STUDIES ON THE SECOND COMING
THE IDENTITY OF THE ANTICHRIST
Up to this point we have seen that both the OT and NT claim that the end of the world will be preceded by a time of great conflict and struggle, with God and His Christ against Satan and his forces. It will be a time of such devastation that Jesus claims that unless He returned, all life on earth would be destroyed (Matt. 24:22). Some may scoff at this view of the end of history. T. S. Elliott wrote: "This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper" (last 2 lines in The Hollow Men). If the OT and NT are true, the last thing the world goes out with is a whimper. It goes out with a bang. In fact the Big Bang theory is right. It may have happened at the BEGINNING of the universe; however, it will definitely happen at the END of the universe.
The conflict between God/Christ and Satan occurs here on earth. Earth is the battlefield in which the great cosmic forces come to blows for one last time. At the end of human history Satan launches one last war against God and Christ. Since the battlefield is earth, Satan must have human forces to wage his war against Christ and His followers. For this reason both the OT and NT claim that a sinister figure energized by Satan appears at the end of history to act as Satan's surrogate in his war against God/Christ.
We find such a figure in the teachings of Jesus (antichrists), Paul (man of lawlessness, son of perdition), and John (antichrist and the beast). Some have legitimately wondered if these 3 NT writers/speakers are referring to the same person. It would be very strange if they were not. The reason is that all 3 writers/speakers claim that a figure emerges at the end of human who serves as Satan's surrogate in his war against Christ. Although the speakers give their final figure different names, the similarities between the 3 are so striking that it would be truly strange if the 3 speakers were not referring to the same person. In other words, the antichrist of Jesus is most likely the beast of Revelation and the man of Lawlessness in 2 Thess. 2.)
Although Jesus, Paul and John are referring to the same sinister end-times figure, they use different titles to name him. Each name gives us a different insight into what kind of person he is.
CHARACTERISTICS OF ANTICHRIST
One thing we need to take very seriously is the reason Jesus spoke Matthew 24 in the first place. It is so easy to get caught up in this detail or that detail--the abomination of desolation, the timing of the rapture, etc. HOWEVER, Jesus said He was giving us all this information for a specific purpose: "See that no one MISLEADS you; for many will come in My name saying, 'I am the Christ'" (Matt. 24:3-4). In other words, many will come claiming to be the Christ. Jesus gives us these words so that we won't be misled. We will need to be able to differentiate between the true Christ and false christs.
He Persecutes the People of God
Whatever else the Antichrist does, he primarily persecutes the people of God. John claims that God gives the Antichrist leeway for 42 months (3 1/2 years) in order to persecute and kill God's people. (If the rapture comes at the end of the tribulation, then these people are simply Christians of all lands. If the rapture comes before the tribulation, then most likely these are Jews who have become Christians after the rapture occurred.)
Few of us understand that one of the main purposes of the tribulation is that God's people will suffer. In fact when many Christians who have been martyred during the tribulation ask God how long it will be before He stops the tribulation and avenges their blood, God replies that the tribulation will last until every Christian who is to be martyred is martyred (Rev. 6:11). That doesn't sound very encouraging; however, later we shall look specifically at the purpose of Christians suffering during the great tribulation.
The Abomination of Desolation
The act which identifies the Antichrist the most is the Abomination of Desolation. Jesus in fact claims that whenever this event occurs, you know that you are in the last days and that He Himself is about to appear.
Just what is the abomination of desolation? The actual term comes from Daniel 9:... (Jesus actually points us to this passage in Matt. 24:15). According to Daniel this sinister figure, the Antichrist, commits an act so abominable to God that God pours out great desolation upon the earth, specifically upon the Antichrist and his followers, for 3 1/2 years [(42 months) see also Rev. 13:5].
So what act does the Antichrist commit that is so abominable that God pours out great desolation upon him and his followers? Paul speaking about this act claims that he "opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God" (2 Thess. 2:4). He actually goes to the temple area and claims that he is God. This act would constitute nothing less than blasphemy (see Rev. 13:5). It brings forth God's wrath.
The next question which always emerges is, "Does this temple refer to the literal temple in Jerusalem, or is it a spiritual, symbolical temple? Moreover, if it is the literal temple in Jerusalem, then doesn't the temple have to be rebuilt in Jerusalem before the Antichrist can commit this act?" The answers are (1) it probably does refer to the literal temple mound in Jerusalem and (2) just going to the temple mound itself alone would probably be sufficient for this act to occur. Most people don't understand that the literal building itself is not as important as the place itself. Even today Orthodox Jews will not walk on the temple compound which includes the Dome of the Rock for fear that they might actually step on the site where the Holy of Holies once was. Simply by going to that place and declaring himself to be God, I can see this as fulfilling the definition of the abomination of desolation.
The Mark of the Beast: 666
A final characteristic is the number of his name, 666: "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 " (Rev. 13:18). Now what in the world does THAT number mean?
It definitely means at least this: 6 symbolizes evil, so that three 6's or 6 cubed is ultimate evil. Seven was considered the perfect number: 3 for the trinity and 4 for earth (4 corners of the earth, 4 winds of the earth, etc. Eight was the number given to Jesus because He was considered better than perfect. Six though was the ominous # because it fell short of perfection. Well three 6's or 6x6x6 is considered ultimate evil. The Beast then symbolizes ultimate evil.
There is another meaning though which many Christians have given to this number. In Greek and Latin the letters of the alphabet were also used as numbers. For example, in the Latin system the letter "I" was also the number "1." In the same way "V" was the number "5," while "X" was our number "10." (L: 50; C: 100; D: 500; M: 1,000.) According to this interpretation of the number "666" the numerical value of the letters of the Antichrist's name will add up to 666. (Assigning numerical value to the letters of a person's name is actually called "Gematria." It was well-known throughout the ancient world. For example, the numerical value of the name Nero Caesar was actually 666. This Caesar was so evil, as seen in the fact he was the first to persecute Christians seriously after Rome burned to the ground, that it is very likely that the numerical value of his name is the basis for the belief that the Antichrist's name would have the same numerical value as Nero Caesar. In fact he would be a repeat of Nero Caesar.)
There is one more aspect to the Antichrist which needs to be shared. The vast majority of conservative Christians in the USA believe the following. (Because they are conservative does not mean they are right; I am just sharing their point of view, with which I am in agreement.)
Jesus in Matt. 24:15 claims that the Abomination of Desolation is the defining event of the tribulation. No matter how bad things gets, we are not in the tribulation if the abomination of desolations has not occurred. On the other hand, even if things are going swimmingly well, we are in the tribulation of the abomination of desolation occurs. That is the defining characteristic of the great tribulation.
Jesus not only refers to the Abomination of Desolation, He also says this: "Therefore, when you see the Abomination of Desolation SPOKEN OF THROUGH DANIEL THE PROPHET . . ." In other words, Jesus claims that His teaching is in agreement with the prophecy of Daniel. What is Daniel's prophecy?
According to Daniel 9:24-27 there are 490 years critical in the history of the world. Daniel splits these 490 years up into 2 parts: the first part consists of 483 years, while the second consists of 7. There is a time gap between the 2 groups. The first group (483 years) starts when the Persian king decrees that the walls and city of Jerusalem be rebuilt and ends when Christ is put to death. The second group (7 years) is begun by the Antichrist. Since the Antichrist has not yet emerged, there have been almost 2000 years between the 2 groups. At the end of the 7 years Christ returns. (I could go into a lot more detail, but that is for a later discussion.)
According to Daniel there are 2 events which occur during those last 7 years. First, the Antichrist (who is called "prince of the people") makes a covenant with God's people. This event (no mention of a rapture) begins the last 7 years in human history. Then during the middle of those 7 years, that is, 3 1/2 years (42 months) into the tribulation, the Antichrist commits the abomination of desolation, spoken of later. Because the Antichrist does this abominable deed, God pours out great desolation upon the Antichrist and his followers. At the end of the 7 years Christ returns.
This interpretation appears to be the correct one because John in Revelation claims that the Antichrist will be turned loose upon God's people for 42 months (Rev. 13:5), that is, during the last 3 1/2 years of those 7 years, that is, during the last half of the tribulation. Many present a much different interpretation of Dan. 9; however, the above interpretation, unlike the other interpretation, harmonizes with what John and Jesus say.
One other interpretation also emerges from Daniel 9. Daniel says that right after Christ has been put to death, a people will come and destroy Jerusalem. The identity of that people is critical. Why? Because, according to Daniel, the Antichrist will come from the people who destroyed Jerusalem. Who destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD and again later in 125 AD? The Romans. For this reason the vast majority of conservative Christians keep their eyes fixed on Europe (the seat of that old Roman empire) on the lookout for the coming of the Antichrist.
A lot of this can get really confusing; HOWEVER, whether you agree with all or just a portion of this, there is one thing we should ALL keep in mind. Jesus was not simply giving us this information in order to get us all excited about the great tribulation. Rather, at the beginning of His speech on the second coming He says: "See to it that no one misleads you, for many will come in My name saying 'I am the Christ' and will mislead many." The whole purpose of this study should be that we are not led astray by Antichrist. Jesus later says: "He who perseveres to the end shall be saved" (24:13).
How can we know for sure whether or not somebody is the true or false Christ. Jesus says that He will return in such a way that you will be able to distinguish between Jesus the true Christ and the Antichrist. Jesus says, "For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be" (Matt. 24:27). If you question whether or not a person is the Christ or not, then that person is NOT the Christ. When the true Christ comes, there will be NO question at all.
No problem then, right? We won't be misled by the Antichrist at the end of time, right? Remember that the spirit of Antichrist is ALWAYS AT WORK, sometimes more dramatically than at other times. Whatever else the Antichrist does, he tries to draw us away from Jesus--and that is constantly happening. Look at what you focus on in life: Jesus or entertainment? Jesus or education? Jesus or health? Jesus or power? Jesus or anything else? The "anything else" is the temptation put to us by the Antichrist.