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31 July 2019

Ravenous Beasts in the Church

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

Wolf Pack - Photo by Thomas Bonometti on Unspla
The term “Antichrist” occurs in the New Testament only in two of the three epistles of John. 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 to pass.” John did not deny that an individual “antichrist” would come - His point was that many “antichrists” already had arrived on the scene, invading some of his own congregations - (1 John 2:18).

The Greek term rendered “antichrist” is antichristos (Strong’s – G500) The preposition anti signifies “instead of” rather than “against.” An “antichrist” is not someone who is opposed to Jesus but, instead, a deceiver who works to replace the true Christ with something false.

The “antichrists” (plural) to whom John refers 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.” They were false teachers that appeared from within Christian congregations (1 John 2:19. See also - 2 John 7).

Most likely, John’s term is derived from the repeated warnings by Jesus about coming deceivers in his so-called ‘Olivet Discourse’:
  • (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 description of the “man of lawlessness. Whether he saw this figure as a political figure or not, he focuses on his ability to deceive and links him to a future apostasy - “Let no one in any way deceive you” - (2 Thessalonians 2:3-10).

The “man of lawlessness” will seat himself in the “sanctuary of God…proclaiming himself to be God.” This is the only New Testament verse in which Paul expresses any interest in the Temple in Jerusalem, assuming that structure is what he meant. Elsewhere in his letters, consistentlyPaul applies this 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 a passage in the book of Daniel that originally portrayed the persecuting activities of a Seleucid king, Antiochus IV, the so-called "Little Horn." That king most certainly was a political figure; however, he is also remembered within Judaism as a deceiver who led many Jews astray with his promotion of Hellenism and pagan religious practices (Daniel 7:7-8, 8:10-14, 11:30-36).

Antiochus IV is remembered most for his desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem where he had an altar to Zeus Olympias erected on the altar of burnt offering that stood in the "Holy Place" just outside the inner sanctuary, what became the "abomination of desolation." Furthermore, he attempted to eliminate 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 the preceding passage is not on the man’s political authority or his military prowess, but on his power to deceive and turn people from the truth. His purpose is to destroy the church and, for this reason, Jesus will destroy him at his "arrival" or parousia.

Church Ruins - Photo by Luc Constantin on Unsplash
Photo by Luc Constantin on Unsplash

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, the term never appears in the book of Revelation.

The grammatical gender of the Greek noun rendered “beast” (thérion) is always neuter and, in keeping with Greek syntax, the pronoun with it is also neuter, or “it,” not “him” or “he.” The“Beast” combines the features of the vision of four world empires portrayed in the book of 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”). Quite Possibly, the “Beast from the sea” represents a political system rather than an individual human (Daniel 7:1-8).
False prophets and teachers are active within the Church to hoodwink disciples of Jesus, not to deceive or enslave the world at large. Their agenda is to produce apostasy from the true faith.
Warnings about 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 such 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 Church of God. His purpose is to deceive the elect and, thereby, destroy the church. It is only in this way that the “Dragon” can attack and harm the “Lamb” - 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 - Something “instead of Christ.” He will proclaim “another gospel” and a “different Jesus," one fundamentally different than the one revealed on the Cross.

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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