People have been trying to identify a particular antichrist for centuries. Christopher Hill’s book on the subject just deals with antichrist in seventeenth-century England. (There were many more through the centuries and in other countries.) The candidates included Protestants, the Pope, radical sects, bishops, the Crown, the “‘Establishment’ generally,” the universities, and “the Turk,” an early designation for Muslims:
Richard Montagu proposed the Turk rather than the Pope as Antichrist. This thesis may have been given fresh currency by a Balliol [College] man, Christopher Angelos, a Greek who had suffered at the hands of the Turks and had it revealed to him in a vision that Mahomet was Antichrist. ((Christopher Hill, Antichrist in Seventeenth-Century England (London, Oxford University Press, 1971), 181–182.))
As history and the Bible attest, they were all wrong. Bernard McGinn ((Bernard McGinn, Anti-Christ: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil (New York: Harper Collins, 1994).)) and Francis X. Gumerlock ((Francis X. Gumerlock, The Day and the Hour: Christianity’s Perennial Fascination with Predicting the End of the World (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2000).)) cover 2000 years of the topic, so the fact that others have made end-time antichrist predictions isn’t anything new. Like in ages past, today’s antichrist candidates are manufactured from current events rather than from Scripture.
As anyone who reads the Bible should know, antichrists (there wasn’t just one) are “those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (2 John 7) and “denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). The determining factor is Christology not political ideology. We know something about the “when” of the antichrists: “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). The “last hour” most likely refers to the near end point of what was the passing away of the Old Covenant order (1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 1:1–2). The people of John’s day had been told “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).
The “now” refers to John’s day. ((For helpful discussions on the topic of antichrist, see Peter J. Leithart, The Epistles of John Through New Eyes: From Behind the Veil (Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2009), chap. 6 and Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church, 4th ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1999), chaps. 18–23.)) Antichrists were first-century Jews who denied that Jesus was the promised Messiah and God was uniquely His Father (John 8:48–59). They were Jews who were “anti” (against) Jesus as the “Christ” (Messiah). In Revelation John is told that the gathering places for these antichrists are called “synagogues of Satan” (Rev. 2:9; 3:9). Given this background, it is impossible that the antichrists that John describes are Islamic or anything equivalent since Islam is a seventh-century A.D. invention and does not fit the time John was told the antichrists would arise.
What impact does antichrist speculation have on the ideological battles we are fighting today? If the antichrist is alive and well on planet earth, and the signs of the last day are all around us, then why bother with education, politics, the media, international affairs, economics, and a whole host of other worldview issues? Consider how the following statements might affect the mindset of millions of Christians who imbibe end-time scenarios:
“This world is not going to get any easier to live in. Almost unbelievably hard times lie ahead. Indeed, Jesus said that these coming days will be uniquely terrible. Nothing in all the previous history of the world can compare with what lies in store for mankind.” ((Charles C. Ryrie, The Living End (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1976), 21.))
“What a way to live! With optimism, with anticipation, with excitement. We should be living like persons who don’t expect to be around much longer.” ((Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), 145.))
“I don’t like cliches but I’ve heard it said, ‘God didn’t send me to clean the fish bowl, he sent me to fish.’ In a way there’s a truth in that.” ((Hal Lindsey, “The Great Cosmic Countdown,” Eternity (January 1977), 21.)) If you don’t clean the fish bowl, the fish die.
“The premillennial position sees no obligation to make distinctly Christian laws.” ((Norman L. Geisler, “A Premillennial View of Law and Government,” Moody Monthly (October 1985), 129.))
Ted Peters writes that dispensationalism “functions to justify social irresponsibility,” and many “find this doctrine a comfort in their lethargy.” ((Ted Peters, Futures: Human and Divine (Atlanta, GA: John Knox, 1978), 28, 29.))
William Edgar, a professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, recounts the time in the 1960s he spent studying in L’Abri, Switzerland, under the tutelage of Francis A. Schaeffer (1912–1984): ((See Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 42.))
I can remember coming down the mountain from L’Abri and expecting the stock market to cave in, a priestly elite to take over American government, and enemies to poison the drinking water. I was almost disappointed when these things did not happen. ((William Edgar, “Francis Schaeffer and the Public Square” in J. Budziszewski, Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices on Political Thought and Action (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 174.))
Edgar speculates, with good reason, that it was Schaeffer’s eschatology that negatively affected the way he saw and interpreted world events. One of Schaeffer’s last books, A Christian Manifesto, called for civil disobedience as a stopgap measure to postpone an inevitable societal decline. “The fact remains that Dr. Schaeffer’s manifesto offers no prescriptions for a Christian society. . . . The same comment applies to all of Dr. Schaeffer’s writings: he does not spell out the Christian alternative. He knows that you ‘can’t fight something with nothing,’ but as a premillennialist, he does not expect to win the fight prior to the visible, bodily return of Jesus Christ to earth to establish His millennial kingdom.” ((Gary North and David Chilton, “Apologetics and Strategy,” in Tactics of Christian Resistance: A Symposium, ed. Gary North (Tyler Texas: Geneva Divinity School, 1983), 127–128. Emphasis in original.)) Tom Sine offers a startling example of the effect “prophetic inevitability” can have on some people:
“Do you realize if we start feeding hungry people things won’t get worse, and if things don’t get worse, Jesus won’t come?” interrupted a coed during a Futures Inter-term I recently conducted at a northwest Christian college. Her tone of voice and her serious expression revealed she was utterly sincere. And unfortunately I have discovered the coed’s question doesn’t reflect an isolated viewpoint. Rather, it betrays a widespread misunderstanding of biblical eschatology . . . that seems to permeate much contemporary Christian consciousness. I believe this misunderstanding of God’s intentions for the human future is seriously undermining the effectiveness of the people of God in carrying out his mission in a world of need. . . . The response of the (student) . . . reflects what I call the Great Escape View of the future. So much of the popular prophetic literature has focused our attention morbidly on the dire, the dreadful, and the destruction of all that is. ((Tom Sine, The Mustard Seed Conspiracy: You Can Make a Difference in Tomorrow’s Troubled World (Waco, TX: Word, 1981), 69.))
Eschatological ideas have consequences, and many Christians are beginning to understand how those ideas have shaped the cultural landscape. A world always on the precipice of some great and inevitable apocalyptic event is not in need of redemption but only of escape. As one end-time speculator put it, “the world is a sinking Titanic ripe for judgment.” ((Jan Markell, “Kingdom Now: We’re Not Returning to Eden”. For a response, see Gary DeMar, “Is the World a Sinking Titanic?,” Biblical Worldview (May 2007), 4–6.)) An ideology like Marxism as had a field day with the prophetic speculation of dispensationalism, a movement that has preoccupied the thinking process of Christians since the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. Consider the following from Josef Tson of Romania:
Let me illustrate the importance of understanding the times from my own experience. The communist disaster fell on my country [of Romania] when I was a teenager. For many years after that, my life was a battle for intellectual and spiritual survival under Marxist indoctrination and totalitarian and Christian terror. I struggled to understand the nature of that calamity, and the Lord gave me that understanding. In the forties, I wrote papers on the nature of the failure of communism. One of them, published under the title The Christian Manifesto landed me in six months of house arrest with harsh interrogations by the secret police. But for me the crucial moment came in 1977, when a friend of mine challenged me to set up an organization that would openly expose communism.
Here is what I told him: “Communism is an experiment that has failed. It wasn’t able to fulfill any of its many promises and nobody believes in it any more. Because of this, it will one day collapse on its own. Now, why should I fight something that is finished? I believe that our task is a different one. When communism collapses, somebody has to be there to rebuild society! I believe our job as Christian teachers is to train leaders so that they will be ready and capable to rebuild our society on a Christian basis.”
To my surprise, here is what my friend said to me: “Josef, you are wrong. Communism will triumph all over the world, because this is the movement of the Antichrist. And when the communists take over in the United States, they will have no restraining force left. They will then kill all the Christians. We have only one job to do: to alert the world and make ready to die.”
A few years later my friend was forced to leave Romania. He came to the U.S. and settled down. Then I was forced into exile, and I moved to the U.S. as well. Since then, my friend has not done anything for Romania. He simply waited for the final triumph of communism and the annihilation of Christianity.
On the other hand, when I came here in 1981, I started a training program for Christian leaders in Romania. We translated Christian textbooks and smuggled them into Romania. With our partners in the organization, The Biblical Education by Extension (BEE), we trained about 1200 people all over Romania. Today, those people who were trained in that underground operation are the leaders in churches, in evangelical denominations, and in key Christian ministries.
You see, the way you look to the future determines your planning and your actions. It is the way you understand the times that determines what you are going to do. ((Josef Tson, “The Cornerstone at the Crossroads,” Wheaton Alumni (August/September 1991).))
I realize that there are many end-time advocates who are engaged in the culture. At the same time, I know that people who have no interest in prophetic speculation are equally disengaged (mostly two-kingdom amillennialists). Still, ideas have consequences. In the case of the prophetic speculators, it breeds worldview schizophrenia. In time, the activists throw up their hands and follow the path of prophetic logic: If all the signs point to the near return of Jesus, and all sorts of bad things are going to happen, including an economic meltdown like the one described by prophecy writers John Hagee (Financial Armageddon) and David Jeremiah (The Coming Economic Armageddon), then why spend my time and resources trying to fight something that is inevitable?
The collapse of humanism is an opportunity for Christians to prepare for what might come and to offer hope and solutions to those who have not prepared. There won’t be a rapture to rescue any of us. Deal with it. The sooner the better.