The Antichrist. Several places in Scripture tell of a great eschatological enemy of God, the epitome of evil personified in one person. He’s perhaps the most notorious person in the Bible, but he also might be the most enigmatic. His identity remains a mystery, but perhaps we’re more familiar with him than we thought.
Other Names for the Antichrist
As the opposite of all that is good, antichrist may be the best name for this figure, for he denies that Jesus is the Christ (1 Jn 2:22). The term itself is found only in First and Second John, but it seems like other biblical writers have a similar person in mind.
In the Old Testament, Daniel wrote about one who “shall speak words against the Most High” (Dan 7:25). A chapter later, we read about “a king of bold face” who “shall arise,” whose “power shall be great—but not by his own power” (Dan 8:23-25). Revelation 13 tells of a “beast . . . with ten horns and seven heads” and “blasphemous names on its heads.” The creature sounds similar to Daniel’s prophecy, and many people know about the number 666 and the “mark of the beast” mentioned at the end of the chapter.
In Second Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul speaks of this figure who will be revealed before the second coming of Christ and the arrival of the day of the Lord. He is called “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thess 2:3), a reference to his utter disregard for the righteous standard of God. But Paul also calls him “the son of destruction,” a reference to his ultimate destiny under the judgment of God.
A Multitude of Antichrists
Seeking to identify the Antichrist may be doomed from the start. Jesus said that many “false christs” will arise (Matt 24:24) and that “many will come” in his name claiming to be the Christ (Lk 21:8). John tells us that “as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come” (1 Jn 2:18). So perhaps there isn’t any one particular individual who alone deserves the title. Indeed “many deceivers have gone out into the world,” John says (2 Jn 7). These deceivers “do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.” Such people, we are told, are “the antichrist.”
While there are certain to be more “antichrists” to come, we are justified by these texts to look back and see antichrist in any number of historical persons. Countless wicked people in history have been labeled as such, but there is one biblical character who seems to fit the bill the best.
The One Who Betrayed Christ
Recall that Paul speaks of the antichrist with the title, “the son of destruction” (2 Thess 2:3). This phrase is also used by Jesus to describe Judas Iscariot in John 17:12. Judas is the best biblical example of the kind of person the antichrist is sure to be.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:4, Paul says that the antichrist “opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship.” This is the nature of the antichrist, the name referring to one who “stands against” the Christ, the true Messiah. Judas Iscariot, chosen to be one of Jesus’s twelve disciples, became hostile to Jesus and his mission and turned against him.
But Judas opposed Jesus by betraying him. He carried out his opposition through stealth, surprising the other disciples who did not see it coming. As Paul goes on to describe his “man of lawlessness,” he says that he comes “with all wicked deception” (2 Thess 2:9). The same tactic of trickery that Judas employed in his opposition is used by this antichrist, too.
One apparent difference between Judas and Paul’s antichrist is that Paul describes this person as not only opposing God but “proclaiming himself to be God” (v. 4). And while we have no record of Judas desiring anything like that, this may be the clearest indicator of who the antichrist truly is.
In Luke 22:3, we are told that “Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot.” And Paul says that the “man of lawlessness” comes onto the scene “by the activity of Satan” (v. 9). It is Satan who is behind every rebellious desire to be like God (Gen 3:5). It is Satan, the “Day Star” fallen from heaven who says in his heart, “I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa 14: 12-14).
Thus, our interest in identifying the antichrist is not nearly as important as identifying the “spirit of the antichrist,” which, we are told, is “in the world already” (1 Jn 4:3). Whoever might deserve the title “antichrist,” it is Satan who is the real power behind them all. And his real reason for opposing the Christ is because he would rather find himself on the throne of God rather than yielding that place to Jesus.
We need to watch out for that spirit, whether we see it on display in the lives of others, and especially when we see it developing in our own hearts.