Antichrist-S, Plural, in the Church

SYNOPSIS - In the New Testament, the Antichrist is a deceiver intent on misleading followers of Jesus - 1 John 2:18

Chameleon - Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash
The New Testament warns repeatedly for believers to beware of the MANY deceivers and false prophets - Forerunners of the Antichrist - that will flood the Church. This process will culminate in a final malevolent figure called, variously, the “Antichrist,” the “Beast from the sea,” and the “Man of lawlessness.” The stress is consistent – Deceivers, “false prophets,” and “false messiahs” will target the disciples of Jesus for deception and apostasy. Little interest is expressed in the political activities of these figures or what part they might play in larger world events. - [Chameleon - Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash].

Two of the epistles of John label such deceivers as “AntichristS” - plural - False teachers who were active in the congregations of John already in the first century.

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).
We often assume the "Antichrist" will be a global dictator who unites all nations under his rule - Another Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin all rolled into one neat but tyrannical package - (Matthew 24:15, Revelation 13:1-10).

In contrast, the New Testament presents a closer-to-home reality. The term “antichrist” appears only in the first and second letters of John. Whether the “Beast” in the book of Revelation is identical to the “antichrist” in the letters of John is not stated in them, and the term “antichrist” never occurs in Revelation. Furthermore, the term is never found on the lips of Jesus in the several 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 - “instead of”. The preposition anti signifies “instead of,” not “against.” This suggests a figure more inclined to mimic than to oppose Jesus.

John referred to “antichrists” in the plural, although he affirmed there was “a coming antichrist.” But he labeled the deceivers that were active already in his congregations as “antichrists” - (2 John 7).

John pointed to the activity of the deceivers as evidence that the “last hour” was underway already in his day, a period he also called the “last days.” Elsewhere in the New Testament, this period began with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. This means the presence of such “antichrists” has been the norm throughout the church 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 were troubling his congregations - (“They went out from us but were not of us”). He provided some but limited information about what they taught - They contested the real humanity of Jesus, and they 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).

Previously, 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 these earlier warnings to that effect, and most likely, he had in mind one or more of the warnings of Jesus concerning "false prophets" and "false christs" - (1 John 2:18, Matthew 24:4-8).

Jesus began his ‘Olivet Discourse’ with repeated warnings about coming 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 deceive “even the elect” - (Matthew 24:4-5, 10-11, 24).

Most probably, the term “antichrist” developed from the terms used by Jesus, especially “false christs” and “false prophets.” Deception is the very essence of what it means to be “antichrist” - Instead of Christ – and the goal is to cause saints to apostatize.

Satan cannot win his war against Jesus by simply killing his followers. He must reverse their right-standing before God. And Christ stressed how “many” deceivers would come in order to deceive “many.”

Man of Lawlessness

Likewise, the Apostle Paul warned of future deceivers and a coming apostasy, drawing on several of the same sayings of Jesus. 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" would get worse and worse - “Deceiving and being deceived.” In consequence, many Christians would no longer accept sound teaching, preferring teachers who would tell them whatever 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 onset of the “Day of the Lord.” This figure is characterized by his ability to deceive and cause apostasy; likewise, a final “falling away” is to occur before the return of Christ - (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12).
Whatever political aspects there may be to the “man of lawlessness,” Paul focused on his efforts 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 the term “sanctuary of God” metaphorically for the church. Was he forecasting this figure’s presence in a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, or his deceitful activities within the churches of Christ? - (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21).

Revival Meeting - Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash
Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

This deceiver will employ “all power and signs and lying wonders” to deceive the saints. In the second letter to the Thessalonians, the stress is on the religious deception he will use, not his political and military abilities.

Thus, the New Testament portrays deceivers who target Christians, NOT pagans. The world already “lies in the lap of the Wicked One,” already the world is under deception. Why would Satan waste time and effort to deceive those already deceived? Instead, his goal is to hoodwink followers of Jesus to bring about their defection from the faith. The most effective way to do so is from within the church, and in the name of Christ.

Such deceivers do not proclaim a religion distinct from Christianity but a counterfeit version of it - "Another gospel" and a "different Jesus." For this effort to succeed, the imitation must look as close to the genuine article as possible - (“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 teachers, prophets, pastors, and apostles. Even Satan can appear as an "angel of light," therefore, it is no surprise if his servants have all the marks of genuine ministers of Christ - (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Likewise, Peter warned of coming “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 - Very clever deception is the means.

Almost certainly, in the final days, the ultimate assault against the saints will include persecution and martyrdom, but also ever-increasing efforts to deceive believers and cause their apostasy.

None of the preceding means that the "Antichrist" will not also be a political figure. However, his purpose is to wage war against Jesus. Since the "Lamb" is beyond his reach, Satan and his earthly agents target the men and women who belong to Christ - (Revelation 14:1-4, 20:4).

We must remain ever vigilant for the rise of deception and deceivers within our congregations. If we focus on current affairs and nightly news programs searching for “signs” of the “Antichrist” or his “number,” we may be in for a shock when they discover the “Beast” working in our very midst.




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