12 August 2019

The Antichrist in the Church

The Devil, the Dragon
          The New Testament repeatedly warns Christians to beware of deceivers, false prophets, false messiahs, and antichrist forerunners, all leading up to a final malevolent figure, called the “antichrist,” “Beast,” and “man of lawlessness.”
The stress is consistent; coming deceivers will target believers for deception and apostasy. Little interest is shown in the political activities of the deceivers or what parts they play in larger world events.
John’s letters portray antichrists (plural) that were already active in his churches, deceitful men had not only arrived on the scene, but they had also originated in John’s congregations.
Antichrists
(1 John 2:18) - “It is the last hour; and just as you have heard that an antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come already, thus we perceive it is the last hour.”
The Antichrist is often assumed to be a political leader and global dictator who unites all nations under his dominion. He is commonly identified as the “abomination of desolation” predicted by Daniel and Jesus (Daniel 8:9-14; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; Matthew 24:15), as well as the Beast he saw “ascending from the sea” (Revelation 13:1-10); Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, and Stalin all rolled into one neat but horrific package.
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 (1 John 2:18-22; 4:1-3; 2 John 7). Whether Revelation’s “Beast” is identical to this “antichrist,” John’s letters do not say; the term never occurs in the book of Revelation. Further, it is never found on the lips of Jesus.
The Greek noun rendered “antichrist” is a compound of christos (“anointed one”) and anti (“instead of”). 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” (2 John 7). But he labels the deceivers that had already been active in his congregations as “antichrists.”
That activity is evidence that the “last hour” is underway, another term for the period elsewhere called “the last days.” Prophetic voices previously warned that deceivers would appear in the “last days,” a period that began with the death and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:17; Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:10; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; Hebrews 1:1-2; Jude 18). This means that the presence of “antichrists” is characteristic of this entire period.
John wrote his first epistle to combat false teachers that had left but continued to trouble his congregations (“they went out from us but were not of us”). He provided limited information on what the deceivers taught, though they contested the real humanity of Jesus and claimed to be free from sin, they disobeyed the commandments of Jesus and compromised with the world (1:6-10; 2:4; 2:15; 2:21-23; 4:2-5; 2 John 7).
Jesus predicted 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 (1 John 2:18), most likely, in reference to warnings of Jesus.
Christ began his ‘Olivet Discourse’ with repeated warnings about deceivers. Many would come in his name and “deceive many.” Many saints would fall away because “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).
John’s term, “antichrist,” therefore, probably developed from Christ’s terms, “false christs” and “false prophets.” Deception is the very essence of what it means to be “antichrist” - instead of Christ. The goal is not to kill Christians outright, but to mislead them into apostasy.
Satan cannot win a war against Jesus by just killing his followers; he must reverse their right-standing before him. 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 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” (1 Timothy 4:1-3). Wicked men and sorcerers will get worse, “deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13). Many Christians will no longer accept sound teaching, preferring teachers that tell them what they wish to hear (2 Timothy 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 this figure’s efforts to deceive believers; “let no one deceive you in any way” (cp. Matthew 24:4).
The man of lawlessness will “take his seat in the temple of God…proclaiming himself to be God.” Elsewhere, Paul uses “temple of God” metaphorically to describe the church (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21). Was he forecasting this figure’s presence in a rebuilt temple or his deceitful activities within the churches of Christ?
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.” Paul’s stress is on religious deception, not the man’s political machinations.
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 come to hoodwink followers of Jesus Christ to bring about their apostasy, and the most effective way to do so is from within the church. Thus, John described “antichrists” that rose up from 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 larger battle waged across the Cosmos, which is portrayed in the book’s later visions. The “battles” John saw behind the scenes, so to speak, play 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 victim in the Beast’s sights is not humanity but the church, the “saints.” This is not about global domination or seizing political power but destroying the work of Jesus.
Repeatedly, Daniel 7:21 is used to portray Satan’s war 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 will ascend out of the Abyss to wage war against the two witnesses, the two lampstands, “and overcome and kill them” (Revelation 11:7). Elsewhere in Revelation “lampstands” represent churches.
The Great Red Dragon “went to make war with the remnant of the woman’s seed that have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (12:17). The Beast that ascends from the sea likewise “makes war with the saints and overcomes them” (13:7).
In the end, Satan ascends from the Abyss to gather the nations in a final global assault to destroy the “saints” (20:7-9). Note well the common themes of “ascent” and “abyss.”
The final assault against the saints no doubt will include persecution and martyrdom, but it most certainly will involve great effort to deceive believers and thereby cause apostasy. 
None of the preceding means 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, but 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 wherever he goes, and anyone who refuses the Beast’s mark (20:4, 14:1-4).
Summary
In the light of scriptural warnings, Christians should remain on guard always for the rise of deception and deceit from within their midst.
Believers focused on current affairs and nightly news programs for signs of the Antichrist may be in for a shock to discover he is already 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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