“He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth—by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast …” Revelation 13:13-14
This is not the first place in Scripture that a warning is given about deceiving false signs and wonders:
“Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10
In John’s vision, the beast from the land deceives those who dwell on the earth — i.e., those whose citizenship is of the world, and not of the kingdom of heaven — by signs and wonders; and Paul also speaks of a coming lawless one, who works by the power of Satan, also deceiving those who perish — i.e., those whose citizenship is of the world, and not of the kingdom of heaven — by signs and false wonders. The beast from the land and the lawless one are one and the same.
Jesus also foretells the coming of those who will deceive many:
And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. … Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. … Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” Matthew 24:4-5, 11-12, 23-24
Notice that the descriptive characteristics of John’s vision, Paul’s warning, and Jesus’ prophecy are all the same: deception by great signs and false wonders; lawlessness; receiving the worship of men; claiming to be God or the Lamb of God. They are all describing the antichrist!
The first thing we have to realize, though, is that the antichrist is not embodied in one man!
“Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.” 1 John 2:18-19
If even in John’s day many antichrists had already come, then we can see that the spirit of antichrist has been at work from that day to this. No one single man lives for 2000 years, but in every generation, antichrists arise to deceive even the elect, if possible. And Jesus said that many false christs would come. A false christ is an antichrist, one claiming to be Messiah who is not. Notice also that John confirms that the antichrist has the appearance of a follower of Jesus – “they went out from us;” in other words, the antichrists come from the church!
To be continued …
Update: continued in Revelation 13: lying signs, false wonders, and fire from heaven