views updated May 29 2018


ANTICHRIST . The final opponent of good, known as Antichrist, has haunted Christianity since its beginnings. With roots in Hellenistic Judaism, and an Islamic echo in the figure of al-Dajjāl, the Antichrist myth has had a potent influence on belief, theology, art, literature, and politics.

The name Antichrist occurs in the New Testament only in the Johannine letters (1 Jn. 2:18, 2:22, 4:3; 2 Jn. 7), but the figure of a final enemy appears in several New Testament books. Second Thessalonians contains a description of "the rebel, the lost one" who is now "restrained" but who will lead the "great revolt," enthrone himself in the sanctuary of the temple, and be slain by Christ at the Parousia (2:112). The apocalyptic discourse found in the synoptic Gospels (Mk. 13, Mt. 2425, Lk. 21) speaks of the "abomination of desolation" to be set up in the holy place (Mk. 13:14, Mt. 24:15) and the appearance of false Christs and false prophets (Mk. 13:56, 13:2123; Mt. 24:45, 24:2324; Lk. 21:8). The Book of Revelation contains symbolic portrayals of Antichrist figures under the guise of two beastsone arising from the sea (or abyss) with seven heads and ten horns (11:7, 13:110, 17:318, 19:1921), whose number is 666 (13:18), the other coming from the land as the servant of the former monster (13:1117, 16:13, 19:1921).

It is evident that the early Christians made use of traditions regarding eschatological opponents that depended upon Jewish apocalyptic and earlier prophetic traditions (e.g., Gog and Magog in Ez 3839). The Book of Daniel is the source for both the "abomination of desolation" (9:27, 11:31, 12:11) and for the beasts described in Revelation (7:19, 7:1527). Other Jewish texts contain speculation about an evil angel named Beliar who functions as God's final adversary (e.g., Testament of Levi 3.3, 18.2; Sibylline Oracles 3.633.74). Modern research has uncovered similar concerns about eschatological foes in the Qumran community (e.g., War Rule 17.6 and the fragments known as 4 Q 186). Late Jewish apocalyptic seems to be the source of physical descriptions of Antichrist (e.g., Apocalypse of Elijah 3.143.18) that were also used by Christians. Belief in a final opponent of the Messiah survived in later Judaism in the legendary descriptions of the persecuting king Armilus (e.g., in Sefer Zerubbabel).

Various explanations have been given for the origin of Antichrist. Wilhelm Bousset advanced a mythological interpretation that saw Antichrist as a projection into the end time of the monster of chaos who had warred against the creator god in Near Eastern cosmogonies. R. H. Charles argued that Antichrist originated from the interaction of three traditions: individual and collective notions of an eschatological enemy based upon political events, the mythic figure of Beliar, and the growth of the Nero myth.

The evidence indicates that belief in Antichrist arose through the interaction of ancient myths and current political situations. The desecration of the Temple by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV (167 bce) and his savage persecution of the Jews were shocking events that called out for universalistic interpretations based on archetypal myths (Dn. 8:914). Subsequent persecutors of Jews and Christian were also given mythological stature, and their stories in turn further shaped the legendary narratives. The most important of these persecutors was the Roman emperor Nero (5468). Building on the confusion surrounding the death of Nero, legends about a returning (or later resurrected) Nero who would function as an ultimate enemy influenced contemporary Christian and Jewish texts (e.g., Rv. 13, 17; Ascension of Isaiah 4.14.4; Sibylline Oracles 3.633.74, 4.1194.150, 5). Another historical figure whose legendary history became intertwined with Antichrist was Simon Magus (Acts 8:913).

Christian thinkers of the second and third centuries tried to weave the diverse traditions concerning Antichrist into a coherent picture. Was he to be one or many? A human person or a demon? Jewish or Roman in origin? A false teacher (a pseudomessiah) or an imperial persecutor? The Antichrist legend developed as the reverse side of the growing Christology of the early church, speculation on the person and prerogatives of Christ encouraging attention to his eschatological opposite. In the early third century, Hippolytus of Rome wrote a treatise, On Christ and the Antichrist, that gave a handy summary of belief and legend. Some of his successors (e.g., Commodianus, Lactantius, Sulpicius Severus) deal with the variety of traditions about Antichrist by distinguishing between two final enemies: a Roman persecutor, for which Nero was the prototype, and a false Jewish messiah born of the tribe of Dan who would rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem.

Antichrist myths continued to flourish after the conversion of the Roman empire to Christianity. Building upon the description of many Antichrists in the New Testament letters of John, the Donatist exegete Tyconius (d. 390?) stressed a moralizing view of the final enemy as the aggregate body of evildoers within the church. This tradition was handed on to the Middle Ages by Pope Gregory I (d. 604). Corporate views of the Antichrist, including those that focused on heretics, Muslims, or Jews, were common in the Middle Ages, but evil individuals within or without Christianity were still often identified with Antichrist or his immediate prede-cessor.

Christian beliefs about Antichrist, especially those originating in Syria, were the source for Islamic legends regarding a final eschatological foe, called al-Dajjāl ("the deceiver"). Although al-Dajjāl does not appear in the Qurʾān, traditions appeared early concerning this monstrous figure who was to be manifested shortly before the end, lead the faithful astray, and be slain either by Jesus or by the Mahdi.

The Christian monk Adso's Letter on the Antichrist (c. 950), written on the model of a saint's life, depicts the final enemy as a combination of both a pseudo-Christ and a persecuting tyrant, a depiction that was to remain standard in Latin Christianity for centuries. The twelfth-century renewal of apocalyptic thought was rich in speculation on Antichrist. In Germany, the first and greatest of the medieval Antichrist dramas, Ludus de Antichristo, appeared, while in Italy, Joachim of Fiore (d. 1202) wove both corporate and individual views of Antichrist together into his new apocalyptic schema.

In the later Middle Ages, the view of Adso, passed on by writers such as Hugh of Strassburg and John of Paris, remained popular and in the fifteenth century was illustrated in a remarkable series of block books. The Joachite tradition looked forward to a struggle between one or more spiritual popes (pastores angelici ), who would try to reform the church, and their opponents, evil popes introduced by force or schism who were identified with Antichrist or his predecessors. In Peter Olivi's Franciscan Joachitism, there are dual final Antichrists: the papal Antichristus mysticus and the Antichristus magnus, a persecuting emperor (sometimes identified with a reborn Frederick II). Fueled by the Avignon papacy, the schism of 13781417, and the general failure of the papacy to reform the church, such beliefs were widespread in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. John Wyclif and the Hussites sharpened the identification of the papacy with Antichrist. It is no surprise that Martin Luther and other reformers seized upon Antichrist rhetoric in the battle against Rome.

Reformation identification of the papacy with Antichrist (e.g., Smalcaldic Articles 2.4) went beyond most late medieval views in its total rejection of the papal office and in its insistence upon a renewed corporate interpretation that identified the institution of the papacy, and not individual popes, with Antichrist. Some reformers also held double-Antichrist views coupling the Turks with the papacy. The strength of the corporate view may have been the source of the widening of Antichrist rhetoric that marked the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Reformation debates, especially in England, where Antichrist became a term of opprobrium that could be used against any institution or group.

It is tempting to think that this inflation of rhetoric, together with Enlightenment criticism of religion, stifled belief in Antichrist, but the last enemy's ability to serve as a symbol of evil has given the figure a singular longevity. Historical figures, like Napoleon I and Mussolini, have been seen as Antichrist, as have such movements as the French Revolution, socialism, and communism. Friedrich Nietzsche's adoption of the role of Antichrist and his use of the title for this most violent attack on Christianity and bourgeois morality are well known. No less significant are the uses of the myth by some of the Russian writers of the nineteenth century, such as Fedor Dostoevskii, Vladimir Solovʾev, and Dmitrii Merezhkovskii. Belief in an individual final Antichrist continues in popular culture, and Fundamentalist Christianity, but for other Christians the Antichrist has become a symbol of the evil in the human heart.


Bousset, Wilhelm. The Antichrist Legend. London, 1896. A classic work.

Emmerson, Richard K. Antichrist in the Middle Ages. Seattle, 1981. Deals primarily with the Adsonian tradition.

Jenks, Gregory. The Origins and Early Development of the Antichrist Myth. Berlin, 1991.

McGinn, Bernard. Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil. 2d edition, New York, 2000. The most complete account.

Malvenda, Tomás. De Antichristo libri undecim. Rome, 1604. An extensive survey of the traditional materials.

Preuss, Hans. Die Vorstellungen vom Antichrist im späteren mittelaalter, bei Luther und in der Konfessionellen Polemik. Leipzig, 1906. Unsurpassed for its period.

Wright, Rosemary Muir. Art and Antichrist in Medieval Europe. Manchester, 1995.

Bernard McGinn (1987 and 2005)


views updated May 29 2018


One opposed to the work of God, especially that accomplished in Jesus the Messiah (Christ).

In the Bible

Some passages suggest that this hostile figure attempts to work by usurping divine and messianic prerogatives, and thus winning over followers by deceiving them concerning his (or its) true nature. The Greek prefix ντί the first element of ντίχριστος can express the idea of substitution or replacement, as well as that of hostility. The term Antichrist is found only in 1 Jn 2.18, 22; 4.3; 2 Jn 7; but the concept is present in 2 Thes 2.312, in certain passages in the Revelation, and possibly in other NT texts. In some of these passages the figure is referred to in personal terms, and Christian interpretation has traditionally regarded the Antichrist as a person; it is, however, far from certain that the personification is intended to point to an individual at all, much less to any specific person. Before attempting to appraise the NT teaching, it will be useful to look for the roots of this idea in the OT.

Old Testament Roots of Antichrist Concept. In certain OT passages, largely apocalyptic in nature, there is the expectation of a final great struggle between the forces of good and evil, between those faithful to God (the true Israel) and those hostile to Him (mainly identified with the pagan nations). The struggle is to culminate in the eschatological battle in which the victory will be won by God Himself intervening on behalf of His people to the accompaniment of cosmic signs and disturbances.

The clearest example of this picture is found in Ez 38.139.29, a passage usually conceded to be later than Ezekiel himself. The nations of the earth assemble under the leadership of Gog, chief prince of Meshach and Tubal, in order to attack and plunder the land of Israel. But God will strike the bow and arrows from their hands, the invaders will be slaughtered on the mountains of Israel, and the birds and beasts will feast on their flesh (39.35, 1720). It is to be noted that, while Gog is an individual, he is not a historical figure but simply the embodiment of the leadership of those forces hostile to God's people (see ezekiel, book of).

The four beasts of Daniel ch. 7 represent the great world kingdoms; special attention is given to the fourth beast, which represents the Greek Empire, under which the Israelites were suffering at the time of the composition of Daniel. The "little horn" (v. 8, 2122, 24) of the fourth beast represents antiochus iv epiphanes, desecrator of the Temple and dreaded persecutor. The vision describes God's intervention in the form of judgment upon the beasts and the end of their power to harm. Antiochus IV is given special attention again in 11.2145, where his campaigns and victories are described; but the section concludes with the note that "he shall come to his end with none to help him." There is little doubt that the author of this apocalyptic composition expected that God's intervention to end this crisis would be the definitive intervention and would usher in the final age. But the final struggle had not yet come. History was to vindicate the author's expectation of God's delivering intervention, but other crises would be known. Antiochus IV, so closely connected with a particular persecution, was to become a type of those who lead the anti-God forces, and elements of the descriptions of him in Daniel are to be found in later writings (see daniel, book of).

Antichrist in the New Testament. The closest link between the OT passages just reviewed and the NT is found in the Revelation. Imagery taken from Daniel is freely used, and the struggle between the Church and the wicked persecutors is an important part of the concern of the book. Chapter 13 describes a "beast of the sea," which is a composite of the four beasts of Daniel ch. 7. Many commentators identify it with the Roman Empire, the power persecuting the Christian Church during much of the late 1st century at any rate, it is an instrument of Satan (the Dragon of 12.318) in his war against the Church. The beast of the sea is also aided by the "beast of the earth" (13.1117), possibly to be identified with the pagan priesthood of Rome. These two together sum up, in this section of the book, the forces on earth utilized by Satan in the struggle against the people of God. Elements of these visions have been referred to historical Roman emperors, but the personal aspect is not stressed. God's victory over the forces hostile to Him is described in the latter part of the book; see especially ch. 1718, where the beast described is probably the same as the beast of the sea; see also 19.1721, where Christ effortlessly overcomes the beast and the false prophet (probably the beast of the earth) and their armies, and the birds of the air are invited to feast on their flesh. Although the term Antichrist does not appear, the concept is present. The struggle now has specifically Christian features, not only in that it is the Christian Church that is being persecuted and Christ who overcomes, but also in that the hostile forces are in many ways a blasphemous parody of elements in the Christian dispensation (note the "unholy trinity" in 12.313.17; and cf. 7.3 with 13.1617, and 5.910 with 13.7) (see revelation, book of).

The same picture of the final violent struggle of the anti-God forces with the people of God lies at the base of St. Paul's thought in 2 Thes 2.312. Paul is attempting to allay the fears of the Thessalonians, who seem to believe that the final day has already arrived, by insisting on certain recognizable signs, not yet in evidence, that must precede it. The principal one of these is the ποστασία (apostasy, rebellion), which probably refers to the eschatological struggle. St. Paul sees the hostile forces led by "the man of sin the son of perdition the wicked one," whom "the Lord Jesus will slay with the breath of his mouth." Again there is the parody of true religion: the adversary will "be revealed," will assume divine prerogatives, and his coming is connected with the "mystery of iniquity" that is already at work.

Certainly the manner of speaking in this passage seems highly personalistic, but it must be remembered that St. Paul is using apocalyptic language; the details need not be considered to have been revealed to him, for obscure events of the last day are habitually presented in stereotyped imagery. Some of the descriptive details of the "man of sin" are taken from earlier presentations of the wicked men (Ez 28.2; Dn 11.36). The fact that the "man of sin" is presented as already in existence but held in check by someone or something (the Thessalonians knew what Paul was referring to, but the modern reader can only guess) tells against a specific person. Yet it would not be false to Paul's thought to see here an expectation that, when the final assault of evil does materialize, it will be headed by an individual who incarnates, so to speak, the power of evil in his person.

There is no clear reference to the cosmic struggle in the allusions to Antichrist in St. John's Epistles, although the evidences of Antichrist's activity are seen to indicate that the "last hour" is at hand (1 Jn 2.18). Yet St. John can also speak of "many antichrists," referring to apostate Christians, and can label as "the liar the Antichrist" the one who denies that "Jesus is the Christ" (v. 22; see also 2 Jn 7). Thus the author thinks of a person or a power hostile to God whose influence and activity are seen in and inferred from the rejection of God's revelation in Christ by some.

Bibliography: d. buzy, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot, et al. (Paris 1928) 1:297305. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. And adap. By l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek 9698. e. b. allo, L'Apocalypse (Paris 1921) cxicxxi. w. bousset, Der Antichrist in der Überlieferung des Judentums, des N. T. und der alten Kirche (Göttingen 1895). p. h. furfey, "The Mystery of Lawlessness," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly (Washington 1939) 8 (1946) 17991.

[m. rodriguez]

Comment of Fathers, Theologians

Like other prophecies, that of the Antichrist will be clearly understood only in its fulfillment. Understandably, then, there is little on the subject in the documents of the Church's magisterium other than in its condemnations of Wyclif and the Fraticelli (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer (32d ed. Freiburg 1963) 916, 1156, 1180). This section, therefore, confines itself to a sketch of the patristic and theological speculation that has surrounded the Antichrist.

Patrology. The comment of the Fathers on the Antichrist, which begins with the didache, is complete in all its essential features by the First Council of Nicaea (325). According to the Didache, the final days of the world will be marked by the advent of the "world-tempter," appearing as though he were the Son of God and doing "signs and wonders." The earth, it is said, will be given into his hands (Didache 16.35).

Preceded by false prophets speaking in the name of Christ, he will appear with the whole panoply of diabolic power (Justin, Dial. 51, 110). "Sinner, murderer, robber," says Irenaeus, he will make incarnate in himself the entire diabolic apostasy. Of Jewish origin, sprung from the tribe of Dan, he will establish himself in Jerusalem and reign for three-and-a-half years (Haer. 5.30.2; 5.25.3; 5.30.4). The unhappy privilege of fathering the Antichrist is assigned to the tribe of Dan by many of the ancient writers, who deduce it from Gn 49.17 and from the omission of the name of Dan in Rv 7.58.

The antithetic character of "the man of sin" is developed by Hippolytus, who sees in the Antichrist a perfect caricature of Christ Himself. Like Christ, he will be of Jewish ancestry; as Christ is from the tribe of Judah, his adversary will be from Dan. Claiming the scriptural titles of lion, lamb, and man, the Antichrist will have his own apostles and will dedicate himself to the persecution of the saints; his assault on the work of Christ will culminate in an apotheosis of himself (Antichr. 519; 2941; 4858). Commenting on Daniel's prophecy of the four kingdoms, Hippolytus says that the Antichrist will appear at the end of the world after the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman empires (Com. in Dan. 4.110).

Tertullian added a new dimension to patristic thought when he applied the term Antichrist to any heretic or rebel against Christ (Adv. Marcion. 5.16: De praescr. haer. 4.4). The African author, however, clearly distinguished these forerunners of the Antichrist from the eschatological personality who would appear at the end of time.

Neither Cyprian nor Origen denied the eschatological character of the Antichrist but, like Tertullian they found an application of the idea in their own times. Origen described what might be termed the principle of the Antichrist: "Invenimus omnes veras virtutes esse Christum, et omnes simulatas virtutes esse Antichristum" (Comm. ser. 33 in Mt. ). The principle of the Antichrist, he said, has many proponents, but from among these many antichrists, there will come one who will deserve the name in its proper sense, one whose types and forerunners the others are. This true Antichrist will appear at the end of the world, while the others, in some measure, are already in the world (Comm. ser. 47 in Mt. ; Cels. 6.79). Among the antichrists already present Cyprian lists the heretics and schismatics (Ep. 69.5, 70.3). They deserve the name, he says, because they are imbued with the spirit of the Antichrist who will be the complete antithesis of Christ (Ep. 73.15; 71.2).

The figure of the Antichrist, as it emerges from patristic speculation, has both a contemporary and an eschatological dimension. There is, first of all, the individual who will appear at time's end to launch a final assault on the work of Christ. In a second, but by no means contradictory, perspective, the Antichrist is seen to be embodied in the archenemies of God and his Church. This dual dimensionality of the patristic Antichrist seems an adequate premise for K. Rahner's remark in this regard that Christians have the right not only to abhor ungodly ideas but to recognize and to flee from the individual men who champion evil (Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. J. Hofer and K. Rahner 1:635).

Extension of Term. The patristic license to concretize unholy ideas and forces in individuals and organizations and to label them Antichrist has been exercised by innumerable writers over the centuries. Countless political figures and institutions from Nero to Stalin have been identified with the "man of sin" (see W. Bornemann). Indeed, the popular interest in the Antichrist and the "signs of the times" that were to precede his coming was so played upon by the preachers of the 14th and 15th centuries that Lateran Council V forbade preachers to describe as imminent the coming of the Antichrist.

The polemic possibilities of the Antichrist idea escaped neither the Church's friends nor its foes. Thus it became quite common in the Middle Ages for opponentspopes and emperors, Guelfs and Ghibellinesto hurl this epithet at one another. While Catholic writers denounced as Antichrist those who dissented from the doctrines of the Church or attacked its liberty, their antagonists saw the Antichrist in the institution of the papacy itself. As Cardinal J. H. Newman observed, the papal Antichrist theory was developed gradually from the 11th to 16th centuries by the albigenses, the waldenses, and the fraticelli ["The Protestant Idea of Antichrist," Essays Critical and Historical, v.2 (London 1897)]. A terrifying weapon during the great religious controversies of the 16th century, the idea of the papal Antichrist had been used effectively by John Wyclif in England and John Hus in Bohemia. One of the dynamisms of Martin Luther's thinking, the idea was even incorporated into the Schmalkaldic Articles. St. Robert Bellarmine refuted the exegesis by which the beast of the Apocalypse was identified with the papacy; and it was also rejected by the Protestant H. Grotius. Nevertheless, papal Antichrist theory persisted into the 19th century and accounted for Newman's two essays on the subject, "The Protestant Idea of the Antichrist" and "The Patristic Idea of the Antichrist," the latter in Discussions and Arguments on Various Subjects (London 1899).

Theologians. Catholic theologians have been nearly unanimous in maintaining that the Antichrist will be an individual person. Those, however, who prefer a collective interpretation can point out quite correctly, it seems, that in this matter there is no real doctrinal tradition. And even in this latter interpretation, the eschatological character of the Antichrist is preserved, for the "last times" commence with the first coming of Christ and extend to the parousia.

Bibliography: a. gelin, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951), Tables générales 1:179180. r. schÜtz et al., Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 1:431436. w. bousset, j. hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion & Ethics, 13 v. (Edinburgh 190827) 1:578581. l. atzberger, Geschichte der christlichen Eschatologie (Freiburg 1896). w. bornemann, Die Thessalonicher-briefe, v.10 of Kritischexegetischer Kommentar über das Neue Testament, ed. h. a. meyer (Göttingen 1891). v. dechamps, Christus und die Antichristen nach dem Zeugnisse der Schrift, der Geschichte und des Gewissens (Mainz 1859). t. malvenda, De antichristo libri undecim (Rome 1604). b. rigaux, L'Antéchrist et l'opposition au royaume messianique dans l'Ancien et le Nouveau Testament (Gembloux 1932).

[g. j. dyer]


views updated Jun 08 2018


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 sinwho 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 Godfor 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 diverseand 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 24:344, 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 (18751947), who actually appeared to seek the position by calling himself the Beast and 666. The numerical value of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's (18821945) name reportedly added up to 666, and since he held the office of president of the United States for 12 yearsand during the Great Depression and World War IImany 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 names6-6-6.

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 (19001989) 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.

Delving Deeper

Crim, Keith, gen. ed. The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions. San Francisco: HarperSanFran cisco, 1989.

Lindsey, Hal, with C. C. Carlson. The Late Great Planet Earth. New York: Bantam Books, 1978.

McGinn, Bernard. Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994.

Unterman, Alan. Dictionary of Jewish Lore and Legend. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991.


views updated May 29 2018


According to early and medieval Christian belief, Antichrist is the universal enemy of human beings who in the latter days will scourge the world for its wickedness. He is only mentioned as a character in the Bible in two brief passages occurring in the First and Second Epistles of John (1 John 2:18, 22, and 4:3; and 2 John 7). However, the "man of Lawlessness" (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12) and the "beast" (Revelation 13) are also commonly thought to represent the Antichrist.

Abbot Bergier described the Antichrist as a tyrant, impious and excessively cruel, the arch enemy of Christ, and the last ruler of the Earth. The persecutions he will inflict on the elect will be the last and most severe ordeal that they will have to endure.

The Antichrist will pose as the Messiah and will perform things wonderful enough to mislead the elect themselves. The thunder will obey him, according to St. John, and Leloyer asserts that the demons below watch over hidden treasures with which he will be able to tempt many. Because of the miracles that he will perform, Boguet calls him the "Ape of God," and it is through this scourge that God will proclaim the final judgment.

Antichrist will have a great number of forerunners and will appear just before the end of the world. St. Jerome claimed that he will be a man fathered by a demon; others said that he will be a demon in the flesh. But, following the thinking of Saints Ireneus, Ambrose, Augustine and almost all of the church fathers, Antichrist will be a man similar to and conceived in the same way as all others, differing from them only in a malice and an impiety more worthy of a demon than of a man. More recently, however, Cardinal Bellarmin asserted that Antichrist will be the son of a demon incubus and a sorceress.

He will be a Jew of the tribe of Dan, according to Malvenda, who supported his view with the words the dying Jacob spoke to his sons, "Dan shall be a serpent by the wayan adder in the path": by those of Jeremiah, "The armies of Dan will devour the earth"; and by the seventh chapter of the Apocalypse, where St. John has omitted the tribe of Dan in his enumeration of the other tribes.

Elijah and Enoch will return to convert the Jews and will die by order of Antichrist. Then Christ will descend from the heavens, kill Antichrist with the two-edged sword, which will issue from his mouth, and reign on the earth for a thousand years.

It is claimed by some that the reign of Antichrist will last fifty years; but the opinion of the majority is that his reign will last three and a half years, after which the angels will sound the trumpets of the day of judgment, and Christ will come and judge the world. Boguet declared that the watchword of Anti-christ will be "I abjure baptism." Many commentators foresaw the return of Elijah in these words of Malachi "I will send Elijah, the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord." But it is not certain that Malachi referred to this ancient prophet, since Christ applied this prediction to John the Baptist when he said, "Elias is come already, and they knew him not"; and when the angel foretold to Zacharias the birth of his son, he said to him: "And he shall go forth before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elias."

The word "Antichrist" probably refers to the persecutors of the church. Through the centuries, different groups of Christians declared that one or more of their contemporaries was the Antichrist. For example, sixteenth-century Protestants called the pope Antichrist. Even Napoleon was called Antichrist.

The third treatise in the History véritable et mémorable des trois possédees de Flandre (1613) by Father Sebastien Michaelis, a Dominican friar, described Antichrist:

"Conceived through the medium of a devil, he will be as malicious as a madman, with such wickedness as was never seen on earth. An inhuman martyr rather than a human one, he will treat Christians as souls are treated in hell. He will have a multitude of synagogue names, and he will be able to fly when he wishes. Beelzebub will be his father, Lucifer his grandfather."

According to Michaelis, exorcised demons revealed that Antichrist was alive in 1613 but had not yet attained his growth. "He was baptized on the Sabbath of the sorcerers, before his mother, a Jewess, called La Belle-Fleur. He was three years old in 1613." Louis Gaufridi is said to have baptized him, in a field near Paris. An exorcised sorceress claimed to have held the little Antichrist on her knees. She said that his bearing was proud and that even then he spoke many languages. But he had talons in the place of feet. His father is shown in the figure of a bird, with four feet, a tail, a bull's head much flattened, horns, and black shaggy hair. He will mark his own with a seal representing this in miniature. Michaelis added that things execrable will be around him. He will destroy Rome and the Pope with the help of the Jews. He will resuscitate the dead, and, at the age of 30 will reign with Lucifer, the seven-headed dragon. After a reign of three years, Christ will slay him.

Many such details might be quoted of Antichrist, whose coming has long been threatened but not yet realized (see End of the World ). A volume by Rusand published many years ago at Lyons, Les Prècurseurs de l' Antechrist, stated that the reign of Antichrist, if it has not begun, is drawing near; that the philosophers, encyclopedists, and revolutionaries of the eighteenth century were only demons incarnated to precede and prepare the way for Antichrist. During World War I, there were people who were convinced that Antichrist was none other than the ex-kaiser of Germany.

Another way to recognize Antichrist is by the title "Beast 666," because Revelation describes the beast as a "false prophet." The title "Beast 666" was applied to modern occultist Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) by his mother, and he accepted it as a symbol of his break with the severe fundamentalism of his Plymouth Brethren father.


Crowley, Aleister. The Confessions of Aleister Crowley. Edited by John Symonds and Kenneth Grant. New York: Hill & Wang, 1969.

Kirban, Salem. 666. Huntingdon Valley, Penn.: Salem Kirban, 1970.

McBirnie, William S. Anti-Christ. Dallas: International Prison Ministry, 1978.


views updated Jun 27 2018


ANTICHRIST , Gr. ʾΑντιχριστος, a term first occurring in the Johannine epistles in the New Testament (i John 2:18, 22; 4:3; ii John 7). It refers to an eschatological figure, the opponent of God, the pseudo-messiah who will be revealed at the end of days as the great enemy of Jesus. According to ii Thessalonians 2:2–4 the second coming will be preceded by apostasy, and the "man of lawlessness" will be revealed, the "son of perdition" so evil that "he shall sit in the Temple of God, showing himself to be God." Perhaps this figure too is to be identified with Antichrist, and he is destroyed by "the breath of the Messiah's mouth" (cf. Isa. 11:4, Targ. ibid., and many other places in Jewish writings).

The background to this figure lies in Jewish eschatology, where the ideas of the wicked king of the last generation and of the rise of evil to the highest point preceding salvation are found at an early period (cf. Ezek. 28:2; Dan. 7:24–25; 11:36; cf. 9:27). Another form of the same idea can be found in the eschatological battle in which the forces of evil and their leader are finally to be overcome (qm xviii:1; 1qs iv:18–19; Test. Patr., Levi 3:3, et al.). Peculiar to the Christian form of this tradition in which the term Antichrist developed is the anti-messianic aspect of the figure. Thus, in a later Christian apocalypse he is described in the following terms: "His knees are unbending, he is crippled in his eyes, with wide eyebrows, crooked [sickle] fingered, with a pointed head, gracious, boastful, wise, sweet in laughter, visionary, clever, sober, gentle, mild, worker of signs, bringing close to him the souls of the corrupt, bringing forth bread from stones, [making] the blind to see, the lame to walk, he will move mountains from place to place…" (Seventh Vision of Daniel, ed. Z. Kalemkian, 1892, pp. 25 ff.). The description of his ugly physical appearance is similar to those found in other Christian apocalypses, such as Testamentum Domini, the Greek Esdras Apocalypse and others. But in the Daniel Apocalypse quoted, certain of the characteristics of Antichrist are directly inspired by those of the Christ. Descriptions of the physical form of this figure also occur in later Jewish apocalypses such as Sefer Zerubbavel (ed. Ibn Shemu'el, 79 ff.), there ascribed to *Armilus.

Another element which entered into this complex of ideas is that of Nero redivivus. Here the eschatological wicked ruler took on the characteristics of the Roman emperor who represented the very epitome of all conceivable evil. The idea of *Nero's eschatological reappearance developed and is to be found in the Sibylline Oracles (e.g., 4:119–39) which constitute the most extensive early source for this idea. In this book the demonization of the Nero figure is complete (5:361–70) and it is very clear further (5:28–34), where of his return it says (33f.): "Then he shall return, making himself equal to God, but [God] shall convince him that he is not." The same concept is also to be found in Revelation 13:17. There, too, the antidivine arises in the form of a dragon, the "primordial serpent called Satan" (12:9), and of two beasts, one of which is generally associated with Nero (13:17–18). The Church Fathers also speculated about Antichrist, but their interest was more in his theological aspects than in the mythical features dear to the apocalyptic writers. So, for example, both Irenaeus in his treatise Adversus haereses and Hippolytus in his "On Christ and Antichrist" and his fragmentary commentary on Daniel reflect this interest and for them ii Thessalonians 2:2–4 is most important. The later developments of this legend are complex. One particular form, basing itself on Jewish traditions (see Test. Patr., Dan. 5:6), makes the Antichrist a Jewish pseudo-messiah of the tribe of Dan.

In the Antichrist figure of Christianity, therefore, elements of Jewish thought were given particular formulations as they crystallized. The idea of the rise of evil to its height before the coming of salvation, the embodiment of this evil in the eschatological king (cf. Test. Patr., Dan. 11:36, 37; Ass. Mos. 8), the overweening pride and blasphemy of the figure (Test. Patr., Dan. 7:11, 20; ii Thess. 2:2–4, etc.), all these are old Jewish motifs. Their combination in the figure of the wonder-working pseudo-messiah or Antichrist is apparently a Christian development, and one which, in turn, may have influenced later Jewish ideas. It is clearly possible that this Christian formulation, which often bears distinct anti-Jewish traits, grew in part from the reaction of Christianity to continuing Jewish messianic hopes. It might be added that Jewish tradition about this eschatological figure may have been more highly developed and earlier than is generally recognized, as the primarily Jewish material in the fragmentary Coptic Elijah apocalypse indicates.


Boehmer, in: Jahrbuecher fuer deutsche Theologie, 4 (1859), 405–67; W. Bousset, The Antichrist Legend (1896); L. Ginzberg, in: je, 1 (1901), 625–7, s.v. (contains bibliography); J. Kaufmann, in: ej, 2 (1928), 906–10, s.v. (contains bibliography); B. Rigaux, L'antéchrist et l'opposition au royaume messianique (1932); D. Flusser, in: eh, 4 (1952), 466–9, s.v. (contains bibliography).

[Michael E. Stone]


views updated May 17 2018

Antichrist. An eschatological figure first mentioned in the epistles of John in the New Testament. He is described as a pseudo-messiah who stands against Jesus at the end of days. Similar ideas can be found in Jewish eschatology where the powers of evil are finally overcome in the ultimate great battle. In later Christian tradition Antichrist has been identified with Satan; with the emperor Nero redivivus; with other particular enemies of the faith; and sometimes by Protestants with the pope.

In Islam, al-Dajjāl is an anti-religious figure who is often identified with Shaitān/Satan. In particular, he is the opponent and tempter of ʿĪsā/Jesus, who will fight a final battle with him when ʿĪsā returns at the end of days.


views updated May 17 2018

An·ti·christ / ˈantēˌkrīst; ˈantī-/ • n. (the An·ti·christ) a great personal opponent of Christ who will spread evil throughout the world before being conquered at Christ's second coming. ∎  a person or force seen as opposing Christ or the Christian Church.


views updated Jun 11 2018

Antichrist Term loosely referring to the supreme enemy of Christ. It is used in the letters of Saint John to refer to a force that will appear at the end of time. Martin Luther and other leaders of the Reformation applied it to the papacy.


views updated May 23 2018

Antichrist XII. ME. ante-, anticrist — OF. antecrist (mod. antéchrist) — ecclL. antichrīstus — Gr. antikhrīstos (1 John 2: 18), f. ANTI- + Khrīstós CHRIST.


views updated May 29 2018

Antichrist a great personal opponent of Christ, expected by the early Church to appear before the end of the world. The name is recorded from Old English and comes via Old French or ecclesiastical Latin from Greek antikhristos ‘against Christ’.