What is the meaning of the word “antichrist”?
The word has picked up a number of associations, through the speculations of the Middle Ages and through Hollywood fantasy, and all this baggage only
tends to confuse discussion on the subject.
So there’s a need for us to go back to first principles.
We can go back to the roots of the word, and we can also go back to the man who first used it.
Looking at the roots, the starting-point should be that “Anti-“.
The basic meaning of the Greek ANTI is “standing opposite”.
There is a range of mountains called the Lebanon range, and the mountain range on the opposite side of the valley has been known, since ancient times,
as the Anti-Lebanon.
“Standing opposite” leads on to “standing in place of”, as a successor, a substitute, or something given in exchange.
Both “standing opposite” and “replacing” can then suggest “hostile towards”, which is the more standard meaning in English usage.
So an “anti-Christ” would be a counterpart to Christ, in the sense of being a rival.
Jesus gave a warning that “Many will come in my name, saying “I am the Christ”- Matthew ch24 v5.
In other words, they would be offering themselves as substitutes.
Later he calls these people “false Christs” [PSEUDOCHRISTOI], but they would certainly qualify as “antichrists” in terms of the definition
I’ve just given.
Then there’s the description found in the letters of John, the only place in the New Testament where the word itself appears.
There’s a reasonable chance that he coined the word in the first place, though it doesn’t necessarily follow.
(Shakespeare used to be credited with the “invention” of a whole army of English words, including “schoolboy”, but he was really just the
first person who used them in print.)
John begins with the portentous declaration, “Children, it is [a] last hour” (1 John ch2 v18).
Meaning a time of crisis and decision. Arguably, that “hour” has been in place ever since the crucifixion.
“You have heard that antichrist is coming”.
“You have heard” indicates that there’s been teaching on the subject.
“He is coming”- this is also said about Christ. As when Paul says that those who belong to Christ will be raised “when he comes” (1
Corinthians ch15 v23).
So this wording helps to present him as an imitation Christ.
Then he says they can see for themselves that many
antichrists have emerged.
He’s referring to a number of individuals, who used to be members of the Christian community, but have now left it.
They qualify as antichrists because of their teaching. So this teaching needs to be examined.
They deny the truth which the Holy Spirit has taught us (v20).
Instead they promote a lie (v22) which consists of a denial that Jesus is the Christ.
Putting it another way, they “deny the Son”.
The best way to understand these denials is to glance at the positive statement which John puts up against their teaching later in the letter;
“We have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides
in him and he in God”- ch4 vv14-15
What John means by “Son of God” was laid out at the beginning of his gospel;
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father”- John ch1 vv14-15
So the denial of “the Son” is the rejection of the teaching that he was the Word of God made flesh and “coming into the world” to dwell
This amounts to rejecting the teaching that he was sent by the Father as the Saviour of the world, and therefore denying that “Jesus is the
John adds that anyone who denies the Son is also denying the Father at the same time.
The Father belongs only to those who “confess” the Son (ch2 vv22-23).
This would probably be on the grounds that the Father is defined by having a Son, so that you can’t have one without the other.
Another definition of “the deceiver and the antichrist” is the failure to “confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (ch4 vv1-3), or to
“acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” (2 John v7).
In principle, there are two possible ways of doing this.
You can acknowledge the coming of Christ, but deny that he was “in the flesh”.
Or you can acknowledge that Jesus was “in the flesh”, but deny that he came from anywhere else.
That is, you can deny his full humanity, or you can deny his full divinity, because “coming in the flesh” implies them both.
The modern convention is to assume that John is talking about the first option, an early version of the later gnostic theories.
However, I’m not convinced that this assumption suits the earlier claim that these people “deny the Son”. It seems to me that anyone who denies
the arrival of Christ “in the flesh” is acknowledging a Son, but refusing to identify him with a human Jesus.
The comments in the second chapter would be more appropriate if these people were saying “Jesus was
in the flesh, but not coming as the
Christ, as the Word sent out into the world”.
The false teaching in ch4 is attributed to false prophets, inspired by spirits which are “not of God” (vv1-3).
Just as Christians are agents and fore-runners of the expected Christ, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit-
In the same way, the “many antichrists” are agents and fore-runners of the expected antichrist, through the guidance of the multiple spirits.
The two systems run in parallel.
However, there is no single
“spirit of antichrist”, as a direct equivalent.
There is a phrase in v3 which everybody translates as “This is the spirit of antichrist”, but the word “spirit” is not there in the Greek at
The AV, at least, is honest enough to place it in italics, to show that it’s filling out the text.
The original “the” is followed by nothing but “of antichrist”, so the best interpretation is “this whole thing belongs to antichrist” or
“this is the work of antichrist”.
That work is what is “now in the world already”.
But why should “the work of antichrist” involve denying the Incarnation?
It could be simply an aspect of the hostility.
It would be an advantage, to an opponent of Christ, to undermine any teaching related to Christ, especially a teaching so central to the gospel.
There is also this consideration, that the full Christian doctrine of the Incarnation makes it more difficult for someone to present himself as a
convincing imitator and substitute.
There is too much to live up to.
But that obstacle can be overcome if the teaching of the Incarnation has already been watered down.
If the original Christ has been reduced, for example, from “Incarnate Word” to “man with a special endowment of the Sprit”, it becomes easier
and more plausible for someone else to claim to be another of the same kind.
This was effectively the line taken by Sun Myung Moon.
So the “antichrist” which John’s readers had been taught to expect would be a counterpart and rival of the Christ in whom they believed.
He would perhaps be presenting himself as the returned Christ or as a new version of Christ.
And he would have been promoting teaching which undermined the work of Christ, which would certainly include the undermining of the doctrine of the
edit on 17-4-2015 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)