10 July 2019

The Enemy Within

Discussions about the Antichrist focus on a coming global political leader bent on deceiving the nations and waging war on any and all who do not submit to his rule. He may well turn out to be just such a character but is that the primary concern of the New Testament? And from where will he originate?
    The term “antichrist” only appears in two of John’s letters. In his first one, 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” (1 John 2:18).
An individual may indeed come who will be “the Antichrist,” but even in John’s day many antichrists had arrived in the churches under his care, men who “went out from us, but they were not of us.” These were false teachers that rose up from within the church, not Roman political leaders. Yet John labels them “antichrists” and warned that “the spirit of the antichrist of which you heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.”
     John’s term is probably derived from Christ’s warning about coming “false prophets and false christs.” In his Olivet Discourse, Jesus told his disciples they would face persecution and “be hated by all nations for my sake.” They would be hauled before courts and kings, though such incidents would become opportunities for them to bear witness to one and all. He also warned them of the appearance of the “abomination that desolates standing where it ought not.” But his most oft-repeated warning was about coming deceivers bent on deceiving the very elect.

Beware lest anyone deceive you. For many will come in my name and deceive many… many false prophets shall arise and shall deceive many… there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”
     Jesus gave only a few clues as to the content of their deceptive but soothing lies. “You will hear of wars and rumors of war. see that ye be not troubled: for these things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet…For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there shall be famines and earthquakes in different places. All these things are the beginning of travail… if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is the Christ, or, Here; believe it not…If therefore they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the wilderness; go not forth: Behold, he is in the inner chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh forth from the east, and is seen even unto the west, so shall be the coming of the Son of man.”
     It seems the deceivers disseminate false information about Christ’s return and thereby raise false expectations. As a result, “many will fall away”; only he who endures to the end will be saved.
     The Apostle Paul warned of a coming “man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12). While his words may suggest a political figure, his focus is on the man’s ability to deceive. Thus, he begins, “let no one in any way deceive you,” echoing the words of Jesus. He describes one event that may picture a political act when the man of lawlessness “takes his seat in the sanctuary of God” to oppose every so-called god. But this sounds more religious than political, though it could be both.

     Elsewhere Paul uses “sanctuary” metaphorically for the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21). Further 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 but on his power to deceive and to turn people from the true faith. Elsewhere Paul warned several times that in the “last days” many false teachers would appear to propagate “doctrines of demons.”
     In the book of Revelation, the several earthly minions of the “Dragon” wage war against the church. The “beast from the Abyss” will overcome the two witnesses and kill them (Revelation 11:4-7). The witnesses are identified as “two lampstands.” In Revelation “lampstands” represent churches (1:20).

    The Dragon fails to destroy the Woman or her messianic offspring so, enraged, he goes off to wage war against her “seed,” identified as those who have the witness of Jesus (12:17). The beast from the sea wages war against “the saints,” not Israel or other political entities that refuse him homage (13:7). And in the book’s letters to the seven churches of Asia, the Devil wages war against them by means of persecution AND deception from within, the Nicolaitans and the followers of “Balaam” and “Jezebel” (2:10; 2:18-29).
     The Apostle Peter warned of coming deceivers. “But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false-teachers,—men who will stealthily bring in destructive parties, even the Master that bought them denying, bringing upon themselves speedy destruction; And many will follow out their wanton ways,—by reason of whom the way of truth will be defamed” (2 Peter 2:1-2). Apostasy is the result of buying into the deceptions peddled by deceivers.
     False prophets and deceptive beasts come not to deceive unregenerate sinners. The existing order already lies in the lap of the Wicked One. Why expend energy deceiving men and women already living under deception? Instead, the Devil is out to hoodwink the followers of Jesus and cause their apostasy from the true faith. Warnings of this kind are common in the New Testament:

(2 Corinthians 11:13-15) - “For such as these are false apostles, deceitful workers, transfiguring themselves into apostles of Christ. And no marvel! For Satan himself doth transfigure himself into a messenger of light! No great thing, therefore, if his ministers also are transfiguring themselves as ministers of righteousness!—whose end shall be according to their works.”

(1 Timothy 4:1-2) - “Howbeit, the Spirit expressly saith—that in later seasons some will revolt from the faith, giving heed unto seducing spirits and unto teachings of demons—in hypocrisy, speaking falsehood, of demons cauterised in their own conscience” [Citations from the Emphasized Bible].
     Considering the consistent warnings of the New Testament, we ought not to be surprised if the “man of lawlessness,” the “beast from the sea,” originates from within the Church. Why not? His main purpose is to destroy it. Better to do it from the inside. And in Revelation, persecution is by no means the beast’s only or primary weapon. Deception, false prophecies, accommodation to a corrupt society, are far more effective.
     In recent decades the church has experienced an influx of deceives offering a wide variety of deceptions such as the prosperity gospel. This movement was on the fringes in the early years of the Charismatic movement but today it is what defines what passes for Charismatic.
     Over the last five decades we have heard many predictions of imminent prophetic events, only to be disappointed time and again. At one point, the party line was that Jesus would return within forty years, a “biblical generation,” of the founding of modern Israel in 1948. The former Soviet Union was expected to become “Gog and Magog” and attack Israel from the north. Instead, 1988 came and went with no noticeable prophetic events and the USSR collapsed under its own weight, the latter a pivotal event none of the prophecy experts saw coming. Yet the Prophecy Industry continues struggling to get one right.
     Perhaps many of the self-anointed prophecy pundits are among the very deceivers about which Jesus warn