Who is the Antichrist?
The Antichrist is a false prophet who will appear at the beginning of the apocalypse to make loyal Christians denounce their faith. Over the years, countless political and religious leaders have been accused of being the Antichrist – but none of them have made fire rain from the skies yet, so it appears that the world is still waiting for this villain to make himself known.
No physical description of “the Antichrist” is given in the Bible. In fact, the name seems to apply to a group of people, all of whom deny the truth of Jesus.
These Antichrists are described several times in the Epistles of John:
“Little children […] ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists” and “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!”
Yet, John doesn’t give any physical signs that can be used to identify a person who belongs to the Antichrist group. Presumably, they can have any appearance!
Images of an individual Antichrist come from Thessalonians and the Book of Revelations. However, these books do not use the word “antichrist.” Instead, they refer to a “false prophet,” “beast of the earth,” or “beast of the sea.”
Again, descriptions of the false prophet and the beast focus on his actions, rather than his appearance—but a few tantalizing traits are mentioned. The beast may have “seven heads with ten horns each,” or he may have one head with “horns like a lamb.” He marks all his followers with his name or his sign on their forehead or hand. His name is unknown, but some people believe it translates to the number 666.
Today, people who believe in the Antichrist as an individual person tend to focus on his status as a charismatic leader. He is expected to be an attractive man with a rich voice and a taste for fine clothing. He might also have strange marks on his head or hands.
The Antichrist is a servant of the Devil, and he has all the wickedness and thirst for power that is associated with his master. But there is more to him than that.
First and foremost, he is charismatic—so charismatic that millions of people will follow his ideology, even when it leads to extreme actions like worshipping the devil or allowing themselves to be branded on the head.
Second, the Antichrist is rebellious. He is frequently described as “the lawless one,” a character who refuses to accept established authorities like the church and government. People who believe in the Antichrist expect he will try to overthrow these authorities and establish a new world order, wherein he makes all the laws.
Third, he is dishonest. With names like “the deceiver” and “the false prophet,” it’s clear that this character has mastered the art of lying. In fact, his main purpose seems to be refuting the truth of Jesus, so that people reject salvation and wind up in Hell, where the devil can enjoy their torment.
Finally, the Antichrist is extremely arrogant. His natural powers, combined with the adoration of millions, will lead him to
“exalt 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.”
The Antichrist may be a smooth talker, but he also has real power to back up his talk! He is capable of producing all sorts of “signs and wonders” to convince people that he is a real prophet. These include bringing fire down from the sky, animating a statue of “the beast” so that it can talk, and healing or surviving mortal wounds.
The Antichrist also has authority of lesser demons. He can summon individual demons to help him spread his signs and wonders, or, if he is faced with a serious enemy, he can collect all of his demons into an army.
The early Christian church did not place heavy emphasis on the Antichrist. The term was simply used to describe people who rejected Jesus’s truth.
However, it didn’t take long for Church members to begin using the Antichrist label to accuse their enemies of being corrupt and dangerous. By the 3rd century AD, the Christian church had begun to accuse Roman leaders, especially Emperor Nero, of being “the Antichrist.” Christians also began looking for signs in the Biblical text that could lead them to the Antichrist. The number 666 was used to “numerologically decode” names of the Antichrist (including several Roman leaders), and the beast of the sea’s ten horns were interpreted as Rome splitting into ten kingdoms.
As the power of the Roman Empire slipped away, Antichrist accusations began to fade too. Religious scholars still speculated about the mysterious character, but they focused on signs that would help them identify the Antichrist in the future, rather than signs that could be used to accuse a current leader of being the Antichrist.
All that changed during the Protestant Reformation.
As tensions between the pre-Protestant church and the Roman Catholic church grew, religious rebels began to murmur about Catholic leaders, especially the pope, being the Antichrist. During the Protestant-Catholic split, Protestant leaders like Martin Luther and John Calvin made bolder statements, claiming
“This teaching [of the supremacy of the pope] shows forcefully that the Pope is the very Antichrist, who has exalted himself above, and opposed himself against Christ.”
Today, extreme Christians are still on the lookout for the Antichrist, and they regularly come up with new culprits. Every Pope and US President has, at some time, been accused of being the Antichrist.
The Antichrist has also become a political symbol used by counter-culture movements. For example, some punk rock stars have referred to themselves as “antichrists” or incorporated Antichrist symbols into their art.