I have been thinking lately …
… about antichrist.
John in Revelation 13 describes two beasts arising from the sea and from the land, a description that has terrified people ever since. The most popular interpretation identifies the first beast with a future world leader — the Antichrist — that will cause the world to follow him. In response, many have tried to make different world leaders fit this description, especially when it identifies the mark of the beast with the number 666.
So, who has been identified as the Antichrist? Roman emperors, the Pope (by Martin Luther), Martin Luther (by the Pope), Hitler, Bill Gates, and nearly every U.S. President — including Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump — are among the candidates. Whenever people want to demonize a world leader, that leader becomes the Antichrist.
The word “antichrist” appears only five times in the Bible (1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 7) — and none of them occur in Revelation! When you read these passages, you discover that antichrist is already in the world and occurs in many people. In other words, “antichrist” is not a future incarnation of evil but a present reality.
Revelation 13 fits that understanding. John describes the first beast (13:1-8) as a political incarnation that seeks to claim all allegiance to itself. John uses this beast to call for wisdom, endurance and faith from those who follow Jesus. John does so in an historical context, where the Roman Empire posed itself as a sole and ultimate authority. Yet, John does not limit the beast to Rome. He places this latest incarnation of the beast within a history when the people of God are opposed by the Empire and where opposing the Empire was fatal.
But perhaps the scariest part of this chapter is the second beast that rises up from the earth (13:11-18). This beast encourages worship of the first beast and performs signs that appear prophetic. This second beast is a religious incarnation of that which opposes God to coincide with the political first beast.
This is where John calls for true wisdom and discernment. The beast does not just manifest itself outwardly. The beast also appears within the worshiping community, seeking to lure the community away from God and Jesus. In other words, we are the ones who have been seduced by the beast!
What about that number of 666? The verse itself calls for wisdom, claiming that 666 is a number of a name. Whose name? In the language of Greek or Hebrew, where the letters of the alphabet were also numbers, the likely name was simply this: “Caesar is Lord” — a claim that the Roman Empire demanded and that no follower of Jesus could make. In other words, anyone who gave in to the Empire, anyone who followed all that the Empire demanded, was marked with the sign of the beast.
So, who is the beast? The beast is anything or anyone — other than God — that claims allegiance on our lives. If we place the claims of our nation before the claims of Jesus, then the beast has appeared. If we place our workplace before Jesus, then the beast has appeared. If we base our lives on security or wealth or power or pleasure — or anything else — rather than God, the beast has appeared.
When we respond in hatred or fear toward the “other” rather than live by the call of Jesus to love our neighbor and our enemy, the beast lurks inside.
When we neglect the hungry, sick, stranger, or prisoner in whom Jesus said his face is found, the beast lurks inside.
When we become more concerned with how much money our church makes or how many seats are filled rather than how we are living God’s grace each day, the beast lurks inside.
Anything which goes against what Jesus desires for our world is marked with the sign of the beast. When we place the beast in those terms, we stop looking beyond ourselves to some unknown future. Instead, Antichrist and beast become mirrors in which we look within and around ourselves. As the old cartoon Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”