By Brian Knowles
n connection with some popular movies that are currently making the rounds -- the remake of “The Omen” being one of them -- there is a renewed interest in the prophetic figure known as “The Antichrist.” This apocalyptic personage has long been subject to interpretation by Hollywierd. Movie after movie, including some Christian-made ones, have sought to depict this end-time character in various ways, all of them malevolent, most of them inaccurate.
The fact is the term “antichrist” occurs only five times in the entire Bible, all of them in two letters written by the apostle John. The purpose of this article is to analyze these five instances.
I John 2:18 – 22
“Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
“But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist – he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.”
In these five verses, we see three of the five instances in which the term “antichrist” is used in the Bible. Let’s analyze these verses in order.
When John uses the term “dear children” to address the recipients of his letter, he is indicating not only his relationship with congregants, but perhaps his great age. It is generally agreed among scholars that John wrote these epistles late in his life, perhaps toward the end of the first century. When you consider that John had been a contemporary with Jesus, who had died more than 50 years earlier, it is clear that by this time, John was quite elderly.
“You have heard that the antichrist is coming…”
Though this is the first use of the term “antichrist” in Scripture, John refers back to earlier warnings of an anti-Christian figure that would ultimately arrive on the scene. He may well have been referring to some of Jesus’ own words in which he warned of “false Christs.” He said that many would claim to be the Messiah himself (Luke 21:8). Jesus warned his disciples not to follow such people (same verse).
The apostle Paul, who wrote much earlier than John, and before the Gospels had been compiled, also warned of a “man of lawlessness” who would appear just before the return of Christ. Of him Paul wrote: “He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (II Thessalonians 2:4). This man will function in opposition to God and to Christ – therefore he is antiChrist – against Christ. Perhaps this is a reference to the same individual.
It is Paul’s reference to this man sitting in the Temple of God that has led some to believe that a new Temple will be constructed prior to the return of the Messiah. The one that was still standing when Paul wrote was destroyed in 70 AD. Many Jews believe the third Temple can only be built after Messiah returns.
Like John, Paul believed that the prophesied antichrist was already on the scene, but that he was being held back in order to accommodate God’s timing: “Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so until he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming” (II Thessalonians 2:5-8).
It seems that it was generally understood within the first century Christian community that the return of Christ would be preceded by the arrival of a series of counterfeit messiahs, a “man of sin,” an antichrist. They believed that they lived in the time during which these events would happen. So they looked for them in what was going on around them. Even though Paul seems to have abandoned the belief that Christ would return in his lifetime when he got older, John may have clung to that belief well into his own old age.
“This is the last hour”
Returning to John’s account (I John 2:18), we find the aged apostle expressing his belief that it was indeed the “last hour.” The arrival of antichrist was imminent. In fact, many “mini antichrists” were already on the scene. For John, these events pointed to the fact that he and his contemporaries were indeed living in the last days. God did not see fit to disabuse John of this notion. He probably died believing the return of Christ was at the door. Among the very last words John wrote were, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
By human reckoning, Jesus did not come “soon.” Nearly 2000 years later, we are still waiting for his arrival. Nor have we yet seen the prophesied antichrist.
John said that even in his time there were “many antichrists” (I John 2:18). Where did these people come from? John answers: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us” (verse 19). Individuals who now opposed Christ had actually emerged from the Christian church. Though they had fellowshipped with true Christians, they really never belonged. They were misfits – tares among the wheat. At some point they were separated. The very fact that they had left the fellowship of the believers indicated to John that they had never been a true part of the body.
[Note: Some in our time have used this idea to suggest that individuals who have left denominational fellowships are also counterfeit Christians who were never really a part of the Body of Christ. However, the situation today is quite different than that of Paul’s day, or John’s day. In those days, the true Church had a continuity based on the presence of original apostles that it does not have today. It is quite possible that John and the other apostles would not even recognize some of the teachings of “true” churches today. Certainly many of these teachings are not found in their writings.
In our time, theological truth is an elusive chimera. Nearly 2000 years of scholarly machinations and denominational warfare have resulted in a chaotic situation in which it is not all that easy to identify “the true church” denominationally or doctrinally. Consequently, pointing to the simple fact that someone voluntarily left a given fellowship as proof that they never really were converted or a true Christian is bogus.]
The antichrists of John’s day espoused certain ideas that gave them away.
“The man who denies that Jesus is the Christ…”
Denying the Messiahship of Jesus is a dead giveaway to the spirit of antichrist. The term “Christ” is not a name but a title. It is the Greek form of the Hebrew Meshiach which means “Anointed One.” The arrival of an anointed one was alluded to in more than 400 passages of Scripture in the Old Testament. A complete listing of these can be found in an appendix in Vol. II of Edersheim’s “Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.” Part of the apostle’s message was that in Jesus these verses were fulfilled. In Acts 18:28, for instance, we read the following: “For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Anointed One).
There was no doubt in the apostle’s minds that Jesus was the one of whom the Scriptures had spoken when they prophesied of an anointed one who would be God’s redemptive agent on earth. All of the hopes of mankind are tied up in the Messiah, whether mankind knows it or not. Yet some in Paul’s day and later in John’s, were denying that Jesus was indeed the Messianic “Son of Man” written about in Daniel 7:13-14.
To deny that Jesus was and is the Messiah is to become an antichrist.
“He denies the Father and the Son…”
To deny that Jesus is the Messiah is to reject what God himself has done in Jesus. If we reject God’s Anointed One, we have rejected God himself (I John 2:23). To accept Jesus as Messiah is to accept God (verse 23b).
Jesus the Messiah is the centerpiece of God’s Redemptive Plan. Without him, there would be no plan. The apostle Peter, standing with John, had once said under inspiration to the leaders of the Jews: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus is the means by which God chose to save mankind. To reject him, is to reject salvation itself.
[Note: Just how the sacrifice of Jesus is appropriated for any given individual is up to God. God can apply it to anyone he chooses, even if they have never heard of, or accepted, the name of Jesus. In this light, consider the implications of Matthew 25:31-46.]
Later in the same letter John returns to the theme of the antichrist.
I John 4:1-3
John wrote, “Dear friends, 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. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God. Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”
John now focuses our attention on the spirits behind the prophets. Behind every person who claims to be a prophet is a spirit – either the Spirit of God, or a spirit of falsehood. A prophet, by definition, is one who “speaks forth” on behalf of God. A false prophet is one who speaks forth for a false or lying spirit. God has his mouthpieces and Satan has his. It behooves us to know which is which.
In John’s day, false prophets were already abundant. They denied the Messiahship of Jesus. They did not acknowledge that God’s prophesied Messiah had now been manifested in the form of human flesh (verse 2). They rejected Jesus and so became anti-Christs. John then elaborates on the points he has been making:
“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (I John 4: 4-6).
John is saying that he and the other apostles represented, and were sent forth from, God. God and Christ dwell in Christians through the Holy Spirit. Because they do, we do not have to be duped by messages from false spirits given through their mouthpieces.
The longer one lives as a Christian, and the more one has his senses exercised to discern between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14), the easier it is to discern unspiritual messages. The spirit of the world is anti-Christ and anti-Christian. The natural human mind, uninfluenced by the Spirit of God, is at odds with God (Romans 8:7). It is anti-God and anti-Christ. No matter the technicalities and politics are involved, it is easy to identify those elements in society who oppose the Christian faith, denigrate the Bible, and are cynical about God. Just read a day’s paper and ask, “Who is for God and who is against Him? Who promotes Jesus, and who opposes him, his teachings and his redemptive Messiahship?” Which organizations seek to expunge the influence of Christianity from our society, and which ones promote it? AntiChrist simply means “against Christ.”
When an influential individual, a group, or an organization consistently seeks to knock the props out from under Christian churches and organizations, it ought to be clear which side of the spiritual fence they are on. It ought to be obvious which spirit animates them. As Paul explained, our real enemies are not flesh and blood, but wicked spirits in high places – spirits who have mouthpieces!
The Spirit of Deception
There is one more reference to antichrist in John’s writings – in II John 7: “Many deceivers, who do acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
This is a reiteration of the points made in the earlier letter, except that here John adds the element of deception. Those who are influenced by the spirit of antichrist seek to deceive people about Christ – about who he was and is, and about what is his role in God’s redemptive plan. They reject him as God’s Anointed One. They reject his virgin birth. They reject his Davidic ancestry. They reject his resurrection, apart from which Christianity means nothing (I Corinthians 15:14-19).
The antichrists of our day seek to remove Christ’s name from public prayers, from public discourse, from American history, from symbolism, from our schools and from discussion on any government property.
Modern antichrists seek to denigrate Jesus, his name, his offices, his roles and his future kingship, in every possible way. They take the stories of the life of Christ as depicted in the Gospels and distort them to create a revisionist picture of the one who holds their salvation in his hands. They diminish our Lord, trivialize the accounts of his life and teachings, turn him into a liar and a fraud (i.e. The Passover Plot and writings of that genre), and generally demote him the ultimate Prophet to no prophet at all.
Ask yourself this simple question: Who, in our world, promotes Christ, and who attacks him? Who is not ashamed of him, and who is (cf. Mark 8:38)? Who seeks to live by his words and teachings, and who dismisses them?
It’s as simple as this: We are either for Christ, or we are against him. Of course there are many people who have never heard of him and who wouldn’t know whether to accept him or reject him if they did. In Western, post-Christian society however, the former statement is largely true.
Not long ago, I e-mailed a copy of an LA Times article summarizing the apocalyptic views of many groups to a Hebrew roots scholar who happened to be in Israel at the time. The article spoke of those who are seeking to hasten the return of Christ by supporting Israel and the Jewish people. The idea here is to speed up the fulfillment of the conditions the Bible says will precede the return of Christ. In his reply, this scholar, whose work I hold in great esteem, said, “You know the old saying, ‘Be careful what you pray for – you might get it’? I am afraid most of these religious groups will be real surprised to learn that the messiah is not going to be at all happy with them when he does come.”
When the Lord returns, he will not come “meek and riding on a donkey.” He will come as King of kings to wreak judgment on a rebellious planet. He will come baptize with the fires of judgment. It will not be a good time to be antichrist.