The Eastertide lections from 1 John got me thinking about antichrist. These letters of John, after all, are the (only) place we found that scary-sounding word in scripture:
“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 that Jesus has come in the flesh is not from God…this is the spirit of the antichrist.” – 1 John 4
If we take St. John seriously, then it’s easier to be an antichrist than Kirk Cameron has led you to believe.
Identifying the antichrist doesn’t require reading the signs of the times or breaking any biblical codes. It doesn’t even require you to ever turn over to the Book of Revelation. It just requires a little self-reflection. Because, take it from St John, you might be an antichrist.
You might be an antichrist if…
If you think Christianity is about ‘spiritual’ things- or timeless ‘truths,’ then you might be antichrist.
If you think that salvation is what happens to us after we die, if you believe that our soul leave our bodies and go off to heaven when we die, if you think the goal of Christianity is to go to heaven when you die, then you might be an antichrist.
If you have ever sat next to a bedside or a graveside and said something like: ‘Her body, his body, that’s not really him, that’s not really her. It’s just a shell’ then you might be an antichrist.
If you ever used that poem for a funeral, the one that goes: Do not stand at my grave and weep/I am not there. I do not sleep/ I am a thousand winds that blow/I am the diamond glints on the snow/Do not stand at my grave and cry/ I am not there/ I did not die.
If you ever used that poem at a funeral, then chances are your undertaker was an antichrist.
If you believe that Christianity teaches the evacuation from creation (ie, the rapture) instead of the redemption of all creation (New Creation) then I hate to be the one to break it to you but you might be an antichrist.
If you think God does not care about the Earth or that the physical, material things in your life are not good gifts from God thus means of grace to God and from God then your belief is what St. John calls antichrist.
If you know someone who insists that they ‘can worship God better in nature’ (ie, play golf) then the next time that someone says that just calmly but convincingly call them the antichrist.
Because you could never find something as counter-intuitive as Jesus in nature and God, the fullness of God, didn’t take spirit. It took flesh.
And God dwelt not in the mountains or the trees but in Jesus. So don’t be shy call them as you see them, call that someone an antichrist.
Don’t be shy about calling them an antichrist because you might be one too.
If you think religious people are all basically the same because ‘we all believe in the same God after all’ you might be an antichrist. Because that generalized God took very particular flesh and became a very specific first century Jewish carpenter from Nazareth who taught some very peculiar things.
You see, Kirk Cameron with his vacant Growing Pains cuteness has us all fooled.
It’s not that hard to be an antichrist.
You are if you’re uncomfortable with the idea that God ever burped, farted, or hit puberty. I know it might sound silly but you don’t really believe that God became fully human if you don’t believe he was at least as human as you or me.
And that way of thinking- John calls that antichrist. The more you pick at it, the more you pull on the thread, the more you see that St John is right. The spirit of the antichrist is everywhere.
If you think the letter of scripture or your political platform deputizes you for ugly, un- Jesusy, Pharsaic behavior towards another (‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’) then you are an antichrist. You’ve removed the mode of Jesus’ earthly, fleshly life from your message about Jesus.
And, look, pot- meet kettle. I’m guilty too.
Because honestly, it’ll come as no surprise, I spend more time polishing my theological ideas than I do in prayer. I spend more time preaching the Gospel than I do practicing it. I’m amazed that God is gracious to a sinner like me, but I’m annoyed whenever God does the same for a sinner worse than me.
And with Christ, in Christ’s life, it all worked the other way round. Which means my way goes against the grain. Which makes me- you guessed it- an antichrist.
And that surprises us.
It surprises us because Kirk Cameron, with his vapid Huey Lewis-like expression, has convinced us all that the antichrist is an auspicious figure marked out by the number 666, a fantastical, future political leader who will lure people’s loyalty away from God before ushering in a time of terrible tribulation which itself will usher in the Rapture, the Last Judgment and the ultimate- very unJesusy- destruction of God’s creation by God himself.
He seemed so innocent on Growing Pains that we’ve let Kirk Cameron convince us that the antichrist is the one who will wreak all that scary stuff near the end of your bibles.
But what the street corner evangelists and the cable TV preachers don’t tell you, what the whole end-times, Left Behind industry doesn’t tell you:
The word ‘antichrist’ does not occur anywhere- anywhere– in the Book of Revelation.
The word ‘antichrist’ occurs just 5 times in bible in only 4 verses in no more than these 2 letters from John.
And in these letters from John the word ‘antichrist’ is not a title, it’s not a proper name, it’s not a specific individual person who portends tribulation. In John the word ‘antichrist’ refers to those people, any people, who deny that God had a real blood and bones body. That God took flesh in Jesus, that God became fully human.
Who John had in mind specifically were the Gnostics, an ancient heresy that still pops up all over the place today in both pews and popular culture. The gnostics believed that the physical, material world was corruptible and thus inherently imperfect. They believed that what was eternal was the spiritual.
And therefore the gnostics believed that ‘salvation’ was about your spiritual soul escaping your physical body, escaping this physical world for the spiritual one, for heaven.
Not surprisingly, then, the gnostics took a dim view towards the God of the Old Testament, the God who not only made this physical world and our embodied selves but declared it all ‘very good.’ Even less surprising, the gnostics refused to believe that ‘God’ would ever leave the perfect, spiritual world and take up residence, take flesh in Jesus. And so the gnostics were left two alternatives, the two alternatives that are still with us everywhere.
You could believe that Jesus was human, as human as you or me, but just human, just another teacher, a teacher you can follow as far as you want but dismiss whenever you want.
Or, if you were a gnostic, you could believe that Jesus wasn’t just another teacher but neither was he just another human. Because he wasn’t fully human like you or me because God would never debase himself to become like you or me.
John pulls no punches. He warns us away. He calls all that ‘antichrist.’
And it is.
To deny that God became fully human is antichrist because it leads us to stop seeing the world as Jesus saw it, to stop living in the world as Jesus lived in it, to stop heeding the words that the Word made flesh spoke into it. To deny that God became fully human is antichrist because it leads us in no time to live our lives against the grain of the way he lived his.
I know on any given day I’m in danger. The bad news is that it’s actually pretty easy to be an antichrist. But the good news?
The good news is that the remedies for being an antichrist are many and they’re just as easy.
Pour a glass of good wine, roast a chicken, hold a baby or have sex. Because the sacred became physical in Jesus Christ and therefore all physical things are sacred.
The remedies for being an antichrist are easy. Here’s another:
Find a sinner- trust me, they’re not hard to find. Find a sinner, preferably someone who’s wronged you, and say to them: ‘I do not condemn you.’
‘I forgive you you know not what you do.’
‘Even though you curse, I will bless you.’
And when they ask you why you’re doing this or who told you to do this, just say: ‘God himself told me…in the flesh.’