A recent article, along with some other recent discussions I’ve had, has led me to study-out the issue of both “antichrist” (lowercase ‘a’), and “The Antichrist” (uppercase ‘A’).
First let me point out that the term “antichrist” is only used 4 times in the New Testament*, only by John, and only in the first two of his letters (but three times in his first letter).
1 John 2:18
Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.
1 John 2:22
Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.
1 John 4:3
and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
2 John 1:7
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.
Context is everything when it comes to reading God’s Word, therefore knowing the background of each of those verses, the setting of John’s writing, etc will be vital in understanding what he was writing about.
According to IVP:
“First John was written between A.D. 85-95 by the apostle John, the author of the Gospel of John and Revelation. Evidently the letter was circulated among a number of churches in Asia who were threatened by false teachers. These false teachers embraced an early form of heresy known as Gnosticism. They taught that matter was entirely evil and spirit was entirely good.”
And likewise for Second John:
“Like 1 John, 2 John was written by the apostle John between A.D. 85-95. It was written to provide guidance about hospitality. During the first century, traveling evangelists relied on the hospitality of church members. Because inns were few and unsafe, believers would take such people into their homes and then give them provisions for their journey. Since Gnostic teachers also relied on hospitality, John warned his readers against taking such people into their homes lest they participate in spreading heresy.”
The Gnostics claimed to have been on a higher spiritual plane than the rest of the saints, but really were lapsing into pre-Christian paganism, but embracing Christian thoughts and concepts in their practice. As with all false religions, there was an overt focus on improving one’s self, and that you could achieve ‘salvation’ via your own works. In other words, there was no faith in Jesus’ work on the cross required, just good deeds.
Now to the context of 1 John 2:15-24 for the first two references:
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.
Who or what is John writing about when he mentions the term “antichrist”? He is talking about those who have left the assembly of believers and are teaching heresy! Those denying Christ’s efficacious work on the cross. Those who advocate works in lieu of faith.
Why does he call them “antichrists”? That’s simple – they are teaching against Christ. He distinctly does not name an individual who is “The Antichrist” – he lumps all apostates proclaiming falsehood together under that term.
What is the context of chapter 4?
Beloved, 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. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
John again is addressing those who are teaching falsehoods and claiming they are teaching Christ. He also gives ways of testing all teachers to be sure they are presenting actual truth, and not their own twisted message.
Does this change in his second letter?
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.
Nope – John is now warning to not even invite these apostates into your home because it will make you party to their evil teaching.
Do these themes (concerns about apostates / heretical teaching) appear anywhere else in John’s writings? They do – in the letters to the seven churches (Revelation 2-3) dictated in his vision on the Isle of Patmos.
Rev 2:2-3 “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.”
Rev 2:14-16a “But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent;”
Rev 2:20-21,24 “But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality.”, “But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them – I place no other burden on you.”
Rev 3:15-19 “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.”
There is much else to be gathered from the seven letters, but at the present time I want to look at how Christ addresses heresy in them. Heresy is not tolerated by God for long – He repeatedly promises to “come quickly” and to “remove the lampstand” all while offering grace if they “repent quickly”.
From when, then, does a fascination come with identifying “The” antichrist? Historically, many Protestants have identified the current pope as The Antichrist. And certainly many have been antichrists.
Some reference 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12:
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
And those who reference that passage will generally come up with the following points:
- He will seek to enforce faith in himself on the whole earth.
- He will call himself God.
- He will promote himself with counterfeit miracles.
- He will deceive men into believing a lie which condemns rather than saves.
Does the pope claim titles which should not be claimed by man? Absolutely. There is only one “Holy Father” (God the Father), there is only one “Head of the Church” (God the Son), and there is only one “Vicar of Christ” (God the Holy Spirit).
Is the pope an antichrist? For the vast majority of them, most probably. Historically, popes have been most often elected to the office not for their piety, but for their political sway. They have been viewed as negotiators, peace-makers (due to their upbringing, their connections, or their money – not because they preach the gospel of Christ), war-starters (eg with the Crusades), and a variety of other roles which aren’t really compatible with the office of a pastor.
I grew up in a church that held to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith – with the exception of part of chapter 26, which states:
“The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the church, in whom, by the appointment of the Father, all power for the calling, institution, order or government of the church, is invested in a supreme and sovereign manner; neither can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof, but 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; whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.”
My home church in Albany, the one in which I was baptized in Mebane, and most other Reformed Baptist churches I am aware of cite that paragraph as the only area they disagree with the confession on (perhaps a couple other minor areas, but this was the biggie). And we disagree with that paragraph because assigning all the weight of a single term – “antichrist” – to someone whose times come and go, and to the exclusion of all other antichrists, is illogical, unbiblical, and paints the believer who holds to the entire confession (including its less-than-biblical aspects) into a corner.
What is the proper conclusion to draw from the entirety of scripture? Is there One True Antichrist? Most likely there will be some amazingly charismatic leader who will lead the masses astray from the Gospel of Christ.
But in the mean time, there are antichrists everywhere: the pope (past, present, and future) may or may not be one. But we need not look so far away as The Vatican to find antichrists: we can find them, sadly, in [nearly] every local church – those who are proclaiming heresy as truth, works over faith, man over God.
* I used the NASB for all references