Perhaps no subject broached by contemporary Bible prophecy teachers engenders more speculation and less sound Biblical exegesis than does the subject of Antichrist. This is certainly due to the mysterious nature of the subject itself, as well as to the fact that no other aspect of Bible prophecy lends itself so nicely to speculation regarding the identification of one specific individual who will become the very personification of evil and the archenemy of Jesus Christ and his gospel.
"Pin the tail" on the Antichrist is not merely an evangelical fascination. Indeed, such speculation has gone on almost from the beginning of Christianity. Irenaeus (130-200) argued that Antichrist would be a Jewish born, satanically inspired, usurper of God's true glory, who would appear in the Jerusalem temple in connection with an end-times great apostasy. (1) The Protestant Reformers, of course, universally identified the papacy with the Antichrist, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1540) stating that "the papacy will also be a part of the kingdom of Antichrist if it maintains that human rites justify (XV.18)." The Westminster Confession (1647) contends that the Pope is "that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God (XXV.6)." Rome, not to be outdone, has returned the favor, contending that antichristic Protestant "heresies have swept down from the North, where Calvin, Wycliffe, Luther and legions of Protestants are ravaging the flock of Christ." (2)
But there is no doubt that much of contemporary speculation has taken the concept of identifying the Antichrist to new extremes. One of my favorite possessions is a booklet passed on to me by my grandmother, entitled The Time of Jacob's Trouble (1939), wherein the author attempts to demonstrate that the revived Germany under Hitler in the pre-World War II years is the supposed last-days ten-nation confederacy predicted in Revelation 13. Of course, the author very deftly demonstrates how Mussolini is the false prophet and how Italian imperialism in Ethiopia is proof that Rome is the great harlot of Revelation 18 and compatriot of the German beast. I can still remember the fear instilled in me as a child, when I heard, one preacher declare that Antichrist was then living somewhere in the Middle East, probably still a child playing stickball in some crowded dusty street, awaiting the day when he would be possessed by the devil and allowed to wreck havoc on the world after the rapture.
One local Bible prophecy "expert" has made a seminar and media career out of identifying King Juan Carlos of Spain as the Antichrist. Others have tabbed, at one time or another, virtually every leader of the Soviet Union, the Middle East and the European Economic Community as possibilities to become the archenemy of Jesus Christ. Perhaps more representative of modern speculators is Chuck Smith, founder and patriarch of Calvary Chapel. Smith has described Antichrist as one who will deceptively come bringing answers to all of the geopolitical upheaval in the world exacerbated by the removal of all Christians after the rapture. "At that time a man will come on the scene with some fantastic answers concerning peace. He'll be like a magician in his ability to get nations and people together." Concludes Smith, "He'll sign a covenant with the nation Israel, and Israel will accept it. He'll build his own powerful economic bloc and monetary system. All the world will wonder after this man and follow him and his schemes and programs. This man is the Antichrist." (3)
I am sure that many of you can identify with these prophetic schemes. After all, such is the predominant view in many evangelical and charismatic circles. But is this really what the Bible says about Antichrist? While it may come as a surprise to many, there are only four texts in Scripture (all in John's first two epistles: 1 Jn 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn 7) where the term "antichrist" is actually used. And while there is, in my opinion, a definite connection between John's "Antichrist", Paul's "Man of Sin" (2 Thes) and the "Beast" in John's Apocalypse (Rev 11:7; chapter 13), (4) John's four texts set out a markedly different understanding of Antichrist than that given us by contemporary prophecy "experts." Therefore, it is most helpful to review them.
Based on these texts, there are three critical points to be made related to John's treatment of Antichrist. It is amazing to me that merely raising these points so quickly demonstrates how far from the biblical data so many of the current discussions about Antichrist have wandered. First, John argues that Antichrist is not some mysterious individual who is only and finally revealed in the last days. In fact, John says just the opposite. Whatever (or whoever) the Antichrist is, it (or he or she as the case may be) was already present at the time of John's writing. John expressly states that the spirit of Antichrist, "even now is already in the world" (1 Jn 4:3b). As B. B. Warfield points out, "John makes this assertion with the utmost emphasis. This thing, he says 'is now in the world already.'" (5) The Antichrist is a present reality for John. So while much of the current discussion about Antichrist isolates his appearance to the distant days immediately before the end, John instead describes him as a foe already existing when the epistle was written. In fact, writes John, "Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour" (1 Jn 2:18). The very presence of Antichrist is clearly an indication that the last hour has indeed already come. And since Antichrist was present in John's own lifetime, we can only conclude that we have been in the last hour since John composed his epistle. Therefore, we cannot ignore the present reality of Antichrist if we are to heed John's warning.
The second important point regarding Antichrist, which is often overlooked by many, is also clear from the passage just cited. Not only has Antichrist already come, but John indicates that there is not merely one Antichrist, but a series of such enemies of Jesus Christ. "Even now," he says "many antichrists have come." So it is quite erroneous to contend that Antichrist is limited to a specific individual, totally unknown to Christians until his revelation immediately before Jesus Christ's return. Many Antichrists had already come in John's own lifetime. While it is certainly possible that this multitude of Antichrists will culminate in an Antichrist before Christ comes back, John (who alone among the New Testament writers even uses the term "Antichrist") does not say this. But he does explicitly state that many Antichrists have already come, and their present opposition to the infant Church is part of the struggle with the forces of unbelief about which John is attempting to warn the faithful. In other words, one of John's purposes in writing these epistles is to warn all Christians who worry that Antichrist is still to come in the last hour that, on the contrary, many Antichrists have already come, and so it is indeed already the last hour.
The third point regarding Antichrist specifically concerns just what exactly it is that characterizes his evil operations. While most contemporary speculation centers on Antichrist's political activity, specifically his supposed seven-year peace treaty with the nation of Israel after the rapture (based, I believe, on a very, faulty reading of Daniel 9:24-27, which was already fulfilled in amazing detail during our Lord's First Advent, thereby completing the "seventy-week" prophecy in its entirety), John's focus is squarely upon the heretical nature of these individual Antichrists and their false doctrine. "Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist - he denies the Father and the Son" (1 Jn 2:22). In his second epistle, John reaffirms all three of these points by stating "Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist (2 Jn 7)." Antichrist has already come. There are many of them. And anyone who denies that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh (and also, by implication, who denies the doctrine of the Trinity) is an Antichrist! Antichrist is any heretic who denies the full humanity or deity of Christ! He was already present when John wrote his first epistle, and John warns us that he will be present throughout the life of the church. John identifies him as an Antichrist solely on the basis of his confession about Jesus Christ!
Given these very clear Biblical criteria, it is difficult to see just how King Juan Carlos of Spain might qualify. But it is very easy to see how the neognostic Word-Faith teachers like Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland just might. If Antichrist is already present when John wrote his letter, if there are many of them, and if they are heretics, then just why, exactly, does so much of the current preoccupation with Antichrist focus upon a future appearance of this evil figure? Certainly this is due in part to the other images in Scripture which are likely related (i.e., Paul's Man of Sin, John's Beast). These may indeed have future reference. But if anything is clear from John's use of Antichrist terminology, it is that his focus is certainly on the present danger facing the church from heretical false teaching and not on the rise of a nebulous future tyrant. And so while this series of Antichrists that John describes may indeed culminate in an Antichrist, the biblical evidence demonstrates that the primary thrust is doctrinal (the Antichrist is primarily a false teacher) and only incidentally political and economic (i.e., people being prevented from buying and selling). Perhaps the Church would be better served if there were fewer books written trying to identify the Antichrist and speculating about geopolitical intrigue, and if instead there were more exegetical works treating what Scripture actually says about these men of evil. It is a shame that so many Christians can quite readily dialogue about the latest theory as to the Antichrist's identity, when at the same time they are often unable to defend the deity and humanity of Christ from the pages of Holy Scripture.
Kim Riddlebarger is pastor of Christ United Reformed Church (Anaheim, California) and co-host of The White Horse Inn radio broadcast. He is author of A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times and Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth about the Antichrist (Baker, 2006). Kim blogs at www.kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com.
Issue: "Eschatology" May/June 1994 Vol. 3 No. 3 Page number(s): 4-6
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