“Why do you seek to kill me?” It was a loaded question Jesus put to the religious leaders at least three times*. They said He was mad to think such a thing, or in the language of the day “had a demon”. They then withdrew temporarily to consider pressing issues related to their high and important office. The most pressing issue of course was how to kill Jesus.
The same question still hangs in the air over two thousand years later, just as it hovered over humanity long before at the dawn of history when evil Cain met righteous Abel in a field and killed him.
It was not Jesus the rabbi, or Jesus the carpenter, or even Jesus the Nazarene the religious leaders of His day sought to kill. It was Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, they could not abide in their midst. And so it is today. Hardly anyone is anti-Jesus. Jesus the cool guy from Nazareth who went around doing good, healing people and getting up the noses of the establishment was a pretty neat individual according to most people. Add “Christ” to His Name and it’s a very different story. The “Christ” presents humanity with dilemmas we’d rather avoid, questions we’d rather not consider. It was Jesus’ affirmation that He was indeed the Christ, the sinless Son of God to whom all men owe obedience, that finally gave the antichrist religious leaders the excuse they needed to kill Him (Mark 14:60-64).
If we are to follow Christ unconditionally we need to understand the same spirit that sought relentlessly to kill Christ still seeks to kill Christ in His followers. There are three areas of life where this anti-Christ spirit, more commonly called the ‘religious spirit’, has established its power base.
Firstly, we discern it in the world around us, growing more powerful by the hour, brazen in its mockery of anything related to the gospel of Christ, His Word or His Bride. Its iron-clad grip embraces such things as political movements, military organisations, business empires and countless well-intentioned but deceived individuals. We find it disguised as humanism, environmentalism, socialism, globalism and any number of other ‘isms’ mankind can come up with.
Secondly, as Jesus did, we find it hiding behind the face of religion. That statement might cause words and phrases such as ‘jihad’, ‘sharia’, ‘nirvana’, ‘new age’ and the like to roll through our minds. But let’s face it, the most comfortable hiding place this antichrist spirit has found is actually within the multi-structured religious system we call Christianity. Antichrist in the church? Indeed! Wherever the Spirit of God is resisted, quenched, denied or disobeyed in Christendom there you will find antichrist.
Then there is a third place where antichrist seeks to set up its kingdom. And that is deep within the soul of each and every Christ follower. That means me, you, the pastor, the pastor’s wife, the bishop, the prophet, the youth leader, the ministry leader, the Sunday School teacher, and on it goes. We who seek sincerely to follow Christ are a people being progressively delivered from the fatal disease of ‘religion in the flesh’. “Oh no, not me” you say, “I don’t have a religious bone in my body.” Oh really? So there has never been an occasion when you sought to save yourself by your own good works, when you thought God might love you more if you just tried harder to please Him, or when you looked at another person’s sins and considered yours weren’t nearly as bad? Even the most avowed atheists are captive to religion in the flesh, because they have become their own god.
Did you ever notice that although Jesus cast out many unclean demonic spirits from people there is no gospel account that He ever cast out a religious spirit? Perhaps that was because He knew the antichrist spirit had been so completely joined with mankind at the fall that only the continuous application of His own shed Blood and the living revelatory Word could deliver a human being from this religion in the flesh. The flesh nature cannot be cast out; it must be crucified.
This religion of the flesh is a result of mankind’s partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Its intent is to kill anything from the Tree of Life, which is Christ, the Anointed One. It mastered Cain (whose name means ‘acquires)’ when he murdered his brother Abel (whose name means ‘breath’ or “breeze”). Religion in the flesh believes it can acquire for itself whatever is needed for its own salvation. Thus Cain chose to bring to God an earthly, fleshly, sacrifice that was not acceptable. Abel, on the other hand, brought an offering of life that had been sacrificed and blood that had been spilled, pointing forward to man’s redemption through the Blood of the Lamb of God. Abel’s sacrifice was born of God’s own Breath, the very Spirit of God. The Spirit and the flesh have been locked in ongoing war since the fall of mankind (Gal. 5:17). Consequently Cain’s hatred was aroused and he killed the one who exposed his shortcoming and his need for a Savior outside himself.
The antichrist spirit will oppose the Bride of Christ at every opportunity because the true Bride is of the Spirit. Jesus never compromised with antichrist in man and neither should we. Every time it presented itself He confronted it without negotiation.
Time and again Jesus called the Jewish religious leaders to account for their rigid adherence to rules and traditions while their hearts were hard against God’s Spirit.
Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, opposed Jesus intention to heed the Spirit’s direction towards Jerusalem and certain death. Jesus justly rebuked him as being on the side of fallen man and not of God. Jesus utterly refused to compromise at any level with the spirit of antichrist (Matt. 16:20-23).
Today, we should not be surprised to find this antichrist spirit well entrenched within the man-built religious institution we call “church”. We should not be amazed if it presents itself as the voice of reason coming from those we love and care for the most. Why should we wonder that it rises up in the flesh of other believers when it also rises in our own? Ultimately and at the appointed time this hateful spirit will morph into flesh and blood as a living person, just as the Christ, the personification of divine Love, came as a living person (2 Thes. 2:3).
As we enter into the final stages of this war between Christ and antichrist, He calls us to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. We have been given the Holy Spirit in order to discern all things. Compromise with the antichrist religious spirit is not an option, especially when we find it within our own hearts.
*John 7:19, 8:37, 8:40