Are Prophecy Writers Confusing Christians About the End Times?
There is a long history of prophetic speculation. When I say a long history, I mean a l-o-n-g history. In addition to centuries of prophetic claims about the end, there is also a great deal of confusion about end-time themes. One of the most abused prophetic topics is the antichrist. There have been as many antichrist candidates as there are stars in the heavens. Well, not quite, but it seems that way.
Today’s popular version of antichrist can have dangerous consequences. He’s always just around the corner and there is no hope for the United States because of the antichrist. Not to worry because Christians are going to be “raptured” (see my book Truth About the Rapture), taken to heaven prior to a seven-year tribulation period. This means that the trouble we see in the world today is a prophetic inevitability. There is no way to work against it since the antichrist will rule the world.
The odd thing about speculation about an/the antichrist is that many people who write and speak on the subject fail to cite the passages where the word ‘antichrist’ is used. The most recent example is pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie whose definition of antichrist is not found in the Bible:
There are only four passages in the Bible that use the word ‘antichrist.’ Laurie does not mention one of them until the 42:19 mark of his 48-minute message and he misquotes it.2 Curiously, the book of Revelation does not use the word antichrist. Not one of these passages mentions anything that Laurie says about his version of antichrist. Read the passages for yourselves:
- “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).
- “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22)
- “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world” (1 John 4:2-3).
- “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7).
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Notice that there were “now many antichrists” (1 John 2:18). “Now” refers to John’s day. In 1 John 2:22, we find, “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.” In 2 John 7, we find a definition that compliments what we read in 1 John 2:22: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
John’s definition of antichrist is exclusively theological. Nothing is said about a charismatic leader, solving the Middle East conflict, ridding the world temporarily of terrorism, getting the Jewish nations and the Arab nations to sign a peace treaty that will pave the way for the long-awaited Third Temple, a satanic superman, namely, “the most evil man that ever lived.” Nowhere do we find John describing a ten-nation confederation led by antichrist.
John was describing antichrists (plural) in his day as evidence that “it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). What did John mean by “the last hour”? It’s a reference to the prophecy Jesus made in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21) and other places (Luke 11:46-52; 13:34-35; 17:22-37; 19:41-44) that a prophetic event was going to take place before their generation passed away. When John wrote his first epistle, the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 was very near. For a verse-by-verse study of Matthew 24, see my books Last Days Madness3, Wars and Rumors of Wars, and my shorter study Is Jesus Coming Soon?
The definition of an antichrist is self-evident: It’s someone who denies that Jesus has come in the flesh and thereby “denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). Who does John have in mind? The antichrists were most likely the unbelieving Jews of Jesus’ day. The early adversaries of Jesus and the gospel message were Jews. Jews denied Jesus as the true temple and lamb of God (John 1:29; 2:19; 8:59; Matt. 12:14; John 10:31; 11:8). Notice how Jesus describes His Jewish opponents:
You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44; also see vv. 8, 41).
Jews conspired with Herod and Pilate to have Jesus crucified. In the end, they rejected Jesus as their king and cried out, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). In addition to Jews being the first converts to Christianity as we see at Pentecost (Acts 2:5, 37–47; 5:11), Jews were also the first opponents of the gospel (4:1-22–5:17–42). Stephen was martyred by his own countrymen (7:54–60):
Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles…. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison (8:1–3).
When Herod “laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them” and “had James the brother of John put to death with a sword,” he continued the persecution when he saw that his actions “pleased the Jews” (12:1–3; also 24:27; 25:9). This emboldened Herod to seize Peter and have him put in prison (12:4).
Jews in Iconium “stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren” (Acts 14:2). Before long there was an attempt by “both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them” (14:5). Before long, “Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead” (14:19).
A now converted Paul was confronted and seized upon in the temple in Jerusalem by “Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on him” (Acts 21:27; 20:19; 24:18). Like what happened in Ephesus, “Then all the city was provoked, and the people rushed together, and taking hold of Paul, they dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. While they were seeking to kill him, a report came up to the commander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion” (21:30–31). Then there was the conspiracy by the Jews to kill Paul:
When it was day, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who formed this plot. They came to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have bound ourselves under a solemn oath to taste nothing until we have killed Paul.” Now therefore, you and the Council notify the commander to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case by a more thorough investigation; and we for our part are ready to slay him before he comes near the place (Acts 23:12–15).
In Ephesus and Jerusalem, it was the Roman government that came to the rescue of Christian believers over against pagans and adversarial Jews. To the Thessalonian Christians, Paul mentions the persecution of Jewish Christians at the hands of their fellow-Jews in Judea:
For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost (1 Thess. 2:14–16).4
The biblical antichrist is not the antichrist of many of today’s prophecy teachers. That’s not to say that there are not antichrists today since there are people who deny that Jesus has come in the flesh. There are millions of them. But don’t be led astray by people of good will who are teaching a false antichrist doctrine. They are teaching that there will be a single super-antichrist who will rule the world. The Bible does not teach this version of antichrist.
- Benjamin B. Warfield (1851–1921), Professor of Didactic and Polemic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1887 to 1921, had this to say about the modern attempt to construct a biblical antichrist from unrelated Scripture passages:“We read of Antichrist nowhere in the New Testament except in certain passages of the Epistles of John (1 John ii. 18, 22; iv. 3; 2 John 7). What is taught in these passages constituted the whole New Testament doctrine of Antichrist. It is common, it is true, to connect with this doctrine what is said by our Lord of false Christs and false prophets; by Paul the Man of Sin; by the Apocalypse of the Beasts which come up out of the deep and sea. The warrant for labeling the composite photograph thus obtained with the name of Antichrist is not very apparent.” Benjamin B. Warfield, “Antichrist,” The Expository Times, XXXII (1921), 358. Reprinted in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield — 1, ed. John E. Meeter (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970), 356. [↩]
- He reads the passage as “you know that the end of the world has come.” That’s not what the text says. The passage says, “we know it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). In the same verse, John writes “it is the last hour,” a reference to what was happening in his day. [↩]
- Laurie mentions the Man of Lawlessness (2 Thess. 2). My book Last Days Madness includes two chapters on the Man of Lawlessness. [↩]
- Benjamin B. Warfield comments: “[I]n this interpretation, the apostasy is obviously the great apostasy of the Jews, gradually filling up all these years and hastening to its completion in their destruction. That the Apostle certainly had this rapidly completing apostasy in his mind in the severe arraignment that he makes of the Jews in I Thess. ii. 14-16, which reached its climax in the declaration that they were continually filling up more and more full the measure of their sins, until already the measure of God’s wrath was prematurely . . . filled up against them and was hanging over them like some laden thunder-cloud ready to burst and overwhelm them, — adds an additional reason for supposing his reference to be to this apostasy — above all others, ‘the’ apostasy — in this passage.” Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Prophecies of St. Paul,” in Biblical and Theological Studies, ed. Samuel G. Craig (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1968), 474. [↩]