The Antichrist is a popular theme in modern evangelical circles. Dispensationalists have actually cornered the market on attempts to identify him. They have made millions with their wrong guesses; I have made hundreds trying to correct them.
One incredible problem with their attempts at identifying the Antichrist is: their evidence is absolutely, totally unbiblical. They look to the newspapers to identify this phenomenon. But the only place the Antichrist is specifically mentioned is in 1 John and 2 John. But the evidence from these Johannine epistles absolutely destroy the quest for a person, contemporary Antichrist. Let us consider the current-day error then consider the ancient evidence.
The Current Error
Many dispensationalists believe he is alive today. In an interview in Eternity magazine in 1977 Hal Lindsey responds to a question regarding the Antichrist: “In my personal opinion, he’s alive somewhere now.” This reminds us of Tertullian’s statement 1700 years ago that Antichrist “is now close at hand.” One poorly timed 1988 book was Gorbachev: Has the Real Antichrist Come? Best-selling author Dave Hunt writes that there “is strong evidence indeed that the Antichrist could appear very soon — which means that the rapture may be imminent.” He is convinced that “somewhere, at this very moment, on planet Earth, the Antichrist is almost certainly alive.” Mark Hitchcock’s 2002 book asks: Is the Antichrist Alive Today? He titles chapter 8: “Antichrist is Alive and Well.”
The dispensational Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy even includes a heading: “Is the Antichrist Alive Today?” In so doing it struggles to correct fellow dispensationalists who “tragically” are “guessing dates and selecting possibilities for the Antichrist.” Of course, this sort of belief has for generations been the tendency among dispensationalists, who constantly point out numerous possible Antichrist candidates.
Amillennialists are not so excitable, but they generally concur with Cornelis Venema that: “the Bible does teach that the Antichrist will appear prior to Christ’s return at the close of this present age. This Antichrist will likely be a person in whom the growing opposition to the gospel and truth of God’s Word will be concentrated.” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones holds that “we can, I think, be certain that the Antichrist will ultimately be concentrated in one person, who will have terrible power, and will be able to work miracles and do wonders in a way that will almost deceive the elect themselves.”
Amillennialist Anthony Hoekema states that “we can thus expect to continue to find antichristian powers and persons in every era of the church of Jesus Christ until his Second Coming,” consequently, “it would not be correct to says that John had no room in his thinking for a future personal antichrist, since he sill looks for antichrist who is coming.” Robert Reymond, citing others, holds that Antichrist is “a distinct personage who will appear on the scene of this world just prior to the advent of Christ,” and states that he “will be revealed and will oppose and exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, and even set himself up in the God’s temple (the church), proclaiming himself to be God.”
Ironically, the least helpful verses for developing the dispensational, premillennial, and amillennial views of the Antichrist are the only ones that expressly mention him. “Antichrist” appears only four times in all of Scripture: in 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; and 2 John 7. (John Walvoord in his comprehensive Prophecy Knowledge Handbook does not even mention these verses in his treatment of “Prophecy in 1, 2, and 3 Jn and the Epistle of Jude” — or anywhere else in his 800-page work.)
Many writers argue that other figures, such as Daniel’s Little Horn, Paul’s Man of Sin, and John’s Beast, refer to a personal, end-time Antichrist: The “organic development of sin finally culminates in the ‘man of sin’ (II Thessalonians 2:3–12). That is the kingdom of Antichrist.” “Plainly the idea [in Rev 13:18] is that the world . . . ultimately will bring forth the antichrist, who is here called the beast.” “Now let me give you my proof that Daniel 7, 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 13 all refer to the Antichrist.” “The New Testament also teaches us to look for a single, final antichrist in the future (see 2Th 2:3–4).”
Under “Titles of the Antichrist,” the Popular Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy lists “the beast,” “the man of lawlessness, and Daniel’s “little horn.” But these associations are surely mistaken. Not only do none of the contexts of these titles mention the word “Antichrist,” but they actually contradict the explicit references to Antichrist. This is all the more remarkable in that the word “Antichrist” does not even appear in the context of the beast of Revelation, despite the fact that Revelation’s author, John, is the only New Testament writer who does employ the word “Antichrist” elsewhere.
Warfield provides helpful insights into John’s teaching on the Antichrist: “he makes three declarations concerning Antichrist which appear to traverse its implications. He transposes Antichrist from the future to the present. He expands him from an individual to a multitude. He reduces him from a person to a heresy.” These three observations undermine the bulk of modern Antichrist discussion.
The Biblical Solution
John’s readers are hearing that though Antichrist is not yet on the scene, he nevertheless “is coming.” but John informs them that this “antichrist” “is now already in the world” (1Jn 4:3). As Warfield notes “that post-posited ‘already’ [carries] with it the utmost strength of assertion.” John writes: “this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world” (1Jn 4:3b). John clearly warns them that that which they “heard was coming” is “now already in the world.” In addition, he remarks: “As you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come” (1Jn 2:18). Due to the appearing of these antichrists, his readers should understand that “it is the last hour” (1Jn 2:18). They are not harbingers of a distantly future Antichrist, for their presence is the signal that “the last hour” has already “come” (gegonasin). The “even now” emphasizes the presence of that which they fear (“as you heard”).
An objection from one amillennialist theologian against postmillennialism is postmillennialism’s removal of the antichrist not only from our future expectation but from the very center of time: “more and more that kingdom of darkness comes to manifestation as time progresses. At the very center of time therefore, stands the development of the Antichristian world power. Really, postmillennialism has no room for Antichrist in its thinking. . . . Antichrist cannot be taken seriously.”
In redirecting his readers’ focus from the Antichrist’s future to his contemporary existence, John points out that the Antichrist is a movement, rather than an individual. In dealing with the idea of “the Antichrist,” he writes: “even now many antichrists have come” (1Jn 2:18). In fact, Antichrist is a “spirit” (1Jn 4:3) that pervades these many “antichrists” (1Jn 2:18), which involve “many deceivers” (2 Jn 7). Such views as Hoekema’s are surely mistaken: “The New Testament also teaches us to look for a single, final antichrist in the future (see 2Th 2:3–4).”
Antichrist really is not a multitude of people, but rather the “spirit” (1Jn 4:3) among them that promotes deception (2 Jn 7) regarding Christ. “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son” (1Jn 2:22). John clearly applies the conception of the one Antichrist (ho antichristos) to the generic tendency to promote lies about the identity of Christ. He repeats this point in his second letter: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and the antichrist [ho antichristos]” (2Jn 7). Thus, “according to 1 John, what is to be dreaded about the Antichrist is not the unleashing of awesome destruction but the fomenting of heresy.”
On the basis of these four references we learn that Antichrist is not an individual, malevolent ruler looming in our future. John was “not looking to the appearance of some supernatural being in the prophesied future.” Rather, Antichrist is a contemporary heretical tendency regarding the person of Christ, which is current among many in John’s day. Hoekema errs when he writes: “Yet it would not be correct to say that John had no room in his thinking for a personal antichrist, since he still looks for an antichrist who is coming.” As we shall see below, the beast of Revelation and the man of lawlessness are also contemporary realities in the first century — though wholly distinct from Antichrist.
Other than this biblical evidence, perhaps the Antichrist is alive and well on planet earth. Perhaps he has not read what the Bible says about him!