It was 1975, the year we started Campus Bible Study in the old Chaplaincy at the University of New South Wales. There were about twenty or thirty of us, sitting in a large circle, studying part of the New Testament. As with most weeks there was a newcomer amongst us, and we were being careful to welcome him.
In the midst of the discussion on a passage, that sadly I cannot remember now, the newcomer offered to make an observation. “You won’t understand that until you have recognized the anti-Christ”.
I confess to being a little nonplussed by this observation, for as far as I could see the passage had nothing to do with the anti-Christ. Still, I did not want to be rude or dismissive of our newcomer and there was always the possibility of a connection between our passage and the anti-Christ that I did not understand. So I suggested there were only a few references in the letters of John to the anti-Christ and said I could not see the connection. I expressed some uncertainty as to precisely who the anti-Christ was – let alone his relationship with the man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians. This truthful and humbly agnostic answer was a mistake.
Our newcomer’s response was quick and sure: “I know who the anti-Christ is.”
At this point I turned mistake into disaster by asking “Well then, who is the anti-Christ?”
Looking around the room in complete control of the discussion he announced:
“I am the anti-Christ!”
There was considerable consternation around the group as people looked from me to him and back to me to sort out this sudden revelation. No amount of preparation could have equipped me for this eventuality. His declaration seemed to have nothing to do with the passage we were studying. As I had already completely surrendered the agenda of the discussion, I had to work out quickly who the anti-Christ was in the New Testament and why the newcomer was, or more likely was not, the anti-Christ. I felt well and truly out of my depth.
The only New Testament references to the anti-Christ are 1 John 2:18, 22, 4:3 and 2 John 7. The prefix “anti” could refer to a replacement, somebody who claims to be the Christ, but more likely refers to the opponent of Christ. This is a figure of the end of the ages, who has already come as ‘many anti-Christs’, at the time of 1 John 2:18. These anti-Christs are the humans who have already left off following Jesus to deny him. They not only deny Jesus but also the Father, as it is impossible to deny the Son without in the same denial, denying the Father also.
Unlike John’s readers, the anti-Christs have not been anointed by the Holy Spirit to understand the truth but rather they promulgate lies. The liar, who denies that Jesus is the Christ, is the anti-Christ (1 John 2:22). So, in the opponents of Christ we hear the voice of Satan, the father of lies. For behind these liars is “the spirit of the anti-Christ” (1John 4:3). And just as there are many human anti-Christs so there are many spirits who are under the influence of the spirit of anti-Christ; refusing to confess that Jesus has come in the flesh (1 John 4:3).
This denial of Jesus coming ‘in the flesh’ (1 John 4:3; 2 John 7) is a key element of the anti-Christs’ denial of Jesus’ claim to be the Christ (1 John 2:22). For it is in his fleshly resurrection (1 John 1:1-3, Luke 24:36-43, John 20:20, 26-29) and human ascension that Jesus pours out his Spirit upon his people and is made both Lord and Christ (John 20:22, Acts 2:32-36).
So when people deny that the man Jesus, physically risen from the dead, is the Christ they are the anti-Christ – speaking the lies of the spirit within them seeking to deceive, if that were possible, the elect. They may or may not be conscious of Satan, whose lies they are speaking. Nevertheless they are the anti-Christ and satanic in the Biblical sense, for they are preaching his message and attacking the true Christ – Jesus. Leon Morris wrote of people being “not simply guilty of doctrinal error” but “doing the work of Satan in opposing the things of God” (New Bible Dictionary article on anti-Christ).
Our newcomer to Bible Study back in 1975 was not the anti-Christ for he did not deny Jesus. He believed Jesus was the Son of God, come into the world to die and rise for our salvation. He had just left his accommodation in the Prince of Wales Mental Health Unit and was deeply confused about his own state before God. Satan’s emissaries are far more likely to come in subtle and socially respectable sheep’s clothing – academics, journalists, politicians, neighbours, clergy, or celebrities. You can recognise them by the lies they tell about Jesus.