Today we commonly hear about a yet-future world ruler called the Antichrist with the number 666 who will persecute Jews and Christians and start World War III. Is this taught in the Bible? Why no, it isn't.
And when they [two witnesses] shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. (Revelation 11:7)
They say the beast is the from-that-time yet-future Antichrist. But how can a spirit being (in fact, Satan) be a human political ruler, or how is it possible for a man (the Antichrist) to arise out of the bottomless pit?
If there is an Antichrist, he is the ruler of a kingdom because he is referred to as a beast and a horn. Thus, to identify this person, we must first identify the kingdom. People generally agree it's the Roman Empire, but it ended in the west in 476 A.D. and in the east (as the Byzantine Empire) in 1453 A.D. The European Union is not a revived Roman Empire; it is not even in the same geographical area — the Roman Empire was centered around the Mediterranean Sea.
These verses were written after the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
The term "Antichrist" appears in only four verses in the Bible. None of these supports the idea there will be a yet-future person called Antichrist...
It is the last time [hour]: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time [hour]. (1 John 2:18)
Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:22)
And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. (1 John 4:3)
For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a [the] deceiver and an [the] antichrist. (2 John 1:7)
What we know from these verses...
- At the time this was written it was already the last hour. (1 John 2:18)
- Christians had been taught there would someday come very soon a person called Antichrist. (1 John 2:18) It is unknown whether the source of this teaching was apostolic or not. This is not the same person as the "man of lawlessness" in 2 Thessalonians because when John wrote 1 John the temple had already been destroyed some 20 years earlier in 70 A.D.
- At the time this was written there were many people on the scene John calls Antichrist. (1 John 2:18)
- Anyone who denies that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel is Antichrist. (1 John 2:22)
- Anyone who denies the Father and the Son [Jesus] is Antichrist. (1 John 2:22)
- Anyone who denies that Jesus came in the flesh is Antichrist. (1 John 4:3); 2 John 1:7)
- The spirit of Antichrist was to come into the world and had already appeared at the time John wrote this. (1 John 4:3)
- There are many Antichrists and will continue to be many Antichrists. (2 John 1:7)
- Antichrists are deceivers. (2 John 1:7)
Many of these points seem to refer to teachers of heresy (points 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).
The only point that even hints there will someday be a unique yet-future person called Antichrist is point 2, and we are unsure whether this teaching was apostolic or just hearsay. Also, this person would appear very soon, presumably in the lifetimes of those living in 90 A.D. when this letter was written.
From 2 Thessalonians 2 . . .
This passage is in the context of the day of the Lord, a yet-future day (from the time Paul wrote this letter) in which Christ would come and gather together the believers unto himself.
We beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. (2 Thessalonians 2:1,2)
In my view, the correct teaching of these end times events is that Jesus will come back in a yet-future time to usher the redeemed into the new heavens and new earth for all eternity after the Great White Throne judgment. For most, death occurs long before this and the redeemed are consigned to Purgatory or some other place in the spiritual realm in the presence of the Lord to await the "gathering together unto him" at his second coming. Those alive on earth at the time of Christ's second coming will also be "gathered together unto him". All of these blessed will receive their glorified body at once.
They were troubled because they thought this day was at hand. This is very peculiar. We would expect the day when Christ comes and gathers us together unto himself would be a glorious day but they had the opposite reaction; they found it troubling. They knew this day would someday come but, due to some false teaching, they hoped it would not occur in their lifetimes.
Also note that this day of Christ had not yet come but was about to — it was at hand; they would experience the dreaded events very soon.
Some possibilities of what this bad thing was and my analysis (I reject all of these possibilities)...
- The second coming of Christ — that they were taught incorrectly about this event and expected it to be unpleasant, perhaps because they expected to be sent to hell based on false teaching about whether or not their sins were actually forgiven. This possibility is unlikely for several reasons: (1) in this passage Paul does not attempt to correct their false view, and (2) Paul merely encourages them that this day will not occur in their lifetimes; but since the final judgment would be bad no matter when it occurred his letter would not comfort them at all.
- The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Romans (ala Preterism) — that the day of the Lord corresponds to that event in 70 A.D. which was yet-future for them. This possibility is unlikely for the simple fact that it did occur soon; it happened in their lifetimes.
- A still-future great tribulation (ala millennialism) — that it would not occur in their lifetimes. The related views of the rapture also have this aspect of protecting Christians from experiencing this terrible event. At first glance the pre-tribulational and mid-tribulational views of the rapture appear to fit this passage perfectly, however they have a fatal flaw: they equate the day of the Lord with the rapture — but in those views the second coming of Christ doesn't occur for many years (this objection led to the post-tribulation rapture view which solves nothing because now the Christians would have to experience the great tribulation).
- Persecution — that they would soon experience persecution. This view is unlikely for three reasons: (1) they did experience persecution soon, (2) the book of Revelation encourages Christians to endure this persecution, and (3) it equates the day of the Lord with this time of persecution.
So how is it possible to have a glorious and much-awaited day of the Lord (the second coming of Christ) which is dreaded by Christians? The simple answer: their view of the second coming of Christ was incorrect — they had adopted Jewish eschatological views. It should not surprise us the Jewish influence was so strong in Thessalonica since Paul was run out of town by them and because he praises others (the Bereans) for paying more attention to the correct Christian interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies.
Some of these Jewish views were strictly materialistic; they taught there was no bodily resurrection at all. But in verses 1 and 2 Paul reminds the Thessalonians of two points...
- They would be gathered together with Christ at his second coming, and
- That day was not to be equated with a Jewish political kingdom of the kind the Jewish revolutionaries in Jerusalem were attempting — this day would not occur in their lifetimes (but the efforts of the Jewish revolutionaries would come to a head in their lifetimes, in 70 A.D.)
Man of Sin
This passage provides perhaps the strongest support for the notion of a yet-future person called Antichrist...
That day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition [destruction]. (2 Thessalonians 2:3)
Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4)
And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. (2 Thessalonians 2:6)
For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. (2 Thessalonians 2:7)
And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:8)
Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders. (2 Thessalonians 2:9)
The question is whether the "man of sin" is a yet-future Antichrist. In my view it is not; the man of sin is either...
- One of the messianic Jewish revolutionaries who initiated the Jewish War of 66–70 A.D. leading to the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem by the Romans
- Simon Bar Kokhba who led the short-term rebellion against the Roman Empire in 132 A.D.
What we know from these verses...
- A falling away will occur before the man of sin appears. (2 Thessalonians 2:3) You could argue from Church History that the Church has always been in apostasy and continues to be so even today; certainly the letters to the Churches in the book of Revelation indicate the Churches are in a pretty sorry condition. But likely the falling away refers to the other Jewish revolutionaries who, in madness, provoke war with the Romans.
- There will be a man of sin some day but he will ultimately be destroyed. All the unredeemed will ultimately be destroyed; he is merely one of these many who commits the most egregious of sins. (2 Thessalonians 2:3)
- It is not clear whether the falling away occurs before the man of sin appears. It is not clear whether the falling away leads to the appearing of the man of sin or whether the man of sin causes the falling away. (2 Thessalonians 2:3)
- The man of sin opposes anything that is considered or worshipped as God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4)
- The man of sin exalts himself as God (much as Lucifer did). (2 Thessalonians 2:4)
- The man of sin wishes to be considered as God and worshipped by humans. His movement is religious (but may also be political to give him the power he needs to accomplish his goals). (2 Thessalonians 2:4)
- The man of sin sits in the temple of God to demonstrate his disdain for the things of God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4)
- Jesus referred to himself as the temple of God (Matthew 26:61) and Paul referred to the church as the temple of God. (1 Corinthians 3:16,17); (2 Corinthians 6:16) Based on this, some claim the Antichrist is the papacy (an absurd notion).
- Millennialists teach that the man of sin actually takes possession of a rebuilt Jewish temple.
- The man of sin appeared with the events leading to the Jewish War in 66–70 A.D. The Jewish revolutionaries actually dared to take refuge in the temple, living there with their weapons. (2 Thessalonians 2:4)
- The man of sin shows he is God. Perhaps he claims to be the true Jewish messiah. (2 Thessalonians 2:4)
- Something prevents the man of sin from appearing but this will be taken out of the way. This is referred to as he in verse 7. Paul had already taught them about all this. This occurs with the events leading to the Jewish War in 66 A.D. (2 Thessalonians 2:6,7)
- The man of sin will appear at the time chosen by God. (2 Thessalonians 2:6,8)
- The man of sin is wicked. (2 Thessalonians 2:8)
- The man of sin will be destroyed by Christ at his second Coming just as all the wicked people of all ages are, but the second coming of Christ doesn't necessarily occur immediately after the man of sin is destroyed. (2 Thessalonians 2:8)
- The man of sin is empowered by Satan (as are all who sin). (2 Thessalonians 2:9)
- The man of sin will manifest supernatural powers and miracles. This will convince many that he is who he claims to be. (2 Thessalonians 2:9)
In this passage Paul emphasizes someone who blocks the man of sin from appearing but who is taken out of the way. (2 Thessalonians 2:6-8) It is not stated who this person is or who takes him out of the way. It seems this restrainer is a sign to be watched for so they will recognize the Antichrist is about to appear on the scene. Christians would heed this warning just as they heeded the warning to flee Jerusalem just before it was destroyed in the Jewish war from 66–70 A.D.
Who is Antichrist?
So who is Antichrist? Some possibilities...
- The papacy — but the Antichrist is referred to as a person (he) rather than an institution or a group of people.
- Nero — the 666 of the book of Revelation refers to Nero.
- Any and every evil and charismatic leader who appears in our day.
- A messianic Jewish revolutionary who would start the Jewish War against the Romans in 66 A.D. This is the view of 2 Thessalonians chapter 2.
The man of sin, the Antichrist, was a messianic Jewish revolutionary taking up residence in the temple and who would start the Jewish War against the Romans in 66 A.D.
Paul gave us a timeline of events...
- When he wrote the letter in 52 A.D. — no falling away yet, no man of sin yet, no second coming of Christ yet.
- The falling away (or perhaps this occurs as a result of the man of sin's influence).
- The man of sin appears and does his evil deeds.
- The man of sin dies.
- An indeterminate period of time, perhaps hundreds or millions of years.
- Second coming of Christ in which the man of sin is destroyed.
Is Antichrist yet-future?
Will there someday be a unique individual called the Antichrist? Not in my view. There is a more sensible alternate interpretation of this passage (and there are no other passages in the Bible clearly teaching of a yet-future Antichrist).
The man of sin of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is not the Antichrist but is, rather, a particular Jewish revolutionary who influences the other radicals to rebel against the Romans resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. This view fits the passage perfectly . . .
- That time was still yet-future. (2 Thessalonians 2:1,2)
- The Jews in general and the Jewish leaders in particular had not yet fallen-away to the point of opposing the Romans. (2 Thessalonians 2:3)
- The Jewish revolutionaries actually took up residence in the temple. (2 Thessalonians 2:4)
- The destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple was the work of Satan (he comes to steal, kill, and destroy). (2 Thessalonians 2:9)
Some claim that certain passages in the book of Daniel refer to a yet-future Antichrist. These passages include chapters 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12. I am unconvinced.
My view of who or what is referred to in each of these passages...
- Daniel 7:7,11 — The Roman empire (4th beast) and the Roman emperors (10 horns).
- Daniel 7:8 — Domitian, the 11th emperor of the Roman Empire (another little horn).
- Daniel 8:9-14,23-25 — Antiochus Epiphanes (little horn).
- Daniel 9:26,27 — Titus (prince that shall come), whose armies destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. about 40 years after the Messiah was cut off.
- Daniel 11:2-35 — the time from Cyrus the Great to Antiochus Epiphanes
- Daniel 11:31-35 — Antiochus Epiphanes
- Daniel 11:36-39,41-45 — Roman kings or Herod the great.
- Daniel 11:40 — Cleopatra (queen of the south)
- Daniel 12:7,11 — The Jewish war ending in 70 A.D.
Some claim that certain passages in the book of Revelation refer to a yet-future Antichrist. These passages include chapters 13, 16, 17, and 20. I am unconvinced.
My view of who or what is referred to in each of these passages...
- Revelation 13:1-10,17;17:3-17;19:19-20 — The wicked Roman empire/culture/civilization consisting of (1) wicked rulers/kings, and (2) wicked people (1st beast)
- Revelation 13:18 — Nero (666)
- Revelation 13:10-18;16:13;19:20 — Wicked Roman rulers/kings and the cult of emperor worship. (2nd beast, false prophet)
- Revelation 17:1-9 — Sin personified. The wicked people and culture of the Roman empire and by application, of all time (as the Great Harlot)
- Revelation 20:3,8-9 — Satan is loosed (but not to empower the Antichrist)
Is the pope the Antichrist?
Some claim the pope is the Antichrist. This has problems for many reasons...
- There are many popes but only one Antichrist. Which one pope is the Antichrist?
- Since the great schism of 1054 A.D. half the Christians of the world don't relate to the papacy at all (actually, they didn't before this either). This number increased in the 1500's with the Protestant Reformation. Why would Satan find it satisfying to only deceive a portion of the Christian world?
- Catholics don't worship the pope at all so this view doesn't fit the description in 2 Thessalonians 2:4.
- The Antichrist is yet-future but the papacy has been in existence since at least the 300's A.D.
The Purpose of Antichrist
I reject the idea that there will in the future be a person called Antichrist. I include this following information to refute some false ideas about this.
If the purpose of Antichrist is to deceive the Jews into thinking he is the Messiah so they will worship him, it makes sense he would rebuild the Jewish temple. The problem with this is the Jews don't think the Messiah is deity so they wouldn't worship him at all. They might think he is a prophet but, again, they wouldn't worship him.
If the purpose of Antichrist is to deceive Christians into thinking he is the Messiah then he would certainly want to appear to fulfill the eschatological teachings about the second coming of Christ. The problem of this view is in Christians who are so easily duped and would not likely believe Christ is deity at all; these liberal Christians would never worship such a Messiah at all. This kind of "second coming" bears no resemblance to any orthodox Christian teaching about the topic so we must assume the gospel of this Antichrist would bear no resemblance to orthodoxy.
If the purpose of Antichrist is to deceive the non-Christians of the world into thinking Christianity is true and that he is the Christ, he would want to do some amazing miraculous feats to impress them. This view has the same problem as the previous one. Without the corresponding idea of a Creator God and of Christ as deity in a human incarnation, there would certainly be no worship at all if the Messiah were just a mere man. Surely Satan wants more than merely to be acknowledged as having an above-average intellect.