Beasts in the Church

Throughout the present age, the Church has been plagued with deceivers bent on deceiving the saints and causing their apostasy

Wolf Pack - Photo by Thomas Bonometti on Unsplash
The term “
antichrist” occurs in John’s first two epistles. In his first, he warns “it is the last hour, and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.” The letter does not deny that an individual “antichrist” is coming, but its point is that many “antichrists” are active in the church already - [Wolf Pack - Photo by Thomas Bonometti on Unsplash].

The Greek term rendered “antichrist” is antichristos, a compound of the Greek preposition anti and the noun for “anointed” or christos. The preposition signifies “instead of,” not “against,” and thus an “anti-christ” is someone or something that replaces the true Christ, that is, a false christ.

And in the passage, “antichrists” is plural. John is referring to multiple false teachers that “went out from us, but they were not of us; …but they went out that it might be plain that they all are not of us.” They are active within the Christian community.

Most likely, John derived the term from the repeated warnings by Jesus about coming deceivers - “Many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many… For there will arise false Christs and false prophets and will show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, to deceive the very elect” - (Matthew 24:24).

Likewise, Paul warns of the coming “man of lawlessness.” Whether he views this figure as a global political leader or not, his focus is on the man’s ability to deceive believers, and he links him to the coming “apostasy” - (2 Thessalonians 2:3-10).

This “man of lawlessness” will seat himself in the “sanctuary of God…proclaiming himself to be God.” Elsewhere, Paul applies the term “sanctuary of God” and similar language metaphorically to the church of Jesus Christ and shows little interest in any temple building in old Jerusalem - (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:19-22).

The image of the “man of lawlessness" is derived from Daniel’s image of the “little horn” that he saw on the head of the “fourth beast,” a malevolent figure that persecuted the saints. Most certainly, this man was a political figure, but he is remembered far more within Judaism as the deceiver who led many Jews astray with his promotion of Hellenism and pagan religious practices (Antiochus IV) - (Daniel 7:7-8, 8:10-14, 11:30-36).

But Paul links the “man of lawlessness” with the future “apostasy.” He will act “In accord with Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who are perishing, because they did not receive the love of the truth to be saved. And for this reason, God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth but took pleasure in wickedness” - (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).

In Thessalonians, the emphasis is NOT on this figure’s political authority or military prowess but on his ability to mislead people from the faith. His purpose will be to destroy the church. For that very reason, Jesus will destroy him at his “arrival.”

The “lawless one” will offer a false version of Jesus, something “instead of Christ.” He will proclaim “another gospel” and a “different Jesus," one fundamentally different than the Messiah revealed on the Cross of Calvary.

Likewise, though the “Beast from the sea” in Revelation has political aspects, he “wages war against the saints” and NOT against other nation-states. Whether this is the same figure that Paul and John had in view, Revelation never applies the term “Antichrist” or “Man of Lawlessness” to him. Consistently, the “Dragon” and his minions unleash “war” against the followers of the “Lamb” - the “saints” – Those “who have the testimony of Jesus” - (Revelation 11:7, 12:17, 13:7-10).

Thus, already in the first century, false prophets and deceivers were active within the church to hoodwink Christians, NOT to deceive the world at large. Their goal was to deceive the followers of Christ. In fact, warnings about coming deceivers are common in the New Testament:
  • (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) - “False apostles and deceitful workers” of his day who “disguised themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.”
  • (1 Timothy 4:1) – “The Spirit explicitly warns that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”
  • (2 Peter 2:1-22) - “False teachers among you who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality and because of them, the way of the truth will be maligned.”
Their purpose is to mislead the elect and destroy the church. In the end, the “Antichrist” may turn out to be a world political leader. However, considering the many warnings from Scripture, perhaps we should not be surprised if he first appears within the Church of God.

Finally, serious consideration must be given to the challenge of Jesus - “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find the faith on the earth?” While his statement is enigmatic, it does suggest a final time when deception and apostasy will be significant problems among his followers, and perhaps the faithful will become a small remnant in the dark days prior to his advent – (Luke 18:8).



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