Who is “The Antichrist?”
So we are talking a little about eschatology now. I felt it was important to touch on this since I’ve realized that a certain negative eschatology is one of the primary hindrances to Christians agreeing with God’s purposes in believing prayer for the nations.
In the last post, I gave just enough information to introduce the Partial Preterist view and point people to where they can learn more. Today I’d like to share why I don’t expect a single, future “Antichrist” figure to take over the world.
I am only giving a very quick overview since I don’t want to spend too much time on this. The resources I linked to in our last post, Victorious Eschatology, contain historical references for the facts I mention.
What Does Scripture Say About Antichrist?
Some people may be surprised to hear that neither Revelation nor any of the other prophetic books in the Bible contain the term “the Antichrist.” We only see the term “antichrist” a few times in First and Second John.
1 John 4:1-4 (NIV) Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
According to John, every spirit that is not from God is antichrist. John never spoke of “antichrist” as a ruler who was going to conquer the world. On the contrary, he told the disciples that they had already overcome all antichrists!
However, there are a few prophecies in different places of scripture which have been conglomerated together and interpreted as an “antichrist” who will take over the world. Let’s look at the primary ones.
The Prophesy of 70 Weeks
Daniel chapter 9 contains an amazing prophecy that predicted exactly how many years would pass until Jesus came.
Daniel 9:24-27 (NIV) “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place. “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”
The “sevens” or “weeks” are prophecies of literal years. Seven “sevens” plus 62 “sevens” gives us 69 “sevens.” (The first 7 is the time from the decree until Jerusalem was rebuilt.) 69 times seven is 483 years. Daniel’s prophecy, counted in lunar years, gives us the time from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem until Jesus came. Pretty much everybody agrees on this point.
You will see a lot of alternate translations if you study this passage. For example, one is “anoint the Most Holy One” instead of the “Most Holy Place.” Another says, not that the Anointed One will have nothing, but that he will be put to death, but not for himself.
Here is where there is disagreement. The dispensationalists interpret the one who makes a covenant with many as “the antichrist.” They see this as a ruler in our future.
The wording is a bit tricky in this passage, but we must remember one thing: this is a prophecy about literal years. To put the 70th week in our future, the dispensationalists have to add a large “gap” of an unknown amount of time between the 69th week and the 70th week in which the “prophetic clock stops.” Much of their theology hinges on this gap.
To me, such an idea is about as preposterous as we could get with interpreting the Bible. Earlier in chapter 9, we see Daniel laying hold of God’s promise through the prophet Jeremiah that the Israelites would return from exile in 70 years. This was also a prophecy about literal years. Imagine if Daniel was praying and fasting because the time God said was coming up, and then it came and went and the Israelites didn’t return until 500 years later, past Daniel’s lifetime, because there was a “gap” in the 70 year time period?
That kind of makes it pointless to have a prophecy about 70 literal years. And I think most people would agree it’s pretty absurd.
Imagine if a father promised his 10 year old son a car in six years. But when the 16th birthday came, the father said “Oh, there is a gap between the 5th and the 6th year, and my promise is on hold until the gap ends and the time clock of my promise starts ticking again.”
Now consider the prophecy about 70 weeks, or 70 “sevens.” Everyone agrees the first part of this is literal, and 69 “sevens” is 483 years. But many people believe that the 70 “sevens” is not 490 years but is a few thousand years, because of an unknown “gap” in the prophecy that scripture doesn’t mention!
This is one of the major reasons I hold the Partial Preterist position. The 70th week has to follow the 69th week. If there was a long time between the 69th and 70th week, the prophecy would have included another time period of weeks, and totaled a few hundred weeks.
When we understand that obviously, the 70th week starts immediately when the 69th week ends, the time when the ruler puts an end to sacrifice and offering coincides with the time Jesus was crucified, 3 1/2 years after beginning his earthly ministry. And the end of the 70 weeks declared for Israel coincides with the stoning of Stephen and the gospel going to the Gentiles 3 1/2 years after Jesus’ crucifixion.
To the best of my knowledge, all the Bible commentaries written before the 1800’s interpret this passage as speaking of Jesus the Christ, not “the Antichrist.”
Another character that gets called the “antichrist” is the beast of Revelation 13.
As Jonathan Welton points out, the book of Revelation is written in a chiastic arch structure in which the various sections mirror each other, and Revelation chapters 17 and 13 are mirroring each other, talking about the same thing.
The beast in Revelation 17:3 has seven heads and ten horns. Verses nine and ten give the interpretation that the seven heads are both seven hills and seven kings. Five have past, one is, and one will come but only remain for a little while.
This would have been very clear to the first-century reader. The city on seven hills is and was a common expression for Rome. The seven kings were the Caesars. There were 5 Caesars before Nero. Nero was the king that “is.” After Nero came Galba, who remained only for a little while since he was emperor for only about six months. The ten horns were the ten provinces of Rome.
Now to Revelation 13. Like in chapter 17, the beast generically is Rome and specifically is Nero. Nero was historically called a “beast” and he played a game in which he wore an animal skin and was released from a cage to attack the genitals of Christian prisoners with his teeth.
Older manuscripts say the number of the beast was 666, and other ones say 616. Why the difference? At the time it was common to transcribe letters into numbers. “Nero Caesar” written in Aramaic or transcribed into Hebrew had the numerical value of 666. So why the 616 alternative?
“Nero Caesar” written in Latin has a numerical value of 616. It makes sense that as copies of the book of Revelation were circulated, they went to more people who wouldn’t know the Greek or Aramaic writing and so the manuscripts contained the numerical value of the Latin spelling of Nero’s name.
The Caesars demanded worship as gods, and history records that people were forced to burn insense or pay homage to a statue of Caesar and then receive a mark of ash on the hand or forehead in order to be able to enter the marketplace and buy or sell.
As we have pointed out, John was writing to people who would experience the events he was telling them about, which he told them repeatedly were “about to happen very soon.” He was writing a “Revelation,” to reveal and not to confuse. His first-century readers understood what he was writing about. The text is clear in Revelation 13 that he expected them to have the wisdom to calculate the number of the beast. Therefore it is impossible that the beast and the number of the beast would have been anything that John’s first-century readers would not have been able to understand or calculate.
The Man Of Lawlessness
2 Thessalonians 2:3-8 (NIV) Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.
This one is impossible to deal with in much depth here, but there are two interpretations of this that most Partial Preterists hold. One is that the “man of lawlessness” was John Levi of Gischala, the main rebel who caused the destruction of Jerusalem and set himself up in the temple as a messiah. In fact the temple would not have been destroyed if John Levi had listened to the Roman General Titus and left it. The person who restrained him was Ananus, the Jewish chief priest. Josephus said that when Ananus was killed, the destruction of Jerusalem began.
The other view sees Nero as the man of lawlessness and Claudius Caesar was the one who restrained. (In fact Claudius’ name means “one who restrains.”) Dr. Kenneth Gentry presents that view here. You can download the free book Raptureless here for a more detailed explanation of the view that John Levi was the man of lawlessness.
I tend toward the view that John Levi perfectly fits the description of the man of lawlessness. Yet Dr. Gentry’s video is still worth watching because it gives a lot of context and highlights why we should understand this passage as relevant to the Thessalonian’s current events.
I know my brief overview leaves a lot of questions unanswered, which are too much to answer in this blog post. You can go to those links and the ones in the last post if you want to learn more. But for now, I want to point out a few things.
Who was Paul writing to when he said “see that nobody deceives you?” He was writing to people in the first century about things relevant to them.
This is why he told them “the secret power of lawlessness is already at work” and “you know what holds it back.” Whatever he was referring to when he said “what holds it back,” it is impossible that this was something the Thessalonians in the first century did not understand. They knew what he was talking about!
The “coming” was the coming in judgment that Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24, as we saw in the last post, Victorious Eschatology.
How Do We Practically Apply This?
None of these passages point to a future “antichrist” figure who will take over the world. Yes, we do still face antichrists today. We should not ignore the powers of evil at work in the world today, which still need to be confronted. Yet scripture does not predict that these evil powers will prevail. If we believe that lie, it becomes really hard to agree with God’s purposes for the nations in believing prayer.
Rather, scripture says that we have already overcome all antichrists. Daniel chapter 2 has a prophecy of Christ as a stone that is not cut with human hands, which will destroy earthly kingdoms and become a mountain that fills the whole earth. The mountain growing to fill the whole earth is the body of Christ, the church. And since Christ came, his kingdom has been growing and his enemies are being subdued. God’s kingdom already has crushed the Roman Empire, just as Daniel predicted. Understanding that God’s kingdom will continue to grow and become a mountain that fills the whole earth gives us a vision to engage in believing prayer in agreement with God’s purposes for the nations.
By the way, last week I mentioned a book from a friend, Will Riddle, who does not hold a partial preterist position but still agrees with many of the things I have said. (Including the problems with interpreting Daniel 9 as an antichrist prophesy.) He also gives a good summary of the major views on eschatology. I encourage you to get his book as well as other materials I’ve referenced if you’d like to learn more about eschatology and consider different positions on it.
Next week we’ll look at some empirical data that shows how much the world has been improving and not getting worse. Bad eschatology can distort our view of reality, so some clear data is a good reality check.
P.S. Some people may refer to the belief of some early Christians in an “Antichrist” figure. This idea does go back much further than some newer dispensational teachings. However, the earliest church fathers did not say anything about an individual “antichrist.” I would point out that some of those same early Christians, including Iraneus and others, made failed apocalyptic predictions as the fruit of their theology. If you follow the link it takes you to a list of failed apocalyptic predictions, from the early church all the way up to names you will recognize of modern Christian leaders.
Even in the early church, there was confusion about certain matters with people holding various different views.