Prophecy, especially relating to Jesus' second coming, is a lively subject in today's Christian world. Every now and then a possible new 'antichrist' is identified. Prophecy teachers are busy everywhere, propagating their theories and convincing people of their interpretations. Perhaps the most current and widespread teaching concerns the identity of the antichrist and his role in world affairs in these 'last' days....
From time to time details of their interpretations are modified but there is a consensus among many about the basic premises of their interpretations, i.e. that antichrist will be an evil political figure powerfully operating on the world's stage after the church is secretly raptured. He will rule the world and set the stage for the visible return of Jesus. He will make his appearance during Daniel's 'seventieth week', a period of seven years during which he will unleash terrible trouble on the earth. Interpretation of the details of these prophecies depends on interpretation of the identity of this person.
How do these ideas line up with Scripture?
We first need to examine the word 'antichrist' and its use in Scripture. 'Antichrist' can mean both 'against' or 'in the place of' Christ. The word occurs in the singular or plural only five times in Scripture, and only in the first and second letters of John. The original text does not have the definite article, 'the', in relation to 'antichrist', indicating that John was writing about an attitude rather than an individual. John speaks about antichrist in the singular and plural, conveying the idea that it refers to a group of people rather than a single individual.
"Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour." 1 John 2:18. (NIV).
Secondly, he speaks of antichrist as being already present in the world. John was aware that there were false teachings already circulating in the church.
There were two streams to this antichrist false teaching -- one that denied the true humanity of Jesus, -
"This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world." 1 John 4:2,3 -
and one that denied the deity of Jesus -
Who is the liar? It is the man that denies that Jesus is the Christ -- He denies the Father and the Son." 1 John 2:22, (NIV).
Thirdly, these false teachings were coming from within the church. According to John, this was not some future political figure who would arise from a world empire but a teaching that was being propagated by people who were in the church but who had left because they were not in true fellowship with the people of God -
"They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that they did not really belong to us." 1 John 2:19.
From these three observations it is clear that John was addressing a current issue in the church and warning believers to beware of those who wanted to lead them astray. This was not only an issue in John's time. It is a very real issue in the church today because there are still sectors of the so-called 'church' - groups that consider them selves part of the body of Christ, that fall into one of these two errors. The true church does not acknowledge them as part of the body of Christ but rather as sects. They can have no union with the Spirit of Christ who is the Spirit of Truth, or with the Body of Christ because fellowship with people is based on faith in the Christ who is both fully God and fully man.
Who is antichrist? Any person who claims to be part of the church of the Lord Jesus but denies that He is either fully God or fully man, is antichrist.
(To be continued)