“…this man [antichrist] is alive today–alive and waiting to come forth." - Hal Lindsey; The 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon – 1980
“There is no doubt that the Antichrist has already been born. Firmly established already in his early years, he will, after reaching maturity, achieve supreme power." – St. Martin of Tours (316-397 AD)
One of the most popular (and misunderstood) items in Scripture is that of antichrist, and it seems to have been that way from among the earliest of Christians. It is often suggested that the term antichrist refers to a future Satanic World Dictator. The Rapture Ready Website defines Antichrist as “… the most evil man that will ever live. He will arrive on the world scene and appear to be the world's savior, but everyone on earth will soon learn his real mission will be one of destruction. Also called the man of lawlessness (or sin), Gog, the son of destruction (or perdition)” (Rapture Ready Glossary). The site goes on to tell us that “Ever since the Old Testament first spoke of him, Christians and Jews have been looking for the advent of the Antichrist. Daniel described him as the most evil man who ever will live”. (The Antichrist: Have You Seen This Man?)
This misunderstanding has lead to some creative speculation regarding antichrist. The Pope, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Ronald Reagan, Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Bill Gates are a few of many names that have been suggested. Any powerful world leader seems to be a candidate, especially if there is a way to find a number 6 in his name.
There are several problems with this view. First, contrary to the statement from Rapture ready above, the Old Testament does not speak of “antichrist”. Also, to the surprise of many, the word “antichrist” does not appear in either Daniel or Revelation. Second, it makes the assumption that Daniel’s little horn, Paul’s “man of sin”, John’s “antichrist”, and John’s “Beast” are all the same entity. These terms refer to at least three different people. Third, it ignores what the Bible itself says about antichrist.
Antichrist in Scripture
“Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18)
“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. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” (1 John 2:22-23)
“…and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” (1 John 4:3)
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.” (2 John 1:7)
These are ALL of the passages in the Bible that refer to antichrist. Nothing is written here about a future, satanic world dictator. What can we glean from these passages?
1.) Antichrist had already come in the first century. It was how John’s readers knew that “it was the last hour” (1 John 2:18). At the time John was writing, antichrist was “in the world already.” (1 John 4:3). John's message was clear. The current age (the Old Mosaic Covenant) was about to end. It was "the last hour".
2.) Antichrist is defined as “he who denies that Jesus is the Christ” (1 John 2:22), “every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:3), and “deceivers …who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” (2 John 1:7). John seems, in particular, to be referring to Judaizers in the church, for he adds, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” (1 John 2:23). Who else, at that time, would have claimed to have the Father while denying the Son? Thus Paul wrote to the Philippian Church, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh -” (Philippians 3:2-3).
Paul’s “man of lawlessness”
It is more than likely that Paul was referring to the same thing when he writes about the “man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3), though he may have been referring to the high priest in particular. This person was someone that the Thessalonian church would see, for Paul begins with a warning not to be deceived (2 Thessalonians 2:3). The person was someone who “takes his seat in the temple of God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4), thus was someone who practiced Judaism. Paul warns that “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7) in the first century, thus eliminating any 21st Century candidate from contention. It was the high priests and Pharisees that Christ had promised to destroy “by the appearance of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8 cf. Matthew 21:40-45). Thus Paul, a Hebrews of Hebrews (Philippians 3:5) who would have given his own soul for the salvation of his countrymen (Romans 9:3), did not harbor the modern dispensational delusion that Christ-rejecting Judaists were still “God’s chosen people”.
The Beast of Revelation
The Prophecies in Daniel mainly concern the end of the Old Covenant, from the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon to the Roman Empire, the four beasts being the empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Commenting on Daniel 7:7, the Rapture Ready Website tells us “In the reference to the 10 horns we again jump from history to prophecy, from the ancient Roman Empire to its revival in our times”. (The End Times According To Daniel Part One). Contrary to much of the exposition in dispensational circles, nothing is said about the Roman Empire being “revived in our time”. The Roman Empire is dead, and there is no reason to believe that it will be revived again at any time. The symbols in Daniel that are assumed to be “antichrist” actually refer to people in the ancient world, ranging from Antiochus Epiphanes to Herod the Tetrarch. I may give a detailed exposition on the prophecies of Daniel at a later time, but for now, I want to focus on the identity of the fourth beast, the one that John writes about in Revelation.
No character in the history of the world has invoked such dread and superstition as the Beast. Kenneth Gentry has written an excellent article in defense of the Beast being the Roman Empire, under the reign of Nero Caesar. (See The Beast of Revelation Identified). I’ll highlight some of the scripture proof here.
On July 19, A.D. 64, the great Roman fire, which destroyed most of Rome, broke out. Although he was out of Rome at the time, suspicion was cast upon Nero for causing the fire. We already identified Nero as the emperor who was reigning at the time that John wrote Revelation (See Revelation 17:10 and Dating the Book of Revelation). Many were convinced that since he deplored the ugliness of Rome he intended to destroy it to make room for more of his own building projects. In order to turn attention from himself, he falsely accused Christians of having started the fire and punished them for being “given to a new and mischievous superstition”. This became the first Imperial persecution of the church, and the Apostles Peter and Paul themselves became two of Nero’s victims. According to L. Von Mosheim (who was not a preterist), the Neronic persecution began in November of 64 AD, and didn’t end until Nero’s suicide in June of AD 68, a period of almost exactly 42 months. (Revelation 13:5). Due to Nero’s excesses and his constant absence from Rome, the Senate voted to put Nero to death. Thus Nero implored a servant to stab him the throat with his own sword (Revelation 13:10).
The Mark of The Beast
“I wouldn't totally rule out any other meaning to the appearance of the number 666. For example, a Halloween lottery pick-3 drawing once turned up 666 as the winning number. We may have to allow for the occasional sovereignty of God in His attempt to warn folks of the evils of this world--in this case, gambling and Halloween. If there's a wayward Christian at a convenience store buying a dirty magazine or a bottle of booze and the register rings up $6.66, I couldn't think of a better number for God to use to get that person's attention.” (The Number of the Beast – Rapture Ready Website)
We can only smile at the type of nonsense typified by the above quote. While modern prophecy buffs look to answers in credit cards, computer chips implants, theme park validations, and bar code scanners, they once again ignore John’s original audience. What did the “mark” mean to them? We can look first at similar language in God's Commandments concerning the binding of the law in Deuteronomy 6:6-8. The mark of the beast is no more a literal mark than the binding of the law required a literal rope. The mark of the beast is simply "the number of his name" (Revelation 13:17). By the time a first century reader got to the 13th chapter of Revelation, they would have known that the Beast, by John’s description, was Nero’s Rome. Indeed, they would have known this from the 7th chapter of Daniel. But John gives another clue; a Jewish numeric riddle known as a gematria. The numerical values for a gematria can be found here.
By applying the gematriac values to the Hebrew form of Nero Caesar, we come up with the following:
Interestingly enough, some ancient Latin transcripts have the number 616 instead of 666. While some believe this to be a copyist’s error, there is a better explanation. It just so happen that the gematria of the Latin form for Nero Caesar (nrw qsr) equals 616. This shows 2 things. 1.) The Latin translators were more concerned with the identity of the beast than any particular number. 2.) The Latin translators believed Nero to be the beast.
Two popular objections are easily refuted.
1.) This is an incorrect Hebrew spelling of Nero’s name.
“It is charged by some that Nerón Kesar is merely a convenient "misspelling" of Nero's name in Hebrew. This objection overlooks the fact that before the modern introduction of dictionaries the world was simply not as concerned as we are about uniformity in the spelling of names. Alternate spellings were common (e.g. "Joram" and "Jehoram" in the Old Testament), especially in the transliteration of words into a foreign tongue. But the allegation of misspelling is wholly wrong anyway. The form Nerón Kesar is the linguistically "correct" Hebrew form, is the form found in the Talmud and other rabbinical writings, and was used by Hebrews in the first century, as archaeological evidence has shown. As F. W. Farrar observed, "the Jewish Christian would have tried the name as he thought of the name —that is in Hebrew letters. And the moment he did this the secret stood revealed. No Jew ever thought of Nero except as 'Nerón Kesar' and this gives at once . . . 666" (The Early Days of Christianity, Chicago and New York: Belford, Clarke & Co., 1882, p. 540)." (Footnote #37 from David Chilton’s “Days of Vengeance p. 351)
“According to Stuart, Professor Benary of Berlin noted long ago that in the Talmud and other Rabbinical writings Nero was spelled thus. …It may now be pointed out that in an Aramaic document from Murabba'at . . . , dated to the "second year of the emperor Nero," the name is spelled nrwn qsr — as required by the theory [i.e., that 666 signifies Nero]. The last two consonants are damaged, but enough is preserved to show that no vowel-letter was written between the q and s. (Taken from Kenneth Gentry – Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation, p. 199)
2.) This is an in correct Hebrew gematria.
Some have suggested that the second N in NRWN should be the 'nun sofiet' or 'final nun' version, making its value 700 and thus making the actual value of the gematria 1316. However, this is false. The 'final nun' is a very specific Hebrew character under 'mispar hechrachi' or absolute value and to place it without the proper character in place doesn't work as to the rules of gematria. Furthermore, the “final” is not assigned to non-Hebrew words and as such would not apply to the gematria translation of NRWNQSR.
Despite the rantings of our modern day prophecy gurus, there is nothing in Scripture that points to a future worldwide dictator called “antichrist”. All of the individuals being referred to by alleged “antichrist” passages are long gone. As for the term "antichrist" itself, it refers to anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ, including some of the kindest people you may know.