SABBATH SCHOOL INSIGHT #12
September 22, 2012
“The Antichrist” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
In 1378 there was a breakdown in relations between Pope Urban VI and the cardinals who elected him. They soon regretted their decision. What they next did gave rise to what is known as the “Great” or Western Schism (which lasted 92 years) in the Church of Rome. Even though Urban was still reigning, the same body of cardinals elected a rival pope who took the name Clement VII on September 20 of that same year. This started a line of popes who reigned in Avignon, France. This second election of a pope threw the Church into turmoil.
There had been antipopes – rival claimants to the papacy – before, but most of them had been appointed by various rival factions. In this case, however, a single group of leaders of the Church created both the pope and the antipope with each pope calling the other “antichrist.” Needless to say, the simultaneous claims to the papal chair of two different men, in two different cities, damaged the reputation of the “infallible” papacy. The rank and file church members were faced with the comic-tragedy of one pope in Rome excommunicating another pope in Avignon. The spectacle of two rival popes excommunicating each other was a confirmation for all to see of the spiritual bankruptcy of the papacy and the need to put something else in its place.
This idea to of the antichrist as a bishop is traced centuries earlier. Pope Gregory I (reigned from 590-604) wrote that whoever claims for himself the title of “universal priest” is a forerunner of antichrist. He made this statement in a letter in which he denounced the claims of the Patriarch of Constantinople at the time, who said he was a universal bishop. Gregory held this title for himself alone! and wanted no competition. He wrote that the teaching coming from the spirit of Antichrist is as follows: “I confidently affirm that whosoever calls himself – sacerdos universalis – [universal priest or bishop], or desires to be so called by others is in his pride a forerunner of Antichrist” (This argument, intended to defend Gregory’s papal office, was in itself its condemnation. And this same Pope also wrote that Sabbath preaching pastors were “preachers of Antichrist.”).
So, in 1378, when the two rival popes were charging each other as being the Antichrist, John Wycliffe in England agreed with both. Wycliffe, a Roman Catholic priest and a Reformer, upon learning that the two antipopes were contesting the right to be recognized as the only valid pope declared, “The fiend no longer reigns in one, but in two priests that men may the more easily overcome them. Now is antichrist divided, and one part fights against the other.”
In 1888 Ellen White wrote about that papal schism and quoted Wycliffe’s observation:
“The schism, with all the strife and corruption which it caused, prepared the way for the Reformation, by enabling the people to see what the papacy really was. In a tract which he published, ‘On the Schism of the Popes,’ Wycliffe called upon the people to consider whether these two priests were not speaking the truth in condemning each other as the antichrist. ‘The fiend,’ said he, ‘no longer reigns in one but in two priests, that men may the more easily, in Christ's name, overcome them both.’ ” 
To further complicate the situation regarding the papacy, a church council was held at Pisa, Italy, in 1409 under the auspices of the cardinals who again tried solving the dispute between the two popes. But instead, they added to the problem by electing a third pope named Alexander V who reigned briefly from June 26, 1409, to his death in 1410, when he was succeeded by John XXIII.
This third election threw the Church into more turmoil. There had been antipopes—rival claimants to the papacy – before, but most of them had been appointed by various rival factions; in this case, a single group of leaders of the Church had created both popes and antipopes. The conflict quickly escalated from a church problem to a diplomatic crisis that divided Europe. Secular leaders now had to choose which claimant they would recognize. The situation created by the cardinals and their antipopes helped prepare the way for the Reformation 100 years later.
The teachings of Scripture that define Antichrist and his spirit are found in only four places: three in the first epistle of John and one in his second (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:2-3; 2 John 1:7).
John indicates to us that the Antichrist possesses the following characteristics: 1) Antichrist is a liar, 2) denies that Jesus is the Christ, 3) denies both the Father and the Son, 4) denies that Christ has come in the flesh, and 5) is a deceiver. Obviously, the spirit of antichrist was present in the time of John and continues to our day.
Later, after John wrote about the antichrist, Tertullian (A. D. 155-222), two centuries prior to the fall of the Pagan Roman Empire spoke of the future antichrist who would come after Rome’s fall, and “whose separation into ten kingdoms will bring on Antichrist.” This idea seems to have been generated from Daniel 7 and 8 and from Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica (in our lesson today on Thess 2:1-12). Many of the features in Paul’s description of the Antichrist are derived from the book of Daniel:
(1) “The man of lawlessness,” cf. Dan 7:25; 8:25.
(2) “the son of perdition,” cf. Dan 8:26.
(3) “the one who opposes,” cf. Dan 7:25
(4) “and exalts himself against everything (that is) called God or worshiped,” cf. Dan 7:8, 20, 25; 8:4, 10, 11.
(5) “so that he seats himself in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God,” cf. Dan 8:9–14.
This is not surprising because “the little horn” of Daniel 7, the one which came up after the ten horns, is the Antichrist and “the little horn” of Daniel 8, the one which came out of the west, became the Roman papacy. With respect to the antichrist as pictured by Paul, the passage in 2 Thess 2:3b, 4 states the following: “the man of lawlessness.” This is a man or a system whose opposition to God’s law. The man of sin is the adversary of God’s law, of God’s people, of God Himself. This system is the very personification of rebellion against God. It is also called “the son of perdition” the final Judas (cf. John 17:12). The man of lawlessness is pictured here as utterly lost, designated unto perdition, the system of spiritual darkness. This is in contrast with the “sons of light” in I Thess 5:5. Children of the day are ones who receive Christ, the Light of the world. Christ is the “Sun of Righteousness.” Children of Light involves the message of grace.
Paul wrote of the almost overwhelming delusion in the last days concerning Antichrist. “God will send them strong delusion” (2 Thess 2:10). The reason for the strong delusion is because people will refuse to “receive the love of the truth” but instead find their “pleasure in unrighteousness” (v 12). Pleasure takes place in the mind. The “pleasure of unrighteousness” takes the place of the pleasure of Christ and His righteousness.
The term antichrist is made up of two words anti which means “in place of” or “against” and Christ. The end-time “Antichrist” is against Christ and His righteousness. He does this by presenting himself as Christ and the only means of salvation. Historically, the Papacy’s teaching was essentially that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Pope Gregory I (cited above) wrote, “The holy universal Church … asserts that all who are outside of her will not be saved.”Given the fact that only 17.2% of the world population is Roman Catholic, this position seems to say about 83% of the world is condemned.
The gospel of salvation by grace is at stake here. God’s word says that those who do “not receive the love of the truth” will not be saved. While it is true that Christ is “the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14; John 4:42; 1 Tim 4:10), those who refuse the love of this truth “as it is in Jesus,” as the only Savior of the world, reject this gift of salvation in Him. The delusion is that those who believe the lie about salvation choose Antichrist and his spirit of unrighteousness. Those who receive “the love of the truth, that they might be saved” will not be deceived. Have you received the “love” of the truth, the truth as it is in Jesus? To receive this is to be protected from the strong delusion that will overwhelm every person in the world who refuses the love of truth.
The “Pleasure in unrighteousness” can be likened to a psychotropic drug such as alcohol that acts on the mind by giving an illusion of pleasure. Some people like the false feeling alcohol gives them. Habitual use of alcohol leads to stronger desire, even compulsion, to use it along with other drugs. Criminal activity can result because persons under the control of the power of alcohol can produce unpleasant or even dangerous behavior.
There is a spiritual drink called the “wine of Babylon,” of which the book of Revelation warns. This metaphor represents the false teachings of Antichrist. Those who partake of these mind altering doctrines enjoy false feelings of “peace and safety.” They become drunk, dangerous, devilish. The “Loud Cry” message as recorded in Rev 18:1-4 declares the fall of Antichrist. Rev 17:2 specifies leaders of nations along with “the inhabitants of the earth (who) were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” The whole world becomes drunk by imbibing this wine. “All the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”
And Rev 18:23 says that “all the nations” are deceived by her “sorcery.” In the original language the word “sorcery” is pharmakia from which comes the term pharmacy. Remember, Antichrist is a drug pushing dealer of illicit pharmaceuticals – the mind blowing doctrines of spiritually fallen and occult infested Babylon.
But Before its destruction (2 Thess 2:8), God’s people will be called to separate from this Antichrist system by the true Christ through His message of grace and righteousness (Rev 18:4).
 Cited by Robert Godfrey in the “What Still Divides Us?”debate and in his chapter in the book Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible edited by Don Kistler (Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995), p. 14.
 Gregory I. Registrum Epistolarum, Book XIII, Letter 1. The Catholic Encyclopedia.
 Emma H. Adams, John Wycliffe, Pacific Press Publishing Association, Oakland, 1890.
 The Great Controversy, 1888 edition, p. 86.
 (Samuel J. Cassels, Christ and Antichrist, p. 12, Presbyterian Board of Publication, Philadelphia, 1846; extracted from De Resurrectione Carnis, ch. 24).
 Gregory the Great, quoted in Summo Iugiter Studio; ThePapal Encyclicals, Vol. 1 (1740-1878), p. 230.