Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Antichrist: Alive and Well?

Did you know that the Antichrist is alive and well today? I once learned that in Sunday school class. We were studying the book of Daniel and our teacher said that he firmly believed that the Antichrist was a strapping young lad alive and well somewhere in the Balkans. How did he know that he was alive and well? I don't know! I've heard many people saying that we are living in the end-times, because our culture is falling away from Christianity, maybe that influenced his thinking. But . . . people have believed they we're in the end of times for thousands of years. We could have thousands of years to go. Cultures have also fallen away from God before (think about the Roman Empire for instance), what makes ours more important than other cultures in God's program.

Why did he think he was living in the Balkans? I also don't know! It probably has something to do with the Dispensationalist idea of a revived Roman Empire, and then they associate this Empire with the European Union. I just had someone tell me two week ago that there are 21 nations in the EU at the moment, the Bible says that there will only be 10. He was predicting some bloody wars coming down the pike for Europe. They get this number 10 from the book of Revelation, but is that really what that passage says? I've even heard recently that Barack Obama is the Antichrist, but I heard the same thing about Bill Clinton when he was in office. Many times people just call politicians they don't like the Antichrist. I had a friend recently who wrote an article on why he could be the Antichrist (tongue in cheek, I believe).

So, what does the Bible really say about this enigmatic figure? We live in an era where anyone can get a platform, whether through the internet or on TV. So, we need to ground our understanding not in what we have heard people say, but in a proper interpretation of what God's word says. That of course is not going to answer all of our questions, but it will narrow down possibilities.

I want to take a look at this topic, and I would like your feedback. Has the Antichrist already come? Preterists believe that. The Antichrist is Titus or Caligula or some other historical figure. Is the Antichrist still to come? Futurists believe that a really evil dude is yet to appear on earth immediately prior to Christ's Second Coming. If he is still future, what will he be like? I'm going to start by analyzing fairly straight-forward descriptions of the Antichrist and move on to the crazier ones.

First, I want to take a look at what 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 says about the Antichrist, or as Paul calls him, the man of lawlessness. In 2 Thessalonians the church in Thessalonica was dealing with false teachers, who were proclaiming that the Day of the Lord had already taken place. Paul writes this letter mainly to correct this faulty doctrine. Paul contends that this day of rest and retribution hasn't taken place yet. Indeed, there are still many things that need to happen first:

1. A rebellion or apostasy (3a)
2. A rebel revealed - The Man of Lawlessness (3b-4, 8-9)
3. A restrainer is removed (5-7)
4. A great deception (10)
5. A delusion sent from God (11-12)

Paul's argument is that these these haven't happened yet and that is proof that the Day of Lord hasn't come yet. Therefore, I take it that whoever Paul is talking about is not a contemporary of his, but someone to come at some point in the future. Another clue that this has yet to happen is that Paul tells us that this man of lawlessness will be destroyed by the breath of Christ at his 2nd coming. I wasn't there, but I don't believe that Christ came back in 70 CE. I personally think this passage is talking about a figure who will be revealed in the future, just prior to the return of Christ. So, if that is true, then what does this passage teach us about the Antichrist?

First of all let's look at what he is called:

1. Man of Lawlessness

The KJV translates this as man of sin, but the actual word more commonly refers to the idea of lawlessness. In other words, the first thing we learn is that this guy pays no attention to God or what God would want.

2. Son of Destruction

This is said of one other figure in the New Testament, Judas. In John 17 we learn that Judas was a son of destruction, which meant that he was destined for destruction before he was even born! Is that what Paul means here? If that is true, then the Antichrist is also destined for destruction. It just makes sense to compare the Antichrist with Judas. In both cases these men allowed themselves to be used by Satan to do his bidding, and because of that they will be judged severely.

We also learn some other things about the Antichrist here:

3. He will exalt himself above every god

It doesn't matter the god or object of worship, the Antichrist will set himself above it, whether it be Bhudda, Allah, the true God, or a soda pop can. He will make himself the object of worship.

4. He will set up an abomination of desolation

This language comes from Dan. 7, 8, 9, and 11, which hopefully I will take a closer look at later. Daniel predicted that a lawless one would come and desolate the altar in the Temple. This prophecy was fulfilled with Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 BCE. He outlawed Judaism and sacrificed a pig on the altar. However, Jesus, John, and Paul all pick up on this prophecy from Daniel and describe another lawless one still to come who will also set up an abomination of desolation. Antiochus declared Olympian Zeus to be god, but the Antichrist will declare himself to be god.

5. He will be destroyed by the Lord

The Antichrist might seem powerful, but his power is nothing compared to the power of the Lord. When Christ returns he will destroy him with the breath of his mouth (Is. 11:4) and wipe out any reminder of him. The Antichrist is not someone to be feared, because this guy is no match for our savior.

6. He will perform false miracles by Satan's power

The Antichrist will perform signs, wonder, and miracles, probably seeking to parody the work of Christ. When Peter preaches in Acts 2 he tells the crowd that Jesus' ministry was confirmed by signs, wonders, and miracles. These "signs" won't be illusions, magic tricks, or card games. These will be real miracles by the power of Satan and will lead many astray. We will see more of this when we talk about Revelation 13.

7. He will deceive many

He won't deceive the elect, but only those who are perishing, and God will help him out. God will sened a delusion on this group of people so that they believe the propaganda of the man of lawlessness. We see the same phenomenon in Romans 1. The people turned to idols and worshipped them, so God turned them completely over to their idolatry. God's spirit no longer strived with them, instead he let their evil reach its fullest. The same thing will be true in the end. Those who believe the deception will be further deluded by God because of their delight in evil and their rejection of the truth.

It is easy to get caught up in an eschatological frenzy and believe someone who tells you that they have all the answers. You watch a guy on TV who picks up a newspaper and demonstrates how all the headlines are fulfillments of prophecy. It sounds cool. We do have some information about this fellow, but we don't know everything, especially whether or not he is alive and living in the Balkans. I want to leave you with this today. Would you only chew gum that someone else already chewed for you? I urge you to search the scriptures for yourself, don't eat ABC gum! Anchor yourself in what the Bible says for sure, and what it doesn't say for sure let go.

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