“Anointed Ones” by Joe Ellis - on 1 John 2:15-29 - February 13 & 20, 2022
Today I want to talk about the Antichrist. I wonder what comes to mind for you when you hear me say, “Today I want to talk to you about the Antichrist”? Some of you might lean forward a bit more eagerly, and some of you might groan and shake your head. Maybe you’re thinking of a popular series of books? Maybe you’re thinking of the history of Christians trying to identify a particular politician or religious leader as the Antichrist. The church father Tertullian called his opponents the Antichrist; and the Reformers in the 16th and 17th Century identified the Pope as the Antichrist. There has been no shortage of candidates who have been nominated for the position of Antichrist. So — what is the traditional belief about the Antichrist? The traditional narrative around the Antichrist goes something like this — the Antichrist is the ultimate enemy of Christ and Christians. He will have a terrible, universal reign just prior to the Last Judgment. Christ will defeat the Antichrist in a mighty battle, whereafter Christ shall come and establish His Kingdom and judge the living and the dead.
There are four main New Testament sources that people have drawn from to talk about the Christian view of the Antichrist — the Gospels, Revelation, 2 Thessalonians, and 1 John. I find reading people who discuss these passages can be confusing, mainly because of the common assumption that all these passages are talking about the same thing, the same event, the same period of history, the same person whether he’s called The Antichrist, the beast, the man of lawlessness or the false prophet. I think commentators can get in trouble when they read these passages as though they were completing a puzzle called “the picture of the Antichrist” — by trying to putting these puzzle pieces together to make a full and complete picture of the Antichrist. I get how this happens. All the passages I’ve mentioned have a strong resemblance to one another. In fact, many Christians would likely ask me how I could not see them as forming one complete picture of the Antichrist.
My approach is that we need to look at each of these puzzle pieces on their own before we try and fit each of them together. They are certainly a part of the same Grand Puzzle, and they do have many similarities. Yet in the Grand Puzzle these different sections might not fit as closely together as you’d think at first glance. For example, a close reading of Matthew 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13, which all describe the same event, shows that Jesus is prophesying about the events that will lead up to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. Jesus said false messiahs and false prophets would show up on the scene right before Rome would decimate both Jerusalem and the temple (every part of this prophecy came true in 70 AD — Jesus foresaw this 30 years before it happened). A close reading of Revelation 13, and the rest of the book of Revelation (which was written after the fall of Jerusalem and the temple), reveals that John is intending for us to identify the beast as the Roman Emperor or Rome itself. The book of Revelation is a prophecy written at the height of the Roman Empire, foretelling the downfall of the Roman Empire as a sign of God’s judgment against that nation. I’m more careful about saying precisely what is going on in 2 Thessalonians 2. Listen to the way one commentator described this passage: “This passage has frustrated interpreters for centuries. For not only does Paul here make great use of apocalyptic imagery whose precise meaning is difficult to ascertain, the text also contains several grammatical irregularities and incomplete sentences. It is no exaggeration to claim that 2 Thessalonians 2:1–17 is ‘probably the most obscure and difficult passage in the whole of the Pauline correspondence.’” We need to be careful about speaking of this passage with rock solid certainty. Yet, this passage does describe the appearance of someone called Man of Lawlessness appearing shortly before Christ’s second coming — the passage most closely fits the traditional narrative around the Antichrist. Finally, we have John’s letters, the only place in the New Testament, as well as in all Jewish literature, where you will find the word Antichrist. As we listen to John, we hear him telling a very different story even still. Although each of these passages have many similarities, we need to hear them on their own terms. So let’s listen to what John is saying in this letter.
There has been a split in this church community. Those who left did not have a problem with seeing the Son as divine, rather, they had difficulty with seeing the Son of God as really human. When John says, “Who is the Liar but the person who denies that Jesus is the Messiah? This one is the antichrist: the person who denies the Father and the Son.” The problem isn’t that the people who left are denying that the Son is fully God, they are denying that he is fully human. As a result they did not believe that Jesus of Nazareth and the life he lived in the body had much significance for Christians. As a result, they didn’t believe that the choices they made with their own bodies had much significance for their walk as Christians. We see Paul describe a similar thing happening in his First Letter to the Corinthians. They also had a belief that what you do with your body doesn’t really matter. What they said that mattered is what is going on with your spirit. There were some in the Corinthian church who had no problem visiting prostitutes for this very reason—their bodies, they thought, didn’t matter. Paul quotes them as saying “every sin a person commits is outside of the body.” In other words, what you do with your body just doesn’t matter. Those who left John’s church likely had a similar view — both Paul and John both say ‘NO’! What we do with our body has huge spiritual implications. Paul says, are you going to join Christ with a prostitute by having sex with her? In the first part of the passage we heard this morning (verses 15-17), John’s speaking about not loving the things in this world — namely, giving in to the desire of the flesh, the desire of eyes, lusting after material possessions. John is saying that the way we relate to people and things with our body matters hugely.
Again, because those who left John’s church did not believe that what Jesus did in his body had much significance, and they didn’t believe that what they did with their body had much significance. We can find a similar approach even amongst Christians today. Can you think of how you might see this lived out? Maybe practices that dishonour the body don’t seem like that big a deal. What does it matter if I choose to stuff myself with junk food, or ignore my body’s need for rest by working 60 hours a week? Or maybe we tend to separate out our ‘spiritual lives’ from our work lives? Our ‘spiritual life’ is lived out on Sunday, and the rest of the week we can do whatever. Maybe we can be drawn into thinking that what matters is believing the right things about Jesus — all our sins are forgiven so what we do with our bodies, how we relate to creation, how we relate to each other doesn’t matter as much? What matters is believing the right things, what we do with our bodies isn’t such a big deal.
But we don’t have bodies, we are bodies — what we do with our bodies matters deeply to God — so much so that God Himself became a body so that he could redeem our bodies. God took on a body to save every part of us, body, mind and spirit. That means that he calls us to holiness in our actions, holiness in our thoughts, holiness in our spirituality. Holiness in body, mind and soul. This was not so for those who left John’s church. By living as though the body didn’t matter, and all that mattered is spiritual stuff, their physical lives came to resemble less and less the life of holiness that God desires for his children. They began to live in this world in ways that were antithetical to the bald fact that God cares so much about redeeming our bodies that He Himself became a body in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. John coins a new word for this type of living — antichrist. A life lived in antitheses to the model set forth by Jesus in the flesh.
Look at verse 18. John speaks of many antichrists and one Antichrist in the same breath. John says, “The Antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have appeared.” Here John describes the Antichrist as manifest in those who were at one time a part of the Christian Community. From John’s letters one can just as easily expect many antichrists as one antichrist. In fact, from John’s letters you get the sense that the spirit of the Antichrist is at work in many. Those subject to the spirit of the Antichrist have within them a dark power at work. Extrapolating on the way John describes those who left the church, this power actively works to undo, thwart and destroy the work of Christ. This is a power that denies God’s plan for salvation through through the death and resurrection of Jesus, a plan totally contingent on having a body. This is a power that denies the goodness of God’s creation. This is a power that hates that God sent his Son to redeem Creation and incites people to worship or lust after the Creation. This is a power that moves people to work against God’s command to “be holy as I am Holy.” When we treat each other in ways that are dehumanizing and objectify each other, like in using pornography or casual sex; when our pursuit of pleasure results in the degradation of the environment; when we support an economy that is exploitative of people over-seas, these are living into the ways of the antichrist. John speaks of the fact that we must be aware of the spirit of the antichrist. — the anti-messiah. The antithesis of Jesus.
It appears that John sees the spirit of the Antichrist working to create followers, little antichrists, to do his work. My instinct is to see a sort of parallel to Revelation 13. See, I’m eating my words — here I am bringing these puzzle pieces together. In Revelation 13, we have a Dragon (who is Satan) controlling the Beast (symbolizing the Roman Empire). The dragon has the beast do his bidding, working for the destruction of the people of God. My instinct is to see a similar hierarchy in John’s letters, where the spirit of the Antichrist is working through many people. He works to twist, distort, lie, and unravel the good and beautiful work of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and His plan of redemption for us and for the world.
For me, this impacts the way that I read history and read current events. I’m less looking for one final political figure who embodies all the qualities of Satan himself. I’m aware that individuals (including leaders, governments, churches and citizens) can be subject to the plans of the evil one to sew disorder, chaos, and suffering throughout history. I’m also aware that Satan does not respect party lines, and is happy to work on either side of the line. With this, we need to be on guard, prophetically identifying and working against the work of the evil one in our society. Calling out the ways that the evil one is working through people towards the antithesis of creation. Yet we also need to be terribly cautious in doing so. Remember, Christians have a long history of labelling those with whom we disagree as the antichrist. Last week I was reading a work by a Christian Climate Scientist who was discussing Global Warming — she said that she has received letters calling her: “communist, libtard, lunatic; Jezebel, liar, and whore; high priestess of the climate cult and handmaiden of the Antichrist”. What spirit is at work in those letters? The left is no better. We all heard our Prime Minister condemn the freedom convoy with his own set of slanders. He said “the anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-black racism, homophobia and trans phobia that we’ve seen on display in Ottawa over the past number of days”. It can be so much easier to dismiss someone with whom we disagree by calling them names rather than actually listening to them and hearing what they have to say. In fact, the practice of writing people off through name-calling is a practice that the spirit of the Antichrist is perfectly happy with. Let’s name the tension: Evil is real. Humans can be knowingly and unknowingly servants of evil. We are to speak against what we believe to be wrong. Yet how we do so matters. We need to be very cautious whenever we believe that our cause is so in the right that the other is blatantly a servant of the antichrist. We may also find ourselves unwittingly his servant.
All this talk about the Antichrist and the spirit of the Antichrist raises the question — how concerned we should be about them? In his book Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis said, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or magician with the same delight”.
So, we are to be aware of the presence of evil in this world, but not be consumed by it — Ask ourselves what gets our focus? While we are aware of the work of the enemy, our primary focus is on Jesus and what His Spirit is up to in our world. I think this is the part of the passage that we need to take home with us. It is really quite beautiful. Look at verse 20. John says, “Nevertheless you have an anointing from the Holy One”. This is who we are. We are the ones who have received the anointing from the Holy One. I don’t want you to miss what John is doing. The word “Christ” is the Greek word for Messiah. Messiah is the Hebrew word meaning “the Anointed One.” Now, just as the spirit of the Antichrist is at work in persons to undo the good and beautiful work of God, so too, the Spirit of the Anointed One is at work in His followers whom he has anointed. Those subject to the spirit of the antichrist are little antichrists, or anti-messiahs, or anti-anointed ones. Those who are followers of the anointed Messiah are his anointed ones. Just as when a man is anointed with oil by the priest he became King over Israel — Christ anoints us with His Holy Spirit, and we become royal children of God. We are His anointed ones. Little antichrists work to undo the good work of Christ in Creation. We must do the opposite. We are called to be a foil to the work of the evil one. God has placed us, his anointed ones, to bless this world. We are to be his hands and feet. We are little Christs. We are to be the anointed ones working to bring healing and restoration to a hurting, bleeding and broken world.
To do this, we must remain in the Father and of the Son. As John says in verse 28, we are to remain in him so that when Jesus appears at his second coming “we may have confidence and not shrink away from him in shame when he comes back.” We are to remain in Him and in remaining with in Him we act like Him — with our bodies. We proclaim with our mouths wonder at the goodness of God, wonder that He should become incarnate in the flesh of His Son. We proclaim God’s triumphant and beautiful yes to creation, our bodies, and our redemption — eternal life, bodily resurrection. We invite others to receive this world and each other as a precious gift from God. We proclaim our hope that this world shall be renewed and restored. We work with our minds and bodies to bring about the health of God, neighbours and creation. Right now Christians are struggling deeply for how to do this at this moment in the pandemic — the struggle is good. The struggle is worthwhile. The struggle is a search to figure out how to live our lives as anointed ones in this moment of history. We aren’t on our own in this. Look at verses 26 and 27, John says that the one who anointed us will be our guide, the Spirit will teach us. We need to remain in the one who Anoints us, He will teach us how to be His anointed ones in this moment in history. We have all been anointed with the same Spirit, and together we work towards the restoration of all things. Let’s remain in His anointing together. He has poured His Spirit out upon us. As His anointed ones we go forth, more than equipped with His power.