Antichrist and The Comforter
There is a word in the Bible, which has caught the imagination of people over the centuries, it is the word, “antichrist.” Even today the word still holds fascination for people in all walks of life, Christians and non-Christians alike. The antichrist has even become the central theme of movies and novels.
In the minds of most people the word, “antichrist,” is associated with some strange, mysterious end-time figure, an evil person who brings great tribulation upon the planet. From a biblical perspective there is some justification for this idea of a very powerful, charismatic, but evil person who sets himself up in opposition against Christ at the end of time. Most of the interest in antichrist is focused on this understanding, but a careful examination of the word as used in the Bible, reveals that there are some very important aspects of this person which have been overlooked and completely ignored.
While there have been many different ideas as to who this antichrist might be, there have also been many ideas as to what is the main principle involved in his teaching. In his epistles, the apostle John addresses this underlying principle and this is what we want to examine in this article. We want to do a careful, honest examination of John’s statements concerning this antichrist to see if we can arrive at a truthful conclusion as to what are the essential elements of his doctrine.
First of all we should notice that the word, “antichrist,” is a compound of the word, “anti,” and the word, “Christ.” Literally it means, “against Christ.” The essence of the antichrist is that his work and his teaching are opposed to Christ’s work and his teaching. There have been many enemies of the cause of Christ all through the ages, but apparently this antichrist and his teachings are of such a nature that they attack the very foundational principles of what Christ is, and stands for. This is why the label, “antichrist,” is applied to this person in this special and unique way. His teaching above all others strikes at the foundation of Christian beliefs and experience.
Antichrist is a “Christian”
It is very interesting that this antichrist is not somebody who is a heathen, he is not somebody who is a completely secular person, he is not an atheist or someone from a religion other than Christianity. The Bible makes it clear that antichrist is a professing Christian, somebody who works from the inside to pervert the Christian faith and in this way to do the greatest damage of all. The apostle Paul says,
Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. (2Thess 2:4)
Here he makes it clear that antichrist sits in the temple of God, that is in the Christian church. John tells us,
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. (1John 4:1-3)
John refers to those having the spirit of antichrist, and teaching the doctrine of antichrist as, “false prophets.” If they are false prophets than it is clear that they profess to be true prophets, or true representatives of God. They profess to be Christians, but their message demonstrates that they are antichrist, or at the very least that they are carrying the antichrist’s message. The work of antichrist is extremely harmful because it is not in open enmity against Christ and his message, but is a subtle perversion, a dangerous distortion with great power to deceive the unwary.
This is what John saw manifested in the Christian church during the later years of his life, this is the fearsome deception which sprang up after the death of most of the early Christians. This was John’s great concern as he wrote his epistles and his gospel.
Why only John?
The word, “antichrist,” appears only in the writings of the apostle John. While there are others who speak of a person who stands against God and his truth in the last days, John is the only one who labels this person as, “antichrist.” He also gives us some very interesting insights into the characteristics of this person and the principles underlying his work and teaching. It is reasonable to conclude that if we desire to have a good understanding of the work of antichrist, we need to examine what John has to say on the subject. There are other books written by Peter, James and Paul, in addition to the Gospels written by Matthew Mark and Luke, yet John is the only person who mentions the word, “antichrist.” Is there a reason for this? There is.
John was an old man when he wrote his books, he lived longer than all the other apostles and was actually close to a hundred years when he wrote his epistles. Of all the books which are included in the Bible his books are the last which were written and by the time he wrote, most of the early believers were dead. John was the last one left standing and as a result he saw what others did not live to see. The apostle Paul had warned that shortly after his time, evil elements would emerge in the church and would do great damage:
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20:29-30)
This apostasy had become full blown by the time John wrote his epistles, and in two of these short letters, John spends some time speaking of it. With regards to those who teach this doctrine of the antichrist, John gives us the following amazing counsel:
If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, (the doctrine of Christ) receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. (2John 1:10-11)
While Christians are encouraged to be hospitable, kind and generous, an exception is made in the case of these who teach the doctrine of antichrist, they are not to be received or treated with courtesy! This gives us an idea of how dangerous this doctrine is! What was it that John saw which caused him such concern? What principle was it, what false teaching had arisen in the Christian church which was so deadly that John saw it necessary to speak against it in such strong terms?
The doctrine of Christ
Since this doctrine is referred to as the doctrine of antichrist, we may reasonably conclude that it is opposed to the doctrine of Christ, or in other words, it is opposed to the central message of Christianity. John makes this clear in his second letter:
For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. (2John 1:7-9)
So what is this doctrine of Christ? What is the greatest, most significant, most important element of Christianity? Christians in general will point to the sacrifice of Christ in dying on the cross as the center of the Christian faith. Nobody should deny the importance of Calvary, it is one of the greatest events in the history of the universe and it is the foundation of the plan of salvation, but as far as the practical experience of Christianity is concerned, Calvary is not the most significant event! The most significant event – the element which sets Christianity apart from every other religion – is the coming of Christ and the Father to dwell in Christians! This is one of the most important themes of the New Testament and it is clear that the apostles regarded this experience as the central element of the Christian faith. The apostle Paul refers to it in the following passage:
Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: (Col 1:26-27)
In several passages Paul speaks of this mystery, some great secret which had been hidden for ages, but which had been revealed with the coming of Christ. He says that this secret plan which had been hidden in the mind of God, this wonderful method that God had for restoring humans to himself, consisted of Christ living in his people – “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
This is the same great message that Jesus spent his entire ministry emphasizing. His message was, the gospel of the kingdom. It was the same message taught by John the Baptist and it was the same message which Jesus instructed his disciples to preach. Of course many of those who preached this message including John the Baptist did not understand what it really meant. John himself as well as the disciples of Jesus believed that it referred to the setting up of a physical kingdom on earth. Jesus proclaimed that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and so there was great expectation that Christ had come to immediately overthrow the Roman empire and to establish the nation of Israel as the greatest kingdom on earth. But this understanding was incorrect. Jesus identified the true nature of this kingdom of God when he was interrogated by the Pharisees about his message:
And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:20-21)
In other words, the doctrine of Christ is the truth that through, and in Jesus Christ, God has fulfilled the plan which was hidden in his heart from ancient times. This plan was that God’s people would become one with him, by means of Him him coming to dwell inside of them! This purpose was accomplished through Jesus Christ. This is what the new covenant is about, this is the good news of the kingdom, it is God coming to live inside his people, it is heaven and earth being united, it is God’s people dwelling in heavenly places in Christ Jesus! This is the doctrine of Christ, this is what it means to be a Christian, this is what makes the Christian life the greatest experience that a human being can enter into. This is what brings joy, and peace, and assurance, and eternal life into the experience of God’s people. This is the doctrine of Christ and it is clear that the doctrine of antichrist is the teaching which denies this reality! This becomes obvious when we examine the statements of John referring to the antichrist.
Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1John 4:2-4)
Christ is come in the flesh
There are several different ideas as to what John means when he speaks of Christ coming, “in the flesh.” The most popular understanding is that it refers to Jesus Christ actually becoming a real human being, possessing our fallen nature. According to this thinking, the antichrist teaching is that Jesus was not a real human being but that he was really a spirit being, disguised as a human, or that though he was a real human, he did not possess the same fallen nature as other men. In other words he was not subject to the same weaknesses and limitations as other human beings. However this is a wrong interpretation of what John is saying and this interpretation should be rejected. The evidence does not support this idea. Let us look again at the passage just quoted above, but this time let us examine also the verses which come immediately before the passage.
And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us. (1 John 3:24)
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:1-4)
John says that the Spirit of antichrist denies that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, but look at what he says immediately before making that statement: he says, “hereby we know that he abideth in us by the SPIRIT which he hath given us!” He is referring to the teaching and experience which comes from his spirit, the spirit which he has given us. His spirit teaches us that he abides, or lives in us! Then immediately after speaking of that spirit, he speaks of ANOTHER spirit which contradicts the teaching of his spirit. While the spirit we have been given makes us know that he lives in us, the other spirit, the spirit of antichrist, denies that truth! That spirit denies that Jesus lives “in the flesh,” or rather, lives in our bodies. John also concludes his warning by repeating this reality that since Christ lives in us, we can overcome this antichrist spirit, because “greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.”
It is clear that what John is focusing on is the issue of Christ dwelling in his people. It is in this context that he says that antichrist denies that Christ is come in the flesh. Notice that he does not say, “Christ did come,” or that, “Christ came.” He is speaking of the present tense, “Christ is come.” He is speaking of the presence of Christ in the believer, the present coming of Christ to live in the Christian.
It is not just in this passage that we clearly see that this is what John was focusing on. The epistles of John are full of this emphasis that we have literal and true fellowship with God by Christ living inside of us. Let us examine a couple of other verses.
That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father,, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. (1John 1:3-4)
Here John states very clearly his reason for writing this letter. His purpose is that he wants the believers to enjoy the same fellowship that he enjoys with God and with his son. He emphasizes the reality of this experience by saying, “truly …. Our fellowship is with the father and with his son Jesus Christ.” This is the whole purpose behind this first epistle of John, his aim is that the people he is writing to may come to realize and to experience this fellowship with the Father and the son.
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. (2 John 1:9)
When we have come to understand the true meaning of the doctrine of Christ, this verse makes perfect sense! What does it mean to have God? What does it mean to have both the father and the son? To have something means to possess it, it does not mean simply to believe that God exists, it does not mean simply to believe that God loves us, it does not mean simply to believe that God gave his son for us. To have God means what it says, that is to possess him, to have him living inside of us! The doctrine of Christ is simply the truth that Jesus Christ is living inside the believer. Through Jesus Christ, the Father also lives inside the believer, so the person who denies the doctrine of Christ, he has neither the father nor the son. Of course not!
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. (1John 5:11-12)
And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us. (1John 3:24)
Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. (1John 4:13)
The teaching concerning antichrist is not the only emphasis which is unique to the apostle John. His writings have a very different focus from the rest of the New Testament and from the emphasis of the other apostles, with the possible exception of the apostle Paul. Paul covers the same ideas as John, but usually using different terminology and from a different perspective.
For example, John is the only person who records Jesus’ statements about the comforter. While the other gospel writers speak of the coming of the Spirit, John’s record is unique in that he speaks of this coming spirit as, “the comforter,” clearly identifying this coming Holy Spirit as a real person with all the attributes of personality. There is no mistaking the fact that this comforter is a person, it is impossible to interpret it in any other way. So clear is the evidence that some of those who deny that Christ actually lives inside his people feel compelled to interpret this comforter as being a special angel! Let us just look at some of these striking statements concerning the comforter:
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. (John 14:16-18)
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. (John 16:13)
first we see John’s reference to this comforter as, “he.” In every other place that the Holy Spirit is referred to by a pronoun in the Bible, the word used should always be translated as, “it.” “Spirit” is a neuter word, it is neither masculine nor feminine and so references to the Holy Spirit should always be translated as, “it.” This is not always done because there is bias among the translators where they sometimes change the word to, “he,” when according to the Greek or the Hebrew language it should be, “it.” However in this passage where he speaks of the comforter, John clearly identifies the Holy Spirit as, “he.” This is not a mistake in translation, this is John’s careful and deliberate choice to identify the Holy Spirit as a person.
Secondly, we see that Jesus identifies this Holy Spirit as being himself, although in another form, because he says, “he dwelleth with you and shall be in you.” John himself testifies that at that time, “the Holy Ghost was not yet given (John 7:39),” so what did Jesus mean by saying, “he dwelleth with you?” The answer is very clear, it was Jesus himself who was dwelling with them at that time and he goes on to make it clear that in the future this person (himself) would be dwelling in them. Then he removes all questions when he says in verse 18, “I will come to you.”
Again, see how clear the words of Jesus are in the following verses:
Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. (John 14:19-20)
Here Jesus explains the reason why he refers to himself as another person. When he comes back again in this different form there are two different groups of people who will be impacted by his coming; first of all there is the world, and of the world he says, “the world sees me no more.” But of his people he says, “but you see me,” or, “you will see me.” So clearly Jesus is speaking of returning in such a form that he will be unrecognized by those who are not his disciples. This is why he speaks of this new identity as, “another comforter.” But will his people know that it is he himself? Absolutely! To his people he says, “at that day (that is when he returns as the comforter) you shall know that I am in my father, and you in me, and I in you.”
This is the whole point of what Jesus was saying, and it is the whole point of what John is focusing on! It is Christ himself along with the Father who lives in believers. It is a real, literal person who dwells in them as opposed to the teaching of antichrist which seeks to overthrow this reality. In other words the promised Holy Spirit is not just an influence, not just power bestowed on God’s people, not just new thoughts, new ideas, new attitudes, but the literal, personal presence of both the father and the son! This is the most amazing truth in all the Bible and it is the center of the doctrine of Christ.
Again we are faced with the question, why is John so forceful, so strong in emphasizing that this comforter is literally a person? When we understand the timing of these writings of John, all being produced when the doctrine of antichrist had taken root in the Christian church, then it becomes clear why this strong emphasis is evident in his writings. His gospel as well as his epistles are written in this way to directly counter the influence of this doctrine.
Why so dangerous?
The greatest tragedy which ever occurred on planet Earth was the separation and the alienation which sin introduced in the relationship between God and man. God’s great purpose over the ages has been the restoration of this relationship. The plan of salvation is the story of this restoration in the most amazing way possible!
When God gave the law to Israel at Mount Sinai, he instructed Moses, “let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” Here we see that in this first demonstration of how he wants to relate to his people, God set up his dwelling place, “among them.” That is, he established a meeting place, a location on planet Earth where he would manifest his presence, and where people could come and have some kind of interaction with him in a literal and meaningful way. But this is absolutely not God’s ideal, what he truly wanted was something much greater!
Sixteen hundred years later God initiated the next phase of his great plan to re-establish his relationship with humanity, he sent his only begotten son to become a member of the human race, and to unite divinity with humanity forever! In speaking of this event the word of God says,
Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. (Matt 1:23)
God’s plan moved one step closer to His heart’s desire. In the Mosaic sanctuary, God came to dwell AMONG men, but now in the person of his Son, he came to dwell WITH men. Jesus referred to himself as the temple of God (God’s dwelling place) when he told the Jews, “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 3:19)
But the highest and greatest purpose which God had for man in this life, was finally fulfilled when the Comforter came to his people! Jesus explained the amazing privilege which would belong to us when he said, “he dwelleth with you (God with us) and shall be IN you!” “John 14:16). First it was God AMONG us, then God WITH us, and finally, God IN us! This is the truth of what God gave us in Jesus Christ, it is the Comforter, the gift above all gifts, the living presence of the Father and the Son to be among, with, and in us forever! This is the New Covenant, this is the doctrine of Christ, this is the great truth which antichrist will seek to overthrow, and which those who embrace his philosophy also promote!
This is why, although John the Baptist was the greatest of all who lived from creation to his time, yet God’s people who lived after him, in the time of the kingdom are greater! (Matt 11:11) John experienced “God with us,” and was privileged to put his hands on him when he baptized Jesus. But John NEVER experienced the kingdom, he never had the Father and the Son living in him, he did not know the Comforter dwelling within. His experience was inferior to that of those who expeience the kingdom, God and is Son dwelling within! Truly, this is the greatest news that man has ever heard or experienced!
Beloved, let us cherish this amazing reality and keep our eyes focused on what we have so that no man may be able to move us from this doctrine of Christ. Today, there are many false prophets gone out into the world who promote this doctrine of antichrist as fully as they did in the time of John. I am afraid that the same spurious teaching has invaded the ranks of those who teach the doctrine of the one true God. Amazingly, men professing to be Christians deny the very foundational truth of what it means to have Christ. The word of God tells us to not receive such into your homes nor bid them God speed.
We live in a fearsome time, but how comforting to have the assurance,
Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1John 4:4)
(Source: Restoration Ministry)