|The Antichrist ....||Bob Moore|
Many Christians expect the future rise of an anti-christ. They believe he will
unite all civil and ecclesiastical powers into a single global government that
will control every aspect of society. Those opposing his reign will be
eliminated. Since Satan will give him his power, he will use his position to
stamp out every vestige of the true religion. If he succeeds, Christianity will
be completely erased from human memory.
The ascent of an antichrist has scriptural foundations. John's revelation describes a beast that blasphemes God and wars against the saints (Revelations 13:5-7). Daniel also saw the rise of this king. His prophesy says, "He shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change times and laws" (Daniel 7:25). Paul explained that this individual would pretend to be God and rule over His house. He warned, "That day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that the man of sin may be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).
Today, most Christians believe these prophesies describe a future despot. Previous generations, however, interpreted the same prophecies differently. Examining their explanations reveals the roots of modern interpretations and extends our understanding of Christian thought.
As the apostles and their companions spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, they encountered an increasingly hostile reception. The Jews were the first to persecute them, but they had relatively no authority to execute them. Their contempt for the new sect led them to excite their Roman superiors against it. Occasionally, Roman citizens, particularly those tied to the economics of the pagan religion, were sufficiently offended that they complained to local governors. This increased the level of persecution directed against Christians. Eventually, the Emperor heard the complaints.
In 64 AD the emperor, Nero, blamed Christians for the ills perplexing the Empire. Under his direction the government pursued and oppressed them. Many lost their jobs and property. Some were imprisoned and tortured. His tyranny was severe and caused the death of thousands of faithful saints. Some were thrown to wild beasts who devoured them. Others were burned. Nero crucified Peter and beheaded Paul.
The persecution he directed seemed to fulfill the apostles' prophecies. Peter had foretold a fiery trial that would befall the Church. Paul had predicted the revelation of the man of sin. John had described a war against the saints. Even the Savior had foretold manifold persecutions. Christians enduring this tyranny believed Nero was the predicted antichrist. He denounced the Savior and fought the saints. What is more important, the number of Nero's name in both Hebrew and Greek is 666.
Nero died in 68 AD, and the war against the church subsided. Occasionally, later emperors directed their own persecutions designed to stamp out the new religion. Because God did not rescue the church from any of them, Ireaneous, who wrote about 160 AD, reasoned that the antichrist had not yet appeared. He speculated that a future Roman leader would wage war against the saints to such an extent that God would intervene in the way John prophesied. He concluded that the antichrist would take "Titan" as his title, partly because that name had not been used by any known ruler and partly because its number is 666.
As pagan Rome became Christian, the oppression waned. By the time it stopped, Rome had waged ten different periods of persecution against the faithful. This is the same number as the number of kings prophecy predicted would come out of Rome, as well as the number of plagues Moses brought upon Egypt. Christians concluded that the period of tribulation was over. They believed that the victory of Christ over Babylon was accomplished when the church triumphed over idolatry. Augustine argued that the Millennial Reign promised in the Apocalypse had already been fulfilled. He reasoned that Jesus returned as the Holy Ghost and filled the earth as the church converted its inhabitants. Eventually, Christians stopped expecting a future antichrist, a coming period of tribulation, or the return of the Savior. Some people today still maintain that the Biblical prophecies concerning the antichrist were fulfilled by the ten Roman Emperors who persecuted the church.
About 1150 several people financed different translations of the Bible into their respective languages. Before then, the Bible was available in Latin only. Upon reading it, the people concluded that the clergy were less like the disciples of Jesus and more like the Pharisees of the Jews, and that the Pope was more like the antichrist of Revelation than the apostles of Acts. The church disciplined those publicizing these observations, chained the Bible to their pulpits, and forbad its translation into other languages. While such actions ended public criticism at that time, the Reformation rekindled the earlier contempt.
The reformers believed that the antichrist was the Papacy. It had risen to power after ten kings had invaded the Roman Empire. During its rise it had subdued three of those kings. Both of these events seemed to have been predicted by Daniel (Dan 7:24). When Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor of The Holy Roman Empire, it revived one of the seven different heads that the Roman Empire had endured. This appeared to fulfill John's prophecy (Rev 13:3). Since the Papacy had fought and overcame those who believed and tried to obey the Bible, the reformers concluded that it was the false messiah predicted to wear out the saints. By substituting pagan practices for the original doctrines of Christ and claiming to be infallible, the Pope fulfilled the prediction that the antichrist would appear as God and speak great things against the Most High. His title, Vicar of Christ, in Latin numbers 666. Many Christians still interpret prophecies about the antichrist to refer to the Papacy.
Because both Daniel and John had prophesied the length of the reign of the antichrist, some reformers, particularly the later ones, begin to predict the end of his reign. Since prophecy tied the destruction of the antichrist to the second coming of Jesus, many of these interpretations calculated the date for the return of the Savior. Some of the dates proposed were 1776, 1785, 1816, 1836, 1843, 1848, 1852, 1858, 1862, and 1864.
As the earlier dates passed without the descent of Jesus, anticipation of and speculation about his coming grew. In the spring of 1830, Margaret Macdonald, a resident of Port Glasgow, Scotland, proposed that before descending in clouds of glory, Jesus would first appear to the faithful. She believed he would lift them off the earth during his secretive appearance just before a period of grave tribulation overtook the earth. John Darby, the founder of the Brethren movement, adopted Margaret's interpretation. He taught that the church would be raptured at the beginning of a period of tribulation that would last seven years. He believed Daniel had predicted its length in his prophecy of the seventy weeks (Dan 9:27).
When the later dates passed without the second advent, many Christians began to lose faith. Not only did they conclude that the prophecies were inaccurate, but many decided that the Bible, now under attack by the disbelief of "higher criticism," was faulty. Joseph Seiss, a well-educated Lutheran minister, wavered, too. To saved his faith, he concluded in 1885 that the prophesies were not errant, but their interpretations were. Previous commentators had assumed from the text (Rev 1:10) that the Revelation was given to John on a Sunday. He proposed that John was transported in vision to the day of the Lord's return to view it and the preceding rise and fall of the "man of sin." He reasoned that the Apocalypse described the events occurring during the seven-year period of tribulation Darby had proposed and that the antichrist of Revelation would precipitate it.
While Joseph Seiss believed that the reign of the antichrist was unconnected with previous empires, some supporters of his interpretation began teaching that the anti-christ would be enthroned by ten kings rising out of a remnant of the Roman Empire still left in Europe. With the help of Cyrus Scofield and later Hal Lindsey, this new interpretation gradually gained popularity. Today it is the most visible, if not the most popular, interpretation of prophecy among fundamental Christians.