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 www.newadvent.org/fathers/0831.htm, 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.