Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Concept of Antichrist, Part V

Turning to Antichrist traditions outside the Bible I am particularly indebted here to the scholarly research work of my friend Josephine Massyngbaerde Ford (note her commentary on Revelation in the Anchor Bible series), which she shared as a private paper. In early Jewish and Christian tradition the Antichrist had forerunners like Lamech, Nimrod, Balaam, Achan, Goliath and Judas. He is of Jewish parentage from the tribe of Dan (Gen 49:10-17; Deut 33:22; Jer 8:16; Isa 25:6-8). Note also that the tribe of Dan is not listed in Revelation 7, probably because it served within early Judaism as a tribal prototype of the anti-Messiah at the End.

There were two broad traditions related to the nature of Antichrist. In one tradition the Antichrist would be born naturally from human parents. In the other tradition he would be born from an evil spirit and a whore. He would be a human agent of of the devil mentored directly by Satan himself. His place of birth was generally thought to be Babylon. His physical appearance is described in 4 Ezra 4:29-32 (see James Charlesworth, OT Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1, 568), ApocDan 9:16-27 (see James Charlesworth, OT Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1, 767-768) and The Apocalypse of St. John the Theologian (see, paragraph 3). Many of the characteristics of his appearance were associated with ancient Greek perceptions of shameless personal behavior. The ancients associated physical characteristics with temperament and character. Antichrist would be physically ugly and out of normal bodily proportions.

Increasing moral decadence, wars, plagues, famines and other disasters would precede the Antichrist’s birth. In early Christian tradition, the Antichrist would arise after the fall of the Roman Empire, when the order of the world would collapse. There would also be signs in the day and night skies. He would come as a mighty warrior, proclaiming false doctrines and with great power to deceive. He would perform miracles, move to the Mount of Olives and proclaim himself the Messiah. In some traditions he would even perform a pseudo resurrection and a pseudo-Pentecost.

The beasts of Revelation 13 were often identified with Antichrist by the early church fathers (Tertullian, Augustine, Jerome, etc.). As the serpent and Satan, the dragon of chapter 12 has characteristics of Antichrist as well. The dragon has affinities with Tiamat, the chaos monster of the ancient world, which raged against the gods. The serpent/Satan/dragon, of course, opposed God at creation and will oppose Him also at the end of time.

The two beasts of Revelation 13 may owe their origin to the two great animals described in Job 40 and 41. There is Leviathan, the male sea monster (Job 41:1-34, see also Job 3:8; 7:12; Psalm 74:14; 104:26; Isa 27:1-2), and Behemoth, the female land monster (Job 40:15-24). The sea monster is most frequently identified with Antichrist and our exegesis of Revelation 13 so far strongly affirms the Christ references in the sea beast passage. The sea beast is clearly a predatory beast (lion, bear, leopard), so there is the sense that it is fierce and destructive. There are supernatural qualities to the beast, as he receives his throne and authority from the dragon/Satan.

The second beast also has Antichrist qualities, but within Revelation 13 these fit better under the rubric of a counterfeit Holy Spirit, who takes on Christ’s earthly roles after His ascension (John 14-16). A final blog post will share some spiritual lessons based on this study.

The Concept of Antichrist, Part IV

A further biblical dimension to the Antichrist concept can be seen in the beasts and little horn of the Book of Daniel, particularly in chapters 7, 8 and 11 (which many scholars have identified with Antiochus Epiphanes, although that historical figure did not meet every detail of the little horn descriptions in Daniel). The strong parallels between Revelation 13 and Daniel 7 have already been noted. Also the parallel between 2 Thessalonians 2:4 and Daniel 11:36-39.

The little horn power of Daniel would have human eyes (Dan 7:8), speak “great things” (7:8, 20), make war against the saints (7:21), speak against God Himself and think to change “times and law” (7:25, Hebrew and Greek; “make alterations in times and in law,” NAS, overthrow the stars of heaven and even the sanctuary itself (8:10-11), and operate with deceit and destruction (8:24-25). The king of Daniel 11:36-39 seems the same or a parallel figure within Daniel. He exalts himself over all gods and operates by force. Interestingly, Hippolytus (early church father) saw Daniel 11 as well as Daniel 7 in the background of Revelation 13:4, calling the three horns that were uprooted in Daniel 7 (8, 20, 24) Egypt, Libya and Ethiopia (Dan 11:42-43). So the sea beast image is strongly based in the prophecies of Daniel.

The Concept of Antichrist, Part III

There are multiple parallels between the sea beast of Revelation 13 and the “antichrist” figure of 2 Thessalonians 2. Both of them exalt themselves to the place of God (2 Thess 2:4; Rev 13:5-6). Both demand worship (2 Thess 4; Rev 13:4, 8, 12). Both use miracles in order to deceive (2 Thess 2:9-10; Rev 13:13-14). And both are destroyed by Jesus Christ at His second coming (2 Thess 2:8; Rev 14:9; 19:11-21). If the beast from the sea represents a counterfeit of Jesus Christ, so does the man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2.

Instead of Antichrist, Paul uses the term “The Lawless One” (2 Thess 2:8– ho anomos in the Greek). Many scholars see the language of 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 and 8-9 as modeled on Antiochus Epiphanes, who was understood by Jews of the time as a type of the Antichrist, and also the blasphemous king of Daniel 11:36-39. Antiochus was king of Syria around 165 BC and invaded Palestine, oppressing the Jews. Among other things he sacrificed a pig on the temple altar in Jerusalem, forced Jews to eat pork, and forbad the keeping of the Sabbath.

A flaw in that identification is that the Lawless One in Second Thessalonians is clearly an apostate figure. He usurps the throne of God, sets himself up in God’s temple, and proclaims himself to be God (2 Thess 2:3-4). So he is more of a religious leader than a political leader. Antichrist is not likely a dictator, general or president. They don’t normally demand worship or proclaim themselves God. In 2 Thessalonians 2:9 the lawless one counterfeits the earthly ministry and second coming of Jesus and is then destroyed by the brightness of Jesus’ coming (2 Thess 2:8-9). In Paul there is also a demonic side to this “Antichrist,” he comes “in accordance with the work of Satan (2:9). By his very name (“man of lawlessness,” “lawless one”– 2 Thess 2:3, 8) this figure is one who seeks to undermine the law of God, is arrogant to the point of blasphemy, is an agent of Satan, has characteristics of Satan himself, comes with miracles and signs, tries to deceive the world, and is destroyed with those who follow him.

This figure in 2 Thessalonians is not one of the many antichrists referenced in the letters of John (1 John 2:18-22; 4:3; 2 John 7). This seems to be THE future Antichrist that was still coming in John’s day (1 John 2:19), although the “mystery of lawlessness” was already at work in Paul’s day (see the “spirit of antichrist” in 1 John 4:3).