Category Archives: Apocalyptic

Sabbath School Series on Revelation Begins Next Week

Each week this coming quarter I plan to post three things (God willing); my “Teacher’s Edition” comments on the main lesson in pre-edited form, my analysis of the changes in my TE comments introduced in the editorial process and their theological significance (if any), and Ranko Stefanovic’s analysis of the changes introduced into the main lesson that he wrote, along with his original. The purpose of these three postings each week is to assist students and teachers in their understanding of the issues related to each week’s lesson.

If you don’t like some of the changes the editors made, I’d prefer you didn’t blame Cliff Goldstein personally. While he is the editor of record, there are large committees that approve the lessons and on a subject like Revelation there will be many hardline opinions to wrestle with. In addition, sometimes after a manuscript is approved, even “higher” authorities may assert themselves into the text, and that temptation is especially strong with a subject like the Book of Revelation. But overall, most of what I wrote did get through and what was changed can be clarified in this blog series. I hope you will find this helpful for your own study and teaching of the Adult Bible Study Guides for next quarter. For those who don’t have access to the standard printed edition of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide or the Teacher’s Edition for this quarter, you can access them online week by week at You can also download audio of me teaching the lesson ahead of time each week at

On Monday next week, I plan to post (linked on both Twitter and Facebook) my Teacher’s Edition comments in their pre-edited form, for those who would like to view them or compare with the edited version. On Tuesday I plan to post my analysis of the changes made in next week’s Teacher’s Edition. On Thursday I plan to post Ranko Stefanovic’s original manuscript for the standard Sabbath School lesson for the week along with a few comments from him on the changes made. If you take advantage of these resources, you should be well prepared.

The Concept of Antichrist– Spiritual Lessons

1) According to John 17:3, eternal life is to KNOW Jesus Christ, to make him the very first priority in one’s life. But the history of interpretation offers us an interesting paradox. Through the centuries, people have often been much more interested in knowing the Antichrist than in knowing the true Christ. Few other subjects have attracted as much attention and imagination from religious thinkers. So we need to keep this subject in balance if we wish to maintain spiritual health. The subject of Antichrist must be important or it wouldn’t be featured so centrally as it is in Revelation. On the other hand, it is not the one topic of supreme importance. That topic is Jesus Christ Himself. Antichrist is important because he seeks to take the place of Christ, to disguise him from the many who need eternal life. If we know him we can better avoid mis-readings of the gospel. Thus alongside the message of Christ, there is a valid place for study of the Antichrist, which we are attempting to do here. But such study needs to be kept in a subordinate place in comparison with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

2) We have noticed that the Antichrist figure has worldwide impact and influence, especially at the end (Rev 13:7-8, 14,16). The final spiritual fraud will be global in extent. That means that no one will be excluded from the final test of true versus false worship. There will be no easy escape from the deceptions of the end. So it is important to be prepared; through study, prayer and self-distrust. But the sea beast will not stop with deception. When this does not achieve the desired results, he causes all who refuse to worship the image to be killed (Rev 13:15). He offers the attractive appeal: “Come with me, if you want to live.” Those who believe that the persecutions of the Middle Ages are forever gone, the future holds a big surprise. Those who live through those days will be the ones who do not love their lives even unto death (Rev 12:11).

3) When Antichrist seeks to deceive he does not put something bad in place of something good. That would no more be a good deception than attempting to buy good with play money. Instead, Antichrist seeks to replace the very best with something that is good in its proper place. A candle may give light in its proper place, but when lit on a sunny day it only creates a shadow.
    For instance, obedience (personal righteousness) is a very good thing in its place. Obedience as a response to what God has done for us is a beautiful thing. Believers should live righteous, sober and godly lives by the Spirit (Titus 2:12; 1 John 3:7). But when our personal obedience is put in the place where God’s mighty saving actions should be, that is the theology of Antichrist. The basic error of the medieval church was to make obedience the root rather than the fruit of our salvation. All other errors, such as indulgences, veneration of the saints, and the change of the Sabbath were possible once the gospel itself was forgotten. Antichrist uses the good to undo the best.
    In current evangelical thought and practice there are similar core distortions at times. What members of some churches want to know these days is not, “How can I please God?” but “How can God please me?” “How can church membership make my life radiantly happy, filled with success and contentment?” How quickly the words of Jesus are forgotten: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” And “whoever would save his life will lose it” (Mark 8:34-35, ESV). So as it was in John’s day, there are still many antichrists among us, and some of them don’t even realize it. And perhaps the antichrist that we should most fear is self.

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).

The Concept of Antichrist, Part II

Is there one Antichrist or are there many? The biblical answer seems to be “yes.” In the letters of John, the Antichrist is coming in the future, but is already present in the world (1 John 4:3). It seems that for John there were many antichrists in the present, but that these were only the predecessors of THE future Antichrist (from the perspective of John’s day). The “spirit of antichrist” (1 John 4:3, KJV) was already in the world, and it was present in the many antichrists of John’s day. But the full and final incarnation of antichrist was still in the future. The last and worst Antichrist was yet to come.

Revelation 13 seems to support this dual picture of the Antichrist. The sea beast of Revelation 13 has seven heads on one body. From Revelation 17:10 it becomes evident that the seven heads of the beast are consecutive in point of time, even though John sees all seven at the same time. So the slaughter of one of the heads of the beast results in the death of the beast itself. The beast then returns to life with a new head. Notice that in Revelation 13 verses 12 and 14 it is the beast itself that is wounded to death and comes back to life, not just one of its heads (13:3). So this one beast symbolizes the many different forms Antichrist has assumed in his opposition to God’s truth from one age to another.

An important feature of the Antichrist in 1 John is that it is not a furious persecutor, nor is it an agent attacking the church from outside. The primary feature of Antichrist in John’s letters is that of deception. Speaking of the multiple antichrists of his day, John notes that they had appeared within the community and went out from there (1 John 2:18-19). While within the community they misled others into thinking they taught correct doctrine and preached the true Christ. They were, in fact, liars (1 John 2:22; 2 John 7).

Interestingly, Jesus predicted the very situation John was referring to here, except He didn’t use the term “Antichrist.” Instead, Jesus told His disciples that both “false prophets” and “false christs” would appear. So He set the table for John’s plural use of “antichrist.” The work of these false christs would be so deceptive that it would sweep away even the elect, if that were possible (Matt 24:23-25). So Jesus and John agreed on multiple, deceptive antichrists. They also agreed that these antichrists were human individuals, apostate believers. For Jesus, the false christs were coming in His name (Matt 24:5). For John, they were once part of the community that followed Jesus (1 John 2:18-19).

In the letters of John, therefore, Antichrist is much more than a single figure, it is a whole way of thinking and operating. Christians are invited to “conquer” the antichrists by discerning the true anointing from the false (1 John 2:20, 27). As we have seen, there is a strong emphasis in John that the Antichrist would be involved in lying and deception (1 John 2:22; 2 John 7). This is consistent with the Jewish tradition that false prophets would try to counter the true prophet (Deut 18:15, 18) when he would come.

According to John, the Antichrist would come at the “last hour” (1 John 2:18) but in a sense the last hour had already come in the multiple antichrists (1 John 2:18) already present. The last days of John’s community were heralds of the very last days of earth’s history. In the letters of John, therefore, the future Antichrist is brought into the present experience of the church. He saw the Antichrist not as some future outside enemy, but as an internal danger which would lead to secessionist movements within the church. These writings were forerunners of the Reformers, who identified the Antichrist with the Pope.

The Concept of Antichrist

In my recent study of Revelation 13 I have noticed that the multiple ways in which the sea beast counterfeits the life and work of Jesus Christ has caused many scholars of Revelation to identify the sea beast with the Antichrist. This is the first in a series of blogs where I will review what I know about the Antichrist concept in Revelation 13, the rest of Scripture and in the ancient world.

The word “Antichrist” does not occur in the book of Revelation. Within the Bible it is found only in the letters of John (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). The term “Antichrist” is a compound word in the Greek. It is made up of “anti” and “christ.” The Greek preposition “anti” means “against” or “in place of.” It often expresses the idea of substitution, one is taking the place that belongs to another.

The “Christ” portion of the term, of course, is the Greek equivalent of “Messiah,” the “anointed one.” When used in certain circumstances with a definite article; “the Christ,” it is a title rather than a name for Jesus (Matt 11:2; 16:16, 20; 22:42; 24:5, 23 and parallels in Mark and Luke; also Luke 24:26, 46; John 1:20, 25, 41; 3:28; Acts 2:41; 17:3; Rev 11:15; 12:10, etc.). One could simply translate “the Christ” into English as “the Messiah.” More often, especially without the article but sometimes with it, it can be translated simply “Christ.” In other words, the title became so commonly used for Jesus that it became simply another name for Him (Acts 3:6; 8:12; 10:48; Rom 3:22, 24; 1 Cor 1:10, 13, 17; Gal 3:13-14; Rev 1:1-2, etc.). So at its root in the New Testament, the Antichrist would be someone who substitutes for Christ. He undermines or takes the place that belongs to the Messiah of Christian faith.

Since the term “antichrist” is fairly rare in the New Testament, a full understanding of the concept requires the examination of synonyms within the Bible and narratives in the ancient world outside the Bible in order to reconstruct a full portrait of this personage. In Revelation 13 itself, however, it is clear that the Antichrist figure has worldwide impact and influence, especially at the end (Rev 13:7-8, 14, 16). The final spiritual fraud will be global in extent. No one will be excluded from the final test of true versus false worship. With the help of his friend, the beast from the earth, the Antichrist will enforce a global economic boycott (Rev 13:16-17) and a death decree against all who refuse to worship the image of the beast (Rev 13:15). In a sense he offers the attractive appeal: “Come with me, if you want to live.” According to Revelation 13, those who believe that the persecutions of the Middle Ages are forever gone are in for a big surprise.

Concluding Reflections

Those following the commentary on Revelation 13 day by day know that I agree with the larger picture of Revelation 13 as taught by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This may not be a popular picture in today’s world, but it does provide a penetrating analysis of many of the ills of the western world and also of the source of much conflict between nations and religions. So although that message has its problematic elements in a post-modern world, it is a message that cannot simply be discarded, but needs to be shared at the right time, in the right place, and in the right way. The message about a broken Christian system did not come to Adventists out of pride, arrogance or self-importance. It originated in careful study of Scripture. And as such it cannot be ignored.

I would, however, point out that it is a dangerous message for Adventists (and others) to carry. Any message that offers a criticism of others, however true, can easily draw out the worst aspects of the human condition in those who proclaim it. The message that in some way those who proclaim are better or wiser than those being proclaimed about plays to our inner drive toward pride and self-importance. In whatever setting such a message is proclaimed, it is critical that the proclaimers be drenched in the spirit of Jesus first or the message can bring out the worst in us. Preaching the Papacy is dangerous for human beings, when it happens it must be driven by the Spirit of God and not by our own passions and prejudices.

Not only so, unless the message is shared as part of a larger biblical balance, it can have an unhealthy impact on those who hear it. When it is shared in a disproportionate way, as if this teaching were the primary message of the Bible, it produces unbalanced people who then go out and damage others as well. Unless bathed in prayer and self-sacrificing love, a message of confrontation can be cruel and abusive and even confusing to those who hear it. Like Jesus, the message of judgment must be delivered with “tears in the voice.” I know from painful experience how difficult this can be. It’s time that Adventists talk more openly about this issue and its impact on us as a people.

Is There a Better Way? Part 3

Christianity as a whole is coming under heavy criticism in media and academia and I’d have to say that as a group we’ve earned it in many ways. Many Christians ignore the criticism or seek to minimize it because much of it comes from post-moderns, atheists and non-Christians. While the best way to clean a house is from inside not the outside, our comfortable familiarity with the inside of the house may blind us to things that are obvious to those who visit us from the outside. People with indoor pets or hygiene issues may be used to certain unpleasant odors that hit strangers the moment they enter. When outsiders think of Christians as arrogant, self-important and over-confident, we are unwise to simply ignore the charges or respond in defensive ways. We have many things to learn and many, many to unlearn.

In light of this I am intrigued by the approach to Revelation 13 by the Voice of Prophecy evangelist, Shawn Boonstra. He shared his approach in an recent article: “Ten Years After the Sky Fell,” Adventist Review, September 8, 2011, 16-21. I hope I do justice to his position in what follows.

Of all Christians, Seventh-day Adventists are the one significant group that is willing to admit publicly that something is wrong with modern Christianity. God couldn’t have prepared our outreach to the final generation better. We live in a world that distrusts organized religion, that continually seeks to dismantle Christianity and the culture it has created. We have a message that answers the general sense that it is a mistake to lay all of the blame for the world’s current woes at the feet of Islam, for example. The world’s biggest problems arise from within Christianity itself. Instinctively, many of the secular people around us know it. Such people are desperate for Christians who will honestly admit that Christianity as it has been practiced is rife with problems. We should be like Daniel and accept corporate responsibility for the sins of Christianity (Dan 9:5).

When we describe the sins of the Middle Ages, we can say, “Do you know who this is? This is us. This is how the church behaved in the Dark Ages. These are the crimes of the Christian church and it is about time that we admit it.” This approach does not ignore the truth, but it wipes away the sins of Christianity as an excuse for people to avoid the Bible. It also takes the blame off God for our horrific behavior and puts the blame where it belongs, on us. It takes away the “we/they” mentality and opens the door to honest examination.

One thing we’ve learned from the war on terror is how ready people are to trade liberty for a little security. The whole conspiracy mentality feeds on the sense that there is something clearly wrong with government. The public is increasingly slow to trust in any form of government at all. Our world seems to be spiraling out of control. We can’t control the economy, we can’t control the terrorists, we can’t control the climate, we don’t trust in religion and we don’t trust government. Sounds like the table is being set for the biggest religio-political tyranny of all time. The world will cry for solutions and Satan has waited for thousands of years to provide them.

We have the ability to show them why they have been soured on both Christian faith and worldly government and show them that the character of God is not at all like they have been told. At the right time, in the right place and in the right way, the message of Revelation 13 is exactly what this world needs right now. September 11, 2001 seems to have set the table for something. Human beings, particularly in the Christian west, have broken the planet and denied the way of Christ by our words and actions. We have broken our own hearts. We have spawned the evil that besets us. But there is good news. Jesus is still the answer.

Is There a Better Way? Part 2

After the sharp comment from my Adventist colleague, the tension in the room hung in the air like a cloud that would never go away. Then a Lutheran colleague, soon to become Bishop of Oslo, spoke slowly and carefully to his Lutheran colleagues. He reminded them of several years of dialogue and mutual growth in understanding with their Adventist colleagues. He reminded them of seasons of prayer, heartfelt testimonies, a common love for Jesus and the gospel, growing friendships and growing appreciation for each other between the two groups. He reminded them of discussions over the Sabbath. Tensions arose then too, but he and his Lutheran colleagues had come to appreciate the beauty of the Sabbath and longed to see something similar happen in their churches. He reminded them of all the learning that had taken place together. Then he challenged them, “Are we willing to throw all that away because we struggle to appreciate one point?” It was one of the most humble and gracious speeches I have ever heard. Instead of reacting to the harsh comment from my colleague, he challenged his own colleagues to manifest the spirit of Jesus and welcome their brothers in spite of the temptation to react.

His comment was followed by similar statements from others on both sides. But as we were coming up to the noon hour and the meal that had been prepared, I could see that the German professor across the table was still distressed. I prayed earnestly that God might give me the right words to say before we broke for lunch. When the time came I asked for the last word (as the one whose paper had started the whole discussion that seemed appropriate to all). I turned to my German colleague and said, “You are worried for the future of your grandchildren. I understand that. I am just as worried for the future of my children. (I am a little younger than him) We wish we could make the right decisions for them, but we realize that in the end they will have to make their own decisions for or against the gospel. We can only watch and pray. Adventists do not believe that the message of the mark of the beast will only split other churches, we believe that it will split us too. We expect many among our ranks to end up on the wrong side at the end. Your grandchildren and my children will face the same decision. Will they follow the radical faith of Jesus no matter what the cost? Or will they take the easy route and follow the path of convenience and worldly approval? In that day Adventists and Lutherans and Catholics will face the same choice. While we Adventists may do it poorly at times, our mission is to prepare the world for that day and for that choice. On that day your grandchildren and my children will face that challenge on the same level.”

His eyes full of tears, the professor nodded and said, “I understand better now. You Adventists ARE being driven by the gospel to say things you feel need to be said. We Lutherans cannot give that message for you, we don’t see the Book of Revelation as you do. But it is clear to me that the unique message you have is one you are driven to present for God. You cannot do otherwise and be true to who you are. Do it wisely, but do it with our blessing. I acknowledge you as brother and sisters in Christ. Your faith in Him is real and it is true. I understand that now.” What a beautiful and gracious spirit the Lutherans extended to us that day. What a gift and a blessing they bestowed on us. Whenever I share the message of Revelation 13, I want to remember my Lutheran friends and their love and concern for us. I want to do it in the same spirit of love and grace toward those who will hear the message as the Lutherans did toward us.

Christians come in many stripes, but they are on a shared journey of discovering and recovering truth. Adventists have certainly taken the lead in the recovering of many truths, but the task is not done and our witness is not perfect. While we must remain true to Scripture, we also have much to learn about kindness, grace and mercy. And other Christians have sometimes been our best teachers in those areas. When it comes to the mark of the beast the key is not so much what we say but how we say it that counts.

To be concluded. . .