The gospel is the central teaching of Christianity. In fact, we may rightly say that there is no truth contained in the Bible which does not find its center in the gospel. The word “gospel” signifies “good news,” and this focus on good news is what separates Christianity from every other religion. While other religions focus on how we can find a path to God, Christianity proclaims that God has made a path to us and dealt with all the factors which separated us from Him.
Fundamentals of the Gospel
It is through His Son, Jesus Christ, that God has brought mankind back to Himself. By the incarnation, life, death and present ministry of Christ, God has removed all the barriers which stood in the way of humanity being fully reconciled to Himself. The work of Christ on our behalf may be briefly summarized in the following four points:
- God’s love for us was revealed in the gift of Christ. (John 3:16)
- Christ revealed God by the life which He lived. (John 1:18; 1 John 5:20)
- Christ passed through our experiences so that He could represent us. (Hebrews 2:16, 17)
- Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins. (Romans 6:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 2:14)
Let us take note of each of these points. It is most important that we recognize the significance of what Christ has done. This is the gospel. Without these four points the whole of our faith is a vain, meaningless exercise. It is a failure to recognize these points, to believe them and to come to grips with them which has led to the impotent, frustrating sham which today passes for Christianity in much of Christendom.
Satan’s Primary Objective
In order for Satan to prevent the overthrow of his kingdom and keep his subjects (humanity) in bondage, his first objective had to be to prevent Christ from fulfilling His mission. His most persistent and earnest efforts were put forth to prevent Jesus from fulfilling the four above-mentioned tasks. If he had been able to do this, mankind could never have been reconciled to God and so, Satan concentrated all his efforts on stopping the work of Christ. This he attempted to do for the entire duration of Jesus’ life, from the manger to the grave.
First, he tried to destroy Him when he was born, then he hounded Him for every moment of His life, attempting to provoke Him to such an extent that He would display some characteristic which was not consistent with God’s nature of love; something which would have revealed that there are flaws in the character of God and that He is a person who cannot be trusted to do what is right when He is put under pressure. Later, as Jesus approached the moment of His death, Satan did everything possible through the enemies of Christ and even through His disciples, to turn Him away from His purpose. Even while He hung dying on the cross Satan desperately attempted to move Him from His purpose with the taunts of the those who watched.
“He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:42, 43)
Satan’s Next Best Move
All these efforts of the enemy were defeated by the Son of God. Jesus demonstrated conclusively that the essence of God’s nature is self-sacrificing love and that all the pain and suffering in the universe cannot turn God away from the way of love and mercy. Yet, in spite of this, Satan’s battle was not finished. He did not lay down arms and surrender when Jesus finished His work on earth. Though Christ was out of his reach, he could still continue the fight by assaulting the subjects of Christ here on earth. We are familiar with the record of his atrocities against the people of God. Millions have been cruelly tortured and murdered in the most dreadful ways by men who were the agents of Satan in seeking to turn the people of God away from His service.
Yet, Satan’s success by using persecution was only limited. He has worked in another, less direct and far more cunning way, and has achieved far greater success in destroying the faith of the people of God.
Though Jesus has faithfully and perfectly carried out His work on man’s behalf, if Satan can prevent people from believing and, therefore, benefitting from these key truths he will, to all intents and purposes, make the work of Christ of none effect! If he could present an idea which would lead to the conclusion, or suggest that Jesus’ work was not genuinely what it appeared to be, or that it might have been a sham, if he could somehow get Christians (of all people!) to believe in something which would undermine their faith in the reality of Jesus’ great achievements on their behalf, then he would nullify the effectiveness of Christ’s work.
Christ has done all this for man, but if man will not believe and accept what has been done, the work of Christ will avail nothing! It is here that Satan implemented his next best plan and has had marvelous success in carrying it out.
Satan could not prevent Christians from professing the four great truths contained in the gospel. The Bible statements are too plain for any professing Christian to openly deny these truths. However, it does not really matter what we profess if in our hearts we really believe something else. Our behavior is determined by what we really believe rather than by what we profess to believe. Therefore, because of believing falsehood in their hearts, while professing the truth, Christians would be unable to benefit from what Christ did, even though the work had been accomplished.
Christ is the center of the gospel. He is the heart of all that the Bible stands for. He is the only hope of mankind. Whatever opposes Him and obscures His work is the most dangerous enemy of God and humanity. Nothing else can be as destructive. The Bible has coined a word to describe such an enemy—a word which represents that which is most to be feared of all opponents of the gospel. This fearsome word is antichrist. In it is embodied all that is most harmful to the cause of God.
The Papacy has been identified for many centuries as the great antichrist of Bible prophecy. Even before the time of the protestant reformation, holy men saw in this paganized mockery of Christianity, the embodiment of satanic principles which made it, with the Pope as its key representative, the very essence of antichrist. However, as people have focused on the antichrist over the centuries, their perspective has been a little warped and to a great extent they have missed a most important point. Most of those who have identified the Papacy as the antichrist have focused on the persecutions carried out by this power against Christians along with the changing of the law of God and the massive introduction of pagan practices into the worship of Roman Catholicism.
“Antichrist” in the Bible
It is most interesting to note, however, that the word “antichrist,” is never used in the Bible in connection with any of these well-known works of the Papacy which most Christians focus on. The word “antichrist” is mentioned only four times in the Bible and in every place it refers to a false teaching concerning Christ.
The word “antichrist” is first mentioned in 1 John 2:18. Here it says,
“Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.” (1 John 2:18)
From this verse we can learn a little of the understanding which the early Christians had concerning the antichrist. First of all, they believed in a great antichrist or antichristian power which would arise sometime in the future during the last days. John stated that there were already (in his days) many antichrists and, to him, this was an evidence that they were living in the “last time,” or the last days.
It is evident that John believed in a single great antichrist power. He said, “Ye have heard that antichrist (or the antichrist) shall come.” This was the understanding of John and those early Christians. Yet already some people had arrived on the scene to whom John referred as “antichrists.” If they were not the antichrist, why does he refer to them as “antichrists?” Is not the main idea of antichrist primarily that of an eschatological figure (appearing at the end of time) that is a destroyer of Christians by persecution?
Evidently, there is another, more fundamental identifying characteristic of the antichrist. So fundamental is this identifying quality that even when a person does not live at the end (as in John’s time) and is not actively persecuting God’s people, yet he may still bear the name and character of antichrist if he possesses this particular quality. What is this key identifying characteristic of antichrist?
Marks of an Antichrist?
“Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.” (1 John 2:22)
The first teaching of this verse is an obvious one. It hardly seems necessary to mention it, and yet, in light of the tremendous deception which has overwhelmed Christendom, we point out that John says that antichrist is a liar. It is fundamental to the spirit and principles of antichrist that he is opposed to the truth. This principle is the foundation of his kingdom and, therefore, in his teachings, we look for lies at every turn. We should be careful about believing what he says.
First Lie: What is his first lie? He denies that Jesus is the Christ (the anointed one). Such a teaching would be understandable if John were referring to the heathen who deny this. It would also be simple to comprehend if he were speaking of the Jews who also deny this. But he is speaking of neither a Jew nor a heathen teacher. The term and the concept of antichrist suggest one who works from within. (2 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 John 2:19) He is a professed Christian who sits in the Christian church. This is why it is so amazing to see the things which he denies. His teachings deny that Jesus is the Messiah!
Second Lie: His second lie is that he denies the Father and the Son. How does he do this? Does he deny the reality of their existence or the Father/Son relationship which exists between them.
It is highly improbable that this is suggesting that he denies the existence of the Father and the Son. Nobody professing to be a Christian could deny such a thing. It is far more likely that what John is saying is that the antichrist denies the fatherhood of God in relation to the Son, Jesus Christ.
Third Lie: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” (1 John 4:2, 3)
“For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” (2 John 1:7)
The third lie of antichrist mentioned, is the denial that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. What is implied by this term “in the flesh?” Some say that when Jesus came to this earth He took the unfallen, sinless nature of Adam before he committed sin. Others insist that He took the fallen sinful nature of man which developed after Adam transgressed. They point to these verses here in John as a warning against the belief that Jesus took the sinless nature of Adam before he fell. They claim that the term, “in the flesh,” signifies that he took sinful flesh, or fallen flesh, meaning that He took the nature of man, suffering as it was from four thousand years of degeneracy. They point to other verses in the Bible where the term, “the flesh,” is used to suggest a person in a sinful state or with a sinful mind. (See for example, Romans 7:5, 18.)
However, this term, “in the flesh,” has another meaning in the Bible, and when we carefully examine these statements of John and examine the Papal antichrist in light of these statements, it is evident that we are to apply the other meaning to this phrase.
“In the Flesh”
What is the other meaning of the phrase? In this other usage, it simply means that He was actual flesh and blood. In other words, He was not a spirit, or a supernatural being. The term, “in the flesh,” is used with this meaning in the following verses:
“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18)
“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.” (1 Peter 4:1)
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
What John is telling us is that Jesus was an actual human being. The term “in the flesh,” signifies literal humanity. To fully appreciate the truthfulness of what I am saying we need to understand some of the misconceptions concerning the Christ, which people held during the time of the apostles. Some of the statements made by the Jews from time to time give us clues as to some of the ideas they had concerning the Messiah. It was the failure of Jesus to meet all these expectations which puzzled His disciples and led many of the Jews, and later apostate Christians (1 John 2:19), to deny that He was the Christ.
Misconceptions About Christ
Let us examine the three passages below as we look at these false expectations of the Jews.
a) They believed that Christ would be immortal. He could not die.
“The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?” (John 12:34)
b) They believed that Christ would be omniscient, knowing all things.
“The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.” (John 4:25)
c) They believed that Christ would possess supernatural power.
“And many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?” (John 7:31)
Two Errors: One Foundation
What is the common element which runs through all these expectations? What misconception is evident as we look at these verses? It is clear that the Jews expected the Messiah to be a supernatural superman. They expected someone who was far more than a human being; someone who, in fact, was a spirit or in other words, one who did not come “in the flesh.” The fact is, Jesus was too human for some of them. (1 John 2:22) In their estimation He was too human and these were the people who denied that He was the Christ.
On the other hand there were others who accepted that He was the Christ but who insisted that Jesus was not fully a human being. (1 John 4:2) They taught that He did not come “in the flesh,” but that He was a supernatural being. Why did they teach this?
They believed He could not have done the things which He did unless He was a superhuman being. The mighty works of God through Him convinced them He was not a flesh being.
In one case, he was too human for them to accept Him, and in the other case, His works were too superhuman for them to believe that He was fully human.
What is the common error which we find here? What is the consistent element which runs through the belief of both these groups of people? Both were teaching different things. One said, Jesus was not the Christ. The other said, He was the Christ, but He was not human. Both errors were founded on the same basic false belief. What was it? It was that both groups believed in a supernatural Christ. Both groups believed in a Messiah who was more than human; somebody whose chief identity would be His power and supernatural abilities rather than His pure spotless character.
The underlying spirit of antichrist is the spirit which holds to the concept of a supernatural Messiah. Here we see the very essence of Roman Catholic philosophy, the idea that the main evidence of divinity is supernatural deeds (miracles) rather than purity of character. No matter how holy a person might have been, no matter how much good he might have done, he cannot be canonized or made a saint in the Roman Church unless several miracles have been associated with him, either during his lifetime or after death.
It is in Roman Catholicism that we find an emphasis on relics, little items which have some connection with some “holy person,” and which supposedly are invested with some miraculous power. It is in this system that we find apparitions of Mary or other dead people, which are eagerly accepted as an evidence of divine interaction with humanity.
This is the predominating spirit or principle of antichrist; an emphasis on power rather than character. Let us consider this point carefully and prayerfully because it is a most important point.
False Beliefs Which Follow
This concept of a Christ who was more than flesh and blood leads immediately to other false doctrines, which hit at the very foundation of Christ’s work. Some of these were:
- The belief that Christ could not really die.
- The belief that we need a mediator who is truly human (Christ is not; therefore we need Mary and the saints.)
- The concept that it was Christ alone who suffered (since it was merely physical pain) rather than Himself and the Father.
- The belief that all that Christ suffered was the physical pain of the beating and the crucifixion because, as God, He possessed all knowledge and had full awareness of what was really happening. Even His cry, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” was simply a part of a well-orchestrated act, rather than the bewildered cry of a suffering Son. If Jesus was possessed of all these powers, then He could have known no real separation from His Father. He could have felt no real distress of mind at the prospect of God forsaking Him at Calvary. All that He could have suffered is the physical pain on account of His having assumed a human body.
It is interesting to note that the movie, “The Passion,” directed by the Catholic Mel Gibson, focuses on the physical suffering of Jesus. Those who have watched it have been moved by the brutal punishment which was inflicted upon Him as portrayed in the movie. But that is as far as it can go. For a Roman Catholic, who believes that Jesus was the second person of a three-part God, there could have been nothing else than that Jesus put on flesh so that He could, and did feel physical pain. The emotional and spiritual agony which He experienced, and which were infinitely more terrible, cannot be perceived by those who believe that He possessed all the knowledge and power of the almighty God while He was here in human form.
The Trinity Doctrine is Antichrist
The Bible declares the attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, immortality and immutability as being characteristics which are exclusive to God. They are fundamental to His being and cannot be separated from Him. Those who declare that Jesus is a part of a Trinitarian God have no option but to believe that He was in possession of all these attributes while He was here on earth, and that all He did was to assume a human garb, while He remained, on the inside, the omnipotent God. This really denies the fact that Jesus came “in the flesh.” It is, in fact, the very essence of the spirit of antichrist. It is the belief that Christ was a supernatural superman.
Was Christ a Supernatural Being?
Some have suggested that Jesus was indeed possessed of all the powers of divinity while He was here on earth, but that He never once used these powers. It is necessary to say that He never used His powers, because of the reasons mentioned above. Did Jesus have these powers or did He not have them? And if He had them, did He ever use them?
If Jesus had all these powers available, what is to prevent someone from concluding that Jesus must have secretly used His powers in order to overcome temptation? What is to prevent those who are beaten by sin to come to the conclusion that we can never overcome sin while we remain in the flesh? We are left with a gray area which Satan can and has used mightily to his advantage. Many Christians have come to the conclusion that victory over sin is impossible in this life and that the best we can do is to resist the more gross sins. When Jesus is pointed to as an example of a person who overcame all sin, they reply, “but you see, Jesus was God!”
Back in the 1960s a man by the name of John Griffin wrote a book entitled Black Like Me. This man was a white man, but he injected himself with a chemical which changed the color of his skin so that he passed for a black man. For several weeks (maybe months) he lived in the southern part of the United States, in his assumed identity, and experienced first hand the bigotry, hate, segregation and prejudice which were an accepted fact of life for a black person in those days. At the end of his experience he had a much better understanding of the problems which faced the black race in America. No doubt he also experienced the bitterness, the feelings of resentment, which seethed in them constantly as they were treated as second class citizens.
In spite of his close empathy with the black man’s experience, however, John Griffin was never quite exactly in the same position as a black man. He did not have the same heritage; he had not spent half of his life growing up in the ghettos, having his character molded by deprivation, desperate circumstances and the heritage of hundreds of years of enslavement and oppression. Always, behind the mask of his black face, there was the internal security of knowing that he really was one of the privileged class, that this assumed personality was only a facade which he could shed at any moment. Even the negative treatment which he received was not really aimed at him, for that was not really who he was. It was only aimed at the person whom he represented.
Was this how it was with Jesus? Was He possessed of a self-identity in a divine alter-ego, different from the human being who walked this earth as Jesus Christ? Was He simply God wearing a human body, or did He become as the Bible says, a human being? Let us not miss the point. It is possible that Jesus could have possessed divine powers in Himself and never used them, but the very fact that He possessed them would have ruined the purpose for which He came.
A Valid Demonstration
The life of Jesus was intended to demonstrate what divinity was really like. It was to show to men and the universe that God is perfectly good by nature, and that no afflictions or adverse circumstances will ever make Him move from His principles of pure and perfect love. The devil tried to make out that He was an untrustworthy Person who was only interested in exalting Himself and keeping down His creatures.(Genesis 3:5) Jesus came to prove that these accusations were false.
In order for Jesus to show what God was really like it was necessary that He should be placed in situations where He was truly tempted to do wrong. He had to face circumstances where His life was threatened, where He would seem to have no option but to do something which was not based on selfless love. He had to be assaulted by temptations which He would not know beforehand how to deal with. In other words, He had to be put in situations where His true nature would be clearly revealed; situations where it would be plain for all to see what His true character was.
This demonstration could not have been valid if Jesus had possessed, in Himself, divine powers. The very idea behind a demonstration is that it must be foolproof. It must be carried out in such a way that there is no room for trickery or deception. It must be plain to those who observe, that the conditions are such that what they are watching can only be a genuine demonstration with all the factors clearly on the table.
We may say that He did not use these powers, but how can we prove this? How could we demonstrate that Jesus really never used His divine powers to help Him to overcome sin? How can we establish the fact that He did not call upon divine reserves when He was tempted, when He was in trouble? How can we prove that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ was not simply a great act?
Once when the disciples were in a boat on the sea in danger of sinking, Jesus rebuked His disciples for having little faith. This rebuke was quite in order if Jesus was in the same position as the disciples. All He would have to depend upon was the good-will of His Father. His rebuke would be saying, “How could you doubt that your heavenly Father will take care of you?” However, if Jesus possessed divine power in Himself, which He could exercise at any moment, then His disciples might have been justified in saying, “It’s okay for you to talk. You have the ability to escape at any moment, but we don’t.”
Consider a group of men in a plane which is going down. Most of them are panic stricken, but one of them is calm and unafraid. He rebukes the others for their fear and tells them to trust. Yet, how much weight can his words have when it is discovered that he is the only one on board who has a parachute! His words would be so much more convincing if all of them are in the same dilemma, yet he encourages them to be unafraid and remains calmly serene.
The truth is that this concept that Jesus had the power in Himself, but never used it, is in keeping with the underlying principle of the antichrist’s teaching. It represents Christ as one who was, in Himself, possessed of powers which were not available to the normal human being. It opens the door for Satan’s accusation that Jesus’ victory over sin was not that of a human being who was truly tempted as we are, but that of a God who carried out an elaborate sham.
The Evidence of Divinity
The Bible insists on the full humanity of Jesus in the incarnation. In fact, the apostle John declares that those who suggest that He was more than human are possessed of the spirit of antichrist. The word of God never ever points to the miracles which Jesus performed as the evidence of His divinity, they are only pointed out as the evidence that the Father was at work in Him. (See John 14:10, 11 and Acts 10:38.)
Yet there is no question that Jesus was not exactly like us in every respect. Though He was fully human, yet, paradoxically, He was still absolutely divine. There was something about Him which set Him apart from every other human being, as the sun is set apart from the light of a firefly. (Isaiah 9:2) What was this difference if He was not possessed of almighty power?
It was the quality of His life. The Bible points to Christ’s life of infinite purity as the evidence that He was the Son of God.
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
“In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4)
Jesus did not lay aside the divine character and nature. This He had to retain if He was to truly demonstrate what God is really like. But certainly He laid aside His divine power.
(David Clayton, of Restoration Ministries, lives in Jamaica with his wife Jen. You may contact him by writing to: Restoration Ministries, P. O. Box 23, Knockpatrick, Manc hester, Jamaica, W.I. His phone number is: 876-904-7392. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Editor)