Who Is the Antichrist?

The antichrist is often imagined as a devilish individual and still future ruler, manipulating the entire planet. However, this is not the full biblical picture. The word “antichrist” designates someone who appears in place of, on behalf of, or instead of Christ.

Jesus had warned that false christs (pseudo-christs) and false prophets would arise, do great miracles, and deceive, if possible, even the elect (Matt. 24:24). In addition to these false christs, there are multiple antichrists and the antichrist.

In his letters, John uses the term “antichrist” in the singular and the plural (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7). Antichrists were individuals who had left the Christian church, claiming superior knowledge by denying that Jesus is the Christ and that He had truly become a human being. However, John had also in mind the concept of one specific antichrist. 1 John 4:3 talks about the spirit of the antichrist: the various antichrists reveal the spirit of the antichrist. The real antichrist was still to be encountered in the future (1 John 2:18).

The concept of the antichrist is not limited to the specific term but can be expressed in different ways.

Revelation 13 describes an entity that is not a person, but an organization, a system. The sea beast is an imitation and counterfeit of Jesus, the Lamb. Both the Lamb and the sea beast were slaughtered (Rev. 5:6, 12; 13:3). Both Jesus and the sea beast came back to life (Rev. 2:8; 13:14). The Father granted to Jesus authority and participation in His throne (Rev. 2:27; 3:21), as the dragon gave his throne to the sea beast (Rev. 13:2). Both Jesus and the sea beast have power and authority (Rev. 12:10; 13:4). Jesus is worshiped by the entire creation (Rev. 5:9-14), while the sea beast receives worship from those who dwell on earth (Rev. 13:4, 8, 12).

Thus, in Revelation, Christ is contrasted with the antichrist. Moreover, this antichrist possesses elements of the four beasts, especially the little horn of Daniel 7 (see verses 8, 25-26); the antichrist speaks arrogant and blasphemous words (Rev. 13:5-6); is especially active during 42 prophetic months (or 3 1/2 times, 1260 days—Rev. 13:5, the period from AD 538-1798); will at the end of human history make war against God’s saints, the remnant (Rev. 13:7; [12:17]); and, finally, the antichrist will control the nations (Rev. 13:7) while violating God’s commandments (e.g., accepting worship, blaspheming God’s name, attempting to kill God’s people). Whereas the sea beast resembles Jesus and obviously is a religious entity, its nature and actions are diametrically opposed to Jesus’ life and nature. It is the antichrist, manifested as the great medieval church, which continues into our days as the largest and most influential Christian denomination with its absolute leadership.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 is a passage that deals with the question of what would have to happen prior to the Second Advent. While it presents a big picture of the time from the first century to Christ’s Second Coming, it focuses on the final movements before Jesus’ return. It is also a passage on the antichrist. He is called “the lawless one” who would bring about apostasy, pretend to be God, take his seat in the temple of God, and yet seems to prefer to work behind the scenes, at least for a long time. Finally, in verses 8 and 9, the lawless one will make his public appearance and imitate the ministry and return of Jesus. Then Christ will intervene through His Second Coming. The man of lawlessness and his followers will perish with him. God’s people will be saved and vindicated. It seems best to understand the man of lawlessness as Satan himself and as agencies through which he works. Since the language of Daniel is employed in 2 Thessalonians 2, the little horn power seems also to be involved.

So, who is the antichrist? In the plural, the term stands for false teachers in church history. The antichrist is a religious system that replaces the work of Jesus and biblical teachings with human traditions, such as false teachings about salvation, priestly intercession, God’s law and the Sabbath, and the natural immortality of soul with subsequent teachings, such as the ever-burning hell. The absolute antichrist is Satan himself.

God calls us to know Him and to rely on Him for our salvation and all our needs. At the same time, we must love all humans, including Christian brothers and sisters with whom we may disagree. God’s saved will come “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9) and out of any religious background, even from the system of the antichrist itself.