by Charles Hodge
That Antichrist is to appear before the second coming of Christ, is expressedly asserted by the Apostle in 2 Thessalonians ii. 1-3, "We beseech you . . . . that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled . . . . as that the day of Christ is at hand. . . . For that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition." This is clear; but as to who or what Antichrist is, there is no little diversity of opinion.
1. Some understand by that term any antichristian spirit, or power, or person. The Apostle John says, "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 . . . . 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 ii. 18 and 22.) And again, "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." (iv. 3.) And in 2 John 7, it is said, "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 (o` pla,noj kai. o` avnti,cristoj, the deceiver and the antichrist)." Thus our Lord had predicted, "There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." (Matt. xxiv. 24.) And the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy iv. 1, says. "The Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils." These passages refer to a marked characteristic of the period between the apostolic age and the second coming of Christ. There were to be many antichrists; many manifestations of malignant opposition to the person and to the work of Christ; many attempts to cast off his authority and to overthrow his kingdom.
2. Besides this general reference to the antichristian spirit which was to manifest itself in different forms and with different degrees of intensity, many believe that there is yet to be a person, in whom the power of the world shall be concentrated, and which will exert all his energies to overthrow Christianity, and to usurp the place of Christ on earth. This is the Antichrist of prophecy; of whom it is assumed that Daniel, Paul, and St. John in the Apocalypse speak. This is the view generally adopted by Romanists and by many eminent evangelical Protestant theologians.
3. The common opinion, however, among Protestants is, that the prophecies concerning Antichrist have special reference to the papacy. This conviction is founded principally on the remarkable prediction contained in Paul's second epistle to the Thessalonians. The Apostle knew that the Thessalonians, in common with other Christians of the early Church, would be exposed to grievous persecutions; to comfort them under their sufferings, to give them patience and to, sustain their faith, he referred to the promised second coming of Christ. When the Lord should come all their sorrows would be ended; those who in the meantime had fallen asleep, would not lose their part in the blessing of his second advent. For "we which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words." (1 Thess. iv. 15-17.) These words it seems had been perverted and misinterpreted, by some who were "disorderly, working not at all, but" were "busybodies;" unsettling the minds of the people, turning them off from present duties, as though the day of the Lord were at hand. To correct this abuse, the Apostle writes his second epistle. He does not set the doctrine of the second advent in the background, or say anything to weaken its power as a source of consolation to the suffering believers. On the contrary, he sets forth the glory of that advent and the richness of the blessings by which it should be attended, in more glowing terms than ever before. "We ourselves," he says, "glory in you in the churches of God, for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure; which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God. for which ye also suffer; seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you, who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: . . . . when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe." (2 Thess. i. 4-10.) All this stands true. Nevertheless the Thessalonians were not to be deceived. The great day of deliverance was not at hand. They had much to do, and much to suffer before that day should come. The time of the second advent was not revealed. In his first epistle he had said, "Of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night." (1 Thess. v. 1, 2.) That being conceded, they should know that great things must occur before that day could come. First, there was to be a great apostasy. As the Church was then in its infancy, and had just begun to make progress among the nations, such language naturally presupposes a much more extended propagation of the Gospel, than had as yet taken place. The second event that was to precede the second advent was the coming of Antichrist, or, in other words, the man of sin was to be revealed.
The first question, to be determined in the interpretation of this prophecy, is, Whether Antichrist is a particular individual, or an institution, a power, or a corporation. Protestants generally adopt the latter view; because they do not regard any one pope, but the papacy, as the Antichrist of Scripture. In favour of this view it may be urged, (1.) That it is according to the analogy of prophecy to speak of nations, institutions, or kingdoms, as individuals. In Daniel, the ten kings are ten kingdoms or dynasties; the several beasts which he saw in vision, were not the symbols of particular men, but of nations. When therefore the Apostle speaks of Antichrist as "the man of sin," and "the son of perdition," it is perfectly consistent with Scriptural usage to understand him to refer to an order of men, or to an institution. (2.) The work assigned to Antichrist in prophecy, extends over far too long a period to be accomplished by one man. (3.) Those who insist that the antichrist here predicted, is an individual man, are forced to admit that what is said in 2 Thessalonians ii. 7 ("He who now letteth, will let, until he be taken out of the way") is to be understood of a power. It is generally understood of the Roman power. Luthardt understands it of the moral power which sustains the right, and therefore is opposed to the reckless disregard of all law, which is one of the characteristics of Antichrist. It is true that he supposes that reference is also made to one of the guardian or protecting angels spoken of by the prophet Daniel. But such an angel is not to be "taken out of the way." And there is nothing in the context or in Paul's writings anywhere to justify the assumption that reference is here had to any angelic personage.
The second question is, Whether the antichrist here described is an ecclesiastical or civil power; whether it is to arise in the Church or in the world. The considerations which are in favour of the former of these assumptions are, --
1. That the designations "man of sin" and "son of perdition" have a religious import, and are more appropriate to an ecclesiastical than to a worldly power or potentate.
2. Antichrist was to have the seat of his power in the "temple of God." It is there he sits. This seems clearly to indicate that it is an ecclesiastical usurping, tyrannical, and persecuting power, that is here depicted. By the temple of God in this passage is generally understood the Church which is so often elsewhere called, and especially by Paul, God's temple. Some, however, suppose that the reference is to the literal temple in Jerusalem; but this supposes, (a.) That the Jews are to be restored to their own land. (b.) That they are to be restored as Jews, or unconverted, and that the temple is to be there rebuilt. (c.) That the Thessalonians knew all this and would understand the Apostle as referring to the temple made with hands; which is to the last degree improbable.
3. His coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders. This is not the way in which worldly potentates gain their power; they rely on force. But this is the way, as though traced by the pen of history rather than by the pencil of prophecy, in which the papacy has attained and maintained its fearful ascendancy in the world. Its power has been achieved mainly by fraud, "by the deceivableness of unrighteousness;" by forged documents and false pretencee, by claiming that Peter was made primate over the whole Church and the vicar or plenipotentiary of Christ on earth; that he was the bishop of Rome; that his successors in that office were his successors in that primacy; and that as the vicar of Christ he was superior to all earthly potentates, not merely as the spiritual is above the temporal, but as lord of the conscience, authorized to decide what was right and what was wrong for them to do in all their relations as men and as rulers; which is a claim of absolute dominion. This, however, is a small matter so far as it concerns the things of this world. It was to the mass of the people of little moment whether their absolute sovereign was a bishop or a prince; whether he resided at Rome or in Paris, whether his authority extended over one nation or over all nations. It is the false claim of the papacy to have supreme authority over the faith of men, to decide for them what they must believe on the pain of eternal perdition, that is the most fearful power ever assumed by sinful men. To this is to be added the false claim to the power to forgive sin. This is, as we have seen, a twofold power, answering to the twofold penalty attached to sin, namely, the eternal penalty as a violation of the divine law, and the penances still due after the remission of the eternal penalty, as satisfactions to divine justice. The former can be obtained only through the intervention or absolution of the priest; and the latter can be imposed or remitted at the discretion of the Church. This includes power over purgatory, the pains of which are represented as frightful and of indefinite duration. These pains the pope and his subordinates falsely claim the power to alleviate or remit. These claims have no parallel in the history of the world. If such pretensions as these do not constitute the power which makes them Antichrist, then nothing more remains. Any future antichrist that may arise must be a small affair compared to the papacy.
Then again, the Apostle tells us, these portentous claims, these unrighteous deceits, were to be supported by "signs and lying wonders." These have seldom, if ever, been appealed to by worldly powers to support their pretensions. They ever have been and still are among the chief supports of the papacy. There is not a false doctrine which it teaches, or a false assumption which it makes, which is not sustained by "lying wouders." Its whole history is a history of apparitions of the Virgin Mary or of saints and angels; and of miracles of every possible description from the most stupendous to the most absurd. It has ever acted on the principle "populus vult decipi," and that it in right to deceive them for their own good, or, the good of the Church. The whole system, so far as it is distinctive,7 is a systern of falsehood, or false pretensions, supported by deceit.
4. Antichrist is to be a persecuting power. Is not this true of the papacy? It has been drunk with the blood of the saints. It not only persecutes, but it justifies persecution, and avows to this day its purpose to enforce its dominion by the rack and the stake wherever it has the power. This is involved in its justification of the past, and in its making it a duty to suppress every form of religion but that of Rome. The thirty years' war in Germany; the persistent attempts to exterminate the Piedmontese; the massacres by the Duke of Alva in the Netherlands; the horrors of the inquisition in Spain; the dragonnades and the massacre of St. Bartholomew in France, over which Te Deums were sung in Rome, show that the people of God can hardly have more to suffer under any future antichrist than they have already suffered, and perhaps have yet to suffer, under the papacy.
5. Antichrist, according to the Apostle, was to oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God or is worshipped; "so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God." This is true of no worldly power. It was not true of Antiochus Epiphanes, who is regarded as the type whence the prophetic portrait of Antichrist was drawn. It was not true of any of the Roman emperors. Some of them allowed themselves to be enrolled among the thousand gods of the Pantheon; but this falls very far short of the description here given. It is, however, all true of the papacy, and it is true of no other power which has yet appeared upon earth. Paul does not concern himself with theories, but with facts. It is not that the popes openly profess to be superior to God; or, that in theory they claim to be more than men. It is the practical operation of the system which he describes. The actual facts are first, that the popes claim the honour that is due to God alone; secondly, that they assume the powers which are his exclusive prerogatives; and thirdly, that they supersede the authority of God, putting their own in its place. It is thus they exalt themselves above God.
They assume the honour which belongs to God not merely by claiming to be the vicars of Christ on earth, and by allowing themselves to be addressed as Lord and God, but by exacting the submission of the reason, the conscience, and the life, to their authority. This is the highest tribute which a creature can render the Creator; and this the popes claim to be their due from all mankind. They claim divine prerogatives as infallible teachers on all questions of faith and practice, and as having the power to forgive sin. And they exalt their authority above that of God by practically setting aside his word, and substituting their decrees and what they put forth as the teachings of the Church. It is a simple and undeniable fact that in all countries under the effective dominion of the pope, the Scriptures are inaccessible to the people, and the faith of the masses reposes not on what the Bible teaches, but on what the Church declares to be true.
Even such a writer as John Henry Newman, in an essay written before his formal adhesion to the Church of Rome, uses such language as the following: The question is, "Has Christ, or has He not, appointed a body representative of Him in earth during his absence?" This question he answers in the affirmative, and says, "Not even the proof of our Lord's divinity is plainer than that of the Church's commission. Not even the promises to David or to Solomon more evidently belong to Christ, than those to Israel, or Jerusalem, or Sion, belong to the Church. Not even Daniel's prophecies are more exact to the letter, than those which invest the Church with powers which Protestants consider Babylonish. Nay, holy Daniel himself is in no small measure employed on this very subject. He it is who announces a fifth kingdom, like 'a stone cut out without hands,' which 'broke in pieces and consumed' all former kingdoms, but was itself to 'stand forever' and to become 'a great mountain,' and 'to fill the whole earth.' He it is also who prophesies that 'the Saints of the most High shall take the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever.' He 'saw in the night visions and behold one like to the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days, and there was given Him dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him.' Such too is Isaiah's prophecy, 'Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem, and He shall judge among the nations and rebuke many people.' Now Christ Himself was to depart from the earth. He could not then in his own person be intended in these great prophecies; if He acted it must be by delegacy."8 According to the Romanists, therefore, these prophecies, relating to Christ and his kingdom, refer to the papacy. It is the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, which is to break in pieces and consume all other kingdoms; which is to stand forever; which is to fill the whole earth, to which is given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve. If this be not to put itself in the place of God, it is hard to see how the prophecies concerning Antichrist can ever be fulfilled.
No more conclusive argument to prove that the papacy is Antichrist, could be constructed, than that furnished by Dr. Newman, himself a Romanist. According to him the prophecies respecting the glory, the exaltation, the power, and the universal dominion of Christ, have their fulfilment in the popes. But who is Antichrist, but the man that puts himself in the place of Christ; claiming the honour and the power which belong to God manifest in the flesh, for himself? Whoever does this is Antichrist, in the highest form in which he can appear.
6. Another argument to prove that the Antichrist described by the Apostle is an ecclesiastical power is that his appearance is the consequence of a great apostasy. That the apostasy spoken of is a defection from the truth is plain from the Scriptural usage of the term (Acts xxi. 21), and from the connection in which it here occurs. When God brought the heathen upon the people as conquerors, in punishment of their idolatry, their sufferings were a judicial consequence of their apostasy, but it cannot be said that the power of Chaldean or Egyptian oppressors was the fruit of their defection from the truth. In this case, however, Antichrist is represented as the ultimate development of the predicted apostasy. If a simple minister should claim to be a priest, and then one priest assume dominion over many priests, and then one prelate over other prelates, and then one over all, and then that one claim to be the ruler of the whole world as vicar of Christ, clothed with his authority, so that the prophecy that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve the Son of Man, is fulfilled in him, then indeed we should have a regular development, from the first step to the. last. Bishop Ellicott, though believing Antichrist to be "one single personal being, as truly man as He whom he impiously opposes," and that he is to be hereafter revealed, still admits that Antichrist is to be "the concluding and most appalling phenomenon" of the great apostasy. But if so, he must be an ecclesiastical, and not a worldly power.
7. Again the Apostle says that "the mystery of iniquity doth already work." That is, the principles and spirit had already begun to manifest themselves in the Church, which were to culminate in the revelation of the Man of Sin. How could this be said of a person who was to be a worldly prince, appearing outside of the Church, separated, not only chronologically by ages from the apostolic age, but also logically, from all the causes then in operation. If Antichrist is to be a single person, concentrating in himself all worldly power as a universal monarch, to appear shortly before the end of the world, as is assumed by so many expounders of prophecy, it is hard to see how he was to be the product of the leaven already working in the times of the Apostles.
If however, as Protestants have so generally believed, the papacy is the Antichrist which the Apostle had in his prophetic eye, then this passage is perfectly intelligible. The two elements of which the papacy is the development are the desire of preeminence or lust of power, and the idea of a priesthood, that is, that Christian ministers are mediators whose intervention is necessary to secure access to God, and that they are authorized to make atonement for sin; to which was added the claim to grant absolution. Both these elements were at work in the apostolic age. The papacy is the product of the transfer of Jewish and Pagan ideas to the Christian system. The Jews had a high priest, and all the ministers of the sanctuary were sacrificing priests. The Romans had a "Pontifex Maximus" and the ministers of religion among them were priests. Nothing was more natural and nothing is plainer as a historical fact than that the assumption of a priestly character and functions by the Christian ministry, was one of the earliest corruptions of the Church. And nothing is plainer than that to this assumption the power of the papacy is in a large measure to be attributed. And as to the desire of preeminence, we know that there was, even among the twelve, a contention who should be the greatest. The Apostle John (3 Epistle 9) speaks of Diotrephes, "who loveth to have the preeminence;" and in all the Epistles there is evidence of the struggle for ascendancy on the part of unworthy ministers and teachers. The leaven of iniquity, therefore, was at work in the apostolic age, which concentrated by degrees into the portentous system of the papacy.
8. According to this view, the difficult passage in verses 6 and 7 admits of an easy interpretation. The Apostle there says: "Now ye know what withholdeth, that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way." There was, therefore, at that time an obstacle which prevented the development of the Man of Sin, and would continue to prerent it, as long as it remained as it then was. It is to be noticed that Paul says, "Now ye know what withholdeth." How could the Thessalonians know to what he referred? only from the Apostle's instructions, or from the nature of the case. The fact however is that they did know, and, therefore, it is probable that knowledge was communicated to others, and was not likely to be soon forgotten. This consideration gives the more weight to the almost unanimous judgment of the early fathers that the obstacle to the development of Antichrist was the Roman empire. While that continued in its vigour it was impossible that an ecclesiastic should become the virtual sovereign of the world. It is a historical fact that the conflict between the Emperors and the Popes for the ascendancy, was continued for ages, and that as the power of the former decreased that of the latter increased.
On the assumption that the Antichrist of which Paul speaks in his Epistle to the Thessalonians, is a powerful worldly monarch hereafter to appear, these verses, the 6th and 7th, present the greatest difficulty. The causes which are to bring such a monarch into the possession of his power were not then in operation; there was then no obstacle to his manifestation so obvious as to be generally known to Christians, and the removal of which was to be followed at once by his revelation. Even on the assumption that the obstacle of which the Apostle speaks, was not the Roman empire, but rather the regard to law and order deeply fixed in the public mind, which stood in the way of the revelation of the Man of Sin, this difficulty is scarcely lessened. How could the Thessalonians have known that? How foreign to their minds must have been the thought that a regard for law must be taken out of the way before the lawless one could appear. It seems plain that the early fathers were right in their interpretation of the Apostle's language; and that he meant to say that the appearance of ecclesiastical claimants to universal dominion, was not possible until the Roman empire was effectually broken.
According to Paul's account, Antichrist was to arise in the Church. He was to put forth the most exorbitant claims; exalt himself above all human authority; assume to himself the prerogatives of God, demanding a submission due only to God, and virtually setting aside the authority of God, and substituting his own in its place. These assumptions were to be sustained by all manner of unrighteous deceits, by signs, and by lying wonders. This portrait suits the papacy so exactly, that Protestants at least have rarely doubted that it is the Antichrist which the Apostle intended to describe.
Dr. John Henry Newman says, that if Protestants insist on making the Church of Rome Antichrist, they thereby make over all Roman Catholics, past and present, "to utter and hopeless perdition."9 This does not follow. The Church of Rome is to be viewed under different aspects; as the papacy, an external organized hierarchy, with the pope, with all his arrogant claims, at its head; and also as a body of men professing certain religious doctrines. Much may be said of it in the one aspect, which is not true of it in the other. Much may be said of Russia as an empire that cannot be said of all Russians. At one time the first Napoleon was regarded by many as Antichrist; that did not involve the belief that all Frenchmen who acknowledged him as emperor, or all soldiers who followed him as their leader, were the sons of perdition. That many Roman Catholics, past and present, are true Christians, is a palpable fact. It is a fact which no man can deny without committing a great sin. It is a sin against Christ not to acknowledge as true Christians those who bear his image, and whom He recognizes as his brethren. It is a sin also against ourselves. We are not born of God unless we love the children of God. If we hate and denounce those whom Christ loves as members of his own body, what are we? It is best to be found on the side of Christ, let what will happen. It is perfectly consistent, then, for a man to denounce the papacy as the man of sin, and yet rejoice in believing, and in openly acknowledging, that there are, and ever have been, many Romanists who are the true children of God.
Admitting that the Apostle's predictions refer to the Roman pontiffs, it does not follow that the papacy is the only antichrist. St. John says there are many antichrists. Our Lord says many shall come in his name, claiming in one form or another his authority, and endeavouring to take his place by dethroning him. The Apostle John tells us this "is the last time" (1 John ii. 18) in which many artichrists are to appear. This "last time" extends from the first to the second advent of Christ. This long period lay as one scene before the minds of the prophets. And they tell what was given them to see, not as though they were writing a history, and unfolding events in their historical order, but as describing the figures which they saw, as it were, represented on the same canvass. As Isaiah describes the redemption from Babylon and the redemption by the Messiah as though they were contemporary events, so Joel, in almost the same sentence, connects the effusion of the spirit which attended the first advent of Christ with the great elemental changes which are to attend his second coming. How long the period between the first and second advents of the Son of God is to be protracted is unrevealed. It has already lasted nearly two thousand years, and, for what we know, may last two thousand more. As this long period, crowded with great events, was presented as a whole to the minds of the prophets, it is not surprising that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, one should fix on one prominent feature in the scene, and others upon another. Under the divine guidance granted to these holy seers, there could be no error and no contradiction, but there could hardly fail to be great variety. It would not, therefore, invalidate the account given of Paul's description of Antichrist, if it should be found to differ in some respects from the antichrists of Daniel and of the Apocalypse.
The Antichrist of Daniel.
The reader of the prophecies of Daniel has, at least in many cases, the advantage of a divine interpretation of his predictions. The prophet himself did not understand the import of his visions, and begged to have them explained to him; and his request was, in a measure, granted. Thus in the seventh chapter we read: "I saw in my vision by night, and behold . . . four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. The first was like a lion; . . . . a second like to a bear; another like a leopard; (and) a fourth beast dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly, . . . and it had ten horns . . . . And behold there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things."
These beasts were, as the explanation states, the symbols of four kingdoms, the Babylonish, the Medo-Persian, the Greek, and the Roman. This last was to be divided into ten kingdoms. That kings in this prophecy mean kingdoms, not individuals, but an organized community under a king, is plain from the nature of the predictions and from the express declaration of the prophet; for he says, in verse 17, that the four beasts are four kings; and in verse 23, that the fourth beast is the fourth kingdom. King and kingdom, therefore, are interchanged as of the same iport, After, or in the midst of these ten kingdoms signified by the ten horns, there was to arise another kingdom or power symbolized by the little horn. Of this power it is said: (1.) That it was to be of a different kind from the others. Perhaps, as they were civil or worldly kingdoms, this was to be ecclesiastical. (2.) He was to gain the ascendancy over the other powers; at least three of them were to be plucked up by the roots. (3.) He was to speak great things, or be arrogant in his assumptions. (4.) He was to set himself against God; speaking "great words against the Most High." (5.) He was to persecute the saints; prevail against them and wear them out; and they shall be given into his hands. (6.) This antichristian power was to continue until the judgment, i. e., "until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High." (Dan. vii. 22.) In all these particulars the Antichrist of Daniel answers to the description given by St. Paul in 2 Thessalonians. In one point, however, they appear to differ. According to Daniel, the power of Antichrist was to last, or at least his persecution of the saints, only "a time and times and the dividing of a time;" that is, three years and a half. (Compare Rev. xiii. 5, and xi. 2, 3.) This is the interpretation generally adopted. Calvin adopts the principle that in the prophecies definite periods of time are used for periods of indefinite duration. In his Commentary on Daniel he makes the little horn spoken of in the seventh chapter to be Julius Ciusar, and says: "Qui annum putant hic notari per tempus, falluntur meo judicio . . . . Annus sumetur figurate pro tempore aliquo indeterminato."10 He significantly says: "In numeris non sum Pythagoricus."11
There are two answers to this difficulty. The word antichrist may be a generic term, as it seems to have been used by St. John, not referring exclusively to any one individual person, or to any one organization, but to any and every antichristian power, having certain characteristics. So that there may be, as the Apostle says, many Antichrists. Hence Daniel may describe one, and Paul another. Secondly, the same power, retaining all its essential characteristics, may change its form. If republican France, during the first revolution, was an antichristian nation, it did not necessarily change its character when it became an empire; and what was, or might have been, said of it in prophecy under the one form, might not have answered to what it was under the other form. During the Middle Ages, bishops were sometimes princes and warriors. A prophetic description of them, while giving their general characteristics suited to both their ecclesiastical and worldly functions, might say some things of them as warlike princes which did not belong to them as bishops. However, we do not pretend to be experts in matters of prophecy; our object is simply to state what Paul said of the Antichrist which he had in view, and what Daniel said of the Antichrist which he was inspired to describe.
In the eleventh chapter of Daniel, from the 36th verse to the end, there is a passage which is commonly understood of Antichrist, because what is there said is not true of Antiochus Epiphanes, to whom the former part of the chapter is referred, and is true of Antichrist as described in other places in the Scriptures. It is not true of Antiochus Epiphanes that he abandoned the gods of his fathers. On the contrary, his purpose was to force all under his control, the Jews included, to worship those gods. What is said in verse 36 is in substance what Paul says, in 2 Thessalonians ii. 4, of the Man of Sin. Daniel says that "the king," whom he describes, "shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done." This exalting himself "above all that is called god" is the prominent characteristic of Antichrist as he is elsewhere presented in Scripture.
The Antichrist of the Apocalypse.
The Apocalypse seems to be a summing up and expansion of all the eschatological prophecies of the Old Testament, especially of those of Ezekiel, Zechariah and Daniel. The same symbols, the same forms of expression, the same numbers, the same cycle of events, occur in the New Testament predictions, that are found in those of the Old. Everyone knows that commentators differ not only in their interpretation of the details, but even as to the whole structure and design of the book of Revelation. Some regard it as a description in oriental imagery of contemporaneous events; others as intended to set forth the different phases of the spiritual life of the Church; others as designed to unfold the leading events in the history of the Church and of the world in their chronological order; others again assume that it is a series, figuratively speaking, of circles; each vision or series of visions relating to the same events under different aspects; the end, and the preparation for the end, being presented over and over again; the great theme being the coming of the Lord, and the triumph of his Church.12
The most commonly accepted view of the general contents of the book by those who adopt the chronological method is that so clearly presented in the admirable little work of Dr. James M. Macdonald (now of Princeton, New Jersey).13 According to this view, the introduction is contained in chapters i.-iii.; part second relates the Jewish persecutions, and the destruction of that power, in chapters iv.-xi. 14, part third relates the Pagan persecutions, and the end of the Pagan persecuting power, in chapters xi. 15-xiii. 10; part fourth relates the Papal persecutions and errors, and their end, in chapters xiii. 11-xix.; and part fifth relates the latter day of glory, the battle of Gog and Magog, the final judgment, and the heavenly state, in chapters xx.-xxii.
Luthardt may be taken as a representative of the advocates of the theory that the historical sequence of events is not designed to be set forth in the Apocalypse. The three works of the Apostle John contained in the New Testament, the Gospel, the Epistles, and the Apocalypse, according to Luthardt, form a beautiful, harmonious whole; as faith, love, and hope mingle into one, so do these writings of St. John, though each has its characteristic; faith is prominent in the Gospel, love in the Epistles, and hope in the Apocalypse. The theme of the Book of Revelation is, "Behold, He comes." Luthardt admits that commentators differ greatly as to their views of its meaning, and that, at first, it appears very full of enigmas; but he adds,14 "Whoever is familiar with the ancient prophecies, and gives himself with loving confidence to this book, will soon find the right way, which will lead him safely through all its labyrinths." This is the experience of every commentator so far as he himself is concerned, however he may fail to satisfy his readers that his way is the right one. The main principle of Luthardt's exposition is, "That the Revelation of John does not contemplate the events of history, whether of the Church or of the world. It contemplates the end. We find that the antagonism of the Church and the world, and the issue of the conflict are its contents; the coming of Christ is its theme. The events of history preceding the consummation are taken up only so far as they are connected with the final issue. This consummation is not chronologically unfolded, but is ever taken up anew, in order to lead us by a new way to the end."15 One thing is certain, namely, that the Apocalypse contains the series of predictions common to all the prophets; the defections of the people of God; persecutions of their enemies; direful judgments on the persecutors; and the final triumph and blessedness of the elect. Under different forms, this is the burden of all the disclosures God has seen fit to make of the fate of his Church here on earth and this is the burden of the Apocalypse. According to Luthardt, the first vision i. 9-iii. 22, concerns the present state of the Church; the second vision, iv. 1-viii. 1, concerns God and the world; the third vision, viii. 2-xi. 19, concerns the judgment of the world and the consummation of covenant fellowship with God; the fourth vision, xii.-xiv. concerns the Church and the antichristian world power; this contains the vision of the woman, which brought forth the man child; and in xii. 18-xiii. 18, Antichrist and the false prophet; and in xiv. the Church of the end, and the judgment of the antichristian world; and the fifth vision, xv.-xxii. concerns the outpouring of wrath upon the world and the redemption of the Church.
It is characteristic of the Apocalypse that it takes up and expands the eschatological predictions of the earlier portions of Scripture. What in the Old Testament or in the Epistles of the New Testament, is set forth under one symbol and in the concrete, is in the Apocalypse presented under two or more symbols representing the constituent elements of the whole. Thus the Antichrist is predicted in Daniel under the symbol of the little horn," and in Paul's Epistle to the Thessalonians under the title of the Man of Sin. Antichrist, as thus portrayed, includes an ecclesiastical and a worldly element; an apostate Church invested with imperial, worldly power. In the Apocalypse these two elements are represented as separate and united; a woman sitting on a beast with ten horns. The woman is the apostate Church; the beast is the symbol of the world-power by which it is supported. The destruction of the one, therefore, does not involve the destruction of the other. According to the prediction in the eighteenth chapter, the kings of the earth, wearied with the arrogance and assumption of the apostate Church, shall turn against it, waste, and consume it; that is, despoil it of its external power and glory. The destruction of Babylon, therefore, here predicted, is understood by that diligent student of prophecy, Mr. D. N. Lord, not as implying the overthrow of the Papacy, but its "denationalization" and spoliation.16
Throughout the Scriptures the relation between God and his people is illustrated by that of a husband to his wife; apostasy from God, therefore, is in the ancient prophets called adultery. In the Revelation, the Church, considered as faithful, is called the woman; as apostate, the adulteress or harlot; and as glorified, the bride, the Lamb's wife. It is in accordance with the analogy of Scripture that the harlot spoken of in chapters xvii. and xviii. is understood to be the apostate Church. Of this woman it is said: (1.) That she sits on many waters. This is explained in xvii. 15, of her wide spread dominion: "The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues." (2.) That she seduced the nations into idolatry; making the inhabitants of the earth drunk with the wine of her fornication. (3.) That she is sustained in her blasphemous assumptioon of divine prerogatives and powers by the kings and princes of the earth. She is seen sitting on a scarlet-coloured beast, full of the names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. In verse 12, these ten horns are said to be ten kings, i. e., in the language of prophecy, ten kingdoms. (4.) That she takes rank among and above the kings and princes of the earth. She is "arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls." (5.) That her riches are above estimate. This is dwelt upon at length in the eighteenth chapter. (6.) That she is a persecuting power, "drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus." (7.) That the claims of this persecuting power, as appears from Revelation xiii. 3, 14, are to be sustained by lying wonders. "He doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, and deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by those miracles which he hath power to do in the sight of the beast." We find, therefore, in this description all the traits which in Daniel and the Epistle to the Thessalonians are ascribed to the Man of Sin, or, o` avntikei,menoj, the Antichrist. It matters not what this power may be called. "Wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together." Any man; any institution; any organized power which answers to this prophetic description, comes within the prophetic denunciations here recorded.17 Neither does it matter what is to happen after this judgment on the mystical Babylon. Should another Antichrist arise, essentially worldly in his character, as so many anticipate, who shall attain universal dominion, and set himself against God and his Christ with more blasphemous assumptions, with a more malignant hatred of the Church, and a more demoniacal spirit than any of his predecessors, this would not at all disprove the correctness of the interpretation given above of St. John's predictions concerning Babylon. On this point, Maitland says: "The two great powers whose names stand foremost in prophecy come into historical contact at a single point. Where Babylon ends, Antichrist begins: the same ten kings that destroy the first, give their power to the second. When the ten kings shall have burnt Rome, so complete will be the ruin, that no sign of life or habitation will again be found in her. Here, then, is a decisive landmark; Rome is still standing, therefore, Antichrist has not yet come: we are still in the times of Babylon, whether tasting or refusing her golden cap." In this view, that is, in assuming that the Scriptural prophecies respecting Antichrist, have not their full accomplishment in any one anti-christian power or personage exclusively, many of the most distinguished eschatologists, as Auberlen and Luthardt, substantially agree. The ancient prediction that Japhet should dwell in the tents of Shem, had its fulfilment every time the descendants of the latter participated in the temporal or spiritual heritage of the children of the former; and had its final and great accomplishment in the sons of Japhet sharing the blessings of redemption, which were to be realized in the line of Shem. In like manner the predictions concerning Antichrist may have had a partial fulfilment in Antiochus Epiphanes, in Nero and Pagan Rome, and in the papacy, and, it may still have a fulfilment in some great anti-christian power which is yet to appear. So much, at least, is clear, in the time of Paul there was in the future a great apostasy and an antichristian, arrogant persecuting power, which has been realized, in all its essential characteristics, in the papacy, whatever may happen after Antichrist, in that form, is utterly despoiled and trodden under foot.18
Roman Catholic Doctrine of Antichrist.
The general opinion in the early Church was that Antichrist was a man of Satanic spirit endowed with Satanic power who should appear before the second coming of Christ. Jerome says, in his Commentary on Daniel: "Let us say what all ecclesiastical writers have handed down, namely, that at the end of the world, when the Roman empire is destroyed, there will be ten kings who will divide the Roman world amongst them; and there will arise an eleventh little king, who will subdue three of the ten kings, that is, the king of Egypt, of Africa, and of Ethiopia, as we shall hereafter show. And on these being slain the seven others will also submit. 'And behold,' he says, 'in the ram were the eyes of a man.' This is said that we may not suppose him to be a devil or demon, as some have thought, but a man in whom Satan will dwell utterly and bodily. 'And a mouth speaking great things,' for he is 'the man of sin, the son of perdition, who sitteth in the temple of God, making himself as God.'"19
Substantially the same view prevailed during the Middle Ages. Some however of the theologians of the Latin Church saw that the development of the Man of Sin was to take place in the Church itself and be connected with a general apostasy from the faith. They were therefore sufficiently bold to teach that the Church of Rome was to fall away, and that the Papacy or some mdividual pontiff was to become the Antichrist spoken of in Scripture. The abbot Joachim of Floris (died 1202), a Franciscan, put himself in opposition to the worldly spirit of the Church of his time, and his followers, called "Spirituales," came to denounce the Church of Rome as the mystical Babylon of the Apocalypse. This was done with great boldness by John Peter of Oliva (died 1297), whose works were formally condemned as "blasphemous and heretical." Among the passages thus condemned are the following: "The woman here stands for the people and empire of Rome, both as she existed formerly in a state of Paganism, and as she has since existed, holding the faith of Christ, though by many crimes committing harlotry with this world. And, therefore, she is called a great harlot; for, departing from the faithful worship, the true love and delights of her Bridegroom, even Christ her God, she cleaves to this world, its riches and delights; yea, for their sake she cleaves to the devil, also to kings, nobles, and prelates, and to all other lovers of this world." "She saith in her heart, that is, in her pride, I sit a queen: -- I am at rest; I rule over my kingdom with great dominion and glory. And I am no widow: -- I am not destitute of glorious bishops and kings."20
Not only the poets Dante and Petrarch denounced the corruptions of the Church of Rome, but down to the time of the Reformation that Church was held up by a succession of theologians or ecclesiastics, as the Babylon of the Apocalypse which was to be overthrown and rendered desolate.
When the Reformers with one voice pronounced the same judgment, and, making little distinction between Babylon and Antichrist, held up the Papacy as the antichristian power predicted by Daniel, by St. Paul, and by St. John, the Romanists laid out their strength in defending their Church from this denunciation. Bellarmin, the great advocate of the cause of Romanism, devotes an extended dissertation to the discussion of this subject, which constitutes the third book of his work, "De Romano Pontifice." The points that he assumes are: First, that the word "Antichrist" cannot mean, as some Protestants thought, "substitute or vicar" of Christ, but an opponent of Christ. In this all parties are now agreed. Second, that Antichrist is "unus homo," and not "genus hominum." The Magdeburg Centuriators21 said: "Docent [Apostoli] Antichristum non fore unam aliquam tantum personam, sed integrum regnum, per falsos doctores in templo Dei, hoc est in Ecclesia Dei praesidentes, in urba magna, quae habet regnum super reges terrae id est, in Romana civitate, et imperio Romano, opera diaboli, et fraude, et deceptione comparatum." This view Bellarmin undertakes to refute, controverting the arguments of Calvin and Beza in its support. In this opinion also the leading Protestant interpreters of the present day, as above stated, agree. According to the views already advanced, there may be hereafter a great antichristian power, concentrated in an individual ruler, who will be utterly destroyed at the coming of the Lord, and at the same time the belief may be maintained that the Antichrist described by Daniel and St. Paul is not a man, but an institution or organized power such as a kingdom or the papacy.
The third position assumed by Bellarmin is that the Antichrist is still future. In this way he endeavours to make it plain that the papacy is not Antichrist. But, as just said, even if an Antichrist, and even the Antichrist kat vevxoch,n, is yet to come, that would not prove that the papacy is not the power predicted by the Apostle as the Man of Sin, and the mystical Babylon as predicted in the Apocalypse.
Bellarmin says that the Holy Spirit gives us six signs of Antichrist, from which it is plain that he has not yet appeared. Two of these signs precede his coming, the universal proclamation of the Gospel, and the utter destruction of the Roman Empire, two are to attend it, namely, the preaching of Enoch and Elias, and persecutions so severe as to cause the cessation of all public worship of God; and two are to follow his appearance; his utter destruction after three years and a half; and the end of the world. The passages on which he relies to prove that Enoch and Elias are to come and oppose themselves to Antichrist, and to preserve the elect, are Malachi iv., Ecclesiasticus xliv. and xlviii., Matthew xvii. 11 (Jesus said, "Elias truly shall first come and restore all things"), and Revelation xi. 3, where the appearance of the two witnesses, who were to prophesy two thousand two hundred and sixty days, is foretold. As modern evangelical interpreters agree with Bellarmin in so many other points, so they agree with him in teaching that there is to be a second appearance of Elias, before the second advent of Christ. Luthardt understands Matthew xvi. 11 as predicting such reappearance of the Old Testament prophet. He was to be one, and Moses the other of the two witnesses spoken of in Revelation xi. 3. Of course, says Luthardt, Elias and Moses are to reappear in the sense in which Elias appeared in the person of John the Baptist.22
Fourthly, according to Bellarmin, Antichrist is to be a Jew, and probably of the tribe of Dan. He is to claim to be the Messiah, and this claim is to be recognized by the Jews. In virtue of his Messiahship he sets himself against Christ, and puts himself in his place, and arrogates the reverence, the obedience, the umversal dominion and the absolute authority, which rightfully belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. The seat of his dominion is to be Jerusalem. In the Temple restored in that city, he is to take his seat as God, and exalt himself above all that is called God. He is called "the little horn," because the Jews are comparatively a small nation. But he is to subdue one kingdom after another until his dominion as a worldly sovereign becomes absolutely universal. The authority urged for this view is principally that of the fathers, many of whom taught that Antichrist was to be a Jew of the tribe of Dan. Appeal was made by those fathers as by their followers to Genesis xlix. 17, where it is said, "Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse-heels, so that his rider shall fall backward." And also to Revelation vii., because in the enumeration of the tribes from which the hundred and forty and four thousand were sealed, the name of Dan is omitted. Bellarmin argues that Antichrist is to be a Jew from John v. 43: "I am come in my Father's name and ye (Jews) receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye (Jews) will receive." That is, will receive as the Messiah; but the Jews, as Bellarmin argues, would never receive as the Messiah any one who was not himself a Jew. The principal Scriptural ground of the opinion that Antichrist is to be a Jew is founded on Revelation xi. 8, where the seat of his dominion is said to be the great city "where also our Lord was crucified." In answer to this argument it may be said, first, that admitting that the literal Jerusalem is to be the seat of the kingdom of Antichrist, it does not follow that either he or his kingdom is to be Jewish. Many interpreters hold that the Jews, instead of being the supporters of Antichrist, are to be the principal objects of his malice, and that it is by persecuting and oppressing them that he is to get possession of their holy city and profane their temple far more atrociously than it was profaned by Antiochus Epiphanes. And secondly, interpreters so different as Hengstenberg and Mr. David N. Lord, agree in understanding the predictions in Revelation xi. to refer not to the literal Jerusalem and its Temple, but to that of which they were the symbols. The New Jerusalem is the symbol of the purified and glorified Church; the city where our Lord was crucified, the symbol of the worldly and nationalized Church.23
Fifthly, as to the doctrine of Antichrist, everything follows, from the assumption that he claims to be Christ. In claiming to be the Messiah predicted by the prophets, he is to claim to be the only object of worship. That he is to admit of no other God, whether true or false, nor of any idols, Bellarmin infers from 2 Thessa1onians ii. 2, "He opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or is worshipped." "Certum est," says Bellarmin, "Antichristi persecutionem fore gravissimam et notissimam; ita ut cessent omnes publicae religionis ceremoniae et sacrificia . . . . [Daniel xii. docet] Antichristum interdictdurum omnem divinum cultum, qui in ecclesiis Christianorum exercetur."24 Thus also Stapleton says: "Pelli sane potent in desertam ecclesia, regnante Antichristi, et illo momento temporis in deserta, id est, in locis abitis, in speluncis, in latibulis quo sancti se recipient, non incommode quaeretur ecclesia."25 During the reign of Antichrist, according to the notes to the Romish version of the New Testament on 2 Thessalonians ii., "The external state of the Romish Church, and the public intercourse of the faithful with it, may cease. Yet the due honour and obedience towards the Roman see, and the communion of heart with it, and the secret practice of that communion, and the open confession thereof, if the occasion require, shall not cease." Again on verse 4th it is said, "The great Antichrist who must come towards the world's end, shall abolish all other religions, true and false; and put down the blessed sacrament of the altar, wherein consisteth principally the worship of the true God, and also all idols of the Gentiles." "The oblation of Christ's blood," it is said, "is to be abolished among all the nations and churches in the world."
Finally, concerning the kingdom and wars of Antichrist, the Roman cardinal teaches, (1.) That from small beginnings, he is by fraud and deceit, to attain the kingdom of the Jews. (2.) That he is to subdue and take possession of the three kingdoms of Egypt, Libya, and Ethiopia. (Dan. xi.) (3.) That he is then to reduce to subjection the other seven kingdoms spoken of by the prophet; and (4.) That with an innumerable army, he shall make for a time successful war against all Christians in every part of the world, and finally be overthrown and utterly destroyed, as described in the twentieth chapter of Revelation.
From this review it appears that the doctrine of the Romish theologians concerning Antichrist, agrees with that of a large body of modern Protestant writers in the following points: (1.) That he is to be an individual, and not a corporation, or "genus hominum." (2.) That he is to be a worldly potentate. (3.) That he is to attain universal dominion. (4.) That he is to be, in character, godless and reckless, full of malignity against Christ and his people. (5.) That by his seductions and persecutions he is to succeed for a time in almost banishing true religion from the world. (6.) That his reign is to be brief.
The principal difference between the early Protestants and the modern evangelical interpreters, is, that the former identify Babylon and Antichrist; that is, they refer to one and the same power the prophecies of Daniel referring to the little horn; the description given by the Apostle in 2 Thessalonians ii.; and the account of the beast in chapter xiii. of the Apocalypse and that given in chapter xvii. Whereas, the moderns for the most part distinguish between the two. The papacy they regard as set forth under the symbol of Babylon; and Antichrist, as a worldly potentate, under the beast which came up out of the abyss.26
The great truth set forth in these prophecies is, that there was future in the time, not only of Daniel, but also of the Apostles, a great apostasy in the Church; that this apostasy would be Antichristian (or Antichrist), ally itself with the world and become a great persecuting power; and that the two elements, the ecclesiastical and the worldly, which enter into this great Antichristian development, will, sometimes the one and sometimes the other, become the more prominent; sometimes acting in harmony, and sometimes opposed one to the other; and, therefore, sometimes spoken of as one, and sometimes as two distinct powers. Both, as united or as separate, are to be overtaken with a final destruction when the Lord comes. So much is certain, that any and every power, be it one or more, which answers to the description given in Daniel vii. and xi. and in 2 Thessalonians ii. is Antichrist in the Scriptural sense of the term.
According, then, to the common faith of the Church, the three great events which are to precede the second advent of Christ, are the universal proclamation of the Gospel or the conversion of the Gentile world; the national conversion of the Jews; and the appearance of Antichrist.