ANTICHRIST (Gr. antichristos, against or instead of Christ). The word antichrist may mean either an enemy of Christ or one who usurps Christ’s name and rights. The word is found in only four verses of Scripture (1John.2.18, 1John.2.22; 1John.4.3; 2John.1.7), but the idea conveyed by the word appears throughout Scripture. It is evident from the way John and Paul refer to the Antichrist that they took for granted a tradition well known at the time (2Thess.2.6, “you know”; 1John.4.3, “you have heard”).
In his eschatological discourse Christ warns against the “false Christs” and the “false prophets” who would lead astray, if possible, even the elect (Matt.24.24; Mark.13.22). In Matt.24.15 he refers to “the abomination that causes desolation” spoken of by Daniel.
In 2Thess.2.1-2Thess.2.12 Paul gives us a very full description of the working of Antichrist, under the name of “the man of lawlessness,” in which he draws on the language and imagery of the OT. The Thessalonian Christians seem to have been under the erroneous impression that the “day of the Lord” was at hand, and Paul told them that before that day could come two things would have to take place: an apostasy and the revelation of the man of lawlessness, the son of perdition. The “secret power of lawlessness” (2Thess.2.7) is already at work, he said, but is held in check by some restraining person or power. With the removal of this restraining force, the man of lawlessness is revealed. He will oppose and exalt himself above God and will actually sit in the temple of God and claim to be God. With satanic power he will perform signs and deceitful wonders, bringing great deception to people who reject God’s truth. In spite of his extraordinary power, however, “the Lord Jesus will overthrow [him] with the breath of his mouth” (2Thess.2.8).
In 1John.2.18 John shows that the coming of the Antichrist was an event generally expected by the church. It is apparent, however, that he is more concerned about directing the attention of Christians to anti-Christian forces already at work (“even now many antichrists have come”). He says that teachers of erroneous views of the person of Christ (evidently Gnostic and Ebionite) are antichrists (1John.2.22; 1John.4.3; 2John.1.7).
In the Rev.17.8 recalls the horned beast of Dan.7.1-Dan.7.28-Dan.8.1-Dan.8.27. He claims and is accorded divine homage and makes war on God’s people. For a period of three and one-half years he rules over the earth and is finally destroyed by the Lord in a great battle. With his defeat the contest of good and evil comes to its final decision.
, the beast ofBibliography: W. Bousset, The Antichrist Legend, 1896; G. Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, 1961, pp. 94-135; G. C. Berkouwer, The Return of Christ, 1972, pp. 260-90.——SB
A biblical term found only in 1 John 2:18,22; 4:3 and 2 John 7. Its meaning has often been enriched by concepts from Daniel 7:8; 8:8-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; Revelation 13:4-18, etc. Antichrist has generally been understood as a person (sometimes an institution) opposed to Christ and even a deliberate counterfeit. Early Christian writers (e.g., Chrysostom) were agreed that he would appear immediately before the second advent of Christ and be a person under the direct inspiration of Satan. With Tertullian the idea was put forward that he would not appear so long as the remained intact, but that he would arise to reunite the ten kingdoms into which it would have disintegrated. Sometimes it was thought that he would be Nero resuscitated (Lactantius, Jerome, Augustine) or that he would be a Jew of the tribe of Dan (Irenaeus). He would simulate the powers and functions of Christ (Hippolytus) and be an incarnation of the devil (Theodoret). The Tiburtine Sibylline introduced the idea of a great emperor who would arise prior to the appearance of antichrist. Pseudo-Methodius, written under the shadow of Islam, envisaged such an emperor overcoming Islam. Such writings became influential in the West. intensified apocalyptic speculation which found a focus in Joachim of Floris. Antichrist, or his forerunner, was seen in numerous ecclesiastical, political, national, or social opponents. The Spiritual Franciscans viewed the pope of Rome as antichrist, or at least his forerunner. Similar ideas were held by men like Wycliffe and Huss. Luther held that every pope was antichrist, since antichrist is collective, the institution of the papacy. Modern interpreters of the idealist school view antichrist as the timeless personification of evil. Futurists believe in a personal antichrist who will initiate a period of tribulation prior to the return of Christ.
See W. Bousset, Antichrist (ET 1896); C. Hill, Antichrist in 17th Century England (1971).
ANTICHRIST (ἀντίχριστος, G532) meaning principally against Christ, or secondarily, instead of, i.e., a substitute or pseudochrist.
References in Scripture.
Specific reference to antichrist is found only four times in Scripture, all in the epistles of John (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). The first reference in 1 John 2:18 provides the norm of the doctrine: “Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know it is the last hour.” John seems to anticipate an individual who is specifically antichrist, a notorious opponent of . He declares that this was anticipated by “many antichrists” who have already come. This is offered as evidence that they are moving toward “the last hour.”
1 John 2:22 defines antichrist as one who “denies that Jesus is the Christ.” Such a one also “denies the Father and the Son.” According to John’s definition, an antichrist is anyone who denies that Jesus is God and Christ. In 1 John 4:3, reference is made to “the spirit of antichrist” which again is described as coming in the future and also “now it is in the world already.” In this passage, also, an antichrist is defined as one who is a denier of the deity of Jesus Christ.
In 2 John 7, a more specific reference is made to contemporary rejection of Christ by those who deny the reality of the Incarnation: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.” John is anticipating docetism, the view that Christ merely appeared to be in the flesh and was not actually incarnate. From these four passages it is clear that antichrist, according to John’s definition, is a theological concept primarily and relates to rejection of Christ or heretical views concerning His person.
Extent of application.
As used in theology and the history of doctrine, antichrist has been applied more widely than the restricted usage in the epistles of John. Such application first of all proceeds on the idea of a future antichrist based on 1 John 2:18, “You have heard that antichrist is coming.” It is concluded from this reference that while there were contemporary opponents of Christ who denied His deity or His true humanity, these forces of opposition would eventually center in one person as seen in futuristic interpretations of prophecy. A still wider application has been made to all antigod movements in Scripture, including many references to Belial in the OT, and to any blasphemous persons or movements in either history or prophecy. Accordingly, by theological usage, antichrist is a broad term covering either persons or movements against God, in contrast to the rather restricted usage in the epistles of John.
An almost unlimited number of identifications of antichrist to specific historical characters can be found. Among the more prominent are Mohammed, the founder of the Muslim faith; Caligula, a Rom. emperor who claimed to be God; and Nero, a popular candidate for the title because of his burning of Rome and persecution of the Jews and Christians. To these can be added almost every prominent ruler of the past, including more modern characters such as Napoleon and Mussolini. In all these historical identifications, there is little more than evidence of being antichristian, but the variety of claims leaves the concept of antichrist in considerable confusion.
The only school of interpretation which has been able to create a self-consistent interpretation of the antichrist concept has been the futurist school of prophecy. This is supported by the prophecies linking the destruction of the antichrist with the future Second
In the prophecies of Daniel 7 where four world empires are depicted as four beasts, those who identify the fourth beast as the Rom. empire will find in the last mentioned ruler—the eleventh horn or little horn—a portrayal of the antichrist. In the interpretation of the dream given to Daniel, this individual is described: “He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High” (7:25). He is described as ruling until his rule is replaced by the “everlasting kingdom” which “shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High” (7:27). In this description he is made the last great ruler of the world and one who is opposed to Christ.
In the NT, references are made by Christ to false Christs who shall arise at the end of the age (Matt 24:24). In addition, Christ constantly referred to Satan as the enemy of God, and in one sense antichrist. This is seen in the temptation of Christ by the devil (Matt 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). Also in the parable of the wheat and the tares, Christ identifies the sower of the tares as the devil (Matt 13:37-39). Christ seems, however, to have anticipated that there would be a specific fulfillment in one person of the antichrist concept when He stated, “for the ruler of this world is coming” (John 14:30). Similarly Christ said, “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive” (5:43).
Paul never uses the term “antichrist” in his epistles, but does develop the concept of those antigod or antichrist. He refers to Belial in the question, “What accord has Christ with Belial?” (2 Cor 6:15). Paul’s major discourse on the concept is found in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. In discussing a future day of the Lord, he states “that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2:3, 4). He predicts that after “the lawless one” is “revealed,” “the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming” (2:8). Because of the similarity between the activities and the final doom of this person at the of Christ, many futurist interpreters identify this person with the little horn of Daniel 7 and the king of Daniel 11:36.
The most impressive NT passage relating to antichrist is the description given in Revelation 13 of two beasts, one rising out of the sea (13:1-10), and another beast arising out of the land (13:11-18). Variations of interpretation are without number, but generally the first beast is identified by futurists as the final world ruler before the Second Coming of Christ, and the second beast is considered a religious leader working under the political authority. Because of the similarity between the first beast bearing ten horns and seven heads to the little horn of Daniel 7:8, many have identified this personage and the government he heads as being the antichrist. Others, considering Christ religiously rather than from the standpoint of supreme authority, identify the second beast as antichrist. Obviously both are antichrist in spirit.
Is antichrist Jewish?
A complication in futurist interpretation is that which attempts to prove that either the first beast or the second is Jewish based on the statement of Daniel 11:37 which in the KJV tr. declares, “Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers.” The contention is raised that this person will deceive the Jews as being their Messiah, and could not do so unless he is a Jew. The supporting evidence, however, is lacking. The word “God” in Daniel 11:37 is elohim, a general name for God, not a specific like Jehovah, the God of Israel. It is also questionable whether the final world ruler, obviously the last in a long line of Gentile rulers, would be a Jew. The second beast of Revelation 13:11-18 also represents a world religion not predominately Jewish, hence the conclusion is reached that these characters are antichrist in the sense of being opposed to Christ, rather than primarily being a pseudochrist. The futurist interpretation of Revelation, however, supports the concept that the final ruler of the world will be a satanic substitute for Christ who claims to be God and who will attempt to fulfill the role of King of kings, Lord of lords, and Prince of peace. Both the individuals represented by the beasts of Revelation 13, according to Revelation 19, are cast into the lake of fire at the Second Coming of Christ (19:20).
Antichrist in apocalyptic and patristic writings.
Allusions to the antichrist concept found in apocalyptic writings are of such general nature and subject to such varied interpretations that they contribute little to the doctrine. The Early Church fathers seldom referred to the concept except as in the case of Polycarp who quotes 2 John 7, identifying this with docetism. The notion that Nero was to rise from the dead in order to be antichrist was advanced as early as the 3rd cent. by Commodian. In the it was fashionable to identify antichrist with Mohammed and occasionally with other rulers. With the rise of Protestantism, Romanists and Protestants tended to identify each other as antichrist. Protestants specifically found the beasts of Revelation and the lawless one of 2 Thessalonians 2:8, 9 as references to .
In the 20th cent. the concept of antichrist is principally discussed by conservative Biblical interpreters who anticipate a future fulfillment of predictions of antichrist at the end of the age prior to the Second Coming of Christ. Apart from these Biblical discussions the concept of antichrist has not attracted modern discussion.
Taking Scriptural references as a whole, it may be concluded that while the concept of antichrist can apply to many people and anti-god movements of the past and the future, there is reasonable justification for expecting this to culminate in a single person who will be the antichrist and who will be destroyed by Christ at His Second Coming. This person will be antichrist theologically as he claims to be God himself; he will be antichrist politically as he will attempt to rule the world. He will be antichrist satanically because he will prosper on satanic power, much as Christ manifested the power of God. In many respects the future antichrist will be to Satan what Christ is to Revelation 13:11-18 will fulfill a role similar to that of the , justifying the concept of an unholy trinity composed of Satan, the antichrist and the false prophet.
S. J. Andrews, Christianity and Anti-Christianity in Their Final Conflict (1898); Sir R. Anderson, The Coming Prince (1915); J. D. Pentecost, Things to Come, (1961), 337-339; J. F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (1966), 197-212.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
I. IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
II. IN THE NEW TESTAMENT 1. The Gospels
3. Johannine Epistles
III. IN APOCALYPTIC WRITINGS
IV. IN PATRISTIC WRITINGS
V. MEDIAEVAL VIEWS 1. Christian
2. Jewish VI. POST-REFORMATION VIEWS
LITERATURE The word "antichrist" occurs only in 1Joh 2:18,22; 4:3; 2Joh 1:7, but the idea which the word conveys appears frequently in Scripture.
I. In the
.Antichrist in the Old Testament:
II. In the
. 1. The Gospels:In the Gospels the activity of Satan is regarded as specially directed against Christ. In the Temptation (Mt 4:1-10; Lu 4:1-13) the Devil claims the right to dispose of "all the kingdoms of the world," and has his claim admitted. The temptation is a struggle between the Christ and the Antichrist. In the parable of the Tares and the Wheat, while He that sowed the good seed is the Son of Man, he that sowed the tares is the Devil, who is thus Antichrist (Mt 13:37-39). our Lord felt it the keenest of insults that His miracles should be attributed to Satanic assistance (Mt 12:24-32). In Joh 14:30 there is reference to the "Prince of the World" who "hath nothing" in Christ.
2. Pauline Epistles:
The Pauline epistles present a more developed form of the doctrine. In the spiritual sphere Paul identifies Antichrist with Belial. "What concord hath Christ with Belial?" (2Co 6:15). 2 Thessalonians, written early, affords evidence of a considerably developed doctrine being commonly accepted among believers. The exposition of 2Th 2:3-9, in which Paul exhibits his teaching on the ` ,’ is very difficult, as may be seen from the number of conflicting attempts at its interpretation. See Man of Sin. Here we would only indicate what seems to us the most plausible view of the Pauline doctrine. It had been revealed to the apostle by the Spirit that the church was to be exposed to a more tremendous assault than any it had yet witnessed. Some twelve years before the epistle was penned, the Roman world had seen in Caligula the portent of a mad emperor. Caligula had claimed to be worshipped as a god, and had a temple erected to him in Rome. He went farther, and demanded that his own statue should be set up in the temple at Jerusalem to be worshipped. As similar causes might be expected to produce similar effects, Paul, interpreting "what the Spirit that was in him did signify," may have thought of a youth, one reared in the purple, who, raised to the awful, isolating dignity of emperor, might, like Caligula, be struck with madness, might, like him, demand Divine honors, and might be possessed with a thirst for blood as insatiable as his. The fury of such an enthroned maniac would, with too great probability, be directed against those who, like the Christians, would refuse as obstinately as the Jews to give him Divine honor, but were not numerous enough to make Roman officials pause before proceeding to extremities. So long as Claudius lived, the Antichrist manifestation of this "lawless one" was restrained; when, however, the aged emperor should pass away, or God’s time should appoint, that "lawless one" would be revealed, whom the Lord would "slay with the breath of his mouth" (2Th 2:8).
3. Johannine Epistles:
Although many of the features of the "Man of Sin" were exhibited by Nero, yet the Messianic kingdom did not come, nor did Christ return to His people at Nero’s death. Writing after Nero had fallen, the apostle John, who, as above remarked, alone of the New Testament writers uses the term, presents us with another view of Antichrist ( 1Joh 2:18,22; 4:3; 2; Joh 1:7). From the first of these passages ("as ye have heard that antichrist cometh"), it is evident that the coming of Antichrist was an event generally anticipated by the Christian community, but it is also clear that the apostle shared to but a limited extent in this popular expectation. He thought the attention of believers needed rather to be directed to the antichristian forces that were at work among and around them ("even now have .... arisen many antichrists"). From 1Joh 2:22; 4:3; 2Joh 1:7 we see that the apostle regards erroneous views of the person of Christ as the real Antichrist. To him the Docetism (i.e. the doctrine that Christ’s body was only a seeming one) which portended Gnosticism, and the elements of Ebionism (Christ was only a man), were more seriously to be dreaded than persecution.
4. Book of Revelation:
In the Book of Revelation the doctrine of Antichrist receives a further development. If the traditional date of the Apocalypse is to be accepted, it was written when the lull which followed the Neronian persecution had given place to that under Domitian--"the bald Nero." The apostle now feels the whole imperial system to be an incarnation of the spirit of Satan; indeed from the identity of the symbols, seven heads and ten horns, applied both to the dragon (Re 12:3) and to the Beast (Re 13:1), he appears to have regarded the raison d`etre of the to be found in its incarnation of Satan. The ten horns are borrowed from Da 7, but the seven heads point, as seen from Re 17:9, to the "seven hills" on which Rome sat. There is, however, not only the Beast, but also the "image of the beast" to be considered (Re 13:14,15). Possibly this symbolizes the cult of Rome, the city being regarded as a goddess, and worshipped with temples and statues all over the empire.
From the fact that the seer endows the Beast that comes out of the earth with "two horns like unto a lamb" (Re 13:11), the apostle must have had in his mind some system of teaching that resembled Christianity; its relationship to Satan is shown by its speaking "as a dragon" (Re 13:11). The number 666 given to the Beast (Re 13:18), though presumably readily understood by the writer’s immediate public, has proved a riddle capable of too many solutions to be now readily soluble at all. The favorite explanation Neron Qecar (Nero Caesar), which suits numerically, becomes absurd when it implies the attribution of seven heads and ten horns. There is no necessity to make the calculation in Hebrew; the corresponding arithmogram in the Sib Or, 1 32830, in which 888 stands for Iesous, is interpreted in Greek. On this hypothesis Lateinos, a suggestion preserved by Irenaeus (V, 30) would suit. If we follow the analogy of Daniel, which has influenced the Apocalyptist so much, the Johannine Antichrist must be regarded as not a person but a kingdom. In this case it must be the Roman Empire that is meant.
III. In Apocalyptic Writings. Antichrist in the Apocalyptic Writings:
Although from their eschatological bias one would expect that the Jewish Apocalyptic Writings would be full of the subject, mention of the Antichrist occurs only in a few of the apocalypses. The earliest certain notice is found in the Sibylline books (1 167). We are there told that "Beliar shall come and work wonders," and "that he shall spring from the Sebasteni (Augusti)" a statement which, taken with other indications, inclines one to the belief that the mad demands of Caligula, were, when this was written, threatening the Jews. There are references to Beliar in the XII the Priestly Code (P), which, if the date ascribed to them by Dr. Charles, i.e. the reign of John Hyrcanus I, be assumed as correct, are earlier. Personally we doubt the accuracy of this conclusion. Further, as Dr. Charles admits the presence of many interpolations, even though one might assent to his opinions as to the nucleus of the XII the Priestly Code (P), yet these Beliar passages might be due to the interpolator. Only in one passage is "Beliar" antichristos as distinguished from antitheos; Da 5:10,11 (Charles’ translation), "And there shall rise unto you from the tribe of Judah and of Levi the salvation of the Lord, and he shall make war against Beliar, and execute everlasting vengeance on our enemies, and the captivity shall he take from Beliar and turn disobedient hearts unto the Lord." Dr. Charles thinks he finds an echo of this last clause in Lu 1:17; but may the case not be the converse?
The fullest exposition of the ideas associated with the antichrist in the early decades of Christian history is to be found in the Da 4:3,13, Charles’ translation). If the date at which Beliar was supposed to enter into Nero was the night on which the great fire in Rome began, then the space of power given to him is too short by 89 days. From the burning of Rome till Nero’s death was 1,421 days. It is to be noted that there are no signs of the writer having been influenced either by Paul or the Apocalypse. As he expected the coming of the Lord to be the immediate cause of the death of Nero, we date the writing some months before that event. It seems thus to afford contemporary and independent evidence of the views entertained by the Christian community as to Antichrist.
IV. In Patristic Writings. Patristic References to Antichrist:
Of the patristic writers, Polycarp is the only one of the
V. Medieval Views. Much time need not be spent on the medieval views of Antichrist in either of the two streams in which it flowed, Christian and Jewish.
The Christian was mainly occupied in finding methods of transforming the names of those whom monkish writers abhorred into a shape that would admit of their being reckoned 666. The favorite name for this species of torture was naturally Maometis (Mohammed).
The Jewish views had little effect on Christian speculation. With the Talmudists Antichrist was named Armilus, a variation of Romulus. Rome is evidently primarily intended, but Antichrist became endowed with personal attributes. He makes war on Messiah, son of Joseph, and slays him, but is in turn destroyed by Messiah, Son of David.
VI. Post-Reformation Views. Post-Reformation Theories of Antichrist:
In immediately post-Reformation times the divines of the Romish church saw in Luther and the Reformed churches the Antichrist and Beast of Revelation. On the other hand the Protestants identified the papacy and the Roman church with these, and with the Pauline Man of Sin. The latter view had a certain plausibility, not only from the many undeniably antichristian features in the developed Roman system, but from the relation in which the Romish church stood to the city of Rome and to the imperial idea. The fact that the Beast which came out of the earth (Re 13:11) had the horns of a lamb points to some relation to the lamb which had been slain (Re 5:6). Futurist interpreters have sought the Antichrist in historical persons, as Napoleon III. These persons, however, did not live to realize the expectations formed of them. The consensus of critical opinion is that Nero is intended by the Beast of the Apocalypse, but this, on many grounds, as seen before, is not satisfactory. Some future development of evil may more exactly fulfill the conditions of the problem.
LITERATURE. Bousset, Der Antichrist; "The Antichrist Legend," The Expositor T, contains an admirable vidimus of ancient authorities in the subject. See articles on subject in Schenkel’s Biblical Lex. (Hausrath); Herzog’s RE, 2nd edition (Kahler), 3rd edition (Sieffert); Encyclopedia Biblica (Bousset); with Commentaries on 2Th and Revelation. A full account of the interpretations of the "Man of Sin" may be seen in Dr.
’s essay on that subject in his Commentary on Thessalonians.J. E. H. Thomson