by Peter Ditzel
“Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (1 John 4:2-3).
“For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist” (2 John 1:7).
Many people speculate about antichrist. Some speak of the Antichrist, referring to a particular person, such as the Pope or all of the Popes. Often, the Antichrist is seen as an end-time figure equated with the man of sin in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. While there may be some validity in calling the Pope and the man of sin Antichrists, John’s concept of antichrist is much broader. He is not speaking of a particular person, but says that many deceivers have entered the world and that each of these deceivers is an antichrist. Notice 1 John 2, verses 18 and 22: “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time…. Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.”
So, there are many antichrists. The Greek word John used that is translated as “many” is elsewhere translated in the New Testament as “many” 210 times, as “much” seventy-three times, as “great” sixty-two times, and is also translated as “plenteous,” “abundant,” “common,” “oftentimes,” and so forth. This is important to know because some writers and speakers, going back to the Reformation, have so emphasized the idea of one person as “the Antichrist” that we can easily lose sight of the Bible’s clear statements in John’s writings that there are many antichrists.
Who Are John’s Antichrists?
John does not leave us without a way to determine who these antichrists are. In the verses quoted at the beginning of this article, we see that these antichrists are people who deny that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. So, who denies that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh?
In 1 John 2:22, we see that these antichrists also deny that Jesus is the Christ. This should not be seen as something different from denying that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. John is saying that these antichrists deny that Jesus was God incarnate as the Christ (“Christ” is the Greek word for the Hebrew “Messiah”). Many types of people immediately come to mind who would fit into this category: atheists, Jews, people of any religion other than Christianity. But, while these people certainly fit John’s definition of antichrist, they are not specifically the kind of people John has in mind.
We can know this because in 1 John 2:19, right in the midst of John’s warnings about antichrists, he writes, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” The antichrists of John’s day were people who had been in the church, people who had apparently confessed faith in Christ, but who were in reality antichrists. John warned about these antichrists because, no doubt, they continued to call themselves Christians, but there was something about their doctrine that, when understood, identified them as antichrists. The churches had to be warned about these dangerous people who might deceive, at least for a time, true Christians and be disruptive to their spiritual growth.
Understanding the Nature of Jesus Christ
John’s warnings should make us realize that we must not be careless in our understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 16:13-17, we read Peter’s confession of who Jesus was: “When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”
Peter’s statement was loaded. It is packed with information. It would require at least a volume to detail everything Peter said in those few words. But, briefly, he said that Jesus—which, remember, means Savior—was the Christ, the Messiah. The Old Testament is full of prophecies, shadows, and types of the Messiah. Peter was saying that Jesus, who was the Savior, was also the fulfillment of all that the Scriptures say about the Messiah. He then links these concepts of the Savior and Messiah with “the Son of the living God.” This was an amazing statement because it was not generally believed by the Jews that the Messiah was to be the Son of God. But this is what Peter said. It was such an amazing statement that Jesus recognized that it had to have been a direct revelation given to Peter by God.
Peter himself did not fully understand all of the implications of what he said. This becomes obvious when we see in Matthew 16:21-23 that Peter did not understand that the Christ had to die for the sins of His people. Like the blind man of Bethsaida (Peter’s home town), Peter’s eyes were, at this time, only partly opened (see Mark 8:22-33). Nevertheless, they were opened enough for it to be obvious that it was a revelation from God.
Proof that the Jews did not understand that the Messiah would be the Son of God is found in Matthew 22:41-45: “While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?” In this passage, Jesus is saying that the Christ, prophesied to be a descendent of David, was also prophesied to be God, proven by David referring to Him as Lord. Rejecting this point, most Jews rejected Jesus, crucified Him for blasphemy (Mark 14:61-64), and thereby rejected salvation (John 5:39-40; Acts 13:46)!
If we are slipshod in our understanding of Jesus, we can fall for the erroneous teachings of those who today fit John’s definition of antichrists. We must know why He was called Jesus, who the Christ or Messiah was, what He was to accomplish, and so on. We may say that we believe in the incarnation of Jesus, but if we reject anything that He accomplished in His flesh, then we are really denying His full incarnation.
A Few Modern Antichrists
So many Christians today know so little of these things that, for example, they wonder why Jehovah’s Witnesses should not be considered Christians. Jehovah’s Witnesses say that Jesus Christ, before He was a human, was the archangel Michael, a created being. This means that they do not believe Him to be truly God. But, as we have seen, Jesus taught otherwise. Anyone denying that Jesus was truly God is an antichrist. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, then, are antichrists. But they are not alone.
Almost every heretical cult has a deficient view of Jesus Christ. For example, there are a number of groups that continue to follow the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong (such as the Living Church of God; the Church of God, an International Community; the United Church of God, an International Association; the Philadelphia Church of God; the Church of the Great God; and over two hundred others). Yet, Armstrong clearly fit John’s definition of an antichrist.
His teachings did not give Jesus the credit for accomplishing what the Bible clearly says He did. As just one illustration, in his book Mystery of the Ages (page 228 of the paperback edition), Armstrong wrote,
Today’s customary gospel about Christ [which, on the next page, Armstrong goes on to call a “false gospel”] believes that simply “believing on Christ,” which is professing Christ as personal Savior, means that one is already saved. Yet Mark 7:7-9 shows that many even go so far as to worship Christ, and all in vain because they do not obey God’s commandments—especially the Sabbath—but follow the traditions of men by which Satan has deceived the whole world.
Further, he taught,
The blood of Christ has atoned for the past…. The blood of Christ has paid the price of past guilt…. A Christian must grow and develop in grace, spiritual knowledge and godly character…. In a sense, then, the Church shall become co-saviors with Christ…. But many have not realized that we are not saved by the blood of Christ…. After we have attained to the resurrection of the dead, as the wife of the Son of God, and members of the God family, we shall be not only heirs and coheirs with Christ, but in a sense, co-saviors.
Mystery of the Ages, 197-98
According to Armstrong, Christ’s atonement is not sufficient to save us; His death paid the penalty for past sins only. Armstrong’s teaching is that a Christian is to then go on and qualify for salvation by growing in godly character, which includes keeping the commandments of the Old Covenant. This denial of the full salvation Jesus Christ came in the flesh to accomplish is a form of denying that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. As John said, “This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” Those who continue to teach Armstrong’s doctrines must bear the same label.
The teachings of the Roman Catholic Church (Romanism) are also the teachings of antichrist. Many doctrines could be named, but I will mention just a couple. Romanism teaches that Christians must add to the work of Jesus on the Cross through penance and other good works. It also teaches that Jesus did not die as a sacrifice once for all time because Romans Catholic priests offer Jesus at altars in Catholic churches around the world hundreds of thousands of times a day when they perform the mass. Based on this information alone, the purveyors of Catholicism are antichrists because they refuse to accept everything that Christ accomplished in His flesh. By so doing, they “confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.”
Copyright © 2010 Peter Ditzel