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Antichrist by Jamie Davies

Who is the Antichrist?

Fascination with the figure of the “antichrist” (antichristos) developed in the early postbiblical tradition (especially early Christian apocalyptic writings) and continues to this day, especially in some Protestant Dispensationalist circles. There is a long tradition of attempts to identify this individual: popes, reformers, political leaders ancient and modern—all have featured in an endless list of candidates for the role. Sometimes the term has also been deployed as a tool to “other” certain groups, often with an anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic bias.

The New Testament, however, has relatively little to say about the antichrist, which may come as a surprise given how powerfully the idea has grabbed the imagination over the centuries. The word itself only appears in four verses of the New Testament, in the letters of John (1John 2:18; 1John 2:22; 1John 4:3, 2John 1:7) and not in the book of Revelation, as is sometimes assumed. Jesus uses similar language to warn about “false Christs” (pseudochristoi) in the apocalyptic discourses of the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 13:22), and perhaps there are both similarities and differences. The idea may also lie behind Paul’s “man of lawlessness” in 2Thess 2:1-12.

Taking Christos, Messiah, to be something like Jesus’s title or an honorific, it is logical to read antichristos as its opposite, naming a figure who is the opponent of the Messiah. It is not surprising, then, that the focus of much discussion has been the identification of an individual whose arrival was expected in the last days and who would herald Christ’s return. In the face of such readings, there are some important features to note about the New Testament’s use of the term antichrist.

How does the New Testament use the word?

First, the word is more often used in a plural rather than singular sense, such that the focus is on a category rather than an individual. When John first speaks of antichrist (1John 2:18) he does not say “the Antichrist” but “antichrist,” and immediately he adds that “many antichrists” have already come. A similar plural idea is found in his second letter, where he says of false teachers that “any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2John 1:7). Second, both John and Paul (if we take Paul’s “man of lawlessness” in 2Thess 2:1-12 to be essentially synonymous with “antichrist”) speak of “antichrist” as coming in the last hour, but, perhaps more significantly, he is already in the world (1John 4:3; 2John 1:7, compare 2Thess 2:7).

John’s explanations help us understand how this works. For John, antichrist refers to any false teacher or group of teachers who denies that Jesus is the Messiah (1John 2:22) and that he has come in the flesh (2John 1:7). These false teachers had once been part of the community (1John 2:19) but were now in the world as antichrists, Christ-deniers, having been inspired by an antichrist.

Jamie Davies , "Antichrist", n.p. [cited 17 Aug 2022]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/en/people/related-articles/antichrist

Contributors

Davies-Jamie

Jamie Davies
Tutor of New Testament, Trinity College, Bristol

Jamie Davies is Tutor of New Testament at Trinity College, Bristol (UK). He received his PhD from the University of St Andrews and is the author of Paul Among the Apocalypses? (London: T&T Clark, 2016); The Apocalyptic Paul: Retrospect and Prospect (Eugene: Cascade, 2022); and Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, forthcoming).

A form of racism defined by hatred or discrimination towards Jews.

Adhering to a set of Evangelical Christian views developed in the 19th century, which include the idea that Biblical texts describe history as a series of "dispensations" (distinct styles of interaction between God and humanity).

A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.

Of or related to history after the writing of the canonical Bible; can also mean transcending a culture that focuses on the Bible.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which share similar literary content.

The third division of the Jewish canon, also called by the Hebrew name Ketuvim. The other two divisions are the Torah (Pentateuch) and Nevi'im (Prophets); together the three divisions create the acronym Tanakh, the Jewish term for the Hebrew Bible.

1John 2:18

Warning against Antichrists
18Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know t ... View more

1John 2:22

22Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.

1John 4:3

3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it i ... View more

2John 1:7

7Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichri ... View more

Mark 13:22

22 False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.


2Thess 2:1-12

The Man of Lawlessness
1As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters,2not to be quickly sh ... View more

1John 2:18

Warning against Antichrists
18Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know t ... View more

2John 1:7

7Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichri ... View more

2Thess 2:1-12

The Man of Lawlessness
1As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters,2not to be quickly sh ... View more

1John 4:3

3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it i ... View more

2John 1:7

7Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichri ... View more

2Thess 2:7

7For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed.

1John 2:22

22Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.

2John 1:7

7Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichri ... View more

1John 2:19

19 They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain t ... View more

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