Will the Antichrist be a global tyrant, or a false messiah sent by Satan to deceive and destroy the Church?
Most often, popular preaching presents the Antichrist as the ultimate global political leader, a tyrant bent on subjugating all nations through military and economic means. But New Testament descriptions show far more concern about deceivers working within the church to cause apostasy than with world political events.
For that matter, in the Book of 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, those who have the “testimony of Jesus.”
The only New Testament documents to use the term ‘Antichrist’ are two of John’s epistles. In his first letter, 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).
The passage does not deny that an individual “antichrist” is coming, but its point is that many “antichrists” have appeared already within the church. “Antichrist” or antichristos is a compound Greek word formed with the noun christos (“anointed one”) and the preposition anti (“instead of”). It refers to someone who attempts to replace or imitate Jesus, and not necessarily to anyone who openly opposes him – (Strong’s – #G500).
The “antichrists” to whom John referred were men that “went out from us, but they were not of us.” They were false teachers that originated from 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… which is already in the world.” Thus, the “antichrists” with whom John was contending were false teachers in the church, not national or world political leaders – (2 John 7).
Likewise, the Apostle Paul warned of the coming “man of lawlessness.” While his words might suggest a political figure, his concern 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” that will precede the “Day of the Lord.” When he is “revealed,” his activities will be “in accord with those of Satan” to deceive men and women, and especially Christians – (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 inworking 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 on his sovereignty over nations. He will use “lying works, signs and wonders” to deceive his victims. And only those who cleave to the apostolic traditions will avoid succumbing to his deceptions – (“So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or by epistle of ours”).
In Revelation, the “beast from the sea” is not explicitly called the “Antichrist,” to use John’s term. It possesses the character and authority of the “great red Dragon,” and in chapter 12, Satan did not wage war on the nations of the earth, but instead, endeavored “to make war with the remnant of the woman’s seed, they who have the testimony of Jesus.” Likewise, in chapter 13, the “beast” made war against the “saints, and he overcame them.” This “war” is reflected in the book’s “letters” to the “seven churches of Asia” as they struggled with persecution, deception, and false teachers – (Revelation 12:17, 13:7).
And we should not forget the “beast from the earth,” the “false prophet,” who mimics Jesus (“he had two horns like a lamb”) and uses impressive “signs and wonders” to deceive others into erecting an image to the first “beast.”
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 deceive astray.” – (Matthew 24:4-8).
- “And then shall many stumble, and they will deliver up one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and deceive many. And because lawlessness will be multiplied, the love of the many shall wax cold”- (Matthew 24:10-12).
- “For there will arise false Christs and false prophets, and they will show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you beforehand. If therefore they 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).
Christ’s warnings parallel those of Paul about the “man of lawlessness” and the coming “apostasy.” Deceivers would deceive many, and as a result, “many will fall away.” Only believers that endure “to the end will be saved.” In the interim, deceivers, “false prophets,” and “false christs” are working to hoodwink his disciples, not the larger world that already lies in the lap of the “Wicked One.” Warnings of this kind are common enough in the New Testament, and we ignore them at our peril – (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, 1 Timothy 4:1).
Similarly, the Apostle Peter warned of coming deceivers that would work INSIDE the church of God to cause apostasy:
- “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).
In the end, 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, where he leads many believers to apostatize.
The satanic goal in all this is to wage war against Jesus. But the Devil can only do that by attacking the people who “follow the Lamb wherever he goes,” who sits on God’s throne well beyond his reach. Expending effort to deceive and subjugate a lost world that already is deceived and under Satan’s thumb would be pointless. That is why, at the “end of the thousand years,” upon his release from the “Abyss,” he gathers all the nations of the earth to launch one final assault against the “camp of the saints.”
As John warning, the “Antichrist” is coming to complete his efforts already underway by his army of deceivers under the direction of the “spirit of antichrist” to cause believers to deny that “Jesus is the Christ.” What better way to do so than by offering a clever alternative, an imitation, a false christ.
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