The Return of Christ: The Antichrist
The Return of Christ: The Antichrist
If you were to head out into the main street of your local town or city with the express purpose of discovering what the locals knew about the Westminster Confession of Faith what kind of response would you get? Probably very little. You might find that some people were aware of a statement in the Confession in which the Pope is identified as being the Antichrist. Sadly many people know nothing else about our great doctrinal standard. It’s a little ironic that what has become the best known statement in the great document has also become its most contested and debated expression. Whilst the framers of the Confession were convinced of the Antichrist’s identity, many, even within conservative reformed circles, have serious reservations about their choice. Who, then, is the Antichrist? This is the great question that we need to ponder in this article as we consider ‘the particular signs of His coming’. We will focus, almost exclusively, on 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 verses 3 to 12 where ‘The Man of Sin’ of whom Paul speaks is undoubtedly the same figure as the Antichrist whom John brings before us in 1 John 4:3.
It is clear from what Paul says in verse 3 that the Antichrist, or the Man of Sin, will arise out of the great apostasy. But what will he look like? What will be his characteristics? Who is he? In seeking to answer these questions we should note five distinct matters that Paul brings before us regarding the character and activity of this great evil personage.
He will be a person⤒🔗
This almost seems like a silly statement but, nevertheless, it is a statement that needs to be made because many maintain that the Antichrist is not a person but an evil force or influence. The personal terms which Paul uses in this passage clearly demonstrate that we are considering a person, a distinct individual who will arise out of the great apostasy and become the leader of everything and everyone who is opposed to God. Notice the language used in the following verses:
Verse 3: ‘The MAN of sin..., the SON of perdition.’
Verse 4: ‘HE sits as God in the temple of God.’
Verse 6: ‘HE may be revealed in HIS own time.’
He will be a religious figure←⤒🔗
When Paul states in verse 4 that the Antichrist ‘sits as God in the temple of God’ he is not thinking about a literal temple. There is no indication in the Scriptures that the temple in Jerusalem is going to be rebuilt before Jesus returns. The reference here to the temple of God’ is figurative. It is the apostle using religious language to indicate that the Antichrist will be a religious figure. ‘To set oneself up in the temple of God is to invade the dwelling place of God and assume the rights of God’.1
He will perform counterfeit miracles←⤒🔗
There is no doubt that the Antichrist is to be distinguished from Satan yet he is empowered by the evil one and is intent on carrying out his bidding. As Satan is skilled at counterfeit miracles so also the Antichrist will perform similar ‘signs and lying wonders’ (verse 9). Sadly, even today, too many are influenced by those who claim to have miraculous powers. We need to pay heed to the words of Jesus who warned us in Matthew 7:21-23 that the ability to do mighty works is not always an indication that a man is being empowered by the Lord or is approved by him.
He will not appear until ‘he who now restrains is taken out of the way’ (verse 7)←⤒🔗
The picture which Paul is setting before us is very dark. Before Jesus returns there will be a terrible falling away – the great apostasy. Satan, the evil one, who is presently chained and restricted is going to be released for a time. During this time of ‘Satanic freedom’ the people of God will know terrible persecution and tribulation. Such a time has not yet occurred because ‘something’ or ‘someone’ is restraining the Antichrist – holding him back and preventing him from making an appearance at the present moment.
Many believe that this force or person is none other than the Holy Spirit. Numerous Bible versions indicate their support for this position by capitalising the personal pronoun ‘He’ in verse 7 and thus suggesting that ‘He’ is the third person of the Godhead. The argument thus runs – the Antichrist has not yet appeared because the Holy Spirit is restricting him and holding him back. However it is also clear that the person who is holding him back is the same as the force or power that is mentioned in verse 6 – ‘and now you know what is restraining.’ The Holy Spirit is a person not a force or power. The Holy Spirit is to be referred to as ‘He’ not ‘it’ or ‘what’.
As such, something and someone, not the Holy Spirit, is restraining the operation of the Antichrist at the present moment. There is a force and a person holding him back. This force and person are identical. What or who can this be?
I hold to the position that Paul is speaking here about the power of government or the power of an ordered society. Sometimes when we speak about the government we can use both personal and impersonal terms. We express our disapproval by saying – ‘it’s no good, this government, we need a change.’ However we can also speak of government in a much more personal way. ‘He’s doing his best, Mr Brown. We’ll not get anyone better’. So, the power of government and of an ordered society, is what is holding back the appearance and advance of the Antichrist. Before Jesus returns there will be a time of unprecedented disorder and chaos among the nations of the world when Satan and his cause, led by the Antichrist, will seem to triumph and when that good order and government described in Romans 13 will be ‘turned on its head’.
He will be totally overthrown by Christ at his coming←⤒🔗
Powerful and influential though the Antichrist may be he will be ultimately cast down by the Lord Jesus Christ when he comes. ‘The Lord will consume him with the breath of His mouth and destroy him with the brightness of His coming.’ (Verse 8)
To contemplate the Antichrist is a dark and terrifying matter. His evil, Satanic influence is ugly and vile to behold. His ‘reign’ however will be brief and ultimately he will be cast down by the one who is stronger than all the powers of darkness and forces of hell. Jesus will triumph and his kingdom will not fail.
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