Ultimate Deception: What if he comes in our time?

This one is very long – more of an article than it is a blog – but it’s also important. If the Antichrist were to come in our time, what would it look like? How might we be deceived? Would it really be so obvious as doing signs and wonders, and if so – how would we not be able to recognise him? 

Background

We just finished a time of the year that is different from the rest of the year on the Church calendar. Instead of talking about morality and the spiritual life and about the basic building blocks of spirituality, the Church is focused on the Day of the Lord. We talk about the Day of the Lord during Holy Week when we talk about the reckoning of the soul, of the person, that one day they will stand in front of the Lord, that there is death. Usually we like to focus on life and on good health, but we also need to remember that there’s an end some day. At the end of the year we bring to our remembrance that there is an end to all things, not just of ourselves but of the whole world. That’s why the readings of the last month of the Coptic year all focus on the end.

When we speak about the end of the world, most people want to switch to talking about something else. We’re scared of sounding superstitious or like we’re in the same camp as the Left Behind groupies. We want to be divorced from all of that. But the early Church was very concerned with this topic. If you look at the early catechisms, like that of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, you will find that a great portion was dedicated to speaking of the Antichrist and the end of times. Typically, most people will say, “worry about your own end – that you will pass away”. This is not bad advice, as it’s good to be prepared at all times. But our Lord is very explicit that He is telling us about signs of the end so that we can “watch”. He said that just like you can see when it’s time for the figs to ripen, I’m telling you these signs  so that when you see them, you know, “it’s near”. I want you to pay attention to the signs of the time, so that when you see these things happen you know that I am at the door. I am coming.

I know that many people thought the end was going to be in their time, and I think I’m one of them who thinks it will be in our time, based on the things that He has told us. I’m okay with being labelled ‘a crazy’. The label is irrelevant though, because whether we are right or wrong that it’s near, we need to know and be ready for these things, because He told us to do so.

Let us look at some of the things he said, and create a picture of what things might look like if this is really ‘the end’. Let us think about whether or not we would recognise what is going on, and whether or not we would react appropriately or as people who really understand. He that hath an ear…

The Warnings
There will be a great falling away. There is going to be a complete lapse from what is right, from what is true. Those of us in our mid-twenties and up, maybe younger, have seen not just a decline but a sheer fall in faithfulness and in objectivity. It wasn’t a gradual decline but a cliff-jumper to instantaneous death. Many of us can remember a time when if you found out that someone had left one church to go to another church, it was a big deal. Whereas now, we’re more like “At least he’s going to some church! At least he believes in God!” We’re still happy as though the person has achieved an accomplishment – and, let’s face it,  in this society it is an accomplishment! So He said there would be a great falling away, I think we’re doing a good job fulfilling that one.

Then He says something more serious:

In those days because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will wax cold. Lawlessness in the sense of total undiscipline; total and complete rejection of any notion of being bound to any kind of standard. But because it abounds, the love of many will wax cold. Which we can see. We are a self-centred soceity. Everything is about what makes “us feel happy”. Love is about self-denial, society is about self-gratification.  You cannot rely on some fact that others will care about you, because simply, they don’t. Because lawlessness has abounded. Lawlessness is a lack of self-restraint, a lack of self-discipline. It’s a lack of boundaries, a lack of objective stops on ourselves. Does this not sound like it is going on?

Then He says something more grave that affects us Christians the most. In those days they will have the form of religion but not its power. That is a very dire situation to be in, but is it not possible that we are already in that state? Do we have the look of the formality of the Church and not its might? We have mitres, gowns that look weird to others; we have bells, whistles and things that give the form of religion. Do not get me wrong, these things are not wrong. No. We have them, but we don’t carry the power of religion that is the gift of faith behind it. We do a bunch of motions but have no clue what we are doing and why, and consequently do not experience the fruits and gifts of religion. This is very serious. People know nothing about the faith itself or how to use it. They do not experience anything spiritual because of the lawlessness. Because they didn’t “feel” anything, the people fall away because they think the faith did nothing for them.

The reality is they were never living in it, they were following the form only. They will look at the stories of the saints and say, that never happened to me. There’s a reason it didn’t happen to us, it’s because we don’t live that life of faith. We don’t actually have it. That is why it is said of our Lord that when He went to a certain place, that He could not – not would not – work a single miracle there, because of their unbelief.

The Abomination of Desolation
Then our Lord speaks about this abomination of desolation – which refers to basically an utmost sacrilege – where something totally impious sits in the seat of something totally holy.  This is the antichrist. Something profane will enter into the place considered most holy. What He’s speaking about is pretty much the devil incarnate. Our Lord also tells us that the devil is a liar and father of lies. When this person comes, the end is definitely on its way.

Now, I know that some people think that the “antichrist” is not a person, but that it’s an idea or a philosophy. Others think it’s a particular religion. Others think it’s many people and not one person. I am going to stick with the majority of the fathers and go with it being a person. You are free to disagree with me, but that’s where I’m going with this.

I want to paint an image of what the ultimate deception might look like based on the times we’re in. I’m not saying that this is what the end will definitely be like, but I want to paint a hypothetical picture so that we can see whether or not we would identify it and endure, whether we would “fall for it”. To me, when I think of it, some things don’t seem like they need much brainwork. If some guy comes and says “I am God”, that doesn’t seem to me like it needs an awful lot of discernment to recognise that he’s a liar. If he’s doing miracles, great, that will be a sign of the supernatural and people will be forced to believe.  So it has to be more complicated than that.

Putting it all Together
So first, is this falling away period. This sign is not obvious to most because people actually don’t know anything or much at all about religion or God or Christ. We don’t have the knowledge of faith and religion that we used to have, because people are all walking away. So, as we said, religion is reduced to ritualistic practices, so people hold onto them until tried, and then when they feel they got nothing … they leave. 

If we look around us, the devil has prepared that very well with the strength of atheism. Those who want to feed their spirits today, don’t go to Christianity, we are, as they say on the BBC and NPR, in a “post-Christian era”. Apparently we’re done. Those who want depth now go to anyone but the Christians. Those who want to feed the spirit go to Buddhists and other eastern ‘mystical’ places. They say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.”

Then, we start to see a confusion between creation and Creator. We are in denial that man is anything more than an evolutionary process. That’s what we’re in right now – that there’s nothing more to man other than that he is a better animal than the rest. The devil has worked so hard at telling us that we are not in the image and likeness of God. Regardless of how man came to be, by evolution or spontaneous creation, what marked man as unique was this gift of the image and likeness of God that He gave to us. It is that gift that set us apart from the animals, that made us no longer just animals. This is how the devil works. He takes something true, and distorts it. he doesn’t always start with an outright lie, he may start with a true thing, and distort it.

So, the moral falling away has led to each one to be “doing what is right in his own eyes” – without any form of objective truth. But the problem is it’s not even really “do whatever you want if you think it’s right” – it’s do whatever you want and think whatever you want, as long as you agree with me. If it was true that we were okay with whatever anyone believed, we would not have contention, but we do.  Even though we say that everyone can believe as they want, the reality is that we don’t really believe or desire this. This is not a random or coincidental development. This is the devil working while we sit idly.

So let’s step back and look at the world for a moment. Wars and rumours of wars are happening like crazy – we’re all wondering when the big one in Iran will be and whether or not Turkey will get nuked. The wars are about one thing: money. What do they use as a face? Religion. So we hear a lot of “religion has done more harm than good” and that it “starts more wars than it brings peace”, and “If religion wasn’t here, how nice it would be”. We get it in John Lennon’s song, Imagine, and have a rosy picture of men and women holding hands and atheistically skipping together in a field with weed. The problem, though, is that the wars are not really about religion. It’s also untrue to say that more wars were caused by religion than anything else, because statistically speaking, it’s simply not a fact. It’s false. The problem is not really religion, but it’s a great scapegoat, it works so well.

Add to the rumours of wars to set the landscape for our antichrist: poverty and inequality are rampant. We see huge disparity between rich and poor.  The world economy not what it used to be because the whole world is doing business with one another. It used to be that every country would do its own thing. Greece is struggling, The UK is “brexiting” and all sorts of instability exists. The world is physically, spiritually and economically very famished. What is the world to do?

Let in The Antichrist
So with that backdrop of spiritual impoverishment, global poverty on every level, and the formation of one global mega-community and culture through multimedia, we are no longer many random isolated countries. We are turning into one big super-country. We are not seeing individual countries remaining isolated individual countries. Rather, we are setting the stage for a global community and leadership. We are already hearing whispers of it – why not have someone who is economically in charge of things, financially. Just like we have a head of the European Union. This head definitely exercises more than just financial and economical power. It is these kinds of progressions that are setting the stage for this antichrist.

Again, I’m not saying this is what is going to happen, I’m trying to set a picture of what it may look like, and wondering if we would recognise it if it were to happen. Remember the fathers tell us that the Antichrist will be cunning. He will not be coming as a terrible tyrant, but rather, the opposite. He’s going to come with solutions, someone who says a lot of good things that are deceptive because of how good they sound. He’s going to be a talker, a very good politician. We’re told that he’s going to perform great signs and wonders.

Let’s set the stage again. This man can come and say, hey, we’re a global economy, we all have to make sacrifices, here’s a way to solve our crises. Let’s look at what each country is doing wrong and hold one another accountable – let’s share the wealth. He can look at disparity and say, “what’s wrong with you people? We should be sharing the wealth! This is wrong, and it’s because humans are selfish.” He is right, it is because humans are selfish. He will be right to say that we need to distribute the wealth. Suddenly you have a politician who cares about the people, how lovely! He will say the things that warm the hearts of the people and bring them joy that someone finally cares.

Now as for religion, this, from everyone’s side will be an issue. The devil has learned now to be smarter than to be polar. If the devil were to come out and say “all you people who believe in God are wrong”, there are many people who on principle, will be against him, simply for saying it’s wrong. Humans are like that. If someone tries to force us to think something, we will do our darndest to prove the opposite. If someone presents an extreme, our natural inclination is to try and disprove it with another extreme. But imagine if he tells us that we’re all right?

So I don’t think the devil will come out and say that believing in God is wrong. Instead, he’ll tell us that we’re all right. It’s a better lie; a more comfortable lie. When you want to tell someone that works with you that they’re wrong, you tell them that you’re wrong “Yeah, maybe it’s like what you said! You have a point with this, but do you think that its possible to consider this other alternative…” It’s the gentle rebuke that wins over many of us.
 

The poison
Imagine if he tells us that what we call religion, is a misunderstanding of spirituality. Hey may tell us that spirituality is one of two things – a psychological thing, which he will assure you is a real thing. It doesn’t matter if we can explain it, he would say, that doesn’t take away from it’s realness and that it’s something we should even embrace. Or, he may teach, that it’s simply a type of energy within us – that we have this other kind of energy that we are learning more and more about and that as science progresses we will learn how to capture and harness this energy and know how to use it.  Imagine if he says that yes, this thing exists and is real, but that it’s part of our humanity, it’s part of our natural evolution as a species.

Using this, he could then say, “Yes, Jesus was someone who was able to really understand this energy, that’s what was so special about Jesus.” He will not deny that there was something truly special and unique about Jesus. He will say, “Yes, He was someone special, someone who could really use it more than any other human”. In this sense, a Christian can feel okay with not seeing their Christ undermined. They will have a sense of security. But he would add something to it, like, ‘ you need to understand, though, that we all have that potential. Jesus was someone advanced for His time and age and knew how to use this energy, but we all have this potential as well. We can all be ‘gods’.”  He will even tell you, using your own scripture that Jesus agreed with this idea. He will tell you that Jesus said, “Have I not said you are all gods?!” Jesus did say that, scriptures do say that. He’s taking something real and distorting it.  He’s saying “Yes, your religions are trying to control you. They meant well, however, is this not a better meaning to life and spirituality?”

Then he might tell us that we need to use that energy to focus on fixing humanity and to do the work of Jesus.  Jesus was right in understanding that the proper nature of humans is to care about the earth and about poor people and about equality. He will take the principles of the gospel and remove one aspect – that Christ is God. The focus will be on us all being gods or being the same thing and nobody being better than another, and that we need to avoid organised religion and dogma. In this way, he can resolve many problems and wars. You’re all right, why are you fighting? Every object of worship – every deity and prophet was right in some way,  but let’s focus on our oneness of humanity. ,  we ought not to confuse a person who capitalised on that energy and understood humanity, with an absolute god. The focus would switch to all of us being gods, or all of us being the same, and that we should strive for goodness without making the mistake of worshiping religion.

In this way, he could resolve many wars – the problems in Israel, ISIS etc… In using this, he could wage war against the religious by saying that they pose a threat to having a greater and more altruistic humanity. He would claim that they are being killed for their radical extremism – physical or social – and not for their religion. This is brilliant, as outright killing for the sake of killing is entirely distasteful to the public. If someone today were to say, “hey, let’s put to waste all radical Islamists!” A minority would publicly agree. If instead you say, “Let’s lay to waste all those who threaten the prosperity of our land!” Suddenly you will get more backing because you have not made it about their religion, but instead, about what they are doing to your country. The devil will monopolise this on all  publicly identified ‘extremists’.

The war against religion would take on a new form, and we can see him stand in the holy places in another way.  Let’s use homosexuality as an example. I’m not going to debate the whole topic, but let’s say that a priest or a servant makes a comment disagreeable to most of society.  Imagine if someone takes that to the police as “hate speech”.  Imagine if then the government steps in at these complaints and says to the Church, “Hey, we interpret things in this way, so for you to say otherwise is anti-scientific etc… and the way you are making people feel is abusive, and this is hate speech. You cannot say this. We will only allow you to operate as a non-profit if you stop saying these things. Otherwise, you are not legally allowed to operate as a church because a church is state-protected and we will not protect hatred.” This is something potentially real. Suddenly, the church is taken over by outsiders, without an apparent hostile takeover.

The real church would then move to houses, to homes, wherever we can congregate and pray.  It’s very sly. It’s not an obvious attack, it’s done very quietly. The antichrist could be leading this effort, in defining what constitutes a church, and  in defining what constitutes proper belief. This is not, by the way, a ludicrous proposition. Any of you who know about Russia during the communist era will know the devil has already had a very successful practice run doing this. This is what actually happened during the Communistic Russian period. Only churches that had aligned themselves with the state were permitted to function, while everyone else went underground.

The Miracles
This is all well and good, but what of his miracles that are greater than even our Lord’s? Science right now is blossoming with genetics. We will soon be able to grow you your own organs using your own stem cells. These are wonderful things. They will seem greater than the works of the Lord. Imagine if the antichrist says, “You and your friends can go pray for this person, but I will grow them their own new kidney in a few days!” Is that not an incredible sign and wonder? In addition, will not the devil do wonders through him but deny that they are miracles? He can, while convincing us of his dogma, do these signs to say “see, I’ve mastered this energy as well. You’re all capable of doing it” He would be lying about it being supernatural or twisting the meaning of it, so that people doubt what they received. There could even be a Christian brand of these new teachings. He will market it to please everyone again – “you’re all right, but just not for the reason you thought you were”.

Would you recognise it?
In light of what’s going on in the world today, and how without signs and wonders we are all leaving — I think this scenario is plausible, and I think if it happened, we would lose so many people.

So why talk about it? Because our Lord said to watch. He said the devil is a liar and a father of lies. He told us it’s going to be rough. Are you ready? Would you be able to discern truth from lies?

How to prepare
Our Lord said “my sheep know my voice”. Do you know the Lord’s voice? Would you be able to discern the message being preached as not in line with what the Lord said? Would you be able to discern the twists and turns, or would you doubt everything?  Do you understand warfare? How do you fight an enemy you don’t understand? Are you deceived by modern heresies? Are you relativistic and not aware of it?

First, you won’t know the Lord’s voice if you don’t get to know Him. If someone  were to tell me that Father K (won’t put his name here publicly)  threw a tantrum and stomped his feet because someone was disrespectful in Church — I wouldn’t be able to believe it. I know him. I know that that is not his way. The same is true of our Lord, unless you develop a relationship with Him – talking to Him and listening to Him and developing experience with Him – if someone lies to you about Him, you might believe it right away. So you need to know the Truth to be able to discern it.

Second, our Lord said to watch to be on guard. If you’re on guard of your house, trying to protect it – you’re going to want to be blameless. If someone breaks in on your watch, you’ll feel ashamed. You don’t want to fall asleep, leave a door unlocked, do something that lets a burglar come in. So do your due diligence – learn the property, learn where the danger spots are, know where defenses are weak and where they are strong so that you can fortify and support accordingly. In other words: know yourself, know the faith, know where you need to grow in and where you’re okay but don’t want to neglect.

Third, our Lord entrusted the house to us that He wanted us to guard. This is a sign of trust, of love. You don’t ask a random person you don’t know to take care of things. You don’t ask someone you don’t know. You ask someone you trust, that you have a strong relationship with, because you know that they will treat the place with respect. In our case, our Lord calls us sons and daughters and friends. Guard the house because it’s your own and because He gave it to us as our own, to care for without negligence! needs patience through trials — in your patience possess your souls

Some hope
Don’t think for a moment though, that our Lord doesn’t feel for us and undervalue the difficulty of those times. He said the times will be shortened because of how hard it is,. He said, don’t worry I will feed, you I will clothe you, I will do everything for you – but just watch and hang on. Then He says something most comforting, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit on my throne”.

So, in this season of the new year, reflect on whether or not you are “watching”, whether you are paying attention to the signs, and if you are ready – either for this ultimate time of trial, or for the day of your death.

So whether we die in the time of tribulation or we die before then, we ought to be vigilant, and if we are, we can proclaim with the Church “O Death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?”
  1. Thank you Fr. Antony for this reminder. At one point in my life this was but a fairy tale, and now it is all too real. I like how you mentioned Russia, and the robbing of mankind being made in Gods image. When we become nothing more then evolved animals, causes for genocide become actually considered. This is a relatively new concept, and I believe the devil has not utilized it in its fullest potential. As you mentioned, his test trial was Russia. I pray for our priests that are to hold us through this time. And I pray for our bishops who are to lead us through this.