When did you last hear a sermon about the Antichrist?
Probably never for most of us.
Yet, there are numerous references to him in the Bible; in some cases whole chapters are devoted to describing him.
Why then crickets in the pulpit?
I think the main reason is fear of embarrassment. As we look back at history we see that many preachers and writers tried to pin the tail on the donkey and missed by miles. Anyone for Napoleon…Hitler…Saddam Hussein!? Ouch! None of us want to be the next Harold Camping.
But while we might wisely hold back from specifically identifying the Antichrist as Barack Obama, or George Bush, or whatever, we must not hold back from at least highlighting and explaining the characteristics of the Antichrist as described in the Bible.
We’ll do that tomorrow, but in the meantime let me give you four general principles to bear in mind when surveying the biblical data.
First, the Antichrist is progressively revealed. Daniel is arguably the first biblical author to focus our attention on the Antichrist, although the principle of Antichrist can be seen in previous figures such as Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar. The Antichrist’s features are then increasingly revealed by Jesus, by Paul, and by John. The portrait starts out shadowy but gets more and more detailed and colorful as the Bible progresses. We must therefore be careful to take account of all the biblical data, especially the latter parts.
MANY AND ONE?
Second, there are many antichrists and there is one Antichrist. This seems contradictory but the Bible speaks both of multiple antichrists and of THE Antichrist, a succession of antichrists and a singular antichrist (1 John 2:18; 2 John 7).
NOW AND FUTURE?
Third, antichrist is both now and in the future. This helps us to understand the previous point. While the spirit of antichrist is at work in all ages, and many individuals embody that spirit throughout history, there will be one climactic Antichrist figure who will appear at the very end of time.
Fourth, the antichrist is prophesied in apocalyptic books. The books that speak most about the Antichrist are Daniel and Revelation, in sections that are not only prophetic but apocalyptic in genre. The section of Matthew in which Jesus predicts antichrist is also called “the mini-apocalypse.” This much more pictorial language cautions us against a too-literal interpretation; instead we must try understand the literal principles behind the multiple symbols and metaphors.
This is tricky, isn’t it, and maybe partly explains the widespread quiet. However, this silence is also deeply worrying because it lulls us into a false sense of security, a state of unreadiness and unpreparedness.
If I were the Antichrist, I’d be thinking, “Hey the time is just about right. No one is looking, no one is expecting, hardly anyone knows about me, and even fewer would know me if they met me.”
So let me introduce him to you tomorrow.