You are here

11. The Antichrist, a Perversion of Paul

– Chapter 11 –

The Antichrist, A Perversion of Paul

A light shining in God’s creation

Yesterday as I was taking a walk by the riverside, as I often do to be quiet, to meditate, and to commune with the Lord, I saw an interesting insect. This small beetle was flying in the air. What struck me about the beetle was that it was shining with light. Have you ever seen a beetle with a light, its own torch? I watched it for some time, and was amazed that its light was so bright that it stood out in the darkness despite the many lights shining from the nearby bridge. How interesting it is that God has created an insect to be a light that shines in the dark! I then recalled being in Israel last year, at Eilat of the Red Sea, where we visited a place that exhibits all kinds of sea life. The fish in the aquariums are fascinating because they come in many shapes and colors. Then we walked into a room that was totally dark and thought we had entered the wrong room. But we discovered that this room is always kept dark, because it has a species of small fish that carries its own light that shines in the dark. Very fascinating!

A true Christian: From darkness to light

I was reminded of the words in Scripture: “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (Eph.5:8) A Christian is someone who was once darkness, but is now light in the Lord. I wonder if that describes your life? Even if we may be insignificant people, are our lives a light that shines in the darkness? We might not be any more significant in the history of the world than that little beetle that flies in the air, or that little fish that swims in the darkness of the sea, yet we have the task of showing forth the glory of our Savior, by the light that shines from our lives. Light catches the eye’s attention. Many insects were flying around me, but none attracted my attention as this illuminated beetle flying in the air. Does your life and mine, insignificant though we are, cause people to be astonished by our lives? Do people ask, “How come there is a light shining in the darkness?”

I am thinking of Pastor Dieter who left last week after spending three weeks with us. I think the Third and the Fourth training teams benefitted a lot from fellowship­ping with him. I too was fellowship­ping with him one day when I said to him, “You would remember, Dieter, the first time we met in Switzerland. At that time, all your thoughts and all your speech were that of a liberal theologian. A lot has happened in the twenty plus years ever since, so what has happened to you? I know about some of the changes in your life, but not all of it.” He said, “Oh, it’s a long story.” Indeed, it is a long story of how God had changed his life. And I think the Third and Fourth teams can testify, after spending the most time with him, of his love for the Lord, his love for the word of God, and the beauty of Christ in his life. Once he was darkness, but now he is light in the Lord.

We went on a boat trip together and even on the boat Pastor Dieter brought along his Greek New Testament. He brings it with him wherever he goes, so that he may meditate on it. I think we can see how much he loves the word of God. Through the work of the Lord, God’s grace shines forth in his life as seen in his devotion to God and God’s word.

Although Pastor Dieter is an exceed­ingly brilliant person, he is not bookish, as a teammate noted. He has many abilities. Humanly speaking, he is an outstandingly capable person. He started to learn the piano at the age of fifteen or sixteen, and within some three years he passed the exam for the license to be a church organist. The other day in a gathering with the Third and the Fourth teams, we all had a great time singing with him. We were singing songs in German and in Ashanti, an African language (he taught at a theological college in Ghana for a time). We were also singing songs in Hebrew, English and Chinese. Those of you who heard him play the piano could see with what ease he plays it. And the piano is not his only instru­ment, for he also plays the oboe and other instruments. He is a man of extraordinary gifts and abilities, as demonstrated not only by his doctorate of theology at Cambridge, but by many other things, even his typing skills. A long time ago in Switzerland, I once asked him to type me a short letter, and he typed so fast that as I walked the length of the room and back, he pulled the paper out of the machine and said, “Here is your letter.” Truly we can see how God works in a person’s heart and transforms a proud and self-confident man into one who manifests the beauty of Christ.

One of the great joys in serving God is the opportunity to see how he changes a person’s life. It is a far greater reward than anything money can bring, and is the greatest testament to the fact that God is the living God. If it was not God who changed a life, we would have to ask, “Then who did it? How did this astonishing and funda­mental transformation come about?” I am not talking about some moral reform by which you become a nicer person, or kick some bad habit such as smoking. I am talking about a fundamental transforma­tion of character — a new person. I have seen people like Pastor Dieter and others who have been utterly transformed by God’s gracious work. All through the years I have watched this happen again and again, and it fills me with awe to see God’s power.

The Antichrist: From light to darkness

My series of messages is about this dreadful character called the Antichrist. In my last message, I talked about the Christian’s situa­tion in the days of the Antichrist, who is the epitome of darkness. But something even more dreadful about the Antichrist is that he apparently was once some kind of light, but had become darkness — a darkness so dark as has never appeared in a man in the history of the world.

There are many inwardly dark people in this world. There are criminals such as the triads in Hong Kong who work with loan sharks, control massage parlors, extort, and rob. There has been darkness in human beings from the beginning of human history from the days of Cain, indeed from the time of Adam. But the dark­ness that will be found in the person of the Antichrist is particularly tragic — in whom light has be­come darkness. Among human beings, there are those who have been living in darkness all along, so their darkness does not surprise us. But when someone who is a shining light, or was so in the past, becomes darkness, the tragedy is a shock in itself. When a good man becomes a Mafia boss, it is painful. But if he had always been a bad person who steadily got worse, it doesn’t shock us too much.

One of the striking things about the book of Ezekiel is that the prophet Ezekiel speaks about this very thing several times. He says that if a righteous man turns his back on his righteousness and turns to evil, God’s judgment will come upon him without mercy (Ezekiel 3:20; 18:24; 33:13). Ezekiel 28 talks about the Prince of Tyre, or the King of Tyre, who used to be full of glory and beauty and wisdom and perfection, but then became arrogant and evil, even blaspheming God. He regarded himself a divine person equal with God, setting himself above the very stars of God.

It is a tragedy of the first order when a good man turns bad. We are glad to say that this seldom happens, yet we are not unfamiliar with such tragic cases. It never ceases to astonish us when light is extinguished in a per­son, but even more so when he goes all the way to become utter dark­ness — a spiritual black hole that sucks good­ness from every­thing into his evil being. Like I said, it is a tragedy of the first order. Do you know anybody like that? We seldom come across such cases, but it does happen.

The Antichrist will be a traitor

The Antichrist will be precisely this kind of person. He will be so evil that nothing will gratify him as much as persecuting the church and killing Christians. He doesn’t just give Christians a bad time, he wants to exterminate them, though he was once a Christian. That makes him a traitor. We don’t mind enemies as much we mind a traitor, and even the natural man hates a traitor.

There is a certain moral code among prison inmates. Even crimi­nals have some sort of morality among themselves, and they utterly hate a certain kind of person: the informer, the traitor. They do not mind murderers much, especially cop killers. They do not mind rapists much unless they are child rapist; a child rapist can get killed in prison. But the one type they absolutely detest is the Judas type, the informer, the betrayer. Informers against the Mafia are often the first targets for assassination, for liquidation. Such infor­mers will have to be placed under police protection.

The Antichrist will be this type of person — a traitor — as we will see from the Bible. He will lead the war against Christians though he himself was once a Christian, and he will stop at nothing less than putting Christians to death.

(Note: I will sometimes speak of the Antichrist as a non-Christian and sometimes as a Christian, depending on the context. He is a non-Christian in his true inner self, but a Christian in his outward cloak of false Christian identity.)

As I said in the previous message, becoming a Christian in the last days will place you in the greatest dangers. It is not a matter of raising your hand and making a decision. All that is easy. What does it cost you to raise your hand and walk to the front to sign a form that declares you have made a decision for Christ? It costs nothing. I have been saying again and again that a preacher is not being truthful if he doesn’t tell you that when you become a Christian, especially in these last days, it could cost you your life. We feel that preachers aren’t supposed to say things like that, but should keep everything hush and quiet so that people won’t be scared away from becoming Christians. Well, I am determined to scare you away from becoming a Christian if you are not prepared to love the truth at the cost of your own blood.

As a brother just said in his prayer, giving up all our possessions for the Lord doesn’t come near to what the Lord has done for us. It is easier to give up your possessions than your blood. At least you still keep your life. Even if you turn your back on your career, you may still live a relatively good life — not as rich as before, but you still have all the things you need. And above all, you have wonderful coworkers and wonderful fellow­ship. But one of these days you and I may be called to stand for our faith with our blood. On that day, I don’t want to see anyone who has come to the Lord in this church to be running for his or her life. I’m going to scare you off if you are that easily scared. Don’t even think about getting baptized if you are not prepared for what the Antichrist will do to you.

The Beast wages war on the saints and overcomes them

When the Antichrist comes there will be no enemy his equal. Why is he so dangerous? Because he comes from the church, and there is no enemy like the one who knows the church inside out. In his first letter, the apostle John warns us that the true enemies of the church will come from within the church; they will harm the church in ways more terrible than anything the church has ever seen.

As I said last time, if you go through the New Testament, every­where you will see the theme of warfare, and that a Christian is engaged in spiritual warfare. This theme intensifies as the New Testament progresses, such that by the time you come to the book of Revelation, every page is talking about spiritual warfare. There is unceasing reference to armies, battles, conflicts, blood, death, and martyrs. The beast will wage war on the saints, as we see in Revelation 11:7; 12:17; 13:7. The beast is a term for the Antichrist in Revelation, 16 times in chapter 13 alone. The beast will make war on the saints and, most dreadfully, “overcome them”. In most cases, this means physical death. But I fear that in some cases the word “overcome” would mean that he will defeat them spiritually, that is, cause them to apostatize.

Imagine yourself on the day the Antichrist is persecuting you. If he simply gives you a binary choice, “Deny Christ or die,” it wouldn’t be too bad. But what if he says to you, “Listen, my friend, I used to be a more zealous Christian than you. Which Bible school or seminary have you gone to? I studied at all these places.” By now time you are intimi­dated. “My friend, I know much more about Christianity than you. Have you ever performed a miracle?” “Ah, no.” “Well, I have performed miracles and I will perform a few more for you to see right now.” And you say, “Really?” “Yes, I will show you miracles that will really open your eyes.”

Straightforward persecution is not so bad because the choices before us are clear cut, but can you handle the pressure from somebody who knows much more about Christianity and spiritual things than you? That is terrifying. If your persecutor is just a brutal ignorant non-Christian, you can say, “Poor ignorant man. Father, forgive him because he doesn’t know what he is doing.” But you can’t pray like that for the Antichrist because he knows exactly what he is doing, as did Judas. The dreadful thing about Judas was that he was an apostle who betrayed the Lord. Can you imagine being persecuted by an apostle or ex-apostle of Christ who has visions and miracles among his credentials, the likes of which you have not seen in anyone else?

Two titles of the Antichrist

Let us look at 2 Thessalonians 2:3.

Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come [the day of Jesus Christ will not come] unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. (2 Thessalonians 2:3, NASB)

In this passage are two titles of the Antichrist that will be striking to anyone who is familiar with Scripture: the man of lawlessness and the son of destruction.

The son of perdition

We start with the second title, which is cor­rectly translated “the son of perdition” in KJV, NKJV, RSV, NAB. Perdition means destruction, so some modern trans­lations have “the son of destruction” — that is, the man who is destined for utter destruction because of his dark­ness that is unprecedented in history.

The title “son of perdition” occurs only twice in the New Testa­ment: once of the Antichrist and once of Judas. This is the term that Jesus applies to Judas in John 17:12: “I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” (NASB)

This gives you a good clue as to who the Antichrist is. This fearful term gives clear indication that the Antichrist will be a man like Judas. That is striking indeed.

Judas was one of the twelve apostles who walked with Jesus. If you think that studying at a Bible seminary is some kind of achievement, think of someone who was actually trained by the Lord Jesus himself. In the church, there is no office higher than that of the apostle. The apostles are always regarded as being at the highest level in the church, below which are prophets and teachers.

There were other apostles beside the Twelve. Paul himself was an apostle (many of his letters begin with “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus”), but he was not one of the Twelve. Judas belonged not to this wider group of apostles, but was actually one of the twelve apostles personally chosen and trained by the Lord Jesus. Higher than that you cannot go in the church. Being one of the twelve apostles is the acme of church office. Judas belonged to the highest category and was trained by Jesus himself, yet he betrayed the Lord. That is why everyone feels sick in the stomach at the mention of the name Judas. As I said, even the natural man hates a traitor.

It is true that after he had betrayed the Lord, Judas had pangs of conscience and admitted to betraying innocent blood. He thus testified that Jesus was innocent. So what was in the character of Judas that caused him to turn his back on Jesus? What was the problem with Judas? John’s gospel tells us that Judas loved money (John 12:6). Here is an apostle who loved money, which means that he had never burned his bridge behind him when he followed Jesus. This gave him an open path to go back. After moving forward, he went back, all the way back into the world to the extent that he became a traitor. This characteristic of Judas is the first hint about the Antichrist and is a warning to all Christians: If you are a Christian, or are thinking about baptism, yet are not prepared to burn your bridge behind you, then one of these days you will go back over that bridge and nothing can stop the momentum. Not only will you go back over the bridge to become a non-Christian, you will become a traitor. That is what happened to Judas, and will happen to the Antichrist.

If you profess to be a Christian, did you burn your bridge when you were baptized? Did you die with Christ? Or have you allowed your bridge to remain so that when the going gets tough, or when money starts looking attractive again, you will turn around and go back?

I say this particularly to those in the full-time training teams. All our teammates are fairly qualified people, each holding one or more degrees. For such people the world will never stop being a source of temptation. Not only for them, but for all of us, so that if we do not burn our bridges behind us, one of these days the world will make us an attractive offer (as has happened to me many times over the past years) that is hard to turn down. As leaders in the church, all of us have gained experience in leadership, planning, and administra­tion. This kind of experience, when proven through years of service, is invaluable to the world. The world is always looking for people with proven experience in leadership, planning, and administra­tion. One of these days an offer will come your way that is hard to turn down. “Would you like to be the general manager of our company?” I say particularly to my dear fellow coworkers that if you have not burned your bridges behind you, you will be tempted to look back after having put your hand to the plough. Once you do that, you won’t be able to step on the brakes, and you will go back faster and deeper. So don’t think that only Judas can be a Judas. All through the history of the church there have been a number of Judases whose traitorous deeds are appalling.

The man of sin

Let us consider the other title used of the Antichrist in 2 Thes­salo­nians 2:3: “the man of sin” or, in some versions, “the man of lawlessness”. The difference doesn’t matter too much, for sin and lawless­ness are basically the same (“everyone who makes a prac­tice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness,” 1 John 3:4, ESV). On the basis of the textual and logical evidence, there is stronger support for the term “the man of sin” (but I won’t elaborate on this because it would be too technical for some of us). What can we learn from this title, the man of sin? Let us turn to 1 Timothy 1:15:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15, ESV)

Here you have the one and only equivalent to the title “the man of sin” in the New Testament: Paul is the foremost sinner, or the chief of sinners, depending on the Bible version. Just as the title “the son of perdition” occurs only twice in the New Testament, so the title “the man of sin” or its equivalent occurs only twice in the New Testament. Paul is saying that he is the foremost and the chief of sinners. It means that Paul is the most outstanding example of sin, a person so utterly in the grip of sin that he can be called simply, “the man of sin”. Sin is so characteristic of him that he is the embodiment of sin. It is important to understand this link between Paul and the Antichrist. The Antichrist will be an apostle like Paul, but Paul in reverse — that is, the Antichrist will go in the opposite direction.

Three reasons Paul calls himself the chief of sinners

What makes Paul the chief of sinners? Let us look at verse 13 which provides the context to verse 15: “I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor” (1 Timothy 1:13, NASB). Here Paul gives three reasons for calling himself the chief of sinners: he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a hubristēs (this is the Greek word that Paul uses here).

The reason for showing the Greek word is that this word is hard to translate into English. Every Bible version tries to translate this word but is unable to capture its full meaning with a single English word because its meaning is too wide. I will take a moment to explain to you what hubristēs means in Greek. It basi­cally means arrogance, but that definition is insufficient. It means a person who is so arrogant and self-centered as to think of himself as a god of sorts. He thinks he can impose his will on others, trample on others, and do what he wants with others, with zero concern for their welfare. In his eyes there is nobody but himself.

One way to understand hubristēs” is to watch the newsreels from the Second World War, some of which show a Nazi officer in his immaculate uniform with a hat emblazoned with the skull and crossbones. He arrogantly stands there with his hands on his hips, or with a whip in his hand, and shouts “Fire!” to shoot people with an ease that makes us shud­der. Then a whole line of people are mowed down. Those victims mean nothing to him; he might as well be stepping on insects. He gets rid of people like garbage. This is the kind of person conveyed by this Greek word hubristēs. [1]

Paul is saying, “I was like this Nazi officer who regards human life as garbage to be eliminated, and most tragically in God’s name.” Paul thought nothing of putting Christians to death in God’s name.

The Antichrist is like Paul in all three respects

As we have seen, the Antichrist will be a (false) Christian who puts other Christians to death. It is the saints he will destroy. Paul was doing this very thing, so he says of himself, “I am the chief of sinners, the man of sin, for I have put to death those who are of God.” It is interesting that every word he uses in 1 Timothy 1:13 — blasphemer, persecutor, hubristēs — applies also to the Antichrist.

The term “blasphemer” is characteristic of the people living in the last days (see 2 Timothy 3:2, which has “blasphemer” in HCSB, KJV, NKJV, NET). The idea of blasphemer is applied several times to the Antichrist in Revelation 13:5–7a:

And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. (Revelation 13:5–7a, ESV)

The Antichrist blasphemes God, blasphemes God’s name, and blasphemes God’s dwelling — the temple — a term that encompasses “those who dwell in heaven,” that is, heavenly beings.

The second word that Paul applies to himself is persecutor, which is exactly what the Antichrist will be. This passage in Revelation says that the Antichrist will be “allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them”. The Antichrist, like Paul, will persecute Christians and put them to death. In his former way of life, Paul was an arrogant man who trampled on the well-being of others with no concern for them. Do you begin to see the correspondence between the Antichrist and Paul? They are similar, but Paul reversed the direc­tion of his life, and moved towards Jesus Christ. Paul says to the Galatians: “For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.” (Galatians 1:13, ESV)

Paul didn’t just perse­cute the church, he perse­cuted it “beyond measure” — beyond all limits. There was no limit to his ferocity in persecuting Christians, putting them to death, and destroying the church. That is exactly what the Antichrist will do. He will not only persecute the church, but will try to destroy it.

In 1 Corinthians 15:9–10, Paul says something of his violent past but also how God turned him around and transformed him:

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1Cor. 15:9–10, ESV)

The vital difference between Paul and the Antichrist

Paul persecuted the Christians and put them to death with a zeal that is unprecedent in all previous attempts to destroy the church. That is exactly what the Antichrist will do.

But there is one important difference. Paul turned around and moved in the direction of Christ — and with the same unsur­passed zeal he had as a persecutor of the church. He turned around from being a persecutor of the church to becoming the man whom some regard as the greatest apostle who is even more influential than the twelve apostles.

Here we see both the parallel and the contrast between Paul and the Antichrist. If you want to understand the Antichrist, you will have to understand him in the light of Paul. Paul was a persecutor of the church and a merciless blasphemer, but he did it in ignorance. But the Antichrist will know exactly what he is doing. Do you see the picture? Both are the chief of sinners. The difference between them lies in the directions of their lives. Paul went from being the chief of sinners, the persecutor of the church, to becoming an apostle who was faithful unto death, laying down his life for God and his church. But the Antichrist will go from chief apostle in his time to become a merciless persecutor and destroyer of the church. The other difference is that Paul didn’t know what he was doing when he persecuted the church, but the Antichrist knows perfectly well what he is doing. That is why the beast will be shown no mercy at the judgment, for there is no more sacrifice for deliberate sins. He will be cast into the lake of fire with Satan (Rev.20:10).

Paul’s life is one of the most astounding instance of God’s trans­form­ing power in the history of the world. Even the most radical, the most liberal, the most critical New Testament scholars admit that they have no way of understanding Paul. Because we are familiar with Paul’s name, we tend to forget that he was once darkness of the most appalling type, yet he was transformed into a glorious light.

One of the greatest proofs that God is the living God is that he can take a sinner and make a saint out of him. There is no greater power than the power to make a new person out of someone who is rotten and depraved — the power to radically transform a person. I have seen and heard the testimony of a Mafia gangster who became a preacher of the gospel. There is no sin too difficult or too dark for God to forgive, and there is no sinner too evil for God to transform. As I said at the start of this message, one of the most amazing things about serving God is seeing lives being trans­formed. I hope you too will experience this transform­ing power. Then you will know that God is real. Why is God so real to me? Because I have seen what he has done with me, as I have testified on many occasions. I dread to think of what kind of person I could have become if God had not transformed me. Why was Paul, a ruthless persecutor of the church, suddenly transformed that he went on to become a person whom some regard as the greatest apostle? As I said, even those who are most antagonistic to the gospel don’t have an answer for that. Paul himself explains that it is because he saw Jesus on the Damascus road. No one has been able to give a better explana­tion than that. That is the amazing power of God.

But the Antichrist will go in the opposite direction, from being an apostle to a persecutor of the church. Even worse, he will proclaim himself God, to take God’s place. This we have seen in Revelation 13, but also in the following verse:

… who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4, ESV)

The Antichrist will be so arrogant as to want to displace God. Like the early Judas and the later Paul, he used to follow Jesus, but now he wants to be God. By contrast, Paul rejected all attempts by the people of Lystra to make a god out of him. This incident is recorded in Acts 14:8–18 but let’s just read verses 11–15:

And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things?” (Acts 14:11–15a)

Paul had done an amazing miracle of healing, so the crowds wanted to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods, and offer them sacrifices. But Paul and Barnabas tore their robes, and, after much effort, were able to stop the crowds from worshipping them. But the Antichrist will be ready to accept such worship, even demanding it.

Paul and the Antichrist: power, signs and wonders

The people of Lystra wanted to worship Paul because they saw the miracle he had done. Here we see yet another parallel between Paul and the Antichrist, this time in 2 Thessalonians 2:9, which says that the Antichrist will perform miracles by the power of Satan: “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders.” (ESV)

A remark­able fact then emerges from the New Testament. A few times in the New Testament the three words power, signs, wonders, are found together in the same verse but not necessarily in that order. But there is only one verse other than 2 Thessalonians 2:9 in which the same three words are arranged in that exact order — power, signs, wonders. That verse hap­pens to be Romans 15:19 which refers to Paul himself. A coincidence? Not in the Scriptures. Let us read Romans 15:18–19:

For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obe­dience — by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God — so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ. (Romans 15:18–19, ESV)

Here are the exact three words appearing in that exact same order in connection with Paul’s ministry. We see that the Antichrist is like Paul on every point, including: the title “the man of sin,” the blasphe­mies, the persecutions, the hubris, the power, signs, and wonders. What then is the vital difference between them? It is the direction of their lives.

Can you tell the Antichrist functions by Satan’s power?

If you are a Christian or a full-time worker, do not sit back and think you are safe and secure. The Antichrist will have a spiritual stature that will rival that of the apostle Paul. The Antichrist will be a great teacher in the church, but a false one. You would remember that in John’s first letter, the antichrists are false teachers but they are not manifestly so. You will not know right away that they are false. That is the problem. In fact the twelve apostles apart from Judas could not tell who among them will betray the Lord. They didn’t even know that anyone among them will betray him. The Antichrist will emerge from within the church as a false teacher and preacher of extraordinary power, a doer of miracles — and you won’t be able to tell that he is false. He will eventually go on to persecute the church without measure, just as the apostle Paul had done. The most frightening type of persecutor is not an ordinary hostile non-Chris­tian, but an apostle and foremost figure of the church. Your persecutor is not just a great teacher but someone who can perform miracles, signs and wonders before your eyes. Will you be able to tell by what power he performs them? The Bible says he will do it by Satan’s power, but will you be able to discern that when you see him? No, it is hidden. The diffe­rence between Paul and the Antichrist is that Paul does miracles by the Spirit of God (Rom.15:19). But can you tell the difference even in Paul’s case? I fear that on that day, there will be a great apostasy not merely because of persecu­tion but because of who it is that is doing the persecu­ting. Will you be able to stand on that day, faithful unto death?

It is when we understand all this that we begin to understand Paul’s enigmatic words in Galatians 1:8–9 (expand­ing on his words): “If I ever change my teaching in the future and preach to you a gospel different from the one I have already preached to you, don’t accept it. If I come back five years from now, and say to you, ‘Remember the gospel I preached to you? Well, I am going to preach to you another gospel’ — don’t believe it either. Or if an angel from heaven preaches another gospel to you, don’t believe it.”

That’s a strange statement to make, isn’t it? Paul even hints of the possibi­lity — though a remote one — that he himself might change for the worse. Is he saying all this because he is aware of another apostle like himself who is preaching another gospel? This seems unlikely from his statement in Galatians 1:8–9. Or is Paul think­ing of the Antichrist who will preach a different gospel? Paul is aware that the Antichrist will be an apostle similar to himself in many respects such as doing signs and wonders, but he will preach a different gospel.

Beware of an apostle who will come and preach another gospel, and perform signs, wonders and miracles. This false apostle will preach what he claims is the true gospel, but it won’t be the one that Paul preached. Stand fast, brothers and sisters, for that day is not far off.

The direction of your life

How can we be assured that we will stand fast on that day? There is only one way: the direction in which you are moving. You may oppose the gospel as Paul once did, but that isn’t the most terrible thing if your heart is open to the truth and you are going in the right direction. Remember, it is the direction that matters. In Paul’s case, the direction is going from being a persecutor to becoming the chief apostle; for the Antichrist it is moving from being the chief apostle of sorts to becoming the destroyer of the church.

You cannot be complacent about yourself even if you are a Christian or a full-time worker. Judas was an apostle, yet he went in the opposite direction from Paul: from apostle to traitor.

What is Paul’s secret? It is found in Philippians 3:13–14: “Forget­ting what lies behind … I press on toward the goal with my all.” The secret lies in the direction your life, and the intensity with which you are moving in that direction. Paul says, “I worked harder than any of them” (1Cor.15:10). He goes in the right direction — the upward direction — with an intensity that leaves all others behind. That is what makes Paul so outstanding.

Let us summarize. First, have you experienced God’s power of transform­ation in your life? Can you say with Paul in 2 Timothy 1:12, “I know whom I have believed” because of what God has done in you? Second, are you going in the right direction in the upward call of God? Third, are you going in that direction with the intensity that Paul had, who was able to say, “I worked harder than all of them. I am the least of the apostles for persecuting the church of God, but I am moving forward with an intensity that none can match. It is not by my own power, but by the grace of God working in me.”

[1] The English word hubris is related to this Greek word, but its modern meaning (“overbearing pride or self-confidence”) is much weaker, e.g. “he failed his exams because of his hubris”.



(c) 2021 Christian Disciples Church