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12. Preparing to Face the Antichrist

– Chapter 12 –

Preparing to Face the Antichrist

This is our twelfth message on the person of the Antichrist. If you are a non-Christian, you may be wondering why we are talking about the Antichrist. It is because we are looking forward with great expectation to the coming of the Lord Jesus. Just as Jesus came the first time — a historical fact — he will come a second time. But winter precedes spring. The Bible tells us that before spring arrives — the warm beautiful spring of Jesus’ coming — there will be the long and dark winter of the Antichrist.

All this is prophesied in the Bible. The Scriptures are full of prophecies, and if you have studied them, you would know that they have been fulfilled or are being fulfilled in remarkable ways. You and I live in a time when biblical prophecies about the end times are being fulfilled at a breathtaking speed. For example, the world has witnessed Israel established as a nation. Israel had been dead for nearly two thousand years, written off because its people, the Jews, were scattered all over the world. How can Israel be restored as a nation when its people are scattered? Yet all along the Bible has been prophesying that God will gather the Jews from every nation and bring them back to their home land. For two thousand years, skeptics ridiculed the whole idea, saying, “The prophecy has not been fulfilled in nearly two thousand years, so what happened to it? What ever happened to your claim that the Bible speaks the truth, and that God never makes any mistakes.”

Ever since 1948 when the Jewish state was established, the skep­tics have been silent on this point, and the Bible has gained greater credibility. Moreover, it was not the Christians who made this prophecy come true, but the higher powers and authorities — God ultimately — that gathered the Jews back to the land of Israel. It is a land that some of us have visited several times and know first hand. Other major prophecies are waiting to be fulfilled, and the one immediately before us is the revealing of the man of lawlessness, the Antichrist.

The coming of Antichrist is like the coming of winter

Why am I speaking about the Antichrist to Christians? It is because those who are not prepared for winter will not survive. I speak of winter as a citizen of Canada where the winter can be dreadful. I am not speaking of the winter in Hong Kong where it can be cold at times, but is still bearable. But the Canadian winter is not just an issue of comfort but a matter of survival. Many people in Canada put a thermometer outside the window of their homes to read the outdoor temperature, which can be -18 or -20 degrees Celsius in winter. Do you know how cold -20 C is? When the wind is blowing in your face, you also have to take into account something called the windchill factor. Those who live in warm countries might not know what it is. If it is -20C and you have a 40 kph wind blowing at you, you will be facing a windchill temperature of -34 C. The stronger the wind, the colder you will feel, even if you are wearing a heavy coat. It is life-threatening to those who are unprepared.

In Canada it happens from time to time that a car breaks down on a remote country road. At -20 C you dare not get out of the car to face a windchill temperature of -34 C, so you stay inside. But how long can you stay inside when the outside temperature keeps on dropping? There are rare reports of people freezing to death in Canada. That is why many of us in Canada equip our cars with a CB radio (citizens band radio) so that you can call for help on the emergency channel, usually channel 9, in the hope that someone will rescue you.

So people in Canada equip themselves for winter. It is not just the CB radio, which is perhaps the most important item for your car. We also change our ordinary tires to snow tires to get a good grip on the winter roads. We pour antifreeze into our car radiator so that the radiator and the engine won’t be cracked by freezing water.

Just as we prepare for the Canadian winter, we prepare for the winter before the coming of Jesus. Although our eyes are set on the spring of Jesus’ coming, we still have a winter to face. The reason for this series on the Antichrist is my fear that many will not survive the winter for lack of preparation. When winter suddenly strikes, it will be absolute disaster.

About twelve years ago, we left England to take up the ministry of the Montreal church, and arrived in Canada in February, in the middle of winter. I had little idea of how cold it can be in Canada. Soon after my arrival, the church put at my disposal a car the likes of which I had not driven. It was a huge American car that felt more like a boat than a car.

In Liverpool, England, we would drive small cars, but here was this gigantic American car. In Liverpool, I would occasionally drive the church bus for the Sunday school, but I had not driven anything as big as this car in Canada. I had to get used to its size, but also to driving it on snow and ice. Those who come from warmer climates may not know what it is like to drive a car on snow and ice. In England I experienced this only once, and it was terrible. The car was hard to control even over a thin layer of snow. But in Canada you have piles of snow, even walls of snow. Although I am exper­ienced in driving motorcycles and cars, it was still quite scary to take the car out on the snow and ice on a February day in Montreal. To train myself, I would take the car out on a deserted road and see what it would do on snow and ice. I would speed down this deserted road and slam on the brakes to throw the car into a spin. I had to find out for myself what the car will do, since every car acts differently on snow and ice. I would deliberately throw the car into a spin to see how much it would spin. Every year at the first snowfall, I would repeat this exercise before I take the car out onto the highway.

In this world, we need to be ready for the unexpected in order to survive adverse circumstances. This world is a hostile environment especially in the spiritual realm, so we need to learn to function spiritually in a hostile world.

Which is more dangerous, a dictator or a deceiver?

In the past messages, I have been pointing out the shocking fact that the Antichrist will not be some kind of world dictator as some Bible teachers tell us. More astonishing than that, the Antichrist will be a church leader. He may also be a political figure at the same time, but more funda­mentally the Antichrist will be a religious leader. It is this astonishing fact that will catch most Christians off their guard. In the martial arts, you cannot afford to be caught off your guard because it takes only one punch to defeat you.

Last time we saw that the Antichrist will not be just an ordinary church leader but an outstanding church leader of exceptional ability and training. That will make him a great danger to Christians.

Who is more dangerous, a dictator who persecutes the church to the point of bloodshed, or a Christian leader who deceives the church with false teaching? The former will create martyrs. The latter will be a Christian leader who, under the guise of truth, skillfully gives false teaching that most Christians would not be able to discern. Which is more dangerous? The first type poses a physical danger, with some of us put in jail or put to death. But that is not quite as dangerous as the false teacher who cheats you out of your eternal life and inheritance. To lose one’s physical life is frightening, but it is a small loss compared to losing one’s eternal life.

So when Bible teachers tell us that the Antichrist will be a great dictator who will torture and kill us, it is not that frightening. This is not a new situation in the church, and it has happened many times in church history. The church has experienced both types of danger, but it is the second type — false teaching — that has been far more devastating for the church than the first type.

In the first three centuries of its existence, the early church went through several periods of intense persecution by the Roman emperors. One of the most terrible was the persecution under the emperor Decius. Many Christians were fed to lions, burned at the stake, or tortured to death. But more tragically, many Christians de­serted the faith, apostatizing in the face of persecu­tion and physical suffering. The church had gone through many periods of persecu­tion, but in the end it survived. Though bloodied, the church is unbowed, and has been purified and streng­thened by the terrible suffering.

Tertullian, a theologian and apologist in the early church, said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The greater the number of Christians killed, the greater the number of Christians who will emerge from the persecution. External perse­cution has never been fatal to the church. Indeed it has the opposite effect: the church grows as a result of persecution. When the Communists established the People’s Republic of China in 1949, there were an estimated three million Christians in China, a figure that includes both Catholics and Protestants. Today, after forty years of perse­cution, it is estimated that the Protestants alone number over thirty million. Thanks to the Communists, the church has multiplied 1000%. Persecution has never been able to destroy the church.

Those who are familiar with church history would know that the goal of persecution — the destruction of the church — could never be achieved by persecution despite its use of torture and execution, yet that objective was more than once nearly achieved by false teachers. On several occasions, false teachers very nearly destroyed the church. Anyone who has read a bit of church history would have heard of names such as Marcion whose false teaching split the church and nearly destroyed it. There were also the teachers of Gnosticism, an insidious teaching that infiltrated all the branches of the church. This was just the start, and soon many other false teachers arose who nearly destroyed the church. But we won’t go into this topic today.

So what the emperors could not achieve with persecution, the false teachers within the church nearly achieved: the destruction of pure and genuine Christianity as taught in the New Testament.

Bible teachers who teach that the Antichrist will be some kind of a dictator like Hitler, have not paid sufficient attention to the Bible or church history. Dictators have never been a threat to the church. They may cause great suffering, but they have never succeeded in destroying the church. Yet false teachers can achieve what no dictator could ever achieve.

We do not deny the possibility that a church teacher may also have political power. Of the prominent U.S. presidential candidates right now, no fewer than two are pastors: Rev. Pat Robertson and Rev. Jesse Jackson. Both are prominent radio and television personalities and leaders of social-political movements, but they are first and foremost pastors.

Three things to observe

1. The greatest threats come from within the church

There are three things to observe regarding the dangers and threats to the church. First, the greatest threats do not come from outside the church but from within the church. The Antichrist, the man of sin, will be a prominent Christian teacher from within the church though he will also have political influence. Of the greatest concern to us is the fact that the Antichrist will be a capable church leader.

In the world today, we have many influential church leaders, but if they are not right with God, they will become a power­ful tool in Satan’s hands to destroy the church. This could happen if they fall into the grip of sin, covetous­ness, or greed.

It has been reported by countless news­papers as well as Time magazine and Newsweek that the Rev. Jim Bakker was receiving a salary of 1.1 million dollars in 1985. What kind of pastor gets a salary of 1.1 million U.S. dollars? It would be hard for people to believe that this was not motivated by the love of money. And his sordid sins have been widely reported as well. It gives me no pleasure to talk against fellow pastors, but it is our duty to denounce sin where there is sin, and evil where there is evil, and to call a spade a spade. This pastor has a vast television and radio network to reach an audience of millions, giving you an idea of the influence that a religious teacher such as the Antichrist will have. And when you combine that with political influence, the situation is terrifying.

2. Most Christians are easily deceived

The second frightening observation is that most Christians are gullible and ill-equipped to deal with falsehood. They cannot see through a lie, or discern false teaching as to whether it is biblically correct or not. It frightens me that it is easy to mislead Christians, even educated Christians, long-time Christians, or theologically trained Christians. They are so gullible that the Antichrist will have a walkover. How will you defend yourself against the clever and erudite learning of the Antichrist? You will be like a sheep heading for slaughter. I can at any time hold a meeting in which I will defend in your presence a doctrine that you and I know to be false, and will challenge you to break my arguments. I have demonstrated this on a few occasions with the training teams, in which I defended, using Scripture, a false doctrine that they and I know to be false. Even though I was one man against the whole team, they could not break my defense. They recently did better on a particular doctrine, but that was because they used my own teaching against me. They had already studied this teaching carefully, and added further reflection of their own, so this time they were better equipped to handle this particular doctrine. But on other occasions, they could not break my defense even though I was defending the point entirely from Scripture, but in a misleading way. The problem was that they could not tell where I had misused the Scriptures.

This is why our church offers you one training program after another, to help you survive. It is for your eternal welfare that we are giving you all this training. Yet some people still don’t know how to make use of the training. From recent conversations with the brothers and sisters, I have seen how they misused the Scriptures, though I did not correct them on the spot. But when the Antichrist comes with his skill in the Scriptures, how will you uphold the truth? I fear that you will be defenseless against his deception. In the temptation of Jesus, Satan kept on quoting the Bible to Jesus. If you think you know your Bible, Satan knows it far better. He knows how to quote from the Bible in a way that you cannot rebut. Don’t be confident about it just because you have gone to Bible school. Ironically, those who have gone to Bible school are some of the easiest to deceive. Do you know why? Because they follow cer­tain fixed traditions that can be used against them to great effect.

I am saying this so that you will not place any confidence in your­self or in your training. Our confidence is based on one thing: a right relationship with God, in which the Holy Spirit — God’s spirit — will lead us into the truth. When you walk in a living relationship with God, he will preserve you, and will bring Scripture to your attention.

3. Beware of religious legalism that is a cloak for a sinful life

The third thing I want to warn you about is this: If you are not walk­ing in a living relationship with God, your life will go deeper and deeper into religious legalism. There are only two possibilities: either you truly know God, or you are like a non-Christian who does not know God. Many professing Christians do not know God, and they are stumbling blocks who cause the non-Christians to say, “These Christians are no different from me.” And they are right. Such Christians are not any different because they are every bit under the bondage of sin as anyone else.

If you are a Christian, examine your life as to whether you are living under God’s lordship moment by moment. But if you are liv­ing instead under the lordship of sin, religion will become a cover­ for your sins. What does the lordship of sin mean? It means the same as it means for the non-Christian. You don’t know the spiritual purpose of your life. Your life is governed by the same motives as the non-Christian: self-centered­ness, pride, greed, love of money — all of which can be hidden. There may be a subtle pride, a hidden greed, a disguised love of money.

The mystery of lawlessness

Paul speaks of “the mystery of lawlessness” (2Thess.2:7) in regard to the Antichrist. Why does Paul use the word “mystery”? Why doesn’t he just say “lawlessness”? And why is it a mystery? It is because his lawless­ness will be hidden and concealed, at least in the beginning. The Antichrist, the man of sin, will not display his law­lessness for the world to see, but will appear as the model of lawfulness that upholds the law. The mystery of lawlessness refers to a hidden lawlessness, which is why it is deadly.

As I said, there are only two possibilities: you are either living under the lordship of God, or you are living under the lordship of sin. The Antichrist, the man of sin, lives under the dominion of sin, which is lawlessness. The Bible equates the two when it says “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). I beg of you to examine your life and ask yourself, “Am I living in bondage to sin?” Your everyday life reveals your true condition. Examine your thoughts. Do you have lustful thoughts that compel you to look at pornographic material? Are you forever thinking of your stocks and bonds, espe­cially after the recent stock market crash with billions of dollars lost overnight? Are you filled with anxiety, “What will happen to my stocks and investments? I can’t bear to think of all the money I am going to lose. I went to church today to ask God to save my shares. My salvation depends on the well-being of my investment portfolios. May God be merciful to me. If my shares go up, I will give him more money next week.”

What kind of Christianity are you living? We laugh at those who burn incense to the gods of prosperity, not realizing that we have our own god of prosperity even if it is slightly more dignified than the god who hovers over a biscuit tin box of incense ash.

Some Christians worship the god of prosperity preached by Jim Bakker via his television channels in Florida and North Carolina. We are in bondage to greed, and therefore to sin. We have a lot in common with the Antichrist, which makes it easy for him to deceive us. We function on the same wavelength as he, and understand his language. Rev. Jim Bakker likes to show U.S. banknotes on his television show, picking them up and dropping them to the ground. “Believe in God because he can make you rich. He can give you a Lincoln Continental, or, if you prefer, a Mercedes.” What kind of gospel and what kind of God are we proclaiming? What kind of perverse thinking would exploit God for our own prosperity and good health?

The god we want is the god that the Antichrist will preach, and not the God of the Bible. If you want the god of prosperity, you can wait for the Antichrist to appear, or go to some existing antichrists who are already in the world. What kind of god do you believe in? What kind of life do you live? Do you lose your temper all the time? Or say bad things about people behind their backs? If you are in bondage to sin, you will be deceived by the Antichrist. In fact, right now you are already a follower of the Antichrist even before he appears.

Lawlessness finds expression in law

Let me come to the crux of the third point: This kind of religion, this kind of lawlessness, this bondage to sin, will always find expression in law and legalism. Lawlessness’s affinity for law is surprising. Yet lawless­ness needs law to legitimize itself. Would a Mafia boss go around declar­ing himself a lawless person? The Mafia or the triads cannot function or survive without a legal cover. They hire the best defense lawyers, so it is hard to convict them. They pay off the police so that they won’t testify against them. They are a big problem for prosecu­tion attorneys because they know how to use the law. For them the law is not just for evading justice, but a cloak of respec­ta­bility. That’s exactly what the Antichrist and every sinner will do.

If your faith is degenerating into legalism, you are in grave dan­ger. If you go to church because it is the habitual thing to do, such that you don’t feel good if you skip church, then you are doing it out of legalism. You go to church not because you love God or his people, but because it has become a habit of mind. You feel guilty if you don’t go to church. That guilty feeling is not necessa­rily a bad thing, but it is not in itself a sufficient reason to go to church. All religion that is out of touch with God will soon become legalistic and ritual­istic. It often develops into a religion of prohibitions: you cannot drink, cannot smoke, cannot go to cinemas. To be a proper Christian, you mustn’t do this, mustn’t do that. I am often asked, “If I become a Christian, can I do this, can I do that?” They are afraid of becoming a slave to the law. And I would tell them, “My friend, a true Christian is free — that is, free from the bondage to sin and legalism, and free to walk in a living rela­tionship with God.” If God is not real, forget about Christianity. Who needs religion, laws, or ritualis­tic performances? I am a Christian because God is real to me, and I walk with him. But what is your reason for being a Christian? Are you living under the law, avoiding things such as smoking, drinking, and cosmetics? Do you have any positive reasons for being a Christian, or has your religion degenerated into legalism?

Legalism is so entrenched that it even affects the dogmas and teachings of the church. Strangely enough, we are taught we are saved by law — by the same people who say we have been delivered from legalism and the Old Testament law. You may be wondering how this is possible. It is because the evangelical Christian believes that salva­tion is based on a legal act of God called justification, in which we are acquitted by a legal act on God’s part through the death of Christ. Although they reject salvation by law based on works, they accept salva­tion by an act of law called justification, with nothing else added to it. They believe that we are saved on the basis of a de jure act of God. As someone who has studied theology for a long time, I find this mystifying in many ways. How strange it is that the same people who tell us we are not saved by the law, tell us that we are saved by a legal act of God, which is law.

The futility of a purely legal salvation

Example: The drug addict

We must reject any teaching that reduces salvation to one form of law or another. I will use an illustration that I have given before. In Malaysia, if you are caught with more than a few grams of cer­tain drugs, you are given a mandatory death sentence that cannot be appealed. That applies even to foreigners. Recently, an Australian woman was sentenced to death for carrying a very small quantity of drugs, but above the amount liable to the death sentence.

Now suppose you are a drug addict and are arrested for posses­sing drugs. You are sentenced to death, but somebody says, “I will take the death sentence for you.” If the judge accepts this, and if the other person takes your penalty while you go free, what good would that do? You are acquitted because some­body died in your place, yet you remain a drug addict. So you take drugs again only to be caught and sentenced to death again. And who is going to die for you the next time?

This is the Christianity that is proclaimed today. We sinners are worthy of death before God, but Christ died in our place. To be clear, I do not reject this; I treasure this part of the gospel. But if that is the entire gospel, so help us God because we will be like the drug addict who after acquittal remains a drug addict. Addicted to sin, we will keep on sinning. And all along, we think we are saved by law.

What we need is a salvation that not only acquits us from sin, but also gives us grace to over­come sin and to be set free from the addiction to sin. What kind of god would play a cruel joke on us by freeing us from the guilt of sin but not from the power of sin? What kind of a game is he playing with us? Any one who thinks that God is like this must have missed Romans 8 and much of the rest of the New Testament. The glory of the gospel is not just that we have been acquitted legally, but that we have been freed from the power of sin.

Another example: The powerlessness of law

Here is another illustration. I have here a news report about a recent criminal case that is before the courts in New York City. It concerns a good-looking fashion model whom a man wanted to date. When she turned him down, he was so upset that he decided that if he cannot have this girl, no one else is going to have her. He hired two thugs not just to beat her up, but to literally carve up her face. One thug held this girl down while the other carved her face with a knife. The doctors later did more than 150 stitches to stitch up the wounds on her face. This beautiful girl was utterly disfigured. These two thugs and the man who hired them were arrested, and hauled before a court in Manhattan. The three men were sentenced to jail for their treachery, and this former fashion model was awarded damages of 78 million U.S. dollars to compensate her for her suffering, her loss of income, her loss of beauty, as well as her medical fees.

But there is a further tragedy to this story: this poor girl will not get one cent. Legally (de jure) she was awarded $78 million, but in actual fact (de facto) she will not get a cent. That’s because the three men do not have money. Nor will they have the money to pay her when they are in jail, with the sentences ranging from five years to fifteen years. More than that, the award will remain in effect for only twenty years. That is a cruel work of the law, and it makes you wonder whether it is a joke.

A purely legal transaction may look beautiful in theory but it has no practical value whatsoever. Similarly, of what use is it if God grants us the promise of eternal life at the cost of the blood of his Son, yet we are unable to attain to that promise because we keep on falling back into bondage to sin for the rest of our lives? It would be as if we had been awarded the whole world, and in the end got nothing.

Being a Christian has to do with a living relationship with God in which he empowers you by his grace to overcome sin and attain to the promise of eternal life. He does not just legally set you free from sin, and punish the culprit — Satan, in this case. What good will it do for you if Satan is thrown into hell? What good will it do for the girl who is scarred for life if the three culprits are jailed, when the real problem — sin — has not been addressed, and cannot be dealt with by an act of law?

A gospel that only offers you a legal salvation but cannot save you from sin in your daily life, is a farce, and I don’t preach this kind of gospel. The gospel that the New Testament teaches and which I preach is not this kind of gospel in which you remain in bondage to sin, but a gospel in which God gives us the power through the Holy Spirit to live victoriously in the world.

It was because of Christians who lived defeated lives that I didn’t want to be a Christian for many years. It was when I saw Christians who had been freed from the bondage to sin that I wanted to become a Chris­tian. It is not that they were perfect or never did any­thing wrong, but they were able to overcome the power of sin. My life was turned around because I saw in these Christians God’s power in action and not just a legal act that accomplishes nothing in anyone. This kind of Christian life is not just a matter of acquittal, but one that enables me to live a life full of joy, meaning, and victory. I know God, and I fellowship with him because he makes himself real to me in my walk with him.

Ten points on detecting false teaching

In closing I would like to give you ten principles in point form that will serve as a guide to detecting false teaching, including that which will be taught by the Antichrist.

  1. God, not the self, is the center of the life of the true Christian.
  2. Jesus is Lord and not just Savior of our lives.
  3. Christ delivered us not just from the guilt of sin, but from the power of sin.
  4. Grace is God’s enabling gift to us in the form of power to live victoriously. Grace is not just a free gift of forgiveness but God’s enabling power. God is real to us because we experience this power in our lives, not just because of an act of the law that has no experiential reality in our lives.
  5. Justification is not just a declaring righteous (de jure) but a making righteous (de facto) in order that we may live right­eously.
  6. Faith is total commitment in our hearts to God, and not just an intellectual assent to Christian doctrines.
  7. Faith or commitment is continuous and ongoing, and not once and for all.
  8. We are called to a new quality of life at the present time and not just to a future salvation.
  9. The New Testament, indeed the whole Bible, affirms that holiness is obligatory rather than optional.
  10. Finally, salvation in the Bible is communal, that is, within the body of Christ, rather than merely personal. Salvation is not a personal salvation. Salvation does not exist per­son­ally if it is outside the body of Christ, but must exist within the living body of Christ, the church. Our com­mitment to God must be confirmed by our commitment to the brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. There is no commit­ment to God that does not involve commitment to my brothers and sisters in this church and any other church where Christ is Lord.

If we fully understand these ten points, we will not be deceived by the Antichrist.


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