How to identify this nefarious person has remained a puzzling enigma for almost 2,000 years. What do the Scriptures actually say about this evil character?
For Christians, the name is chilling. It conjures nightmares of a charismatic leader of great power and persuasiveness who wins the hearts and minds of people around the world. In the popular imagination (which sometimes combines different biblical characters as if they were one), behind this deceptive charm swirls images of implanted microchips, mysterious numbers and fervent followers.
The word comes from the Greek antichristos, which means “the adversary of the Messiah” (Thayer’s Greek Definitions). In a general sense, anything against Christ is anti-Christ, but it is the concept of a specific individual who will deceive people before Jesus returns that has captured people’s attention. Ideas as to who this person is have varied greatly since the apostle John used this term in the first century.
Beliefs about the Antichrist have a checkered history. At the time of the Reformation and thereafter, Protestants claimed that the pope was the Antichrist. Catholics denied the accusation and cited early theologians who had a variety of ideas about the Antichrist, including speculation based on Genesis 49:17 that he would likely be a descendant of the tribe of Dan, that he would possibly rule from a rebuilt Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and that he would successfully deceive Jews into believing that he was the promised Messiah for whom they had been waiting.
Protestants in the early 1600s were divided over whether the concept of antichrist was a counter religious force existing solely in people or organizations then in existence (a teaching of William Tyndale) or whether it represented a person yet to arise (the majority opinion among reformers).
In recent years some have even suggested that leading U.S. political figures, including George W. Bush, William Clinton, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, might be this person.
Setting speculations aside, let’s consider what the Bible actually says about this sinister religious leader.
False christs to come
In the well-known Olivet Prophecy Jesus predicted the fall of Jerusalem and what conditions would be like before His return to earth. Jesus specifically warned His followers that many would come in His name “saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:5). He added, “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (verse 24).
The apostle John is the only biblical author to employ the word antichrist, and he used it in four verses in his writings. In 1 John 2:22 he labels anyone who denies the Father and the Son as “antichrist,” and in 2 John 1:7 he calls someone who doesn’t acknowledge that Jesus came in the flesh “a deceiver and an antichrist.” In these passages, antichrist is a general term that can apply to more than one individual.
John also uses the term to apply to a specific person who will arise at the end of this age. “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 that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18, emphasis added throughout).
Later in the same letter John describes those who deny Jesus has come in the flesh as being of “the spirit of the Antichrist” (1 John 4:3).
Additional names for the Antichrist
Paul, and Jesus in a vision given to John, also described a specific religious leader who would deceive most people prior to Christ’s second coming. Although Paul and Jesus used different names for this individual, it seems clear that they are referring to the same person. These writings round out the profile of the Antichrist.
Writing to Church members in Thessalonica, Paul implored them “not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled … as though the day of Christ had come” (2 Thessalonians 2:2). He explained, “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (verses 3-4).
This “lawless one,” “man of sin” and “son of perdition,” as Paul called him, will claim to be Christ (verses 3-4, 8). Because of the “power, signs, and lying wonders” granted to this man by Satan, many will be deceived by this “delusion” (verses 9-11). But this evil man will be destroyed by Christ at His second coming (verse 8).
Since Paul had written about this individual several decades prior to when John penned his general epistles, John may have had Paul’s teaching in mind as he wrote about the Antichrist.
Evidence from Revelation
Confirming what Paul and John had previously written, Jesus revealed to John in Revelation 13 that two “beasts” would arise to dominate the scene in the end times prior to His return to earth. One beast represented a civil authority, and the second represented a religious leader. Though both are actually against the real Christ, the second beast seems to best fit the role of the Antichrist spoken of by John.
This second beast would look like a lamb (be an imitation of Christ), yet speak like a dragon, which is another name for Satan (Revelation 13:11; 12:9). This second beast in the book of Revelation is later called “the false prophet” (Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 20:10).
The second beast of Revelation will likewise deceive people by great signs he will perform—even making fire come down from heaven (Revelation 13:13-14). And this beast will enforce acceptance of the first beast—a civil authority—by controlling people’s ability to buy and sell via “the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (verse 17). For additional study about this mark, see our articles “666: The Number of the Beast” and “Mark of the Beast.”
What is amazing is that people’s political freedom will be taken away, and they will be deceived into thinking they are worshipping Christ!What is amazing is that people’s political freedom will be taken away, and they will be deceived into thinking they are worshipping Christ! People will think what they are doing is normal and good (after all, the economy will prosper)! But such is the nature of deception. People who are deceived don’t know they are deceived.
While Satan has always been a master at making evil seem good and normal (compare Revelation 12:9 and Isaiah 5:20), this is destined to be one of Satan’s greatest deceptions. Given that this delusion is going to be so pervasive in the end times—deceiving all but a few who resist the demands of the Antichrist—we now need to look more carefully at the nature of his deception.
How to recognize the Antichrist
The names “lawless one” and “man of sin” that Paul used for the Antichrist provide important clues for identifying this end-time deceiver. These names indicate that the Antichrist will not be living in accordance with God’s laws or teaching others to do so.
So will the Antichrist blatantly advocate rejection of God (breaking the First Commandment, Exodus 20:3-4), murder (breaking the Sixth Commandment, verse 13) and stealing (breaking the Eighth Commandment, verse 15)?
Probably not. That would likely be too obvious.
It is more likely that the Antichrist will simply continue to break the laws of God that are commonly broken by many professing Christians today. And what are some of these laws?
- God’s law instructs us to keep the seventh day (Saturday) holy and to worship Him on this day (Exodus 20:8; Leviticus 23:3). The New Testament Church continued to observe it (Acts 13:14, 42-44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4; etc.). In contrast to what God says, most churches today consider Sunday their day of worship.
- God’s law instructs us to observe God’s annual holy days (Leviticus 23) and not to observe pagan practices (Deuteronomy 12:29-32). Instead of obeying God’s commands, most churches today have abandoned the biblical holy days and accepted in their place celebrations with pagan origins, such as Christmas and Easter.
- God’s law tells us not to make images to use in worship (Exodus 20:4-5; Leviticus 26:1). Yet many of today’s churches use pictures and statues as a part of their religious practices.
By breaking these often-ignored laws of God, the Antichrist will indeed be a “lawless one” and a “man of sin.” But to nominal Christians who have not understood God’s commands, the Antichrist’s conduct will seem normal. They will not suspect him of being a fraud.
The role of miracles
When the Antichrist then begins to use the supernatural powers that will be given to him by Satan, people will easily be deceived. After all, miracles are hard to deny.
But again, what many professing Christians do not realize is that miracles are not necessarily proofs of God’s approval. Long ago God explained that if a prophet arises and “gives you a sign or a wonder” but teaches contrary to God’s law, “you shall not listen to the words of that prophet. … You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments” (Deuteronomy 13:1-4).
We have to remember that Satan is going to give the Antichrist power to work “lying wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9).
We pray that you will carefully prove and live by the laws God expects you to obey so you’ll be able to recognize the Antichrist.
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For more about the Antichrist, see our article “Antichrist.” For an overview of end-time prophecies, download The Book of Revelation: The Storm Before the Calm.