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Chapter 3

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 in declaring,

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, 1890)

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 2:22)

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 John 4:2,3)

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 existence.

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 Empire—

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 predictions.

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 alluded?

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 circumstances succinctly:

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 nations.

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 Spanish (Visigoths).

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, chapter 7.

 

 


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