Recently, on my Facebook page, I used the term “Anti-Christian” to describe a statement made by a controversial political figure (more on that below).  I did not do this to be myself controversial, or to claim that this person is the Antichrist.  I did use the term deliberately, in reference not to its popular, but to its biblical meaning.

Popularly, the term Antichrist is thought to refer to a future world ruler, predicted in the book of Revelation, who will force everyone to wear his “mark of the Beast.”  Some go so far as to identify the mark with, say UPC codes, or to identify a current world leader  or the United Nations with the Antichrist.

The term “antichrist” (Greek antichristos), however, does not appear in the book of Revelation at all.  It is found only four times in Scripture, in 1 John 2:18, 22 and 4:3, and 2 John 7.  The word may have been coined by the author of these short works, who identifies himself simply as the Elder.

In 1 and 2 John, the term refers not to one person, but to many: indeed, the Elder warns of  a spirit of antichrist.  According to the Elder, this spirit tragically comes out of the community of faith:

They went out from us, but they were not really part of us. If they had been part of us, they would have stayed with us. But by going out from us, they showed they all are not part of us (1 John 2:19).

But the Elder expresses confidence in the community: they know the truth and so will not be mislead by lies (1 Jn 2:20-21).  In fact, the distinguishing mark of antichristos IS the Lie: the denial of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.

The Elder addresses antichristos particularly in his teaching regarding spiritual discernment (1 Jn 4:1-6):

Dear friends, don’t believe every spirit. Test the spirits to see if they are from God because many false prophets have gone into the world. This is how you know if a spirit comes from God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come as a human is from God, and every spirit that doesn’t confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and is now already in the world. You are from God, little children, and you have defeated these people because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world. So they speak from the world’s point of view and the world listens to them. We are from God. The person who knows God listens to us. Whoever is not from God doesn’t listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

The term “false prophets” (pseudoprophetai) is sometimes used in the Septuagint where the Hebrew simply has “prophet.”  For example, in Zechariah 13:2:

On that day, says the Lord of heavenly forces,
        I will eliminate the names of the idols from the land;
            they will no longer be remembered.
Moreover, I will remove the prophets [Greek pseudoprophetas, or “false prophets”] and the sinful spirit from the land.

This word, which may have been invented by the Septuagint’s translators, is used by later Jewish writers such as the historian Josephus and the philosopher Philo.

In the New Testament, however, the rise of false prophets can be used as a sign of the last days (so Matt 24:11, 24:24//Mark 13:22; and Rev 16:13; 19:20; 20:10).  That is the position of the Elder in 1 John.  But for this Christian teacher, discerning true prophecy from false is straightforward: as in 1 John 2:22, the denial of Jesus is the evidence of antichrist.  In 1 John 4, however, antichristos specifically denies the Incarnation:

This is how you know if a spirit comes from God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come as a human is from God,and every spirit that doesn’t confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and is now already in the world (1 Jn 4:2-3; see also Jn 1:14)

Conversely, the confession of Christ is the means to victory over sin and evil, “because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn 4:4).  This leads to a test in practice: the true spirit of Christ rather than antichristos is shown in Christlike love for one another and for God (1 Jn 4:7—5:5).  1 John 4:7-8 is the Golden Text of the entire Bible:

Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love.

What an extraordinary confession: the greatest power in the universe is self-giving, sacrificial love!  This affirmation parallels the most famous text in Scripture, John 3:16-17:

 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Jesus is the demonstration and proof of God’s love (see also Rom 5:8).

In 2 John, drawing directly from 1 John, the Elder follows Jesus’ example in proclaiming the new commandment of love (2 Jn 5-6; 1 Jn 2:7-8).  It is in connection with the love commandment that the Elder warns about antichristos, which denies “that Jesus Christ came as a human being” (2 Jn 7).  Rejecting Christ means more than rejecting a religious doctrine.  It means rejecting Christlikeness: the way of love followed, enabled and empowered by Jesus.

So, where is antichristos manifest in our world?  Not, to be sure, in peace signs, or UPC codes, or the United Nations, or Harry Potter!  Wherever professing Christians speak violence and hatred, yet claim to speak in God’s name, there is the spirit of antichrist.

When Governor Sarah Palin said, in a speech to the National Rifle Association, “Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we’d baptize terrorists”–that is the spirit of antichristos.

When Ugandan bishop Charles Wamika, in his Easter message at St. Charles Lwanga Catholic Church “called for a blessing for Uganda’s Christians who worked so hard to ‘free the land of gays’”  and “asked for parents to hand over their gay children to authorities, so they would be rewarded in heaven,” that is the spirit of antichrist.

We cannot let such abominable speech stand.  When it occurs, wherever it occurs, we need to name it for what it is, and reject any implication that these words are in any way compatible with the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God grant us the courage to condemn the antichristian language of hatred and violence, and to pursue the language and practice of love.

One thought on “Antichrist

  1. I am presently leading a session with my ladies’ Bible study small group, called “Christian: It’s Not What You Think”, by Andy Stanley of Northpoint Community Church. Love it! Same mindset as your writing…that of Christ and His love. What does Christ’s love require of us? What do we owe others as a result of our debt to Him for loving us? Warns that we can take what God has said and twist it in such a way to serve our own purposes, such as finding a way to disregard and mistreat the people for whom Jesus died using His Father’s words ( persecuting individuals or groups with a verse) and/or justifying any behavior in which we choose to clothe ourselves (looking for loopholes for ourselves). Emphasizes the command of Jesus to “love one another” and the intent of The Commander. LOVE. Thanks, Steve. I look forward to your writings.

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