The devil you know

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us (1 Jn 2:18).

The latest candidate for the antichrist is Prince Charles. According to the Beastwatch website, HRH The Prince of Wales gives the game away in his coat of arms, which features a leopard (kind of), bear feet (kind of) and the mouth of a lion (well, yes). Check out Revelation 13:2 to see that this makes him the beast, at least. Furthermore, as the eighth ‘Charles’ according to some arcane calculations, he matches the predictions of Rev 17:9-11 that the beast will be the eighth of a line. And the clincher is that when you add up the numerical assignations of the letters ‘PRINCE CHARLES OF WALES’ you get a certain significant number: 666.

Honorable Reader, this is not the way to understand the Bible. And yet I feel uncomfortable being sarcastic about such foolishness, for there is nothing more damnable than being anti-Christ. It is the thing by which we are all to be judged: “whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (Jn 3:36b).

However, when it comes to the Book of Revelation and the identification of figures such as the Antichrist, the Beast and the False Prophet—which are in different Bible passages single figures, nations or unidentifiable entities—a little cynicism about our poor human attempts at understanding is not out of place. Fantasy and prophetic enthusiasm too easily overtake reality and sober judgement. Let’s take the issue of the antichrist as an example.

The word ‘antichrist’ appears only in the letters of John. However, the concept is there right through the Old and New Testaments. ‘Antichrist’ means exactly what it sounds like—‘against Christ’. It’s an attitude of rebellion and God-hating, falsehood and deception. “Who is the liar?” asks 1 John 2:22, “It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son.”

John writes that “many antichrists have come”, reminding us that there has been great opposition to Christ ever since he was born (remember how Herod killed all the babies in Bethlehem trying to get to Jesus?). Throughout the whole Bible, we find characters who are ‘anti’ God’s plans—wicked men, foreign kings, false prophets and ‘the beast’ who features in Revelation 13. Even in Deuteronomy, there are warnings about the rise of prophets who lie and preach rebellion against the true God.

But is there going to be one mega-evil ruler who will deceive the world and lead millions astray and do things like brand ‘666’ on their foreheads?

Probably not. There are passages in the Bible which talk about a particular being who is Christ’s foe (e.g., “the man of lawlessness” in 2 Thessalonians 2 or the dragon of Revelation 12-13 who is identified as the Devil). But this kind of symbolic language is used to describe an attitude or spirit of evil rather than a single evil person. The fact that some parts of Scripture bring ultimate evil to a head by using an individual character to identify it probably says more about how dramatic literature operates than it does about predicting history.

The worst thing about antichrists is that they have come from within the church! The apostle John wrote that they “went out from us, but they did not really belong to us”. This is what antichrists do. They get among believers and try to deceive them, persuading them to believe lies and getting people to follow them and their deceptions rather than Jesus and his truth. They teach that Christ did not come in the flesh (1 Jn 4:1-3); they say it doesn’t matter whether you sin or not (1 Jn 1:5-10); and they neglect their Christian brothers and sisters (1 Jn 4:19-21).

According to God’s word, the antichrist might have sat next to you in the church pew. This isn’t a scene from a horror movie; quite the opposite-it is an everyday event. In this final age before Jesus returns, plenty of opponents of Jesus will arise. And they may even be in church, trying to deceive us and lead us into error. But Christians can be confident and at peace, because there will be a day when all ‘antichristness’ will be done away with.

It’s a bit of a waste of time trying to work out whether the antichrist is Boris Yeltsin, the Dalai Lama, Bill Gates or the Pope. It’s just as likely to be your granny or your next door neighbour, if they are promoting lies about our Lord.

Just make sure it isn’t you …

See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—even eternal life. (1 John 2:24-25)

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