antichrist

gee, that was subtle

On the heels of their most recent convention, here in ATL, and thus ostensibly (re)energized for mission, the “Jehovah’s” Witnesses were out in full force this past Sunday.[1] By way of example, our little neighborhood, which is held together by a single half-mile-long road, was peppered with six or seven teams of JWs. Exuberant. Excessive. Overkill. Pick your term.

When I saw one team begin to mosey up the front walk, I bolted downstairs to meet them at the door. Not because I was bored, or genuinely excited to see them as I would an old friend, or wanted to hear their version of the gospel. My haste was rooted in the fact that Ashley just fell asleep and she truly needed a nap. A sudden ringing of the doorbell would not help that cause.

So I opened the door and was immediately met with a greeting that suggested the dude went to the Joel Osteen school of public speaking, only with more volume. As politely as I could, I interrupted and told him we just got our daughter down for a nap. He graciously lowered his voice, apologized, and proceeded to hand me two brochures–one on how to improve my health, and the other on a mix of apologetic-type issues. I took the brochures, said thanks, and we parted ways.

Curious, only because I like to see how the JWs approach certain things, I glanced at the table of contents in the apologetic-like brochure. My eyes quickly fell on the article entitled, “Who is the Antichrist?“. This might be either because I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading on Dispensationalism (don’t ask why) or because the other topics appeared rather dull. Either way, I knew I had to read the Antichrist bit. So I did. I must say: the contents of the article matched the exuberant, excessive, overkill, and–to add another term–hubris of their swarming our little neighborhood. While I laughed at some of it, there was one thing that caught me off guard.

The first few paragraphs were decent and generally not out of sync with the small handful of biblical texts on the Antichrist. They did well to point out the fact that John speaks of many antichrists in the world, and that an antichrist is one who denies Jesus as God’s Messiah and as having come in the flesh. But then two summary remarks in this first part gave me a good chuckle. In reverse order:

Clearly [in these passages], John understood the antichrist to be all who deliberately spread religious deceptions about Jesus Christ and Jesus’ teachings.

Fair and true enough. And

People or organizations making up the antichrist spread lies, deny that Jesus is the Christ, or Messiah, and try to distort the relationship between God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Those who make up the antichrist claim to be Christ or his[2] representatives, but since “they went out from us,” they deviated from true Bible teaching.

The theological and cognitive dissonance in these statements is astounding. And that’s what made me laugh. The very thing that the JWs characterize the antichrist doing is the very thing they themselves do! The christology of JWs, if I can label it that way, is not only extremely low but also out of step with biblical evidence. They deny the true nature of Jesus by making him a lesser god, or at least one like God but not identical with God. Thus, they distort the true relationship shared between Jesus and God. However, both of these are the result of a faulty hermeneutic the JWs use, only they don’t see it as faulty.

As with any sales pitch, there’s a “But wait, there’s more” type claim in the second part of the article. After having explained what the antichrist does, the article proceeds to identify who the antichrist is specifically–or at least the kinds of characteristics that make identification easy. They offer two key markers, again in reverse order:

  1. Antichrists are those who, through countless and needless varied translations of the Bible and the promotion of such translations, routinely “omit God’s personal name, Jehovah, from the text. . . . The result? They identity of the true God becomes even more shrouded in mystery.” While I don’t have the time to go into the specifics, what’s funny about this claim is not just its absurdity (and its reliance on a faulty premise) but the JWs’ failure to recognize the perpetuation of a different error. In other words: the JWs, in criticizing others for omitting God’s personal name, fail to see the fundamental error in their own insistence of including a “name” for God that’s not even a word.
  2. But the leading characteristic of the antichrist? Simple: “the churches [propagating] the doctrine of the Trinity, claiming that the Father and the Son are part of the same entity. The antichrist thus shrouds in mystery the identity of Jehovah God and Jesus Christ.” Once again, the theological and cognitive dissonance is amazing. And sad. But there’s something more, something rather disturbing. The effect of this claim is that every (orthodox) Christian church who affirms the age-old, firmly established doctrine of the Trinity, rooted in a clear and faithful reading of John 1.1-4, are the antichrist. In other words: non-JWs. The further implication is that such is the case because orthodox Christians are like those who, according to John (as cited by the article), “went out from us”–i.e. away from true biblical teaching. The “us” in this case would be the JWs. But historically, theologically, and ecclesiastically speaking, it is the JWs who broke from orthodoxy and formulated their own (distorted) beliefs based on their own (faulty) hermeneutical principles and practices.

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[1] I’m anticipating a similar effect in a month so, since they have yet another convention scheduled for mid-July.
[2] I didn’t mistype. The article deliberately refuses to capitalize the pronouns for Jesus vis-à-vis those used for God, and this is because of their particular (and peculiar) view of Jesus’ identity. Though, strangely and oddly enough, they have no qualms about capitalizing the term “Son” when speaking of Jesus.

a modicum of solace

Yesterday The Guardian provided the results of an American-based survey on various conspiracy theories. Interestingly, the headline focused only on one of the 26 questions: Obama as the Antichrist. Two things–one about the headline, and one about the survey–and then a third, which is less troubling.

With regard to the headline, it’s a bit misleading. According to the numbers in the results (the full break-down is here), only 13% believe Obama is the Antichrist. That’s hardly “one in four Americans.” The only way you can get close to a “one in four” charge (i.e. 25%) is if you lump the 13% from the “not sure” category, which is what Paul Harris does in the article. He does this on the basis that “not sure” = “possibly so” or “I could be convinced”. A bit shady on the method, but understandable. “One in four” sounds better and (slightly) more widespread than “one in seven(ish)”.

With regard to the survey, it too is a bit misleading. If we went on the title alone, we get the impression that 25% of (all) Americans believe Obama is the Antichrist. Given the population of the US (315,610,625, as of 8.30 this morning), that would mean something around 78,902,656.25. (Who is the .25 of a person!?). But that can’t be right. Outside of Garnier, who would survey that many people? Harris does explain that the survey involved only “a sample of American voters”. Okie dokie. According to this site, last year there were 146,311,000 registered voters in the US (a number that seems too clean for my taste, but no matter). So if we use that number, then, according to Harris’ “one in four” charge, that would mean 36,577,750 people surveyed believe Obama to be the Antichrist. (Thankfully, no fractions of people this time). But that can’t be right either.

Conveniently (or smartly), Harris leaves out the exact size of the sample, and he suspiciously leaves out any links to survey itself. Again, it sounds so much better and more–dare I say–condemning to say “one in four Americans” and let people assume that the number is huge. But what about facts? If you were to take the 12 seconds to do your own search and locate the survey in question (or just use the link I supplied–you’re welcome), you would see that the sample-size is . . . get ready for this . . . 1247. I didn’t leave out any numbers. 1,2,4,7. That’s all. Seriously, Harris: Asda’s got more stuff on sale.

Accordingly, if we use Harris’ bold figure of 25%, that would mean only 311.75 people believe Obama is the Antichrist. That’s not “one in four”. That’s like one in a million (I think; my maths are a little rusty this morning). But no one is going to care if Harris says that figure, so it’s no wonder that his misleadingly says, “one in four”. Things get uglier if we use the solid number of 13%, which would bring the total to a whopping 162.11 people. That’s just under one in every two million (again, I think). Seriously, Harris: you’re going to paint 1/4 of Americans with a brush admittedly used by only 162.11 people? Tsk! Tsk!

The third thing, and this is the modicum of solace: only 162.11 people admit to believing Obama to be the Antichrist. I don’t mean to sound crass, but it’s comforting to know that only 162.11 people have a faulty understanding of the Antichrist. If we follow what the Johannine Epistles say, the “antichrist” (ἀντιχριστος) is anyone who “denies the Father and the Son” (1Jn 2.22) and/or denies “Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (2Jn 1.7). While the Johannine Epistle seem to suggest a solitary figure–i.e. the Antichrist–appearing in the last days (cf. 1Jn 2.18; 4.3), nothing definite is said about him (or her–sorry, I have to be PC these days). However, since the language of the Epistles on this matter is apocalyptic, we can safely assume that this solitary figure is understood in apocalyptic terms–i.e. he (or she) ain’t human. And if he (or she) ain’t human, then Obama can’t be the Antichrist. Same goes for the new Pope–contra this guy–or any other person.

not a knockout punch; more of a glancing blow

In what little spare time I have at the moment, I’ve been slowly working through 2 Thessalonians, especially the eschatological section of 2Thess 2.1-12. This portion of the letter has been a veritable hotbed of debate, although for various reasons. On one extreme, since the work of Schmidt (1801), furthered by Kern (1839) and Baur (1845), most critical scholars see it as evidence that Paul did not compose the letter.¹ On another extreme, since (at least) the work of Scofield (1909), furthered by a number of Dispensational writers since then, many evangelical scholars see this passage as evidence of Paul’s knowledge of what will take place at the eschaton.

Both of these perspectives have their merits (and faults) and both should be examined carefully and honestly by all who engage with this letter. Since Paul Foster recently addressed the issues in the first extreme (see “Who Wrote 2 Thessalonians? A Fresh Look at an Old Problem,” JSNT 35.2 [2012]: 150-75), and since I agree with most of what he argues, there is no need for me to enter into that discussion. Instead, my concern here is with the second extreme, specifically the kind of knowledge that Paul had about the eschaton and the reasons why he says what he does.

I make this my focus partly because David Dean (tenuously) argues for Paul’s knowledge of these events as being chronological in nature, and it was this chronological knowledge that he imparted to the Thessalonians during his brief sojourn.² That seems to handle the “kind” question. With regard to the “reason” question, Dean sees this imparting of chronological knowledge as necessary for a right understanding of the eschaton–particularly the timing of the (so-called) “rapture.” Specifically, for Dean, the “rapture” takes place before all of the other events described and Christians can rest assured that the other events have not taken place because the “rapture” has not yet happened.

Dean makes this argument on the basis of what he sees Paul saying in 2Thess 2.1-12. By way of summary: after stating the concern (cf. 2.1-2)–i.e. a faulty teaching concerning the return of Christ–Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to remain true to what they know (cf. 2.3a). He then launches into what appear to be “signs” that will precede Christ’s return (cf. 2.3b-12)–e.g. the apostasy, the revelation of the man of lawlessness, the removal of the evil that prevails, the defeat of the man of lawlessness at Christ’s return, and judgment.³ In fact, the logical and syntactical construction of the Greek reveals a necessary causal relationship between the “signs” and Christ’s return. Paul’s remarks, therefore, could be seen as endorsing a chronology.

However, I am not so sure that Paul’s knowledge is necessarily chronological–in the strict detailed sense that Dean proposes. Specifically, I do not see Paul saying: “Before the return of Christ happens: first, there will be ‘the apostasy’; second, there will be the ‘unveiling of the “man of lawlessness” ‘; third, this ‘man’ will oppose God and exalt himself over all gods; fourth, he will take ‘his seat in the temple of God’ and claim to be God; fifth, that which prevails will be revealed and then taken out of the way; sixth, the ‘lawless one’ will be defeated by Christ; etc.” Paul’s language in this text does not come across as being that precise.

Moreover, contrary to what Scofield argued (cf. notes on 2.3) and Dean rehashes, I don’t think Paul sees all of the “events” in 2Thess 2.3b-12 as reserved exclusively for the distant future. In particular, and contrary to how the NIV, TNIV, NLT, NCV, and CEV translate it, the details pertaining to the “man of lawlessness” are not waiting to be climatically revealed (cf. 2.4); Paul’s language stresses that nearly all of the details are already taking place. In other words: the “man of lawlessness” is presently opposing (ἀντικείμενος) God; he is presently exalting (ὑπεραιρόμενος) himself over all other gods; and he does this because he has already taken his seat (καθίσαι) in the temple of God and is presently displaying (ἀποδεικνύντα) himself as God. The only detail waiting fulfillment in the future is this “man” unveiling (ἀποκαλύπτω; cf. 2.3b), which Paul goes on to describe as contemporaneous with the appearance (ἐπιφάνεια) of Christ’s return/coming/presence (παρουσία; cf. 2.8). And since the bulk of what Paul says up to 2.5 is about the man of lawlessness, the reminder in 2.5 would seem to refer to that previous teaching and not Dean’s proposed chronological eschatology.

At the very least, this creates problems for the rather absurd theories of Dispensationalists like Tim LaHaye (again) and Thomas Ice (et al), who both drone on about the birth, upbringing, ethnicity, political affiliations, and identity of this “man of lawlessness”, whom they inappropriately call the “Antichrist”. Such suggestions reveal a lack of understanding of Paul’s overall meaning and his use of apocalyptic language. The contemporaneity of the “man’s” unveiling (and subsequent defeat) and Christ’s appearing also create problems for the usual (Classic) Dispensationalist eschatological “timeline”. In particular, the contemporaneity raises serious doubts about the so-called pretribulation rapture of the saints, which is based on the more troubling notion of a two-stage return of Christ. Moreover, a “rapture of the saints” or even its (supposed) timing is not even close to being Paul’s concern–either here in 2Thess 2.1-12 or the only passage in the whole of the NT that indicates something like a “rapture”: 1Thess 4.17.

As he states at the beginning of his argument, Paul’s concern (for both the Thessalonians and anyone else who might read his letter) is about faithful patience, allegiance to truth about what God has done and will do in and through Christ, and not being swept away by speculative theories about Christ’s return. You know, theories like those (explicitly or implicitly) proposed by: Joseph Smith, William Miller, Charles T. Russell (twice), later Jehovah’s Witnesses (multiple attempts), Hal Lindsey (twice), Edgar Whisenaunt (twice), John Hinkle, Harold Camping (repeatedly), etc.

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¹ The letter is dislodged from Paul’s hands on account of its (apparently) different eschatology vis-a-vis that of 1 Thessalonians. Specifically, 2Thess seems to advocate a recognizable chronological sequence of events that precede Christ’s return (cf. 2Thess 2.3-12), whereas 1Thess appears to indicate that the return will be without warning (cf. 1Thess 4.13-5.11). Moreover, while 1Thess reads as though Paul sees himself as alive when Christ returns, 2Thess gives the impression that Paul is giving up on that hope. In other words: 1Thess anticipates an imminent return (i.e. in Paul’s lifetime) whereas 2Thess allows for considerable delays (i.e. well after Paul’s death). Thus, the “consensus” for how to explain these differences is that Paul wrote 1Thess and someone writing in his name penned 2Thess.
² See “Does 2 Thessalonians 2.1-3 Exclude the Pretribulation Rapture?” (Bibliotheca Sacra 168 [2011]: 196. I plan to deal with some of the finer points of Dean’s argument in a different post.
³ Props to those who recognize the variant I proposed. Don’t worry, I have reasons for doing so; I’m not just making stuff up for the Gehenna of it.

just sayin’ (what he said)

To ask, as some are doing, whether St Paul and St John, in their pictures of the Antichrist,* were predicting the enormities committed by [a great political leader] and his people during the present war, is to ask a futile question. The inspired writers were giving instruction, encouragement, and warning to Christians of their own time. What help would it have been to Christians in the first two centuries to have cryptic descriptions of horrors that were to take place [in our day]? And how could teachers who were fully persuaded that Christ would return very soon, and bring this world to a close, be supposed to foresee what would be going on in this world many centuries later?

Don’t worry; all hope is not lost:

What they did see was this:–that any God-opposing power, however successful for a time in making might prevail against right, and however skilful in adapting miracles of science to its own wicked purposes, must in the end fail, and be destroyed by the righteous judgment of God. Moral principles may be derided and reversed. “We ought, therefore we can” may be turned into “We can, therefore we ought,” so that the power to conquer is made to imply the right to conquer: but sooner or later the mills of God accomplish their inevitable work, and the monstrous rebel is ground to powder.

–A. Plummer, A Commentary on St Paul’s Second Epistle to the Thessalonians (1918), xxi

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* My only point of disagreement is Plummer’s linking Paul with the idea of “Antichrist.”

Points of revision (2 of 4)

The first part of this series can be found here, and it should be consulted before reading this one.

 

This part of the series will examine the concept of “the Antichrist”.  I mentioned in the first post that the common assumption is that this figure is linked with “the man of lawlessness” in 2 Thessalonians 2 as well as the “beast out of the earth” in Revelation 13.  The first problem with this is that it assumes what cannot necessarily be proven.  Those who hold otherwise have to do some interesting logical gymnastics—not to mention some painful theological contortions. 

FIRST THINGS FIRST

On a basic level: the terminology used when speaking about these figures is exclusive and unique to where they are found in the texts of the New Testament.[1]  In other words: in 2 Thessalonians, no mention is ever made of “the Antichrist” (using that specific term).  Likewise, in the letters of John, no mention is ever made of “the man of lawlessness” (using that specific term).  And, for good measure, in Revelation (as a whole), no mention is ever made of “the Antichrist” or “the man of lawlessness” (using those specific terms).  This exclusivity continues in that these references are not found anywhere else in the whole Bible.

The common way around this dilemma is to see the Antichrist, the man of lawlessness, and the beast out of the earth as sharing the same essence.  Because they share the same function—i.e., they all oppose God in some way, they all cause havoc and persecution for the faithful, and they are all (assumed to be) end-times figures—the distinct references must necessarily be talking about the same individual (or, entity).  This then allows for flexibility in the language used when referring to these (apparently) distinct individuals in the individual texts.  With this logic, an “unholy trinity” is proposed.

However, if we were to examine the biblical texts that speak about these three individuals, we would quickly find that the overlap simply does not work.  In fact, it would become immediately apparent that references about one cannot be used in the same way to refer to another one of the three.  This post will consider the references to the idea of “the Antichrist” and will use these as a basis for examining the other terms—i.e., “man of lawlessness” and “beast out of the earth”.  

THE ANTICHRIST” (OR, ARE THERE OTHERS?)

There are four passages in the New Testament that speak about “the Antichrist”.  I’m not trying to hide the truth in any way by saying these are the only four.  I am simply saying what is.  In many ways, this makes matters easier because there is not a massive amount of material to cover.  In other ways, this makes matters rather difficult because there is not a massive amount of material to use for comparison.  So, we will deal with what we have.  (Just for clarity: all of the New Testament texts cited are my translations from the Greek).

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 2.18)

First of all, before dealing with the obvious, it is important to see that the writer[2] views himself (and the body of believers) as already being in “the last hour.”  The more modern version of this phrase: “the last days” or, “the end of days.”  The reason why this is important to see is because it places the beginning of the end right in the time of the early church—i.e., the first century CE.  In other words, for the early church, “the end” was not something well off in the future; it was believed to be not only on its way (in full) but also something that was already starting (in part).  This is generally the reason why I tell people (if they ask) that we have been in the “last days” for almost 2000 years–we don’t have to wait for it it start.  

Second, there does appear to be a belief within the early church that some “antichrist” figure was meant to appear, which would be the telltale sign that “the end” has begun.  The obvious question is therefore: where is this mentioned if the letters of John are the only places (in the whole Bible)–much less earlier Jewish writings–that talk about this “antichrist”?  The honest answer is: we really have no clue.  At best, we have theories but nothing ironclad.  

There is a slim chance that this belief is a modified version of something that Jesus taught in Matthew 24.23-28 (or, the writer of John is correcting a misunderstanding of what people believe about Jesus’ teaching).  In that reference, in response to the (boneheaded) question of: “When will we know that the end is about to happen?”,  Jesus teaches that many “false Christs” and “false prophets” will emerge in order to lure the faithful away from the truth.  (He says other things, but we’ll deal with those in another post).  The reason this is slim is because “antichrist” is not the term used by Jesus—he uses “pseudo-christ”, which is not really the same thing. 

Finally, and this addresses the obvious dilemma, the writer of this passage in 1 John explicitly says that there is not just one antichrist—there are many.  This, by itself, creates problems for those who seek a singular person who will kick-off “the end”–a person who also happens to be the embodiment of evil, treachery, infamy, etc.  If anything, the fact that so many antichrists are present—from the writer’s perspective—simply (but massively) justifies his initial point: the “last hour” has already begun.  The fact that there are “many antichrists” is not a theological problem when we keep in mind what an antichrist really is, which takes us to the next couple of passages. 

Who is the liar if not the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ?  This is the antichrist—the one denying the Father and the Son (1 John 2.22)

I would like to say that this passage is clear and simple, but its really a bit vague in some respects.  However, this is the first passage where we see what it is that the antichrists teach, promote, stand for, etc.  This begins to set the boundaries for how someone is labeled an “antichrist.”  The teaching of the antichrists—in this passage—is a denial that Jesus is the divine-Messiah (or, Christ); or, to use Wolfhart Pannenberg’s terms: “the God-Man”. 

However, there is an even bigger denial at work in this passage.  This bigger denial is related to the sovereign will of the Father.  God’s plan, as promoted throughout the early church (and still today), was to send his Son as a substitutionary sacrifice, which would bring about the salvation of mankind and creation.  For the early believers, the reality of this overarching sovereign will of the Father began at the incarnation of Christ (or, the infleshing—a lovely neologism).  Therefore, to deny that Jesus was the divinely appointed incarnate Messiah would be to deny the validity of God’s plan.  The teaching of the antichrists does precisely that.[3] 

Beloved, you are not to believe every spirit but you are to test every spirit [to see] if they are from God, because many false-prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you will know the Spirit of God: every spirit that is from God confesses Jesus Christ as having come in the flesh, and every spirit that is not of God does not confess Jesus—this is the spirit of the antichrist, the one you have heard is coming and is now already in the world (1 John 4.1-3) 

Now we get to the more detailed version of the antichrist message.  Here we have the gist of the condemning statement that would definitely affix a, “Hello, My Name Is: Antichrist” sticker on someone’s shirt.  However, lest we become too ambitious, these is still a small degree of vagueness in this passage.  It is best understood in light of what has already been said–not only here in this post but, more importantly, what has been said in the letter itself.  It is also worthy to point out the re-emphasis of the fact that these antichrist figures are already present in the world at the time of the early church.

The controlling idea here is the issue of truth versus falsehood.  In typical dualistic fashion, there is a strong either-or at work.  On the one hand, there is the Spirit of God; on the other, there is the spirit of the antichrist.  There is no overlap.  On the one hand, there is an admission that Jesus Christ came in the flesh; on the other hand, there is a denial that Jesus came in the flesh.  There is no overlap–it’s either-or. Those who confess Jesus as coming in the flesh have the Spirit of God; those who deny Jesus coming in the flesh have the spirit of the antichrist.  This winds up being a question of status before God.  This is when matters get interesting.  

Now many deceivers have gone out into world—those not confessing that Jesus Christ as having come in the flesh: this is the deceiver and the antichrist (2 John 1.7)

The reason things get interesting with this passage is that it becomes another implied reference for the “origins” of the antichrists.   The implication is supported when we think back to the idea of false prophets, which can be found in 1 John 4.1 (quoted above).  By and large, false-prophets come from within the faithful.  It is when their falsehoods are made known that they are ousted from community of believers.  (Think back to the either-or dualism).  

So, in light of that, we can see here in this passage that the antichrists are those who emerge from within community of believers and their falsehood is that Jesus has not come in the flesh.  It is because of this falsehood (or, heresy, if you like) that they have “gone out into the world.”  They are removed because truth and falsehood cannot coexist–with both claiming to be truth.  If we are paying attention, this is why there is a slim chance this is a reference to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24.  The false-prophets in the letters of John nearly mirror (in what they do) the false-prophets in Matthew.  

SUMMARY OF THE ANTICHRISTS

So, is the antichrist–or, I should say: are the antichrists–some mysterious, evil, treacherous, infamous, apocalyptic (end-of-the-world) figure yet to appear in the world’s stage?  According to the common assumption, yes; according to what we see in these texts, not a chance.  An antichrist is nothing more than a false-teacher who deceives people into believing that Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh.  Instead, these false-teachers present “another Christ”, which is the literal translation of the Greek word, antichristos.  This is not to say that they did not believe in Jesus Christ, period; it simply suggests that they believe that Jesus did not come to the world in the flesh.

This belief is also why this group of false-teachers were ousted from the community of believers.  If the community stands for what is true, and if they adhere to what is true; then anyone in the community who speaks what is not true (regarding the person of Jesus), and yet they believe that what they speak is true; they must be removed because truth and falsehood regarding the person of Christ cannot coexist.  There is no, “Let’s just agree to disagree” (which is really a logical impossibility).  Either Jesus came in the flesh, or he did not.  If one believes that Jesus did, that person is of God; if one believes that Jesus did not, that person is an antichrist.  And guess what: there are plenty of antichrists–even today.  

Throughout this brief look at these four texts, I have been implying something that needs to be made explicitly clear.  One of the key features about these antichrists is that they are always defined as being human.  More importantly, with respect to how we are to understand these figures: these antichrist figures are never described as having divine or supernatural characteristics and they are never described as taking political office and having some Messiah-complex.  Also, they are never described as doing any of the things that are attributed to the “man of lawlessness” and the “beast out of the earth.”  Antichrists are simply false-teachers.  They simply profess that Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh.  That’s it.  

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[1] “Antichrist” is only found in 1 John 2.18, 22; 4.3; 2 John 1.7.  “Man of lawlessness” is only found in 2 Thessalonians 2.3. 
[2] There is a massive debate over the authorship of the three letters bearing the name, “John.”  I am not going to get into that debate—don’t really want to—so I will use the ambiguous title of, “writer”. 
[3] See also, John 15.23; cf. 5.23; 8.19; 14.7, 9; 16.3.

Points of revision (1 of 4)

HEADS UP 

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. 

COMMON ASSUMPTIONS  

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.