Antichrist, Deceivers


The “spirit of antichrist” is raising up deceivers within the church, though a final “antichrist” will also appear at the end of the age.

The only New Testament author who uses the term “antichrist” is John, and only in two of his letters. He applied it to “false prophets” who were active in his congregations, false brethren he charged with denying that “Jesus is the Christ” and had “come in the flesh.” Such men were of the “spirit of antichrist” that already was operating in the world in John’s day.

Before discussing the “antichrist,” John warns his audience not to “love the world or the things in the world.”  Anyone whose heart remains fixated on the present world order does not have the “love of the Father in him.” He next uses a description of the “world” that alludes to the temptation of Adam:

  • (1 John 2:16) – “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” 
  • (Genesis 3:6) – “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.”

Thus, by “world” John does not mean the planet earth, but humanity under the dominion of sin and Satan, mankind in its fallenness, the existing order that is condemned to eventual destruction.

Vainglory” translates the Greek word alazoneia from a root word with the sense “boasting, braggadocio,” hence, the term denotes ideas like misplaced “self-confidence,” hollow pride. In Adam’s case, he desired “wisdom” from the “tree of knowledge,” which would make him self-legislating and no longer dependent on God for guidance, wisdom, and insight. That is the way of the “world” separated from God, the old order that is even now “passing away.”

The only human activity that will stand the test of time is “doing the will of God.” This exhortation leads into the discussion about the many “antichrists” infiltrating John’s churches – (1 Corinthians 7:28-31).

The term “antichrist” is formed with the Greek noun christos or “anointed one,” and the preposition anti, which signifies “instead of,” not “against.” Thus, it refers to someone who attempts to replace Jesus, a substitute, imitation, or even a counterfeit.

The term does not occur in ancient Greek documents prior to John’s first epistle. In the fourth chapter, he also associates his opponents with “false prophets.” Taken together, and considering his warning about deceivers, this usage suggests the source for the term “antichrist” is the warning by Jesus given on the Mount of Olives:

  • (Matthew 24:24) – “Then, if any man says to you, ‘Lo, here is the Christ’, or, ‘Here’; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs [pseudoxristoi] and false prophets [pseudoprophétai], and shall show great signs and wonders; so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”

John does refer to a coming “antichrist,” but he provides no additional information about that figure. Whether he meant the same person that Paul called the “man of lawlessness,” or the “beast from the sea” or the “false prophet” from Revelation, there are no direct verbal links between John’s “antichrist” and those passages.

Of immediate concern to John are the “antichrists,” plural, who were causing problems in his congregations. As he writes:

  • Little children, it is the last hour: and, as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now, many antichrists have arisen, whereby we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they all are not of us…Who is the liar but he that denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, even he that denies the Father and the Son” – (1 John 2:18-22).

John affirms that the “antichrist is coming.” But already, many “many antichrists” have infiltrated the church, and their disruptive activities is his immediate concern. And their very presence demonstrates that it is the “last hour.” This last statement reflects the belief of the early church that the “last days” began with the death and resurrection of Jesus – (Hebrews 1:1, 1 Peter 1:5, Revelation 1:1-4).

John labels both the deceivers from his congregations and the coming final figure as “antichrist,” and in chapter 4, he associates them with “false prophets” and attributes their activities to the “spirit of antichrist.” It is reasonable to assume the “antichrists” active in John’s time were of the same character as the “coming antichrist.”

The first thing John tells us is that the deceivers “went out from us.” They originated from within his congregations. Therefore, at some point, they must have been Christians, or at least, appeared to be so.

The same warning is found in John’s second epistle when he labeled the false teachers “deceivers.” As in his first letter, they denied that “Jesus came in the flesh”:

  • (2 John 7) – “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in flesh; this one is the deceiver and the antichrist.”

Regarding doctrine, these false teachers denied that Jesus is the “Christ,” and that he “came in the flesh.” The two charges must be related. To deny that he “came in the flesh” amounts to denying that he is the “Christ,” the Son of God.

  • (1 John 4:1-3) – “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesses not Jesus is not of God: and this is the spirit of the antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it is coming; and now it is in the world already.

Precisely how these men “denied that Jesus came in the flesh” the epistle does not say. In biblical usage, the meaning of “flesh” is somewhat fluid. It often refers to the human tendency to sin, to man’s carnality. But historically, terms like “flesh” and “flesh and blood” were used to refer to man in his weakened state due to sin, to man in his mortality. As Paul argued, “flesh and blood” cannot inherit the kingdom.

In their present bodily state, humans are subject to decay and “corruption.” Therefore, they “must be raised incorruptible, and they will be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” – (1 Corinthians 15:50-58).

[Dark King – Photo by Alan Labisch on Unsplash]

With this background in mind, a strong possibility is that the deceivers denied the genuine humanity of Jesus; that he participated fully in human nature though “apart from sin,” including human mortality. In short, they were denying that Jesus died a genuine human death.

But if he did not, then he did not also rise from the dead, and therefore, men and women remain unredeemed; they are still “dead in their sins.” To deny his humanity, including his mortality and death, is tantamount to denying that he was the “Christ” – (1 Corinthians 15:12-28, Hebrews 2:14-18, 4:15).

John contends their false teaching was the product of the “spirit of Antichrist” that even now is working in the world. Conceptually, this is close to Paul’s teaching that the “mystery of lawlessness” is working in the world, preparing for the “revelation of the man of lawlessness.” The terminology may differ, but the idea is the same – (2 Thessalonians 2:1-7).

In 2 Thessalonians, the “man of lawlessness” is inextricably linked to a coming “apostasy,” and the stress is on his deceptive activities, especially his ability to use “all power and signs and wonders of a lie.” Believers remain safe from this deception only as they “hold fast to the traditions” received from the apostles -(2 Thessalonians 2:8-12).

Similarly, in Revelation, the “beast from the earth,” the “false prophet,” performs “great signs” to deceive “them that dwell on the earth,” causing many to render homage to the “beast.” The “saints” overcome these challenges in the same way that Jesus overcame the “Dragon,” by persevering in faithful testimony, and “because they love not their lives unto death” – (Revelation 1:4-6, 3:21, 12:11).

Again, John’s information about THEantichrist” is cryptic. However, both the deceivers in his churches and the coming final figure are energized by the same “spirit of Antichrist.” If anything, the “antichrists” in John’s time were forerunners of this final malevolent figure.

Based on the “antichrists” that were troubling John’s churches, and the tenor of related scriptural warnings, Christians should be watching for a final “antichrist” who will be a master deceiver, one who will target believers for deception, “even the very elect,” and may very well originate from within the church.

While John is short on details, what he does not do is portray the “antichrist” as a global political or military leader. While that man may also be a powerful and deceitful politician, John expresses no interest in that direction. His concern lies closer to home.

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