I have decided to conduct a small(ish) discussion on a topic that has been around for some time, but has recently become faddish again–the reasons for which it has become faddish are rather disturbing. This discussion will come in four stages. First, this post will explain the reason for doing this as well as lay the groundwork for what I want to do with the whole discussion. Then, three posts will follow–each providing a bit of information for why I think this discussion is relevant. (A further explanation for this is given at the end of this post). I might do a fifth posting to summarize everything, but we’ll see what happens.
I originally wanted to do this in one post, but it wound up getting the better of me–i.e., it was way too long. (Those who know will not be surprised). I have written on this before to individuals, and I have taught on this topic in various places. That is to say: I’m not just shooting-from-the-hip on this. What follows comes from a long period of reflection, study, and dialogue. I readily admit that this sort of discussion is extremely delicate and controversial. For those who wish to comment or ask questions, let’s try to keep things civil and adult-like.
A BIT OF CONTEXT
My wife and I are happy Facebookers, which means we not only have the ability to keep in touch with our friends, we also have the ability to see the expressed thoughts and feelings of those same friends–and sometimes more. Recently, in light of the presidential election, a friend of one of my wife’s friends (gotta love Facebook references) said something like: “Hey, maybe Obama really is the Antichrist.” In many ways, I was hoping that this remark was said tongue-in-cheek; but even then, it’s not necessary.
It’s one thing not to like someone’s politics or what they stand for; it’s entirely another thing to attack who they are personally. Calling someone “the Antichrist” (in the common use of that term) is problematic for me on so many different levels. The most basic is that it is simply mean-spirited because it is ultimately a personal attack. The more troublesome is that it is often said (in a mean-spirited way) without much understanding of what is actually being said. In other words: people tend to have a bad, wrong, and/or poor understanding of what “the Antichrist” is. Or, to borrow a line from a great movie:
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
A LITTLE MORE CONTEXT
By and large, the common notion of “the Antichrist” has its roots in two interconnected circles of influence, which are anchored securely to a third. The first is the collection of Christian fictional books known as the Left Behind Series, written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. The second is less tangible than the first but it is conceptually absorbed almost as much: the so-called theological position of Dispensationalism, which, in many ways, is foundational to doctrinal positions within many denominations in America. It is also the bedrock theological position for a small handful of leading (and influential) Christian colleges/seminaries in America. And the third, the anchor for the previous two, is the pairing of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) and Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921). Both of these men have gone down in history as the champions (and pioneers) of the Dispensationalist movement in America.
(Just for clarity: Dispensationalism has undergone significant revisions since its inception. My concern here is not get into that discussion–it is too long. My concern here is to analyze a particular view that stems from this theological position).
These three points of influence have perpetuated an understanding of “the Antichrist” that is not only held without much questioning but is also promoted without much grounding in Scripture. In other words: the way in which “the Antichrist” is spoken of by these points of influence is quite different from how “the Antichrist” is portrayed in the Bible. What I want to do in this series of posts is offer a critique of this standard perception and offer some points of revision (or, clarification) in light of what is found in Scripture.
Typically, when the term “the Antichrist” is used, it is often an off-handed reference to some evil, destructive, end-of-the-world figure who is yet to appear on the world’s stage. The apparent underlying reason for “watching out” for this figure is because of the assumption that when he comes, the world will in fact come to an end. The reasons for labeling someone “the Antichrist” are usually tied to preconceived notions about the character (or, essence) of the person in question–e.g., they are evil, treacherous, “infamous” (to borrow from another great movie), and/or have a serious Messiah-complex. Because of these two assumptions, many different (singular) options have been offered throughout history. But the question must be asked: what is the foundation for these assumptions?
The common answer to that question reveals another major assumption that is maintained without much thought. More times than not, “the Antichrist” is portrayed the way he is because of various beliefs (or, interpretations) of what the Bible teaches. These assumed beliefs (or, interpretations) strategically link three distinct teachings and claim they are all referring to the same person. The teachings in question are: 1) the “Antichrist” in letters of John; 2) the “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thessalonians; and 3) the “beast from the earth” in Revelation 13. It cannot be denied that when these three distinct teachings are held together and viewed as referring to a singular person, a rather dark and troublesome portrait emerges that would certainly make for a great book series. (Oops. . .that slipped).
POINTS OF REVISION
Now, I specifically said in the previous comment that the foundation for the common understanding of “the Antichrist” comes from “three distinct teachings”. That specificity was intentional–as most specificity is. However, when these teachings are examined in their own right, one is simply left scratching his or her head in trying to figure out how this common portrait of “the Antichrist” came from these teachings. The next three posts will examine these three distinct teachings in their own right. My hope is, at the end of this discussion, we will have not only a better understanding of what we mean by “the Antichrist” but also how speak on such things.