I had a pretty thought-provoking discussion with some teens during the retreat I did for the two youth groups in West Chester. I can’t remember exactly how (though I have some recollection), but the question of the Antichrist came up in conversation. Basically, the question was, “Will the Antichrist be an actual person?”
We were looking at First John where the author states, “but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (4:3 NIV).
From this passage, I notice a few things off the bat:
- The issue of First John deals with an early form of docetism, which is the denial of Christ’s humanity, that is, Christ didn’t have a real body but only appeared so. Thus, the author contrasting those who follow docetism and those with the apostles. Thus, every spirit that says Jesus didn’t come in the flesh is not from God (v. 2), and every spirit that says he is not from God is the spirit of the antichrist (v. 3).
- The spirit of the antichrist is “coming and even now is already in the world.” Thus, people were embodying this “spirit” when they claim that Christ is not from God. It is already in the world but is also coming.
- If any human beings are the antichrist, here, it would appear that the “false prophets” are.
- Lastly, notice: the spirit of the antichrist is coming. We should not take this particular passage to say that a person under the title “antichrist” is coming. Rather, we should see that the same spirit that was alive at that time is coming some time in First John’s future. Thus, it seems that this would not be an actual human being.
But let’s look elsewhere at the “antichrist”:
Second John 7 states, “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.” Here, there are many antichrists (plural), and those are people who don’t acknowledge that Jesus came in the flesh. Thus, these early docetics are antichrists.
There is one particular place where “antichrist” seems to be an actual person. First John 2:18 says, “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.” Thus, “the antichrist is coming,” which implies someone/thing in the future from the present moment of the penning of First John.
There are possible references elsewhere in Scripture to antichrist. Paul’s “man of sin” (2 Ths. 2), Daniel’s “little horn” (Dan. 7), and Revelation’s “Dragon,” “Beast,” “False Prophet,” and “Whore of Babylon” are all possible references to the antichrist.
Daniel specifically speaks of this figure setting up an “abomination that causes desolation” (9:27). However, this is likely fulfilled in Antiochus IV Epiphanes from the Seleucids dynasty (reign: 175-164 BCE), who did just that, and his action of setting himself up in the temple led to the rebellion of Maccabees. With this being said, it still could prefigure another person titled “antichrist.”
Now, we all want the Bible to speak to us today I do think the Bible speaks to us today, but we must be wary of making “future tense” passages our future. But the Bible, when it was written, was written to those people in those days.
Therefore, it seems to me that there are many antichrists and have been many antichrists. Anyone who stands in direct opposition to the Christ is the antichrist. It seems fair to say that Nero was the antichrist. Hitler was the antichrist. Perhaps (and I mean perhaps), the Pope was (?) as Martin Luther claimed. Osama bin Laden is the antichrist. In fact, someone reading my blog may be the antichrist since anyone who has the spirit of the antichrist is the antichrist.
I suppose we could play semantics and say, “Yes, there are antichrists, but we are still waiting for the Antichrist.” However, it seems to me that the antichrist is more of a spirit, ethos, or principle rather than an actual person. The reason individuals are “antichrist” is because they carry the spirit, ethos, or principle of “antichrist,” as First John states, “…every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus…is the spirit of the antichrist” (4:3).
In conclusion: biblically, “antichrist” is not a person but a spirit or principle. With this being said, individuals can also embody “antichrist.” In places where Scripture alludes to “antichrist,” this person has greater power than most, and, so, the area in which they have power leads to many antichrist-ian actions and laws. In a world where Christianity was anti-imperial (and still should be, mind you), the laws and actions of persecution were clearly instituted by an individual who embodies the ethos of “antichrist.” Christians today in many ways continue to experience actions instituted by “antichrist.”
If this is true, instead of looking for a political figure to arise in the future, we must look for those people and things which are embodiments of “antichrist.” Unjust laws. Persecution of the church. Death in all its forms. And let Christians respond to antichrist always with love and peace.