The Mystery of the Antichrist
The notoriety of the term "antichrist," used as a
derogatory eponym hurled by competing Popes at one another, led Roman
Catholic and Protestant Reformers, especially in the fourteenth to the
sixteenth centuries, to study the Scriptures in order to pinpoint the
Scriptural identification of this formidable person.
The Roman Catholic Reformer of the fourteenth
century, John Wycliffe, the rector of Lutterworth in Leicestershire,
England, upon hearing in 1378 that two prelates were contesting the
right to be recognized as the valid Pope, threw all caution to the wind
The fiend no longer reigns in one, but in two
priests that men may the more easily overcome them. Now is antichrist
divided, and one part fights against the other. (Emma H. Adams,
John Wycliffe, Pacific Press Publishing Association, Oakland,
It was a statement fraught with fearful peril, but
Wycliffe died of natural causes. His bones were later disinterred and
burned by indignant clerics who no doubt hoped that God was treating his
soul in a similar fashion. Many a martyr would have preferred Wycliffe’s
form of "martyrdom" to his own.
A thorough study of Scripture indicates that only
four references to the antichrist are to be found in the entire
Scripture, three in the first epistle of John and one in the second. It
is instructive to read these references.
Little children, it is the last time: and as ye
have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many
antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. (1 John 2:18)
Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the
Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. (1 John
Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that
confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every
spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is
not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have
heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. (1
For many deceivers are entered into the world, who
confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver
and an antichrist. (2 John 1:7)
These passages indicated to the Reformers that the
antichrist would possess the following characteristics:
1. The spirit of antichrist was present in apostolic times.
2. The antichrist is a liar.
3. He denies that Jesus is the Christ.
4. He denies the Father and the Son.
5. He denies that Christ has come in the flesh.
6. He is a deceiver.
The Reformers recognized that such criteria could
validly be applied to men of every generation. Thus they searched the
Scriptures for further clues to this mystery.
Some obtained a few pointers from their spiritual
ancestors, especially the early church fathers who had carefully sifted
Scripture to form conclusions which not only were regarded as treasonous
during the era of the Roman Empire, but which endangered their very
One such man was Tertullian who was born in 155 and
died in 222, more than two centuries prior to the fall of the Western
Roman Empire. Tertullian spoke of the future dismantling of the Roman
whose separation into ten kingdoms will bring on
Antichrist (Samuel J. Cassels, Christ and Antichrist, p. 12,
Presbyterian Board of Publication, Philadelphia, 1846; extracted from
De Resurrectione Carnis, ch. 24).
At the time Tertullian revealed his perceptive
insights into Scripture, Rome ruled supreme, an apparently impregnable
empire. Tertullian’s conclusions were a bold statement of belief, one
which no doubt met with the scorn of many of his contemporaries. But
later Bible students pondered his prediction. "To which ten nations was
he referring and from where did he obtain this concept in Scripture?"
they asked. That the Roman Empire had collapsed centuries before these
later reformers read Tertullian’s work, could not be doubted. They had
the benefit of hindsight. This added credibility to Tertullian’s other
As the Book of Daniel was studied, the minds of
thinking Reformers were turned to the prophecies of Daniel 2 and 7.
There appeared that number ten, ten toes in Daniel 2 and ten
horns in Daniel 7. Further they discovered ten horns mentioned in both
Revelation 13 and in Revelation chapter 17. Could these ten toes and ten
horns symbolize the ten nations of Europe into which the Roman Empire
divided and to which Tertullian so many centuries earlier insightfully
In his book, Unfolding Daniel’s Prophecies,
theologian and historian, Roy Allan Anderson identified the ten nations
of western Europe into which Imperial Rome was decimated.
These were the Lombards, the Alemanni, the
Anglo-Saxons, the Ostrogoths, the Burgundians, the Franks, the Suevi,
the Vandals, the Visigoths and the Heruli. (p. 51, Pacific Press
Publishing Association, 1975)
Scripture presents the fascinating story of a dream
which King Nebu-chadnezzar had about the year 602 b.c. He was at the
zenith of his power, having conquered much of the Middle East and
defeated Egypt. The king of Babylon was impressed that this was no
ordinary dream. Yet two impediments to his understanding its import
presented themselves; he had completely forgotten the subject matter of
the dream, and his wise men—the magicians, astrologers, sorcerers and
Chaldeans, were quite unable to reconstruct the dream for him. Despite
the dire penalties threatened by the king for failure on the part of
these men to meet his unreasonable demand, the king’s frustration was
not alleviated and he proceeded to implement his threat:
Ye shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be
made a dunghill. (Daniel 2:5)
The dream was elucidated only when four young Jewish
princes, captives in Babylon, sought to God for wisdom. Their spokesman,
Daniel, boldly stated to this mighty potentate that God would reveal the
dream and its interpretation to them. The Bible describes the
And the decree went forth that the wise men should
be slain; and they sought Daniel and his fellows to be slain. Then
Daniel answered with counsel and wisdom to Arioch the captain of the
king’s guard, which was gone forth to slay the wise men of Babylon: He
answered and said to Arioch the king’s captain, Why is the decree so
hasty from the king? Then Arioch made the thing known to Daniel. Then
Daniel went in, and desired of the king that he would give him time,
and that he would shew the king the interpretation. Then Daniel went
to his house, and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and
Azariah, his companions: that they would desire mercies of the God of
heaven concerning this secret; that Daniel and his fellows should not
perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Then was the secret
revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of
heaven. (Daniel 2:13—19)
Giving God the entire credit, Daniel revealed the
content of the king’s dream, recalling it to his memory. This encouraged
Nebuchadnezzar to believe that the God of heaven could also accurately
interpret his dream. Daniel reminded the king that he had seen a great
image with a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, abdomen and thighs
of brass, legs of iron, and feet a curious mixture of iron and clay.
This entire chapter, Daniel 2, is worthy of reading.
That this image was symbolic, was manifestly made
known to the king during the presentation of the interpretation by
Daniel. "Thou art this head of gold," Daniel explained (ch. 2:38).
Further explanation clearly revealed that the various metals represented
And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior
to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule
over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron:
forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as
iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise.
(Daniel 2:39, 40)
Thus four succeeding nations were represented, each
ruling vast swathes of land, the fourth being the strongest of the
quartet. To identify these four empires presents little difficulty.
Daniel had identified Babylon as the first. History attested to the
identity of the subsequent three. Indeed the Bible identified the second
and third kingdoms specifically by name—Medo-Persia and Greece (Daniel
8:20, 21) in a complementary prophecy.
In 539 b.c. Babylon was overthrown by the
Medo-Persian Empire. This latter Empire fell in 331 b.c. to the Greek
forces under Alexander the Great, precisely as Scripture had foretold.
But the question remained, What was the fourth kingdom of iron?
Historians supply the answer. In 168 b.c. Rome overthrew the Hellenistic
kingdoms; the Greek Empire had met its master.
Thus plainly Imperial Rome was the fourth kingdom
designated in the prophecy as the legs of iron. It was the ruling empire
throughout Christ’s lifetime and for over four centuries to follow. It
is without doubt that as Tertullian, himself a citizen of the Roman
Empire, studied this prophecy he recognized that this apparently
impregnable Empire would divide into ten kingdoms, as symbolized by the
ten toes of the image. Those kingdoms have been identified. Today they
represent the major nations of western Europe—the Germans (Alemanni),
the English (Anglo-Saxons), the Swiss (Burgundians), the French
(Franks), the Portuguese (Suevi), the Italians (Lombards) and the
But there is a matter of conjecture: where today do
we locate in Europe the other three nations—the Heruli, Ostrogoths and
Vandals? This question will be answered in the following chapters.
A further question remains: upon what Scripture did
Tertullian base his claim that antichrist would arise out of the
collapse of the Western Roman Empire? This question requires further
study of the second fascinating prophecy recorded in the book of Daniel,