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12 August 2019

The Antichrists is in the Church

SynopsisIn the New Testament the Antichrist is a deceiver intent on misleading followers of Jesus into apostasy.

Satan Tempts Judas to Betray Jesus
The New Testament warns Christians repeatedly to beware of deceivers, false prophets, false messiahs, and antichrist forerunners, a process that will culminate in a final malevolent figure called, variously, the “antichrist,” the “Beast,” and the “man of lawlessness.”

The stress is consistent; deceivers will target believers for deception with the goal of causing their apostasy from the faith. Little interest is expressed by the New Testament in the political activities of the deceivers or what parts they may play in larger world events.

The epistles of John describe “antichrists” (plural) that were active in his churches even in the first century, deceitful men that originated from within his congregations.

Antichrists

(1 John 2:18) - “Little children! it is the last hour; and, just as ye have heard that an antichrist is coming, even now, antichrists have become many, whence we perceive that it is the last hour: From among us they went out, but they were not of us; for if of us they had been, they would in that case have abode with us; but it came to pass in order that they might be made manifest, because all are not of us” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The Antichrist is assumed by many interpreters to be a global dictator who unites all nations under his dominion. He is commonly identified as the “abomination of desolation” predicted by Daniel and Jesus, and as the Beast Daniel saw “ascending from the sea,” a Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin all rolled into one neat but horrific package (Daniel 8:9-14, 9:27, 11:31, 12:11, Matthew 24:15, Revelation 13:1-10).

In contrast, the New Testament begins with a closer-to-home reality. The term “Antichrist” appears in the New Testament only in the First and Second letters of John. Whether the “Beast” of Revelation is identical to this “antichrist,” the epistles of John do not say. The term “antichrist” never occurs in the book of Revelation. Further, it is never found on the lips of Jesus in any of the gospel accounts (1 John 2:18-22, 4:1-3, 2 John 7).

The Greek noun rendered “antichrist” is the compound of christos (“anointed one”) and anti or “instead of” (Strong’s G500). The preposition signifies “instead of,” not “against.” This suggests a figure more inclined to mimic than to oppose Jesus, at least, not openly.
In his epistles, John refers to “antichrists” in the plural, though he affirms there is “a coming antichrist.” But he labels the deceivers that had already been active in his congregations as “antichrists” (2 John 7). 
That activity is evidence that the “last hour” is underway, another term for the period elsewhere called “the last days.” Prophetic voices had warned that deceivers would appear in the “last days,” a period that began with the death and resurrection of Jesus. This means that the presence of “antichrists” is characteristic of this entire period (Acts 2:17, Galatians 4:4, Ephesians 1:10, 1 Timothy 4:1-3, Hebrews 1:1-2, Jude 18).

John wrote his first epistle to combat false teachers that but continued to trouble his congregations (“they went out from us but were not of us”). He provided limited information on what they taught, although they contested the real humanity of Jesus and claimed to be free from sin. Additionally, they disobeyed the commandments of Jesus and compromised with the world (1 John 1:6-10, 2:4, 2:15, 2:21-23, 4:2-5, 2 John 7).

Jesus predicted that deceivers would be a constant thorn in the side of his disciples. When John warned about end-time “antichrists,” he reminded his audience of earlier warnings to that effect, most likely, a reference to the warnings of Jesus (1 John 2:18, Matthew 24:4-8).

Christ began his ‘Olivet Discourse’ with repeated warnings about deceivers. Many would come in his name and “deceive many”; consequently, many saints would fall away (“many false prophets will arise and mislead many”). “False christs” and “false prophets” would show great signs and wonders to mislead “even the elect” (Matthew 24:4-5, 10-11, 24).

The term “antichrist,” therefore, probably developed from terms used by Jesus, including “false christs” and “false prophets.” Deception is the very essence of what it means to be “antichrist” - instead of Christ. The goal is to mislead disciples of Jesus and lure them to apostatize.

Satan cannot win his war against Jesus by simply killing his followers, he must reverse their right-standing before the Lord. And Jesus stressed that “many” deceivers will come to deceive “many.”

The Man of Lawlessness

Paul warned of future deceivers and a coming apostasy, drawing on many of the same sayings of Jesus that John did. For example, he warned of “later seasons when some will desert the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and to teachings of demons.” Wicked men and sorcerers will get worse, “deceiving and being deceived.” Many Christians would no longer accept sound teaching, preferring teachers that would tell them what they wished to hear (1 Timothy 4:1-4, 2 Timothy 3:13, 4:3-4).

Paul warned of a coming “man of lawlessness” who must appear before the “Day of the Lord.” This figure is characterized by his ability to deceive and cause apostasy, and a final “falling away” must occur before the return of Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12).

Whatever political aspects there may be to Paul’s “man of lawlessness,” the Apostle focuses his warning on the efforts of this figure to deceive believers: “Let no one deceive you in any way” (compare - Matthew 24:4-8).

The man of lawlessness will “take his seat in the sanctuary of God…proclaiming himself to be God.” Elsewhere, Paul uses “sanctuary of God” metaphorically to describe the church. Was he forecasting this figure’s presence in a rebuilt temple or his deceitful activities within the churches of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21)?
The “man of lawlessness” uses “all power and signs and lying wonders” to deceive anyone who refuses to welcome the “love of the truth and so be saved.” The stress is on religious deception, not this man’s prowess at political machination or military conquest. 
The New Testament portrays deceivers that target Christians, not pagans. The world already “lies in the lap of the Wicked One,” already the world is under deception. Why waste time and effort to deceive those already deceived?

Satan and his agents strive to hoodwink followers of Jesus Christ in order to bring about their defection. The most effective way to do so is from within the church and in the name of Christ. Thus, John described “antichrists” that appeared within his churches.

Deceivers do not proclaim a religion distinct from Christianity but a counterfeit “Christianity.” To succeed, the imitation must look as close to the genuine article as possible. Deceivers sound and look just like genuine ministers of the gospel, discernment is vital to recognize and expose them.

Do not believe every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

False apostles and deceitful workers disguise themselves as Christian apostles. Even Satan can appear as an angel of light, therefore, it is no surprise if his servants have all the marks of genuine apostles, prophets, preachers, and teachers (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Peter, likewise, warned of “false teachers among you who will secretly introduce destructive heresies…Many will follow their sensuality and because of them, the way of the truth will be maligned” (2 Peter 2:1). Apostasy is the goal; deception is the means.

The Beast

The seven letters to the churches of Asia present a microcosm of the cosmic battle waged between the “Dragon” and the “Lamb” that are portrayed in the book’s later visions. The “battles” John saw in visionary form played out in the daily struggles of the Asian congregations. 

While the letter to Smyrna describes pressure from hostile Jewish communities, and the one to Pergamos persecution by local authorities, the bigger battle was with false teachers, the Nicolaitans, followers of the doctrine of Balaam, false apostles, and that “prophetess,” Jezebel.

The victims targeted by the Beast are not individual humans but the church, the “saints,” those who “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” This “war” is not about global domination or the seizure of political power, but the destruction of the work of Jesus achieved on Calvary.

Repeatedly, Daniel 7:21 is used to portray the war of the Dragon against the Lamb. In Daniel, the “little horn” from the fourth beast “made war with the saints and prevailed against them.” Thus, also, the Beast is to ascend out of the Abyss to wage war against the Two Witnesses, the two lampstands, “and to overcome and kill them” (Revelation 11:7).

The Great Red Dragon “went to make war with the remnant of the woman’s seed that have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” The Beast that is to ascend from the sea likewise will “make war with the saints and overcome them.” In the end, Satan will ascend from the Abyss to gather the nations in a final assault to destroy the “saints.” Note well the common themes of “ascent” and “abyss” (Revelation 12:17, 13:7-10, 20:7-9).

The final assault against the saints almost certainly will include persecution and martyrdom, but it must include great efforts to deceive believers and cause their apostasy.

None of the preceding means that the Antichrist will not also be a world leader. But his purpose, the target of his rage, is Jesus, the Lamb of God. He comes to wage war against the Lamb. However, the Lamb is beyond his reach, therefore, Satan must target men and women who belong to Jesus. The Dragon wages war against anyone who follows the Lamb and all that refuse the mark of his Beast (Revelation 14:1-4, 20:4).

Summary

In the light of scriptural warnings, Christians must remain ever vigilant for the rise of deception and deceivers from within their congregations. Believers focused on current affairs and nightly news programs searching for “signs” of the Antichrist may be in for a shock when they discover the Beast is already working among them. They could easily be caught unawares by a “man of lawlessness” who appears on the scene with all the accouterments of an angel of light.

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