Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A quick primer on the antichrist, Robert Jeffres edition

Barack Obama is possessed with an overestimated opinion of himself and of the powers of his office, but he is not "the antichrist," no matter how many Scripture passages you pull and twist to make such a claim. The latest effort to associate Obama with that ignominious title comes from Robert Jeffress, the flamboyant pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. In a unique twist on this old dispensationalist game, Jeffres argues in a forthcoming book that Obama is not himself the antichrist, but is "clearing the way" for his coming.

Already no stranger to controversy, the Rev. Robert Jeffress, a Dallas megachurch pastor, is coming out with a book that claims President Barack Obama is clearing the way for the Antichrist.

Jeffress, head of the 11,000-member First Baptist Church of Dallas, writes in his book “Perfect Ending” that he does not believe Obama is the Antichrist, yet he links Obama’s support of gay marriage to the coming of the Antichrist. Many Christians believe Jesus’ Second Coming will feature a confrontation with an enemy called the Antichrist, based on interpretation of passages 1 John and 2 John.

“For the first time in history a president of our country has openly proposed altering one of society’s (not to mention God’s) most fundamental laws: that marriage should be between a man and a woman,” Jeffress writes, according to an advance copy provided to RNS.

“While I am not suggesting that President Obama is the Antichrist, the fact that he was able to propose such a sweeping change in God’s law and still win reelection by a comfortable margin illustrates how a future world leader will be able to oppose God’s laws without any repercussions.”

I have long suspected that Jeffres is not a particularly bright fellow. This ridiculous exercise in dimestore theology pretty much confirms my suspicion. It is nothing more than his contribution to the endlessly recycled "end times" hysteria that has enjoyed a long and embarrassing history in the "Christian" book publishing business. Popular eschatology and biblical eschatology, however, are not necessarily one and the same. A quick primer on what the Bible actually teaches about "the antichrist" might be in order here.

The term "antichrist" appears only in the first and second letters of John. It does not appear in Daniel, Revelation, or any other apocalyptic or prophetic books. Paul does not use the term, and it does not appear in any of the Gospels. It is staple of dispensationalist hermeneutics to conflate "the antichrist" with other terms, such as Paul's "man of lawlessness" and "son of perdition" (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12) and "the beast" with his infamous "mark" and "number" (cf. Revelation 13:11-18). Such conflations, however, are tendentious and lacking in serious exegetical rigor.

When John uses the term "antichrist" in his epistles, he is referring specifically to schismatic elements who "went out from us [the gathered faithful, that is, the church], but they were not of us" (1 John 2:19). They are possessed of a spirit that does not confess Jesus as having come in the flesh, that is, they deny the Incarnation, the Word made flesh (cf. 1 John 4:3). The term "antichrist" is, for John, primarily of theological, not political, import.

It is also important to note that John refers not only to "the antichrist" but to "many antichrists" (cf. 1 John 2:18) who had already come at the time he was writing. Unlike the truth, which is singular, falsehood comes in many forms. Thus, while the fullness of the truth is embodied in the one Lord Jesus Christ, falsehood cannot be embodied in a singular entity. Attempting to identify one person as the "antichrist," or his forerunner, is a futile endeavor. For just as "many antichrists" had come in John's day, so many more have come in our day. Their names, however, are of little significance. In the end, they will all be brought to nothing by him whose Name is above every name, the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ.