I John 2:18
Please turn in the pew Bibles to the first letter of John, chapter two and follow along as I read verse 18: “Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour.”
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Back in the mid-seventies, I had a church in Belton, SC. One Sunday morning, between Sabbath School and Morning Worship, a young man met me in the hall. He was all excited. He said, “Tony, I know who the Antichrist is.” Well, I asked the obvious question, “Who?” His reply: “Henry Kissinger.”
You may remember Kissinger. He served as Secretary of State both in the Nixon and Ford administrations. He was much in the news at the time, but that did not seem a reason to name him the Antichrist.
But my friend insisted that Kissinger’s name produced the number of the beast. The book of the Revelation says that the number of the beast is 666.
My friend said that the number six is the key. You assign increasing multiples of six to each letter of the alphabet--A=6, B=12, C=18, D=24, and so on. Go through the whole alphabet that way, then substitute the multiples of six for the appropriate letters in “Kissinger” and add up all these numbers, and you get 666.
Now my friend was dead serious about this, but I kind of blew his mind when I pointed out that the book of the Revelation was written in Greek, and the Greek alphabet is different from the English Alphabet. But what my friend was doing has a long history in the church. There is a whole literature devoted to identifying the Beast, or the Antichrist, by various calculations involving that dread number.
If you take the value of the Roman numerals "VV IL DVCE" you get 666, add a few vowels to those letters and you also get "Viva Il Duce," a phrase chanted on every street corner in Italy during the 1930’s for Benito Mussolini.
Returning to the English alphabet, if we begin numbering our letters with 100: A=100, B=101, C=102 and if we substitute our numbers for the name “Hitler,” and add them, again we get 666.
Sometimes other methods of calculation are used. Some folks accused President Ronald Wilson Reagan of being the Antichrist because his first, middle, and last names each had six letters.
The problem with all of these calculations is that if you can set the numeric value of the letters and the method of calculation, you can pretty much make any name sum up to 666.
During the Reformation, Roman Catholics generally denounced the Reformers as Antichrist. In that time, many Roman Catholics believed that a son of Martin Luther would be Antichrist. Luther was an ex-priest; his wife was an ex-nun. To Catholics that was the ultimate blasphemy and their child must be the Antichrist. In return, practically all Protestant groups called the Pope the Antichrist. Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and John Wesley, all identified the Roman Papacy as Antichrist.
Our own Westminster Confession of Faith, as originally written in 1643, contained a statement denouncing the Pope as antichrist. But we have since removed that statement, and I do not hear much of that any more. So who is the Antichrist? Mussolini and Hitler, and even poor Ronald Reagan are all dead. Who then is the Antichrist?
Let us get back to the basics. The English word “Antichrist” is taken from the Greek αντίχριστος, which literally means "instead of” or “in place of” “Christ".
Contrary to a popular belief, the word "Antichrist" does not occur in the Book of the Revelation. In fact, the word “Antichrist” only appears four times in the Bible and only in the first and second letters of John.
But there are several other figures mentioned in the Bible who are sometimes identified with the Antichrist. It is supposed that the different authors of scripture use different terminology to describe the same figure. These other figures include:
1. The little horn of the prophet Daniel,
2. The Man of Sin of 2 Thessalonians, who is also called the Son of Perdition.
3. And, last but not least, the beast of Revelation
Most scholars feel that the “little horn” of Daniel chapter 7, was Antiochus IV Epiphanes. “Epiphanes” in Greek means “the shining one,” or “the god.” Around 167 BC, he sacked Jerusalem. He erected in the Temple on Mount Zion an altar to the pagan god Zeus, and sacrificed a pig on the altar. This was the abomination of Desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel (11:31, 12:11). Antiochus demanded that the Jews worship him as God. He thus becomes the type of the Antichrist. He wanted to be worshipped instead of God.
Again, in Revelation 13, we read that everyone worshipped the beast and the beast blasphemed God and wanted to be worshipped as God.
In II Thessalonians 2, the "man of sin", "the son of perdition" sets himself up in the temple of God, on the false pretense that he is God. As you can see both the beast and the man of sin, follow the example of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and want to be worshipped instead of God.
With that background then, let us look at what the letters of John have to say about the Antichrist, since only these letters use that word.
I John 2:18 begins with a startling statement: “Children, it is the last hour!” What can John possibly mean by that? We think that this letter was written toward the end of the first century. If John meant that the world was going to end shortly, we can say from the viewpoint of 2000 years, that he was wrong, but the old commentator Adam Clarke says that some would translate the phrase “the last hour” as “a most difficult, perilous, and wretched time; a time in which all kinds of vices, heresies, and pollutions shall have their full reign.” This is similar to the time Jesus warned of when he said in Matt. 24:24, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”
I John also tells us about false messiahs. V18 says, “You have heard that antichrist is coming.” You have heard this great figure is coming who will be the adversary of Christ. John says, you have heard that, but you also need to hear something else: many antichrists are present right now.
The enemies of Christ were already present in the first century, and they are still present in the 21st century. Any person, thing, philosophy, or religion, which is opposed to Christ, is antichrist. We do not need to do obscure and arcane calculations to figure out the name of the Son of Perdition. Every person who opposes the teachings of Jesus is antichrist.
As we read I John, we realize that John is dealing with strife in the church. Some folks have left the church. We read in v19, “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us.”
These separatists were probably Gnostics. Gnosticism is an ancient heresy that has suddenly become popular again. National Geographic sponsored a “Gnostic Gospel” special on TV. The novel The Da Vinci Code, and subsequently the movie, is based supposedly upon Gnostic documents. But if you read the documents, you realize that the Jesus of the Gnostics is not a real Jesus.
The Gnostic teacher Cerinthus was active during the period when the letters of John were written. Cerinthus argued that the divine Christ descended upon the man Jesus at his baptism and left the man Jesus before he was crucified. Thus, the death of Jesus on the cross has no significance at all, So Cerinthus taught. The man Jesus is not really the Christ, the savior.
In rebuttal to this way of thinking, John says in v22, “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.”
Again, in 4:2 “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” Jesus came in the flesh and died a real death on the cross that we might be saved from our sins and reconciled to God. That is the gospel. Anything else is antichrist.
Now what is the application for me and you? Just as many antichrists were around at the end of the first century, so we face many antichrists today. John is saying to us, don’t be deceived, recognize these counterfeits for what they are.
You might ask, how do we do that? How do we recognize counterfeit Christianity?
I John 2:19 gives us a hint: “They went out from us.” They departed from the fellowship. Those movements and groups that profess a counterfeit Christ originate in the church, but ultimately they prove what they are by leaving the church. For example, Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, was raised in the Presbyterian church. Marshall Applewhite was the son of a Presbyterian minister. He was even the music director for a Presbyterian church in Gastonia for a short time. Then Applewhite left the church, founded the Heavens Gate cult and led that cult to ritual suicide in 1997. Followers of a Counterfeit Christ eventually leave the body of Christ.
But the major characteristic of counterfeit Christianity is that they deny the incarnation. Again, I John 2:22, “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.” Many in the 21st century find it easy to talk about God but difficult to talk about Jesus. I reminded of a movie I saw some months ago, The Kingdom of Heaven. It is a movie about the crusades. You would assume that a movie about the crusades would make at least some passing reference to Christianity, since Christianity, for better or for worse, was the driving force of the crusades. But there is not a single mention in the movie of Christ at all. And this is not an isolated example. Hollywood filmmakers will go to any length to avoid mentioning the name of Jesus.
Furthermore, since the court decisions involving the Great Falls town council, we are prohibited from praying in Jesus name at public meetings. This is just one more example of what seems like a movement to remove any mention of Jesus from our society. As a Christian, I can have only one response to the Great Falls Prayer Controversy. I do not have any prayers that do not have Christ in them. If the secular power does not want me to pray a Jesus prayer, then do not ask me to pray.
The real Jesus is God incarnate to whom we offer our prayers. The Gnostics denied that. The Gnostics denied that God became the man Jesus. By the same token the counterfeit Christs being offered today deny the deity of Jesus.
How do we respond to these Counterfeit Christs? As Christians we want to be gentle people and we do not want to be unnecessarily offensive, but we need to hear the force of John’s words.
John says in v22 that those who deny that Jesus is Christ are liars. They are frauds, fakes, and phonies. That is blunt language. But John is not done. Those who deny that Jesus is God come in the flesh are antichrist.
John’s purpose in this blunt language is to warn us. Do not be deceived by a counterfeit Christ when you can have the real deal. Real Christianity teaches that Jesus died a real death on the cross in order to reconcile us to God. Moreover, Jesus demonstrated his divinity by rising from the dead on Easter Sabbath. That is the real Jesus. Anything else is Antichrist. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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