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The Antichrist is a Christian concept based on interpretation of passages in the New Testament, in which the term "antichrist" occurs five times in 1 John and 2 John, once in plural form and four times in the singular.
In some Christian belief systems, Jesus the Messiah will appear in his Second Coming to Earth to face the emergence of the Antichrist figure, who will be the greatest false messiah in Christianity. Just as Christ is the savior and the ideal model for humanity, his opponent in the end time will be a single figure of concentrated evil, according to Bernard McGinn.
In Islam, Masih ad-Dajjal (the False messiah in Islam) is an anti-Messiah figure (similar to the Christian concept of Antichrist), who will appear to deceive humanity before the second coming of Jesus, who is called "Isa" by Arabic-speaking Muslims.
The word "antichrist" is made up of two roots: αντί (anti) + Χριστός (Khristos). "Αντί" can mean not only "against" and "opposite of", but also "in place of", "Χριστός", translated "Christ", is Greek for the Hebrew "Messiah". Both literally mean "Anointed One", and refer to Jesus of Nazareth within Christian, Islamic and Messianic Jewish theology.
Whether the New Testament contains an individual Antichrist or not is disputed. The five uses of the term "antichrist" or "antichrists" in the Epistles of John do not clearly present a single latter-day individual Antichrist. The articles "the deceiver" or "the antichrist" are usually seen as marking out a certain category of persons, rather than an individual.
Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.—1 John 2:18 KJV
Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist!—2 John 1:7 NRSV (1989)
Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.—1 John 2:22 NRSV (1989)
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.—1 John 4:2–3 NRSV (1989)
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.—2 Thessalonians 2:1–4 NRSV (1989)
For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.—2 Thessalonians 2:7–10 NRSV (1989)
Although the word "antichrist" (Greek antikhristos) is used only in the Epistles of John, the similar word "pseudochrist" (Greek pseudokhristos, meaning "false messiah") is used by Jesus in the gospels:
For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.—Matthew 24:24 and Mark 13:22 NRSV (1989)
Then I saw another beast that rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and it makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound had been healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of all; and by the signs that it is allowed to perform on behalf of the beast, it deceives the inhabitants of earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that had been wounded by the sword and yet lived; and it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast so that the image of the beast could even speak and cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.—Revelation 13:11–17 NRSV (1989)
And I saw three foul spirits like frogs coming from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet. These are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.—Revelation 16:13–14 NRSV (1989)
Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against the rider on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed in its presence the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.—Revelation 19:19–20 NRSV (1989)
And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.—Revelation 20:10 NRSV (1989)
The only one of the late 1st/early 2nd Century Apostolic Fathers to use the term is Polycarp (ca. 69 – ca. 155) who warned the Philippians that everyone who preached false doctrine was an antichrist. His use of the term Antichrist follows that of the New Testament in not identifying a single personal Antichrist, but a class of people.
Irenaeus (2nd century AD – c. 202) wrote Against Heresies to refute the teachings of the Gnostics. In Book V of Against Heresies he addresses the figure of the Antichrist referring to him as the "recapitulation of apostasy and rebellion." He uses "666", the Number of the Beast from Revelation 13:18, to numerologically decode several possible names. Some names that he loosely proposed were "Evanthos", "Lateinos" ("Latin" or pertaining to the Roman Empire). In his exegesis of Daniel 7:21, he stated that the ten horns of the beast will be the Roman empire divided into ten kingdoms before the Antichrist's arrival. However, his readings of the Antichrist were more in broader theological terms rather than within a historical context.
Tertullian (ca.160 – ca.220 AD) held that the Roman Empire was the restraining force written about by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8. The fall of Rome and the disintegration of the ten provinces of the Roman Empire into ten kingdoms were to make way for the Antichrist.
By, "For that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first," he [Paul] means indeed this present empire, "and the man of lawlessness is revealed"—that is to say, the Antichrist, "the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or religion, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed." What obstacles are there but the Roman state, the rebellion of which, by being scattered into the ten kingdoms, will introduce the Antichrist upon its own ruins? "And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing."
Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170-c. 236) held that the Antichrist would come from the tribe of Dan and would rebuild the Jewish temple on the Temple Mount in order to reign from it. He identified the Antichrist with the Beast out of the Earth from the book of Revelation.
By the beast, then, coming up out of the earth, he means the kingdom of Antichrist; and by the two horns he means him and the false prophet after him. And in speaking of "horns like a lamb," he means that he will make himself like the Son of God, and set himself forward as king. And the terms, "it spoke like a dragon," mean that he is a deceiver, and not truthful.
Where is the absurdity, then, in holding that there exist among men, so to speak, two extremes—the one of virtue, and the other of its opposite; so that the perfection of virtue dwells in the man who realizes the ideal given in Jesus, from whom there flowed to the human race so great a conversion, and healing, and amelioration, while the opposite extreme is in the man who embodies the notion of him that is named Antichrist?... one of these extremes, and the best of the two, should be styled the Son of God, on account of His pre-eminence; and the other, who is diametrically opposite, be termed the son of the wicked demon, and of Satan, and of the devil. And, in the next place, since evil is specially characterized by its diffusion, and attains its greatest height when it simulates the appearance of the good, for that reason are signs, and marvels, and lying miracles found to accompany evil, through the cooperation of its father the devil.
Cyril of Jerusalem, in the mid-4th century, delivered his 15th Catechetical Lecture about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, in which he also lectures about the Antichrist, who will reign as the ruler of the world for three and a half years, before he is killed by Jesus Christ right at the end of his three-and-a-half-year reign, shortly after which the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will happen.
Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 298 – 373), writes that Arius of Alexandria is to be associated with the Antichrist, saying, "And ever since [the Council of Nicaea] has Arius's error been reckoned for a heresy more than ordinary, being known as Christ's foe, and harbinger of Antichrist."
John Chrysostom (c. 347–407) warned against speculating about the Antichrist, saying, "Let us not therefore enquire into these things". He preached that by knowing Paul's description of the Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians, Christians would avoid deception.
Jerome (c. 347-420) warned that those substituting false interpretations for the actual meaning of Scripture belonged to the "synagogue of the Antichrist". "He that is not of Christ is of Antichrist," he wrote to Pope Damasus I. He believed that "the mystery of lawlessness" written about by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 was already in action when "every one chatters about his views." To Jerome, the power restraining this mystery of lawlessness was the Roman Empire, but as it fell this restraining force was removed. He warned a noble woman of Gaul:
He that letteth is taken out of the way, and yet we do not realize that Antichrist is near. Yes, Antichrist is near whom the Lord Jesus Christ "shall consume with the spirit of his mouth." "Woe unto them," he cries, "that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days."... Savage tribes in countless numbers have overrun all parts of Gaul. The whole country between the Alps and the Pyrenees, between the Rhine and the Ocean, has been laid waste by hordes of Quadi, Vandals, Sarmatians, Alans, Gepids, Herules, Saxons, Burgundians, Allemanni, and—alas for the commonweal!—even Pannonians.
In his Commentary on Daniel, Jerome noted, "Let us not follow the opinion of some commentators and suppose him to be either the Devil or some demon, but rather, one of the human race, in whom Satan will wholly take up his residence in bodily form." Instead of rebuilding the Jewish Temple to reign from, Jerome thought the Antichrist sat in God’s Temple inasmuch as he made "himself out to be like God." He refuted Porphyry’s idea that the "little horn" mentioned in Daniel chapter 7 was Antiochus Epiphanes by noting that the "little horn" is defeated by an eternal, universal ruler, right before the final judgment. Instead, he advocated that the "little horn" was the Antichrist:
We should therefore concur with the traditional interpretation of all the commentators of the Christian Church, that at the end of the world, when the Roman Empire is to be destroyed, there shall be ten kings who will partition the Roman world amongst themselves. Then an insignificant eleventh king will arise, who will overcome three of the ten kings... after they have been slain, the seven other kings also will bow their necks to the victor.
When the Roman empire shall have ceased, then the Antichrist will be openly revealed and will sit in the House of the Lord in Jerusalem. While he is reigning, two very famous men, Elijah and Enoch, will go forth to announce the coming of the Lord. Antichrist will kill them and after three days they will be raised up by the Lord. Then there will be a great persecution, such as has not been before nor shall be thereafter. The Lord will shorten those days for the sake of the elect, and the Antichrist will be slain by the power of God through Michael the Archangel on the Mount of Olives.
Pope Gregory I wrote to Emperor Maurice in A.D. 597, concerning the titles of bishops, "I say with confidence that whoever calls or desires to call himself ‘universal priest’ in self-exaltation of himself is a precursor of the Antichrist."
Arnulf (archbishop of Reims) disagreed with the policies and morals of Pope John XV. He expressed his views while presiding over the Council of Reims in A.D. 991. Arnulf accused John XV of being the Antichrist while also using the 2 Thessalonians passage about the "man of lawlessness" (or "lawless one"), saying, "Surely, if he is empty of charity and filled with vain knowledge and lifted up, he is Antichrist sitting in God's temple and showing himself as God." This incident is history's earliest record of anyone identifying a pope with the Antichrist (See Antichrist (historicism)).
Pope Gregory VII (c. 1015 or 29 – 1085), struggled against, in his own words, "a robber of temples, a perjurer against the Holy Roman Church, notorious throughout the whole Roman world for the basest of crimes, namely, Wilbert, plunderer of the holy church of Ravenna, Antichrist, and arch-heretic."
Cardinal Benno, on the opposite side of the Investiture Controversy, wrote long descriptions of abuses committed by Gregory VII, including necromancy, torture of a former friend upon a bed of nails, commissioning an attempted assassination, executions without trials, unjust excommunication, doubting the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and even burning it. Benno held that Gregory VII was "either a member of Antichrist, or Antichrist himself."
Eberhard II von Truchsees, Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg in 1241 at the Council of Regensburg denounced Pope Gregory IX as "that man of perdition, whom they call Antichrist, who in his extravagant boasting says, I am God, I cannot err." He argued that the ten kingdoms that the Antichrist is involved with were the "Turks, Greeks, Egyptians, Africans, Spaniards, French, English, Germans, Sicilians, and Italians who now occupy the provinces of Rome." He held that the papacy was the "little horn" of Daniel 7:8:
"A little horn has grown up" with "eyes and mouth speaking great things", which is reducing three of these kingdoms (i.e. Sicily, Italy, and Germany) to subserviency, is persecuting the people of Christ and the saints of God with intolerable opposition, is confounding things human and divine, and is attempting things unutterable, execrable.
Many Protestant reformers, including Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer, John Thomas, John Knox, and Cotton Mather, identified the Roman Papacy as the Antichrist. The Centuriators of Magdeburg, a group of Lutheran scholars in Magdeburg headed by Matthias Flacius, wrote the 12-volume "Magdeburg Centuries" to discredit the papacy and identify the pope as the Antichrist. The fifth round of talks in the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue notes,
In calling the pope the "antichrist," the early Lutherans stood in a tradition that reached back into the eleventh century. Not only dissidents and heretics but even saints had called the bishop of Rome the "antichrist" when they wished to castigate his abuse of power.
William Tyndale, an English Protestant reformer, held that while the Roman Catholic realms of that age were the empire of Antichrist, any religious organization that distorted the doctrine of the Old and New Testaments also showed the work of Antichrist. In his treatise The Parable of the Wicked Mammon, he expressly rejected the established Church teaching that looked to the future for an Antichrist to rise up, and he taught that Antichrist is a present spiritual force that will be with us until the end of the age under different religious disguises from time to time. Tyndale's translation of 2 Thessalonians, chapter 2, concerning the "man of lawlessness" reflected his understanding, but was significantly amended by later revisers, including the King James Bible committee, which followed the Vulgate more closely.
The view of Futurism, a product of the Counter-Reformation, was advanced beginning in the 16th century in response to the identification of the Papacy as Antichrist. Francisco Ribera, a Jesuit priest, developed this theory in In Sacrum Beati Ioannis Apostoli, & Evangelistiae Apocalypsin Commentarij, his 1585 treatise on the Apocalypse of John. Saint Robert Bellarmine codified this view, giving in full the Catholic theory set forth by the Greek and Latin Fathers, of a personal Antichrist to come just before the end of the world and to be accepted by the Jews and enthroned in the temple at Jerusalem — thus endeavoring to dispose of the exposition which saw Antichrist in the pope. Most premillennial dispensationalists now accept Bellarmine's interpretation in modified form. Widespread Protestant identification of the Papacy as the Antichrist persisted in the USA until the early 1900s when the Scofield Reference Bible was published by Cyrus Scofield. This commentary promoted Futurism, causing a decline in the Protestant identification of the Papacy as Antichrist.
Some US Futurists hold that sometime prior to the expected return of Jesus, there will be a period of "great tribulation" during which the Antichrist, indwelt and controlled by Satan, will attempt to win supporters with false peace, supernatural signs. He will silence all that defy him by refusing to "receive his mark" on their right hands or forehead. This "mark" will be required to legally partake in the end-time economic system. Some Futurists believe that the Antichrist will be assassinated half way through the Tribulation, being revived and indwelt by Satan. The Antichrist will continue on for three and a half years following this "deadly wound".
After the reforms of Patriarch Nikon of Moscow to the Russian Orthodox Church of 1652, a large number of Old Believers held that czar Peter the Great was the Antichrist because of his treatment of the Orthodox Church, namely subordinating the church to the state, requiring clergymen to conform to the standards of all Russian civilians (shaved beards, being fluent in French), and requiring them to pay state taxes.
Bernard McGinn noted that complete denial of the Antichrist was rare until the Age of Enlightenment. Following frequent use of "Antichrist" laden rhetoric during religious controversies in the 17th century, the use of the concept declined in the 18th century. Subsequent eighteenth-century efforts to cleanse Christianity of "legendary" or "folk" accretions effectively removed the Antichrist from discussion in mainstream Western churches.
In Mormonism, the Antichrist "is anyone or anything that counterfeits the true gospel or plan of salvation and that openly or secretly is set up in opposition to Christ. The great antichrist is Lucifer, but he has many assistants both as spirit beings and as mortals." Latter-day Saints use the New Testament scriptures, 1 John 2:18, 22; 1 John 4:3-6; 2 John 1:7 and the Book of Mormon, Jacob 7:1-23, Alma 1:2-16, Alma 30:6-60, in their exegesis or interpretation of the Antichrist.
The Antichrist has been equated with the "man of lawlessness" or "lawless one" of 2 Thessalonians 2, though commentaries on the identity of the "man of lawlessness" greatly vary. The "man of lawlessness" has been identified with Caligula, Nero, and the end times Antichrist. Some scholars believe that the passage contains no genuine prediction, but represents a speculation of the apostle's own, based on Dan 8:23ff; 11:36ff, and on contemporary ideas of the Antichrist.
Several American evangelical and fundamentalist theologians, including Cyrus Scofield, have identified the Antichrist as being in league with (or the same as) several figures in the Book of Revelation including the Dragon (or Serpent), the Beast, the False Prophet, and the Whore of Babylon. Others, for example, Rob Bell, reject the identification of the Antichrist with any one person or group. They believe a loving Christ would not view anyone as an enemy.
Bernard McGinn described multiple traditions detailing the relationship between the Antichrist and Satan. In the dualist approach, Satan will become incarnate in the Antichrist, just as God became incarnate in Jesus. However, in Orthodox Christian thought, this view was problematic because it was too similar to Christ's incarnation. Instead, the "indwelling" view became more accepted. It stipulates that the Antichrist is a human figure inhabited by Satan, since the latter’s power is not to be seen as equivalent to God’s.
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The term antikhristos originates in 1 John. The similar term pseudokhristos ("False Messiah") is also first found in the New Testament, and, for example, never used by Josephus in his accounts of various false messiahs. The concept of an antikhristos is not found in Jewish writings in the period 500 BC–50 AD. However, Bernard McGinn conjectures that the concept may have been generated by the frustration of Jews subject to often-capricious Seleucid or Roman rule, who found the nebulous Jewish idea of a Satan who is more of an opposing angel of God in the heavenly court insufficiently humanised and personalised to be a satisfactory incarnation of evil and threat.
Influenced by Christian and Muslim interpretation, an anti-Messiah type figure known as Armilus appears in some schools of Jewish eschatology, such as the 7th century CE Sefer Zerubbabel and 11th century CE Midrash Vayosha. He is described as "bald-headed, with one large and one small eye, deaf in the right ear and maimed in the right arm, while the left arm is two and one-half ells long.".
Masih ad-Dajjal (Arabic: الدّجّال, literally "The Deceiving Messiah"), is an evil figure in Islamic eschatology. Although not mentioned anywhere in the Quran, some Muslims believe he is to appear pretending to be God at a time in the future, before "Yawm al-Qiyamah" (The Day of Resurrection, Judgement Day). He will travel around the globe entering every city except Mecca and Medina obliging people to believe in him as a God. Then Isa (Jesus) will descend from the sky to the White Minaret east of Damascus (as referred to in hadith), placing his hands on the backs of two angels, at the time of Fajr (dawn). This will happen at the time of the Dajjal and Isa (Jesus) will be the one to eventually defeat the Dajjal, killing him with his spear.
The Ahmadiyya teachings interpret the prophecies regarding the appearance of the Dajjal (Anti-Christ) and Gog and Magog in Islamic eschatology as foretelling the emergence of two branches or aspects of the same turmoil and trial that was to be faced by Islam in the latter days and that both emerged from Christianity or Christian nations. Its Dajjal aspect relates to deception and perversion of religious belief while its aspect to do with disturbance in the realm of politics and the shattering of world peace has been called Gog and Magog. Thus Ahmadis consider the widespread Christian missionary activity that was aggressively active in the 18th and 19th centuries as being part of the prophesied Dajjal (Antichrist) and Gog and Magog emerging in modern times. The emergence of the Soviet Union and the USA as superpowers and the conflict between the two nations (i.e., the rivalry between communism and capitalism) are seen as having occurred in accordance with certain prophecies regarding Gog and Magog. Ahmadis believe that prophecies and sayings about the Antichrist are not to be interpreted literally and hold deeper meanings. Masih ad-Dajjal is then a name to given to latter day Christianity and the West.
The term "Antichrist" is widely used in popular culture, and most prominently in punk subculture. This trend was spurred by the Sex Pistols' song "Anarchy in the U.K.", in which lead singer Johnny Rotten proclaimed that he was an antichrist. After the release of the song, adherents of the punk culture began to use the word as a term to describe someone who is very vulgar, crude, or rebellious. However, after Johnny Rotten's denunciation of useless violence in his years with Public Image Ltd, this trend began to subside with those who had used it for the sheer sake of being "punk". It is now used in the fringe groups of anarcho-punks and is most commonly used to describe those who practice violent and sensational forms of anarchy. The term Antichrist also features heavily in the earlier work of Marilyn Manson with the 1996 album titled Antichrist Superstar being most famous.