Since I was sixteen, I have heard many warnings about the coming “Antichrist,” presumably, a global political and military leader or so many have claimed. And certainly, history provides us with many examples of national leaders attempting to assert dominion over other nations, men who fit the popular expectation, though so far, all of them have failed in that endeavor.
Of course, their failure does not mean the actual “Antichrist” will not fit the expected mold, and even today, we see certain governments hellbent on imposing their will on other nations across the globe. Be that as it may, what do we find when we look up the word “antichrist” in our concordances?
Surprisingly, not a lot, at least not under that term. The word only appears in two of John’s letters and he does not apply it in the way as so many prophecy preachers do. While he does acknowledge that the “Antichrist is coming,” he says next to nothing about that figure. Instead, he warned his audience how the “spirit of Antichrist” was active already in the world, and this was demonstrated by the false teachers that had originated within John’s congregations, men who “denied that Jesus came in the flesh.” John referred to them as “many anticrhists” – (1 John 2:18-22, 4:1-3).
This does not mean the “Antichrist” will also be a false teacher active in the church, but it would not be implausible to extrapolate from what John wrote that this will be the case. Nevertheless, his words echo those of Jesus who warned that “many deceivers” would come in his name and “deceive many.” Moreover, “many false prophets will arise and deceive many,” even using “great signs and wonders” to deceive “the elect.” The two common elements in these several sayings are “many” and “deceiver,” and Church History attests to the soundness of his warning.
There are significant verbal and conceptual parallels between Christ’s warnings and the description of the “false prophet” in Revelation who also will use “great signs” to deceive men.
And this leads us to Paul’s warning that before the “Day of the Lord” arrives, the “apostasy” will take place and the “man of lawlessness” will be revealed. Jesus also warned of coming apostasy that will be caused by “deceivers,” “false christs” and “false apostles.” And while Paul introduces another term, “man of lawlessness,” there are striking similarities between this figure and the warnings of both Jesus and John.
Not only will the “man of lawlessness” deceive and cause apostasy, but he will also employ “all power and signs and lying wonders” to do so. And while John described the “antichrists” of his day as having originated within the church, Paul’s description of this figure “taking his seat in the sanctuary of God” may be closer to the same idea than it appears at first glance. Consistently in his letters, Paul applies the term “sanctuary of God” and related Temple language to the church, the “body of Christ,” and nowhere else does he show the slightest interest in a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem in the final days before Christ’s return.
So, where does this leave us? Certainly, a case can be made from related passages in Revelation that the “Beast” will be a global political figure. And if Paul was not referring to the church by the term “sanctuary of God,” then his description begins to fit nicely with the idea of such a global tyrant.
At times, I have been torn. And perhaps, in the end, this figure will be both, a false teacher in the church who also becomes the world dictator so many expect.
My own position has solidified after many years spent studying the issue. Tentatively, I have an idea of who, or better, what the final beastly creature will be, there is an ever-present candidate in the world that fits the bill. However, that theory only works if this present “evil age” ends within the next few years, and God alone knows the “times and seasons.” And if Christ’s return is not for several decades or even centuries, all bets are off. Political regimes rise and fall rather frequently and quickly.
So, what is the point? “Many deceivers” have invaded the church throughout its history, and with today’s communication technologies, a very great “many” are busy even now slithering their way into the lives of millions of Christians. And no doubt, we will see “many” more down the road. The New Testament warns us repeatedly about coming “deceivers,” so no surprise here.
But how do we avoid deception, whether from low-level “deceivers” or the “Antichrist” himself when he or it strides onto the world scene?
The Apostle Paul provided the answer. After explaining the “man of lawlessness” and his methods of operation, he exhorted the Thessalonians to “stand fast and hold the traditions that you were taught.” By that, he certainly was not referring to any later creeds, church council rulings, or institutional traditions, but instead, to the body of teaching the Thessalonians had received already from him and his coworkers. Or as Paul warned the Galatians, if anyone, “even an angel from heaven, should preach to you any gospel other than that which we preached to you, let him be anathema.” Strong words. Paul was deadly serious. Anything that deviates from the “tradition” is to be rejected.
Our real safety is in learning and adhering to that apostolic tradition, and not in church tradition, popular opinion, what some “prophetess” saw in a dream or “apostle” divined from the latest Hebrew month name. It is by the apostolic tradition that we discern truth from falsehood, good from evil, true prophet from false. “If they speak not according to this word…”
And I know of only one source for discovering just what Jesus and his apostles taught, the New Testament. It is as close as we can get to the original source. Every disciple of Jesus needs to learn it for him or herself; every believer must make it his or her own. It is not enough to know what your church claims the Bible says, and we certainly ought not to rely on someone else’s interpretation of it. We need to go directly to the source ourselves and make it central and foundational to our Christian lives. We may not be able to recognize the “Antichrist” by his appearance, deeds, or miracle-working power, but as soon as he, she or it departs from the teachings of Jesus and his apostles, we will have our first solid clue.