You can pretty much rest assured that prophecy teachers (pastor, preacher, “prophet,” pundit, televangelist, and the like) have little idea what they’re talking about when they use the phrase “the Antichrist.” It’s a dead giveaway that any such person has sold out dogmatically, uncritically, and close-mindedly to a particular system of end-times theology rather than a purely biblical assessment of the issue.
Why such a strong conclusion over the mere phrase “the Antichrist”?
Because no such character appears in Scripture. Let me explain.
Here’s the problem in a nutshell: countless Christians teaching or just talking about prophecy casually toss around the phrase “the antichrist.” By this title they mean some Satanic ruler who will arise at the end times and rule the whole world, kill Christians and Jews, and enslave everyone in a world economic system by means of a “mark” involving the number 666. This is how perhaps the most famous American prophecy teacher refers to “the Antichrist.” In just one place he says,
Biblical prophecies clearly predict the rise of the Antichrist in the end times and more than 100 passages of Scripture describe the Antichrist’s origin, nationality, character, career, and global conquest. The term Antichrist may be applied both to an individual and to the system he represents.1
Notice how LaHaye and Hindson employ the phrase “the Antichrist” in order to discuss a presumed end-time ruler who is yet to appear.
Likewise, a popular pro-dispensational website posted an article entitled “Who is the Antichrist?” Its author, Britt Gillette, teaches that “the Antichrist is a very real person. During the final seven year period before the Glorious Appearing of Jesus Christ, the Antichrist will achieve unprecedented global power.”
The Bible student, however, should only accept such claims after asking a very important question: What does the Bible say about “the AntiChrist”? The interested Christian should step back from the grandiose claims of supernaturally-inspired end-times dictators, and push the question back to its fundamental texts in Scripture. Let’s take a look at those texts.
Antichrist in the Bible
As I have already argued, this character “the Antichrist” does not even appear in Scripture, at least not in a way that anywhere resembles the many claims about “him.” In fact, the very phrase “the antichrist” hardly appears in Scripture. This may come as a shock to some Christians, especially if they have been taught for years that the Bible predicts such a leader, and especially with writers like LaHaye claiming that over 100 passages teach about him. But here’s the proof:
The word “antichrist” comes directly from the Greek word antichristos. It appears (in its various grammatical forms) only five times in Scripture. The first appearance comes in 1 John 2:18. This opening usage of the word does not even include the definite article “the.”2
The text literally reads, “Children, it is the last hour; and as you heard that antichrist comes, and now many antichrists have come [or, “have happened”], therefore we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). Among modern translations, perhaps the two best on this verse are the NAS and the ESV. The latter reads, “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.” I prefer my own translation over even these, however.
At least three things are absolutely, irrefutably clear from this primary verse:
1) Antichrist is not a single person. That is, “antichrist” is a descriptive term for a group, or a type of person, not a title for a special single person. John had no intention of describing a single world ruler who would come and fill some prophesied role of “the” Antichrist. Instead, John announced the appearance of “many antichrists.” John further expresses this understanding in the following verse, stating of these “many antichrists”: “They [plural] went out from us, but they [plural] were not of us… that they [plural] might be made manifest that they [plural] were not all of us” (1 John 2:19).
2) These antichrists came and went during the time John wrote. We are not awaiting their appearance in our near future. “And now,” “Even now,” or “So now,” these many antichrists “have come,” said John. Their appearance on the scene was a done deal.
3) John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writing in Scripture, interpreted the manifestation of these antichrists as proof he and his audience were living in the “last hour” or “end time.” Unless the “last hour” has lasted for nearly two thousand years (a large percentage of human history for a waning hour), then we can safely say that the “end time” somehow pertained to John’s era, not ours. This should force some hard thinking about the doctrine of the last days, at least for some people.
This is the first, and you could say main, passage that talks about the appearance of antichrist. The word appears a few more time in John’s epistles, which we shall cover in just a second. But make clear notice: the word antichrist—either in Greek or English—does not appear at all in the book of Revelation. Outside of five instances in John’s first and second epistles, the word appears nowhere else in Scripture.
We have already seen the first two instances in 1 John 2:18. In the same discourse, John tells his readers how to determine whether an individual among them is of antichrist. He says, “Who is the liar if not the one denying that Jesus is the Christ? He is the antichrist, the one denying the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22, McDurmon translation). While this passage does employ the definite article “the” (both in Greek and in modern English translations), it is clear that since John has already established “antichrist” as a general group in verse 18, he is now providing criteria by which his audience can judge specific (definite) cases of heresy among them. Thus he individualizes the language to correspond.
He uses typifying “proverb”-type language to create a test case for determining between “he who tells the truth,” and “he who is ‘the liar’” in that given case: “He who denies that Jesus is the Christ, he is the antichrist.” But it is clear that his categories set up in the previous verses should determine the context of this one. For this reason, the King James translators went so far as to exclude “the” from this second passage—“He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son”—even though it existed in their Greek text (that ought to bug the KJV-Only crowd a bit).
The same principle is at work in 1 John 4:3. Here John further explains the criteria for judgment: “And every spirit that does not confess [literally “speak the same”] Jesus is not of God, and this is that of the antichrist, which you heard that comes, and now is in the world already” (McDurmon).
The phrase “and this is that of the antichrist” is a description of the spirit that denies Jesus. In other words, it means “this denying spirit is the spirit of the antichrist.” This is why so many translations can’t stand not adding the word “spirit” a second time even though it is not in the text (see KJV, NAS, NIV, NJB, NRS, ESV). Here again, the article “the” appears, but clearly applies to criteria for determining definite, individual instances of the heresy. This was the practical ecclesiastical issue built on John’s earlier general teaching about “antichrist”: testing teachers for heresy. Thus: “Test the spirits” John said, introducing the fourth chapter, “because many false prophets [like the “many antichrists” in 2:18] have gone out into the world” (4:1).
The remaining instance appears in 2 John 7. It further solidifies and reinforces what we have said so far. John repeats his former teaching almost verbatim, warning that “Many deceivers, who do not confess Jesus Christ coming in flesh, have gone out into the world. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
Again the definite article appears, but it is clear that the phrase applies as a general description for a group including “many deceivers.” At most it could point to the sole supernatural force behind these many deceivers, many false prophets, and many antichrists; but even then it still could not be a single individual that shall come in the future. It would simply mean that just as the Pharisees, for example, were children of the devil, “the father of lies” (John 8:44), so these many antichrists are children of spiritual antichrist, the devil. This is a possible interpretation, but not necessary.
So the simple teaching of the Bible on “antichrist” grows out of a sparse five appearances of the word in four verses. Those verses teach us at least this much: there were many antichrists, they appeared in John’s time, and their appearance confirmed that John’s generation was the “end time” or “last hour.”
Any interpretation of antichrist that strays from these fundamental biblical teachings risks adding to or taking away from the Word of God. Further, any talk of a single and future figure called “the Antichrist” is especially straining; Scripture simply does not allow the term to be used that way.
But that does not stop many people.
The Fallacious “Composite Antichrist”
The scant (yet very clear) Scriptural data on antichrist does not stop countless Christians from imposing the term upon Scriptural characters to which it does not pertain. This remains the source of much confusion and hindrance in the area of Christian doctrine and worldview.
For example, LaHaye and Hindson argue, “The Bible uses several names and titles for the person we commonly call the Antichrist.”3 In his previously mentioned article, Gillette makes a long list of these alleged names:
The Seed of Satan—Genesis 3:15 (NLT); The Little Horn—Daniel 7:8 (NLT); The Fierce King, a Master of Intrigue—Daniel 8:23 (NLT); The Prince Who is to Come—Daniel 9:26 (NLT); The Defiler—Daniel 9:27 (NLT); The King Who Does as He Pleases—Daniel 11:36 (NLT); The King of Assyria—Isaiah 10:12 (NLT); The Worthless Shepherd—Zechariah 11:17 (NLT); The One Who Brings Destruction—2 Thessalonians 2:3 (NLT); The Man of Lawlessness—2 Thessalonians 2:8 (NLT); The Antichrist—1 John 2:18 (NLT); The Beast—Revelation 13:11 (NLT)
Notice Gillette’s reference to 1 John 2:18: “The Antichrist.” As we have already seen, in this particular verse there is no “The.” So the title here is made up to begin with—made up to fit a preconceived theological concept.
Of course, once such a concept is made up, then these teachers read their abstracted, artificial character back into Scripture and find his shadow in every reference to every evil ruler and false prophet around. This is what theologian B. B. Warfield called a “composite photograph” obtained by connecting “antichrist” to Paul’s “Man of Sin,” the Beast found in Revelation, and many others.4
“The Antichrist” resulting from this type of doctrinal construct is a myth—a big, bold, hodge-podge of Scripture, mixed with imagination and superstition. He does not exist in Scripture; he is the imaginary construct of certain theologians dependent upon a certain system of end-times scenarios.
In order to avoid the plain meaning of Scripture, these gentlemen must add to the Word of God. Even after admitting how narrowly Scripture defines the term, LaHaye and Hindson immediately depart from it. First they write, “Interestingly, the term Antichrist (antichristos in the Greek) appears only in 1 John 2:18–22; 4:3; and 2 John 7.” They even see that it does not pertain only to a single individual: “The apostle John uses it both in the singular (“the antichrist”) and in the plural (“many antichrists”).” But they refuse to interpret the “singular” usage apart from their theological construct; consequently, they read their created Archvillain back into John’s words: “John indicates that his readers have already heard that the Antichrist is coming in the future.”5
John says nothing of the sort. As we have already seen, in this verse in particular (1 John 2:18), John specifically excludes the “the.” LaHaye and Hindson, however, italicize the “the” in order to make their view emphatic. But this is a trick: it is a printed emphasis to hide the theological emphasis they have added to John’s words. It is a bad trick: it rather exposes their bias.
Further, John does not say that antichrist “is coming in the future,” he simply reminds his listeners that “antichrist comes.” The verb here is in the present tense, not a participle and not future. John then uses the additional fact that “many antichrists” have already come as proof that this prophecy is fulfilled, and that now they know (certain knowledge) that they are in the last hour. The manifestation of antichrist as many antichrists was a fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy for their end time (Matt. 24:4–5, 23–28). It had nothing to do with a single dominant evil person or the distant future.
But to maintain their Composite Photograph Antichrist, LaHaye and Hindson must somehow remove John’s clear application of “many antichrists” from the main spotlight of the biblical teaching. They admit that John says this, but they add to God’s Word when they say, “He describes these lesser antichrists as liars who deny that Jesus is the Christ (2:22).” Do you see the addition? It is the adjective “lesser.” In order to maintain their belief that “the Antichrist” is yet to come in our future, they have to minimize John’s actual teaching: these “many antichrists” were not just “antichrists” as John said, but “lesser antichrists.” But the word “lesser” is an addition to God’s Word.
This addition distorts what Scripture teaches about antichrist. It implies that there is such a thing as a “greater antichrist,” and we are to assume that this figure is yet to come. Sure enough, in his Prophecy Study Bible, Tim Lahaye says that these lesser antichrists “prefigure the ultimate Antichrist yet to come in the future.”6 This again is adding to the text. The Bible never speaks of “the ultimate Antichrist”; only antichrist, and only in a very specific and limited way.
So, unless you compound all of the wicked rulers in Scripture, abstract an imaginary prophecy based on that composite, and then rename this Frankenstein creation “the Antichrist,” then no such “ultimate” antichrist would ever enter the theological discourse. The only thing remotely close to transcending John’s many individual antichrists might be the spirit of antichrist, which we already discussed. But even here it would act as a description of an animating force behind many individuals and not a special separate person in history.
The Biblical data is so simple and clear. So it is interesting to find teachers like Gillette who dismiss the clear view of Scripture in favor of their theological abstraction:
While some people claim the Bible never refers to an individual as the “Antichrist,” but rather the existence of “a spirit of Antichrist,” a complete picture of this infamous man emerges from a thorough reading of the scriptures.
He then lists the catalogue of evil Bible personages quoted above.
Worse yet, I find it absolutely stunning that in his 2,400-word article boldly entitled “Who is the Antichrist?” there is no discussion whatsoever of any of the few passages in which the word actually appears. He makes only a single passing reference to 1 John 2:18, and that only as merely containing the name “The Antichrist,” which, as we have already seen, the Greek does not contain. You would expect that an article on the subject might spend at least some space on the exegesis of the only five instances in Scripture that contain the word. There is not a word on any of them.
In contrast, however, Gillette canvasses the rest of Scripture to find every bad guy he can find in prophecies, and then says that all of these other guys are “The Antichrist.” But this is exactly the problem: instead of letting Scripture define “antichrist,” and then interpreting rest of Scripture according to its context, teachers like Gillette create a theological context first and then force all of Scripture into the definitions they have created.
The Example of the Fierce King
In many cases, the treatments they give of other places in Scripture are just as shabby (and sometimes based on just as poorly translated passages). For example, Gillette quotes Daniel 8:24–25 as proof that “the Antichrist” under the name “The Fierce King” will attack God’s Holy People and even Christ Himself in a “final act of rebellion.” He employs the New Living Translation:
“He will destroy powerful leaders and devastate the holy people. He will be a master of deception, defeating many by catching them off guard. Without warning he will destroy them. He will even take on the Prince of princes in battle, but he will be broken, though not by human power.” Daniel 8:24–25 (NLT)
LaHaye sees the same fearful prospect: “This passage looks ahead to the rise of the Antichrist.”7
But like the rest of Scripture (except for 1 and 2 John), Daniel never even uses the term antichrist, and there is no necessary biblical reason to lump the “the fierce king” of Daniel 8:23 into some imaginary composite antichrist. In fact, there is not necessarily any reason to equate this predicted evil ruler with any other prophecies in Scripture, let alone an imaginary one, or one in our near future.
We do, however, see the fulfillment of Daniel 8:24–25 in the Scriptural (and historical) data concerning Herod. James Jordan has made a compelling case that this prophecy points to the blasphemous house of Herod that appears in different faces throughout the Gospels and Acts.8
Gillette, however, loads his presuppositions into the text. Verse 24 says of the fierce king: “He will become very strong, but not by his own power.” Gillette applies this to “the Antichrist”: “In addition, the Antichrist will be a man of unprecedented power, not of his own accord, but because he is backed by Satan.” Again, LaHaye has the same claim, only stronger: “The fact that the Antichrist rules by a power “not . . . his own” indicates that he will be Satan-incarnate and have satanic supernatural wisdom and powers ascribed to him (Rev. 13).”9
But this verse neither applies to our future nor mentions Satan. The verse does not require of this fierce king that his power come from any supernatural source. It simply says his strength will not come from himself. This prophecy finds a straight-forward fulfillment in Herod the Great: 1) His power was not his own, but came from the power and force of Rome which backed him; 2) he destroyed and devastated the Holy people at the time, and his brutality towards them was well known; and 3) he certainly engaged in battle against the prince of Princes by trying to murder Him as an infant (Matt. 2:16–18). Jesus’ parents took him and fled into Egypt, “and was there until the death of Herod” (Matt. 2:15).
Herod’s death is alluded to three times in Matt. 2 (verses 15, 19, 22). History tells us he died not of human hands, but of disease. Similar stories are true of the whole house of Herod concerned with the New Testament era. We are told in Matthew 2:22 that Herod the Great’s son Herod Archelaus ruled in his place. He died in exile. Herod Antipas, who killed John the Baptist (continuing the destroying of God’s people), was also banished by Rome and died in exile.
Herod the Great’s grandson, Herod Agrippa I, appears in Acts 12. He continues the persecution of God’s people and has the clearest experience of “hands free” death. In 12:1 he kills Christians, kills James the brother of Jesus, and arrests Peter (presumably preparing to execute him as well):
About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also (Acts 12:1–3).
(Notice that by this point, “the Jews” had joined the Fierce King in his destroying of God’s true Holy People, the believers. Truly he had “caused deceit to prosper in his hand” (Dan. 8:25).)
We hear of Herod Agrippa I’s death at the end of the same chapter:
On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last (Acts 12:20–23).
Just a Daniel had said, “In his own mind he shall become great” (8:25). Agrippa I thought he was so great he could accept praise as a god. Likewise, just as Daniel predicted, he was “broken—but by no human hand”; he was smitten directly by an angel of the Lord.
Those already persuaded by thoughts of “the Antichrist” will be tempted to conclude that this Fierce King requires a superhuman power in order to defeat him; and this makes sense for them, because they think he is a satanically empowered figure. But the text requires none of this.
First of all is the issue of translation. Gillette’s NLT ends Daniel 8:25 saying that this king will be broken, “but not by human power.” The words “human” and “power” neither appear in the Hebrew. The difficult passage involves only three Hebrew words that literally mean something like “without” “hand” “he shall be broken.” The King James seems to come close: “he shall be broken without hand.” Many translations add “human,” but this is only an elucidation on the obvious. But some replace “hand” with “power” or “intervention” which is just not faithful enough to the prophet’s words. The plain implication is that the king will meet his demise, but through natural causes (not murder or war, etc.).
Secondly, the text also does not indicate that the King would be of such a nature as to require a supernatural agency to bring about his death. It does not state or imply that he or his power had any satanic or demonic origin. It only proclaims that he will die without hand, not that he can only die that way. This King is a man—a great and powerful man—but a normal mortal man nonetheless.
Taken plainly, the text applies directly to Herod. In fact, it applies to all of the contemporary Herods, especially as a collective House of Herod. Each individual in the line is expressed in the New Testament with emphasis upon a certain aspect of Daniel’s prophecy, yet it all applies to all of them equally as well. The all owed their power to Rome, they all persecuted and killed God’s people, they all attacked Jesus in different ways, they were all broken and died without hand (apart from human hands).
The last of the line, Herod Agrippa II (son of Agrippa I), is seen at a crossroads in Paul’s ministry. In Acts 26, the apostle stands pleading with Agrippa II to submit to Christ:
“King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
While he gives Paul a favorable judgment in private, the ultimate decision reveals that Herod, the King of Jerusalem, was still more loyal to Caesar than God. The same Rome that gave them their power is the same Rome he ultimately bows to in the case of Paul. He sent Paul, whom he judged innocent, to his eventual execution in Rome. In a sense, this was a last effort by Paul to convert the Jewish nation (to the Jew first, then to the Gentile) via its civil representative. Herod rejected the Gospel, and sent its last Apostle to his final persecution.
Like his predecessors, Herod Agrippa II died without hand. Only this one, the last of the line, died childless.
So, in considering the case of the Fierce King, the text of Daniel itself does not say what these dispensationalists claim. It does not require the interpretations they impose on it; in fact, a plain reading (and translation) of the text makes much more sense to someone not already obsessed with super-spiritual apocalypse. The text finds clear and precise fulfillment in very purposefully included New Testament passages, and these are further corroborated by history. There is simply no reason to lump this prophecy into an Antichrist Complex and toss it into the fear-factory of the dispensational future. In fact, to do so does considerable violence to the text of Daniel, and injustice to the rest of Scripture.
We could further expand on this case by further expounding on the full context of Daniel 8, both biblical and historical.
We could also multiply such examples by considering each of the names and titles mentioned and listed by LaHaye and by Gillette (and others). But this one serves as an example of how to understand prophecy in the light of Scripture and history, and how to avoid distorting it by means of a preconceived theological abstraction. This and further applications like it will confirm how “the Antichrist” is not a biblical category or character.
A Logical Conclusion
Once the student of Scripture has pursued what the Bible itself actually says about antichrist, he will be in position to realize the many farces forced upon him by modern Christianity. He or she will know that there is no such figure mentioned or predicted in the Bible as “the Antichrist.” They will see through the myth.
Consequently, they will know that the question, “Who is the Antichrist?” is a logical fallacy. It is a fallacy called “complex question” of which we have written before. It is akin to asking, “Does your spouse know you’re having an affair?” Answering either yes or no retains the assumption that one is indeed having an affair, whether the spouse knows it or not. The proper response is to criticize the question: “I reject the assumption that I am cheating!”
Likewise, “I reject the assumption that such a person as “the Antichrist” exists or will ever exist.” Scripture simply does not speak of antichrist in that way, and the treatment of evil men in Scripture as each themselves prophecies of such a figure is to beg the question in the same way a hundred times. LaHaye’s “100 passages of Scripture” describing “the Antichrist” are nothing but 100 fallacies until he can prove that such a phantom exists.
Until they come clean, “the Antichrist” is a phrase that tells me they have no idea what they’re talking about.
Next Section: Appendix C: Is the World a Sinking Ship?
- Tim Lahaye and Ed Hindson, eds., The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2004), 23.(↩)
- Now, some English translations add “the” anyway, but it is not apparent necessarily why. It could be due to a belief that some complex rules of Greek grammar require it (the so-called “Colwell’s Rule”), but this by no means necessarily applies here.(↩)
- Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson, eds., The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy, 24.(↩)
- See Warfield quoted in Kim Riddlebarger, The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth about the Antichrist (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006), 80. Notice even the Reformed amillennialist Riddlebarger adds “the” in his subtitle.(↩)
- Tim Lahaye and Ed Hindson, eds., The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy, 23; emphasis in original.(↩)
- Timothy LaHaye, ed., Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible (AMG Publishers, 2000), 1346.(↩)
- Timothy LaHaye, ed., Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible, 910.(↩)
- James B. Jordan, The Handwriting on the Wall: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2007), 430–439.(↩)
- Timothy LaHaye, ed., Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible, 910.(↩)