The Bible’s Antichrist: Real person or symbolic?

Local pastors and professors weigh in on the topic

antichrist

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Does the biblical figure “antichrist” appear in the book of Revelation?

If you ask 100 people you’ll likely get 80 different answers, according to one local pastor.

What role this biblical enemy of Christ plays in what some believe will be a final confrontation, is also the subject of discussion and interpretation.

While the antichrist subject doesn’t come up very frequently, it is a concept that surfaces from time to time.

Is there an Antichrist coming?

About half (49 percent) of Protestant pastors surveyed by Lifeway Research believe the “Antichrist” is a figure who will arise in the future.

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“That’s distinct from some of the other responses because they were thinking of a single figure, and that’s in the future,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, an evangelical research firm based in Nashville, Tennessee.

According to the survey, others say (12 percent) there is no individual Antichrist, while about 14 percent believe that he is a personification of evil or an institution (7 percent). Six percent of pastors think the Antichrist has already been here.

“There is more agreement on the Antichrist than there is on some of the other elements related to end-times,” McConnell said. “These are the folks that we rely on each week in a church setting to teach us what the bible says, and it’s clear that there’s more than one interpretation about the Antichrist.”

The term “Antichrist” is only mentioned by name in the epistles of John. It appears both in singular and plural forms.

“Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist – he denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22, New International Version).

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“Could that person be alive on Earth today? Sure,” explained Jerry Gillis, lead pastor of The Chapel in Getzville.

The “Antichrist” has been called the devil’s emissary and described as an agent of evil.

Gillis says the Bible talks about both a person and a spirit of the antichrist.

“In other words, there are many who have an opposition to the spirit and the leadership of Jesus,” he said. “It’s both personhood and a spirit.”

“Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7, New International Version).

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“John, living in a very difficult time under Roman Empire is talking about both a spirit that’s here, but also eventually a person,” said Patrick Jones, lead pastor at Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church in Williamsville.

“It’s interesting that when John talks about it he said many antichrists have gone out from among us. They weren’t a part of us because if they were, they would have remained with us,” Jones added. ”We’ve got to recognize that this spirit will be there in every generation.”

For many Christians, the concept of antichrist builds on the scriptures.

While the term “antichrist” doesn’t appear in 2 Thessalonians, it is often identified with references like, “the man of lawlessness” who will “oppose and exalt himself over everything that is called God.”

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“It does not use the word antichrist, but it definitely describes what many theologians believe is the antichrist. It just doesn’t use the words. We see this all throughout the New Testament,” said Darius Pridgen, senior pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church in Buffalo.

“John assumed that the church understood what antichrist was and he uses a label for what was already recorded in 2 Thessalonians and what many believe was recorded in Revelation,” Pridgen added.

According to Phillips Stevens, Jr., an associate professor of anthropology at the University at Buffalo, biblical mentions of the antichrist refer to those first-century Christians who are “loyal and expectant” followers of Jesus, but are “skeptical of claims” that he is the Messiah.

“After all, by this time, there had been many claimants to that title,” Stevens explained. “The Jews desperately want a reformer, but many are skeptical of claims to Messiahship.”

Is the antichrist an end-times false messiah who comes with a smile, but represents pure evil and chaos?

“People think it’s a man. Is he already here? It could be a woman. It could operate through a woman, but that’s where spiritually sensitive people draw the line and they can see the difference,” Pridgen added. “That this is a spiritual battle, not a physical battle.”

Christian denominations disagree on the Bible’s end-times scenario and what role an antichrist figure would play.

“The whole concept has emerged into the boogeyman,” said Fr. Patrick Keleher, director of the Newman Center, the University at Buffalo’s Catholic campus ministry.

Keleher believes the modern concept of antichrist has more to do with people’s fears.

“Afraid of the future. Afraid of something happening to the community. Afraid of life itself. Then they develop antichrists,” he said. “It’s certainly not what John had in mind. It’s a word that we use. I think it’s a wonderful concept because it tells us about ourselves.”

UB anthropologist Phil Stevens says the antichrist becomes a “modern scapegoat” in times of chaos and anxiety.

“People need someone to blame, or something, or some occult cosmic force to blame. And the antichrist concept has served that purpose at various stages in history,” Stevens said.

The book of Revelation is filled with vivid imagery and symbolism, depicting an ultimate battle between good and evil.

Believers identify the rise of an antichrist with several figures noted in Revelation, a popular doomsday prophecy which has been the subject of books and movies.

Jerry Gillis says Revelation illustrates a parody of the Trinitarian nature of God.

“You see a parody of God as Father, Son and Spirit in the fact that Revelation talks about dragon, beast from the sea, beast for the earth, representative of Satan, of the antichrist as we term it, and a false prophet kind of propaganda machine,” Gillis says.

“The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority” (Revelation 13:2, New International Version).

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“The beast there is coming up out of the sea of people and that would be the reference to the antichrist. And he’s going to hold sway,” Patrick Jones explained.

“He will be empowered by the dragon, Satan. And there will be one along his side who will be called the false prophet, who will be encouraging people to follow the beast and take on his mark and all that kind of thing.”

“The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders…” (2 Thessalonians 2:9, New International Version).

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Still, there are millions of believers who welcome the apocalyptic visions of redemption and carnage found in Revelation, and view the coming of an antichrist figure with a certain expectation.

“If that person exists today then that would be a very good sign that we are closing in on the end of an age,” Gillis added. “Now, do I know that? I don’t. Nor do I fear it because as a person who’s a follower of Jesus I’ve already read the end of the story and I feel a confidence in that.”

The end of the world is a chilling concept, and for some a grim prophecy.

Phil Stevens argues that the Bible’s book of Revelation was not intended as a prophecy.

“It is not a prediction of end-times. It is intended to be a message of encouragement to Christians, to hold on,” he said. “All of the evil dangerous powers in their world are encoded here, referred to in elaborate symbolic metaphors.”

Stevens added: “And the final message is that their faith in God and Jesus will prevail. But this is a hard sell, because throughout Christian history Revelation has been regarded as prophesy, and its various scenes taken as various levels of literal truth.”

Throughout history, some individuals regarded as tyrannical, wielding great power and influence, have been labeled as potential antichrists.

“In the 20th century it was Hitler and Mussolini, and more recently Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi,” according to Stevens.

He says it’s a concept that surfaces as world events play out.

“There’s almost a perfect correlation of these kinds of millennial expectations and agitations with social dysfunction and general anxiety,” he said. “You can find a perfect correlation between the outbreak of hostilities in World War I, World War II, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.”

A Google search of “antichrist” returns over 11 million results.

“In every generation there have been people that people have tried to identify as the antichrist,” explained Patrick Jones. ”I’ve heard all kind of names thrown around in my lifetime, even. But none of that plays into the other pieces that go into the puzzle.”

Fr. Patrick Keleher says even the papacy was regarded as antichrist during the Protestant Reformation.

“[Martin] Luther in his book about Babylon, he says the Pope is antichrist. The Pope is antichrist? It’s amazing,” Keleher said.

Keleher believes that the label of antichrist is metaphorical language used when people feel paralyzed.

“I think it’s very dangerous because it dislocates us from communication. It dislocates us from dialogue. It dislocates us from being unafraid. This is what the world really needs today is people not to be afraid,” he said.

Britannica’s online encyclopedia describes “Antichrist” as “the polar opposite and ultimate enemy of Christ.”

“I’ve never heard the Catholic church deny Christ. I’ve never heard the other denominations that I’m familiar with deny Christ. And that is one of the requirements of really judging whether they are an antichrist,” said Pastor Darius Pridgen.

“It doesn’t mean that people of different denominations, different faiths are the antichrist. I want to be clear on that,” Pridgen added. “The antichrist will work against everything that God’s spirit works for.”

Mark Fulk, an associate professor in the English department at Buffalo State College, has a deep interest in religious studies.

He says when it comes to the antichrist concept, the images are strong enough, but also vague enough that “we can read it in many different ways.”

“I think that probably, the rest of my lifetime and the rest of the lifetime of the Earth, there’s probably going to be people that are sure this person is the antichrist, or that person is,” Fulk said. “And so far history, 2000 years, has proven them wrong every time.”

The concept of an end-times antichrist, whether real or illusion, has been around for thousands of years.

“When I see what continues to be a breakdown, it feels, both within American society and around the world, I feel like we’re getting closer,” said Pastor Patrick Jones. “It does seem that we’re heading in that direction more than any time when I look at the evidence of the things we do know, for sure, will take place.”

This so called “son of perdition” and ultimate enemy of Christ is also reflected in popular culture in films such as “The Omen” and “Rosemary’s Baby.”

“The notion is that the figure of the antichrist can be defeated by the intercession of a few or even one righteous person who knows. And the fact of the matter is if you read the Bible in the ways that I do, the antichrist, if there is one, if he comes, isn’t going to be defeatable by man,” Fulk explained.

“A lot of the Hollywood stuff sort of empowers this little cohort that then goes against the antichrist and they win. But that’s not the biblical narrative,” he added.

As believers continue seeking clues about this mysterious biblical figure, how will they know the fake when they see it?

Pastor Jerry Gillis is convinced that people of faith who have the “spirit of Christ” will have an ability to see that.

“If you were trying to be someone who figured out counterfeit dollars, you would want to know what the real thing looks like more than you would want to know what the counterfeit looks like, because by knowing the real, you know what the counterfeit is,” Gillis said.

“The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders…” (2 Thessalonians 2:9, New International Version).

Patrick Jones believes the rise of an antichrist figure will certainly involve deception.

“There’s going to be great deception that’s going to be used by this person,” he said.  “There’s going to be false miracles that will take place that everybody will say, this must be of God because they’re miraculous. And they’ll duped by what seems to be miracles that will take place.”

Fr. Pat Keleher believes there’s too much emphasis on apocalyptic visions that embody evil.

“I think we should try to somehow deal with the evil rather than try to embody it,” said Keleher.

“Instead of labeling somebody on the outside for their heresy which is the original thing, or their sense of evil, wouldn’t it be nice if we could use some self-examination in our meditation in the morning, or before we go to bed at night,” he added. “Was I antichrist today somehow in my attitude, or in my heresy? My beliefs in my attitude toward people? So in that way it could be healthy.”

If there’s a great and final deception, what will it look and feel like?

Many say it’s quite complex, a subject that has attracted much debate and many views.

Darius Pridgen summed it up this way.

“I believe that when we all get to the end that there’s going to be some things that God will look at each of us and say, ‘You know what. You were real accurate on that, but you weren’t as accurate on this. Where was your heart? Did you love your fellow man? Did you take care of your community? Did you believe me and trust me? ‘ I think at the end of the day God is more concerned about that than trying to figure out which person is the antichrist or which person has the spirit.”

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