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5. Antichrist, the Arch-Deceiver

– Chapter 5 –

Antichrist, the Arch-Deceiver

We come to our fifth message on the person of the Antichrist. I have been going slowly in this series of messages because we are dealing with a fairly difficult, yet very important subject. I don’t want you to get lost in this subject especially if you are a non-Christian or a young Christian. But no matter who you are, the topic of the Antichrist is relevant because it may even be in our lifetimes that we are going to see the coming of the Antichrist and, shortly after that, the coming of the Lord Jesus himself.

Today I have two main points. Firstly, the Antichrist is going to be an arch-deceiver. This first point leads naturally to the second one, here stated as a question: How can you and I avoid being deceived?

Review of the last message

In the New Testament, the word “Antichrist” is found only in John’s first and second letters. Therefore we must turn to these two letters for a correct understanding of the term “antichrist”. That was what we did last time, and we arrived at some important conclusions. I will not develop that message all over again, but only summarize some of the more important observations. We have seen, for example, that the Antichrist is go­ing to come from within the church! It is quite horrifying to realize that the church itself will be the breeding ground of the Antichrist. That, in a way, makes any one of us a candidate for the Antichrist. There are many churches today and many so-called Christians of one kind or another, and it is frightening that the Antichrist could emerge from these or other multitudes of Christians.

Equally disturbing is John’s statement that the Antichrist is going to be a false Christian. I would like to impress this remarka­ble fact very deeply into your minds. The distinctive New Testament teach­ing on the Antichrist is that he will be a religious person. Contrary to popular belief, the Antichrist will not be a non-Christian; in fact he will be more of a religious figure than a political figure.

Antichrist, the Bible expert

Worse yet, the Antichrist will be a church leader. He will far surpass the level of ordinary leaders to become the most outstanding leader in the church. So impressive is his leadership that he will deceive the whole world (Rev.13:3,14).

As the world’s foremost religious leader, the Antichrist will also be a religious teacher. His preeminence, together with his superb knowledge of Scripture, will make him by far the most dangerous false teacher in the history of the church. He will be so thoroughly trained in theology and biblical studies that he can overwhelm all but a hand­ful of Christians. If you tell him, “Ha, but this is what the Bible says!” he will reply: “My friend, do you know how much bibli­cal training I have received and how many theological seminaries I have attended? I have been thoroughly trained in the Scriptures.” How exactly do you handle that? The Antichrist has already neutral­ized you; you are now defenseless. As soon as you flip through your Bible, you will notice that his Bible is well worn. He opens his Bible, and what do you see but red markings, green markings, blue markings. His Bible is crammed with notes and footnotes. He is the expert swordsman wielding his spiritual sword — his Holy Bible! You take one look at your Bible, and say to yourself: “Not too presen­table. Can’t open it in his presence!” The Antichrist will absolutely intimidate you with his knowledge of the Scriptures.

When Satan was tempting Jesus, his tactic was to refer to the Scriptures: “Thus it is written …” Fortunately the Lord Jesus knew the Bible better. What about you? Can you tell the difference between truth and false­hood? If a preacher claims that his message is based on the Bible, can you tell? The apostle John warns us that the Antichrist will be a teacher in the church, perhaps as a pastor or evangelist. His exalted position in the church, combined with his expertise in the Bible, will make him exceedingly dangerous.

Antichrist, the arch-deceiver

In this series of messages, I want to show you that the Antichrist will be an arch-deceiver. Deception is so deeply ingrained in the person of the Antichrist that wherever he is mentioned in the New Testament, the word “deception” or a similar concept appears. As a matter of fact, the word “Antichrist” is equated with “deceiver” in 2 John 7: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.” (ESV)

We are not restricting ourselves to First John and Second John even though the word “antichrist” occurs only in these two letters. The Antichrist is also mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament by other titles such as the false Christ, the false prophet, the beast, or the man of lawlessness. Wherever the Antichrist is mentioned in the New Testament, the concept of deception, in one form or another, is also mentioned.

Yet many Bible teachers tell us that the Antichrist will be a persecutor of Christians first and foremost. But they are empha­sizing the wrong thing because the Bible says that the Antichrist will be a deceiver first and foremost. It is true that Antichrist will be a persecutor, but only after the church has long fallen victim to his deception. Only after he has deceived multitudes of Christians will he then persecute the few remaining saints who can see through the deception and refuse to follow him. These saints will be such a small minority that nobody takes notice of them. They will be labelled heretics whereas the Antichrist will be hailed as the super-orthodox Christian. This dangerous trend — where the orthodox is declared heretical, and the heretical, orthodox — has already started in the church. The Bible portrays the last days — the days in which we now live — as the age of deception (2 Tim.3:13; 2 John 7).

Previously we have seen that deception is far more dangerous than persecution. In times of persecution, at least the enemy reveals himself. A far more dangerous enemy is one we cannot identify. We don’t know who he is, where he is hiding, or whether he even exists. We search high and low for him when all the time he is standing right behind us, putting on a smile. We turn around and he immediately becomes innocent-look­ing. We glance away, and he reverts to his crafty smile. We search high and low for the enemy, not realizing that we are looking for him in the wrong places. When we think we have located the enemy, we get our rifles ready when in fact he is right behind us. He points his gun at us and says: “Gentlemen, put your guns down. You are now my honorable captives.”

I am using picture language to show you what will happen when the Antichrist comes. The deception has already begun. The church is looking for the enemy in all the wrong places when, in fact, he is standing right behind everybody. Most Bible teachers and church leaders today don’t even know how to identify the enemy. They have been telling us that such and such a person, or some other person, is going to be the Antichrist. In this series of messages, I am going to demonstrate that the Bible teachers today are pointing to the wrong candidates for the Antichrist, mislead­ing many Christians.

Deception is innocent-looking

My wife and I have just returned from a two-day rest on the Hong Kong island of Cheung Chau. On our trip back, I picked up a copy of the Hong Kong Evening Standard. The front page story was about three Singaporean girls between the ages of 18 and 24 who visited Sydney, Australia. At the Sydney airport, they were greeted by a friendly, well-dressed Australian woman who had a pleasant smile. She struck up a conversation with the three Singaporean girls:

“Your first time in Sydney?”

“Yes, we’re here for the tourist attractions.”

“You have come to the right place. Sydney is very beauti­ful. Do you have a place to stay?”

“No, but we’re looking for one.”

“No problem. I have a nice place all ready for you. You trust me, I hope.”

“Trust you? Of course we do.” (Asians are too polite to express distrust.)

“In that case, how about a tour around the city?”

How wonderful it was, they thought, to have run into such a nice woman. They got into her car and she gave them a tour of the city. After treating them to refreshments at a restaurant, she drove them to a house in King’s Cross District, for a splendid dinner. After dinner, the girls discovered that their purses had been emptied of their money, their passports, and their return tickets. Then they were kidnapped and forced into prostitution. The nice lady turned out to be the person in charge of a brothel or prostitu­tion business. One of the girls later escaped and reported everything to the police. This Australian woman was charged with kidnapping and other crimes. Fortunately the girls were rescued. Unfortu­nately, many victims all over the world do not escape. Sisters, I say to you: please be careful when you travel because we live in a dangerous world in which sex slavery is very common. Some of the most dan­gerous people in the world are very polite and innocent-looking.

Realize it or not, you may be participating in the deception of the world. Every time you try to pass yourself off as being better than you really are, you are deceiving others. This may hap­pen when somebody asks you what your profession is. So you reply, “I work in an engineering firm,” hoping to give the impres­sion that you are an engineer. You failed, however, to mention that you are the night watchman of the engineering company. You haven’t lied outrightly, but you gave the false impression that you’re an engineer.

What compelled you to deceive in the first place? What is wrong with being a night watchman? Is that a crime? No, but you wanted others to think more highly of you than you really are. What’s wrong with the good and honest statement, “I’m a watchman”? God doesn’t despise watchmen and neither do we. One of my best friends in Shanghai was a son of a watchman. My father rebuked me for associating with him because he felt it was socially degrading to be in the company of such people. But I told my father that I was not the least concerned about my friend’s social position. His noble character was good enough for me. My friend eventually became an engineer but that hasn’t changed my opinion of him. As far as I am con­cerned, this son of a watchman is still my good and faithful friend.

Deception among Christians

What about Christians? Unfortunately, Christians can be even more dangerous and deceptive. We Christians like to deceive others, don’t we? Our pride compels us to get from others the things we don’t deserve such as respect or even money. Be careful of Christians or churches that show a keen interest in money. That should immediately signal to you that something is fishy about that church. No matter what excuses they may give to justify them­selves, the fact remains that they love money. They may tell you that they need money for the new church building, but that’s really of no concern to the church visitors. The churches today have so many fundraising campaigns for so many projects that it makes you wonder if the church is really a money-making organization. In some churches the first thing you see is a wall chart reporting how much money has been collected for the church building. Then you are bombarded with this never-ending talk about money.

A favorite sermon topic for some pastors is tithing, the practice of giving to God one-tenth of your income. Although the Bible talks about tithing, some people are puzzled that I have never preached a single message on tithing in all the years of my ministry. That’s because the churches today have heard too many messages on tithing (at least I have), and they certainly don’t need to hear another. Some visitors to our church are puzzled that no offering bag is ever passed around. Is it because we have lost our offering bags? No, it’s because we refuse to pass around an offering bag. Is it because we are rich? No, it’s because we want people to know that we are not into this business of raising money. In many churches today, it is not uncommon for the pastor to disagree with the church board over his salary. The pastor feels that he deserves a raise, either because he has been receiving the same salary for a few years, or because he feels that his perfor­mance merits a raise. In contrast to this, and to the amazement of some visitors, our coworkers would sometimes ask for a pay reduction! The visitors would say, “Have we come to the right place? What kind of strange church is this whose leaders ask for less money?”

Why do Christians deceive? To get something from others, either money or respect. The desire for money is particularly dangerous when the money is said to be used for the Lord’s work. Those who live in the United States or Canada would know that the television stations in North America are full of Christian pro­grams. Can you guess how much it costs to operate a television station? A single program can run into several hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars. Some Christian organiza­tions not only produce their own television programs, they even have their own broadcasting stations and satellites. Can you imagine how much a satellite costs? Operating so huge a project requires a lot of money. It is not surpri­sing, therefore, that every time you switch on the television to watch the news or some other program, sooner or later you will see another appeal for money by a Christian television organi­zation. Isn’t there a better and more scriptural way of preaching the gospel? Where in the New Testament does preaching the gospel ever depend on money? Deception must somehow be used because of this press­ing need for an enormous sum of money. Any organization that operates like this will be committed to fundraising, with the dangerous conse­quences emerging sooner or later.

Deception by Christians: An example

The most recent issue of Time magazine gives us a foretaste of the frightening deception described in the New Testament. A well-known Christian television organization in North America, PTL (“Praise the Lord”), has its own television stations and even its own satellite for worldwide transmission. Can you even guess their annual income? A cool US$127 million. Imagine an annual income of 127 million dollars. That’s big business by any standard. You could well imagine what kind of temptation this will bring. The chairman or president or founder of PTL is, of course, Jim Bakker; his wife Tammy is now undergoing treat­ment for drug addiction. I am mentioning their names only because Time magazine has already mentioned their names. I’m not saying anything that has not been reported by the news media. When I finished reading the Time article, my heart bled within me. Jim Bakker confessed to having an affair with a secretary back in 1981. Now he has to withdraw from the ministry because his sins have been exposed by other Christian leaders.

Jimmy Swaggart, a former Christian pop singer, now a well-known evangelist and preacher in the United States, publicly denounced Jim Bakker, saying that the coverup of his sins was a disgrace to the gospel. Swaggart mercilessly exposed the sins of his fellow preacher and evangelist. These highly-publicized revela­tions have caused enormous damage to the gospel. The credibility of every preacher is now called into question. Not surprisingly, newspapers all over the world took this chance to bash the church: “Ha! You’re not so holy after all! You sing hymns and preach about God on television, but look at what a bunch of hypocrites you are!” And the church, caught with the facts, cannot say a word.

Over the past six years since 1981, Bakker had paid a total of US$115,000 in hush money to a woman with whom he had some kind of affair. He had been blackmailed all these years for the sins he was trying to cover up, but which came out in public anyway because, as the Bible says, you can be sure that your sins will find you out (Numbers 32:23). Sooner or later your sins will come out into the open. Absolutely disastrous! Bakker has harmed the repu­tation of the gospel. Let me ask one more time: Who does greater damage to the church, the one who persecutes the church or the one who disgraces the church?

For six years this well-known evangelist had been living in sin and trying to cover up everything. I wonder what was going through his mind every time he stood up to preach on television. After paying the woman yet another sum of money, how could he preach the gospel effectively? So Bakker had to deceive his hearers, deceive himself, and deceive just about everybody. He had been living in bondage to sin, in bondage to the flesh, and in deception — deceiving and being deceived.

Before we Christians self-righteously exalt ourselves above the TV evangelists, let us examine our own lives. I wonder whether the average Christian today is living a life that is much holier. I have been denouncing the unholiness of the church for a long time. Therefore let me ask you: Have you overcome the problem of sin? Or are you still living in bondage to the flesh and to the self? If you are, then you are like this Jim Bakker who, in his attempt to sup­press the truth and to keep alive his television ministry, was deceiving and being deceived.

This may help you to understand the New Testament’s portrayal of the Antichrist as a Christian leader skilled in the art of deception. Jim Bakker is not, of course, the Antichrist, but he is certainly some kind of antichrist in the fruits of his deeds. His television ministry is a prelude of what is to come: the Antichrist too will have a world­wide preaching and teaching ministry that will exceed that broad­cast by the Christian television stations.

Deception under the guise of religion

In carrying out his deception, the Antichrist or any arch-deceiver will somehow associate himself with the church. Deception is carried out more effectively and with less risk of suspicion if the deceiver claims to be a Christian or a church minister. Every crook and liar will use the church to cover his activities.

Here is a report from the same newspaper that I was reading on my way back from Cheung Chau. The headlines are so big that those sitting at the back can probably read it. This report, published in the Hong Kong Evening Standard, Friday, March 27, 1987, has the head­line: HANG MY SON, I WILL PULL THE ROPE. It is unimagina­ble that a father would hang his son, yet this man was saying, “Hang my son, I will pull the rope!”

This bizarre incident took place in East Lake, Ohio. Here is a photograph of the son being escorted by the police. He claims to be a pastor of a church belonging to a denomination I have never heard of: the United Church of the Ministers of God. Even the church name is designed to deceive people because it appropriates the name “United Church” belonging to several large denomina­tions in North America, including the United Church of Canada.

The deeds of this self-styled “United Church” pastor were ex­posed when a girl who was riding in his car suspected something fishy about him. At one point the car stopped at the traffic lights. When she saw a police patrol coming by, she jumped out of the car. Smart and quick. She told the police that there was something strange about this so-called pastor or minister. The police entered the house of this “pastor” and discovered a trap door on the floor. Under the trap door they found three women fettered in chains. They had been raped and sexually abused; they were dehydrated and starving. The police then discovered something so gruesome that it makes me sick even to mention it: a woman’s arm in the freezer. Further investigation showed that this so-called pastor had murdered at least two other women. The three women still alive in the basement could have met the same fate because murdering them would be the surest way of silencing them.

As we might expect from the headlines, “Hang My Son, I Will Pull the Rope,” the father is saying that his son, this so-called pastor, deserves to be hanged. (With this I would agree because justice has to be carried out.) The father even volunteered to pull the rope himself. He tried to absolve himself of all responsibility by saying that he had not seen his son for twenty years. When the boy was very young, the parents divorced and the mother gained custody of their two sons. She eventually abandoned the boys, so it was left to the father to bring them up from their primary school days.

The father, in saying that his son deserves capital punishment, is probably waxing self-righteous because it seems to me that the father has to bear some responsibility if the son grows up a wicked man. After hanging his own son, perhaps he should also deliver himself to the executioners. The twenty-year separation is no excuse to place the full blame on his son. In fact, the separation itself raises a lot of ques­tions. In any case, the son was eventually charged with more than fifty counts of serious crimes, including kidnapping, rape and murder. And to cover his tracks, he disguised himself as the pastor of a church.

A call for holiness in the church

I am recounting this case not because I take pleasure in doing so, but because I want to show you that this kind of deception is already mentioned in the Bible. The apostle John tells us that the Antichrist will be a false Christian, a false teacher, a false pastor, a false evangelist, a false church leader. The Bible is strikingly perceptive and right on the mark. It does not say that the most wicked people are the non-Christians. On the contrary, and to our surprise, the Bible points the finger at Christians, warning us that the greatest arch-deceiver, the most wicked man ever, will come from the church. Although this is startling and offensive, it is the absolute truth, and we Christians must speak the truth even if it hurts us. Let us be severe with ourselves rather than with the non-Christians because the Bible says that God’s judgment will begin with the household of God, which is the church (1Pet.4:17; 1Tim.3:15). Until the church is purified, we Christians have no right to condemn the non-Christians.

The church wants to evangelize and evangelize, but I am very suspicious about its motive. In most cases the motive is to have a big church — 500 people, 1000 people, even 200,000. I don’t care how many members you have in your church if all these Christians are living in sin, in the flesh, in defeat, forever disgracing the name of God. I don’t even care if you have five million people in your church. Let’s have a church of fifty where each person is committed to living in purity of heart, a church whose members can look at one another and say, “If you see any trace of sin in my life, please tell me now.”

If you see any of our coworkers living in sin, report them to me and to the church, and we will not tarry in dealing with them. Our churches will be most severe when it comes to the sins of our coworkers. By the end of the year, we will have some 50 full-time coworkers, and we require of them the highest standard of excel­lence. Should they fail by ever so little — little, that is, by the stand­ards of the average church today — they will not escape disci­plinary action. Our readiness to deal with sin, especially the sins of our coworkers, is already known to anyone who has attended our church for a long time.

My next statement is recorded on tape: If you should find sin in my life, I lay this command upon you to charge me with sin. We must do whatever is necessary to maintain the purity of the church, the body of Christ.

But look at the Christians today. We have church elders who rush out of church service to play mahjongg. What kind of a church is this? For years I have been denouncing the sins of the church, and have been blacklisted for doing so. But their hatred of me does not bother me. I will never stop denouncing the churches for their sins as long as I still have breath. Some of my fellow pastors might say to me: “Please tone it down because it’s bad for the reputation of the church when you talk so frankly about her sins.” But I would only reply: “Are the people of the world really so blind? Don’t they have eyes to see the sins in the church? Don’t they know how to read the newspapers for themselves? Do you think I can keep quiet after preaching against the church for so many years?”

In case you didn’t know, I am extremely unpopular among the Chinese churches. For many years I have been denouncing sin and proclaiming holiness because we cannot have one standard for the non-Christians and another standard for ourselves. If you cannot maintain holiness, please stop calling yourself a Christian. At least make this small contribution to the church if you cannot make any other. If you are living in sin, please stop attending church or at least stop calling yourself a Christian; otherwise you would be function­ing as an antichrist — as a false Christian who does great harm to the church.

How not to be deceived

We come now to the second point of today’s message. The first point is that the Antichrist is going to be an arch-deceiver and a false Chris­tian. The second point is this: How can you and I avoid being deceived? In the remaining time, I can only briefly mention two things on how not to be deceived.

The first thing is this: You must live in holiness or else you will be deceived. I have been preaching holiness because without it, you would be an easy victim for every deceiver. If you are living in unholiness, if you are enslaved by your sexual desires, you will not be able to discern the truth because your eyes will be veiled by sin and the flesh. The Bible speaks of a veil — the veil of the flesh (2 Cor.3:14ff.; cf. Heb.10:20) — which, if it covers you, would prevent you from discerning the true from the false.

I am preaching this series on the Antichrist or the false Christ because if we cannot discern falsehood, neither can we discern the truth. These are the two sides of the coin. Unless you have been freed from the bondage of sin, you simply would not be able to discern the Lord Jesus or the Antichrist or anyone else. If Jesus should walk into this room right now, would you have the spiritual discernment to tell that he is Jesus? If he came into this room as an ordinary person dressed in everyday clothes, I guarantee that most of you would not be able to recognize him. That was exactly what John the Baptist said to the Jews about Jesus: somebody is standing in your midst but you do not know him (John 1:26). He is the King, the Messiah, and God’s appointed Savior, but you do not recognize him.

And if you cannot recognize Jesus, how are you ever going to recognize the Antichrist? Spiritual perception is of paramount importance because the stakes are unimaginably high. At stake is eternal life and death, not just physical life and death. We cannot afford to make a mistake here; that is why I am preaching this series of messages on the Antichrist.

The second thing is this: You must be thoroughly rooted in the word of God. Some people have told me that they have read the Bible a hundred times. I am not asking you how many times you have read the Bible. That’s irrelevant. Discernment has nothing to do with how many times you have read the Bible. It is better to read the Bible once and understand what it is saying than to read it a hundred times and not understand. Some people have attended church and Sunday school for many years since childhood, yet cannot answer the most basic questions about the Bible. Coming from a Christian family, or attending Sunday School, or reading the Bible a hundred times — none of these will necessarily lead to a good understanding of the Bible. Any literate person can read the Bible for himself, but that doesn’t mean that he under­stands what he is reading.

That is why our church provides various trainings such as the Basic Training and the Intermediate Training. If you have taken these trainings in our church, you would know that they are based on the two fundamental points I just mentioned. The trainings are based, firstly, on the principles of a holy life. Secondly, they place heavy emphasis on understanding the Bible and on exegesis (the procedure of expounding the Bible and bringing out its meaning). We do not simply teach you what the Bible says. Equally important is knowing how to ascertain whether a certain teaching is really taught in the Bible. A teaching may sound correct and spiritual, but is it really taught in the Bible? I have met many seminary graduates who do not have the vaguest idea on how to expound the Bible.

Both these things — holy living and knowledge of Scripture — are necessary. They cannot be separated; we cannot have the one and neglect the other. The Basic and Intermediate Trainings are de­signed to help you in both areas. Some people live a holy life — and that’s commen­dable of them — but they don’t understand the word of God because they lack training in the word of God. Conversely, if a person does not live a holy life, neither will he be able to expound the Scriptures no matter how much training he may have received.

In this series of messages on the Antichrist, I am going to show you that many Bible teachers err on precisely these two points. They don’t see the importance of a holy life or know how to expound the Bible.

May God be gracious to us so that we may not be deceived, that our eyes may see what is truth and what is falsehood, that we may understand what God is telling us in the Bible. May he grant us the desire to know the truth and to be set free from the power of sin.


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