Within eschatology, the Antichrist has come to mean a person or other entity that is the embodiment of evil and utterly opposed to truth. The English word Antichrist is taken from the Greek antíkhristos, which literally means "instead of Christ".
Appearance of the word in the New Testament
To the surprise of many, the actual word "Antichrist" itself does not appear once in the Book of Revelation or the Book of Daniel and is never used at all by Jesus during his ministry including his discussion about the signs of the "End of the Age" in Matthew 24 and parallels.
The words "Antichrist" and "Antichrists" appear only four times in the Bible, specifically in the Apostle John's First and Second epistles:
- 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. (1 John 2:22)
- 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)
- 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 4:3)
- Many deceivers have gone out into the world; they do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist (2 John 1:7).
Here it seems to describe any false teacher, false prophet or corrupter of the Christian faith, but sometimes also seems to indicate a specific person or a single spirit of deception that motivates false teaching, and whose presence is a sign of the end times. Many Christians identify this particular Antichrist with the man of sin or son of perdition mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2, and with several figures in the Book of Revelation including the Dragon, the Beast, the False Prophet, and the Whore of Babylon. The Antichrist is variously understood to be a group or organization, such as a consummately evil system of government or a false religion; or, more commonly, as an individual, such as an evil government leader, a religious leader that sets up false worship in place of the worship of Christ, the incarnation of Satan, a son of Satan, or a human being under the dominion of Satan.
The understanding of one person being 'the' Antichrist appears to be combined in 1 John with the idea of a class of persons. There John speaks of "many antichrists" who typify the "spirit of the antichrist" that was both present in the first century ("is in the world already" 1 John 4:3) and continues to exist down to this day. As John wrote, such an antichrist (opponent of Christ) is anyone who "denies that Jesus is the Christ," "denies the Father and the Son," "does not confess Jesus," and does "not confess the coming of Jesus."
Related ideas and references appear in many other places in the Bible and various apocrypha, so that a more complete biblical portrait of the Antichrist has been built up gradually by Christian theologians and folk-religionists. Matthew 24 warns of "false Christs" in several places, and of deceivers who would appear claiming falsely to be the returned Christ. (Matt. 24:5, 24)
In the "small apocalypse" of Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 2:112, a "man of sin", "the son of perdition" is expected to set himself up in the temple of God, on the false pretense that he is God himself. This portrait of the Antichrist is reminiscent of the acts of Antiochus Epiphanes, who around 170 BC commanded Jews to sacrifice pigs on the altar, four times a year on the Shabbat, in tribute to him as the supreme god of the Seleucids. Paul appears to be warning his readers by this allusion to events in the past, to anticipate similar trouble in the future. Some Christians believe that the events warned of in this passage have already taken place soon after Paul warned of them. Many others believe that the Antichrist has yet to appear.
The expected role of the Antichrist
Christian denominations disagree on what will happen in the end times, and the role that Satan and the Antichrist will play. Among those who understand that the Antichrists of whom John was writing are instead a single individual and expect this one to arise in the future, there is a general consensus that sometime prior to the expected return of Jesus, there will be a period of "trials and tribulations" during which the Antichrist, inspired by Satan, will attempt to win supporters, and will silence anyone or make enemies of any country that refuses to approve of him. This metaphor is written as "receive his mark".
In this view, an event popularly termed the "White Throne Judgment" will take place, at which time both the living and the dead will be resurrected, some for everlasting life, and some for everlasting death. All those who worship God and Jesus will be admitted to the presence of God; but everyone who would not repent of the Antichrist will be sent to an outer darkness. Finally, the "Dragon" (often interpreted as Satan), the "Beast" (often interpreted as the Antichrist) and the "false prophet" (interpreted in many ways) who compels the world to worship the Beast (lie), and all who received his mark (cast their lot with him), will be thrown into a lake of fire together with death and Hell. These views are based on controversial passages in the Apocalypse of John, more commonly known as the Book of Revelation.
In other views, the role is far less dramatic - the Antichrist is simply understood to be a group of individuals as well as organizations, who, for their history of trying to deceive and stifle the faithful, are finally destroyed for all time by God on the day of Armageddon.
Characteristics of the Antichrist
Based on the interpretations of the specific passages from the books of Daniel and Revelation, the Antichrist is commonly expected to meet certain characteristics. The Bible describes a beast-like creature, but over the years these characteristics have been interpreted as being metaphorical, or symbolic as the book itself indicates, since in Daniel 8:3 we are told of a ram like beast, and then Daniel 8:20 explains that "the ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia." Also in Daniel 8:5 we are told of a goat like beast with a "notable horn" and in Dan 8:21 we are told "the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king." So a beast represents a kingdom and the horns or heads represent some aspect of its political leadership. So the antichrist is a religious kingdom and its heads represent its political leadership which Revelation 17:10 tells us that the seven heads "...are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space."
For example, the beast is supposed to have "ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns upon its horns" (Revelation 13:12) which is sometimes interpreted to mean the Antichrist will lead 27 or 17 countries. They will follow in his battles that he will declare boldly and without humility are for a purpose which is untrue. Likewise the fact that the beast is described as being "worshipped" is taken as a sign that the Antichrist will be a popular figure among those who are deceived by him. According to the book of Revelation the Antichrist can be identified by the number of the Beast.
The most common interpretations continue to be that the Antichrist will be some sort of high-ranking political leader, who will initially do very good, popular things, which will win him many followers. In the end, however he is supposed to get increasingly totalitarian and elicit more and more sacrifices from his followers until eventually his evil ways become known, and the era of "trials and tribulations" begins.
In popular culture
The Antichrist is a central figure in many popular movies with occult themes, such as Rosemary's Baby, and The Omen series. The Devil's Advocate has Al Pacino as Satan attempt to lure Keanu Reeves' character into joining him and fathering the Antichrist. In The Seventh Sign, the idea of the Antichrist is tangentially referred to as a child conceived without a soul, whose birth will signal the end of all life. The Seventh Seal uses the spectre of death to refer obliquely to the prophesies of the End Times and the role of the Antichrist as the Grim Reaper. The Antichrist is a central figure in the Left Behind series of books and movies; in this series the Antichrist figure is a European politician named Nicolae Carpathia. There is also an Antichrist-like character called Randall Flagg in several of Stephen King's writings, most notably in "Eyes of the Dragon", The Stand, and The Dark Tower series (the latter of which has him serving the Crimson King, a being who may be King's variation of the Beast). In Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's comedy novel, Good Omens, Sister Mary Loquatious of the Chattering Order of Saint Beryl misplaces the Antichrist. In an interesting twist on the genre, Cain becomes a false messiah and potential Antichrist in the form of Kane a.k.a Jacob Caine in the Command & Conquer series. The satirical comedy series South Park has used the idea of the antichrist.
Characteristics from the Prophet Daniel
He is a stern-faced king, a master of intrigue. He will cause astounding devastation, succeed in whatever he does, destroy the mighty men and the holy people, cause deceit to prosper, consider himself superior, take his stand against Christ, corrupt with flattery, do as he pleases, exalt and magnify himself above God, say unheard of things against God, show no regard for Christ, honor a god of fortresses, attack the mightiest fortresses, greatly honor those who acknowledge him.
Identity of the Antichrist
Many point to Biblical prophecies to identify the area from where the Antichrist will come. The Old Testament prophets of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Micah associate this End times world leader with the territory of the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires, in the region including present day Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The apsotle John in Revelation also provided similar clues to indicate that the Antichrist would arise to power from the Middle East.
Despite this evidence, many people, or even nations or movements, have been thought by some to be the Antichrist.
Paul of Tarsus has been theorized by some (among them Thomas Jefferson, Albert Schweitzer, George Bernard Shaw, Carl Sagan and Carl Jung) to have fulfilled the role of the Antichrist within the chronicles of the New Testament of the Bible itself. This theory is premised on an idea that the original teachings of Christ, such as nonviolence, nonresistance and vegetarianism, were subverted by Paul.
The Roman emperor beginning with Nero, sometimes together with the four emperors who succeeded him in the year following his suicide, until the elevation of Nero's general Vespasian to emperor, have been interpreted from very early times, either alone or collectively as the Beast of the Apocalypse.
In this tumultuous period, superstitious fear and mob violence grew against Christians, and the Roman wars against the Jews intensified (AD 6670), ending with the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 under the command of general Titus (later emperor), and the maniacal slaughter of the Jews who were living at Jerusalem. According to tradition, Nero ordered the crucifixion of St. Peter and the beheading of Saint Paul. Both Jewish and Christian literature survives, referring to Emperor Nero as the Antichrist. A more detailed description of this interpretation can be found in the entry on the Book of Revelation.
After the reforms of Patriarch Nikon to the Russian Orthodox Church of 1652 a large number of Old Believers held that czar Peter the Great was the Antichrist, because of his treatment of the Orthodox Church, namely separating church from state, requiring clergyman to conform to the standards of all Russian civilians (shaved beards, being fluent in French), and requiring them to pay state taxes. In 1916 (?), a woman believing the faith healer Rasputin was the Antichrist, for his supposedly evil influences over the czar and czarina, stabbed him, cutting a large wound in his chest. He fully recovered.
Another idea that began appearing early in the history of the Christian church, is the opinion that the Antichrist will be an apostate priest or Christian secular ruler, perhaps a Pope or other high leader of the Christian church, or a pretender to the Papacy. Some Christian sects have made it an issue of faith to identify the Bishop of Rome and the papal system as the Antichrist, which was included in e.g. the Westminster Confession. Virtually all popes have been called the Antichrist by their enemies, and many popes have applied this title of "Antichrist", "son of perdition", or "man of sin", to their enemies as well.
St. Bellarmine gives in full the theory set forth by the Greek and Latin Fathers, of a personal Antichrist to come just before the end of the world and to be accepted by the Jews and enthroned in the temple at Jerusalemthus endeavoring to dispose of the Protestant exposition which saw Antichrist in the pope. Bellarmine's interpretation, in modified form, is now accepted by most premillennial dispensationalists.
Some Christians claimed the Antichrist was Muhammad, founder of Islam, because they consider him a false prophet who placed himself above Jesus, and whose religion conquered Jerusalem and forcibly converted Christians, Jews, and others.
Identifying the Antichrist has returned as a task in the Internet age, and has created a body of literature in its own right.
Since the Bible indicates that the anitchrist beast may be identified by a number, "the number of the beast" which "is the number of a man" (Revelation 13:18). Various numerological methods of calculating the number of the name of the Beast ("666" in most manuscript sources, "616" in a minority), and other methods are used to identify the Antichrist before he has the chance to lead astray. The oldest historical example is in Latin where each letter has an equivalent numerical value. Also "VV IL DVCE" ("Long Live Il Duce", a phrase chanted for Mussolini).
In English, another nice example is the case of Adolf Hitler, where numbering the letters A=100, B=101, etc, produces H+I+T+L+E+R=666. Another numerological candidate is Henry Kissinger. Example A=6, B=12, C=18, etc, produces K+I+S+S+I+N+G+E+R=666.
In "ASCII", (American Standard Code for Information Interchange), Bill Gates' name is also identified with the number of the beast. Each letter in the ASCII alphabet also represents a number, and coincidentally, if you add up the letters in his real name (Bill Gates the III, or in this case, Bill Gates III), the total is 666.
Candidates for the Antichrist have been men in virtually all positions of public influence, the most frequent modern candidates: Charles Prince of Wales, Napoleon Bonaparte, Sam Walton, Bill Gates, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, John Lennon, Nelson Mandela, various Popes or the Roman Catholic Church, the World Council of Churches, the European Union and recent Presidents of the United States. Some have taken Since the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack, theories about Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, or George W. Bush being the Antichrist have been put forward. In addition, apocalyptic Christians such as Herb Peters and Constance E. Cumbey point to Javier Solana.
Claims about world leaders echo the plot of the Left Behind series of novels (by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins) that the Antichrist may be the Secretary-General of the United Nations. LaHaye and Thomas Ice publish a newsletter that speculates about these matters, and they have also suggested that the rise of militant Islam in the 21st Century is a possible sign of the End Times, as being the false religion of the Antichrist and his partner, the False Prophet.
In addition certain occultists and Satanists have proclaimed themselves to be the Antichrist, including Aleister Crowley and John Whiteside Parsons.
- Boyer, Paul. 1992. When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap/Harvard University Press. ISBN 067495128X
- Fuller, Robert C. 1995. Naming the Antichrist: The History of an American Obsession. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195082443
- McGinn, Bernard. 1994. Antichrist: 200 Years of the Human Fascination with Evil. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-11977-1