Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Concept of Antichrist, Part II

Is there one Antichrist or are there many? The biblical answer seems to be “yes.” In the letters of John, the Antichrist is coming in the future, but is already present in the world (1 John 4:3). It seems that for John there were many antichrists in the present, but that these were only the predecessors of THE future Antichrist (from the perspective of John’s day). The “spirit of antichrist” (1 John 4:3, KJV) was already in the world, and it was present in the many antichrists of John’s day. But the full and final incarnation of antichrist was still in the future. The last and worst Antichrist was yet to come.

Revelation 13 seems to support this dual picture of the Antichrist. The sea beast of Revelation 13 has seven heads on one body. From Revelation 17:10 it becomes evident that the seven heads of the beast are consecutive in point of time, even though John sees all seven at the same time. So the slaughter of one of the heads of the beast results in the death of the beast itself. The beast then returns to life with a new head. Notice that in Revelation 13 verses 12 and 14 it is the beast itself that is wounded to death and comes back to life, not just one of its heads (13:3). So this one beast symbolizes the many different forms Antichrist has assumed in his opposition to God’s truth from one age to another.

An important feature of the Antichrist in 1 John is that it is not a furious persecutor, nor is it an agent attacking the church from outside. The primary feature of Antichrist in John’s letters is that of deception. Speaking of the multiple antichrists of his day, John notes that they had appeared within the community and went out from there (1 John 2:18-19). While within the community they misled others into thinking they taught correct doctrine and preached the true Christ. They were, in fact, liars (1 John 2:22; 2 John 7).

Interestingly, Jesus predicted the very situation John was referring to here, except He didn’t use the term “Antichrist.” Instead, Jesus told His disciples that both “false prophets” and “false christs” would appear. So He set the table for John’s plural use of “antichrist.” The work of these false christs would be so deceptive that it would sweep away even the elect, if that were possible (Matt 24:23-25). So Jesus and John agreed on multiple, deceptive antichrists. They also agreed that these antichrists were human individuals, apostate believers. For Jesus, the false christs were coming in His name (Matt 24:5). For John, they were once part of the community that followed Jesus (1 John 2:18-19).

In the letters of John, therefore, Antichrist is much more than a single figure, it is a whole way of thinking and operating. Christians are invited to “conquer” the antichrists by discerning the true anointing from the false (1 John 2:20, 27). As we have seen, there is a strong emphasis in John that the Antichrist would be involved in lying and deception (1 John 2:22; 2 John 7). This is consistent with the Jewish tradition that false prophets would try to counter the true prophet (Deut 18:15, 18) when he would come.

According to John, the Antichrist would come at the “last hour” (1 John 2:18) but in a sense the last hour had already come in the multiple antichrists (1 John 2:18) already present. The last days of John’s community were heralds of the very last days of earth’s history. In the letters of John, therefore, the future Antichrist is brought into the present experience of the church. He saw the Antichrist not as some future outside enemy, but as an internal danger which would lead to secessionist movements within the church. These writings were forerunners of the Reformers, who identified the Antichrist with the Pope.

The Concept of Antichrist

In my recent study of Revelation 13 I have noticed that the multiple ways in which the sea beast counterfeits the life and work of Jesus Christ has caused many scholars of Revelation to identify the sea beast with the Antichrist. This is the first in a series of blogs where I will review what I know about the Antichrist concept in Revelation 13, the rest of Scripture and in the ancient world.

The word “Antichrist” does not occur in the book of Revelation. Within the Bible it is found only in the letters of John (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). The term “Antichrist” is a compound word in the Greek. It is made up of “anti” and “christ.” The Greek preposition “anti” means “against” or “in place of.” It often expresses the idea of substitution, one is taking the place that belongs to another.

The “Christ” portion of the term, of course, is the Greek equivalent of “Messiah,” the “anointed one.” When used in certain circumstances with a definite article; “the Christ,” it is a title rather than a name for Jesus (Matt 11:2; 16:16, 20; 22:42; 24:5, 23 and parallels in Mark and Luke; also Luke 24:26, 46; John 1:20, 25, 41; 3:28; Acts 2:41; 17:3; Rev 11:15; 12:10, etc.). One could simply translate “the Christ” into English as “the Messiah.” More often, especially without the article but sometimes with it, it can be translated simply “Christ.” In other words, the title became so commonly used for Jesus that it became simply another name for Him (Acts 3:6; 8:12; 10:48; Rom 3:22, 24; 1 Cor 1:10, 13, 17; Gal 3:13-14; Rev 1:1-2, etc.). So at its root in the New Testament, the Antichrist would be someone who substitutes for Christ. He undermines or takes the place that belongs to the Messiah of Christian faith.

Since the term “antichrist” is fairly rare in the New Testament, a full understanding of the concept requires the examination of synonyms within the Bible and narratives in the ancient world outside the Bible in order to reconstruct a full portrait of this personage. In Revelation 13 itself, however, it is clear that the Antichrist figure has worldwide impact and influence, especially at the end (Rev 13:7-8, 14, 16). The final spiritual fraud will be global in extent. No one will be excluded from the final test of true versus false worship. With the help of his friend, the beast from the earth, the Antichrist will enforce a global economic boycott (Rev 13:16-17) and a death decree against all who refuse to worship the image of the beast (Rev 13:15). In a sense he offers the attractive appeal: “Come with me, if you want to live.” According to Revelation 13, those who believe that the persecutions of the Middle Ages are forever gone are in for a big surprise.

Concluding Reflections

Those following the commentary on Revelation 13 day by day know that I agree with the larger picture of Revelation 13 as taught by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This may not be a popular picture in today’s world, but it does provide a penetrating analysis of many of the ills of the western world and also of the source of much conflict between nations and religions. So although that message has its problematic elements in a post-modern world, it is a message that cannot simply be discarded, but needs to be shared at the right time, in the right place, and in the right way. The message about a broken Christian system did not come to Adventists out of pride, arrogance or self-importance. It originated in careful study of Scripture. And as such it cannot be ignored.

I would, however, point out that it is a dangerous message for Adventists (and others) to carry. Any message that offers a criticism of others, however true, can easily draw out the worst aspects of the human condition in those who proclaim it. The message that in some way those who proclaim are better or wiser than those being proclaimed about plays to our inner drive toward pride and self-importance. In whatever setting such a message is proclaimed, it is critical that the proclaimers be drenched in the spirit of Jesus first or the message can bring out the worst in us. Preaching the Papacy is dangerous for human beings, when it happens it must be driven by the Spirit of God and not by our own passions and prejudices.

Not only so, unless the message is shared as part of a larger biblical balance, it can have an unhealthy impact on those who hear it. When it is shared in a disproportionate way, as if this teaching were the primary message of the Bible, it produces unbalanced people who then go out and damage others as well. Unless bathed in prayer and self-sacrificing love, a message of confrontation can be cruel and abusive and even confusing to those who hear it. Like Jesus, the message of judgment must be delivered with “tears in the voice.” I know from painful experience how difficult this can be. It’s time that Adventists talk more openly about this issue and its impact on us as a people.