The Apostle John wrote this: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 3:18, ESV).
Depending on your eschatological views, antichrist may be a spirit of evil throughout the entirety of Christian history, a growing opposition to Christianity as the return of Christ draws near, a specific person – the Antichrist – who figures prominently in end-times events, or a combination of the three. I lean toward the latter. I believe there will be a person, but I also believe there has been and will continue to be a growing opposition to the Gospel and those who believe it – an opposition that is deeply rooted in the spiritual forces of evil.
So I ask this question: Have we prepared our people for antichrist? Here’s the answer: No.
In the latter part of the 20th century, cultural opposition to Christian beliefs and morality was on the rise. The growth of social media and the ease of making comments online led to people expressing opposition to Christianity. But as I recall, that opposition showed itself primarily through intellectual/philosophical objections to the Bible and the Christian message. But that has changed. Presently, reactions to Christians and Christianity are more emotional, more venomous, more hate-filled, and more intolerant.
Over a decade ago, during a sermon, I read some rather hateful comments someone had made online about God, Christianity, the church, and Christians. The response in my congregation was a a gasp of surprise. For those who were older and had grown up in “friendlier” times, to think that someone could and would say such horrible things about Christians and the Gospel message was stunning, and I saw many folks shaking their heads in disapproval. A common response was a puzzled “How could they say that?” But “they” were saying that.
Fast forward to July, 2020.
Over the last 5 months we’ve watched the world change. Life is going to be different as we go forward, and I’m not talking about how many people can fit into a dining room or whether we will be able to find toilet paper. We are seeing radicalism that goes much deeper than a response to social injustice. And while a radicalized young adult population, products of universities that are themselves hostile to Christianity, seems to garner the headlines, there are well known public figures are also openly hostile to evangelical Christianity.
So how do we respond?
It is interesting that the New Testament letters speak often about persecution and suffering. But do we? And when we do preach and teach those passages, do we deal with the reality of what Christians around the world are facing and what we might soon face, or are we still fussing about Christmas being turned into “Happy Holidays,” or whether the Ten Commandments should be on the walls of government buildings? Is it possible that we’ve not seen the gathering storm, and that we’ve failed to prepare our people for real opposition?
The solution is not to run and hide. Nor is it time to hoist the American flag and think that our claims to freedom of speech and freedom to worship as we choose is going to matter to people who hate us. No, it’s time to teach our people that the spirit of antichrist is here, that it has been here for a long time, and that it’s going to be here in growing intensity until Jesus returns. In other words, get ready for some turbulence.
This is not a time for light “inspirational” preaching. Nor is it time to be thinking about how our churches can market themselves to be more attractive. It’s time for pastors to teach their people who God is, about how we are to live in hostile culture, and about how our beliefs (which so few Christians can articulate beyond a elementary summary) will help us stand firm if times get tougher in our lifetime.
Young pastor, this blog is directed at you. Please teach your people the Bible! Please go deep! Please bring them face to face with God! I’m not suggesting that every sermon has to deal with suffering. But I do want to ask: are you teaching your people what the New Testament writers taught? Are the themes they emphasize the ones you emphasize in your preaching?
If so, you can’t miss the subject of hostility toward God’s people. So guard your flock. Tend to your sheep. And teach them how to hold on to God in the face of antichrist.