To identify the Antichrist, we must depend on what the relevant scriptures say about him, his methods, and his agendas.
The subject of the “Antichrist” raises understandable questions. Who is he? When will he appear? How will we recognize him? What is his “mark” or “number”? In popular preaching, he is a global political leader who uses military might to coerce other nations. But if Satan is truly clever and cunning, why would he do the very things that so many of us expect?
Over the centuries, the church has heard a multitude of predictions and theories about the “Antichrist.” He has been identified with the Roman emperor, the Pope, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, and numerous other political figures. And in many cases, excellent arguments were made to support the proposition. Nonetheless, not one of these candidates ever went on to become the world-dominating “Beast from the sea.”
Complicating the matter are the several terms used for this malevolent figure in the New Testament, including Antichrist, Man of Lawlessness, and Beast, and possibly the “abomination of desolation.” Do they all refer to the same individual or thing? The term “Antichrist” only appears in two of John’s letters, and nowhere in the Book of Revelation. Is it even the most appropriate label, biblically speaking? Are we certain John had the same figure in mind that Revelation labeled the “Beast from the sea,” or that Paul called the “Lawless one”?
The language and imagery used by the New Testament to portray this figure are drawn from the Hebrew Bible, especially from the book of Daniel with its vision of the “little horn that was speaking great things.” But Paul and John did not simply quote passages from the Old Testament, they interpreted and reapplied them it in the light of what God did in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and all too often in unexpected ways.
In Revelation, for example, the promise that the Messiah would “rule the nations” with his iron rod is modified so that now he is the one who “shepherds” the kings and nations of the earth. In another case, the call for Ancient Israel to become a “kingdom of priests” is reapplied to the men and women from “every nation” who have been “redeemed by the blood of the Lamb,” including the largely Gentile “seven churches of Asia” – (Exodus 19:5, Revelation 1:4-6, 5:6-12, 12:5).
The task of identifying the “Beast” is complicated, and if there is any hope of acquiring the correct understanding of this creature, we must seek it in the pages of Scripture, and NOWHERE ELSE. We will not gain insight into him or it from news headlines or popular opinions. It will require us to examine carefully all the related biblical texts.
This subject is critical to the life of the church, and it becomes more relevant with each passing day. If we fail to heed what Scripture says, we may very well find ourselves deceived by the Antichrist when he does appear. And even now, according to Revelation, the “Beast is ascending from the sea.” When John described this creature’s arrival, he used a participle in the Greek present tense, signifying ongoing action in the present. Already, it is in the process of “ascending” from the Abyss/Sea.
In a very noteworthy passage, Revelation interprets its “seven heads” as “seven mountains,” which, in turn, represent seven kingdoms. But they are successive and NOT concurrent realms. Already in the first century, five had “fallen” – they were in the past – one existed at the time, and the final or “seventh” one was “not yet come” – (Revelation 17:8-11).
In chapter 13, John used the characteristics of the “four beasts ascending from the sea” seen by Daniel centuries earlier to describe what for him was one creature. In Daniel, the “four beasts” represented four successive kingdoms. But John saw only one “Beast,” and he listed their animal characteristics in reverse order from how they were listed in Daniel, almost as if John was looking back over the history of world empires.
For that matter, Daniel linked the World-Power of his day to the “land of Shinar,” the ancient kingdom of the Sumerians where Babylon originated, and the place where the first attempt was made to unite all peoples under one government and one language – (Genesis 11:1-9, Daniel 1:2).
This is an ancient story. What the Bible pictures is not a one-time event that will occur just prior to the end of the age, but a transhistorical agenda that has been underway since the beginning of human civilization.
Past prophecy teachers who identified this beastly system with the Roman Empire or the government of Nazi Germany were not entirely wrong. Previous efforts to install regional and global empires were part of this centuries-long process. Satan has been pushing the same agenda throughout history, and at every possible opportunity. If not even Jesus knows the timing of the end, then neither does Satan and therefore, he must exploit every opportunity to impose his antichrist agenda on humanity.
So, how do we identify the final empire, the “seventh kingdom”? First, we must bear in mind Christ’s repeated warning that “no one knows the day or hour of the coming of the Son of Man.” As he told his disciples prior to his ascension, “it is NOT for you to know times and seasons, which the Father has left in his own authority.” Not even Jesus knew that information.
As church history demonstrates, despite having mountains of convincing evidence, we may identify the Antichrist with great confidence and still be proved wrong by the passage of time. If we are close to the “end,” we have an excellent chance of getting it right. But world events often change radically and quickly, so if the “end” is further off than we imagine, all bets are off.
But we are not completely in the dark. Whether Jesus, Paul, or John had the same figure in view, there are certain characteristics common to their several descriptions.
DECEPTION AND APOSTASY. To begin with, all three men linked this figure to deception and apostasy. Jesus warned of coming “deceivers” who would propagate false information about the “end,” thereby “troubling” many. And these deceptions would cause many to apostatize – “Then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.”
Likewise, alluding to that very same warning, Paul instructed the Thessalonians not to be “troubled” by disinformation about the “Day of the Lord,” which will not come until after the “apostasy” and the “revealing of the man of lawlessness.” Similarly, in his letters, John identified the false teachers that had risen within his churches as “antichrists,” forerunners of the final “Antichrist” who would come in the “last days” – (Matthew 24:4-8, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4, 1 John 2:18-22).
SIGNS AND WONDERS. According to Jesus, false prophets will appear and use “great signs and wonders” to deceive “even the elect.” Likewise, the “man of lawlessness” will employ “great power and lying signs and wonders” to deceive many, causing them to depart from the faith. And in Revelation, the “false prophet” uses “great wonders” to cause many to “pay homage to the Beast.” And nowhere do the relevant passages state that these “signs and wonders” will not be genuine supernatural occurrences – (Revelation 13:11-15).
LAWLESSNESS. Jesus warned that “many false prophets” will appear, and because of the resultant spread of “lawlessness, the love of the many will grow cold.” In Thessalonica, Paul warned not only of the future “many of lawlessness,” but stated that the “mystery of lawlessness” is already at work in the world. And in his first letter, John attributed the rise of “many antichrists” in his churches to the “spirit of antichrist” that was active in the world even in his time.
IN AND AGAINST THE CHURCH. When Jesus warned that the “love of many will grow cold” because of “lawlessness,” he was not speaking about men in general, but specifically to his disciples. The coming “false prophets” will be intent on deceiving “the elect.” Similarly, the “man of lawlessness” will appear first in the “sanctuary of God,” a phrase used consistently by Paul to refer to the church. Likewise, John’s concern was about the “many antichrists” that were operating in the church. And in Revelation, the “Dragon” and his vassals wage war against the “saints,” “those who have the testimony of Jesus,” and “those who have the faith of Jesus,” and NOT against other nation-states or modern Israel.
MISSING ASSUMPTIONS. Neither Jesus, Paul nor John stated that the Abomination of Desolation, the Man of Lawlessness, the Antichrist, or the Beast will be a global political leader who wages military campaigns against other nations. Consistently, the picture is of a figure who will deceive and cause believers to apostatize. And in Revelation, also consistently, he “wages war” against the church, the “saints.”
But there are differences between the several passages. For example, neither John in his letters nor Paul assign any geographic location or limitations to this figure, other than to state that he is in the “world.” In his initial warnings to his disciples, Jesus focused on what they would see in and around Judea and Jerusalem. But Revelation makes clear that Satan’s efforts to destroy the “saints” will be global. Thus, for example, he gathers the nations “from the corners of the earth” that will then “ascend over the breadth of the earth” to attack the “camp of the saints.” And the “mark” and “number” of the “Beast” are mentioned only in Revelation.
ECONOMIC SANCTIONS. In addition to the “mark of the Beast,” one element that is unique to Revelation is the use of economic pressure against those who refuse to “pay homage” to the “Beast” – “No one could buy or sell except those who had the mark of the Beast.”
What this economic war will look like is hinted at in the letters to the “churches of Asia,” especially in the one addressed to Smyrna. That congregation refused to compromise with the surrounding society, causing it to suffer “tribulation and poverty.” And in that society, it would have been difficult in the extreme to participate in its economic system without compromising with its idolatrous beliefs.
So, where does this leave us? First, because the rise of the “Beast” is a transhistorical phenomenon and an ever-present danger, we must always be on guard. Even more so because we do not know how close we are to the end of the age. The threat is real and constant.
Second, we must always be on guard for deceptions that originate within the church, for THAT is where the “Antichrist” and the “Man of Lawlessness” will appear first.
Third, since the agents of Satan can employ “signs and wonders” to accomplish their nefarious purposes, the manifestation of supernatural miracles is NO guarantee that any individual, church, or ministry is from God.
Fourth, however small it may begin, the Antichrist program will become global in scope, especially as it targets Christians wherever they may be found.
Are there candidates on the immediate horizon? Again, it depends on “when” we are on God’s prophetic timetable. And because this is an effort that has spanned human history, there have always been prime candidates on the world scene, governments and tyrants bent on regional if not world domination. And while the “Beast” may not be primarily a global military power, for now, there is an intriguing possibility.
There is an existing government that in many ways dominates the world. And I am referring to a government, not to a nation or people. While it has for decades used its military might to coerce other governments to submit to its will, increasingly, it uses its economic might and control to impose sanctions against other nations, non-governmental organizations, and even individual men and women that refuse to submit to its agendas. Even now, statistically, one-third of the world’s population is under one or another of its economic sanctions. And while this government does not appear to be targeting Christians, at least for now, some of its surrogates certainly do. Moreover, it habitually leaves “lawlessness” in its wake.
And whatever this political system may have once been irrelevant. Ancient Rome began as a republic but centuries later evolved into an empire built on military and economic might. Likewise, the actual intentions of its leaders are not relevant. They are not in control, the “Dragon” is. And what counts far more are the results of its actions, intentional or not.
And one can easily argue that many of the deceptions afflicting humanity at this time originated in this nation, many if not most of the destructive heresies that are corrupting Christianity worldwide began in its churches.
I am not saying that this government is or will become the “Beast,” but it certainly makes an excellent candidate. Only time will prove whether I am correct or mistaken.