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Rainbow Divider

Chapter 9

The Spirit of Antichrist

One of Satan’s greatest tactics in opposing the church of Jesus Christ has been to infiltrate through people who have never been born again yet who masquerade as believers. That, of course, is one of the main reasons for John’s letter, to help believers to know the difference. Satan has been so successful that multitudes have passed themselves off as Christians for years if not for their entire lives. Oftentimes they themselves have been deceived—but God is not. He knows those who are His (2 Tim. 2:19).

Jesus taught that His kingdom on earth would be a mixture throughout the age but that there would be a separation that would take place — by the hand of angels — at the end of the age (Matt. 13:24-30 and 37-43). If a church is full of life and power, walking in truth, it is much harder for unbelievers to get in or to remain. The church right after Pentecost is the prime example. Look what happened to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter 5 when they deliberately played the part of hypocrites. They were struck down dead.

That modern churches are so full of lost church members testifies to their spiritual condition. It may not be our place to set up committees and seek to ferret out all the unbelievers but we can seek God for a greater measure of life and truth to prevail in our churches and Satan’s influence will grow correspondingly less.

As we said above, often, in the best of churches, we see people pass themselves off as believers for years only to be unmasked as unbelievers at heart. It just takes the right circumstances. It was this fact that moved John to write as he did in I John 2:18-19.

Antichrist

“Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”

One of the ways such people are unmasked is when something crosses them just right and they go out. John says, “...if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us.” As long as we remain in the flesh there will be all kinds of problems to face and deal with. However, true believers will react as Peter did when Jesus asked his disciples if they were leaving when so many others were in John 6:66. On that occasion Jesus had said some things that were hard to understand and receive and as a result the crowds left him.

But in John 6:68-69 Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” It wasn’t that Peter understood everything Jesus had said or that his flesh agreed with staying. Rather there was a conviction born in his heart through divine revelation that gave him the faith to stay when every natural consideration said, “Go.” That revelation concerned who Jesus was and the fact that God’s commission and authority stood behind what Jesus did.

God doesn’t always explain everything to His children. Ours is a walk of faith. There are many mysteries that we are not given to understand. Rather we are called to trust Him, content to leave those mysteries He has not chosen to reveal safely in His keeping. Deut. 29:29.

It is interesting that John used the term “antichrists.” We noted earlier that all men either serve God or Satan. Serving God involves bowing to His Son, Jesus Christ. The word “Christ” means “anointed, chosen.” It is, of course, God Who has done the choosing. He has conferred upon His Son both the authority and the power to eradicate sin from the universe and to establish a holy and righteous kingdom that will never end.

In Isaiah 9:6-7 we read these prophetic words: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” What a wonderful, positive promise! No devil in hell can prevent God from fulfilling that promise.

Christ’s Authority

In Matt. 28:18-20 Jesus told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Thus Christ stands absolutely opposed to everything this present evil world order stands for. Satan and his evil hosts understand all too well the implications of Christ’s authority: it means their certain end. It should therefore be no surprise when they, together with all those who prefer darkness to light, hate and oppose Him and all those who stand with Him.

Towards the end of the ministry of Jesus many of his followers, misunderstanding the nature of his kingdom, thought he would march into Jerusalem and establish it in a literal and earthly sense then and there. Of course he had earlier said, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20-21.

Later he was to say to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18:36.

And so when he knew of the misunderstanding of his followers he told them the truth in a parable form. One of the central points of his parable concerned what his servants were to do in his coming absence. But a secondary picture was included in the parable concerning the reaction of the world to his being made king.

In Luke 19:12 Jesus began by saying, “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.” In verses 14-15 he continued, “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ He was made king, however, and returned home.”

At the end of the parable in verse 27 he said, “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them — bring them here and kill them in front of me.” These are the stakes in what we are talking about. They are eternal. Men’s destinies hang on whether they bow to Jesus Christ as Lord or not. The fact is that He is Lord and they will bow. For most, I fear, they will only bow when they come face to face with Him in judgment and it will be too late.

Religious Self-Will

When a man becomes religious without being born again he remains a child of this world at heart. Every part of his inner being stands in opposition to the rule of Jesus Christ over his life. The governing principle of his life is self-will which spawns stubbornness and rebellion whenever self is threatened. Such a man is rightly described as an “antichrist” since he is at heart “against” Christ.

Jesus Christ is Lord and when people try to obtain the benefits of heavenly citizenship without bowing to Him as Lord they are deluding themselves.

However, we must always remember that this issue concerns more than Jesus Christ; it also involves all who have been brought into fellowship with Him and with the Father. That is why “antichrists” go out. Their rebellious and independent spirits are not only against Jesus but also against those in whom He lives.

The true church of Jesus Christ in the earth is not something that just “happens.” It does not come about because people like the teachings of Jesus and decide to band together and establish for themselves a religion in His name. (Actually, that isn’t a bad description for many modern institutions that call themselves churches except that their understanding of His teachings has been perverted by false doctrine and tradition.) The true church is a result of divine purpose.

In Matt 16:18 Jesus told Peter and the other disciples, “...I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Those to whom John wrote were a product of that purpose. They hadn’t gathered themselves together. Rather, they had been gathered together as a result of the preaching of men that had been sent and anointed by Christ for that purpose. It was His church, not theirs. He lived in and through it. He had begun a work in them that He had promised to complete. Phil. 1:6.

It is not uncommon in our day to hear someone say, “Attend the church of your choice.” This sounds good but it is a concept completely foreign to scripture. We find God clearly instructing His people in Deuteronomy 12 against this kind of thinking. First of all the idolatrous Canaanites carried out their “worship” in many places of their choosing and the Lord specifically warned the people against this.

But also in verse 8 He says, “You are not to do as we do here today, everyone as he sees fit.” He went on to tell them that He, the Lord, would establish a place of worship for them. It was described as a “dwelling for His name.” It meant simply that He does the choosing with respect to such matters. A “dwelling for His name” implies a place established and recognized by Him, by His authority.

The same principle applied in John’s day — and it applies today. As we have said there was divine authority involved in the gathering of saints — the church — to which John wrote. That made it His. As they operated under the Headship of Christ they were much more than just a group of religious people. They were the Body of Christ. There was divine authority present.

Recognizing Antichrists

In chapter four of I John we find some interesting insights into what “antichrist” means. John first warns that there were many false prophets in the world. These were men who claimed to represent God but didn’t. The issue John focused on had to do with the spirit that inspired such men, not so much the technicalities of their teachings.

The one who is inspired by the Spirit of God will acknowledge — recognize and honor this fact — “that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” The spirit of antichrist will not. What does this mean? Does this mean that everyone who acknowledges that Jesus Christ was an actual flesh and blood man who walked the earth is of God? Not at all!

I am aware that there was, in John’s day, a false religion called Gnosticism that had begun to invade some of the churches. Those who were influenced by Gnosticism did teach that, since, in their belief system, all matter was evil, Jesus only SEEMED to be flesh and blood but actually wasn’t. But I believe that John had more than this in mind.

There are two principal reasons for this belief. One reason concerns the statement, “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” The tense of the verb “has come” is known in Greek as the “perfect tense.” It is not a simple PAST tense. John did not say that Jesus DID come or that He CAME but that He “has come.” There is a great difference.

@Body Text -1 = The perfect tense connects a past action with a present result. If am standing in a room and a man named Joe arrives it would be correct to say, “Joe has come.” In other words, at a point in time BEFORE that statement is made (i.e., in the PAST) Joe CAME. But that’s not all. The statement doesn’t stop with the simple fact that Joe came in the past; it also conveys the fact that HE IS STILL HERE IN THE PRESENT. Do you see the difference? Joe didn’t just come in the past and then perhaps leave again. Rather, he CAME and the PRESENT RESULT is that he is still here.

That’s what John’s statement implies: Christ CAME in the flesh and HE IS STILL HERE! But how could this be? Did He not come in flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, die, rise from the dead and ascend bodily into heaven? Indeed He did—and He will soon return as well.

The Body of Christ

But I believe that John had something else in mind. Is not the church Christ’s body? Did He not inhabit His body on the day of Pentecost? Does He not live in His body—today? Surely the term “Christ” is rightly applied to Jesus in a unique way but its use is not restricted to Jesus alone.

In 1 Cor. 12:12-13 Paul wrote, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Did you catch it? The word “Christ” is applied not only to the Head but also to the whole body. Of course there is no virtue whatever to the body without the Head or the indwelling Spirit of Christ.

@Body Text -1 = And so what John is saying of the false prophets is that they would refuse to recognize and honor the church in which Christ dwells. They might in glowing terms profess their love for Christ “in the sky” yet recognize no authority beyond their own mind so far as humanity is concerned.

But Christ’s authority is resident in His church. How could someone He sends refuse or be unable to recognize and respect His presence in such a people? It wouldn’t make sense. But a false prophet, one sent by Satan, would never recognize or bow to Him.

The Spirit of Falsehood

Notice, by way of confirmation, my second reason for my believing that John had reference to Christ’s presence in the church brought out in 1 John 4:6 — “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.” The difference between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood did not have to do with what these prophets said ABOUT JESUS but whether they LISTENED TO “US.”

John’s indicator was the Body of Christ, a people brought together through the ministry and by the authority of Jesus Christ and indwelt with His Spirit. The spirit of antichrist will neither recognize nor bow to that Spirit. It is a rebel.

Despising Authority

In 2 Peter 2:10-22, Peter describes the various characteristics of those who go out, who turn away from truth. In verse 10 he describes them as “those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. Bold and arrogant....” The King James translates the last part as “presumptuous and self-willed.” This is what is wrong with man in the first place. It is why we need a Savior!

It is clear at the end of this passage that Peter is talking about people who were never born again. They were among the people of God for a time and perhaps appeared to many to be real believers yet were not. In verse 22, Peter writes, “Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’ and, ‘A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.’” A sow that is washed is still a sow. It’s just been cleaned up on the outside but its nature is unchanged. That nature still prefers to wallow in the mud.

True believers are followers of Jesus Christ, the One Who when He faced the awful prospect of the cross prayed, “Not my will but yours be done.” Luke 22:42. It is true that believers are a “work in progress” but it is also true that a fundamental change has taken place in their hearts. When Christ ascends to the throne of the human heart it is the beginning of the end for self.

There is something very wrong with a man who always finds a reason to walk alone, who will not be corrected or governed, who follows only the dictates of his own mind and heart. Remember 1Cor. 12:13: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Baptism has many aspects. It is not just about you and Jesus. It also brings you into a relationship with Christ’s body on earth. All “drink” of the one Spirit.

Looking for the Perfect Church

I remember an incident that took place many years ago. We had a man visit us at the Bible Tabernacle. I believe it was during a convention. At the time we were experiencing a most unusual visitation of God that had attracted wide attention and so he had come to see what was going on. At some point he made it known that he was looking for the perfect church.

Now that seems like a spiritual endeavor—on the surface. He tried to make it sound as though he was just so hungry for spiritual reality and so dissatisfied with most churches that he was on a quest to find that special church where everything would be just as it should be. Bro. Thomas, of course, saw right through him and let him know very quickly that if he ever did find the perfect church he should, for heaven’s sake, not join it because if he did it wouldn’t be perfect any more!

In reality the man had found a way to appear to be very spiritual and yet remain a rebel, answerable to no one. Jude 13 describes many such people with these words: “wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.” A wandering star has no fixed orbit. They are also described in verse 12 of Jude as “clouds without rain, blown along by the wind.” Such words describe a state of spiritual deception and rebellious independence. Being “blown along by the wind” speaks of the true source of their inspiration. I’ll give you a hint: such inspiration is not from God! God brings his children together.

The body of Christ is a place of submission, of unity, of walking together, of people watching over one another in love. There are many gifts and abilities there and all are needed. No one can say to another, “I don’t need you.” It is sometimes a place of rebuke and correction, even of judgment. It is the highest court of appeal on earth. Jesus said, “Tell it to the church.” Matt. 18:17.

A man who is basically “self-willed” will not forever stay among the true people of God where Christ is the Head. Sooner or later he will be offended by something that crosses self and he will choose the way of self rather than the way of the cross.

When a man truly surrenders to follow Christ he embraces a death sentence. He joins with God in pronouncing that sentence against “self.” He may not understand all of the implications of that sentence right away but it is in force nonetheless.

That death sentence is not meted out all at once but gradually, over a lifetime. Self is put to death a little at a time that the new life within may grow up and flourish. A religious man may exhibit many outward signs of a Christian but if self has never been surrendered then he is merely like a sow that has been washed. There is no new life within him to grow up. Under the right conditions his “hog” nature will assert itself.

The sad truth with respect to this particular spiritual test is that those who fail it are the least likely to recognize it. The self-willed man is never—in his own mind—the source of his problems. It is always someone else. He has never been born again and thus is unable to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).

But there is a class of people who may indeed be affected by what I have written and I would like to address them particularly. I am referring to the true believer who finds himself in the false church system. A born-again believer will have a conscience and an inward desire to please God and honor His Word.

If such a man is trying to serve God in the midst of a lot of mere religion he will, to say the least, find it difficult to flow with it. He will often sense things that are wrong and oftentimes the devil will seek to convince him that the problem is in him, that he is just being rebellious.

In some religious settings he may struggle with those in leadership who employ true Bible principles of authority and submission, not in the Spirit of Christ, but to keep the people in line and under their influence. Satan will then take advantage of a tender conscience to accuse and confuse.

But a true believer is not seeking a rebellious independence but rather to find his or her place under the genuine, shepherd-like rule of Jesus Christ. Such a one needs to have the freedom and responsibility to seek the Lord from his heart and to have a good conscience in what he does. That conscience may well lead him in time to depart from a place where Christ is not the Head yet it is not his desire to forever walk alone.

We hear from such people all the time. “Where can I go? All the churches around us are dead. Help!” All I can do is to encourage such people to seek God with all their heart that He might lead them to some true fellowship in the Lord. He sees such hearts and knows how to lead His own in His own time and way.

But John is talking about another kind of person, the one who is a law unto himself, who fears and shuns the light, who will rise up and rebel against the counsel and discernment of the Body of Christ rather than give up self-will. If Christ has truly come into your heart then there will be a capacity there for surrender, for humbling oneself, for dying to self. A true Christian will have many real battles to overcome self but the critical issue is that there is an inner desire to do so!

Who occupies the throne of your heart—does Christ, or does self? The answer to that question has everything to do with how you respond when Christ expresses His authority on earth to cross your will. Is it, “my will,” or “not my will, but yours be done”?

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