For any number of decades we have been pummeled by self declared Christian voices warning that the anti-Christ was here, or soon would be. When I was a boy the anti-Christ looked a lot like Communists, especially Russians and Chinese. Later they were the civil rights leaders and those opposing the Vietnam War. Secular humanists, whatever they are, were always in reserve to be trotted out if there wasn’t a more obvious candidate. More recently it has been anything related to homosexuality, in fact anything with the word sex in it.
It’s nothing new. Every age from the beginning of ages has had something like it. What opens the door for some Christians to become obsessed with it are the several passages in scripture that warn about it. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each cite Jesus as saying that “many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray…Do not go after them.” Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians warns about the lawless one who will presume to rule as if a god. The thirteenth chapter of Revelation describes two beasts who emerge from the sea, enticing people to worship them through displays of miraculous powers, awesome strength, and authority to rule as they will. Who could oppose them? Those who tried were humiliated, tortured, killed. They uttered haughty and blasphemous words, and got away with it, for a time. It didn’t last, but that didn’t stop them from doing all the damage they could to God’s creation and creatures in the time they had. When it’s in the bible, it’s to be taken seriously, and when it’s as scary as false messiahs, lawless ones, and beasts from the sea, it’s to be taken very seriously. Vigilance is called for.
Looking for them in each age has inspired both fear and hope. Fear of the trials and tribulations that were to come, and maybe were here already. Hope that they heralded the second coming of Christ, the final judgment of the world, and the resurrection life of salvation that would be theirs at last. Finally everything would be put to right. Their strife would be over. It’s an understandable thing, and all the more when times are violently brutal, as they have often been. There have certainly been no lack of candidates for false messiahs, lawless ones, and beasts from the sea. Curiously, there have been far too many times when people of faith have pointed their fingers of accusation in the wrong direction, often at others fighting injustices, upsetting the normal ways of doing things, raising uncomfortable moral questions, and opening doors that were better left shut. On the other hand, those who have proven themselves to be morally corrupt in ways that surpass despicable have sometimes been greeted by communities of faith as if they were the saviors they were looking for. It seems to have escaped them that the lesson in the passage from Revelation is the ease with which evil can persuade the faithful to follow it. Isn’t that what Jesus warned about?
There are plenty of examples of that happening in the previous century. Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, Pol Pot are a few of the obvious ones. At least for those from Christian nations, it was not hard for them to gain the loyalty of a majority of the faithful. Even in our own country there was strong support for Nazi successes as a model we might want to follow here. At least there was before the war came to us. A surprising number thought Stalin was someone to look up to, until after the war. That was the last century, what might we say about our own century? Are there any in power, or coming to power that exhibit beastly patterns? Terrorists of one brand or another don’t measure up. They are terrifying, but basically just another type of common criminal, vicious but common. The various occupy movements probably don’t count. They may be naive, and sometimes violent in pointless ways, but they appear to be in pursuit of greater justice for all. What about all the urban protesters, some of whom loot and destroy property? Maybe the Standing Rock folks? They are certainly disturbing the peace of others. My guess is one would have to look for something more serious than any of them for someone who might approach the great beasts, lawless ones, and false messiahs of the previous century. What might we look for? Blasphemy would be high on the list. Someone who claims the Christian faith but shows no evidence of understanding or practicing it. Someone who claims the authority to do as he or she pleases without regard for law or tradition. Someone who demonizes entire classes of others. Someone who habitually humiliates, insults, and embarrasses others. Someone who takes umbrage at any perceived slight, and seeks revenge. Someone who routinely speaks falsely and deceptively so that truth becomes an abstraction. Someone like that might be one to watch for.
I wonder if good Christian folks would recognize the danger if someone such as that were to appear on the American stage? Of course they would. We are not the sort to blindly follow false messiahs. It’s a relief to me to know that.