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Was there an Individual Antichrist?
In my column I put up on Zechariah 14 there were some comments made that there never was an individual Antichrist. Below is my response; it was too long to just put in as a comment. My basic thesis is that the Antichrist was ultimately a demonic king (notice he comes out of the abyss, Rev. 11:7; 17:8 cf.Dan. 10:13 )that worked through Titus in his three and a half year destruction of Israel. Again you can see the first chapter here
It is somewhat surprising that a term as well known as Antichrist is found only four times in the entire Bible. These references occur in the books of 1 and 2 John:
Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.
1 John 2:18-22
By this you know the spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
1 John 4:2-3
For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.
2 John 7
William Biederwolf provides an extensive discussion on the word antichrist (Gr. antichristos):
“antichrist”—the word may mean either “against Christ” or “instead of Christ”, i.e., a false Christ. The decision cannot rest on philology alone, but the context shows plainly that John used the word in a sense antagonistic to Christ, and this is now commonly recognized . . . John was acquainted with the Greek for “false Christ’ [Gr. pseudochristos], but he chose not to use it. He used “antichrist”, showing plainly that he meant the idea of enmity to be read in the word. Furthermore, in the Greek Fathers we do not find a trace of the idea of “false Christ” in Antichrist but it is always the thought of antagonism that is emphasized.
These antichrists in John’s time were the heretical teachers who had gone out from the Church, who were clothed with the attributes, had the spirit of and were the forerunners of the coming personal Antichrist. Does John in this verse [1 John 2:18] mean that the Antichrist is already here, i.e., in a collective sense, being in fact the aggregate of these many antichrists? In other words, is the Antichrist collective or is he personal?
1. Since the antichrists are personal so must the Antichrist be.
2. Christ and Antichrist stand over against each other and if one is personal the law of analogy requires that the other should be personal also.
3. Chap. 4:3 does not say that the spirit then prevalent was Antichrist, but it says that it is the spirit of Antichrist, and in this place the article “the” is used before Antichrist.
4. The present of fixed certainly (cometh), as referred to Antichrist [in 1 John 2:18] is set over against “have arisen” and “is”, as referred to the antichrists, showing that there is a distinction between the Antichrist who is to come and many antichrists who have already come.1
John (c. AD 60-65) was telling his first-century readers that the Antichrist was about to appear.2 He makes a distinction between “Antichrist” and “antichrists” (1 John 2:18). John uses the term “antichrists” to describe those who deny that Jesus was the Christ come in the flesh (1 John 4:3). He cites the fact that many antichrists had come as an indication that it was the “last hour” and that the Antichrist was about to come. It should be noted that John is mostly focusing on these “antichrists” in his epistles not the “Antichrist.”
Some would disagree with my position and say there is no such thing as an individual Antichrist, that there are only antichrists.3 Preterists especially have been attracted to this line of thinking because they have failed to produce a unified picture of Antichrist in one historical figure. If one cannot unify the Scriptures related to Antichrist, it is a clever defense to maintain there is no single Antichrist. One cannot be faulted for not coming up with an answer to a problem that does not exist! This sidestepping of the issue does not work, however; the problem does not go away. Whether one calls him “Antichrist” or not, the Bible consistently shows an opponent of God/Christ who is defeated by the coming of God (see below). To say there is no individual Antichrist does not get around this fact.
THE OPPONENT OF GOD/CHRIST
Looking at Scripture, one does not have to dig too deep to find the opponent of God/Christ who appears at the last hour (of the old covenant age; cf. 1 Cor. 10:11). Looking at Daniel 7, the little eleventh horn makes war against the saints and is defeated by the coming of God:
I was watching; and the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.
Notice that the little eleventh horn has three horns pulled out before it (Dan. 7:8), making him an eighth horn (i.e., ruler), which is exactly what the beast of Revelation is (Rev. 17:11). Just as with the little horn of Daniel 7, the beast of Revelation is defeated by the coming of God. Revelation reveals this as the coming of Jesus, the coming of the Word of God:
Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war . . . He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God . . . Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword . . . And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured . . . [and] cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.
Revelation 19:11, 13, 15, 19-20
Consider some of the connections between the little horn of Daniel 7 and the beast of Revelation:
1. The little horn/beast is an eighth ruler (Dan. 7:8; Rev. 17:11).
2. The little horn/beast speaks great blasphemies against God (Dan. 7:8, 11, 20, 25; Rev. 13:5-6).
3. The little horn/beast wages war against the saints and overcomes them (Dan. 7:21; Rev. 13:7).
4. The little horn/beast has a three-and-a-half-year reign of terror (Dan. 7:25; Rev. 13:5).
5. The little horn/beast is defeated in AD 70 by the coming of God/Christ (Dan. 7:21-22; Rev. 19:11-20).
6. The little horn/beast is thrown into the lake of fire at the time of the Second Coming (Dan. 7:11; Rev. 19:19-21).
7. The kingdom of God is fully established at the AD 70 defeat of the little horn/beast (Dan. 7:7-11, 21-27; Rev. 19:11-20:4).
There are too many specific correlations between the little horn and the beast for Daniel and Revelation to be talking about different rulers. These links also rule out the proposition that Revelation is retelling a second-century BC (pseudo) prophecy of Antiochus IV. It is the same ruler being shown in Daniel and Revelation, not two different rulers. The little horn/beast is the opponent of God/Christ who overcomes the saints for three-and-a-half years and is defeated at the parousia, ushering in the worldwide establishment of God’s kingdom at AD 70 (cf. Rev. 11). The little horn/beast is the Antichrist.
In Paul’s discussion of the man of lawlessness (the one who captures the Temple and is worshiped there; 2 Thess. 2:1-4), this theme of the opponent of Christ who is defeated by the Second Advent is found again:
For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.
2 Thessalonians 2:8
Note the connection between Revelation 19:15 (“Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword”) and 2 Thessalonians 2:8 (“the Lord will consume [him] with the breath of His mouth”). The Antichrist is defeated at the parousia by the sword/breath that comes out of Jesus’ mouth. These two sections speak of the same event and the same opponent; both speak of the Antichrist and the Second Coming. Note also that Paul draws from Daniel 11:36-12:13 in his discussion of the man of lawlessness. He is thus linking the king of the North with the man of lawlessness. The Antichrist was the opponent of God who would seek to exalt himself above God (cf. 2 Thess. 2:4 with Dan. 11:36-37).
Looking at the king of the North, he is defeated at the end of the old covenant age (Dan. 11:40-45), at the AD 70 destruction of the Jewish nation (Dan. 12:7). While the Second Coming is not shown explicitly in Daniel 12, the events associated with the Second Coming (e.g., the great tribulation, Dan. 12:1, cf. Matt. 24:21; the abomination of desolation, Dan. 12:11, cf. Matt. 24:15; and the resurrection and judgment, Dan. 12:2-3, cf. Matt. 25:31-32) are shown as happening at the defeat of the king of the North at the end of the age.
In the king of the North, we again we have the opponent of God who is defeated at AD 70 after a three-and-a-half-year reign of terror (Dan. 12:7; cf. Dan. 7:25; Rev. 13:5). As I mentioned earlier, Titus’ campaign against Israel took exactly three-and-a-half years, from March/April of AD 67 to August/September of AD 70.4 Whether one wants to use the term Antichrist or not, the Bible clearly shows an opponent of God/Christ who appears at the last hour of the old covenant age and is defeated by the Second Advent. To merely assert that there is no individual Antichrist does not change the facts of Scripture.
THE SPIRIT OF ANTICHRIST
In 1 John 4, John discusses the concept that Antichrist is ultimately a spirit and that that spirit was already in the world in the first century:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
1 John 4:1-3
The fact that the word “spirit” is italicized here (“this is the spirit of the Antichrist”) means it is supplied by the translators. When one looks at the context, however, it is clear that this is the intended meaning. First John 4:1-3 is comparing the influence of God’s Spirit as opposed to a spirit that is not of God, the latter spirit being that of Antichrist. Regarding this, Ryrie writes, “The AV [King James Version] rightly supplies spirit, though the omission of it in the Greek text indicates a breadth of thought. Such a false prophet is influenced by many forces and spirits, including demonic ones, and all of these reveal the action of antichrist. Superhuman forces are behind these false teachers.”5
Notice that John was saying the Antichrist spirit was already in the world (1 John 4:3); his manifestation (and thus the Second Coming when he would be defeated) was very near. Understanding that the Antichrist was ultimately a spirit is an extremely important point. The problem most commentators have had in identifying the Antichrist is that they have been looking for a human ruler. The fact is the Antichrist was not simply a human ruler but a demonic ruler working through a human ruler. Consider what we are told about the Antichrist in the book of Revelation: “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction . . .” (Rev. 17:8 NASB; cf. 11:7). That the beast would come out of the abyss shows that he was a demonic ruler not a physical ruler (cf. Luke 8:31; Rev. 9:1-12; 20:1-3). He would work through a certain man, however (cf. Rev. 13:18).
One should also note that John was told the beast was “about to come up out of the abyss” (Rev. 17:8 NASB). The Antichrist was about to come in the first century, not thousands of years later. Those in John’s first century audience with the required knowledge would be able to calculate the number of his name (Rev. 13:18). I shall argue that the Antichrist was the demonic ruler that would come out of the abyss at the end of the old covenant age to work through Titus in his AD 70 destruction of the Jewish nation. It was this demonic ruler, not the man Titus, who would be destroyed in the lake of fire at the time of the parousia (Rev. 19:20; cf. Dan. 7:11).
In talking about the man of lawlessness, the one who would capture the Temple and be defeated by Jesus’ Second Coming (2 Thess. 2:4, 8), Vine notes that the word translated as “destroy” in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 (“and then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming”) does not necessarily mean to annihilate but rather to make inactive.
Destroy: katargeō, lit. to reduce to inactivity (kata, down, argos, inactive) . . . In this and similar words not loss of being is implied, but loss of well being . . . [Thus,] the Man of Sin is reduced to inactivity by the manifestation of the Lord’s parousia with His people.6
It was the spirit of Antichrist working through Titus that was defeated and rendered inactive at Jesus’ Second Coming. It was the demonic king from the abyss, not Titus, that was destroyed in the lake of fire at Jesus’ parousia (Rev. 19:11-21).
Understanding that the Antichrist was ultimately a spirit helps to explain the somewhat strange wording in Daniel 9:
And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined.
Why does the text not simply say the prince to come would destroy Jerusalem and the Temple? The reason is because the prince to come, the Antichrist, would be a spiritual prince; it was his people that would destroy Jerusalem. Daniel 12 contains a similar statement of a spiritual ruler and his people. In verse 1 the angel Michael is said to be a prince of the Jewish people:
At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time . . . .
It is the same with the prince to come in Daniel 9:26; he was a demonic prince of the Roman people.7 This was the beast from the abyss, the spirit of Antichrist. Consistent with this consider the angelic/demonic kings and princes spoken of in Daniel 10:
Then he [the glorious Man of Daniel 10:5-6] said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been alone there with the kings of Persia.” . . . Then he [the glorious Man] said, “Do you know why I have come to you? And now I must return to fight with the prince of Persia; and when I have gone forth, indeed the prince of Greece will come. But I will tell you what is noted in the Scripture of Truth. (No one upholds me against these, except Michael your prince . . . .)”
Daniel 10:12-13, 20-21
Clearly, these are demonic kings and princes, what the NT refers to as the “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). It is the same with the beast; he was a demonic king about to come out of the abyss when John wrote Revelation (Rev. 17:8-11 NASB). This was the Antichrist, the demonic ruler who worked through Titus in his AD 70 destruction of Israel.
WHAT ABOUT NERO?
Historically, preterists have identified Nero as the beast of Revelation.8 There has been more diversity when it comes to the identity of the man of lawlessness (actually most preterists are uncertain as to his identity). Few credible preterist candidates are offered for the little horn of Daniel 7 or the king of the North of Daniel 11:36-45. Again, preterists have not been able to unify the Scriptures associated with the Antichrist in one person. Nero, the usual preterist candidate for the beast, simply does not fit the descriptions of the little horn of Daniel 7, the king of the North, or the man of sin. Nero was not an eleventh ruler as the little horn is (Dan. 7:7-8, 23-27). Nero was in fact a sixth ruler, the sixth Caesar. He was the one on the throne when Revelation was written (Rev. 17:10-11). Consider the first eleven Caesars:
1. Julius Caesar (49-44 BC)
2. Augustus (31BC - AD 14)
3. Tiberius (AD 14-37)
4. Gaius (Caligula) (AD 37-41)
5. Claudius (AD 41-54)
6. Nero (AD 54-68)
7. Galba (AD 68-69) -------------
8. Otho (AD 69) -------------- 3 horns pulled out (Dan. 7:8)
9. Vitellius (AD 69) --------------
10. Vespasian (AD 69-79)
11. Titus in AD 70, the little eleventh horn of Daniel 7.
It is impossible to make Nero an eleventh ruler. Notice Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, the three short-lived emperors that Vespasian and Titus were victorious over in their bid to take over the Roman Empire in AD 69. These were the three horns removed before the little eleventh horn (Dan. 7:7-8, 19-22). This made the eleventh horn an eighth ruler, which is how the Antichrist is shown in Revelation 17:8-11.
While the “eleventh ruler” description does not fit Nero, it fits Titus like a glove. In addition to Nero not being an eleventh ruler, he never invaded the Holy Land as the king of the North does (Dan. 11:40-45). The fact is, Nero never set foot in the Holy Land. Moreover, Nero was never worshiped in the Temple, as the man of lawlessness is (2 Thess. 2:4). It was Titus who fulfilled these prophecies in his destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70. Of course, when examined closely, Nero does not even fit the description of the beast. Revelation 19:19 shows the beast fighting against Jesus at his parousia in AD 70. Nero died in AD 68; by AD 70 he had been dead for more than two years. Furthermore, Revelation 17-19 shows the beast destroying Babylon (Rev. 17:16-17), which most conservative preterists identify as Jerusalem (cf. Rev. 11:8; 17:18).9 It was Titus who destroyed Jerusalem, not Nero.
Finally, the much-touted Nero solution to the riddle of 666 requires the use of a defective spelling of Nero’s name.10 Added to this, the name of Nero was never suggested by ancient commentators in their discussions of the number of the beast. The Nero solution to the 666 riddle does not even appear until the nineteenth century! Regarding the connection between Nero and 666, Kistemaker writes, “When did the writers begin to identify Nero with the number  in this particular passage [Rev. 13:18]? There is no reference anywhere in history until the 1830s when four German scholars proposed his name.”11 In contrast to this, the earliest recorded suggestion as to the meaning of 666 (given by Irenaeus in the second century) may contain a reference to Titus.12
1. William Biederwolf, The Millennium Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1964), 535. Reprinted from original printing in 1924.
2. I shall discuss the date of John’s epistles as well as the rest of the NT later. My position, similar to that of John A. T. Robinson (Redating the New Testament), is that the entire NT was written before AD 70.
3. Kim Riddlebarger, The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth About the Antichrist (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 80-87. Riddlebarger discusses B. B. Warfield and his disagreement with a composite picture of the man of lawlessness and the beast fused into an individual Antichrist. Riddlebarger takes a more moderate view and is thus open to the idea of a single Antichrist. We see Scripture clearly showing an opponent of God/Christ who appears at the last hour and is defeated by the Second Coming. Whether one calls this opponent “the Antichrist” or “the opponent of Christ” is really just a matter of semantics; the concept is the same. Scripture shows a specific individual who opposes God/Christ that is defeated by the Second Coming (Dan. 7:21-22; 2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 19:11-21).
4. Titus’ campaign against Israel took three-and-a-half years, or forty-two months. It was from around March/April of AD 67 to August/September of AD 70.
5. Charles C. Ryrie, “I John,” The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, 1475.
6. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, with Their Precise Meanings for English Readers (pp. 5-6 under the word “abolish”) in An Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, eds. W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984).
7. It should be noted that the Hebrew word for “prince” in Daniel 9:26 is nāgîd, while the word for “prince” in Daniel 12:1 is sar. These two words have the same basic range of meaning, however (although nagid can carry a sense of a more exalted position). Both words can be variously translated as “prince,” “ruler,” “commander” or “chief.”
8. See Kenneth Gentry, The Beast of Revelation, revised ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2002).
9. Liberal preterists are more likely to identify Rome as harlot Babylon.
10. Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament, eds. Ned Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, and Gordon Fee (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1998), 262.
11. Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Book of Revelation, New Testament Commentary, vol. 14 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 394-395.
12. The earliest suggestion we have to the riddle of 666 is given by Irenaeus (toward the end of the second century) in his work Against Heresies (5.30). The suggestions Irenaeus found noteworthy were Euanthas (the meaning of which is lost), Lateinos (i.e., the Roman Empire), and Teitan. Some commentators have suggested that Teitan may contain a reference to Titus. Along these lines, Barclay writes: “Teitan could be made to yield two meanings. First, in Greek mythology the Titans were the great rebels against God. Second, the family name of Vespasian and Titus and Domitian was Titus, and possibly they could be called the Titans.” William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible Series, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 101.