In January, 1999, nationally-known television evangelist, Jerry Falwell, spoke to a “pastor’s conference” in Kingsport, Tennessee. One aspect of his speech was picked up by the news media and swirled into a mini-controversy.
Falwell asserted that he believed “Christ could return soon,” and that “the Antichrist may possibly be alive on the earth today.” He went on to suggest that “most evangelicals believe the Antichrist will, by necessity, be a Jewish male.” This statement ignited the controversy, and led to charges by some Jewish leaders that Falwell’s allegation was “anti-Semitic.”
There are several elements of Mr. Falwell’s presentation that are worthy of review.
First of all, Falwell and his theological kinsmen (known as dispensational premillennialists) are a bit more forceful in their assertions regarding the time of Christ’s second coming than he admitted on this occasion. Anyone who takes the New Testament at face value will concede that Jesus could come at any time. But dispensationalists come on much stronger than that. They argue that certain biblical “signs” almost certainly reflect the notion that the Lord’s return is imminent.
Hal Lindsey, author of the best-selling book, The Late Great Planet Earth, contended that the “generation” contemporary with the establishment of the State of Israel (which occurred in 1948) also would witness Christ’s second coming. And Lindsey defined a “generation” as approximately forty years.
For many years Billy Graham has been preaching the imminent return of Jesus. One of his favorite cliche’s has been: “Matthew twenty-four is knocking at the door,” which suggests that the signs of Matthew, chapter twenty-four, can be deciphered to reveal the time of the Lord’s coming.
But the truth of the matter is, the Scriptures provide not the slightest clue as to the time of the Lord’s return. And the strongest argument against this baseless notion is the fact that Jesus, who preached the sermon recorded in Matthew twenty-four, stated that not even he knew the time of his return.
But of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only (Matthew 24:36).
How incredibly arrogant it is, therefore, to profess to know that which even Jesus Christ did not know! [For a more detailed study of this, see the material on Matthew 24.]
In the second place, the Bible does not teach that some sinister, Jewish “Antichrist” is going to make his presence known just prior to the Lord’s return. A consideration of the New Testament data on this theme will make this abundantly clear. Consider the following facts.
- The term antikristos is found only five times in the Greek New Testament; these all occur within but four passages (1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 7).
- None of these verses reflects the notion that there is a solitary, ominous character known as “the Antichrist,” who is to appear in the twentieth century. Rather, the apostle John plainly stated that “many antichrists” have arisen. Hear him: “Little children, it is the last hour: and as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now have there arisen many anti-christs; whereby we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18).
- The inspired apostle also stated that “even now have there arisen many anti-christs.” There is no biblical prediction of a twentieth-century antichrist. These malevolent characters were around already in John’s day.
- There is nothing in the New Testament that connects the term “antichrist” exclusively with the Jews. Of course Jews, who contend that Jesus of Nazareth was not the prophesied “Messiah” of the Old Testament, are antichrist—because they, by implication, are suggesting that Jesus of Nazareth was a lying charlatan with reference to his messianic claims. Also, though, Gentiles who reject Jesus are equally “antichrist” in disposition. The term no more applies to the one rebel than to the other.
The dispensational notion of a single, modern “Antichrist” is, therefore, entirely without biblical support. The designation refers to an attitude/action applicable to a wide variety of Christian enemies—not to a particular person per se. In principle, of course, there are “antichrists” today, and, as indicated above, their kind has been around since the dawn of Christianity. Anyone who opposes the Lord Jesus, and the teaching that derives from him, is, in point of fact, antichrist, i.e., against Jesus Christ.
It is tragically ironical that the very man who speaks so profusely about the so-called “Antichrist”—Jerry Falwell himself—is “antichrist” in many of his own teachings. Would that it were not so, for Mr. Falwell doubtless has noble intentions, and has some valuable things to say on occasion. The fact remains, however, the gentleman’s teaching is at variance with the Lord’s in numerous particulars.