November 19, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #12--The Antichrist

How will we recognize the Antichrist?

In John's first letter, he speaks of false teachers and refers to them as antichrists. This and 2nd John are the only books in the Bible that this term, antichrist, is used.

Other books in the Bible refer to a supreme Antichrist who will come and oppose God and his people. 2 Thessalonians refers this Antichrist as a man of lawlessness, and Revelation 13 calls him the beast coming out of the sea. Daniel 7 and 9 speak of him as someone who will oppose God’s authority, oppress believers, abandon previous laws and institute his own system, and will appear as Israel’s friend, but will become Israel’s persecutor and occupy Jerusalem as the capital of his empire.

John is speaking of false teachers, but his readers would have known about the predicted ultimate Antichrist who would fulfill the image of several Old Testament passages that led to a Jewish expectation of an archenemy of God who was to rise just before the reign of the Messiah.

This individual will emerge in a time of rebellion, which in The Revelation probably refers to a revolt against God and the power of law. He will set himself up in God’s temple, sort of like a couple of Roman emperors who desecrated the temple just before and just after Christ was on earth.

The question here is, what is God’s temple? Will the Antichrist come from the Christian church or will the real temple have to be rebuilt? Or, will he simply just be in opposition to God?

The book of Revelation can be a confusing book. But, it’s not as crazy as people make it out to be. It is very specific type of literature known as apocalyptic literature, and it looks a lot like other 1st century apocalyptic literature. When you know how to read and decipher that kind of literature, a lot of questions (not all of them), but a lot of them are easier to answer. Also, realizing that John was writing this to seven churches in Asia Minor late in the 1st century helps you make more sense of what’s going on.

If someone would have said to John, "did you know that people in a land that has not yet been discovered will be reading these words 2000 years from now?", he probably wouldn’t have believed it. Remember that he thought Jesus would come back in his lifetime.

Revelation was written to 1st century Christians in Asia in the form of apocalyptic literature, and not to 21st century Americans in Mississippi. However, there is information here that is pertinent for us.

Revelation 13 gives a vivid description of a beast and a dragon and how men worshiped them. This is not a literal beast and dragon. It is imagery and metaphor. In fact, John’s audience would have probably recognized that John was referring to the Roman emperor Domitian who claimed to be either God or Nero come back to life.

Daniel gives numbers about the length of the anti-Christ’s reign, but as in most apocalyptic literature, it’s probably more safe to assume that these numbers are metaphorical and not literal. There are lots of things associated with the Antichrist, like the number 666 and the “mark of the beast”.

Lots of people try to use weird formulas and deductions to try to find the name of the Antichrist or make predictions about what the mark of the beast will one day be. Some have even pointed to things like bar codes, credit cards, and medical I.D. bracelets as the mark of the beast. So far, all of them have been wrong.

Revelation 13 mentions three evil beings: the dragon, beast #1 (from the sea) and beast #2 (from the land). Think of this as the unholy trinity that is trying to be like God. The number 666 falls short of the number that is used for God’s perfection, 777. This, then, may be a representation and not a literal number, as is common in apocalyptic literature.

Trying to discern names or figure out the mark of the beast misses the point of John’s symbolism. Trying to identify who the Antichrist might be by choosing some awful, godless person or movement in any time period is a distraction from the faithful life of following Christ that biblical apocalyptic literature consistently calls us to. You can fill hundreds of books with the names of people who have at one time or another been identified as the Antichrist, and been proved 100% wrong.

So, how will we recognize him?

We may or we may not until its too late. But, even if we did know who he was, we couldn’t stop him. When it’s God’s time for the final things to start moving into place, it’s His plan…not ours.

And, those believers who are alive when this happens, will get to see Jesus return and destroy him. So we shouldn't be upset or afraid of the Antichrist to come, because it means Jesus is right behind him.

Tomorrow we'll look at a question about children who die before they have an understanding of the Gospel. Do they spend eternity in heaven? Check out all of the Q and A series here.

1 comment:

Garrett said...

Good post. I especially like the comment about Mississippi. I see your next question is about babies. I wrote a 30 pager my final semester at seminary on the subject of "do babies go to heaven when they die?"