Antichrists, Plural, in the Church

SYNOPSIS - In the New Testament, the Antichrist is a deceiver intent on misleading disciples of Jesus into apostasy - 1 John 2:18.

Chameleon - Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash
By Pierre Bamin on Unsplash
The New Testament warns repeatedly for us to beware of the MANY deceivers and false prophets - Forerunners of the Antichrist - that will flood the Church. This process will culminate in a final malevolent figure called, variously, the “Antichrist,” the “Beast,” and the “Man of lawlessness.” The stress is consistent - Deceivers will target believers for deception in order to cause their apostasy. In the relevant passages, little interest is expressed in the political activities of these deceivers or what parts they may play in larger world events.

The epistles of John describe “antichrist-S” - plural - that were active in his churches already in the first century, deceitful teachers that originated within the congregations of John.

Antichrists
  • (1 John 2:18) - “Little children! it is the last hour; and, just as ye have 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 abode with us; but it came to pass in order that they might be made manifest, because all are not of us” – (The Emphasized Bible).
Interpreters often assume the "Antichrist" will be a global dictator who unites all nations under his rule. He is commonly identified as the “abomination of desolation” predicted by Daniel and Jesus, and as the "fourth Beast" that the prophet Daniel saw “ascending from the sea,” a Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin all rolled into one neat but tyrannical package (Daniel 8:9-14, 9:27, 11:31, 12:11, Matthew 24:15, Revelation 13:1-10).

In contrast, the New Testament presents a closer-to-home reality. The term “antichrist” appears in the New Testament only in the first and second letters of John. Whether the “Beast” in the book of Revelation is identical to the “antichrist” mentioned by John, his epistles do not state. The term “antichrist” never occurs in Revelation. Furthermore, the term is never found on the lips of Jesus in the several gospel accounts (1 John 2:18-22, 4:1-3, 2 John 7).

The Greek noun rendered “antichrist” is the compound of christos (“anointed one”) and anti, that is, “instead of” (Strong’s - G500). The preposition anti signifies “instead of,” not “against.” This suggests a figure more inclined to mimic than to oppose Jesus, at least, not openly.
John refers to “antichrists” in the plural, though he affirms there is “a coming antichrist.” But he labels the deceivers that were active already in his congregations as “antichrists” (2 John 7).
That activity is evidence that the “last hour” is underway, another term for the period elsewhere called the “last days.” Prophetic voices warned that deceivers would appear in the “last days,” a period that began with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. This means the presence of “antichrists” is the norm throughout this entire period (Acts 2:17, Galatians 4:4, Ephesians 1:10, 1 Timothy 4:1-3, Hebrews 1:1-2, Jude 18).

John wrote his first epistle to combat false teachers that troubled his congregations (“They went out from us but were not of us”). He provided us with only limited information about what they taught, although they contested the real humanity of Jesus and claimed to be free from sin. Additionally, they disobeyed the commandments of Jesus and compromised with the world (1 John 1:6-10, 2:4, 2:15, 2:21-23, 4:2-5, 2 John 7).

Jesus predicted that deceivers would be a constant thorn in the side of his disciples. When John warned about end-time “antichrists,” he reminded his audience of earlier warnings to that effect and, most likely, had in mind one or more of the warnings of Jesus (1 John 2:18, Matthew 24:4-8).

Christ began his ‘Olivet Discourse’ with repeated warnings about coming deceivers - Many will come in his name and “deceive many.” Consequently, many saints will fall away (“Many false prophets will arise and mislead many”). “False christs” and “false prophets” will show great signs and wonders in order to decieve “even the elect” (Matthew 24:4-5, 10-11, 24).

Therefore, the term “antichrist” developed most probably from the terms used by Jesus, especially “false christs” and “false prophets.” Deception is the very essence of what it means to be “antichrist” - Instead of Christ. The goal is to lure disciples to apostatize.

Satan cannot win his war against Jesus by simply killing his followers. He must reverse their right-standing before God. And Jesus stressed that “many” deceivers will come to deceive “many.”

The Man of Lawlessness

Paul warned of future deceivers and a coming apostasy, drawing on many of the same sayings of Jesus that John did. For example, he warned of “later seasons when some will desert the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and to teachings of demons.” Wicked men and sorcerers would get worse and worse - “Deceiving and being deceived.” Many Christians would no longer accept sound teaching, preferring teachers that tell them what they wish to hear (1 Timothy 4:1-4, 2 Timothy 3:13, 4:3-4).

Paul warned of a coming “man of lawlessness” who must appear before the “Day of the Lord.” This figure will be characterized by his ability to deceive and cause apostasy; likewise, a final “falling away” will occur before the return of Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12).
Whatever political aspects there may be to the “man of lawlessness,” Paul focused on his efforts to deceive believers - “Let no one deceive you in any way” (compare - Matthew 24:4-8).
The "man of lawlessness" will “take his seat in the sanctuary of God…proclaiming himself to be God.” Elsewhere, Paul uses the term “sanctuary of God” metaphorically to describe the church. Was he forecasting this figure’s presence in a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, or to his deceitful activities within the churches of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21)?

The “man of lawlessness” uses “all power and signs and lying wonders” to deceive anyone who refuses to welcome the “love of the truth and so be saved.” The stress is on religious deception, not this man’s prowess at political machination or military conquest. 

Card Shark - Photo by Josh O'Donnell on Unsplash
Photo by Josh O'Donnell on Unsplash

The New Testament portrays deceivers who target Christians, NOT pagans. The world already “
lies in the lap of the Wicked One,” already the world is under deception. Why waste time and effort to deceive those already deceived?

Satan and his agents strive to hoodwink followers of Jesus Christ in order to bring about their defection. The most effective way to do so is from within the church and in the name of Christ. Thus, John described “antichrists” that appeared within his churches.

Deceivers do not proclaim a religion distinct from Christianity but a counterfeit version - "Another gospel" and a "different Jesus." For this effort to succeed, the imitation must look as close to the genuine article as possible (Do not believe every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world”).

False apostles and deceitful workers disguise themselves as Christian teachers, prophets, and apostles. Even Satan can appear as an "angel of light," therefore, it is no surprise if his servants have all the marks of genuine ministers of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Likewise, Peter warned of coming “false teachers among you who will secretly introduce destructive heresies…Many will follow their sensuality and because of them, the way of the truth will be maligned” (2 Peter 2:1).

Apostasy is the goal - Very clever deception is the means.

The Beast

The seven letters to the churches of Asia present a microcosm of the cosmic battle being waged between the “Dragon” and the “Lamb.” The “battles” John saw in his visions played out in the daily struggles of the Asian congregations.

While the letter to Smyrna describes pressure from hostile Jewish communities, and the one to the church at Pergamos persecution by local authorities, the bigger battle was with false teachers, the Nicolaitans, followers of the doctrine of Balaam, "false apostles," and that “prophetess, Jezebel."

The victims of the "Beast from the sea" are not individual humans but the church, the “saints,” those who “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” This “war” is not about global domination or the seizure of political power, but the destruction of the work of Jesus achieved on Calvary.

Repeatedly, a passage from the book of Daniel is used to portray the war of the "Dragon" against the Lamb. In Daniel, the “little horn” from the fourth beast “made war with the saints and prevailed against them.” Thus also, the "Beast is to ascend out of the Abyss" wages war against the "Two Witnesses," the "two lampstands" (Daniel 7:21Revelation 11:7).

The "Great Red Dragon went to make war with the remnant of the woman’s seed that have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Likewise, the "Beast that ascends from the sea" will “make war with the saints and overcome them.” In the end, Satan will ascend from the Abyss to gather the nations in a final assault to destroy the “saints.” Note well the common themes of “ascent,” “abyss,” and "war" against the "saints" (Revelation 12:17, 13:7-10, 20:7-9).
Almost certainly, the final assault against the saints will include persecution and martyrdom, but also great efforts to deceive believers and cause their apostasy.
None of the preceding means the "Antichrist" will not also be a political figure. However, his purpose is to wage war against Jesus. But the Lamb is beyond his reach, therefore, Satan targets men and women who belong to him (Revelation 14:1-4, 20:4).

Christians must remain ever vigilant for the rise of deception and deceivers within their congregations. Believers focused on current affairs and nightly news programs searching for “signs” of the "Antichrist" or his "number" may be in for a shock when they discover the "Beast" is working already among them.

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