prophets and will show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, to deceive the very elect.”
Likewise, Paul warned of the coming “man of lawlessness.” Whether he viewed this figure as a global political leader or not, his focus was on this man’s ability to deceive believers, and he linked him to the future “apostasy” - (2 Thessalonians 2:3-10).

The “man of lawlessness” will seat himself in the “sanctuary of God…proclaiming himself to be God.” Elsewhere in his letters, Paul applied the term “sanctuary of God” and similar language metaphorically to the church of Jesus Christ - (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:19-22).

The image of the "man of lawlessness" is derived from the book of Daniel with its image of the “little horn” of the “fourth beast” that persecuted the saints. This man most certainly was a political figure, but he is remembered far more within Judaism as a deceiver who led many Jews astray with his promotion of Hellenism and pagan religious practices (Antiochus IV) - (Daniel 7:7-8, 8:10-14, 11:30-36). Paul links the “man of lawlessness” with the 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 figure’s political authority or military prowess but on his ability to deceive and turn people from the faith. His purpose will be to destroy the church. For that very reason, Jesus will destroy him at his “arrival” or parousia.
The modus operandi of the “man of lawlessness” is to offer a false version of Jesus - Something “instead of Christ.” He will proclaim “another gospel” and a “different Jesus," one fundamentally different than the Messiah revealed on the Cross of Calvary.

Similarly, though the “Beast from the sea” in Revelation has political aspects, he “wages war against the saints” and NOT against other nation-states. Whether this is the same figure that Paul and John had in view, Revelation never applies the terms “Antichrist” or “Man of Lawlessness” to him. Consistently in the book, the “Dragon” and his minions unleash “war” against the followers of the “Lamb” - The “saints” – The ones “who have the testimony of Jesus” - (Revelation 11:7, 12:17, 13:7-10).

Thus, already in the first century, false prophets and deceivers were active within the church working to hoodwink Christians, NOT to deceive the world at large. Their goal was to deceive the followers of Christ. In fact, warnings about coming deceivers are common in the New Testament:
  • (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) - “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.”
  • (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.”
  • (2 Peter 2:1-22) - “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.”
Their purpose is to mislead the elect and destroy the church. In the end, the “Antichrist” may turn out to be a world political leader. However, considering the many warnings from Scripture, perhaps we should not be surprised if he first appears within the Church of God.

Finally, serious consideration must be given to the challenge of Jesus - “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find the faith on the earth?” While his statement is enigmatic, it does suggest a final time when deception and apostasy will be significant problems among his followers – (Luke 18:8).



 

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