One of the most commonly discussed (and speculated) topics when it comes to issues related to the end times is the antichrist, so it is important to look to the Bible to see what it teaches about the topic. This term is actually never used by Jesus or the Apostle Paul; Jesus talked about false messiahs and false prophets while the Apostle Paul talked about the “Man of Lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians). Surprisingly enough, the term also is not found in the Book of Revelation. The only place the word “antichrist” is found in the Bible is in the letters of John (specifically 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3 and 2 John 7). Having explore Paul’s discussion of the man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2 in the previous post, I want to explore the term in the letters of John and then also the description of it in the Book of Revelation that most will associate with a figure labeled “the antichrist” (as one can refer to the same person or idea with different terms), as it might bring more clarity to this figure and how we should think about him. (For more on this figure and topic, I would encourage you to check out Kim Riddlebarger’s The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth About the Antichrist.)
The Antichrist in the Letters of John
John seems to presuppose that his readers had been taught the idea that a figure labeled as “antichrist” would come, as he writes this: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18). In discussing an antichrist to come, John also notes that there are many antichrists – and they were around in John’s time. Thus, John’s warning to his readers does not seem to be focused on a figure who will come at the end called the antichrist, but rather that there is a spirit that opposes God that is at work in the world right now and we need to be on guard. That said, he does not explicitly say that there is not one to come, but rather that the same spirit is at work now. He also notes that we are living in the last hour now; we should see the end as imminent, the next thing that will happen in God’s timeline.
As we read further in John, it would seem that these antichrists have come from inside the church — people who were part of the church but then seem to have fallen away: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). It seems that they had come to deny truths about God and Jesus, as it notes, “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son” (2:22). The other reference in 1 John adds this, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already” (1 John 4:2-3). A similar point is made in 2 John 7: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.” These are reminders that this “antichrist” spirit would seem to emerge from within the Christian community and could subtly be undercutting gospel teaching; the work of the devil is often done in ways that we do not notice.
The Beast and False Prophet in Revelation
When most people talk about the “antichrist,” they seem to refer to a figure in Revelation 13. This chapter actually describes two figures: one is a beast arising out of the seas (13:1-10) and the other is a beast that arises out of the earth (13:11-18). These two beasts are intertwined, with the second beast making the world worship the first beast (see 13:12). Later on in the Book of Revelation, the second beast is called the false prophet while the first beast is simply labeled as the beast (see 16:13; 19:20; 20:10); this beast is what most label the antichrist. Both the false prophet and the beast are connected to the dragon, which is a symbol for Satan. In fact, chapter 13 appears to further unpack what is discussed in Revelation 12 in terms of the work of the dragon (Satan) in opposing God, as it seems the dragon is calling up these two helpers to do his work. Many have pointed out how these two figures are part of an “unholy” trinity of the dragon, beast, and false prophet which have some similarities to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In both cases, the third person points to the second who has been healed from what seems to be a mortal wound (see 13:3, 12). We have to remember that John has a vision about these figures that is clothed in symbolic imagery — the figures may look grotesque with horns and heads, but are symbolic of various realities (for example, the ten horns and seven heads may point to universal and complete oppression).
Chapter 13:5 tells us that the figure of the beast will be able to exercise authority for 42 months. This time marker seems to be less about pulling out a calendar and counting the days and more of a symbol for a short, definite period of time. We see similar marks of time in Revelation that seem parallel (11:2-3, 12:6, 15); there are similar statements in the Old Testament Book of Daniel about a time, times, and half a time — 3 1/2 years (Daniel 7:25, 12:7). In this definite period of time, the beast will be opposing God and His people while drawing people from all walks of life (13:7-8), with the false prophet pointing people to this beast (13:11-18) so that people worship the beast (13:4) and ultimately the dragon (13:4). A further note that can be overlooked is that the second beast/false prophet is said to look like a lamb but speak like a dragon (13:11), showing that this figure could look harmless but offers the words of Satan (symbolized by the dragon). This matches what we hear about Satan elsewhere, as false prophets are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15) and Satan masquerades as an angel (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Chapter 13 also discusses the mark of the beast. Much has been written about this number (666). In light of the ways Satan seems to imitate God in imperfect ways (even this act of sealing, as we saw earlier in Revelation 7 that the Lamb sealed people), I can’t help but see this number as a way of showing that it falls short but imitates the perfection of God (7 was considered the perfect number, with 3 of them having significance – thus the use of 6). There may also be a reference with this number to the Roman emperor, Nero, as turning the letters of his name into numbers leads to 666; however, it does not seem that Nero would fully fulfill this vision. Therefore, Nero would not be the ultimate beast, but this shows him as a forerunner and indications of what this figure might look like. When it comes to this mark, we should see the connection between worshipping the beast and receiving the mark (see 14:9, 11). This does not seem to come accidentally, but rather through pledging allegiance to the beast and the spirit that opposes God.
This connection or allusion to Nero may be a way of indicating that the vision John had points to this being a force that is at work in the present and not just in the future. The language used in the Book of Revelation has connections to the Roman empire, which was the latest in a line of empires (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece) that had been opposing the people of God. It did so through political as well as religious pressure, asking for people to worship the Roman emperor. The connections to Rome does not mean that it was Rome itself, as there is a later reference to Babylon (see Revelation 18) – which had been destroyed. In addition, the imagery of the first beast (antichrist) recalls the various animals that symbolized empires in the Book of Daniel; this beast seems to be the embodiment of them all and thus the culmination of them all. It was seen in Rome at the time, and it would seem that right before Christ’s return, there will be similar pressure led by various figures that are reminiscent of what we saw in Rome, though likely manifesting in different ways. The language was to call the people reading Revelation to stay faithful as they faced these powers; this message continues throughout time as different empires rose up to oppose God.
Conclusions on the Antichrist
From these discussions, it seems that there is an endtime figure who is preceded by various other figures who oppose the work of Jesus; there is a spirit of the antichrist at work that will culminate in a person at the end. The warnings are less about identifying this figure and more about being on guard against the forces currently opposing God, recognizing that these could come from within the church and not just from authorities outside. Because Satan continually opposes the work of God and thus takes on different forms and manifestations throughout the ages, it seems we may only recognize the “man of lawlessness” from 2 Thessalonians after he has come and Jesus has returned. That being said, we can recognize the workings of Satan opposing God in various realms (politics, economics, and religious) and need to stay true to the one true God who we know will defeat these forces of evil. The main point of these writings is to remember that God wins in the end, allowing us to be faithful in the midst of our current sufferings.
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