Is There One Major Antichrist and Other Little Antichrists
Just reading stuff about 666 on your site, and I assume that there have been many antichrists historically and in recent times, too. I think many Christians get confused over this issue. Is there to be one major antichrist as well as all the other little antichrists that have been knocking round here and there? Forgive my silly humor, but I am truly asking a serious question.
This is a great question. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have an easy or definitive answer. Let’s begin with the word itself. It is comprised of two roots. “Anti” can mean “against,” “opposite of,” or “in place of.” “Christ” is a Greek rendition of the Hebrew word for Messiah. Messiah means “anointed one.” All three major religions generally accept that the anointed one refers to Jesus of Nazareth. So the antichrist is someone or something against, opposite of, or in place of Jesus. That’s where the challenges begin.
The antichrist means different things to different religions, and has meant different things over time. Typically, the Christian idea has been that this means someone falsely claiming to be the Messiah or someone drastically opposing Jesus’ teachings. The notion continues that Jesus will, in fact, return to earth to face this evil person in the second coming. Islamic teachings point to one who attempts to deceive humanity prior to the second coming. Jewish texts suggest this antichrist figure will launch a great upheaval against Israel but will ultimately be conquered in the Messianic age – a triumph of good over evil.
Jesus speaks about “false messiahs,” referring to them as pseudochristos. They will effectively do wondrous works and omens, but only for the purpose of leading believers astray. He warns the disciples to not be deceived by them. Interestingly, in the New Testament only two books mention an antichristos, but most scholars think these references refer to a class of people as opposed to an individual. The references are found in the letters of John and Revelation (1 John 2:18; 2 John 1:7; 2 John 1:7; 1 John 4:2–3). In Revelation, there is a reference to the “Beast” from the earth/sea, and many scholars connect this to the antichrist.
During the time of the early Church, the Apostolic Fathers use the term to refer to anyone preaching “false” doctrine. Irenaeus (writing in the 2nd century CE) states that the antichrist is the “recapitulation of apostasy and rebellion.” He uses the designation of 666 and suggests that the ten horns (Daniel 7:21) refer to ten kingdoms that will occur before the arrival of the Antichrist. Other Church Fathers believe the ten horns refer to the ten provinces of the Roman Empire, and they will be destroyed.
By the mid-4th century, any proponents outside of orthodoxy are candidates for the title. Arius of Alexandria becomes a strong contender. His heresies cause great discord within the emerging church, and orthodoxy is quick to vilify him, calling him the antichrist. Yet, his teachings do not usher in the second coming, so concepts continue to evolve. By 597 CE, Pope Gregory writes “whoever calls or desires to call himself ‘universal priest’ in self-exaltation of himself is a precursor of the Antichrist.” Interestingly, when powerful archbishops disagree with the Pope on religious matters, both sides are likely to invoke the accusation against the other.
These themes continue through the centuries until the time of the Protestant Reformation. At that point, the reformers are unified in declaring that the Roman papacy is, in fact, the Antichrist. Martin Luther writes, “Though it be admitted that Rome was once the mother of all Churches, yet from the time when it began to be the seat of Antichrist it has ceased to be what it was before.” At issue is the papacy’s abuse of power in declaring that people can only be saved through him. Luther claims this is not, nor has it ever been, ordained by God.
In modern times, the Church feels that the Antichrist will come as a great Humanitarian, promising peace and prosperity as ends in themselves and not as a road to God. God will have no place in his life. He will certainly do good things, but believers will be deceived. There will be no divinity, no Christian foundation upon which to build. This, actually, is more in line with Jesus’ warnings.
Needless to say, popular culture has abrogated the term to describe anyone that deviates too far from the norm. The current pope is a favorite target for his efforts to reform a church that was pretty comfortable with the way things were. Many recent political leaders have been declared the antichrist by those unhappy with their policies. Many endtime believers anxiously look forward to the antichrist and the upheaval that will follow as it ushers in the final battle.
It is, perhaps, too glib to say there seems to be something for everyone in this concept. For many people of faith, this is an important part of their theology. But at the same time, it appears that no one holds the definitive answer. And as long as this world continues without an apparent end in sight, people will continue to speculate, anticipate, and debate the fulfillment of something that was promised long ago.