Who Is the Antichrist?
“[The man of lawlessness will] set himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (v. 4b).- 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17
Second Thessalonians 2:3–4 speaks of a coming “man of lawlessness” who will set himself up in God’s temple and proclaim himself to be God. Revelation 13 tells of a coming “beast” who will wear out the saints of God and be known by the number 666. The epistles of John warn of “antichrist.” Who are these people, or are they all the same person?
As always in the area of prophecy, there are a variety of views. The older historicist approach usually identified the beast (“out of the sea”) as the Roman emperor, while the second beast (“out of the land”) of Revelation 13, together with the false prophet of that chapter, were associated with the papacy. The man of sin was also the pope, for he sat in the temple (the church) and exalted himself.
Modern futurism links the man of sin and the beast, and says that this is a man who will arise in the future just before Christ returns. He will be the false Christ, the antichrist, and will unite the world in a new tower of Babel against the remnant of the faithful.
Preterists usually see 666 as a symbol for the name “Nero Caesar,” and thus they identify the beast as Nero, while the second beast and false prophet are identified with the Sanhedrin and Judaizers who sought to stamp out the early church. The man of sin is taken by some to be Nero, and by others identified as the high priest, who literally sat in the temple and opposed Christ.
Modern futurism tends to have a very political understanding of this figure. Beast/antichrist/man of sin is a world leader, not an ecclesiastical opponent of the faithful. The older views (preterist and historicist) focus attention more on the church. The greatest enemies of the faith, they say, are in the church, as the serpent was in the Garden.
What about the antichrist? Here there is a different kind of question. Did John intend for us to envision some particular person as the antichrist, or did he mean that any self-conscious opponent of the faith is an antichrist (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7)? One thing we can be sure of: There will always be political beasts and ecclesiastical antichrists who seek to oppose the truth, and we must always be on our guard against them.
Read the verses cited above in John’s epistles. How were you antichrist before you believed? What antichrists do you see operating both nationally and locally today? Practically speaking, what can you see in John’s letters that indicates how you should respond to such people?
Passages for Further Study
1 John 2:18–23
2 John 7–8