Joel Richardson, a pen name, is a prophecy writer who rejects the long-held Roman/European end-time antichrist theory made popular by the Scofield Reference Bible and later dispensational writers for what he conceives to be an Islamic/Middle Eastern end-time theory and a Muslim antichrist. He’s written several books and articles on the subject. Two books have gained a lot of attention: Antichrist: Islam’s Awaited Messiah (2006) and The Islamic Antichrist: The Shocking Truth about the Real Nature of the Beast (2009). Richardson has appeared on “The Glenn Beck Show” pushing his Islamic antichrist theory.
Prophecy writer Joel Rosenberg, author of Epicenter and Inside the Revolution, has also appeared as a guest on Beck’s show. While their views are radically different, they follow a similar end-time script: Interpreting the Bible through current events. Beck, like a number of Christians (e.g., Brannon Howse of Worldview Weekend; see here, here, and here), demonstrates that he is schizophrenic. On the one hand, he wants to rescue America from the brink of destruction, and on the other hand he pushes an end-time scenario that makes a future turn-around impossible because the end is inevitably near. Richardson and Rosenberg, while they differ on many points, advocate a similar system of prophetic inevitability. To them and their many readers, the events we are seeing today are a ticking prophetic time bomb that will go off. There is nothing anyone can do to stop it; it’s all a part of God’s prophetic calendar.
I’ll leave it to Richardson and Rosenberg to sort out their differences. I believe they’re both wrong, as I pointed out to Richardson during an on-air debate I had with him on “The Paul Edwards Program.” People have been trying to identify a particular antichrist for centuries. Christopher Hill’s book on the subject dealt only with Antichrist in Seventeenth-Century England. The candidates included Protestants, the Pope, radical sects, bishops, the Crown, the “‘Establishment’ generally,” the universities, and “the Turk,” an early designation for Muslims:
Richard Montagu proposed the Turk rather than the Pope as Antichrist. This thesis may have been given fresh currency by a Balliol [College] man, Christopher Angelos, a Greek who had suffered at the hands of the Turks and had it revealed to him in a vision that Mahomet was Antichrist. ((Christopher Hill, Antichrist in Seventeenth-Century England (London, Oxford University Press, 1971), 181–182.))
As history and the Bible attest, they were all wrong in their identifications. Bernard McGinn ((Bernard McGinn, Anti-Christ: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil (New York: Harper Collins, 1994).)) and Francis X. Gumerlock ((Francis X. Gumerlock, The Day and the Hour: Christianity’s Perennial Fascination with Predicting the End of the World (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2000).)) cover 2000 years of the topic, so Richardson’s foray into the debate isn’t anything new. Like in ages past, today’s antichrist candidates are manufactured from current events rather than Scripture.
Like so many of today’s prophetic claims of “certainty” of who the antichrist is, the Bible in the sixteenth century was being read and interpreted through the lens of current events. To his credit, Richardson attempts to address this issue:
Throughout Christian history, many Christians have seen the Antichrist and his system in whoever happened to be their archenemy or bogeyman of the day. Many Protestants have singled out—and some still do—the Pope as the most likely candidate to be the Antichrist. More recent speculations have ranged from Mikhail Gorbachev to Saddam Hussein to Prince Charles. For quite some time, communism with its atheist doctrines was the favorite Antichrist system for many. ((Joel Richardson, The Islamic Antichrist: The Shocking Truth about the Real Nature of the Beast (Los Angeles: WND Books, 2009), 177.))
The Reformation grew out of doctrinal controversies and unbiblical practices of the Roman Catholic Church. The belief that the Roman Catholic Church was harboring the antichrist was so strong and certain that it was written into the confessional statements of the day. For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) included the following in Chapter 25 section 6:
There is no other head of the church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof: but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.
The antichrist designation was removed in 1789 in the American edition. The revised article reads, “There is no other head of the church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof.” There are groups today that still identify the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the antichrist, ((For example, Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides the Beast: The Roman Catholic Church and the Last Days (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1994).)) but most evangelicals no longer attribute the antichrist moniker to the papacy even though they still disagree with many of the church’s doctrinal claims and practices.
While I have not read everything Richardson has written, I haven’t seen him mention the fact that Islam, like the papacy, has been an antichrist candidate.
With the rise of Islam in the seventh century, its steady advance throughout the Mideast and portions of Europe, and its impact on geo-political affairs over the centuries, it became a favorite theme of commentators as they attempted to squeeze prophetic meaning from the Bible. This was especially true for the historicist interpreter of Bible prophecy. “The historicist approach, which is the historic Protestant interpretation of the book, sees the Book of Revelation as a prewritten record of the course of history from the time of the apostle to the end of the world. Fulfillment is thus considered to be in progress at present and has been unfolding for nearly two thousand years.” ((Steve Gregg, ed., Revelation: Four Views—A Parallel Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 2.)) Historicist commentators who wrote after the sixteenth century and through the nineteenth century, saw the rise and advance of Islam as the outworking of fulfilled and yet-to-be fulfilled prophecy. The rapid advance of Islamic armies throughout the Middle East and the supplanting of Christian lands in the process seemed to fit the prophetic details of Ezekiel 38 and 39 and Revelation 9 to the letter.
Prior to the rise and advance of Islam, the Byzantine Empire had spread throughout North Africa, the Middle East, and deep into the heart of Europe. With the preaching of the gospel and the transformation of individual lives, families, and culture came advances in law, science, art, literature, and music that came to define the word Byzantine. Even so, major changes were on the way:
Despite all these apparent strengths, the foundations for Byzantine unity had a number of hidden weaknesses. Most significantly the long-lived stability of the imperial order had encouraged a lax estimation of the importance of military preparedness.
When the Islamic armies first began to venture out of the Arabian Desert, they quickly saw and exploited that weakness. Though often outnumbered by Byzantine forces, the fearless, tenacious Muslims prevailed time after time. They swarmed almost suicidally onto the battlefield in vast human waves. . . . The Byzantine armies were entirely unprepared for such fervor, ardor, and zeal. ((George Grant, The Blood of the Moon: Understanding the Historic Struggle Between Islam and Western Civilization (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 110.))
As Lameh Chrysostine, an eyewitness to the onslaught, stated at the time: “It is almost as if they are driven by the very demons of Hell itself.” ((Quoted in Grant, Blood of the Moon, 110.)) And that’s how many Bible commentators understood what was happening: “And out of the smoke came forth locusts upon the earth; and power was given to them, as the scorpions of the earth have power” (Rev. 9:3). The advance of Islam was unrelenting, like nothing we’ve seen today.
The taking of Constantinople by Ottoman Turks led by Mohammed the Conqueror in 1453, on the eve of the discovery of the new world (1492) and the advent of the Reformation (1517), “awakened longings for a new crusade against the Moslems.” ((Kay Brigham, Christopher Columbus: His Life and Discovery in the Light of His Prophecies (Terrassa (Barcelona) Spain: Clie, 1990), 104.)) These events added fuel to the fire of prophetic speculation that included concern over former Christian lands being in the hands of infidels. “Despite modern laments about medieval colonialism, the crusade’s real purpose was to turn back Muslim conquests and restore formerly Christian lands to Christian control.” ((Thomas F. Madden, “Crusade Propaganda: The Abuse of Christianity’s Holy Wars,” Biblical Worldview (January 2002), 3.)) And we must not forget that there were those who believed that the Muslim occupation of Jerusalem also held special prophetic significance. ((Christopher Columbus believed that he was called by God “to rebuild the Temple on Mount Zion” in Jerusalem from the riches he would obtain from the Indies. See Brigham, Christopher Columbus, chap. 6.)) The prophetic works from this era cannot be read without some understanding of this historical background.
Peter Toon offers a helpful historical perspective on the way commentators understood the place of Islam and the Papacy in relation to Bible prophecy:
References to the Turkish Empire appear in virtually every Commentary on the Apocalypse of John which was produced by English Puritans, Independents, Presbyterians and Baptists. Gog and Magog were identified with the armies of Turkey and the Muslim world, descriptions of Turkish military power were seen in the contents of the trumpet (Rev. 9:13–21), and the year 1300 was believed to have great significance for it was at that time that the Turk became a threat to European civilization.
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For the English Puritans, as for many of their fellow Protestants on the Continent of Europe, the fact that the Ottoman Empire had for its religion Islam, the teaching of Mohammed, the ‘false’ prophet of God, was sufficient to label it as an envoy or agent of Satan, seeking to destroy the true Church of Christ. In view of this we cannot be surprised to learn that they believed God had given to John on Patmos a vision of this great enemy of the elect of God, who would one day be destroyed by the power of Christ. ((Peter Toon, “Introduction,” Puritans, the Millennium and the Future of Israel: Puritan Eschatology 1600 to 1660 (London: James Clarke & Co. Ltd., 1970), 19–20.))
It should not surprise us, therefore, that when Christians wrote on the subject of Bible prophecy, they would take current events into account. For the historicist interpreter, the Islamic advances could not be ignored. “[D]uring the oppressive conquests of the Saracens ((Saracens was the name Christians had given to Moslems during the time of the Crusades. Moslems who had invaded Spain from Morocco were called Moors. Saracen might be based on a word meaning “easterners.”)) the prophecies concerning Antichrist were searched anew by the monks and priests—in the hope they would yield perhaps an indication that Mohammed or his fierce followers could be meant by the passages referring to Antichrist.” ((LeRoy Froom, Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation, 4 vols. (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1950), 1:530.)) Like today, many of the Reformers saw prophecy being fulfilled in their day:
The search for the plain obvious meaning of Scripture when allied with the conviction that God must have spoken in Scripture of the times during which the Reformers lived, which were ‘the last times’, led to a view of Daniel and Revelation as being charters or maps of Church history from the Epiphany [the first coming of Christ] to the Last Judgment. The millennium of Revelation 20 was therefore equated with a thousand years of church history. Yet it was the contents of chapters 13 to 19 of the Apocalypse of John which seemed most to impress the followers of Calvin and Luther. Here they found a clear promise that all the enemies of Jesus Christ would be crushed before the Last Day. The Turks, the papacy and all their supporters would be defeated. ((Toon, “The Latter-Day Glory,” Puritans, the Millennium and the Future of Israel, 25.))
A prophecy writer like Richardson is just one of many newspaper exegetes, interpreting the Bible in the light (darkness?) of current events. His preoccupation with Islam is nothing new. In fact, in good rhetorical style, by confronting the question before it’s raised, he writes: “So the challenge might arise, ‘Aren’t you doing the same thing? Aren’t you just taking today’s bogeyman (Islam) and making it into the Antichrist system?’” ((Richardson, The Islamic Antichrist, 177.)) He says he’s not; I say he is. His Islamic end-time scenario is not new. It’s been done before.
Richardson offers the following challenge: “At this point, my response to those who would challenge the idea that Islam is the primary force behind the Antichrist system would be to issue a challenge to show biblically why it is not.” ((Richardson, The Islamic Antichrist, 178.)) Actually, the burden of proof is on Richardson to prove that it is. In what I’ve read, he hasn’t made the case, not by a long shot.
Does this mean that I don’t believe Islam is dangerous and its leaders want to take over the world? Not at all. My aversion to Islam is not because of Bible prophecy anymore than my aversion to atheism, communism, secularism, scientism, materialism, naturalism, pietism, socialism is linked to and dependent on an understanding of Bible prophecy.
Prophetic inevitability is a dangerous thing; it immobilizes the church. Not too many decades ago we were told that communism was the “movement of the antichrist.” ((Josef Tson, “The Cornerstone at the Crossroads,” Wheaton Alumni (August/September 1991).)) Oswald J. Smith assured the world in 1926 that fascism—led my Benito Mussolini in Italy—was the face of antichrist. Of course, Adolf Hitler was an obvious candidate. Some still cling to it. In Robert Van Kampen’s The Sign (1999) we were treated with the claim that Adolph Hitler is still the Antichrist. One day he will rise from the dead and be worshipped by the entire world when they witness his resurrection. Constance Cumbey, in her Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow (1983), identified the New Age Movement as the “spiritual” worldview that would usher in the antichrist religion. The list could go on and on. Prophecy has nothing to do with any of these movements like it had nothing to do with the horrors of the French Revolution, the Civil War, and World War I.
Christians need to get off the end-time bandwagon and get busy apply the whole counsel of God to all of life. We can take evil seriously without packaging it as an end-time thrill machine that brings harm to the church and disrepute to the Bible.