Any time national leaders get shuffled around, there will inevitably be talk in some Christian circles about the “antichrist.”
A Texas mega-church pastor is just one example—claiming, after our recent election, that President Obama will “pave the way” for the antichrist. And he’s not the only one. A quick Twitter search for “antichrist” comes up with thousands of results within just the last few days. And you’ve probably heard of the Left Behind books that featured the antichrist—books that were so popular that a movie reboot starring Nicolas Cage is being planned.
If you’re totally new to this concept, here’s a summary: Many Christians believe that a leader will rise up in the last days. He will unite the majority of humankind against God and play a major part in bringing about the end of the world. There are a lot of different ideas on what exactly this will look like, but almost everyone agrees that the Bible doesn’t provide us with a detailed laundry list of who or what this leader will be. It’s a topic that warrants careful and prayerful thought and exploration.
But whatever your thoughts on our popular concept of the antichrist, Scripture uses the word itself in a different way. Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about the antichrist:
1 John 2:18 hints that there is more than just one: “Little children, it is the last hour. Just as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. This is how we know it is the last hour.”
In the same passage, the character of the antichrist is made clear: “Who is the liar? Isn’t it the person who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This person is the antichrist: the one who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). And 1 John 4:3 defines “the spirit of the antichrist” as the refusal to confess Jesus is Lord.
And finally, 2 John 1:7 says, “Many deceivers have gone into the world who do not confess that Jesus Christ came as a human being. This kind of person is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
The word is not found anywhere else in Scripture—not even in Revelation. So according to 1 & 2 John, the antichrist is 1) plural and present, 2) any person who denies Christ, 3) a spirit or attitude, and 4) a person who doesn’t think Christ was a human being. This is not exactly the apocalyptic anti-Jesus that comes up when we think of the word.
So let’s break this down a little more. When we say the word “antichrist,” what we’re really saying is a transliteration of the original Greek word, “antichristos.” We’re essentially saying a foreign word without translating it. For example, the word “Christ” actually means “the anointed one.”
When we add “anti” to the mix, it almost starts to sound like an evil video game character— “Nega-Jesus” versus “Bizarro-Christ!” But that’s not right, either. Because in Greek, “anti” usually means “instead of”—which is a lot less scary and extreme-sounding. So a more direct translation of “antichrist” would be “the instead-of anointed one.”
Essentially, the antichrist is the kind of person or spirit that replaces the real Jesus with an impostor.
In C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters there’s a story that truly gets at the heart of this word. The book is about two demons who write about challenges they face in their attempt to distract people from God. At one point they reflect about prayer:
“I have known cases where what the patient called his ‘God’ was actually located—up and to the left at the corner of the bedroom ceiling, or inside his own head, or in a crucifix on the wall. But whatever the nature of the composite object, you must keep him praying to it—to the thing that he has made, not to the Person who has made him.”
Do yourself a favor and read that again.
These demons don’t mind prayer—when it’s to an imaginary figure. It’s very possible, even in prayer, to replace Jesus with something else. This is the kind of thinking that takes an abstract, mysterious and fearful concept like the antichrist and brings it close to home.
If you think about it, John was right. We encounter impostor-Christs all the time. We encounter them when we make up versions of Jesus in our heads and hearts. We encounter them when people take Jesus and make him into a vague concept or imaginary friend. We encounter the antichrist when prayers go to a wooden crucifix instead of the God who breathed.
And sometimes we take this version of Christ and parade it around and convince people to worship it too.
So can you blame the first disciples for warning people about this? These writers knew Jesus and yet kept encountering people and their teachings that took the Jesus they remembered and manipulated his memory into something else.
Imagine the emotion behind 2 John 1:7, “Many deceivers have gone into the world who do not confess that Jesus Christ came as a human being.” You can almost read between the lines— “We knew him! We walked with him! We ate with him! How dare you create an impostor of our friend and Master!”
So as the world turns and leaders come and go, we shouldn’t succumb to the temptation to look for one man to call an antichrist. Instead, let us look within ourselves to check and double-check our perception of Christ.
Chris once said, ÒIÕll never be a pastor.Ó Now heÕs in seminary and learning that God has a sense of humor. You can see more of his writing at christopherabel.com and his ramblings on Twitter.