Who is the Antichrist?

In today’s blog I want to discuss the identity of the antichrist. This is a subject that interests a lot of Christians and it’s a question that I field a lot in my ministry, so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts. As always you can take or leave what I have to say here. I don’t speak with any authority and really there’s no good reason for you to accept what I have to say. However, I’m going to share what I think on the subject – you figure it out from here.     

You know, the concept of the antichrist is probably one of the best widely-known Biblical concepts known not just to believers, but to non-believers as well. Recent books and movies have so popularized this aspect of eschatology that even those outside of the church seem to know something about this character.  

And, popular books have given us a lot of detail. For example, John Hagee, in his book “Beginning of the End” tells us that the antichrist will have a hypnotic charm, he will come from the European union, he will have paid his dues in the military, he will be known as a man of peace, and will sign a 7-year peace treaty with the middle east. Now, that’s a lot of detail that Mr. Hagee has given us. But, the question I want to answer is: what does the Bible have to say? What can we learn about the antichrist from the Scriptures?     

Well, let’s begin with the word “antichrist” itself. It’s found only five times in all of the Bible, all by the same author, John. So, let’s take a look…

1 John 2:18 says, “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.” Then, a few verses later he writes, “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.”       

So, in these two passages we’ve learned that John tells his readers to expect the antichrist and reminds them that many have already come, and then gives us a way to recognize antichrist, and that is they will deny the Father and the Son.   

Next, a few chapters later, in 1 John 4, John writes, “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.”         

So, here John gives us a bit more information and tells us that the spirit of antichrist denies that Jesus has come in the flesh, and he reminds us once more that the antichrist has already come.        

Finally, the last passage that uses the word antichrist is 2 John 1:7, which reads, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” 

Again, John tells us that not just a few, but many deceivers have already gone out into the world who deny Jesus came in the flesh, and these are antichrist.      

So, as you can see John seems to talk about antichrists – plural – not just one specific antichrist. And though he does say that “the” antichrist is coming, he doesn’t differentiate between what is coming and what is already prevalent in his day. In other words, he doesn’t suggest that what is coming will be any different than what he was already experiencing.      

Now, those are the only places where the word antichrist is actually found in the entire Bible.  Every time John tells us that antichrist is coming, he is also quick to point out that antichrist was already present in his time.   Let me point out that in these passages we read nothing of the antichrist being a world dictator, leading a world religion, being a future leader, setting up a one-world government, or establishing a cashless society. All of these are frequently taught in many circles today, but none of them are found in the passages that actually deal with the antichrist by name.  

Now, someone may respond and say that all of that information is provided to us in other passages even though those passages don’t use the word antichrist.  Well, that may be true. But, if those other passages are referring to an antichrist, then we would expect it be pretty clear that that’s what it’s talking about.         

So, where do we find other references to the antichrist being a future world leader?

Well, most people will start with 2 Thessalonians 2, beginning with verse 1, “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day 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.”         

Now in this well-known passage, Paul seems to be addressing a concern among the believers in Thessalonica that they may have missed the return of Jesus and our gathering to Him. He reassures them by telling them that that day will not come until there is first a falling away – evidently from the faith – and the man of sin – or lawlessness – is revealed.  Many believe that this man of sin is a coming antichrist. And, that is certainly possible. However, lets first note that Paul doesn’t refer to the man as an antichrist, and there’s nothing in the passage that would immediately make us suspect that Paul is talking about the same thing that John was talking about.

So, the question we would have before us is who is this man of sin?

Well, Paul doesn’t really tell us who it is, and he gives us only a few clues about him. First, whoever or whatever it is we find that he will be revealed prior to the gathering together of believers to Christ, which I take to be the Rapture. Next, we read that the man of sin will oppose God and exalt himself above God. That’s somewhat helpful because it sounds like the man of sin will be desiring devotion from the world, which seems to suggest he has more of a religious interest rather than a political one.

And then we read that the man of sin will “sit as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.”   Now, I know that the popular notion is that since the man of sin is to sit in the temple, and since the Jewish temple is not standing, that there will be a rebuilt temple in which this person will sit.  However, I’m not so sure that’s what Paul means here. First, there’s no passage of Scripture anywhere that predicts a third Jewish temple. In other words, if that’s what Paul is suggesting, then this is the only place that we find that prediction, and it’s really not a prediction at all.  Nor is it clear here that that’s what he means, because the Jewish temple was still standing when he wrote the letter. It hadn’t been torn down yet.

Second, we know that in addition to this passage, Paul uses the phrase “temple of God” in two other places, and in both of those passages it’s absolutely clear that he’s not referring to the Jewish temple. In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.”       

Here, it’s clear that Paul believes that the temple of God is the Church, since he tells the church in Corinth that that’s who they are. A few chapters later Paul says something similar, when he writes “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? (1 Cor. 6:19).

Although it’s not the exact phrase, “temple of the Holy Spirit,” is something very similar, and we can see once again that Paul views the church as the temple.  The other passage where Paul uses the phrase “temple of God” is in 2 Corinthians 6, which reads in part, “And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God.”

Here we once again find Paul defining the phrase “temple of God” as the church.    

So, if we’re going to allow the Bible to interpret the Bible, then in 2 Thessalonians 2:4, when Paul says that the man of sin will sit in the temple of God, it seems much more reasonable to assume that he has in mind the church, mentioned at least twice, rather than a rebuilt Jewish temple, mentioned nowhere.  It’s also important to note that Paul never suggests that the man of sin must appear shortly before the Rapture. He only suggests that the Rapture will never occur until the man of sin has been revealed. How much time lapses between these two events is never stated.       

And, what about the man himself? Well, you might have noticed me saying something like “whoever or whatever” he is. That’s because historically, many Christians have not viewed the man of sin as a literal person, but an institution that the man represents.     

For instance, the early reformers understood the man of sin to be the papacy out of Rome. It wasn’t a man, it was a system. Keep this in mind as we take a look at another passage commonly believed to be about the antichrist, Revelation 13.  

In this chapter, John describes having seen two terrible beasts. The first was a seven-headed beast that he said was like a leopard, like a bear, and like a lion.  This beast is believed by many to be the coming antichrist.     

But, first, let’s point out that John, who uses the word antichrist in his epistles, doesn’t identify the beast here as the antichrist. And, there’s nothing obvious about the passage to make us think that what he saw in Revelation 13 is what he had in mind when he used the word antichrist in his letters. The two descriptions are vastly different.        

In any event, it’s pretty clear that John is drawing his symbolism in Revelation 13 from a vision that Daniel had in Daniel 7, when he recorded seeing four beasts, who were individually described as being like a lion, like a bear, and like a leopard. Those beasts were clearly identified to us in Daniel as kingdoms, not individual men. Therefore, since John is borrowing from this vision, it would seem more natural to assume that John is talking about the same type of thing; that is, a compilation of kingdoms, or institutions, rather than an individual person.      

Now, one may object and say, “but John uses the personal pronoun “he” in describing this beast and therefore it must be a person!”   However, the prophets commonly used this way of addressing entire kingdoms, such as in Hosea, when the prophet referred to the northern tribes, Ephraim, as a person,        “The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; HIS sin is stored up. The sorrows of a woman in childbirth shall come upon HIM. HE is an unwise son, For HE should not stay long where children are born.” (13:12).      

As you can see, it’s completely possible that John is not referring to a person at all in Revelation 13, but a kingdom or at least some type of system. As a matter of fact, I think that this is probably a more natural conclusion to make, and there’s nothing in the text to forbid that idea.   

Now, the final passage that we should consider is from Daniel 7, to which we have already referred. In that chapter, Daniel described seeing four terrifying beasts which he is told are subsequent kingdoms that will rise. Nearly every commentator understands these kingdoms as the Babylonian, the Media-Persian empire, the Grecian kingdom, and Roman. Out of this final Roman kingdom, Daniel is told that ten kings will rise and then one – described as the little horn – will become prominent. Many today see this little horn as a still-future antichrist. To make this work they believe that the Roman empire will be revived so that the little horn can come out of it. To me that’s not the natural reading because there’s nothing in the passage suggesting that the fourth beast is revived after it is slain and burned by fire.  

Now, just like the man of sin from Paul’s writing, the early reformers saw this little horn fulfilled in the papacy – and I have to admit that they make a good argument. There’s nothing in Daniel 7 that would forbid that interpretation.  In any event, we aren’t told that the little horn of Daniel sets up a one world government, makes a cashless society, or makes any kind of peace treaty in the middle east. Whoever or whatever this little horn is, we are told that it speaks boastfully and makes war against the people of God. And, just like the man of sin, the little horn’s power is evidently destroyed by the return of Jesus. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the man of sin or little horn is revealed just before the return of Christ – only that He destroys them upon His return. How long they remain alive before His coming is debatable.              

So … who then is the antichrist?  Well, as we just discovered, John told us that antichrist was coming, but that there were already many antichrists in his day. He made no mention of a future world leader who would make a peace treaty, set up a one-world government, or anything like that.    

The man of sin who Paul described as wanting to be seen as God certainly could be described as an antichrist, but Paul gives us such scant information about him that it’s difficult to know for certain who he is. Furthermore, people like Luther and the early reformers have made very compelling arguments suggesting that this man of sin may have been revealed by their time.  And, there’s nothing in the text that forbids that interpretation.  In other words, even though Paul suggested the man of sin was yet to come, we do no violence to the text to suggest that that prediction may now have been fulfilled.  

And, what of the beast in Revelation? Well, as we just noted, the evidence that it is a system, or government, or institution is much stronger than to suggest that it’s a man.  And, just as in the situation of the man of sin, we can’t say for certain that we’re still waiting for this to be revealed. I am open to the possibility that may have already happened.              

So … will there be a man who will rise to become a world leader who wins over the world and tries to set up a one world government?      Well, there could be, but we wouldn’t get that information from the Bible.

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, follower-of-Jesus blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmakerPodcast host, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us , and has worked as an investigator for over 36 years.



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