There is great speculation in regards to the reality and essence of the antichrist. Differing descriptions are given throughout the Bible, many of which have been leveraged by Hollywood-style dramatization. Be it a real person or government— many entities or a singular manifestation, the one thing that holds all viewpoints in common is the clear presence of an anti-Christ spirit that stands against Jesus in action, word, and creed.
For many, the predominant conclusion is that the antichrist is some kind of carnal, sin-dripping, non-believing, God-hating entity from the world that desires to thwart all things Christ, especially when viewed as a singular, eschatological figure. Popular, individual candidates have been Hitler, Obama, Caesar, and Napoleon.
For those Christians who paint with a broader brush, identifying the antichrist is centered on looking for the brightest blip on the radar screen of organizations, ideologies, and cultural realities believed to be wielding the most anti-christian, sin-seductive activity in the world. Homosexuality, ISIS, and liberalism have been frequently declared as primary contenders.
Bottom line, whoever or whatever is determined to be deserving of this diabolical label, the “antichrist” serves as yet another “they” or “them” that fundamentalists can rage against and leverage with fear for the conversion of souls.
It all seems so cut and dry, does it not? Revealing the antichrist is simply a conservative Christian, finger-point away.
Not so fast.
If you asked Jesus to cast a spotlight, revealing a person or people who are best qualified for the antichrist label, He wouldn’t bull’s-eye a demonic candidate from the sinning world, not even a Herod, a Pontius Pilate, or the likes of a Roman Empire— though all certainly anti-Jesus in their own way. Rather, His eyes would gaze straight into the heart of the religious, as they have pierced many times before.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” –Matthew 23:15
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” –Matthew 23:17-28
In the same way, I find it interesting when examining the primary biblical descriptions used by conservatives in determining the antichrist, or a spirit thereof.
“Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction” -2 Thessalonians 2:3
“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” 1 John 4:2-3
On the surface, it would seem these two passages serve as a slam dunk for conservative Christians in the identifying of the antichrist as a worldly, liberal, pantheistic, wayward, sin-loving, Jesus-debunking, progressive-minded entity who dwells outside of their Christian fundamentalism.
However, a deeper look reveals something much different.
First, the “lawless” person described in 2 Thessalonians is widely misunderstood. It’s a reference often used by conservatives as a clear determination that the antichrist is one whose lifestyle is characterized by licentiousness and a blatant disregard for doing what is right and good in the eyes of God. Therefore, the antichrist is easily revealed by their disobedient, sinful, morally rebellious actions. Find a person or reality that is living or advocating choices of sin, and there you have it— easy peasy, lemon squeezy, you’re the next contestant on “The Antichrist is Right.”
However, “lawlessness” can’t be referring to the Law or fulfilling any kind of legalistic, moral standard or spirit thereof through personal performance, as Paul declared, we are “under Grace, not Law.” In fact, it is under this Grace that Jesus flips the tables of religious thinking and ushers in a radical new way of calibrating our life and living, turning our attention fully away from any efforts to appease God (Law) through our faithfulness, to a focus on simply loving people (a life of Grace).
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34
The truth is, if there is any kind of “law” in our lives, under Grace, it is solely to love people— completely, thoroughly, and unconditionally. This is to be the singular, exclusive focus and foundation of any impulse or action in our Christian lives.
Being “lawless” isn’t adopting a life of moral rebellion or missing the mark of Christian obedience, but rather, becoming a loveless person. For to be lawless, is to be loveless. Period.
Second, the passage from 1 John 4 focuses on Jesus and His manifestation of God— in other words, the author is appealing for a firm understanding of who Jesus is and what He brings.
For conservatives, this passage, and others like it, are wrapped as clear admonitions that an antichrist label can be firmly affixed to anyone or anything that doesn’t properly repent of their sins, turn to Jesus as their salvation, and sandblast their lives into moral, conservative purity.
This is the very essence of the Evangelical gospel of who Jesus is and what He brings— the world is bad, people are a project, and we have exclusive revelation and rights to the solution. Believe in our Jesus, repent of our list of sins, become discipled in our “sin recovery and management” programs, agree to stand against all the things we stand against as you learn to spiritually police a wayward world, and adopt our elitist lifestyle of “hating the sin and loving the sinner” all while you sing choruses of how “on fire” and “radical” you are for Jesus— hands in the air of course.
Oh, and one more itsy bitsy, wee-little thing. If you don’t subscribe to this playlist, our same people-loving Jesus will drop-kick you into the eternal barbecue pit down under where somehow you will be separated from an omnipresent God to be tortured forever as people in heaven high-five with rousing hymns of “He is Holy and Just.” Not to mention, we will be forced to draw the only conclusion available—since you are anti-us, you are obviously anti-Christ. We love you, we really do… but.
The problem is, that’s not the Gospel. That is not who Jesus is and what He brings.
Jesus is Grace, and Grace is the Gospel. It’s all Grace.
There is only Grace. Period.
This is the divine, cosmic assertion from the megaphone of heaven that rings salvation to the broken and torment to the religious.
Through the cross, it’s all one-and-done. Salvation, for all. Wholeness, holiness, sanctification, righteousness and justification, for all. New creation life, without blemish or condemnation, for all. Grace, love, acceptance, and affirmation, for all.
None are better, only different. Grace, the great equalizer—lifting the condemned, deflating the condemners, writing us all onto the same page and into the same plot— rendering all our performance as irrelevant to the leveraging of God, and ourselves over and above another.
Salvation isn’t something you get, sanctification isn’t something you become, holiness isn’t something you achieve, it’s who you already are and what you already have, because of Jesus. And faith— your effortless, beautiful awakening to all this, that Jesus has fully furnished and finished on humanity’s behalf.
As you believe it, you feel it, you desire it, and you live it. Grace upon Grace. Breathing for the first time.
There is nothing left to do, only everything to believe— God is love, Jesus is Grace, and His Gospel is peace.
It’s as simple and good as that.
Everything else is just a spiritual veil to an empty life— a vaping of the Law as if it’s the Gospel, inhaling death as if it’s life.
The most anti-Christ thing one can believe is that God is anything but pure love, Jesus is anything but Grace, and our lives should exhibit and manifest anything but unconditional love for all people— no “ifs,” “ands” or “buts.”
The most anti-Christ thing one can do is to look to our efforts, however spiritual they may seem, and believe any of it actually works with God or ourselves— brainwashing people into a life of spiritual striving and a subtle positioning of oneself as better than another, having the capacity and even a calling to judge, change, or condemn.
That, is to believe and do what is pure evil and anti-Christ.
For the message of Grace takes the Law and sin so seriously that it bows down its entirety to the sobering reality that no one can summon the will nor apply enough spiritual “to do’s” to master or manage it. It takes Jesus so seriously, that no bible, denomination, organization or person can perfectly reveal the Father but Him. It takes Grace so seriously, disarmed by the awareness that nothing else works to change or empower. It takes God so seriously, that love is all He is and all He brings, exclusively and completely. It takes the Christian life so seriously, that all we can, and are capable and called to do, is to simply love, as God first loved us, without condition.
It’s Jesus + nothing, or your gospel is nothing but anti-Christ ladened, bad news.
Yet sadly, as much as I love all my Christian brothers and sisters and wish my observations and experience could surmise a different conclusion, I can’t identify a more Jesus-misrepresenting and loveless manifestation on earth outside of Evangelical Christianity— whose blatant hallmarks are a law-mixed, performance-driven gospel, legalism, judgementalism, bigotry, discrimination, condemnation, and spiritual elitism— all in the name of Jesus.
To be sure, for some, they are unaware of what comes in the Evangelical to-go box from which they consume. For others, they do not subscribe to all the artificial adding and fillings immersed in this brand of faith —doing their best to eat around it. In that way, the term “Evangelical” will always be imperfect in its use. For that, I apologize.
However, if your are looking for the antichrist or its spirit among us, before you go pointing fingers, perhaps a mirror would best do. Somewhere along the way, we have too open our eyes to the heights from which we have fallen.
What is and has been the primary catalyst behind the uprising of rampant prejudice in America and beyond?
What is turning more generations of people away from Christianity and the person of Jesus?
What keeps more people from loving freely without restraint, restriction, condition or apprehension?
What has caused more people in the LGBTQ community to lose hope, spiral into depression, and even hang a noose to take their own lives?
What has marginalized, minimized, and deprived more women of their equal rights, status, gifting, calling and capabilities within the faith community and all of life?
What has enticed and imprisoned more people into a life of sin and hypocrisy through the proclamation of the Law and the mixing of it into the Gospel?
What has personified God more as an angry, vengeful, schizophrenic drunk who storms out of heaven to love you one moment and hate you the next?
What has done more to turn “church” into a club of pretentious people who talk amongst themselves and judge the world?
What has inspired this great nation, from our birth all the way into our present, to justify more acts of violence, hatred, privilege, and greed?
One answer: Evangelical Christianity
Behind every legislation of discrimination, transgender suicide, homophobic rant, sin-enslaved human, dechurched follower, and disillusioned Christian is the touch of Evangelical Christianity, in part or whole, directly or indirectly. This is the print our steps are making and the legacy we are leaving— a ministry of emotional, spiritual, and physical death pimped as the way, truth, and life.
Oh how we Christians have become experts at not only missing the point and the plot, but missing the very people and creeds contributing most to the sabotaging of all that is truly Jesus and what He brings.
Look no further, it is us, we are the “they”— the fallen from Grace.
Perhaps, of all that would seem to be so easily anti-Christ, we are the most anti-Christ of all— loveless, Graceless, and therefore, Jesus-less— addicted to our self-requiring Gospel and a love filled with conditions, the very attributes that Jesus discerned and declared as most anti-Himself.