There is no other figure in the history of modern Christianity that has caused so much discussion, debate and wild theories than the identity of the Antichrist.
For those of us who have been exposed to the more fundamentalist side of Christianity,
the identity of the Antichrist has been one of those amazing secrets that just might be revealed at any time.
Now what does this Antichrist fellow do?
Popular Fundamentalist literature has
the antichrist as an incredibly popular and charismatic individual,
who rises to power somewhere in the world (mainly Europe)
and who uses his power in making war and in persecuting Christians.
Now this is a very sexy figure
- by that I mean that this popular concept is quite interesting.
In the 1970s, you may have heard about the horror film called “The Omen”.
This was a film about the rise of the Antichrist,
which centred on a young boy named Damien
who, over a number of movies, eventually grew up to become President of the United States
(Sam Neiil actually played him as an adult).
There were people who tried to kill him,
but generally they failed because he was essentially the son of the devil
and he used his powers against them.
On his skull was a birthmark
- the numbers 666.
This movie played on the fears of the population at large about this evil figure.
In fact, the term “Antichrist” is a very familiar one in the western world today
- most people, regardless of their Christian understanding, have some understanding of what this person is.
So the non-Christian world has picked up on the Biblical figure of the antichrist.
And what they’ve done is modify his persona to fit their own popular understanding.
And then this persona is fed back to us as Christians,
which means that our understanding of this figure has been more influenced by the non Christian world than by the truth.
In order to inoculate ourselves against this, we need to start at the beginning
- we need to start with the Bible.
So put away any thoughts you might have of ouiji boards, pentagrams and heavy metal music.
And let’s listen to what God has to say.
Now before we start,
I just need to let you know how we are going to approach this subject.
You can see on your outlines that I will be going through 4 points this morning.
We must remember that we are looking through the Book of 1 John
- we’re not looking at the subject of the antichrist specifically,
but in the context of what John has written here.
So what I’ve done is that the first point “What is an antichrist”?, is actually an overview of what the Bible says about the subject.
All the subsequent points are based on the 1 John passage.
I’ve done it this way because I think it is important to examine the Bible’s teaching on this subject before we then focus on what 1 John says
- I suppose it’s just a necessary tangent, and I promise that I won’t take too long!
1. What is an Antichrist? (2.18)
The first point you see there on your outlines is called “What is an antichrist?” and looks at verse 18 of 1 John 2.
Let me read it to you again.
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.
When John speaks of the last hour here, he is saying to his readers that the end of the world is near.
He then says to them that they “have heard that the antichrist is coming”.
So the antichrist is definitely associated with the end of the world.
The word antichrist only appears in this chapter of 1 John,
and in 2 John verse 7.
There are no other places in the Bible where the word is used.
However, there are a number of Biblical references to an evil figure who appears at the end of time.
The most obvious is the “Beast” of Revelation 13.
Even though John wrote this section of the Bible as well, he uses the word “beast” rather than antichrist.
In this section of the Bible, John speaks of a dragon, who is actually Satan, sending out the beast to rule the world for him.
In Revelation 13.2 it says “The dragon (Satan) gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority”.
John then goes on to point out that this beast is worshipped by men,
and then he uses his position to blaspheme God and his power to make war against the Christian church.
Paul Barnett, who is the recently retired Anglican Bishop of North Sydney, and a great scholar and committed Christian, wrote a book about Revelation.
In this book he points out that John was actually referring to the Roman Emperor Domitian.
Domitian was a great persecutor of the Christian church,
and instituted a kind of emperor worship around the Roman empire
- so that people would worship him like a god.
Naturally Christians refused to worship him, and were persecuted as a result.
Another section of the Bible which is important is 2 Thessalonians chapter 2.
In this section of the Bible, the Apostle Paul discusses a figure he calls “The man of lawlessness”.
1Paul says that this man opposes God, sets himself up to be worshipped,
sets himself up in God’s temple to be god,
is doomed to destruction
and will be overthrown when Jesus returns.
Accompanying this man of lawlessness are miracles and signs and wonders which are satanic in origin.
As a result, he will deceive many.
In the light of what John says in Revelation, I think Paul is here describing the same guy
- the emperor Domitian.
Another book of the Bible that looks at this is in Daniel chapters 7, 8 and 11.
Here Daniel describes a powerful king who speaks against God and oppresses his saints.
He will be successful until what Daniel calls “the time of wrath”.
When detectives investigate a major crime, they piece together the elements of that crime to work out a composite picture of the criminal.
What we can do now is take all these elements together to make a composite of the Antichrist.
Firstly, we can assume that his name is meaningful.
Literally “Antichrist” means to both stand in the place of Christ, and to oppose him.
So the antichrist is like a person who sets himself up to replace Christ,
while at the same time being in opposition to him.
Secondly, we can assume that the antichrist is a person
- that is, he is an individual.
He lives and acts within the world.
Thirdly, we can assume that he has political and military power.
He is able to rule over people, and to use military power to oppose God’s people.
Fourthly - we can assume that he is under satanic control.
He is not Satan himself, but he works for Satan in the world.
And fifthly - we can assume that he has power to deceive many people, and can do miracles to back up his claims.
But this power is satanic in its origin.
Now I’ve already pointed out that the Emperor Domitian was clearly in John’s sights in Revelation when he wrote it.
So we can therefore assume that he was in fact the antichrist.
The man of lawlessness that Paul wrote about was the same guy.
But this sort of understanding leads to problems.
After all, it has been nearly 2000 years since this antichrist figure was around, but the Bible makes it clear that he will be defeated when Jesus returns.
But 1 John 2.18 makes it even more confusing for us.
There, John says “even now many antichrists have come”.
So suddenly we’re confronted with the notion that there is more than one antichrist.
But wait on. Isn’t the antichrist described as a single figure?
So what is John saying here?
Turn quickly to 2 John verse 7, and you’ll find a verse that helps us.
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.
Remember that John is writing this letter to deal with false teachers in the church.
He writes to teach his readers about the truth,
and to show them the wrongness of these false teachers.
Here in 2 John 7 he explicitly points out that these people are antichrists.
But notice what he says in the second half of the verse.
Any such person is THE deceiver
and THE antichrist.
So even though there are many false teachers and many antichrists,
the one antichrist works in secret behind them.
Now this has enormous implications for our understanding of who the antichrist is and what he does.
It means that we can understand that the antichrist can be any figure throughout history who persecutes the church
or leads the church away from the truth.
Because the antichrist can be many people in many places at the same time or different times,
we can therefore make the assumption that there is no one figure that we can expect to turn up in the future.
Instead, the antichrist has been active throughout history in many different guises
- both political and within the church.
And he exists to destroy God’s people. He has been active throughout history, which means he is active today,
and will be active in the future.
But the antichrist will be finally defeated.
When Jesus returns to judge the world, the antichrist will be judged too,
and will be punished accordingly.
So the prophecies we see in the Bible about the antichrist being humbled on the day of God’s wrath fit in here.
2. The antichrist described (2.18-19)
So that’s how the antichrist fits in.
But what we’re doing today is not simply examining who the antichrist is, we are looking at it in the context of 1 John.
Here in 1 John, the apostle is not really worried about the antichrist who is the king,
or emperor or president or CEO of Microsoft.
John is worried about the activity of the antichrist within the Christian church.
The antichrist exists to destroy God’s people.
He acts as an agent of Satan.
But he exists both outside the church and inside the church.
Let me read to you verses 18 and 19 of 1 John again.
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. 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 none of them belonged to us.
So here we have the Apostle John describing for us who these antichrists are. And that is my second point.
John has spent considerable time in this letter discussing the bad points of these false teachers.
If we look back at chapters 1 and 2 of 1 John, we see John describing them as walking in darkness,
of living a lie,
of being out of fellowship with God,
of not obeying Christ’s commands,
of hating people and loving the world.
We know that these false teachers did not believe that Jesus was a man,
nor that his death was a sacrifice for our sins,
and that they were no longer living in sin.
As we’ve gone through these sections of 1 John chapters 1 & 2, it has been very clear that John does not think these false teachers are Christians.
But what we have here is an even worse situation.
These false teachers were not only unbelievers, they were antichrists
- they were actively working to destroy the church.
It wasn’t just that they were unsaved, they were agents of Satan.
But notice here that these antichrists actually came from within the church.
John says “They went out from us”.
At some point, these false teachers were part of the church.
They went to church, they went to prayer meetings and celebrated the Lord’ Supper.
But at some point these false teachers went wrong.
While within the church they began to influence others around them with their ideas.
The leaders of the church would have noticed and rebuked them.
Some would repent, but many others would continue to spread their false teaching.
Eventually they were excommunicated from church,
and a significant amount of church members would have followed them.
They would form their own church,
and as their influence grew they sent out travelling preachers to spread their message to churches nearby.
As this movement grew, it attracted the attention of the Apostle John
- which is why we have this letter to read today.
But so serious was their misunderstanding of the truth, that John could only conclude that they were agents of Satan working to destroy the church
- they were antichrists.
Now this verse has serious implications for us all,
both in our Christian lives and in the way we approach others within the church.
Many times in the last year I have been up here and denounced this or that part of the organised church,
and I haven’t been afraid to name names.
What we need to remember, though, is that in all ages of the church there have been false and misleading teachers.
This doesn’t mean that we sit back and accept them,
but it does mean that we should never be surprised when they turn up.
The most damaging thing that has hit Christianity in the last century has been the advent of modernism.
A modernist or liberal theologian is a person who doubts that the Bible is accurate,
which then inevitably leads to a doubting of the truth about God.
This is why we should always be on our guard against false teachers within the church.
These antichrists are everywhere, from ministers to theologians to archbishops, moderators, evangelists and sunday school teachers.
They are everywhere, and we should be on the lookout for them.
Now there is one area of application that we need to look at here that is quite important.
While these verses indicate that antichrists came from the church,
it says that the fact that they left means they were not really part of the church in the first place.
John says “If they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”
These verses are as much applicable to anyone as to these false teachers.
In my Christian life I have had the sad experience of seeing friends within the church choose to give up the faith.
They get to a point in their lives where they decide that they can no longer live as Christians.
But what these verses teach us is that those who leave were never really Christians in the first place.
They may have seemed Christians when they were around us, and they may have said and done all the right things,
but the reality was that they were not true believers.
Let me just say this simply:
those who fall away from Christianity never fell away at all,
because they were never true Christians to start with.
As John says “if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us”.
3. The True Believers (2.20-21)
So how are we to remain true to our faith?
How are we to avoid being misled by antichrists within the church?
My third point is titled “The True Believers”.
Let me read to you again verses 20 and 21.
But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.
What is this anointing that John speaks of?
A number of Bible verses are helpful here,
but none more so than John 14.26.
Listen to what Jesus says here:
“But the counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I said to you”.
The Anointing that John speaks of here is the Holy Spirit.
When he says “we have an anointing from the holy one”,
he speaks of the fact that Jesus has sent to us the indwelling Holy Spirit.
As Christians, we are not alone in our faith
- the Holy Spirit lives and works in us.
When John says here in verse 20 “all of you know the truth”,
it actually says “you know all things”.
Your NIV bibles should have a footnote saying this for verse 20.
So what does it mean to “know all things”?
These false teachers focused on special knowledge as the centre of their belief -
they received special knowledge about the spiritual world.
But when John says “you know all things”, he is saying that they have all knowledge already.
So while these false teachers speak of a special knowledge,
John is saying that their spiritual knowledge is complete.
Think of it this way.
Imagine you belonged to a cult which relied heavily upon direct guidance from God.
Imagine you have a cult where a prophet or prophets spends time with God in order to determine what to believe.
What would be going on?
You’d be there constantly waiting for new revelations from God.
What John is saying is that this doesn’t have to be the case.
There are no new revelations to look forward to, you have it all now.
“You know all things” refers to a complete knowledge.
Now this doesn’t mean we know all there is to know
- after all, no one can know everything about God.
But what it says is that we know all we need to know.
Many years ago I spoke to a friend who was in a Bible College.
While at college, he was learning Greek,
and he was reading all sorts of detailed books about Theology and the Bible.
I commented to him just how wonderful it would be for him, discovering all these new things.
But what he said to me was very profound.
He said “Neil, I’m not learning anything new.
All I’m learning is what I knew already.
The great thing about being at college is that I know them so much deeper than before”.
But how do we know all things?
We know all things because of the anointing Jesus has given us.
This is not some special work available only to John’s readers,
what John is speaking about here is the normal Christian life.
As Christians we have been anointed with the Holy Spirit.
And the Spirit works in us and, as John says in his gospel, will teach us all things.
And how does the Spirit teach us?
People all over the place are saying that the Spirit is leading them but in many cases it appears to be up the garden path.
It is not a personal, subjective feeling you get in your gut.
We must remember that the sword of the spirit is the word of God
- which is what Paul says in Ephesians.
We must remember that the scriptures are not just words on a page, they are inspired by the Holy Spirit.
And we must remember that the Bible, God’s spirit-inspired word, speaks ultimately about Jesus and the good news of salvation - the gospel.
And we need to remember that whenever God’s word is read, studied or preached, that God’s Holy Spirit is active and working amongst us.
If you want the spirit to be unleashed,
if you want the spirit to work miracles,
then you need to read and speak God’s word.
We need to speak the gospel.
If we know that through faith in Christ we are saved,
then we know all things.
We know all we need to know.
But that doesn’t mean we no longer speak about it
- it means that it should be the centre of our lives.
John writes to his readers not because they don’t know all things,
but because they do.
He writes because they trust in the gospel that was given to them.
He writes because the Holy Spirit testifies to this fact.
But John also makes the point that “no lie comes from the truth”.
He is saying two things here.
Firstly, that those who hold onto the truth and know all things have no lie coming from them.
Secondly, he is saying that those who do not hold onto the truth do not know all things,
and that they lie and mislead people about the truth
- he is talking of the false teachers here again.
4. The Antichrist Exposed (2.22-23)
So what does it mean to lie?
Who is the liar? T
he false teachers are the liar.
John here is exposing what these false teachers, these antichrists, believe.
And that is my final point.
Let me read to you again verses 22 and 23.
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. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
So what does the antichrist preach?
The antichrist preaches that Jesus is not the Christ
- that is, he is not the Messiah,
that he is not God,
that he did not come down from heaven and die on the cross for our sins.
A person who believes and preaches that is the antichrist
- he not only opposes Christ, but places himself in Christ’s place (which is what antichrist means).
By speaking this way, these antichrists are the ones who determine truth, not Christ.
That is how they act to replace Christ.
If you deny the Son,
if you deny the truth about Jesus,
you do not have the Father
- you are not a Christian.
But if you acknowledge who Jesus really is,
you have the Father
- you are a Christian.
In the past year I have spoken to you about a number of heretics.
I’ve mentioned names like Bishop Peter Carnley,
the Anglican Bishop of Perth
who does not believe that Christ died for our sins,
and actively preaches that in the church.
I’ve mentioned Samuel Angus,
the Presbyterian Theologian who lectured in Sydney in the 1920s and 1930s
- a man who did not believe in the trinity or the resurrection of Christ.
You may have heard of Bishop Spong
- the retired Anglican Bishop of New York
- this man is a modern day Samuel Angus,
except that he believes that Homosexual relationships are okay.
I’ve called these men heretics,
but that term seems to bring to mind burning witches and Spanish inquisitions.
It’s not the right term to use.
We should use a biblical term instead.
We should be calling these people antichrists
- these people are from within the church,
and use their positions of power to convince people of untruth,
and to lead them away from God.
But we all know that the word antichrist gives us some bad images too.
By calling these men antichrists, we might think that they commune with the devil on a daily basis
- that they belong to some secret satanic organisation or conspiracy to take over the world.
That is not the case.
These men are antichrists, but they don’t know it.
Bishop Spong is just a man who has long retired from his position in the church.
He teaches lies about God, but he is convinced that what he says is right.
They may be tools of Satan,
the antichrist may be operating in secret behind them,
but they are not aware of it.
And in some cases they do make decisions that are good.
Let me quickly tell you a bit about Peter Carnley
- the Anglican Bishop of Perth.
This man does not believe that Jesus dies for our sins
- he has explicitly taught that the idea that Jesus could be a sin sacrifice is incorrect.
He is an antichrist.
But he is liberal in his ideas.
He thinks that evangelical Christians should have a say in the church,
just as much as anyone else.
Now he has actually put this belief in practice.
Peter Carnley, an antichrist who does not believe the truth,
has opened the doors of the Anglican Diocese of Perth to evangelical ministers.
I know of three people from my old church in Sydney who are now Anglican ministers in Perth,
preaching the gospel in a place where it has been obscured for many years.
It’s ironic isn’t it?
And of course, where would our church be today without antichrists?
You see, God is a sovereign God.
Although these antichrists exist to destroy the church,
our Father in heaven has used them to ensure that the church actually survives and prospers.
These false teachers which assailed the church during John’s time actually did us a great favour
- it means we can read John’s letters about them.
Paul wrote Galatians because there were some people in the church who were preaching the wrong gospel.
We need to thank God that he uses heresies and antichrists to make us stronger in the faith.
Let me conclude.
We need to thank God for antichrists
- strange as it may seem.
Although they exist to destroy the church. we can be assured that God uses them anyway.
The history of the church has been of one heresy following another,
with the occasional bit of persecution thrown in.
You see, the antichrist exists within the church
- to lure people away from the truth -
and outside the church
- using the powers of the state to turn people away from the truth.
Antichrists are everywhere inside the church,
as false teachers,
and everywhere outside the church,
as unbelievers who wish to see Christianity wither and die.
But if we hold onto the truth,
if we recognise the fact that we know all things if we know the gospel
and remember that we have God’s spirit living in us,
then we will resist them.
God, through John, is telling us to stand firm in our faith,
to believe in the truth, and to resist the devil.
And God is also reminding us that even in the midst of all this evil,
he is working for the good of his people.
We should be wary of antichrists,
but we should not be surprised by their existence.
We should fight for the truth,
content in the knowledge that the fight has already been won,
and that we have God’s spirit within us,
who leads us to truth.
Let Me Pray.
Lord God, you look at the church today and you know just how the antichrist is working his evil power within it. By ignoring the truth and listening to lies, these men and women are leading your church away. Help us Lord, to resist them. Give us confidence in the truth, and confidence that we know all we need to know in Christ. Help us to not be hypocrites, and to live holy lives that match our trust in the truth. We pray for people like Bishop Spong and Bishop Carnley, that you convince them of your truth, and that they turn away from their sin and be antichrists no more, but faithful servants of your truth. This is impossible Lord, as these men’s hearts are so far from you, but you are the God who can do the impossible, and so we trust that you are in control.
From the Keyrgmatic Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.