In my previous post on the “end times,” I suggested that the church is going to make progress throughout history. This should provide some optimism about the possibilities for good in history.
However, this opinion needs to be balanced with a consideration of the possibilities of evil in history. This is what we can learn from the appearance of the Antichrist at the end of history.
Why is this so significant to the church? Because the power of antichrist is already at work (2 Thessalonians 2:7).
I believe there will be a final manifestation of evil in history, the Antichrist, but I also believe that the spirit of antichrist is already present in history and relevant to each one of us. Understand that the Antichrist takes something that is good and makes it evil. When you realize that this evil is primarily about exalting self, then you realize that the spirit of antichrist is not nearly as far from us as we’d like to think.
When we think about getting political power or gaining wealth or growing spiritually, we think of these things as good things. In and of themselves, they are. However, each new attainment also presents new opportunities for temptation and evil. That is the lesson of the Antichrist.
The book of Revelation presents the power of the Antichrist in three ways. The first two are economic and political (Revelation 13:1–10 and 17–18).
Everyone knows the danger of political power, especially in the political party opposing your own party. Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, as Lord Acton noted.
Economic achievement can be a blessing and enable people to enjoy greater comforts, opportunities, and blessings. However, there is also the danger that economic power can become an idol and be used or obtained at the expense of other human beings, such as in the slavery system of the South.
But what is most relevant to the church is that the power of the Antichrist is also religious (see 2 Thess. 2:4 and Rev. 13:11–18). Thus, we should not see religion as an unalloyed good. Religion can easily become a tool of our pride, antichrist rather than pro-Christ.
When we think of Christianity, we can easily provide examples of religion going awry. In the Middle Ages, the papacy set itself up as supreme, and the Roman Catholic Church persecuted anyone who would not submit. Protestants have continually fallen into the same temptation. The Puritans set up a commonwealth in New England that established an official church and persecuted dissenters such as Roger Williams.
In our own hearts, we know that our religious attainments can often lead us to feel pride and to look down on others rather than to humility.
This is especially ironic because the goal of Christianity is to humble humans before God and show them their need for His grace, but even that can become a tool of human pride. As American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr put it:
The worst form of self-assertion is religious self-assertion in which under the guise of contrition before God, He is claimed as the exclusive ally of our contingent self. . . . Christianity rightly regards itself as a religion, not so much of man’s search for God . . . but as a religion of revelation in which a holy and loving God is revealed to man as the source and end of all finite existence against whom the self-will of man is shattered and his pride abased. But as soon as the Christian assumes that he is, by virtue of possessing this revelation, more righteous, because more contrite, than other men, he increases the sin of self-righteousness and makes the forms of a religion of contrition the tool of his pride (The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. 1, 201).
So, what is the lesson that we need to learn from the Antichrist? Every bit of progress and every new attainment contains a new temptation to pride.
This problem and dynamic will never be eliminated in history. The end of Antichrist is not by man’s efforts but by another appearing: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8).
However much progress we make in history or in our individual lives, there will always be a part of us that says, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me” (Romans 7:22–23). As long as this is true, there will be a temptation to misuse political, economic, and religious power and attainments.
For many people, the Antichrist is a scary idea that seems very enigmatic. To a degree, it is. However, considered this way, I find the truth revealed in the appearing of Antichrist a very practical and important one for the church to consider.