ANTICHRIST (ἀντίχριστος, G532) meaning principally against Christ, or secondarily, instead of, i.e., a substitute or pseudochrist.
1. 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 Jesus Christ. 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.
2. 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.
3. Historical identifications. 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.
4. Old Testament prophecies. 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 Coming of Christ. While recognizing past and present antichrist movements and individuals, as a system of interpretation it regards the antichrist concept as culminating in a person who is supremely the antichrist and who is the satanic counterfeit of Christ. Although a great variety of interpretations are possible in attempting to identify the characteristics and place of such a person to appear in the future, a number of passages in the Bible seem to make a major contribution.
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 Daniel 11:36-45 another king is introduced which is identified by some as the same personage as the little horn of ch. 7. He is described as an absolute ruler: “The king shall do according to his will,” and as one who claims to be God “he shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every God” (11:36). In the subsequent description he is portrayed as against all the gods of the past and a materialist who “shall honor the god of fortresses instead of these...with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly gifts” (11:38). The challenges to his rule are mentioned in 11:40-44, apparently referring to a great final world war. Like the little horn (ch. 7), he is a blasphemer, opposed to God, hence an antichrist, and apparently is the last ruler before the return of Christ and the Resurrection (cf. 12:1-3). An alternate view is that he is a less important personage, a minor ruler of Pal. in the time of the end, a view somewhat contradicted by the claims of this ruler of supremacy over all others politically or religiously. Some also interpret the “little horn” (8:9) as the future antichrist, although he is more prob. Antiochus Epiphanes, a king of Syria (175-164 b.c.).
5. New Testament prophecies. 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 Second Coming 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.
One of the interpretative problems relative to antichrist is the reference to “the number of its name” (Rev 13:17). The passage continues, “This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six” (13:18). Explanations too numerous to mention have been offered to solve the riddle of this statement using the letter equivalents for the numbers in Lat., Gr. and Heb. One common explanation is that it refers to Caesar Nero which, with the Heb. endings such as John uses in some other proper names in Revelation, would be spelled Kaisar Neron. These letters, eliminating the unimportant vowels, have a numerical value of 666 (k=100, s=60, r=200, n=50, r=200, o=6, and n=50). Similar explanations using Gr. letters can make allusion to Caligula. Taken as a whole, however, the best explanation seems to regard the triple six as referring to man since six is short of the perfect number seven. In Scripture man works six days and rests the seventh. Nebuchadnezzar’s image was sixty cubits high and six cubits broad. The implication would then be that the antichrist, great though he is in power and influence, is only a man who ultimately will be judged by Christ who is God.
6. 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).
7. 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 Middle Ages 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 Roman Catholicism.
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.
8. Conclusion. 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 God the Father, and the supporting false prophet of Revelation 13:11-18 will fulfill a role similar to that of the Holy Spirit, justifying the concept of an unholy trinity composed of Satan, the antichrist and the false prophet.
Bibliography 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.