“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
The gods of antiquity had little feeling for mankind. They were considered powerful, and possibly helpful — but getting their aid was another story (more dependent on buying it, or cajoling them into helping, than on their natural compassion and feeling for humankind). If the gods were angry with you, you needed a way to soothe their temper.
You could try to court their favor with a sacrifice. It might work.
But Christianity turned all that around.
In the first place, the God of scripture always felt the same toward mankind. He never changed. He always loved humanity. Though sin made God angry, and might distance humans from the Lord, it did not separate them from His love. It only affected the way he acted toward them.
Ancient people would have searched for an appropriate sacrifice to somehow calm God’s wrath. But there was no sacrifice that would work – and that brings us to the second difference between Christianity and the religions of the ancient world: our Lord solved the problem Himself. John Stott once put it like this: “God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it Himself in His own son when he took our place and died for us.”
In his book, Search for Salvation David Wells puts it this way: “Man is alienated from God by sin and God is alienated from man by wrath. It is in the substitutionary death of Christ that sin is overcome and wrath averted so that God can look on man without displeasure and man can look on God without fear.”
The word “antichrist”only occurs in the first two letters of John in the Bible and whoever they were, they were a part of the Christian fellowship being addressed.
Popular religious preachers and authors commonly describe “the antichrist” as some world leader, a messenger empowered by Satan, who has yet to arise to lead the world against Christians and deceive Christians into leaving the fold. Customarily, the “antichrist” is paired with the “man of lawlessness” of 2 Thessalonians. But in describing the antichrist, authors and teachers would do well to confine themselves to the texts where the specific identification is made. An antichrist is anyone who undermines our submission to the authority of Jesus. It can be a nonchristian, but it is likely also to be a Christian.
Second, this attempt to identify the “antichrist” as some well placed political figure, and the attempt to see him in our own history, leads Christians away from focusing on their own behavior, submitting to the will of Jesus. In doing that, they (and we) ignore the primary message of First John – how we behave determines whether Christians are really disciples, or just hypocrites.
Third, John ties “belief” to behavior. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,” he writes. We get side-tracked here into the discussion of whether “belief” is enough to be a Christian, or whether one must be baptized. But that is a mistake of huge proportions. John doesn’t write simply that the one who believes is “born of God,” but rather, that the one who believes and is born of God loves those others who are likewise born of God and keeps God’s commands (note 1 John 4:19 – 5:2). John is not discussing how one becomes a Christian, or how one is saved, but how the saved person acts toward other saved people. After all, John is not writing to the unsaved, but to Christians.