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In Christian eschatology, the Antichrist is a person or other entity that is the embodiment of evil and utterly opposed to truth.
Origin and meaning
The English word Antichrist is taken from the Greek αντιχριστος, antikhristos, and literally means instead of Christ.
In the New Testament
In the New Testament, the word "Antichrist" is used only in 1 John and 2 John:
- Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:22 ESV; see also 2:18, 4:3, 1:7)
Many deceivers have gone out into the world; they do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist (2 John 1:7.)
Here it seems to describe any false teacher or false prophet or corrupter of the Christian faith, but sometimes also seems to indicate a specific person or a single spirit of deception that motivates false teaching, and whose presence is a sign of the end times. Many Christians identify this particular Antichrist with the man of sin or son of perdition mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2, and with several figures in the Book of Revelation including the Dragon, the Beast, the False Prophet , and the Whore of Babylon. The Antichrist is variously understood to be a consummately evil system of government or leader, a false religion or religious leader that sets up false worship in place of the worship of Christ, the incarnation of Satan, a son of Satan, or a human being under the liege of Satan.
Related ideas and references appear in many other places in the Bible and various apocrypha, so that a more complete biblical portrait of the Antichrist has been built up gradually by Christian theologians and folk-religionists. Matthew 24 warns of "false Christs" in several places, and of deceivers who would appear falsely claiming to be the returned Christ. (Matt. 24:5, 24)
In the "small apocalypse" of St. Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12, a "man of sin", "the son of perdition" is expected to set himself up in the temple of God, on the false pretense that he is God himself. This portrait of the Antichrist is reminiscent of the acts of Antiochus Epiphanes, who around 170 BC commanded Jews to sacrifice pigs on the altar, four times a year on the Shabbat, in tribute to him as the supreme god of the Seleucids. Paul appears to be warning his readers by this allusion to events in the past, to anticipate similar trouble in the future. Some Christians believe that the events warned of in this passage have already taken place soon after Paul warned of them. Many others believe that the Antichrist has yet to appear.
The expected role of the Antichrist
Christian denominations disagree on what will happen in the end times, and the role that Satan and the Antichrist will play. Among those who expect the Antichrist to arise in the future, there is a general consensus that sometime prior to the expected return of Jesus, there will be a period of "trials and tribulations" during which the Antichrist, inspired by Satan, will attempt to win supporters, and will silence anyone or make enemies of any country who refuses to approve of him. This metaphor written as ("receive his mark").
In this view, an event termed the "White Throne Judgment" will take place, at which time both the living and the dead will be resurrected, some for everlasting life, and some for everlasting death. All those who worship God and Jesus will be admitted to the presence of God; but everyone who would not repent of the Antichrist will be sent to an outer darkness. Finally, the "Dragon" (often interpreted as Satan), the "Beast" (often interpreted as the Antichrist) and the "false prophet" (interpreted in many ways) who compels the world to worship the Beast (lie), and all who received his mark (cast their lot with him), will be thrown into a lake of fire together with death and Hell. These views are based on controversial passages in the Apocalypse of John, more commonly known as the Book of Revelation.
Characteristics of the Antichrist
Based on the interpretations of the specific passages from the books of Daniel and Revelation, the Antichrist is commonly expected to meet certain characteristics. The Bible describes a beast-like creature, but over the years these characteristics have been interpreted as being metaphorical.
For example, the beast is supposed to have "ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns upon its horns" (Revelation 13:1–2) which is sometimes interpreted to mean the Antichrist will lead 27 or 17 countries. They will follow in his battles that he will declare boldly and without humility are for a purpose which is untrue. Likewise the fact that the beast is described as being "worshipped" is taken as a sign that the Antichrist will be a popular figure among those who are deceived by him. Revelation states that "He will appear as an angel of light", which is interepreted to mean that he will profess to be a man of God, or a person who is himself a Christian.
The most common interpretations continue to be that the Antichrist will be some sort of high-ranking political leader, who will initially do very good, popular things, which will win him many followers. In the end, however he is supposed to get increasingly totalitarian and elicit more and more sacrifices from his followers until eventually his evil ways become known, and the era of "trials and tribulations" begins.
In popular culture
The Antichrist is a central figure in many popular movies with occult themes, such as Rosemary's Baby, and The Omen series. In The Seventh Seal, the idea of the Antichrist is tangentially referred to as a child conceived without a soul, whose birth will signal the end of all life. The Antichrist is a central figure in the Left Behind series of books and movies; in this series the Antichrist figure is a European politician named Nicolae Carpathia. There is also an Antichrist-like character called Randall Flagg in Stephen King's writings, most notably in The Stand and The Dark Tower series (the latter of which has him serving the Crimson King, a being who may be King's variation of the Beast). In Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's comedy novel, Good Omens, Sister Mary Loquatious of the Chattering Order of Saint Beryl misplaces the Antichrist. In an interesting twist on the genre, Cain becomes a false messiah and potential Antichrist in the form of Kane a.k.a Jacob Caine in the Command & Conquer series.
Identity of the Antichrist
Many people, or even nations or movements, have been thought by some to be the Antichrist.
Paul of Tarsus has been theorized by some (among them Thomas Jefferson, Albert Schweitzer, George Bernard Shaw, Carl Sagan and Carl Jung) to have fulfilled the role of the Antichrist within the chronicles of the New Testament of the Bible itself. This theory is premised on an idea common among some scholars of religion, that the original teachings of Christ were subverted by Paul, who some characterize as a Jewish spy and false convert.
The Roman emperor beginning with Nero, sometimes together with the four emperors who succeeded him in the year following his suicide, until the elevation of Nero's general Vespasian to emperor, have been interpreted from very early times, either alone or collectively as the Beast of the Apocalypse.
In this tumultuous period, superstitious fear and mob violence grew against Christians, and the Roman wars against the Jews intensified (AD 66–70), ending with the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 under the command of general Titus (later emperor), and the maniacal slaughter of the Jews who were living at Jerusalem. According to tradition, Nero ordered the crucifixion of St. Peter and the beheading of St. Paul. Both Jewish and Christian literature survives, referring to Emperor Nero as the Antichrist. A more detailed description of this interpretation can be found in the entry on the Book of Revelation.
Another idea that began appearing early in the history of the Christian church, is the opinion that the Antichrist will be an apostate priest or Christian secular ruler, perhaps a Pope or other high leader of the Christian church, or a pretender to the Papacy. Some Christian sects have made it an issue of faith to identify the Bishop of Rome and the papal system as the Antichrist. Virtually all popes have been called the Antichrist by their enemies, and many popes have applied this title of "Antichrist", "son of perdition", or "man of sin", to their enemies as well. Even St. Peter, the first Pope according to Roman Catholic tradition, was called "Satan" by Jesus according to the Gospel of Matthew chapter 16, the same chapter of the gospel in which Peter is told by Jesus, "on this rock [Greek: petra] I will build my church".
St. Bellarmine gives in full the theory set forth by the Greek and Latin Fathers, of a personal Antichrist to come just before the end of the world and to be accepted by the Jews and enthroned in the temple at Jerusalem—thus endeavoring to dispose of the Protestant exposition which saw Antichrist in the pope. Bellarmine's interpretation, in modified form, is now accepted by most premillennial dispensationalists.
After the reforms of Patriarch Nikon to the Russian Orthodox Church of 1652 a large number of Old Believers held that Peter the Great was the Antichrist.
Identifying the Antichrist has become a hobby of the Internet age, and a body of literature in its own right.
Various numerological methods of calculating the number of the name of the Beast ("666" in most manuscript sources, "616" in a minority), and other methods are used to identify the Antichrist before he has the chance to lead astray. A nice example is the case of Adolf Hitler, where numbering the letters A=100, B=101, etc, produces H+I+T+L+E+R=666.
Candidates for the Antichrist have been men in virtually all positions of public influence, the most frequent modern candidates: Charles Prince of Wales, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, various Popes, the European Union and recent Presidents of the United States. Some have taken seriously the suggestion made by the Left Behind series, that the Antichrist may be the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Since the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack, theories about Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, or George W. Bush being the Antichrist have been put forward. In addition, apocalyptic Christians such as Herb Peters and Constance E. Cumbey claim that Javier Solana is the Antichrist; see Javier Solana Antichrist allegations. This claim echoes the plot of the Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins .
- Boyer, Paul. 1992. When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap/Harvard University Press. ISBN 067495128X
- Fuller, Robert C. 1995. Naming the Antichrist: The History of an American Obsession. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195082443