SYNOPSIS – Throughout the present age, the Church has been plagued with deceivers bent on misleading the saints and causing apostasy.
In the New Testament, the term “antichrist” is found only in two of the three epistles of John. In his first letter, he warned – “It is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come to pass.” John did not deny that an individual “antichrist” would come – His point was that “many antichrists” were active already in his churches – A situation that would continue and culminate in the final “Antichrist” prior to the return of Jesus – (1 John 2:18).
The Greek term rendered “antichrist” is antichristos. It is a compound formed with the preposition anti and the Greek term for “Christ” – Christos. The preposition signifies “instead of,” not “against” – An “anti-christ” is a man or woman who works to replace the true Christ with a substitute – A false christ.
The “antichrists,” plural, to whom John refers were men who “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.” They were false teachers that appeared from within Christian congregations – (1 John 2:19. See also – 2 John 7).
The term “antichrist” is derived from the repeated warnings by Jesus about coming deceivers in his ‘Olivet Discourse’, for example:
(Matthew 24:4, 24:24) – “Take heed that no man deceive you…many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many…many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many… Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”
Paul presented a similar idea in his description of the “Man of Lawlessness.” Whether he viewed this figure as a global political leader or not, the Apostle focused on his ability to deceive believers, and he linked him to the final future “Apostasy” – “Let no one in any way deceive you” – (2 Thessalonians 2:3-10).
The “Man of Lawlessness” will seat himself in the “sanctuary of God…proclaiming himself to be God.” This is the only New Testament verse in which Paul expresses any interest in the Temple in Jerusalem, assuming that structure is what he had in mind. Elsewhere in his letters, and consistently so, Paul applied this and similar language metaphorically to the church of Jesus Christ – (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:19-22).
The image of the “Man of Lawlessness” is derived from a passage in the book of Daniel that originally portrayed the persecuting activities of a Seleucid king, Antiochus IV, the “Little Horn” of the “fourth beast” from the vision of Daniel. This king most certainly was a political figure; however, he remembered far more within Judaism as a deceiver who led many Jews astray with his promotion of Hellenism and pagan religious practices – (Daniel 7:7-8, 8:10-14, 11:30-36).
Antiochus is remembered for his desecration of the “sanctuary” in Jerusalem where he had an altar to Zeus Olympias erected on the altar of burnt offering – The “abomination of desolation.” Furthermore, he attempted to eliminate the Jewish faith by outlawing circumcision, Levitical dietary restrictions, and other rituals foundational to the faith of Israel. Paul links this “man of lawlessness” with a coming “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 so as 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).
The emphasis in Paul’s letter is NOT on this man’s political authority or military prowess, but instead on his ability to deceive and turn people from the faith. His purpose will be to destroy the church and, for this very reason, Jesus will destroy him at his “arrival” or parousia.
Similarly, though the “Beast from the sea” in the book of Revelation has some political aspects, he “wages war against the saints” – NOT against other nation-states or Israel. Whether this is the same figure that Paul and John had in mind, Revelation never applies the terms “Antichrist” or “Man of Lawlessness” to him. Consistently in the book, the “Dragon” and its minions unleash “war” against the followers of the “Lamb” – The “saints” – The ones “who have the testimony of Jesus” – (Revelation 11:7, 12:17, 13:7-10).
Thus, already in the first century, false prophets and deceivers were active within the church working to hoodwink the disciples of Jesus, NOT to deceive or enslave the world at large. Their goal was and remains to this day – Apostasy from the true faith. In fact, warnings about coming deceivers are common in the New Testament. For example:
- (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.”
The purpose of such deceivers is to mislead the elect and, thereby, destroy the church. It is only in this way that the “Dragon” can attack and harm the “Lamb” – By waging war on the “seed of the woman” – (Revelation 12:12-17).
In the end, the “Antichrist” may turn out to be a world political leader. However, considering the many warnings from Scripture, perhaps we should not be surprised if he first appears within the Church of God.The modus operandi of the “Man of Lawlessness” will be to offer a false version of Jesus – Something “instead of Christ.” He will proclaim “another gospel” and a “different Jesus,” one fundamentally different than the Messiah revealed on the Cross of Calvary.
Finally, serious consideration must be given to the challenge of Jesus – “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he, after all, find the faith on the earth?” – (Luke 18:8).