When They Come to You to Deceive: The Gospel and the Antichrist

Written by, Michael Pursley.

“For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.”

–Matthew 24:5



It has been noted by Commentators…

…that traditionally, Protestants have identified and have used this passage in speaking about the Pope (or Papacy) in the context of the Antichrist. As a result, this Matthean passage is often historically proof-texted together with 2 Thes 2, and Rev 13. But I believe this is a very narrow application of the passage, and like an ill-shot arrow, widely misses the mark.

I think perhaps, that wonderfully pregnant phrase, “many will come,” truly opens up the historical concept of the Antichrist. “For many will come…” indicates the repeated danger of false preachers, teachers, prophets, and all those that may come in place of Christ. Here, instead of seeing a singular “man of sin” in this verse, we are admonished that many will come who “will lead many astray.”

In defense of the historical Protestant position of the Antichrist, namely; that in a more generic sense, the Pope does usurp the role of Christ when he presumes the role of being the “Vicar of Christ” and “Alter Christus” –is not necessarily denied or threatened; but it does mean that his description is not the only role that may fit this bill.  And yes, there is some religious groups that will remind you that there have been a number of Popes throughout history who can and do interpretively fit that bill, thereby completing it.  But without realizing it, these same groups are in fact also confessing that they too believe there is not a single man of sin, a single antichrist, but a number of them; perhaps in a serial fashion, perhaps for them, even from the same denomination, but in essence these commentators are still quietly professing a theology of multiple antichrists, though they may be openly and publicly denying it.

As a result, in looking at this verse, I am not so sure, that the Bible has an altogether singular meaning on the subject, or necessarily always, even a single person in mind. One well-respected, conservative theologian, recently addressed the problem by distinguishing between a personal Antichrist and a “literary Antichrist.” Noting that, “Ever since the Enlightenment, there have been people representing themselves as the “real Jesus.” People such as Reimarus, Strauss, and Renan are three earlier examples.”  And then he proceeds to correctly name a number of others.  This Christian theologian then goes on to interestingly point out, that in essence, these are actually “literary Christs.” And to be even more accurate, these are “literary Antichrists” inasmuch as they attempt to replace the historical Jesus; the Biblical Christ, with a substitute Jesus.”

He may be onto something. For what this author is really doing, is portraying the Antichrist as someone who has reconstructed himself as the real Christ, but does so in a literary sense, for he is now one who has been made into carnal man’s own image.

Now I am sure this well-respected scholar has taken a rather tentative tone on the subject so as not to unduly ruffle the feathers of any uber-traditional, Protestant Christians. But I believe that he does have a point.

Further, in consideration of the work of the “True Christ,” and in comparing it to the work of the Antichrist, one could say, that we are in a sense, reconstructing the Christ of the Bible when we reconstruct the Gospel. Here the words of C. H. Spurgeon naturally spring to mind here where he says, “The root of every heresy in history is adding something of our own to the work of Christ.”

Now, all of a sudden we have a multitude of Antichrists in the world, and some very dangerous ones at that.

With this in mind, let’s go back to Paul,

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. –Gal 1:6-9

In the above text we look at the curse Paul calls down on this “other Gospel” and those that preach it. And while we don’t often think of Paul’s words here as a curse, yet it is, and further, it was spoken by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  So in this passage we certainly see what God thinks of any work that can be considered “another Gospel.”  But consider deeply, the condemnation is not just reserved for the work of reconstructing the Gospel, but also in the proclamation of it.  If we are to look at how this fearless apostle attacks those who preach and teach this other Gospel, one would need to look no further than the same book from whence we take this passage.  But I want to consider also Paul thoughts when he expresses his deep concern to the wavering Corinthian church.  You see, the Corinthians were mounting a challenge to Paul’s authority as an Apostle, thereby discrediting his ability to teach and preach under his Apostolic authority.  Not only were they disparagingly comparing him against the “twelve” but it seems that they were even more disposed to listen to false teachers that had since sprung up in his absense. Listen to how Paul “unloads” on these the wavering Corinthian for their false teachers who were reconstructing the Gospel, and that Christ he had preached to them in in the midst of all of his sufferings and trials:

Speaking of these false teachers:

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.  — 2 Corinthians 11: 13-14 

Obviously, many of the descriptions and  phrases used here can be transplanted and used to definitively describe the “Man of Sin,” or the Antichrist.  Could there be a central figure in history that could be considered the ultimate “Man of Sin”?  Yes, I think that there is, but if not an ultimate “Man of Sin” in a physical sense, there are certainly many in a literary sense.

There are some who may be right now saying, give one text, one passage, one verse that gives any credence to this position of multiple Antichrists. And that is a fair demand.  My answer to those would come from the same apostle who wrote the book of Revelation, the Apostle John; the same one who speaks about the context of  Antichrist, and about all things historically ending with this world in his book.  Here is what he said:

“…and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.”  -John 3:4

I would also ask you to consider this passage from John as well: 

“Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. -1 John 2:18 

Instead of a single Antichrist for John, there are many, for John seems to indicate that there are many there right then, that they are reconstructing Christ, that they are reconstructing the Gospel, and that this was how we could tell, that the days John were living in were part of the “last days.” On that note, I leave you here with these final words of Paul:

“If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen”

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