Monday, 3 October 2016

The final Antichrist: the different views

In this essay I discuss the most important views about the final Antichrist. The main question is: Should we expect a final Antichrist who will appear in the period preceding the Second Coming of Jesus Christ? And if so, how will we recognize him? I provide a fresh assessment of our understanding of the major Bible prophecies that have traditionally been interpreted as referring to the final Antichrist. Previous essays in this series include “The final world empire: the different views” and “The final seven years: the different views”.

Bible prophecy has throughout the ages intrigued many generations of Bible scholars and students. One of the topics that has been extensively studied is that of the Antichrist. This figure is of special importance in the sense that he represents that which is the opposite of the Christ/Messiah. Many Christian scholars believe that he would rise in the end times in the climax of the ages to fight with Jesus Christ during the great battle of Armageddon – and that his rule would be accompanied by special hardship and tribulation. Other scholars think that we should rather think in terms of various antichrists that include historical persons like Nero, although some of them would not exclude the possibility of a final Antichrist arising at the end of time.

The word “antichrist” appears only in the epistles of St. John. He mentions that there would be many antichrists as well as a final Antichrist: “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come” (1 Joh. 2:18). He also says that the spirit of the Antichrist was already working in the world during his own time. Although the word Antichrist does not appear elsewhere, various prophecies have been interpreted as referring to this final Antichrist among which the most important are in the Books of Daniel and Revelation as well as in St. Paul’s writings.

In this essay I take a fresh look at the person of the Antichrist. In doing so, I carefully consider the most important views about the Antichrist, namely the Biblical Criticism view that takes the prophecies as merely referring to historical persons (some of these scholars reject the notion of prophecy itself, see [1] for a discussion), the Historical view as well as the Futuristic view. I ask: what view makes the best sense when the integrity of the text and the historical context are considered. In my view we should in any such study take care to really listen to the voices of the prophets and the Hebrew tradition from which they originate.

Any serious scholar would have to admit that old Israel believed in prophecy in the sense of divinely inspired pronouncements that goes beyond the limited perspectives of the prophets [1]. Although scholars may disagree with that notion due to their own metaphysical commitments, they should at the very least accept that old Israel believed in it. As such we might allow that – if God truly inspired the prophets – some of these prophecies may refer to a final Antichrist who will appear at the end of days. We should not exclude certain views in principle just because we do not believe in it.

Does the Antichrist only refer to past historical persons?

In our study about the Antichrist, we restrict ourselves to the most important prophecies that are generally considered to refer to the final Antichrist. The first of these appear in the Book of Daniel, chapter 7. This is a very remarkable prophecy according to which the prophet Daniel is said to have had a vision in which various beasts appear one after the other from the sea, namely a lion with the wings of an eagle, a bear with three ribs between its teeth, a leopard with four heads and finally a dreadful and terrible beast, with iron teeth, that was exceedingly strong. This final beast had ten horns on its head.

While the prophet watched, another horn appeared on the head of the final beast that grew to be greater in appearance than the other horns. It had the eyes and mouth of a man. This entity spoke pompous words against the Most High and persecuted the saints for a period of “a time, times and half a time”. The prophet then saw how the judgment seat of the Ancient of Days was put in place and how all the heavenly multitudes appeared around it. The beasts were judged. Then he saw one like the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. He came to the Ancient of Days and received an everlasting dominion over all peoples, nations and languages.

There are general agreement among Biblical scholars that these beasts should be taken in geopolitical context as referring to the various empires that appeared in the Middle East to rule over the land of Israel. The question is, however, which empires are referred to? There are agreement that the lion refers to the Neo-Babylonian Empire (626-539 BC) to which the great Nebuchadnezzar belonged. The second beast, namely the bear, would refer to the next great empire, namely the Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BC) [2]. As for the rest, scholars are divided as to how exactly the application should be made (for a detailed discussion of the different views, see [3]).

Scholars from the Biblical Criticism school believe that the “prophecy” was written after the events happened. This means that all the relevant events should fit into the period before 164 BC (the book was written shortly after that in their view). Although many traditional scholars take the eleventh horn on the head of the fourth beast as referring to the final Antichrist, Biblical Criticism scholars believe that it refers to the Syrian (Seleucid) king Antiochus IV Epiphanus who captured Jerusalem in 167 BC. In their view one should regard this horn as the same one that is mentioned in the next chapter (8).

In Daniel 8 we read that the prophet saw a ram with two horns fighting against a male goat with one large horn between its eyes. The male goat with the single large horn cast the ram on the ground and trampled on it. After that, the goat grew very great, but then its horn was broken and four notable horns came in its place. Out of one of these came another horn that grew very great. It took power over the “Glorious Land” (Israel) and cast down some of the host of heaven. During that time the sanctuary was desecrated for a period of two thousand three hundred days and the holy people were “destroyed”.

In this case the interpretation of the vision is also provided. The ram with two horns is said to refer to the kings of Media and Persia. This is a reference to the Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BC). The male goat is said to refer to the first king of the kingdom of Greece – that is, Alexander the Great (336-323 BC), founder of the Greek (Macedonian) Empire. The four horns that rose in the place of the first one are said to refer to the four kingdoms into which his kingdom was divided after his death. These were the Ptolemaic kingdom, the Seleucid empire (later kingdom), the kingdom of Pergamon and the kingdom of Macedon. The fifth horn refers to Antiochus IV Epiphanus (175-164 BC), who became king of the Seleucid kingdom. He persecuted the Jews and defiled the temple.

The essential question is whether the eleventh horn in the prophecy about the four beasts is the same as the fifth horn in the prophecy about the ram and goat? Since it is assumed in Biblical Criticism circles that the book was written after the events that happened during the time of Antiochus IV, they accept that the author cannot refer to anything else but those events. The problem is, however, that there are important differences between the two visions that made such a view suspect. Although the horn in the vision of the ram and goat obviously refers to Antiochus IV, the horn in the other vision does not appear on the head of the corresponding beast, which is the leopard with four heads (which signify the four parts into Alexander’s empire was divided). Rather, it appears on the head of the next beast, the great and terrible one with ten horns, which has no equivalent in the vision of the ram and goat.

Although one may try to force everything mentioned in these visions into the historical period that ends with the death of Antiochus IV, this is not good hermeneutical practice. One should be open to other possibilities, especially that which is clearly alluded to in the book, namely that this is a prophecy about future events. In this case one cannot but to see the remarkable correspondence between the great and terrible beast and the Roman Empire (see [3] for a detailed discussion).

Of special importance is the fact that the eleventh horn that grew on the head of this beast is said to appear in the period before the final judgment, when one like the Son of Man would appear on the clouds of heaven. To what does this refer? Jesus applies this prophecy in the Book of Daniel to his Second Coming: “they will see the Son of Man coming with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30).

If we take Jesus’ words serious, then the prophecy about the four beasts covers a very long period, namely from the time of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, when Daniel is said to have lived, until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This means that the eleventh horn does not refer to Antiochus IV but to an Antichristian figure that would appear at the time of the end. In this case Antiochus IV may be regarded as a type of the final Antichrist, but he is not the only such figure referred to in the Book of Daniel.

Another important prophecy that is often taken as referring to the final Antichrist, is that about the beast in the Book of Revelation. The interesting thing about the description of this beast, is that it builds upon the prophecy in the Book of Daniel about the four beasts that we have just discussed. In fact, the beast of Revelation shows a remarkable correspondence with the eleventh horn in Daniel’s prophecy (in chapter 7). If we accept that the beast is just another reworking of the original prophecy in the Book of Daniel, then it might again refer to the final Antichrist. But again, Biblical Criticism scholars beg to differ.

We find a detailed description of the beast of Revelation in chapter 13. In this case we read that the beast is a composite figure with characteristics of all four the beasts that appear from the sea in Daniel’s prophecy. It looks like a leopard, has feet like that of a bear, with a mouth of a lion and ten horns on its heads (it has seven heads). As is said about the eleventh horn in the prophecy of Daniel, the beast blasphemies against God and makes war against the saints and overcome them. He does this for a period of forty-two months – which agree with the period mentioned in Daniel, namely a period consisting of a time (1 year), times (2 years) and half a time (½ year).

Scholars from the Biblical Criticism view believe that this beast refers to one of the Caesars of the Roman Empire who lived in the time before the Book of Revelation was written (in about 96 AD). Nero is often mentioned. In this case they believe that although the images originate from Daniel 7, they are now applied to the Caesar. Again they believe that no future prophecy is intended. And again this involves forcing certain aspects of this image within an historical perspective that do not fit well.

We read, for example, that the beast would rule with ten kings who have not yet received kingship in the time when the book was written: “The ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour [period] as kings with the beast. They are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast” (Rev. 17:12-13). This strongly suggest that future events are intended.

What is more, in this case we again find that the reign of the beast is placed in the time of the Second Coming of Jesus. We read that the beast will make war with the Lamb [Jesus Christ] (Rev. 17:14). This war is depicted in Revelation 19 where Jesus Christ is described as riding out on a white horse against his enemy. In this case we read: “And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and his army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence” (Rev. 19:19-20). Although it is true that the Book of Revelation is to be read carefully with due consideration for all the many symbols used in the book, there cannot be any doubt that a good hermeneutical approach means that we should consider all the parts of the story about the beast together.

As such it is quite clear that the reign of the beast is placed in future perspective. Although scholars from this school of thought may reject the idea of a future Second Coming, they have to admit that the Christians of that time did think in such terms and that this view is reflected in the book. Again, one should at least be open to the possibility that this should be considered as prophecy, as it is also stated in the beginning of the book (Rev. 1:3). Insofar as this may be considered to be prophecy, the beast is merely another depiction of the eleventh horn of Daniel 7 which refers to a final Antichrist who would appear in the time of the end.

The man of sin

Another important prophecy that is taken by many traditional scholars as referring to the final Antichrist, is in St. Paul’s second Epistle to the Thessalonians, chapter 2. In this famous passage St. Paul describes the period preceding the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. He writes that the Thessalonians should not think that the “coming of our Lord Jesus and our gathering to Him” can take place at any moment. Before that can happen, certain important events would first happen, namely the “falling away”, which refers to a period of religious decline, and the “man of sin” must be revealed.

St. Paul writes: “that Day [of the Lord] will not come unless the falling away comes first. And the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Th. 3:3-4). St. Paul writes that the Thessalonians know what is restraining him that he may be revealed in his own time. He says that it is only once he who now restrains is taken out of the way, that the “lawless one” will be revealed, “whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (2 Th. 2:8). The revelation of the "man of sin" would be accompanied with great power, signs and lying wonders worked by Satan himself.

Most Biblical scholars believe that St. Paul refers to the final Antichrist when he speaks of the “man of sin”. It is quite clear from the passage that this person would be on the world scene in the time when Jesus appears in the time of his Second Coming. This is also in line with our reading of the prophecies in the Books of Daniel and Revelation that such a person would appear in that time. In fact, all the prophecies that we discuss place the final Antichrist in the period before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (the Son of man coming with the clouds of heaven). All scholars who take this as referring to a future Antichrist do, however, not agree about the meaning of the passage.

Some scholars, from the Historical School (the name originates from the way in which they interpret the Book of Revelation), believe that St. Paul does not refer to a single person but to an office that is occupied by many different persons, namely the papacy. Their view originated in the time of the Reformation, when the persecution of Christians by the Roman Catholic Church was still fresh in the minds of Protestant Christians.

This interpretation is based on an interesting reading of the discussed passage. They take the view of the early church about the one who restrains the coming of the Antichrist, as point of departure. In the passage St. Paul refers to both a “that [it]” which (verse 6) and a “he” who (verse 7) restrains. The early church understood these as referring to the Roman Empire and the Roman Caesar – which would occupy the place of the Antichristian empire until its time comes and would then stand out of the way for it to appear (this reading is perfectly compatible with the Greek words used) [4].

These scholars apply this logic to the Antichrist. They argue that the same reading should be applied to the Antichrist, which would then refer not to a single person (just as no particular Caesar is referred to) but to the position they occupy (the papacy). They then apply this interpretation to all passages that refer to the future Antichrist. Since the papacy has been on the scene for a very long time, they take certain events as signifying the beginning of the period of the rule of the “Antichrist”, which would last for 1260 years (they take each solar day of the 3 ½ years referred to previously in our discussion of prophecies in the Books of Daniel and Revelation as referring to one solar year).

Although this view is intriguing, it is difficult to reconcile such an office, which is held by many persons (the papacy), with the words “man of sin” and “son of perdition”. We also read that he is the “lawless one” who will be revealed and whom Jesus Christ would destroy with his coming. The words use by St. Paul clearly refers to a single person. Also, the period during which he would persecute the saints, is described as lasting for “a time [1 year], times [2 years] and half a time [½ year]”, 1260 days or 42 months (Rev. 11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:5), which strongly suggest that 3 ½ prophetic years (of 360 days) are implied. One of the biggest problems of this view is that their calculations of the period have left them with red faces as the history of the Seventh-Day Adventists show.

The beast and the harlot

I previously discussed various themes that are closely related to that of the final Antichrist, namely the ten “kings” who would rule with him [3] as well as the final seven years [5]. I will not engage with that again. Space also do not permit me to discuss the themes mentioned above, namely the tribulation (persecution of the saints), the deception of the last days, the falling away and so forth. There is one other topic that is of importance in our understanding of the final Antichrist that is not discussed that often, namely his relation with the great “harlot” who is described in the Book of Revelation as a woman clothed in scarlet who rides on the beast (Rev. 17).

The harlot is presented as a beautiful woman arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls. She holds a golden cup in her hand and sits on the beast, who came from the bottomless pit and go to perdition (see “son of perdition” above). She is said to have committed fornication with the kings of the earth and is “drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs” (Rev. 17:6). Somehow she represents a “mystery” and she is called Babylon, the Great.

Image result for the beast harlot revelation image

Who is this woman? We read that the seven heads of the beast that carries her is the seven mountains on which she sits (verse 9). These seven mountains are without doubt the seven hills on which the ancient city of Rome is located. This is why we also read that she “is the great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” (verse 18). Rome was the great city who ruled over “all the earth” in the days when the Book of Revelation was written. The name given to her, namely Babylon, is also used elsewhere in the New Testament to refer to Rome (1 Pet. 5:13). Somehow ancient Babylon, that great enemy of Israel, is now replaced with the new Babylon, Rome.

The prophecy in Revelation is about the judgment of the harlot and we find a whole song written in advance to commemorate her fall (Rev. 18). How will she fall? She will fall when the ten kings who rule with the beast in the time of the Second Coming, will burn her: “And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire” (verse 16). This means that the prophecy is not about the fall of Rome in the time when the Germanic leader Odoacer conquered her in 476 AD, but refers to a future event.

Insofar as this is to be considered as a prophecy about the end times, the only entity that suits the description of the harlot is the Roman Catholic Church which does not only have its seat in Rome, which had not only brought many states in an alliance with her, but which had also spilled the blood of many Christians whom she has persecuted throughout the ages. The killing of Christians was officially sanctioned since the time when the first Waldensians were burned as heretics in 1211 – their persecution persisted throughout the ages and nearly led to their total extinction. In 1545 thousands were massacred and whole villages were destroyed [6]. The followers of John Wycliffe (1320-1384) and Jan Hus (1372-1415), who was burned at the stake for heresy, were also severely persecuted.

The relation between the beast and harlot reflects that between political power and the Roman Catholic Church. This is reminiscent of the Holy Roman Empire that existed from 800 to 1806 AD (although not continuously). Since Charles the Great was crowned as the “new Constantine” in Rome in 800 AD, those Caesars ruled over this empire as a continuation of the old Roman Empire [7]. One may read the prophecy as saying that the Holy Roman Empire would be restored in the last days and that the Antichrist would take the place of the Caesars when he appears [8].

At this point in time, the Roman Catholic Church is actively involved in efforts to build an ever more unified European Union – presumably with the purpose to reestablish the Holy Roman Empire. The church played an important role in blocking the proposed constitution for the EU in 2005 since it did not have any reference to God. Some of the major political players, such as the first president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, and the current head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, are Jesuits. Pope Francis is also playing a very visible role in this regard and he, for example, gave a speech to the European Parliament in November 2014.

Who will be the final Antichrist?

The final question to consider is: who will be the Antichrist? Although some Christians make a habit of pointing to certain political leaders as candidates for the Antichrist, the above analysis implies that he would take the role that was previously held by the Caesars (he may be the final ruler who come to the throne once the Caesars are restored). The only candidates for such a position would be from the ancient line of Hapsburg-Lorraine. There are, however, some prophecies that imply that the Antichrist would get that position by stealth which means that he may be from another family.

There has recently been a family line who presents themselves as the ones to whom such a future position would rightfully belong. This is the House of Plantard de St. Clair [9]. The interesting thing about this family is that their aims show remarkable agreement with the prophecies discussed above. On the one hand there are strong indications that the secret order that works towards the restoration of this family to the throne, the Priory of Sion [10], plays an important role behind the scenes in constructing the EU as a United States of Europe [11]. Their goal seems to be to eventually get a pope of their choice elected who would recognize the claim of this family to the throne of such a restored Holy Roman Empire. On the other hand, they hate the Roman Catholic Church for certain wrongs done to them in the past [12]. One can think that they would eventually turn on it and try to destroy it.

This family has a particular anti-Christian image as supporters of the old pagan, hermetic and esoteric traditions. The strange thing is that they claim to be descended from the family of Jesus Christ (or even from himself). Although there are good reason to think that they are an old European family, this last claim should be regarded as an elaborate hoax to fraudulently promote the claims of the family. Their conflict with the Roman Catholic Church (or rather certain groups in that church) has become the dominant theme in books such as the Da Vinci Code (2003).

Conclusion

In this essay I discuss the most important views about a final Antichrist. Although there had been many antichrists in the past and we may take rulers such as Antiochus IV and Nero as such, there are good reasons to think that a final Antichristian figure who will appear in the period before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is referred to in Biblical prophecy. The purpose of this writing is not to give a detailed discussion of that period (see [3] and [5]) but merely to argue that such a person will rise in accordance with prophecy.

In the view presented here, the Antichrist will not be a Muslin leader [8]. Rather, he will be the final ruler over a restored (Holy) Roman Empire who takes the place of the Caesars who went before. This means that Christians should not take any political leader that they do not like as a possible candidate for the final Antichrist. When the time comes, Christians would recognize him through the prophecies. In this regard there are various other aspects of his reign that I have not discussed here, that give a more comprehensive picture of that time [13]. As Christians we are not in the dark as to what that time would look like – but it is important that we use good hermeneutics when studying the Scriptures.

[2] Some scholars think that the author had the wrong impression that the Median and Persian Empire (i.e. the Achaemenid Empire) was two subsequent empires but this view is refuted by the text itself (Dan. 5:28; 8:20).
[4] There is a contemporary view that the church and Holy Spirit are referred to, i.e. that they withhold the coming of the Antichrist. The problem with this view is that the church is never referred to as "that/it" in the Bible - she is always referred to as "she". So, to what does the "that/it" refers?
[5] The final seven years: the different views
[6] In 2015 the pope asked the Waldensian Christians for forgiveness for the persecution.
[7] I previously argued [3] that the Holy Roman Empire is in fact referred to in another prophecy about the end times, namely the one in Daniel 2, where the dream of Nebuchadnezzar and the explanation given by the prophet are recounted. In this case the king is said to have seen a statue made of various metals: its head was of gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet as well as its ten toes of iron and partly of clay. He saw how a rock crushed the statue and broke it in pieces.
This prophecy corresponds on every point with that in Daniel 7, which I discussed above: the various metals correspond with the different beasts. Although the iron legs are described in the same terms as the terrifying beast with ten horns, in this case more details are given, namely that the two legs (the two parts of the old Roman Empire) would find a continuation in the two feet of iron mixed with clay (the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire) which would eventually evolve into the kingdom of ten toes (corresponding with the ten horns). The final Antichrist would appear once these are on the scene.
[8] Some interpreters think that the final Antichrist would be a Muslim leader. We can only reconcile this with Bible prophecy if the ten “kings” who rule with him refer to ten Muslim countries (or something like that). I discussed this view in [3] where I show that it has various problems which make that scenario very unlikely.
[9] Pierre Plantard
[11] The authors Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln provide a good discussion about this topic in their book The Messianic Legacy.
[12] The Plantards claim to be the direct male descendants of the Merovingians who ruled in western Europe before the Carolingians (descendants of Charles the Great). According to them the Roman Catholic Church negated on a promise to recognize them as the rightful kings of the Franks when they shifted their support to the Carolingians. They hate the church for that and work actively for its destruction.

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com)

The author has written a few books on eschatology including Op pad na Armageddon, 31 bepeinsings oor Openbaring en ander Bybelprofesieë (1995) asook Die Arabiese Opstande, Hoe raak dit die vervulling van Bybelprofesieë oor die eindtyd (2011, Griffel). He has a Masters in Philosophy (University of Cape Town) as well as a PhD in physics (University of Natal). He writes and lectures on issues of religion, philosophy, science and eschatology.

If readers find the essay important for current debate, they are welcome to share it or forward it to others.