Revelation: Antichrist

   Written by on April 24, 2015 at 1:47 pm

logo-smith-gregI’m glad that you’ve stuck with this study on the book of Revelation.  Together we’ve looked at the fact that just as God revealed Himself to John, He will still unveil His plan to us, if we listen to His voice.  We talked about modeling our own worship after the examples of heavenly worship we find in Revelation.  We saw that the wrath of God unleashed upon humanity isn’t a heartless vengeance, but an attempt to turn our hearts back to Him.  We discovered that God’s people are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, and asked not just to endure hardship and tribulation, but to be bold witnesses for Jesus.  God has special blessings in store for those who overcome.  Today, we’re going to talk about one of the most noteworthy figures in the book of Revelation: the Antichrist.

When I was young, it seemed like Christians were always trying to answer the question, “Who is the Antichrist?”  Both Ronald Regan (who has six letters in each of his three names, and survived a gunshot) and Mikhail Gorbachev (who had the Hebrew letter vav dripping blood on his forehead) were noteworthy candidates.  So was every leader that emerged in the Middle East, as well as every Pope.  Today, people are still trying to figure it out.  Most recently, I heard that Jesus secretly predicted the name of the Antichrist—that in Luke 10:18, when Jesus said “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning,” He was really speaking Aramaic and not the Greek of our New Testament, and that if you translate lightning from heaven from the Greek back into Aramaic, you get Barack Obama.  Seriously, all politics aside, this is just bad scholarship on so many levels—the most striking of which is the fact that Jesus was using the past tense, not the future, so He couldn’t have been talking about the Antichrist anyway.  So let’s quit trying to point the finger at somebody that we suspect might be the living Antichrist, and let’s see what the Bible has to say.

Revelation 13: 1-4 gives a vivid, although symbolic, description of the man we call the Antichrist:

And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore.  Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. 2 And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority. 3 I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast; 4 they worshiped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?”

More on the Antichrist, or Man of Lawlessness, can be found in 2 Thessalonians 2:2-12, but for today’s purposes we’ll stay with the narrative as it continues in Revelation 13.  In his arrogance, the Beast (Antichrist) who is empowered by the Dragon (Satan) blasphemes God and makes war against the saints.  Then another beast (false prophet) arises, performing great signs and making a religion about the worship of the Antichrist. Verses 16-18 tell of the mark and number of the beast:

16 And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, 17 and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. 18 Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six

Along with the identity of the Antichrist, people have been trying to figure out both the mark and number of the beast since the dawn of our faith.  Many portray the mark as being the number 666 on a person’s hand and forehead—visible to the naked eye.  Others think it has a more symbolic meaning.  What kind of mark or number could enable people to buy and sell, without which they can’t transact commerce?  When social security numbers first came out, people were convinced that this was the mark of the beast.  Then, when credit cards came out it was the same.  Now people are talking about microchip implants with the same concern.

Preterists, who believe that the book of Revelation is all about the Roman persecution of Christians, say that the identity of the Antichrist, the mark and the number of the beast, are all obvious to those who study history.  A man’s name can have a number because many of the ancient numerical systems were based on letters (take Roman numerals, for example).  Using the system called Gematria, in which letters represent numbers and vice versa, we find that the name “Caesar Nero” is, in fact, 666.

Nero was the first emperor of Rome who sought to stamp out Christianity.  The Roman historian Tacitus even called the emperor cruel, and declare the innocence of those who were put to death by crucifixion, beheading, burning alive, and attacks by wild animals for the amusement of onlookers.  The apostle John was himself boiled in oil before his exile to Patmos.  It was under Nero’s persecution that Peter was martyred by being crucified upside down, and that Paul was beheaded.

As to the mark that allows buying and selling—Preterists say that this is Roman coin, which bore the image of Caesar Nero on its face.  Without this coin in your hand (there’s no difference in Greek between “in” and “on”), and without it preoccupying your thoughts, you couldn’t buy or sell.  In other words, unless you engaged in worship of the emperor and his government, you were toast—literally.

While I believe that preterists make a good point here, I think that they’re only partly correct.  It seems clear to me that John was writing about Nero and Roman coin.  But I believe the book of Revelation to be God’s gift not just to the first generation that received it, but also to every Christian who comes afterward.  So preterists are right when they say that these references were all about Nero, but they’re wrong when they stop there and neglect to look at the future.  Futurists, on the other hand, are also wrong when they see only prophecy and not also history.  History repeats itself, and John is saying in Revelation that the kind of Antichrist to look for in the future is one just like Nero.  Don’t receive his mark, John warns, or divine wrath will fall on you along with those who follow this deceiver (14:8-11).  To be continued next week . . .

Reprinted from revgregsmith.blogspot.com

About Greg Smith

Greg Smith is a Baptist minister who has served churches in Central and Southside Virginia. He lives in Halifax County, VA with his wife and children. To read more of Greg’s writings check out his blog at revgregsmith.blogspot.com.

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