Perhaps most of you are accustomed to saying that the kingdom of God is “not yet” here and is “already” here. Not yet here in its consummation, but already here in significant fulfillments.
In fact, “fulfillment without consummation” was the scandal of Jesus’s ministry. He claimed that the kingdom of God “is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21), and yet Jesus was not overthrowing the Roman regime. Even John the Baptist was perplexed and asked, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3).
This was the “secret of the kingdom” revealed only to a few. “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables” (Mark 4:11). The secret was that the kingdom was indeed already present (“If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you,” Luke 11:20), but the kingdom has not yet come completely (“I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom,” Matthew 26:29).
What About the Antichrist?
But most of us are not accustomed to speaking of the antichrist as already here but not yet here. But consider the way the apostles John and Paul speak of this figure. Only John uses the term “antichrist.” But Paul refers to the same figure as “the man of lawlessness.”
First listen to Paul. “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day [of Christ’s second coming] will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. . . . And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 6–7).
Paul says that a “man of lawlessness” is coming. And he says that the “mystery of lawlessness” is already at work. I take this to mean that a distinct figure of great satanic power (verse 9) is coming, but that his mysterious presence can already be felt in the present time. He is “already” here, and he is “not yet” here.
Similarly John says, “Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already” (1 John 4:3).
There is a future antichrist yet to come. But the spirit of antichrist is already in the world. In fact, John goes so far as to say: “You have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18).
So both Paul and John picture a final time just before the second coming when a person of great demonic power will rise up in rebellion against the true Christ and his people. In the meantime, the satanic characteristics of that figure are always manifesting themselves in the world with greater or lesser dominance. The antichrist is coming and he is here already. “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is . . . the antichrist” (2 John 1:7).
How We Should Live
What does this mean for us?
It is a call for us to live sober lives of alertness and faithfulness. Our minds should be girded for action (1 Peter 1:13). We should put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:13ff). “The hour has come for you to wake from sleep” (Romans 13:11). The aim of the “mystery of lawlessness” and the “many antichrists” is to deceive us into the blinding slumbers of indifference and love of sin.
But we are the children of light. We are not of the night or of the darkness. “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:4–6). And as I said in last Sunday's sermon, let’s out-love and out-rejoice the darkening world. “Love one another, for many deceivers have gone out into the world” (2 John 1:6–7). “Blessed are you when people hate you. Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy” (Luke 6:22–23).