Who, or what, is the antichrist?
The term “antichrist” comes from a Greek term formed by the preposition anti (“against,” “in place of”) and the noun christos (“the anointed one”). It primarily refers to a being who attempts to usurp the role of Jesus by illegally appropriating His functions. It could also designate the systems used by him to work implicitly or explicitly “against” Christ. This title reveals the two most important characteristics of the antichrist: He deceives by pretending to be the Christ, and he oppresses or persecutes God’s people in his conflict against Christ.
1. Use of the Term: The title “the antichrist” (Greek, ho antichristos) is found exclusively in the New Testament letters of John. First, according to John, the spirit of the antichrist is active through false teachers (1 John 2:18, 22), thus suggesting that the antichrist will work from within Christianity. The title itself presupposes that we are dealing with a corruption of the Christian faith. The antichrist is against the truth as revealed in Jesus, replacing it with his own understanding of Jesus (verse 22; 2 John 7).
Second, the coming of the antichrist was predicted in apostolic teachings. John wrote, “As you have heard that the antichrist is coming . . .” (1 John 2:18). Believers were instructed about this significant threat to their commitment to Jesus.
Third, the antichrist could manifest himself through human systems or instrumentalities: “Even now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18). These individuals are not, properly speaking “the antichrist,” but they have the “spirit of the antichrist,” that is, the same mindset. They are his instruments (chap. 4:3). They are historical expressions of the antichrist within the church, and as such they could be described as being manifestations of “the antichrist” (chap. 2:22; 2 John 7).
2. The Person of the Antichrist:The individual called by John the “antichrist” is mentioned in other places in the Bible. Originally he was a heavenly being, a cherub, who rebelled against God and initiated a cosmic conflict (Eze. 28:14-16; Rev. 12:7). He was indeed an anti-God power, therefore the antichrist, who wanted to make himself “like the Most High” (Isa. 14:13). His ultimate goal was to occupy the place that exclusively belongs to God. He questioned and attacked God’s character in order to justify his actions. He was expelled from heaven and, after the fall of Adam and Eve, made this planet his base of operations.
Daniel dealt with the antichrist using symbols representing a historical power that, after the fall of Pagan Rome, united church and state, changed God’s law (Dan. 7:25), persecuted God’s people, spoke against God (chap. 11:36), and usurped the priestly work of Christ (chap. 8:11). This clearly describes the spirit and work of the antichrist within history.
3. Personal Apparition of the Antichrist: The New Testament predicts the presence of apostasy within the Christian church (2 Thess. 2:3, 4), and considered it a manifestation of the spirit of the antichrist. According to the book of Revelation, apostasy will reach universal dimensions and will be accompanied by the coming of the antichrist in person. Revelation announces the formation of a global coalition under the leadership of demons (Rev. 16:13, 14), accompanied by miracles and signs, that will reach its climax in the coming of the antichrist, described by John as fire coming “down from heaven to earth in full view of men” (chap. 13:13; cf. 1 Kings 18:20-39). Paul wrote about “the coming [parousia] of the lawless one,” using the same term he employed when referring to the “coming [parousia]” of Christ (1 Thess. 2:8, 9). The antichrist will try to imitate the Second Coming of Christ.
This powerful apparition of the antichrist will deceive the inhabitants of earth. They will worship Satan (the antichrist), and the religious-political systems that support him (Rev. 13:4). The antichrist will launch a war to exterminate God’s people (chap. 13:15-17), but they will find safety in the Lord (chap. 17:16), not in human armaments. Their mission is to proclaim the eternal gospel of salvation and unmask the antichrist (chap. 14:6-12). Christ will finally deliver them and destroy the antichrist.