I. IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
II. IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
1. The Gospels
2. Pauline Epistles
3. Johannine Epistles
4. Book of Revelation
III. IN APOCALYPTIC WRITINGS
IV. IN PATRISTIC WRITINGS
V. MEDIAEVAL VIEWS
VI. POST-REFORMATION VIEWS
The word "antichrist" occurs only in 1Jo 2:18,22; 4:3; 2Jo 1:7, but the idea which the word conveys appears frequently in Scripture.
I. In the Old Testament.
Antichrist in the Old Testament:
As in the Old Testament the doctrine concerning Christ was only suggested, not developed, so is it with the doctrine of the Antichrist. That the Messiah should be the divine Logos, the only adequate expression of God, was merely hinted at, not stated: so Antichrist was exhibited as the opponent of God rather than of His anointed. In the historical books of the Old Testament we find "Belial" used as if a personal opponent of Yahweh; thus the scandalously wicked are called in the King James Version "sons of Belial" (Jg 19:22; 20:13), "daughter of Belial" (1Sa 1:16), etc. The the Revised Version (British and American) translates the expression in an abstract sense, "base fellows," "wicked woman." In Da 7:7-8 there is the description of a great heathen empire, represented by a beast with ten horns: its full antagonism to God is expressed in a little eleventh horn which had "a mouth speaking great things" and "made war with the saints" (Da 7:8,21). Him the `Ancient of Days' was to destroy, and his kingdom was to be given to a `Son of Man' (Da 7:9-14). Similar but yet differing in many points is the description of Antiochus Epiphanes in Da 8:9-12,23-25.
II. In the New Testament.
1. The Gospels:
In the Gospels the activity of Satan is regarded as specially directed against Christ. In the Temptation (Mt 4:1-10; Lu 4:1-13) the Devil claims the right to dispose of "all the kingdoms of the world," and has his claim admitted. The temptation is a struggle between the Christ and the Antichrist. In the parable of the Tares and the Wheat, while He that sowed the good seed is the Son of Man, he that sowed the tares is the Devil, who is thus Antichrist (Mt 13:37-39). our Lord felt it the keenest of insults that His miracles should be attributed to Satanic assistance (Mt 12:24-32). In Joh 14:30 there is reference to the "Prince of the World" who "hath nothing" in Christ.
2. Pauline Epistles:
The Pauline epistles present a more developed form of the doctrine. In the spiritual sphere Paul identifies Antichrist with Belial. "What concord hath Christ with Belial?" (2Co 6:15). 2 Thessalonians, written early, affords evidence of a considerably developed doctrine being commonly accepted among believers. The exposition of 2Th 2:3-9, in which Paul exhibits his teaching on the `Man of Sin,' is very difficult, as may be seen from the number of conflicting attempts at its interpretation. See MAN OF SIN. Here we would only indicate what seems to us the most plausible view of the Pauline doctrine. It had been revealed to the apostle by the Spirit that the church was to be exposed to a more tremendous assault than any it had yet witnessed. Some twelve years before the epistle was penned, the Roman world had seen in Caligula the portent of a mad emperor. Caligula had claimed to be worshipped as a god, and had a temple erected to him in Rome. He went farther, and demanded that his own statue should be set up in the temple at Jerusalem to be worshipped. As similar causes might be expected to produce similar effects, Paul, interpreting "what the Spirit that was in him did signify," may have thought of a youth, one reared in the purple, who, raised to the awful, isolating dignity of emperor, might, like Caligula, be struck with madness, might, like him, demand Divine honors, and might be possessed with a thirst for blood as insatiable as his. The fury of such an enthroned maniac would, with too great probability, be directed against those who, like the Christians, would refuse as obstinately as the Jews to give him Divine honor, but were not numerous enough to make Roman officials pause before proceeding to extremities. So long as Claudius lived, the Antichrist manifestation of this "lawless one" was restrained; when, however, the aged emperor should pass away, or God's time should appoint, that "lawless one" would be revealed, whom the Lord would "slay with the breath of his mouth" (2Th 2:8).
3. Johannine Epistles:
Although many of the features of the "Man of Sin" were exhibited by Nero, yet the Messianic kingdom did not come, nor did Christ return to His people at Nero's death. Writing after Nero had fallen, the apostle John, who, as above remarked, alone of the New Testament writers uses the term, presents us with another view of Antichrist (1Jo 2:18,22; 4:3; 2Jo 1:7). From the first of these passages ("as ye have heard that antichrist cometh"), it is evident that the coming of Antichrist was an event generally anticipated by the Christian community, but it is also clear that the apostle shared to but a limited extent in this popular expectation. He thought the attention of believers needed rather to be directed to the antichristian forces that were at work among and around them ("even now have .... arisen many antichrists"). From 1 Jn 2:22; 4:3; 2Jo 1:7 we see that the apostle regards erroneous views of the person of Christ as the real Antichrist. To him the Docetism (i.e. the doctrine that Christ's body was only a seeming one) which portended Gnosticism, and the elements of Ebionism (Christ was only a man), were more seriously to be dreaded than persecution.
4. Book of Revelation:
In the Book of Revelation the doctrine of Antichrist receives a further development. If the traditional date of the Apocalypse is to be accepted, it was written when the lull which followed the Neronian persecution had given place to that under Domitian--"the bald Nero." The apostle now feels the whole imperial system to be an incarnation of the spirit of Satan; indeed from the identity of the symbols, seven heads and ten horns, applied both to the dragon (Re 12:3) and to the Beast (Re 13:1), he appears to have regarded the raison d`etre of the Roman Empire to be found in its incarnation of Satan. The ten horns are borrowed from Da 7:1-28, but the seven heads point, as seen from Re 17:9, to the "seven hills" on which Rome sat. There is, however, not only the Beast, but also the "image of the beast" to be considered (Re 13:14-15). Possibly this symbolizes the cult of Rome, the city being regarded as a goddess, and worshipped with temples and statues all over the empire. From the fact that the seer endows the Beast that comes out of the earth with "two horns like unto a lamb" (Re 13:11), the apostle must have had in his mind some system of teaching that resembled Christianity; its relationship to Satan is shown by its speaking "as a dragon" (Re 13:11). The number 666 given to the Beast (Re 13:18), though presumably readily understood by the writer's immediate public, has proved a riddle capable of too many solutions to be now readily soluble at all. The favorite explanation Neron Qecar (Nero Caesar), which suits numerically, becomes absurd when it implies the attribution of seven heads and ten horns. There is no necessity to make the calculation in Hebrew; the corresponding arithmogram in the Sib Or, 1 32830, in which 888 stands for Iesous, is interpreted in Greek. On this hypothesis Lateinos, a suggestion preserved by Irenaeus (V, 30) would suit. If we follow the analogy of Daniel, which has influenced the Apocalyptist so much, the Johannine Antichrist must be regarded as not a person but a kingdom. In this case it must be the Roman Empire that is meant.
III. In Apocalyptic Writings.
Antichrist in the Apocalyptic Writings:
Although from their eschatological bias one would expect that the Jewish Apocalyptic Writings would be full of the subject, mention of the Antichrist occurs only in a few of the apocalypses. The earliest certain notice is found in the Sibylline books (1 167). We are there told that "Beliar shall come and work wonders," and "that he shall spring from the Sebasteni (Augusti)" a statement which, taken with other indications, inclines one to the belief that the mad demands of Caligula, were, when this was written, threatening the Jews. There are references to Beliar in the XII the Priestly Code (P), which, if the date ascribed to them by Dr. Charles, i.e. the reign of John Hyrcanus I, be assumed as correct, are earlier. Personally we doubt the accuracy of this conclusion. Further, as Dr. Charles admits the presence of many interpolations, even though one might assent to his opinions as to the nucleus of the XII the Priestly Code (P), yet these Beliar passages might be due to the interpolator. Only in one passage is "Beliar" antichristos as distinguished from antitheos; Da 5:10-11 (Charles' translation), "And there shall rise unto you from the tribe of Judah and of Levi the salvation of the Lord, and he shall make war against Beliar, and execute everlasting vengeance on our enemies, and the captivity shall he take from Beliar and turn disobedient hearts unto the Lord." Dr. Charles thinks he finds an echo of this last clause in Lu 1:17; but may the case not be the converse?
The fullest exposition of the ideas associated with the antichrist in the early decades of Christian history is to be found in the Ascension of Isaiah. In this we are told that "Beliar" (Belial) would enter into "the matricide king" (Nero), who would work great wonders, and do much evil. After the termination of 1,332 days during which he has persecuted the plant which the twelve apostles of the Beloved have planted, "the Lord will come with his angels and with armies of his holy ones from the seventh heaven, with the glory of the seventh heaven, and he will drag Beliar into Gehenna and also his armies" (Da 4:3,13, Charles' translation). If the date at which Beliar was supposed to enter into Nero was the night on which the great fire in Rome began, then the space of power given to him is too short by 89 days. From the burning of Rome till Nero's death was 1,421 days. It is to be noted that there are no signs of the writer having been influenced either by Paul or the Apocalypse. As he expected the coming of the Lord to be the immediate cause of the death of Nero, we date the writing some months before that event. It seems thus to afford contemporary and independent evidence of the views entertained by the Christian community as to Antichrist.
IV. In Patristic Writings.
Patristic References to Antichrist:
Of the patristic writers, Polycarp is the only one of the Apostolic Fathers who refers directly to Antichrist. He quotes John's words, "Whosoever doth not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is Antichrist" (7), and regards Docetism as Antichrist in the only practical sense. Barnabas, although not using the term, implies that the fourth empire of Daniel is Antichrist; this he seems to identify with the Roman Empire (4:5). Irenaeus is the first-known writer to occupy himself with the number of the Beast. While looking with some favor on Lateinos, he himself prefers Teitan as the name intended (5:30). His view is interesting as showing the belief that the arithmogram was to be interpreted by the Greek values of the letters. More particulars as to the views prevailing can be gleaned from Hippolytus, who has a special work on the subject, in which he exhibits the points of resemblance between Christ and Antichrist (On Christ and Antichrist, 4.14.15. 19.25). In this work we find the assertion that Antichrist springs from the terms of Jacob's blessing to Dan. Among other references, the idea of Commodian (250 AD) that Nero risen from the dead was to be Antichrist has to be noticed. In the commentary on Revelation attributed to Victorinus of Petau there is, inserted by a later hand, an identification of Genseric with the "Beast" of that book. It is evident that little light is to be gained on the subject from patristic sources.
V. Medieval Views.
Much time need not be spent on the medieval views of Antichrist in either of the two streams in which it flowed, Christian and Jewish.
The Christian was mainly occupied in finding methods of transforming the names of those whom monkish writers abhorred into a shape that would admit of their being reckoned 666. The favorite name for this species of torture was naturally Maometis (Mohammed). Gregory IX found no difficulty in accommodating the name of Frederic II so as to enable him to identify his great antagonist with "the beast coming up out of the sea": this identification the emperor retorted on the pope. Rabanus Maurus gives a full account of what Antichrist was to do, but without any attempt to label any contemporary with the title. He was to work miracles and to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem. The view afterward so generally held by Protestants that the papacy was Antichrist had its representatives among the sects denounced by the hierarchy as heretical, as the Kathari. In various periods the rumor was spread that Antichrist had been already born. Sometimes his birthplace was said to be Babylon, sometimes this distinction was accorded to the mystical Babylon, Rome.
The Jewish views had little effect on Christian speculation. With the Talmudists Antichrist was named Armilus, a variation of Romulus. Rome is evidently primarily intended, but Antichrist became endowed with personal attributes. He makes war on Messiah, son of Joseph, and slays him, but is in turn destroyed by Messiah, Son of David.
VI. Post-Reformation Views.
Post-Reformation Theories of Antichrist:
In immediately post-Reformation times the divines of the Romish church saw in Luther and the Reformed churches the Antichrist and Beast of Revelation. On the other hand the Protestants identified the papacy and the Roman church with these, and with the Pauline Man of Sin. The latter view had a certain plausibility, not only from the many undeniably antichristian features in the developed Roman system, but from the relation in which the Romish church stood to the city of Rome and to the imperial idea. The fact that the Beast which came out of the earth (Re 13:11) had the horns of a lamb points to some relation to the lamb which had been slain (Re 5:6). Futurist interpreters have sought the Antichrist in historical persons, as Napoleon III. These persons, however, did not live to realize the expectations formed of them. The consensus of critical opinion is that Nero is intended by the Beast of the Apocalypse, but this, on many grounds, as seen before, is not satisfactory. Some future development of evil may more exactly fulfill the conditions of the problem.
Bousset, Der Antichrist; "The Antichrist Legend," The Expositor T, contains an admirable vidimus of ancient authorities in the subject. See articles on subject in Schenkel's Biblical Lex. (Hausrath); Herzog's RE, 2nd edition (Kahler), 3rd edition (Sieffert); Encyclopedia Biblica (Bousset); with Commentaries on 2 Thess and Revelation. A full account of the interpretations of the "Man of Sin" may be seen in Dr. John Eadie's essay on that subject in his Commentary on Thessalonians.
J. E. H. Thomson