If there’s one thing that the 2016 presidential election in America is doing, it’s getting Christians thinking about their eschatology. Of course, they probably don’t realize this. But stick with me for a second.
While some people might (jokingly) speak of reconsidering dispensationalism,1 the fear many Americans (and let’s be honest, the rest of the world) feel about the options they have in this election leaves them wondering if they can get the heck out of Dodge. (Or move to Canada. Which they won’t.) I know of a few people who have suddenly started to praying for Jesus to come back tomorrow (or at least tweeting about it). But I’ve also seen a big “what if” question pop up.
At least it has in my head:
“What if [insert name here] is the Antichrist?”
No pop-theology hysterics
Now, I don’t have a lot of the baggage that people who grew up in the 1980s at the height of pop dispensationalism do. My familiarity with Left Behind is limited to the parodies and the trailer to the Nicholas Cage movie. But I have read Revelation. I’ve read the passages speaking of the one who would unite the world in its rebellion against God. They’re freaky, no doubt. And without question, I’m looking forward to the day Jesus returns. If he showed up tomorrow, it would be awesome.
But to the best of any of our knowledge, he’s not going (though we all could be wrong).
And the person (or persons) we sometimes wonder about being the Antichrist… chances are, he or she isn’t that, either.
But they might be an antichrist.
“The” vs “an”: What kind of antichrist are we talking about anyway?
That tiny distinction—”the” vs “an”—might seem trivial, but it makes all the difference. No doubt according to many passages such as what we read in Revelation and 2 Thessalonians 2:3, there is an individual who deserves the “the”—the man of lawlessness. But John’s epistle reminds us that there is not only a “the” but an “an”. In fact, there are many “ans”, as we read in 1 John 2:18:
Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.
John doesn’t give the impression that he denies the existence of the Antichrist. But he is also willing to broaden our understanding of the title. There is one who is (or will be) the representative of Satan on earth—the man of lawlessness, man of sin, or the false prophet. But there are also many antichrists because the term can be used to describe anyone “who denies that Jesus is the Christ” (1 John 2:22). Those who deny the Father and the Son are antichrist, according to John.
And so in that respect, when we start wondering if a politician, a real estate tycoon, a talk show host, or even a guy who runs the taco truck is the Antichrist, we can, at least say, no to them being the ultimate representative of the evil one. Because they’re probably not.
But they may well be an antichrist. Their words and their practice may be so opposed to Jesus that the only appropriate description of them is “antichrist.” They are deniers of the Lord and signs of the end being near (just as they were in the time of the Apostles). But being an antichrist and the Antichrist—those are different things.
There is still hope for antichrists
All of us were antichrist prior to being given new life in Christ. Everything I wrote in the preceding paragraph applied to us, as much as it does to those would be considered antichrist today. But God in his mercy, sent Jesus to save us. While we were still his enemies, Jesus died for us. He sent his Spirit to give us new life and new desires. He made all of us who were once antichrist to become little Christs.
And this is the hope that I still have for all those who are opponents of Jesus today, whether politicians or paperboys. As we share the gospel, as we plead with all who are far from Christ to trust him, we have to cling to this hope. That they might reject their former way of living in favor of following Jesus. That they would turn away from it all—even that which might give them power or prestige in the world—because they see Jesus as better. That those who were antichrist would also become little Christs. And wouldn’t that be something?
So friends, don’t lose hope, even as you’re frustrated by everything you see going on in the world. Yes, there are many antichrists in the world even now. But as long as they still live, God could transform their hearts. Pray that Jesus does return quickly, but pray too that some of those who still oppose him would join you in worshipping him when that day finally arrives.