Nicolae Carpathia made a great villain. He was “The Antichrist,” born from an ancient Roman lineage, remarkably intelligent and athletic, manipulative and unbelievably successful in business. Naturally, that led him to politics and soon he was the Supreme Potentate. He was the sort of character we love to hate. In the book his life takes a turn with an assassination, a resurrection, the indwelling of Satan, and an eventual appointment in the Lake of Fire. This is the imaginary character of The Antichrist that many of us absorbed in the 90s. The book makes for creative fiction, but it is not about the antichrist.
To get our bearings, we need to see where the Bible mentions the antichrist. This title doesn’t show up in Revelation; it is not part of the apocalypse of John. However, it does show up in letters attributed to John. These letters speak to churches facing dire circumstances: a number of members now deny that Jesus was fully human on earth and have left community. They see Jesus as merely “appearing” as human while on earth. The author of these letters taps into the congregation’s perspective on the world as a cosmic battle between good and evil. With those categories in mind, he writes about the ones who have left the church, the ones who deny Jesus’ humanity: these are the antichrists.
This lack of proper belief in Jesus is so damaging that the author declares those who left the community are outside of the faith. They do not know or follow Jesus. In 1 John, correct Christology is not limited to theoretical ideas; belief always leads to action. Once believers understand who Jesus is and how he embodies God’s love, they must then love in the same way. If Jesus is not accepted as both fully human and fully divine, then the material world no longer holds high value. The Christians who left community no longer value the embodied community of the church. They no longer value the reality of the incarnation. They no longer value God’s love. They do not live according to love.
Jesus’ incarnation stands in direct contrast to these beliefs. Instead of being deceived by those who have left, this community is called to remember that God is love. Jesus is God’s love embodied for humanity. Jesus brings true life to those who believe and follow after him. Following Jesus always requires genuine believers to love one another (1 John 4:7-8). The antichrists, who deny Jesus’ humanity and deny God’s love, do not love others. The love of God is self-giving and communal, wanting the best for humanity: life through Jesus (1 John 4:9-10). The truth of who Jesus is comes through divine anointing (1 John 2:20, 24-27). The genuine believers who have remained in community have this anointing; they know who Jesus is and are reminded to let this truth live in them.
It is easy to grab on to caricatures like the fictional Carpathia, but that leaves us looking for someone resembling a Marvel comic villain. The reality is more subtle: the antichrists come from within our church community. Their teaching devalues the reality of Jesus full humanity and full divinity joined together. They devalue God’s love. They devalue community. They do not live in a way that gives love.
In our own context, a lack of love within the Christian community should give us pause. A church where Christ is not central should make us reflect and take stock of what is central. A community without self-giving does not truly live as community. If the center of a church is not love, it is not Christ. Reflecting the embodied life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most essential work for a community of love. This work notices those around them and recognizes the needs, hopes, and fears within the community. It moves though belief into action.
Meditating on the meaning of the incarnation is fundamental. The all-encompassing love of God is not a cheap grace where all are welcome, and none are changed. It is a costly, extravagant, precious grace where all are welcome, and all are changed. To know Christ is to live as Christ. To be a people called by God, the church must reflect God, and God is love.
Clark-Soles, Jaime. “1, 2, 3 John.” In Hebrews, the General Epistles, and Revelation, edited by David A Sánchez, Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, and Margaret P Aymer, 153–172. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2016. Accessed February 13, 2021. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=1370555.
 Jaime Clark-Soles, “1, 2, 3 John,” in Hebrews, the General Epistles, and Revelation, ed. David A Sánchez, Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, and Margaret P Aymer (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2016), 161, accessed February 13, 2021, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=1370555.