The apostle John wrote about false prophets in his day being inspired by ‘the spirit of the antichrist’1 and it is clear he saw this as nothing unusual. Today, we too can be inspired by that same spirit in the way we lead.
It is often tempting when using the term ‘antichrist’ to think of one opposed to Christ, since ‘anti’ in English has the common meaning of ‘opposite, against, or preventing’ (Concise Oxford Dictionary) as in anticlimax, antibiotic, anti-clockwise, antiperspirant. However, the Greek word anti, while containing that meaning, also means ‘instead of’. This other meaning is found in the name of the popular English flower, the antirrhinum or snapdragon. As the Oxford goes on to explain, this comes ‘from the Greek antirrhinon (anti, counterfeiting, and rhis rhinos, nose)’ since the flower resembles an animal’s mouth. The flower is not ‘opposite, against, or preventing’ an animal’s nose but ‘counterfeiting’ or resembling it.
Thus in the Scriptures, anti is usually translated as ‘in place of’ or ‘instead of’. 2 ‘The spirit of the antichrist’ is not just the one opposing to Christ but, in particular, the one seeking to take or usurp the place of Christ.
Whenever we who are leaders, however inadvertently, take or usurp the place of Christ in the lives of the people of God, either in our structures or in our practices, we are cooperating with the spirit of antichrist. This may sound extreme but as we will see soon, there was an incident involving the apostle Peter which is often repeated today but we fail to recognise it. While commonplace, it is no light matter so let’s carefully consider the workings of the spirit of the antichrist, going from well-known to not so well-known material, so that we can actively avoid this spirit as well as become better prepared for recognising the Antichrist.
Most of us know of Satan’s original sin:
“I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High”3
His desire to receive the worship due only to God, to usurp His place in the hearts of His creatures, was the basis of his third temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.4
Most of us will also be aware of a man who is to appear in the natural, political realm, ‘the man of sin’ or ‘lawlessness’5 who will be revealed just prior to, and brought to an end by, the Second Coming of Jesus. He is described by Paul as exhibiting Satan’s traits:
[He] 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… the one whose presence is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders.6
He too seeks to usurp God’s place in our hearts. Obviously, this man of sin or lawlessness is motivated by Satan but, in particular, by the spirit of antichrist. He will be the last and most powerful, the climax, in a long line of men motivated by the spirit of antichrist, just as John wrote in the first century A.D.:
Just as you heard that antichrist is coming [i.e. has not yet arrived], even now many antichrists have arisen.7
Now, most of us are quite happy to believe that nonbelievers, including us before we believed, are easily motivated and used by Satan. We accept Paul’s testimony:
you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.8
But have we properly appreciated that in simply ‘walking according to the course of this world’, e.g. by lying or stealing, that we are actually cooperating with ‘the prince of the power of the air’? Just as holding to the values and ways of the kingdom of God allows the Spirit of God to move through us, so too holding to the values and ways of this world actually presents an opportunity to ‘the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience’. This then is how even God-fearing and devout Christian leaders can cooperate inadvertently with the spirit of antichrist: they have only to lead in the same way as leaders in the world. Or did we think this only happens to bad guys?
Consider the apostle Peter, close friend and companion to Jesus. At one moment Jesus could say:
“Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”9
And yet in the very next incident recorded in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has to say to him:
“Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests but man’s.”10
Was Jesus being unnecessarily harsh? Or did He see the hidden reality of the situation and address it for Peter’s sake, and for ours? It is no accident that these two incidents are recorded one straight after the other because together they show us how any human being can walk right out of one spirit and into another and, if rebuked, back again.
What then did Peter actually do that took him out of the place where he was receiving personal revelation from the Father to where he was being used by Satan and needing to be rebuked? In the words of Jesus, all he did was to “not set his mind on God’s interests but man’s”.
Notice how it happened – after Jesus had commended Peter as above, the Lord had then prophesied His own imminent death and Peter had responded:
“God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You!”11
Peter had acted out of his obvious love for Jesus, seeking to protect Him, but in so doing he had set his mind on man’s interests instead of on God’s.
It was as simple as that. In his natural concern, he had actually been tempting Jesus to avoid the cross and thereby the will of His Father. Jesus, in always doing the Father’s will, always remained in the Spirit; Peter, in not considering the Father’s will and instead thinking his natural thoughts, had briefly but completely altered which spirit was expressed through him.
A little thought shows that Peter’s mistake has been repeated many times during the last two thousand years and is still causing divisions between leaders and church splits today. It is possible for any of us to be used by God or by Satan and the deciding factor is often, whose interests we are setting our minds on: man’s or God’s? Accordingly, to avoid being an instrument of Satan requires more than good intentions, for there is no doubt that Peter’s were.
A thousand years later, another Peter, Peter the Hermit, led some 40,000 men, women, and children on the People’s Crusade to liberate Jerusalem. Blessed by Pope Urban II with the battlecry of “Deus vult!”, Latin for “God wills it!”, the disorganised and virtually unarmed multitude saw their protecting knights quickly dispatched by the Turks and they were sold into slavery. Peter, however, escaped to inspire the next wave of knights who finally captured Jerusalem in 1099. Two hundred years later, Saladin recaptured it for the Muslims so very little was gained at terrible expense of life. Was this the will of God?
Every one of us must find and cooperate with God’s will, or “seek first the kingdom of God”, for ourselves. For church leaders, this includes seeking His will for our church structures and how we lead for if we do not, we may well damage and confuse the very people we are trying to lead and build up.
We must all consider what is the will of God regarding leaders exercising authority to rule over the saints? Which spirit is behind any structure or doctrine that justifies such behaviour?
“BUT WHAT ABOUT…?”
At this stage it may be good to look at some New Testament verses that seem to teach the opposite, as for example the often quoted, ‘Obey them which have the rule over you’ (Heb 13:17). Rather than answering all objections here, let’s look at three for now and leave the rest for Appendix B – Answering Scriptural Objections. Even if this is not a particular issue for you, may I urge you to carefully read this section anyway, even if you don’t bother with the appendix, because it contains material to be built on later.
The most common defence of leaders ruling is the earlier mentioned teaching of ‘delegated authority’ and this will be answered in Appendix D. Other passages usually raised as objections include: “I, too, am a man under authority”;12 ‘having summoned His twelve disciples, He gave them authority’13 ‘let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour”;14 ‘appreciate those who have charge over you’;15 ‘even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority’;16 ‘exhort and reprove with all authority’;17 ‘use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me’;18 ‘remember them which have the rule over you’;19 ‘salute all them which have the rule over you’;20 and “Be in authority over five [and ten] cities”.21
These objections prove surprisingly easy to deal with since most of these passages have been translated by those assuming authority is implicit but when more carefully examined on their own, and in comparison to the rest of the Scriptures (after all, ‘a text out of context is a pretext’), they actually further establish the case being made here. Take, for example, Hebrews 13:17.
Obey them which have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account…
Firstly, the phrase ‘them which have the rule over you’. This does seem to justify leaders ruling and therefore being as kings over the people. This, however, is from the King James Version of 1611 and is not borne out by any modern translation – the NASB reads ‘leaders’, as do the RSV, NRSV, CEV, ESV, NIV, NEB, TEV, and the Living Bible; the Amplified has ‘spiritual leaders’. This is because the Greek is literally ‘the ones leading’, from the verb hegeomai (hence the English hegemony, or leadership), which in turn is from ago, to lead, bring, bear or carry. It is quite clear that this phrase cannot reasonably be translated as ‘those who have the rule over you’ but should be ‘those leading you’.
This mistranslation also contradicts the plain command of Jesus that His leaders are not to rule over other disciples in the spiritual realm and serves as a good example of our failure to see the difference between leading and ruling. It is also mistranslated in the KJV in Hebrews 13:7 and 13:24 as well as in Acts 15:22 where ‘leading men among the brethren’ became ‘chief men’.
Secondly, the apparently absolute command, ‘obey’. Even though this is often quoted to support a leader’s right to be followed without quibbling, both Scripture and logic forbid us accepting this. Jesus expressly commands us:
“See to it that no one misleads you.”22
We are simply not allowed to obey anyone into error. The Scriptures say there will always be false teachers, shepherds, prophets, and apostles, as well as merely mistaken teachers, shepherds, prophets, and apostles. And consider this: all those in cults will only get free when they stop obeying their leaders, turn to Jesus Himself and seek out the truth for themselves.
Any command to obey leaders can therefore only be understood in a relative sense – we obey to the degree that we see they are true and their words are right. As Peter said, we must obey God rather than men23 and if we do not see God’s leading in any lead offered by men, we must not follow.
The Hebrews 13:17 problem was created by a careless translation of the Greek verb peitho as ‘obey’. In fact, peitho has its own in-built safety valve or fire exit because it actually means, ‘Be persuaded by…’. As renowned expositor W.E. Vine explains:
peitho – to persuade, to win over; in the Passive and Middle Voices, to be persuaded, to listen to, to obey, is so used with the meaning in the Middle Voice, e.g., in Acts 5:36, 37 (in ver. 40, Passive Voice, “they agreed”); Rom. 2:8; Gal. 5:7; Heb. 13:17; Jas. 3:3. The obedience suggested is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion… Of course it is persuasion of the truth that results in faith (we believe because we are persuaded that the thing is true, a thing does not become true because it is believed), but peitho in the N.T. suggests an actual and outward result of the inward persuasion and consequent faith.24
Peitho is also used three times in one short passage in the Scriptures where its true meaning becomes very clear, despite the translation being inconsistent. In Acts 5:34-40, the great Jewish teacher Gamaliel is addressing the Sanhedrin on the apostles’ teaching in the name of Jesus. He begins by referring to two earlier spurious Jewish leaders and those ‘who followed’ them and the NASB translators’ notes in the margin for both examples say ‘lit., were obeying’.25 Gamaliel then counsels the elders to leave the apostles alone and the elders ‘took his advice’ but here the margin note reads ‘lit., were persuaded by him’26 i.e. the other elders followed his lead because they could hear the wisdom of his words. Yet in each case, the verb is peitho.Why then have the translators used the two different phrases? Leaders can be followed either by those who are obeying them, that is who are under their authority, or by those whom they have persuaded that what they are saying is true, and we have identified the need for a clear distinction. In the case of the spurious leaders, the translators assumed their leadership was based on authority but in Gamaliel’s case, speaking as one elder to other elders, the translators have rightly seen that he had no authority, i.e. right to enforce obedience, and so could only persuade or ‘give advice’.
Christian leaders are in the same position as Gamaliel; they too can only persuade, and therein lies our safety-valve or fire exit if anything goes wrong:
(i) Every believer can avoid blind obedience and/or gullibility
(ii) Every leader can fully express his or her deepest convictions as persuasively as they can, knowing that their hearers are listening for truth and wisdom and will reject what is wrong.
On the other hand, any hearer’s failure to hear and apply that truth or wisdom has its own in-built punishment and so needs none from the leader.27
1 TIMOTHY 5:17 AND 1 THESSALONIANS 5:12
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour.28
Again we find in the King James Version the thought of leaders ‘ruling’ but the Greek verb here is proistemi, from the preposition pro, before, and the verb histemi, to stand, hence proistemi is ‘literally, “to stand before”, hence, to lead, direct, attend to (indicating care and diligence)’ (W.E. Vine). While this may seem ambiguous, the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses proistemi to describe not how Amnon’s attendant ruled over him but served him.29
We also see this plainly in the Hebrew concept of ‘standing before someone’ being not to rule but ‘to serve’:
The LORD set apart the tribe of Levi… to stand before the LORD to serve Him.30
1 Timothy 5:17 is therefore is perfectly consistent with elders serving, leading rather than ruling, the concept of ruling coming from the KJV translators’ milieu and not from the Greek text. The NASB and RSV also render this passage as ‘to rule’, yet have the same word in Romans 12:8 as ‘to lead or give aid’. The NEB, on the other hand is more consistent giving us ‘elders who do well as leaders’ and Romans 12:8 as ‘to lead’. The NIV has ‘elders who direct the affairs of the church well’ and Romans 12:8 ‘to lead’. The TEV, ‘elders who do good work as leaders’ and Romans 12:8 ‘whoever has authority’.
The same verb is also used in 1 Thessalonians 5:12:
Appreciate those who diligently labour among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction
The verb ‘to have charge over’ is another NASB and NRSV translation of proistemi and should be better translated ‘lead’, as indeed the NEB translates it. The KJV, NIV, and RSV retain the concept of authority by giving us ‘are over you in the Lord’ but the TEV has ‘whom the Lord has chosen to guide and instruct you’. The Amplified has it both ways: ‘your leaders who are over you in the Lord’.
All this seems to point to many of the translators’ apparent confusion of the two different concepts of authority and leadership. It is clear that the Greek word proistemi has no implicit meaning of ruling and is better translated as to serve or lead. Accordingly, this objection to our understanding of leaders leading instead of ruling melts away. Eight more possible objections are answered in Appendix B so let us now look at how we as leaders should lead.
Leadership in the Kingdom of God – Part 7 How Leaders Are to Lead
Perhaps one of the best ways of gaining perspective, to rise above the trees so that we can see the woods, is not to consider how a Christian should lead another Christian but how a Christian should lead a non-Christian. Read more>>
St Peter by: Dirck van Baburen – http://www.artnet.com/galleries/artwork_detail.asp?G=&gid=424237643&aid=552482&wid=425213233&source=inventory&collectionid=75070, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29750770
Peter the Hermit: By Unknown – http://crusades.boisestate.edu/1101/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4681497
- 1 John 4:3
- e.g. Matt 2:22, Luke 11:11, Jas 4:15
- Isa 14:14
- Matt 4:8-9
- 2 Thess 2:3
- 2 Thess 2:4-9
- 1 John 2:18
- Eph 2:2
- Matt 16:17
- Matt 16:23
- Matt 16:22
- Luke 7:8, Matt 8:9
- Matt 10:1, Mark 3:15, 6:7, Luke 9:1, 10:19
- 1 Tim 5:17
- 1 Thess 5:12
- 1 Thess 2:6
- Titus 2:15
- 2 Cor 13:10
- Heb 13:7
- Heb 13:24
- Luke 19:17-19
- Matt 24:4
- Acts 5:29
- W.E. Vine, The Expanded Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words; Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1984, p. 796, emphasis added
- vv. 36-37
- v. 40
- Matt 7:24-27
- 1 Tim 5:17, KJV
- 2 Sam 13:17
- Deut 10:8. See also 18:7 and 2 Chron 9:7, 29:11