Troublesome Topic: The Term Antichrist

The Specific term “antichrist” does not appear even once in Revelation or Daniel or the Gospels. It is only found in epistles of I John (2:18, 22, 4:3) and II John (vs 7). I Jn 4:3 uses the phrase “spirit of antichrist;” 2:18 uses the term without an article while 2:22 and II Jn vs. 7 use an article, “the antichrist.” The context of all of these uses of the term “antichrist” is that of people who deny the identity of Jesus. At the time when John was writing these letters the most problematic heresy was Gnosticism, which taught that it was impossible for Jesus to have been both God and man at the same time. Gnostics taught that Jesus did not really come in the flesh, but he was a spirit who looked like a man (there were one or two other variations on that idea). At other times in history there have been other false teachings, but in many cases the problem has hinged on the answer to the questions “Who was Jesus?” and “What did He accomplish?”

The name “Satan” means “adversary” or “the one who opposes” i.e. the one who is always working against God. I believe John was using the term “antichrist” to point to people who were playing the same role that Satan plays – they were opposing God and Jesus. II Jn vs 7 is of particular interest here. It says, “For many deceivers have come into the world, those who do not acknowledge that Jesus is the one who comes in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.” The names Serpent and Dragon mean “ancient deceiver” and “great deceiver,” and I have already said that Satan is the one who opposes or fights against Jesus. Therefore, the sentence that says, “This is the deceiver and the antichrist,” could be paraphrased as, “This is the Serpent and Satan.” Do you see what John did here? Instead of giving a name and expecting the readers to catch the meaning, he gave the meaning and wanted his readers to catch the name associated with that meaning. He did this because those names had a tendency to cause considerable fear. However, John’s emphasis here is not on identity, but on the type of activity, i.e. someone playing the role of Satan.

John chose a very strong way to say it because he wanted to make clear that the people who were spreading the false teaching that was prevalent at that time (Gnosticism), were not believers in Jesus who had a slightly different opinion about Jesus’ identity; they were enemies of Jesus who were doing the work of Satan himself!

Therefore, the term “antichrist” is in no way related to the identity of some world leader of the future; it is a reference to people who oppose the work of God, who misconstrue the person and work of Jesus, and who spread false teachings about Jesus. Since the term “antichrist” is never used in any prophetic passage, and since the context of its uses in the epistles of John is clear, making it a reference to one of the Beasts of Revelation is an appalling example of faulty interpretive practices. The common use of the term “antichrist” is based on many assumptions, all of which fly in the face of the obvious uses of the term in John’s letters.

While the specific term “antichrist” does not appear in the Gospels or in the writings of Paul, the idea of an antichrist (one who opposes Christ) is seen occasionally. Jesus warned that others (plural) would come pretending to be the Messiah (Mt 24:5) and they will even perform great signs and wonders (Mtt 24:24), but these references are all plural meaning there is no way that passage predicts a single entity such as we hear described by the experts in eschatology (“end times”) as the Antichrist.

Paul talks about the “man of lawlessness, or man of sin … who opposes and exalts himself above everything called a god or worshipped, so as to sit in the temple of GOD, declaring himself to be GOD.” This is a little more specific than what Jesus said, but it is still not enough to make a positive identification of a specific person.

You don’t need to freak out about predictions that a certain person might be the Antichrist; instead you need to focus on making sure that your understanding of who Jesus is and what He did are properly based on Scripture.