What do you imagine when you hear the word “antichrist?” A monster? A boogeyman? Actually, the term antichrist only appears in the letters of 1 and 2 John (nothing in Revelation as we might have expected), and it has nothing to do with monsters. John gives us a simple enough definition: “Those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh – any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.” (2 John 7) He also says that “many antichrists have come.” (1 John 2:18) So the antichrist is no boogeyman, but the reality is still scarier. The fantasy of a single boogeyman allows us to wrap up all our fears in a single external monster. What makes the real antichrist(s) even scarier is that antichrist is born within the Church. “They [the antichrists] went out from us.” (1 John 2:19) Yes, an antichrist is a Christian who denies the flesh and blood-ness of Jesus Christ.
Such a denial may seem to us an incorrect but ultimately not-too-harmful theology. But John sees something here that will destroy the Church if it gets the chance. A real antichrist can get into our church pews with little to no resistance at all. Many in John’s day were proclaiming that Jesus only seemed human but wasn’t truly so. And in our own world today, there is much effort to isolate the divinity of Christ from the humanity of Jesus, to celebrate his character and moral teachings while abstaining from any real religious commitment to him.
We should admit, though, that the Christian faith is full of paradox (such as a crucified Messiah, or resurrection coming only by submitting to death), and the spirit of the antichrist just may sand off the rough edges of paradox for us and make the faith a bit easier to stomach. Following Jesus is less challenging if he turns out to never have truly been one of us humans to begin with.
But before we point too many fingers at “those” heretics, let’s ask ourselves if we in the Church can be guilty of this as well. Does the spirit of the antichrist have more subtle ways of getting into our hearts and minds? We may not go so far as to come right out and say that the flesh of Jesus was only an illusion. But we may at the same time find something appealing about a God who keeps a little distance from us, who won’t interfere with too many of our values and priorities. Antichrist wants to convince us that God will only reach so far into our lives, values, finances, politics, and habits.
John won’t let us assume that we can keep flesh and spirit in separate arenas. The moment that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), we lost every illusion of a God who wants to keep his distance. And it’s not just the distance between God and Jesus that is being dissolved, but between God and us as well. Let’s ask ourselves, do we really believe that the Divine is capable of putting on flesh, and capable of dwelling within us? Or is there simply destined to be always a little bit of distance between us and God? Are we prepared for God to lay claim to every single inch of our life, physical and spiritual? Or do we secretly desire that God would just ask for our Sundays and not much else?
The fullness of God is not trying to locate us from the outside, but is trying to awaken from within us, spirit and flesh perfectly unified, which is why John says, “All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them.” (1 John 3:24) The spirit of antichrist wants us to see God in fewer people, places and circumstances, and to blind us to God within our very selves. So we will listen instead to the Spirit that awakens us to God in more people, places and circumstances, and within our very selves.