Will There be an "Antichrist"?
The long history of failed attempts to identify the so-called “Antichrist” would be humorous if it were not so tragic. Candidates for this personage have included Nero, Napoleon, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Kruschev, and Saddam Hussein. The “mark of the beast” that the Antichrist allegedly causes people to receive has been associated with social security numbers, UPC barcodes, WWW—the World Wide Web, and even the IRS (a much more tempting postulation, to be sure). These endless shenanigans could be avoided if the Bible were taken seriously and impure motives were replaced by an honest pursuit of truth.
As a matter of fact, the term “antichrist” occurs only five times in Scripture, only in the writing of John, and only in two of his five books: 1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 7. The implications are significant. Dispensationalists do not go to 1 and 2 John when they discuss the Antichrist. They go to Revelation, or 2 Thessalonians, or Daniel. They go to passages that do not even use the word Antichrist!
Contrary to current claims, John applied the term “antichrist” to more than one individual, and to individuals who were living then—in the first century! For example, 1 John 2:18 states that numerous antichrists had arisen in John’s day, and he therefore contended that “it is the last hour” (i.e., the final period of religious history commonly referred to as “the last days,” as in Acts 2:16-17). He then described their behavior as “not of God” (1 John 4:3). “Antichrists” were simply anyone who denied Christ (1 John 2:22). John, therefore, labeled any such deluded soul as “the deceiver” and “the antichrist” (2 John 7). Notice the use of the article. John was saying that people living in his own day who denied the incarnation of Jesus were to be regarded as the antichrist! Not just an antichrist—but the antichrist! The idea that the term “antichrist” is to be applied to some “future fuehrer” (Lindsey, 1970, pp. 87ff.) who will draw the world into a global holocaust is totally out of harmony with John’s inspired use of the term.
The primary passage that is used to support the notion of an antichrist is Revelation 13:1-10. Several points regarding the context of the book of Revelation and its proper interpretation lead to the understanding that the seven-headed sea beast was a symbol for the then monstrous emperor of Rome who was responsible for unleashing horrible atrocities upon Christians of Asia Minor in the latter years of the first century A.D. (Summers, 1951, pp. 174-175; Swete, 1911, pp. 161ff.). The two-horned land beast (Revelation 13:11-18), who enforced worship of the sea beast, referred to the official governmental organization known as the Roman Concilia that was responsible for supporting and regulating all details relative to emperor worship (Summers, pp. 178-179; Swete, pp. 168ff.). This evil legal entity was authorized to instigate economic sanctions against those who refused to appropriate the “mark” of the beast, “mark” being a symbol for the proof of their submission to Caesar worship (vs. 17). With this understanding of Revelation 13, it is unscriptural and unbiblical to identify the sea beast in Revelation 13 with some future revived Roman dictator known as the “Antichrist.”
A second passage that some say predicts an Antichrist is Daniel 9:24-27. Notice carefully the content of this marvelous prophecy. During the prophetic period that Daniel identified in terms of seventy symbolic weeks (vs. 24), transgression, sin, and iniquity would be “finished,” “ended,” and “reconciliation provided for.” This terminology clearly refers to Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross (Hebrews 9:26). The effect of Christ’s atoning work was that “everlasting righteousness” was ushered in. As Paul stated: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21; cf. Jeremiah 23:5-6). Because of what Jesus did, individuals may now stand before God completely righteous through obedient faith. Likewise, “vision” and “prophecy” would be “sealed up.” This refers to the inevitable termination of Old Testament prophecy and its fulfillment in Christ’s appearance in human history: “Yes, and all the prophets from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days” (Acts 3:24; Hebrews 1:1-2). Finally, the phrase in Daniel 9:24 that speaks of the “anointing” of the “most holy” refers to the public ministry and official crowning of Jesus as He took His place upon His throne to rule in His kingdom. Isaiah said: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor” (61:1). On the day of Pentecost, Peter said: “Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33). Notice that Daniel summarized the entire seventy-week period by including all of these six factors in the seventy weeks.
Next, Daniel broke the seventy-week period into three segments: seven weeks, sixty-two weeks, and one week. Verse 25 pertains to the first two sections of the seventy-week period. During these two periods, that is during sixty-nine of the seventy prophetic weeks, a decree would go forth calling for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the reconstruction of the temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians (cf. Nehemiah 2:7-8; Ezra 1:1-3). Daniel made clear that these sixty-nine weeks of the prophetic period, during which the temple would be rebuilt and national Israel reestablished, would take one up to the appearance of the Messiah.
Verse 26 speaks of the final week of the seventy week prophetic period, for he said “after the sixty-two weeks.” “After” puts one into the final or seventieth week of Daniel’s remarks. Two significant events were to occur during this final week. First, the Messiah would be “cut off.” This definitely refers to Jesus’ death upon the cross: “He was cut off from the land of the living” (Isaiah 53:8). Second, a “prince” and his people would come and destroy the city and the sanctuary—an obvious allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple edifice in A.D. 70 by Titus and his Roman army.
Verse 27 alludes to the activation of the new covenant between the Messiah and “many,” that is, between Christ and those who are responsive to the demands of the new covenant. As the Hebrews writer said: “Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (8:8; cf. Acts 3:25). The New Testament teaches that the cutting off of the Messiah, the crucifixion, was the act that confirmed the covenant (Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:15-29), and brought an immediate end to the validity of the Old Testament practices of sacrifice and oblation (Colossians 2:14; Luke 23:45; Hebrews 10:18-20). Then Daniel alluded to the ruthless invasion of Jerusalem in the phrase “abomination of desolation.” Jesus quoted this phrase in Matthew 24:15 and Luke 21:20, and applied it to the Roman desecration and destruction of the Jerusalem temple in A.D. 70.
Thus, the fundamental purpose of Daniel’s seventy-weeks prophecy was to show God’s final and complete decree concerning the Israelite commonwealth. All of the events described in the prophecy were literally fulfilled over 1,900 years ago. As far as God is concerned, the logical end of the Old Testament and Judaism has occurred. Now He deals only with the spiritual children of Abraham, whether Jew or Gentile (Romans 4:11-12,16; 9:8). Daniel 9 gives no credence to the notion of a future Antichrist.
A third passage used to foster belief in an Antichrist is 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. Whatever interpretation is placed upon this passage, its use to refer to a future personage is doomed to failure since Paul explicitly stated that he was referring to a person who would be the product of the circumstances of his own day, i.e., “already at work” (vs. 7). How could Paul have had in mind a future dictator that still has not arisen, though 2,000 years have transpired? One need go no further to know that 2 Thessalonians 2 does not refer to a future Antichrist.
History is replete with a variety of interpretations of this passage, the most prominent one likely being the view that the papacy is under consideration (see Workman, 1988, pp. 428-434; Eadie, 1877, pp. 340ff.). Another possibility is that the “falling away” (vs. 3), or apostasy, referred to the Jewish rejection of the “new and living way” of approach to God (Hebrews 10:20). The Jews were the single most adamant opponents to Christ and the infant church (John 8:37-44; Acts 7:51-53; 13:45-50; Romans 10:20-21; 11:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). This rebellion, or falling away, would not reach its “full” (Matthew 23:32) climax until the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and the resulting dispersal of the Jewish people. Paul had already alluded to this Jewish apostasy in 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16. The pouring out of God’s wrath was the logical consequence of the first century Israelite failure to make the change to Christianity.
The “man of sin” or “son of perdition” (vs. 3) would have referred to the personification of Roman imperialism, and would have been equated with “the abomination of desolation” that Jesus, quoting Daniel 9, alluded to in Matthew 24:15 and Luke 21:20. Verse 4 would refer to the Roman general who introduced his idolatrous insignia into the Holy of Holies in A.D. 70.
That which was “withholding” (vs. 6), or restraining, this man of sin, at the time Paul was writing 2 Thessalonians in approximately A.D. 53, would have been the presence of the Jewish state. The ingenious design of God was that Christianity would appear to the hostile Roman government to be nothing more than another sect of the Jews. Thus Christianity was shielded for the moment (i.e., A.D. 30-70) from the fury of the persecuting forces of Rome, while it developed, spread, and gave the Jews ample opportunity to be incorporated into the elect remnant—the church of Christ (cf. Romans 11:26). Thus the nation of Israel was rendered totally without excuse in its rejection of Christianity, while at the same time serving as a restraining force by preventing Christianity from being perceived by the Romans as a separate, and therefore illegal, religion (religio illicita). Once the Jewish apostasy was complete, and God’s wrath was poured out upon Jerusalem, Christianity came to be seen as a distinct religion from Judaism. Increasingly, Christians found themselves brought into conflict with the persecution from “the wicked” or “lawless one” (vs. 8). In fact, after A.D. 70 (when the withholding effect of Judaism was removed), Roman opposition to Christianity gradually grew greater, culminating in the fierce and formidable persecution imposed by Caesar Domitian in the final decade of the first century.
Once the shield of Judaism was “taken out of the way” (vs. 7), and Christianity increasingly found itself subject to the indignities of governmental disfavor, the Lord was to come and “consume with the breath of His mouth” (vs. 8) the one who was responsible. This terminology is not an allusion to Christ’s Second Coming. Rather this verse refers to Christ’s coming in judgment on the Roman power. Such a use of the word “coming” to describe the display of God’s wrath upon people in history is not unusual (cf. Isaiah 19:1; Micah 1:3). Paul alluded to the government’s use of counterfeit miracles (vs. 9), and thus deceit (vs. 10)—reminiscent of the Roman Concilia’s employment of trickery and illusion to deceive people into worshipping the emperor in Revelation 13:13-15 during the last decade of the first century A.D. (see Barclay, 1960, 2:127-128; Hailey, 1979, pp. 294-295; Summers, 1951, pp. 178-179). Sufficient textual indicators exist in this passage to exclude the premillennial interpretation of a future “Antichrist.”
When studied in context, the passages that are used to bolster the dispensational scheme provide no such support. Those over the centuries who have applied these passages to papal authority, Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, et al., have been shown to be wrong. Amazingly, the pattern continues among those who have not learned from the sad mistakes of the past.
Barclay, William (1960), The Revelation of John (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster).
Eadie, John (1877), Commentary on the Epistles to the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979 reprint).
Hailey, Homer (1979), Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Summers, Ray (1951), Worthy Is the Lamb (Nashville, TN: Broadman).
Swete, Henry (1911), Commentary on Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1977 reprint).
Workman, Gary (1988), Studies in 1 and 2 Thessalonians and Philemon (Denton, TX: Valid Publications).