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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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ANTICHRIST . The great opponent and counterpart of Christ, by whom he is finally to be conquered. The word appears only in the NT ( 1 John 2:18-22; 1 John 4:3 , 2 John 1:7 ), but the idea was present in Judaism and developed with the growth of the Messianic hope.

1. The origin of the conception . While the precise term ‘Antichrist’ is lacking in Jewish literature, the idea of an opponent who persecutes God’s people and is ultimately to be conquered by the Messiah, is an integral part of that general hope, born in Prophetism, which developed into Messianism in the NT period. As in the case of so many elements of Messianism, the beginning of the ‘opponent’ idea may fairly be said to have been Daniel 11:36 (cf. also Zechariah 12:1-14; Zechariah 13:1-9; Zechariah 14:1-21 ), where the reference is to Antiochus IV.; but it would be a mistake to see in the Antichrist conception of the Johannine literature an unprecedented description of distinct personalities. There seems to have been rather a gradually developing anti-Messianic scheme, which at many points duplicated the developing Messianic hope. This general conception, which played an important rôle in early Christianity, was probably due to the synthesis of at least five factors, each independent in origin.

( a ) The historical opponents of the Jews , such as Antiochus IV., Pompey, and the Roman Empire in general (cf. the position of Gog in Prophetic thought). These naturally aroused the most intense hatred on the part of the Jews, particularly those under the influence of Pharisaism. Their hostility was regarded as extending not only to the Jews as a nation, but as heathen, to Jehovah himself, and particularly to His plans for the Jewish people. This political hatred of the Pharisees entered into the Antichrist expectation, just as their political hope went into the Messianic programme. Both alike tended to grow transcendental.

( b ) The dualism of Babylonia and Persia, especially as it was expressed by the dragon , between whom and the agents of righteousness there was to be a fight to the death. This dragon conception may with much probability be seen not only in the identification of the serpent of the Temptation with the devil, but also in the beast of the Johannine Apocalypse, the great opponent of the Christ, and in the sea monster of Rabbinism.

( c ) The Beliar ( or Belial ) myth , which underlies the NT thought (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:15 ), as well as Jewish fears. The first reference to Beliar seems to have been in Jubilees 1:20, but the myth is not unlike that of the Babylonian Tiamat , queen of the abyss, who was conquered by Marduk. Subsequently he was identified with Satan, who was also identified with the dragon (cf. Ascens. Isaiah 4:3-4 , Revelation 12:10 ). This identification was the first step towards the fully developed expectation of the Talmud, of a conflict between God and the devil.

( d ) Belief in the return from death of the persecuting Emperor Nero . This expectation seems to have been widely diffused throughout the Roman Empire in the latter part of the first Christian century ( Sib. Or . iv. 119 150, v. 363 ff.), and lies behind the figures of Revelation 13:1-18; Revelation 16:1-21; Revelation 17:1-18 . He is apparently to return with the kings of Parthia, but he is also, in Revelation 17:8-11 , identified with the beast of the abyss (cf. Sib. Or . v. 28 34).

( e ) The myth of Simon Magus, or that of the false prophet . This myth seems to have been common in Christian circles, and Simon Magus (wh. see) became the typical (Jewish) prophet and magician who opposed Christianity.

2. Synthesis of the elements . These various elements possess so much in common that it was inevitable that they should be combined in the figure of the Satanic opponent whom the Christ would utterly destroy as a pre-condition of establishing His Kingdom of God. A study of the Book of Revelation, as well as of other NT writings ( e.g. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 , 2Co 6:15 , 1 John 2:18-22; 1 John 4:3 , 2 John 1:7 , Revelation 11:4-13; Revelation 13:1-18; Revelation 13:17; Revelation 19:11-21 , Mark 13:14-20 ), will show that there was always present in the minds of the writers of the NT a superhuman figure, Satanic in power and character, who was to be the head of opposition both to the people of Christ and to the Christ Himself. This person is represented in Assumption of Moses (ch. 8), Ascension of Isaiah (ch. 4), as well as in other Jewish writings, as one who possessed the Satanic supremacy over the army of devils. He was not a general tendency, but a definite personality. As such it was easy to see his counterpart or incarnation in historical characters. Indeed, the entire anti-Messianic programme was employed to characterize historical situations. We must think similarly of the use of ‘the man of lawlessness’ of St. Paul ( 2 Thessalonians 2:3; see Man of Sin) and the various opponents of Christ in the Apocalypse. Transcendental pictures and current eschatology set forth the Christian’s fear on the one hand of the Roman Emperor or Empire as a persecuting power, and on the other of Jewish fanaticism. Just which historical persons were in the mind of the writers it is now impossible to say with accuracy, but Nero and Domitian are not unlikely.

In the Patristic period the eschatological aspects of the anti-Messianic hope were developed, but again as a mystical picture of historical conditions either existing or expected. In Ephraem Syrus we have the fall of the Roman Empire attributed to Antichrist. He is also by the early Church writers sometimes identified with the false Jewish Messiah, who was to work miracles, rebuild the Temple, and establish a great empire with demons as his agents. Under the inspiration of the two Witnesses (Elijah and Enoch) the Messianic revolt against the Antichrist was to begin, the Book of Revelation being interpreted literally at this point. The saints were to be exposed to the miseries that the book describes, but the Messiah was to slay Antichrist with the breath of His mouth, and establish the Judgment and the conditions of eternity.

Thus in Christian literature that fusion of the elements of the Antichrist idea which were present in Judaism and later Christianity is completed by the addition of the traits of the false prophet, and extended under the influence of the current polemic against Jewish Messianism. The figure of Antichrist, Satanic, Neronic, falsely prophetic, the enemy of God and His Kingdom, moves out into theological history, to be identified by successive ages with nearly every great opponent of the Church and its doctrines, whether persecutor or heretic.

Shailer Mathews.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Antichrist'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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