Serpents in the Church

Throughout the present age, the Church has been plagued with many deceivers intent on misleading believers and causing their apostasy

Dragons - Photo by aisvri on Unsplash
The term “
antichrist” occurs in John’s epistles. He warns believers that “it is the last hour, and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.” He does not deny that an individual “antichrist” is coming, but his point is that many “antichrists” are active even now in the church - [Dragons - Photo by aisvri on Unsplash].

The Greek term rendered “antichrist” in John’s first two letters is antichristos, which is a compound of the Greek preposition anti and the noun for “anointed” or christos. The preposition anti means “instead of,” not “against.”

Thus an “ANTI-christ” is someone or something that replaces the true Christ. That is, a false christ, a counterfeit messiah.

MANY ANTICHRISTS


And in the passage, the Greek term translated “antichrists” is plural. John is referring to multiple false teachers that “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.” These deceivers are active in the Christian community – (1 John 2:18-22).

Most likely, John has derived the term “antichrist” from the repeated warnings of Jesus in his ‘Olivet Discourse’ about many coming deceivers, “false prophets” and “false christs”:

  • Many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many… For there will arise false Christs and false prophets and will show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, to deceive the very elect” - (Matthew 24:24).

Likewise, the Apostle Paul warns the churches of Thessalonica about the coming “man of lawlessness.” Whether he views this figure as a global political leader or not, his focus is on this figure’s ability to deceive believers and foment the coming “apostasy” - (2 Thessalonians 2:3-10).

And this “man of lawlessness” will seat himself in the “sanctuary of God…proclaiming himself to be God.” Elsewhere, Paul applies the term “sanctuary of God” and similar language to the church of Jesus Christ - (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:19-22).

THE LAWLESS ONE


The image of the “man of lawlessness" is based on the figure of the “little horn” that Daniel saw on the head of the “fourth beast,” a malevolent ruler who persecuted the “saints.”

In Jewish history, he is remembered as the deceitful Seleucid king who led many Jews astray by promoting Hellenism and pagan religious practices (Antiochus IV). Devout men who refused to compromise the faith were persecuted viciously - (Daniel 7:7-8, 8:10-14, 11:30-36).


Wolf - Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash
[Wolf - Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash]


Paul links the future “man of lawlessness” with the final “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 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).

In this passage, the emphasis is on this man’s ability to mislead people from the faith. His purpose will be to destroy the church. For that very reason, Jesus will destroy him at his “arrival.”

The “lawless one” will be a counterfeit. He will offer himself “instead of Christ.” He will proclaim “another gospel” and offer a “different Jesus.”

AGAINST THE SAINTS


In the book of Revelation, the “Beast from the seawages war against the “saints,” NOT against other nation-states. Consistently in the book, the “Dragon” and his servants unleash “war” against the followers of the “Lamb” - the “saints” – Those “who have the testimony of Jesus” and follow him “wherever he goes”- (Revelation 11:7, 12:17, 13:7-10).

Thus, already in the first century, false prophets and deceivers are active in the church hoodwinking Christians wherever possible. They are NOT out to deceive the larger world. Instead, their goal is to deceive the followers of Christ.

In fact, warnings about coming deceivers working to destroy the community of the faithful are common in the New Testament:

  • (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) - “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.”
  • (1 Timothy 4:1) – “The Spirit explicitly warns that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”
  • (2 Peter 2:1-22) - “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.”

Their purpose is to mislead the elect and destroy the church. Whether they or the Antichrist are also political leaders in the world is not the concern of the preceding passages.

The focus of these New Testament warnings is to warn the disciples of Jesus about deceivers that are working within the community, malevolent actors who will cause many believers to abandon the faith or be led into false versions of it.

Finally, serious consideration must be given to the challenge of Jesus - “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find the faith on the earth?” While his statement is enigmatic, it does suggest a time when deception and apostasy will be significant problems among his followers, and perhaps the faithful will become a small remnant in the final years before his advent – (Luke 18:8).



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