I'm leading an adult Bible study on First John this summer, and last night we came to John's first use of the word "antichrist", which is, of course, always interesting. It is interesting because "antichrist" is a word that carries a lot of baggage, and because someone is always speculating about the identity of "the Antichrist", whether it's Hitler or Henry Kissinger or the Pope. And we can expect a fresh round of such tomfoolery when the new Nicolas Cage vs. the Antichrist movie shows up in a theater near you. Given the exceeding sensationalism associated with last days theories, here are six (yes, six!) facts about the word "antichrist" and the way it is used in the New Testament.
- The English word "antichrist" is a transliteration, not a translation, of the Greek word antichristos. The prefixed preposition anti- does not necessarily indicate antagonism in Greek. It often carries the idea of substitution. Christos is a Greek word that means Messiah or anointed one. Etymology is not definitive for accurate translation, but it does shed light on the scope of a word's potential range of meaning.
- Contrary to popular belief (and to the surprise of many), the word "antichrist" does not occur in the book of Revelation.
- The word "antichrist" does occur five times in the New Testament, though only in the books of 1 John and 2 John.
- In one of those five occurrences, John uses the plural form "antichrists" (Greek antichristoi). So, whoever is meant by this word, there is more than one of them. John even speaks not of a few but of "many antichrists" (1 John 2:18).
- John also speaks of the coming of these "many antichrists" as a past event: "now many antichrists have already come" (1 John 2:18).
- While John does not explicitly rule out the possibility of any future antichrists, neither does he predict the appearance of a future arch-antichrist.