The Antichrist, as the word implies, is one who opposes Christ or who falsely presents himself or herself as Christ. Although the word is most commonly associated with the apocalyptic New Testament book of Revelation, the word "Antichrist" is nowhere to be found within its text. In 1 John 2:18, the epistle writer declares that the "enemy of Christ" has manifested and that many false teachers have infiltrated the Christian ranks. In verse 22, John names as the Antichrist anyone who would deny Jesus as the Christ and the Father and the Son, and in 2 John verse 7 he declares that there are many deceivers already at work among the faithful.
The concept of an earthly opponent or antagonist of the Messiah also appears in the Old Testament. The earliest form of the Antichrist is probably the warrior King Gog, who appears in the Book of Ezekiel and who reappears in Revelation along with his kingdom of Magog, representing those earthly minions of Satan who will attack the people of God in a final great battle of good versus evil. In Jewish eschatology, writings about the "end of days" state that the armies of Gog and Magog will eventually be defeated and the world will finally be at peace.
Throughout the Bible the Antichrist bears many titles: Son of Perdition, Man of Sin, Man of Lawlessness, the Prince of Destruction/Abomination, and the Beast. The prophet Daniel describes the man in great detail: He shall be an evil king who will "…exalt himself and magnify himself above every god and shall speak outrageous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper until the indignation is accomplished: for that which has been determined shall come to pass. Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all. But in his estate he shall (secretly) honor a god of forces and a god whom his fathers never knew. To these he will worship with gold and silver and with precious stones and pleasant things. Thus shall he do in his fortress with a strange god, whom he shall acknowledge and increase with glory; and he shall cause them to rule over many and shall divide the land for gain" (Daniel 11:36).
St. Paul, writing in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, had a similar vision concerning the arrogant and evil king: "The man of sin…who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he as God sits in the temple of God, displaying himself as if being God…for the mystery of lawlessness is already at work in the world: only he who now restrains (the coming of the Antichrist) will do so.… And then shall that Wicked [one] be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the spirit of his mouth.… Destroying him whose coming is in harmony with the working of Satan with all power and signs and false miracles.…"
In both the prophecies of Daniel and John the Revelator, the evil king, the Antichrist, is associated with 10 rulers who give their power and allegiance to him in order to form a short-lived empire of bloodshed and destruction. "And the ten horns of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them, and he shall be diverse…and speak great words against the most high God and shall wear down the saints of the Highest One and think to make changes in times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand for three and one half years" (Daniel 7:24). "And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he comes, he must continue only for a short time" (Revelation 17:10).
In Matthew 24:3–44, Jesus (c. 6 B.C.E.–c. 30 C.E.) speaks to his disciples at great length concerning the false Messiahs and prophets who will deceive many people with their rumors about the end of the world. He makes reference to the prophet Daniel and his warnings concerning the end times and the Antichrist, and he admonishes the disciples not to chase after false teachers who will produce great miracles and signs to trick God's chosen ones. No one knows when the Son of Man shall appear again coming on the clouds of heaven, Jesus tells them, not even the angels.
Although Jesus makes it clear that no one knows the hour or day of his Second Coming, for many centuries now certain Christian clergy and scholars have steadfastly associated the rise of the Antichrist to earthly power as a kind of catalyst that would set in motion Armageddon, the last final battle between good and evil, the ultimate clash between the armies of Jesus Christ and Satan. Throughout the centuries, Christians have attempted to determine the Antichrist from among the powerful and ruthless leaders of their day. Ever since the Protestant Reformation, the pope has been a favorite of Evangelicals for the ignominious title. While many of the pontiffs in the Middle Ages did exercise great power over the rulers and the people of the emerging European nations, contemporary popes wield little political influence, surely none that would place them in world-threatening positions.
There have been such men as Aleister Crowley (1875–1947), who actually appeared to seek the position by calling himself the Beast and 666. The numerical value of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's (1882–1945) name reportedly added up to 666, and since he held the office of president of the United States for 12 years—and during the Great Depression and World War II—many of his conservative Christian critics began thinking of him as the Antichrist. And even the former President Ronald Wilson Reagan (1911– ), had certain dissenters calling attention to the fact that he had six letters in each of his three names—6-6-6.
In recent decades, the term of Antichrist has been applied to so many individuals in popular culture that it has lost much of its meaning and its sense of menace. During the Gulf War in 1992, Saddam Hussein (1937– ) received many votes for the title of the Beast, especially when he announced plans to begin to restore the ruins of Babylon to a splendor that would approximate the wicked city's former glory. Before Hussein, there were many nominations for the Ayatollah Khomeini (1900–1989) to don the mantle. But later when certain extremists named President Reagan, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (1923– ), and even the children's television icon Barney the Dinosaur as the Antichrist, the word began losing its threat for the general population. However, those Christians who believe strongly in the coming time of Tribulation, the Apocalypse, the Rapture, and the great final battle of good versus evil at Armageddon, firmly believe that the title of Antichrist maintains its fear factor and that those signs and warnings of the Beast as prophesied in the book of Revelation should be seriously heeded.
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Unterman, Alan. Dictionary of Jewish Lore and Legend. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991.