Will the Antichrist be a global political leader, or the ultimate deceiver sent by the Dragon to destroy the Church from within?
Quite often, the Antichrist is presented as a global political leader, a militaristic tyrant bent on conquering all nations. However, warnings in the New Testament express far more concern over deceivers that work in the church and cause apostasy. Moreover, in Revelation, the target of the “war” waged by the “beast from the sea” is the church, the “saints,” the faithful followers of the “Lamb” from every nation.
The only New Testament author who used the term ‘Antichrist’ was John in two of his three letters. In the first, he warned:
- “Little children! It is the last hour; and just as you heard that an antichrist is coming, even now, antichrists have become many, whence we perceive that it is the last hour: From among us they went out, but they were not of us; for if of us they had been, they would in that case have remained with us; but it came to pass in order that they might be made manifest, because all are not of us” – (1 John 2:18-19).
John did not deny that an individual “antichrist” would come. His point was that many “antichrists” had appeared already within his churches. “Antichrist” or antichristos is a compound Greek word formed with the noun christos – (“anointed one”) and the preposition anti, or “instead of.” It refers to someone who attempts to replace or imitate Jesus, and not to anyone who openly opposes him.
The “antichrists” (plural) to whom John referred were men that “went out from us, but they were not of us.” That is, they were false teachers that originated from within his congregations.
The Apostle admonished his churches to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God,” then warned about “the spirit of the antichrist of which you heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.” Thus, the “antichrists” against whom John contended were false teachers, not national or political leaders – (2 John 7).
Likewise, the Apostle Paul warned of the coming “man of lawlessness.” While his words could suggest a political figure, his focus was on this man’s ability to deceive believers – “Let no one in any way deceive you” – (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12).
Paul linked this deceiver to the coming “apostasy.” When he is revealed, his activities will be “in accord with those of Satan” – (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21):
- (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10) – “And then shall be revealed, the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus will slay, with the Spirit of his mouth and paralyze with the forth-shining of his arrival; whose arrival shall be according to an in-working of Satan, with mighty works and signs and wonders of falsehood. And with all manner of deceit of unrighteousness in them who are destroying themselves, because the love of the truth they did not welcome, that they might be saved.”
The stress is on his power to deceive and turn people from the true faith, not on his political activity, military prowess, or his sovereignty over nations.
In Revelation, the “beast from the sea” is not explicitly identified as the “Antichrist,” to use John’s term. And in Greek, the grammatical gender of “beast” is neuter; therefore, its pronoun is also neuter, or “it,” which may suggest it is not an individual man, and more likely, represents a regime, governmental system or empire.
The “beast” possesses the character and authority of the “great red Dragon.” In chapter 12, the “Dragon” did not wage war on the nations of the earth; instead, he endeavored “to make war with the remnant of the woman’s seed, they who have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Likewise, in chapter 13, the “beast” made war against the “saints, and he overcame them.” Likewise, Satan made war on the “seven churches of Asia” through persecution and deception – (Revelation 12:17, 13:7).
So, also, in his ‘Olivet Discourse,’ Jesus issued repeated warnings about coming “deceivers,” “false prophets,” “false messiahs,” and apostasy:
- “Beware lest anyone deceive you. For many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ; and lead many astray.” – (Matthew 24:4-8).
- “And then shall many stumble and deliver up one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall arise and shall lead many astray. And because lawlessness shall be multiplied, the love of the many shall wax cold”- (Matthew 24:10-12).
- “Then if any man shall say unto you: Behold, here is the Christ, or, Here. Believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you beforehand. If therefore they shall say to you, Behold, he is in the wilderness; go not forth: Behold, he is in the inner chambers; believe it not.”- (Matthew 24:23-26).
His warnings parallel those of Paul about the “man of lawlessness” and the coming “apostasy.” In Christ’s name, deceivers will mislead many, and, as a result, “many will fall away” and “many false prophets will arise and mislead many.”
Only the believer who endures “to the end will be saved.” In the interim, deceivers work to hoodwink disciples of Jesus, not the world that already lies in the lap of the Devil. Warnings of this kind are common enough in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, 1 Timothy 4:1).
Similarly, the Apostle Peter warned of coming deceivers. Apostasy is their goal, and they work INSIDE the church of God:
- “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” – (2 Peter 2:1).
The “Antichrist” may indeed turn out to be a world political leader who uses military and economic might to dominate other nations. However, considering the many warnings from the New Testament, we should not be surprised if he first appears within the Church of Jesus Christ to lead many of his disciples astray. Regardless, his chief purpose will be to deceive believers and cause their departure from the true faith.