It is always strange to me when Christian speakers and authors refer to the Antichrist in the singular, often with a capital letter. Even Pope Benedict seems to have done this, in the passage from him I quoted in a recent post, so I can hardly blame those who commented on that post for following his lead.
Of course it is fun to speculate about which political, religious or media figures might be the Antichrist – perhaps Tony Blair as I suggested tongue in cheek last year, or one of the various suggestions made in the more recent comment thread here.
But in fact there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that there will ever be an individual identifiable as the Antichrist. This is teaching from outside the Bible. It is so ancient that John, the author of the letters of John traditionally identified with the Apostle John, knew it, but he did not teach it. His teaching, which is the only biblical teaching on this subject, is that there are many antichrists, and that some of them had already come in his time.
Here are the only Bible passages which use the word “antichrist”:
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Messiah. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
1 John 2:18-23 (TNIV)
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 (TNIV)
In other words, John knew the popular teaching that “the Antichrist is coming”, but what he teaches is that there are many antichrists – and they are people who claim to be within the Christian family but deny that Jesus is the Messiah in the flesh, or perhaps more generally false teachers in the church.
However, while there is nothing in the New Testament about an individual Antichrist, there is teaching about individual figures of evil associated with the end times. The notorious beasts of Revelation 13 may represent individual human beings, although more likely they have a more corporate meaning. But the clearest reference is to the “man of lawlessness” of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 (KJV has “man of sin” based on later Greek manuscripts, but the difference of meaning is small):
Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for [that day will not come] until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming.
2 Thessalonians 2:3-8 (TNIV)
Perhaps the early teaching about the Antichrist which John rejected was based on Paul’s figure of the “man of lawlessness”. But it is not good for Bible expositors, especially those who claim to be successors of St Peter, to confuse these two biblical concepts.
Anyway, it is quite inappropriate to speculate seriously about who might be the “man of lawlessness”. I note by the way that the Greek word for “man” here, anthropos, is gender generic, so we cannot rule out a woman playing this role (even though the TNIV translators seem to have done so). But the biblical text is clear that this person is hidden until he or she is “revealed” (the word used three times in the verses just quoted). What God has hidden no human observation or speculation can reveal. But when he or she is revealed, this will not be to one fringe Bible scholar or sect, but publicly to everyone, when “he [or she] sets himself [or herself] up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself [or herself] to be God.” We cannot even presume to put a date to when this will happen, for as verse 8 teaches this will be shortly before the return of Christ, of which he said that even he himself did not know the date:
But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. … 42 Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Matthew 24:26,42-44 (TNIV)