Responding to Ron Rhodes’ The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy
Debate 6: Ron Rhodes asks, ‘How Are We to Understand the Antichrist?’
In this post I give an outline of the various uses of the term ‘Antichrist’. In the process I also give a broad interpretation of the human leader called the Antichrist who I see as a recurrent enemy of the Church. This is in contrast to Ron Rhodes and other Dispensationalists who consider this Antichrist to be someone who exists only after the Church has been raptured and who therefore has nothing to do with the Church.
The Antichrist – An Evil Spirit
The Antichrist is firstly a pervading and an enduring spirit with the ability to affect individuals and multitudes of every generation. For example, John correlates those who do not confess Jesus with the spirit of the Antichrist. Similarly, the human Antichrist does not innately have the spirit of the Antichrist, but is possessed by it.
Though a physical manifestation of the Antichrist is an ominous thought, facing the spirit of the Antichrist is no less daunting. In fact, the myriad of ways in which the spirit of the Antichrist operates can be harder to identify and handle than when he manifests in individuals who are plainly seen and understood for who they are. For, how can we know in who this spirit is sowing his ideas and sentiments that lead to unbelief and all forms of anti-God behavior in society?
If we are not careful, we can be so busy identifying who the Antichrist is that we don’t recognize that the spirit of the Antichrist at work, undermining Christ and those who are His and the positive difference that they have made in society.
The Antichrist – Many Persons
When John wrote the Gospel of John, as well as 1 and 2 John, he specifically aimed his message at early Gnostic belief, calling the individual proponents of Gnosticism ‘the Deceiver and the Antichrist’. And, it was not only the individual teachers who were designated as the Antichrist, because he also said that ‘whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ ….is the Antichrist’.
Though this broad definition was particularly aimed at early Gnosticism, it is by no means restricted to that errant teaching. In fact, at the time that John wrote, the Jews were already well established at denying Jesus as their Christ. So, while the Gnostics believed that the flesh was evil and, therefore, that Jesus couldn’t be the Christ, it was on the grounds that Jesus claimed to be God that the Jews rejected Him as their Christ (Messiah).
This broad definition not only allows for multiple persons to be the Antichrist, it also allows for a range of ways in which to deny Jesus as the Christ. As such, Judaism and Gnosticism are just two ways that Jesus Christ is denied. Ultimately, all other religions and their followers are Antichrist because they also deny that Jesus is the Christ.
The Antichrist – A Roman Emperor
According to John, the evidence of many Antichrists was evidence that it was ‘the last hour’ and, as such, the manifestation of a certain expected Antichrist leader was imminent. Consider 1 John 2:18 that says ‘as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming’ and 2 Thessalonians 2:3 ‘…that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition’. Both of these Scriptures speak of an individual who was expected.
Now, several hundred years before, the prophet Daniel had clearly predicted the sequence of events in Jewish history under specifically identified empires. This meant that anyone who lived during any period of the prophecy could identify the period that they were in. Consequently, from the prophetic timeline, it would have been clear to John that the Roman Empire that they were under was the age of ‘the terrifying beast’.
Furthermore, Daniel predicted that in this period there would arise a leader who was particularly anti-God. Daniel referred to him as the ‘little horn’ on the ‘terrifying beast’ and also as the ‘11th horn’. John called him the Antichrist, because, since God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ, whatever was anti-God was now essentially Antichrist. You can only imagine the potential threat to God’s people, the Christians, if an emperor became host to the spirit of the Antichrist.
Though the references to the Antichrist in 1 and 2 John were a rebuttal of early Gnosticism, this person, called the Antichrist by John, displayed another form of Antichrist behavior. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 he is spoken of as ‘that man of sin … the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped, so that he as God sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.’
Domitian is the most likely candidate as he wanted to be addressed as “dominus et deus noster”, which translates, “Our Lord and God”. He was not unlike the prince of Tyrus who previously had elevated himself to be as God. Consider Ezekiel 28:2: “…your heart is lifted up, and you have said, I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the seas; yet you are a man, and not God, though you set your heart as the heart of God…” Furthermore, Domitian severely persecuted the Church who comprise those made holy by God. They are undoubtedly God’s Holy One’s that ‘the little horn’ (the Antichrist) in Daniel persecutes.
It stands to reason that the Antichrist would have been manifest early on as a satanic incarnation in the life of the Church in opposition to Christ and His Church. Also, the ‘man of sin’ is said to appear before Christ’s return. Therefore, in order for Christ’s return to carry with it the sense of expectation and surprise that the Scriptures associate with it, an early manifestation of the Antichrist would have been necessary.
The Antichrist – An End-Time Incarnation
While 2 Thessalonians 2 speaks of an expected individual called ‘the man of sin’ and the book of Revelation speaks of ‘the Beast’, careful cross-referencing and comparing shows that these characters are the same person as the Antichrist. Now, according to the Scriptures, ‘the man of sin’ and ‘the Beast’ get destroyed at Christ’s return. Therefore, this Antichrist leader is somehow not only a 1st century individual, but an end-time individual too.
We will never know who the last Antichrist is. All we know is that at Christ’s return he will be destroyed. In this way Christ’s return date remains a mystery. That’s another reason why we know the Antichrist cannot be only an end-time personality, otherwise, so long as the Antichrist hasn’t appeared we would know that Christ isn’t coming.
The Antichrist – Repeated Incarnations
Though the Beast of Revelation was a 1st century occurrence, he is also understood to repeatedly manifest throughout history as an enemy of the Church and only be destroyed at Christ’s coming. Similarly, ‘the man of lawlessness’ in 2 Thessalonians is destroyed at Christ’s coming too. Consequently, John’s reference to an Antichrist individual in 1 John 2:18 appears to be only the first of several manifestations that would occur until Christ’s return.
After the initial Antichrist, most likely Emperor Domitian, others carried the mantle in subsequent generations. These were likely leaders like Emperor Diocletian, certain of the popes (arguably the papal system itself), and several other religious and world leaders.
Now, the attributes and activities associated with the incarnate Antichrist are not fulfilled in their entirety in any one of these individuals, including the end-time Antichrist. For example, none can be both alive in the 1st century and at the end when Jesus returns. Also, not all necessarily have lying signs and wonders associated with them, though the papal system does and the end-time Antichrist might. And, interestingly, Vespasian, Domitian’s father, had miracles attributed to himself. This may have been Domitian’s inspiration to take things a step further and consider himself divine.
It appears that while we are so busy identifying who the Antichrist might have been, or who he might be, or who he might one day be, we miss the enigma that he has and will manifest recurrently.
Because it was ‘the last hour’ when John wrote, we know from our perspective that the individual Antichrist, of whom he wrote they were expecting, must have come. This was most likely the Roman emperor Domitian. Additionally, it appears that the spirit of the Antichrist has subsequently manifest himself at different times in other prominent individuals and will no doubt do so until the end when Christ returns and that Antichrist incarnation is destroyed.
Nevertheless, recognizing how and where the spirit of the Antichrist is at work is undoubtedly far more significant than identifying a person called the Antichrist, because the spirit of the Antichrist is always at work, impacting countless to deny Christ and the salvation that He offers. That, surely, is of far more dire consequence than anything else.
Responses To Ron Rhodes’ ‘The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy’:
- Bible Prophecy: Literal or Allegorical
- Toppling Dispensationalism
- Israel is Saved or Judged, not Replaced or Distinct
- The Signs of the Times – Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment? – PART 1
- The Signs of the Times – Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment? PART 2 – Israel
- The Signs of the Times – Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment? PART 3 – Middle East, European Union, Globalism?
- The Signs of the Times – Is America in Bible Prophecy?
- The Signs of the Times – Can We Know When the Ezekiel Invasion Will Occur? PART 1 – Israel regathered from Many Nations
- The Signs of the Times – Can We Know When the Ezekiel Invasion Will Occur? PART 2 – Russians and Muslims to Invade Israel on Horseback?
- When Will The Rapture Occur?
- Taking Issue with Futurism – Interpreting Revelation Part 1
- Daniel’s Seventieth Week and the Book of Revelation – Interpreting Revelation Part 2
- Babylon, the 144000 and The Two Witnesses – Interpreting Revelation – Part 3
- Who is the Antichrist? – Part 1
- Who is the Antichrist? – Part 2
- Who is the Antichrist? – Part 3
- Who is the Antichrist? – Part 4
- The Millennium
- Prophetic Events and Their Timing