I began my Christian journey in the mid-70s.
The “Jesus Movement” was in full swing, and one of the most popular books on the market was The Late, Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey—a crossover best-seller warning our world would end…soon.
The book looked at (then) current events, and sought to compare them to end-times prophecies from the Bible, thereby predicting the imminent end of the world. (Some time in the 80, then definitely prior to the year 2000, if I remember correctly.) His premises were based on an approach of Scriptures known as Dispensationalism, which sees biblical history as a series of divine eras, or “dispensations” where God deals with humankind in different ways. (e.g., law versus grace) Within this overarching theology framework there’s much (MUCH!!) disagreement on the precise timeline and order of events, but several aspects are common: a Rapture of the saints, the rise of The Anti-Christ, the visible Return of Christ and Judgment Day. Overall, everyone was obsessed with using world events (earthquakes, famine, wars, rumors of war) to predict the impending Second Coming and the imminent rise of The Anti-Christ.
As part of an extreme Fundamentalist group, my early indoctrination was steeped in this literalistic belief system.
Author’s Note/Disclaimer: Time doesn't permit a thorough examination of this theology. Churches have formed...indeed, entire denominations have been founded on these beliefs, as well as institutions such as Moody Bible College, Dallas Theological Seminary and Liberty University. It’s still very popular, as seen in the bestselling Left Behind series of books and movies.
I admit, in all my theological training in college and seminary as well as 25+ years in the ministry, eschatology was never an interest of mine, so I don’t claim any expertise. I never worked up much energy tracking the “signs of the times,” forecasting the Return of Jesus, or arguing about whether the Rapture will come before, in the middle or at the end of a seven-year tribulation.
Moreover, since I have complete disdain for this particular theology, I’m not the person to provide adequate explanation. Any attempt by me to summarize could be seen as trivialization. I would appear cynical, sarcastic and condescending. (Who, me?) My purpose in this post is not to delineate the many intricacies, and it’s certainly not to debate it. Like much of the ingrained dogma in Fundamentalism, it’s become a tenet of orthodoxy, not open to differing opinions. Also, it’s a difficult premise to challenge because so many were raised with it as (pardon the pun) literally part of their Bible, in the form of Scofield notes—which are often seen as sacred.
(I will offer further clarification at the end of this post)
While I don’t hold to these beliefs, one aspect fascinates me—the persistent preoccupation with The Anti-Christ...especially re-surging in recent years.
Who is this mysterious, malevolent person
who will deceive believers into thinking he's a divine gift,
then with great power and influence, will alter the destiny of world events?
I think probably every generation has become convinced they’d uncovered the identity. As I’ve lived out my faith for these 40+ years, I’ve read many speculations. Several “end-times” sites I visited were convinced The Anti-Christ is alive now, gathering power and growing influence leading to his rise to power. (In this biblical “interpretation,” The Anti-Christ is always male, since there’s also a connection to the Great Harlot, who’s female.)
- Martin Luther thought it was the Pope, and I’ve heard other Popes…or any Pope as the likely Evil Incarnate.
- For eight years, we were inundated with Fundamentalists insisting it was Obama.
- During the campaign, we were warned it was Hillary who would pave the path for this great nefarious leader.
- Mike Bickle, the head of the International House of Prayer (IHOP) told his TV audience that it was...Oprah
The Bible doesn't go into detail about “The” Anti-Christ.
In fact, the term is only used three times, and not about a specific person. (cf: 1 John 2:18; 2 John 1:7; 2:22) But those who hold this belief cobble together other verses and combine multiple symbols to “flesh out” the individual. (e.g., Daniel 7; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10; Revelation 13) All interpretation of these kinds of prophetic literature is speculative, though I assure you, those who hold these beliefs would adamantly disagree with me.
Since I hadn't studied this viewpoint in many years, but continue to hear about this Anti-Christ, I did some research to get perspective. I read so, so many end-times theories and doomsday speculations about WHO this person might be and determined several recurring traits/themes:
- The Anti-Christ is a religious figure, heralded as a gift from God.
- The Anti-Christ appeals to the those who profess a faith in Jesus, amassing a significant, loyal following.
- The Anti-Christ purports to speak for God; essentially, they ARE the Christ.
- The Anti-Christ displays an arrogant confidence.
- The Anti-Christ is a master of deception.
- The Anti-Christ is actually in opposition to the teachings and principles of Jesus.
- The Anti-Christ wields great wealth and influence.
- The Anti-Christ is inextricably tied to political power.
Hey, I think I know that Anti-Christ!
Personally, I'm going with the actual meaning of the word, and how it’s used in St. John’s writing. “Anti-Christ” means “against Christ,” so I think any time we witness those who stand in opposition to the teachings, principles and example of Jesus, they would be deemed an anti-Christ. Using lies and deception to garner power would be considered an anti-Christ. (cf: 1 John 2:2; 2 John 1:7) An anti-Christ is anyone who seeks to usurp or put themselves in the place of Christ. When we hear those who claim to speak for Jesus, or as the exclusive voice of Jesus, we’re listening to an anti-Christ and seeing the “spirit” of an anti-Christ. (cf: 1 John 4:2–3)
There can be “many” anti-Christs. (cf: 1 John 2:18)
Given the basic guidelines provided by the Apostle John, and the expected characteristics I learned in my end-times research, I have solved the mystery to my satisfaction…though I’m sure some Fundamentalists will like or accept my conclusion.
It's very simple, albeit sad and sobering.
As I see it, it’s not one individual—not “The” Anti-Christ.
Not a person, but an overall persona.
Looking at our country today, I see sobering, disturbing elements in our current unholy union of right-wing politics and Fundamentalist Christianity:
- The ravenous desire for power and influence.
- An over-emphasis on wealth as the mark of divine blessing.
- Redefining greed as godly, revering those who display the attribute.
- Ignoring character in favor of control.
- Manipulative rhetoric laced with and founded on intentional lies, fabrication and exaggeration.
- The arrogant claim of being God’s distinct voice to others.
- A totalitarian insistence for obedience to their requirements, while showing no desire to follow their own standards.
- Showing a complete disregard of the teachings of Jesus when it comes to the poor, the oppressed, the outcasts, seeking justice, extending mercy to "the least of these," displaying LOVE.
Doesn't that align with the criteria we're supposed to watch for?
We see the the "spirit of anti-Christ" personified in this dangerous, politico-religious amalgamation. They claim to speak for Christ, but in fact, they're against the teachings that define Christ and the example that exemplify Christ.
Hence, they are anti-Christ.
To paraphrase the great philosopher Pogo: we have met the Anti-Christ, and he is us!
Be honest. You came here assuming I would point to Trump as The Anti-Christ, didn't you?
He is merely one of the visible "horns" of this beast.
Yes, there’s an Anti-Christ, but we don't have to look around to find him.
It’s not a man, but a mindset.
It’s not a him, or someone out there.
It’s us, and it’s in here!
The Anti-Christ lives and thrives among those of us who are part of the Christian faith community.
They use the Name of the Jesus I seek to follow, but they're going in a direction different than He called us walk.
They claim to share the faith I hold valuable, but I don’t recognize that faith in how they live, they things they say, or the way they treat others, particularly those who need help the most.
When I hear the combined voice of this offensive two-headed beast—right-wing politics and Fundamentalist church—I’m grieved.
And I’m afraid because I think they're dangerous.
I self-identify as a Christian, but I cannot…will not…identify with these folks.
I'm ashamed at the way they represent our shared faith.
They stand against almost everything Jesus stood for.
They are...The anti-Christ!
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Eschatology is the study of “last things,” which includes end times, end of life, afterlife, etc.
The particular doctrinal system I’ve talked about above (Premillennial Dispensational) is tedious and (in my opinion) convoluted—an amalgamation and patchwork of Bible verses arbitrarily attached. (e.g., Daniel, Ezekiel, the apostle Paul and John, the book of Revelation) It's widely held by Fundamentals/Evangelicals.
Like all of us, they go into their study of the Bible with certain underlying presuppositions, particularly the view of Full Inspiration of the Scriptures. (e.g., God so directed the words and thoughts of the writers that what’s written is actually God’s words and God’s thought. Also, God oversaw the arrangement of the books…the canonization…so what we have in the Bible is the “very and complete Word of God.” Many often use terms such as verbal, plenary, infallible and inerrant to further strengthen their stance about the Bible’s authority.)
When it comes to the Second Coming, there are differences in the precise order of events of the Rapture, the resurrection of the dead, the rise of this Anti-Christ, etc. The narratives can be intense, gory and extraordinary, on the scale of a nightmare induced by a monster-movie marathon, while eating a red-hot chili-pepper nachos appetizer and large pizza, washed down with Thunderbird wine. There are more characters and character names than a daytime soap opera–The Beast, the False Prophet, the Harlot. Numerology figures strongly. (The number “7” means this, the Mark of the Beast is “666,” the number “3” signifies…, etc.) There are peculiar creatures that would rival a SyFy flick—dragons, serpents, rams, goats, leopards, winged lions and bears. (Oh, my!) In this theological framework, all these elements have meaning, and can be understood, then applied to modern events, places, and individuals.
I have several problems with this approach, though time doesn't allow much exposition:
- I find the methods of “interpretation” suspect and subjective, therefore the conclusions to be spurious.
- It's another of those teachings that becomes exclusive and divisive. "We have The Truth, and you are wrong if you don't agree with us.
- It’s essentially another fear-based message to manipulate people into a “conversion” and motivate them to obedience...and donations (In many of the sites I visited, the final paragraph included a stern, ominous warning along the lines of “accept Jesus or perish.”)
- It expends much time, energy, effort and money to a subject (the Return of Jesus) when Jesus Himself told us that we would not the time or place. (cf: Matthew 24:36) Instead, we are admonished to keep doing the work of the Kingdom.
- While the Bible refers to the Second Coming of Jesus as the “Blessed Hope,” (cf: Titus 2:13) I think this teaching takes away hope and incentive.
Well, that’s a sign that Jesus will return soon.
We’re getting closer.
Probably in leagues with The Anti-Christ.
The earth will be destroyed soon.
Famine and hunger?
Rejoice, you're part of the last days.
Pastor says it one of the signs!