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The Antichrist Legend

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  • The Antichrist Legend

    When I refer to the the Antichrist as a myth, I am using the word myth as a synonym for legend, or folklore, as in the out-of-copyright but not out-of-print book, The Antichrist Legend: A Chapter in Christian and Jewish Folkore, Englished from the German by W. Bousset (London: Hutchenson and Co.,1896).

    I will begin sharing excerpts from the book in a couple weeks, after I finish another thread or two.

    Many associate the Antichrist myth or legend with -- among other biblical figures -- the Man of Lawlessness. For consideration while I wait to complete other threads, I will present in my next post something that came up as a result of a Google search.
    Last edited by John Reece; 07-09-2015, 07:21 PM.

  • #2
    © Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr
    The Man of Lawlessness

    By Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

    ....

    During Paul's visit to Thessalonica he preached to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 17:1-3). Though some Jews believed, others were riled to mob action regarding the Christian message (17:4-5). They even dragged "some of the brethren to the rulers of the city" complaining: "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king -- Jesus" (17:6-7). After taking security from Jason and the others, the civil rulers let them go (17:9). This allowed Paul to depart safely to Berea. The Jews were not so easily quieted, however, for "when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds" (17:13). This resulted in the immediate sending away of Paul to Athens (17:14-15).

    Paul stayed in Athens only three or four weeks, soon travelling to Corinth (Acts 18:1), where he remained for eighteen months (18:11). But again serious Jewish antipathy arises. Interestingly, it was at Corinth where Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, Christians who had been among the Jews banished from Rome by Claudius Caesar (18:2). According to Suetonius: "As the Jews were indulging in constant riots at the instigation of Chrestus, [Claudius] banished them from Rome." This reference to "Chrestus" is undoubtedly a Latin variant for the name "Christ."

    Upon meeting these saints, who had suffered from Jewish riots against Christians in Rome, Paul set about preaching to the Jews in Corinth as he had at Thessalonica that "Jesus is the Christ" (18:5; cp. 17:3). Again the Jews violently resisted him, organizing resistance against him and blaspheming to such an extent that he determined to turn from the Jews to the Gentiles at this point (18:6). Matters were made worse for him by his remarkable success with a certain prominent Jewish leader, Crispus "the ruler of the synagogue" (18:8). Though Paul seldom baptized, he did baptize Crispus (1 Cor. 1:14-16; Acts 18:8). Due to the intensity of the opposition, the Lord provided Paul a special promise of safety for him to remain in Corinth (18:9-11).

    All of this explains the strong language against the Jews in the Thessalonian epistles, and helps uncover some of the more subtle concerns therein, as well. In his first letter he wrote: "For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost" (1 Thess. 2:14-16). He complained of a Satan-inspired thwarting of his ministry, which, according to the context, probably indicates Jewish opposition (1 Thess. 2:18, cp. 15-16). He probably alludes to Jewish opposition in 2 Thessalonians 1:4ff, where he mentions their perseverance and afflictions for their faith (1:4ff; cp. Acts 17:4-6). This also may be motivating his request that the Thessalonians pray for his deliverance from such "unreasonable and wicked men" (3:2; cf. Acts 17:4-6, 13; 18:6; 1 Thess. 2:14-16).

    This Jewish context is important for grasping the situation Paul confronts. Furthermore, I will show in the exposition to follow that there are a number of allusions to the Olivet Discourse, which speak of the destruction of the Temple and the judgment of the Jews for rejecting Jesus as the Messiah (cp. Matt. 23:35-24:2; cp. Acts 17:3; 18:5).

    Our Gathering Together
    Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. (2 Thess. 2:1-2)

    Paul's reference "concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him" (2 Thess. 2:1) is the crux interpretum of this passage. Paul is here speaking of the A.D. 70 judgment on the Jews -- the very judgment given emphasis in the first portion of the Olivet Discourse, the Book of Revelation, and several other passages of Scripture.

    Though he speaks of the Second Advent just a few verses before (1:10), he is not dealing with that issue here. Of course, there are similarities between the Day of the Lord upon Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the universal Day of the Lord associated with the Second Advent. The one is a temporal betokening of the other, being a distant adumbration of it. Orthodox scholars from each of the millennial schools agree that these two events are brought in close union in the Olivet Discourse. Indeed, His disciples almost certainly confused the two (Matt. 24:3). The two comings are here brought together in 2 Thessalonians, as well.

    In 2 Thessalonians 1:10 Paul even employs a different word for the coming of Christ (elthe) than he does in 2:1 (parousia). There the Second Advental judgment brings "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord" (1:9); here a temporal "destruction" (2:8). There the Second Advent includes "his mighty angels" (1:7); here the temporal judgment makes no mention of these mighty angels (2:1-12). Thus, the Second Advent provides an eternal resolution to their suffering; the A.D. 70 Day of the Lord affords temporal resolution (cp. Rev. 6:10).

    Furthermore, the "gathering together to Him" mentioned by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 picks up on the reference of our Lord in Matthew 24:31. The word translated "gather together" here is episunagoge, which is found elsewhere only in Hebrews 10:25, where, significantly, it speaks of a worship assembly. But its cognate verb form is found in Matthew 24:31, where the gathering is tied to "this generation" (Matt. 24:34) and signifies the calling out of the elect into the body of Christ with the trumpeting in of the archetypical Great Jubilee (cf. 2 Thess. 1:11; 2:14). Here it functions in the same way. With the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, Christians would from thenceforth be "gathered together" in a separate and distinct "assembly" (episunagoge; the Church is called a sunagoge in James 2:2). After the Temple's destruction, God would no longer tolerate going up to the Temple to worship (it would be impossible!), as Christians frequently did prior to A.D. 70.

    The Day of Christ/Lord here mentioned is in fulfillment of Joel 2:31-32, which is brought to bear upon Jerusalem in Acts 2:16ff. There Peter identifies tongues as a covenantal sign, a curse regarding the coming destruction with blood, fire, and smoke, (Acts 2:19-21, 40). This explains why it was at Jerusalem (and nowhere else) that Christians sold their property and shared the proceeds (Acts 2:44-45): it was soon to be destroyed (Matt. 24:2-34; Luke 23:28-30).

    Paul consoles them by denying the false report that "the day of Christ had come" (2 Thess. 2:2). Apparently, the very reason for this epistle so soon after the first one, is that some unscrupulous deceivers forged letters from Paul and falsely claimed charismatic insights relevant to eschatological concerns. In his earlier letter he had to correct their grief over loved ones who had died in the Lord, as if this precluded their sharing in the resurrection (1 Thess. 4:13-17). Now new eschatological deceptions are troubling the young church (2 Thess. 2:1-3a): Some thought that the Day of the Lord had come and, consequently, quit working (2 Thess. 3:6-12). Due to the catastrophic upheaval associated with the looming divine judgment upon Israel, Paul suggests to the Corinthians that they forgo marriage for awhile (1 Cor. 7:26-29). But here the Thessalonians were being tempted to stop all necessary labor, thinking the time had come.

    The word "trouble" (Gk: throeo; 2:2) is in the present infinitive form, which signifies a continued state of agitation. It is the same word used elsewhere only in the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:7; Matt. 24:6). There it is even found in the same sort of theological context: one warning of deception and trouble regarding the coming of the Day of Christ. "Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and will deceive many. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet" (Mark 13:5-7).

    The Man of Lawlessness
    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. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don't you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 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. (2 Thess. 2:3-7)

    Paul is quite concerned about the deception being promoted: "Let no one deceive you by any means" (v. 3a). He uses the strengthened form for deception (exapatese) with a double negative prohibition. To avoid the deception and to clarify the true beginning of the Day of the Lord upon Jerusalem, Paul informs them that "that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition" (2 Thess. 2:3). Before they could say the Day of the Lord "is come," then, there must first (see: RSV) be the falling away and the revelation of the man of lawlessness, who is also called "the son of perdition." These do not have to occur in the chronological order presented, as even dispensationalists admit. Verse nine is clearly out of order and should occur in the midst of verse eight, if strict chronology were important.

    The Falling Away
    The word "falling away" is apostasia, which occurs only here and in Acts 21:21 in the New Testament. Historically, the word may apply either to a political or to a religious revolt. But to which does it refer here? Does it refer to a future worldwide apostasy from the Christian faith, as per pessimistic eschatologies? Amillennialist William Hendriksen writes that this teaches that "by and large, the visible Church will forsake the true faith." Dispensationalist Constable comments: "This rebellion, which will take place within the professing church, will be a departure from the truth that God has revealed in His Word." Or does the apostasia refer to a political rebellion of some sort?

    A good case may be made in support of the view that it speaks of the Jewish apostasy/rebellion against Rome. Josephus certainly speaks of the Jewish War as an apostasia against the Romans (Josephus, Life 4). Probably Paul merges the two concepts of religious and political apostasy here, though emphasizing the outbreak of the Jewish War, which was the result of their apostasy against God.

    This may be inferred from 1 Thessalonians 2:16, where Paul states of the Jews that they "always fill up the measure of their sins [i.e., religious apostasia against God]; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost [i.e., the result of political apostasia against Rome]." The apostasia [revolt] Paul mentions will lead to the military devastation of Israel (Luke 21:21-22; 23:28-31; Acts 2:16-20). The filling up of the measure of the sins of the fathers (Matt. 23:32) leads to Israel's judgment, thereby vindicating the righteous slain in Israel (Matt. 23:35; cf. Matt. 24:2-34). The apostasia of the Jews against God by rejecting their Messiah (Matt 21:37-39; 22:2-6), led to God's providentially turning them over to judgment via their apostasia against Rome (Matt. 21:40-42; 22:7). The emphasis must be on the revolt against Rome in that it is future and datable, whereas the revolt against God was ongoing and cumulative. Such is necessary to dispel the deception Paul was concerned with. In conjunction with this final apostasy and the consequent destruction of Jerusalem, Christianity and Judaism were forever separated and both are exposed to the wrath of Rome.

    Identifying the Man of Lawlessness
    The Man of Lawlessness is Nero Caesar, who also is the Beast of Revelation, as a number of Church Fathers believed. The difficulty of this passage lies in the fact that Paul "describes the Man of Sin with a certain reserve" (Origen, Celsus 6:45) for fear of incurring "the charge of calumny for having spoken evil of the Roman emperor" (Augustine, City of God 20:19). Thus, Paul becomes very obscure, apparently hiding his prophecy regarding the coming evil of and judgment on the Roman emperor. Josephus did the same when speaking about Daniel's fourth kingdom, which applied to Rome (Josephus, Ant. 10:10:4). Paul and his associates had already suffered at the hands of the Thessalonican Jews for "acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king -- Jesus" (Acts 17:7). Wisdom demanded discreetness in his reference to imperial authority; his recent (1 Thess. 2:17) personal ministry among them allowed it: they were to "remember" that while with them he "told [them] these things" (2:5). His personal instruction would allow them to know much more than we can from his discrete allusions in his letters.

    It is at least clear from Paul that something is presently (ca. A.D. 52) "restraining" the Man of Lawlessness: "you know what is restraining [Gk. present participle], that he may be revealed in his own time" (2:6). This strongly suggests the preterist understanding of the whole passage: the Thessalonians themselves knew what was presently restraining the Man of Lawlessness; in fact the Man of Lawlessness was alive and waiting to be "revealed." This implies that for the time-being Christians could expect some protection from the Roman government. The Roman laws regarding religio licita were currently in Christianity's favor, while considered a sect of Judaism and before the malevolent Nero ascended the throne. Paul certainly was protected by the Roman judicial apparatus (Acts 18:12ff.) and made important use of these laws in A.D. 59 (Acts 25:11-12; 28:19) as protection from the malignancy of the Jews. And he expressed no ill-feelings against Rome, when writing Romans 13 in A.D. 57-59 -- even during the early reign of Nero, the famous Quinquennium Neronis.

    While Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians 2 he was under the reign of Claudius Caesar, who had just banished Jews for persecuting Christians (Suetonius, Claudius 24:5; cp. Acts 18:2). It may be that he employs a word play on Claudius' name. The Latin word for "restraint" is claudere, which is similar to "Claudius." It is interesting that Paul shifts between the neuter and masculine forms of the "the restrainer" (2 Thess. 2:6, 7). This may indicate he includes both the imperial law and the present emperor in his designation "restrainer." While Claudius lived, Nero, the Man of Lawlessnes, was without power to commit public lawlessness. Christianity was free from the imperial sword until the Neronic persecution began in November, A.D 64.

    Even early in Nero's reign, his evil was hidden from the public eye by careful tutors -- until he broke free of their influence and was publicly "revealed" for what he was. Roman historians write of Nero: "Although at first his acts of wantonness, lust, extravagance, avarice and cruelty were gradual and secret. . . yet even then their nature was such that no one doubted that they were defects of his character and not due to his time of life" (Suetonius, Nero). "Gradually Nero's vices gained the upper hand: he no longer tried to laugh them off, or hide, or deny them, but openly broke into more serious crime" (Nero, cp. 6). "After this, no considerations of selection or moderation restrained Nero from murdering anyone he please, on whatever pretext" (Nero). "Other murders were meant to follow. But the emperor's tutors, Sextus Afranius Burrus and Lucius Annaeus Seneca, prevented them.... They collaborated in controlling the emperor's perilous adolescence; their policy was to direct his deviations from virtue into licensed channels of indulgence" (Tacitus, Annals).

    The Mystery of Lawlessness
    Remarkably the Jews were kept so in check by imperial law that they did not kill James the Just in Jerusalem, until about A.D. 62, after the death of the Roman procurator Festus and before the arrival of Albinus (Josephus, Ant. 20:9:1). With these events the "mystery of lawlessness" was being uncovered as the "revelation of the Man of Lawlessness" (the transformation of the Roman imperial line into a persecuting power in the person of Nero) was occurring.

    The evil "mystery of lawlessness" was "already working," though restrained in Claudius' day (2 Thess. 2:7). This is perhaps a reference to the evil conniving and plotting of Nero's mother, Agrippina, who may have poisoned Claudius so that Nero could ascend to the purple (Tacitus, Annals 12:62ff; Suetonius, Claudius). This is another indication for the preterist approach. The true nature of lawlessness was already at work in the imperial cultus and its rage for worship, though it had not yet jealously broken out upon the Christian community. In addition, the cunning machinations to secure imperial authority for Nero were afoot.

    Showing That He is God
    The Roman emperor, according to Paul, "exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped" (2 Thess. 2:4a). A warning of the evil potential of emperor worship was publicly exhibited just a few years before, when the emperor Caligula (Gaius) attempted to put his image in the Temple in Jerusalem (Josephus, Ant. 18:8:2-3).

    The phrase "so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" is interesting. When hoste ("so that") is followed by an infinitive (kathisai, "to sit"), it indicates a purpose intended, not necessarily a purpose accomplished. It was Caligula's intention to sit in "the temple of God" in Jerusalem; it was the emperor's desire to "show himself that he is God." In fact Philo tells us that "so great was the caprice of Caius [Caligula] in his conduct toward all, and especially toward the nation of the Jews. The latter he so bitterly hated that he appropriated to himself their places of worship in the other cities, and beginning with Alexandria he filled them with images and statues of himself."

    This was for all intents and purposes accomplished by future emperor Titus, who concluded the devastation of Jerusalem set in motion by Nero. Titus actually invaded the Temple in A.D. 70: "And now the Romans . . . brought their ensigns to the temple, and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator, with the greatest acclamations of joy" (Josephus, Wars 6:6:1). By September, A.D. 70, the very Temple of which Paul spoke in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 was forever gone. This fact also supports the preterist understanding of the passage. In fact, it parallels Matthew 24:15 and functions as Paul's abomination of desolation, which was to occur in "this generation" (Matt. 24:34).

    Not only so but in Nero the imperial line eventually openly "opposed" (2 Thess. 2:4) Christ by persecuting His followers. Nero even began the persecution of Christians when he presented himself in a chariot as the sun god Apollo, while burning Christians for illumination for his self-glorifying party.

    The Lord Will Consume
    And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders. (2 Thess. 2:8-9)

    As just indicated, the lawless one was eventually openly revealed. The mystery form of his character gave way to a revelation of his lawlessness in Nero's wicked acts. This occurred after the restrainer [Claudius, who maintained religio licita] was "taken out of the way," allowing Nero the public stage upon which he could act out his horrendous lawlessness.

    According to Hendriksen verse eight destroys any preterist interpretation identifying the Man of Lawlessness with the Roman emperor, because it ties the events to the era of the Second Advent. The strong preteristic indications in the passage heretofore, however, demand a different understanding of the destructive coming of Christ here mentioned. As already shown in the discussion of verse 1, Matthew 24:30 is most relevant here: "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." And that verse is specifically applied to the first century (Matt. 24:34), as is Revelation 1:7 (cp. Rev. 1:1, 3); Matthew 26:63-65; and Mark 9:1. Christ comes in judgment upon Jerusalem in the events of A.D. 67-70.

    In that judgment-coming against Jerusalem there is also judgment for the Man of Lawlessness, Nero. There is hope and comfort in the promised relief from the opposition of the Jews and Nero (2 Thess. 2:15-17). Not only was Jerusalem destroyed within twenty years, but Nero himself died a violent death in the midst of the Jewish War (June 8, A.D. 68). His death, then, would occur in the Day of the Lord in conjunction with the judgment-coming of Christ. He will be destroyed by the breath of Christ, much like Assyria was destroyed with the coming and breath of the LORD in the Old Testament (Isa. 30:27-31) and like Israel was crushed by Babylon (Mic. 1:3-5). In fact, by God's providence Nero's death stopped the Jewish War briefly so that Christians trapped in Jerusalem could escape (cp. 1 Thess. 1:10). The Man of Lawlessness/Beast, Nero Caesar, dies in the Day of the Lord with the Great Harlot, Jerusalem (Rev. 19:17-21; cf. Rev. 22:6, 10, 12).

    Conclusion
    The Man of Lawlessness passage is to be preteristically understood for several reasons:

    (1) Obvious parallels with Matthew 24 and Revelation 13 tie it into their era of accomplishment: the late A.D. 60s up to A.D. 70 (Matt. 24:34; Rev. 1:1, 3; 22:6, 10).
    (2) The reference to the Temple as still standing (2:4).
    (3) The present restraining of the Man of Lawlessness (2:6).
    (4) The knowledge of the Thessalonians regarding the restrainer (2:6).
    (5) The contemporary operation of the Man of Lawlessness in mystery form during Paul's day (2:7).
    (6) The overall relevant correspondence of the features with the contemporary situation in which the Thessalonicans found themselves.

    The fulfillment of this dreadful prophecy of Scripture does not haunt our future. Its accomplishment lies in our distant past. It was a relevant warning of events looming in the first century.
    Last edited by John Reece; 07-09-2015, 08:06 PM.

    Comment


    • #3
      I would lean toward identifying the man of sin/lawlessness as Menahem, one of the leaders of the Jewish rebellion. He led the Sicarii on an assault against Masada, took the weapons stored there, returned to Jerusalem, and murdered the high priest Ananias. Menahem then was "without a rival in the conduct of affairs, and became an unsufferable tyrant", "had gone up in state to pay his devotions, arrayed in royal robes and attended by his suite of armed fanatics." (Josephus, War of the Jews (Niese 2:433-444; Whiston ii.17.8-9)) Granted, Josephus doesn't go as far as to say that he "opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship", or "displays himself as being God."

      As for who or what restrains until he is taken out of the way, I would lean toward Herod Agrippa II. Whe he arrived in Jerusalem to appeal to the rebels, the Jews expressed their opposition to the abusive governor Gessius Florus. Josephus records a lengthy plea from hAgrippa in tears, begging the rebillion to take out revenge on Florus and the Romans. (Josephus, War of the Jews (Niese 2:345-404; Whiston ii.16.4-5)) At first the people agreed and Agrippa "dispelled the menace of war." But when he told the people to submit to the orders of Gessius Florus, they kicked him out of the city. (Niese 2:405-407; Whiston ii.117.1))

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Faber View Post
        I would lean toward identifying the man of sin/lawlessness as Menahem, one of the leaders of the Jewish rebellion. He led the Sicarii on an assault against Masada, took the weapons stored there, returned to Jerusalem, and murdered the high priest Ananias. Menahem then was "without a rival in the conduct of affairs, and became an unsufferable tyrant", "had gone up in state to pay his devotions, arrayed in royal robes and attended by his suite of armed fanatics." (Josephus, War of the Jews (Niese 2:433-444; Whiston ii.17.8-9)) Granted, Josephus doesn't go as far as to say that he "opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship", or "displays himself as being God."

        As for who or what restrains until he is taken out of the way, I would lean toward Herod Agrippa II. Whe he arrived in Jerusalem to appeal to the rebels, the Jews expressed their opposition to the abusive governor Gessius Florus. Josephus records a lengthy plea from hAgrippa in tears, begging the rebillion to take out revenge on Florus and the Romans. (Josephus, War of the Jews (Niese 2:345-404; Whiston ii.16.4-5)) At first the people agreed and Agrippa "dispelled the menace of war." But when he told the people to submit to the orders of Gessius Florus, they kicked him out of the city. (Niese 2:405-407; Whiston ii.117.1))
        What? Not the Antichrist? Nor a yet future world ruler? Nor a yet future world deceiver?

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by John Reece View Post
          When I refer to the the Antichrist as a myth, I am using the word myth as a synonym for legend, or folklore, as in the out-of-copyright but not out-of-print book, The Antichrist Legend: A Chapter in Christian and Jewish Folkore, Englished from the German by W. Bousset (London: Hutchenson and Co.,1896).
          From the opening chapter of the book cited above, here is a paragraph from the Prologue on the Babylonian Dragon Myth, by A. H. Keane:

          "In some respects I might describe my work as a modest continuation of Gunkel's inquirey. In it proof might be advanced to show that the Antichrist legend is a later anthropomorphic transformation of the Dragon myth, and further that this myth has made itself felt in its traditional form far beyond the time of the New Testament, cropping out again and again now in one now in another feature of its old characterist aspects."

          Comment


          • #6
            From the Excursus on Antichrist in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, by F. F. Bruce (WBC: Word, Inc., 1982) which begins with a synopsis of The Antichrist Legend, by M. Bousset (thus saving me from having to compose one) [via Accordance]:
            Excursus on Antichrist

            1. The background

            The personage called “the man of lawlessness” is certainly identical with the personage elsewhere referred to as Antichrist. The earliest literary occurrence of Greek ἀντίχριστος is in 1 John 2:18, but the word and its significance were already known to the readers of that document: “you have heard,” the writer tells them, “that Antichrist is coming.” The teachers against whom the writer warns were so many lesser “antichrists” who presumably were paving the way for the final Antichrist himself. It is a reasonable inference from his language that the final Antichrist would lead a largescale departure from God. He does not say from whom or when his readers had heard of the coming of Antichrist; it was part of the common stock of early Christian eschatology (see Introduction).

            The rise and development of the expectation of Antichrist were examined in 1895 by Bousset (The Antichrist Legend). He concluded, from a study of the relevant literature, that the Christian expectation was adapted from an existing Jewish conception. According to Bousset’s reconstruction of the Antichrist expectation, Antichrist would appear among the Jews after the fall of Rome, proclaiming his divine status and installing his cult in the Jerusalem temple. He would himself be a Jew, born of the tribe of Dan (an idea based on Gen 49:17; Deut 33:22; Jer 8:16). Elijah would appear and denounce him, and would be put to death for his pains. Antichrist would reign for three and a half years. True believers, refusing to give him the worship which he demanded, would seek refuge in the wilderness and be pursued by him there, but when they are on the point of being wiped out, he is destroyed by the intervention of God (who may use an agent such as Michael the archangel or the Messiah of David’s line).

            All the details in this reconstruction are attested separately in the literature, but they do not add up to a picture which can properly be called “the Antichrist legend.” Some pieces of evidence do point to the idea of a Jewish Antichrist, but those which point to a Gentile Antichrist are more relevant to the NT. The Antichrist expectation was held among Jews and Christians alike, but in both communities it took a wide variety of forms.

            A near-synonym of ἀντίχριστος is ψευδόχριστος, which appears in the Olivet discourse of the Gospels; during the coming unparalleled time of distress, says Jesus, “false Christs and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect” (Mark 13:22 par. Matt 24:24). Like the Antichrist of 1 John 4:3, these “false Christs” are linked with false prophets who, speaking by the spirit of error (τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς πλάνης, 1 John 4:6), lead their hearers astray (ἀποπλανᾶν, Mark 13:22).

            The Antichrist himself does this, but he goes farther than the “false Christs” of the Olivet prophecy by claiming divine worship for himself.

            The attempt by the Emperor Gaius (Caligula) to set up his statue in the temple at Jerusalem was fresh in the minds of Jews and Christians when the gospel came to Thessalonica, and would be remembered by readers of 2 Thess 2:4, which describes the leader of the end-time rebellion as “exalting himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the sanctuary of God and proclaims himself to be God.” During the critical days of AD 40 some of the disciples of Jesus probably thought that his words about “the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not” (Mark 13:14) were on the point of being fulfilled by Gaius, and published the discourse to which those words belonged so that Christians would know what to do when the appalling horror materialized. The parenthesis “let the reader understand,” attached to the reference to the abomination of desolation, may have been a direction to the reader of this separate leaflet (which was later incorporated in the Gospel of Mark).

            In any event, Gaius’s statue was not set up in the temple; it proved unnecessary for the Judean disciples to “flee to the mountains” on that occasion. But the dismay and anxiety of those days remained for long in the memories of those most closely affected, and suggested to them what was likely to happen when the abomination of desolation did indeed stand “where he ought not.”

            The phrase “the abomination of desolation” goes back two centuries before the time of Gaius. It was the derogatory designation given by Jews to the installation of the cult of Olympian Zeus in the Jerusalem temple by the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV toward the end of 167 BC It is applied in 1 Maccabees 1:54 to the altar of Olympian Zeus which Antiochus’s agents erected on top of the altar of Yahweh. But in origin the βδέλυγμα ἐρημώσεως or rather its Hebrew Vorlage שקוץ שמם (Dan 12:11, etc.), was a mocking pun on בעל שמיו (“the lord of heaven”), the name by which Olympian Zeus was known in the Aramaic-speaking parts of Antiochus’s kingdom (cf Nestle, “Der Greuel der Verwüstung”).

            Antiochus’s title Epiphanes (“manifest”) expressed his claim to be the earthly manifestation of his patron deity, Olympian Zeus. It is probably because the god whom he allegedly manifested usurped the place of the God of Israel that Antiochus is said to “exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and . . . speak astonishing things against the God of gods” (Dan 11:36), language which anticipates what is said about the man of lawlessness in 2 Thess 2:4.

            Three years after the cult of Olympian Zeus was installed at Jerusalem it was removed, and the temple was restored to its proper use (a restoration commemorated ever since then in the Jewish festival of the Dedication or Hanukkah). The picturesque wording used to describe the idolatrous installation was retained and reapplied to comparable sacrileges. Jesus, as we have seen, spoke of the setting up of the (personal) “abomination [vol. 45, p. 181] of desolation” as a future event which would launch the great tribulation of the last days. The Matthaean form of his discourse envisages the abomination as “standing in the holy place” (Matt 24:15). This has sometimes been thought to point to the Roman legionaries setting up their standards in the temple court while the sanctuary was going up in flames at the end of August, AD 70, and offering sacrifice to them opposite the east gate (Josephus, Bell 6.316). While Josephus may have seen a fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy in this event (cf Bruce, “Josephus and Daniel”), the Evangelists probably did not; the temple court was not “the holy place,” and there was no demand that the Jews should join in the worship of the Roman standards. Besides, by the time that this act of sacrilege took place, it was too late for those in Judea to “flee to the mountains.”

            Comment


            • #7
              In the last post above, I failed to say that in his Excursus on Antichrist, F. F. Bruce not only provides a synopsis of Bousset's The Antichrist Legend, Bruce's treatment is also a critique of and an updating of the the Antichrist legend ― by a first-rate scholar who apparently accepts a modified version of the legend as an integral part of legitimate interpretation.

              There are 6 parts to his critique/updating of the legend/myth of Antichrist as applied to biblical texts, of which my last post was but the first.

              Comment


              • #8
                The Antichrist Legend

                Continued from prior post:
                2. In the Apocalypse

                Antichrist appears again in the NT in the Apocalypse, although he is not called by that name there. The beast from the abyss which kills the two witnesses of God in Rev 11:7 is introduced more formally in Rev 13. In the first ten verses of that chapter we can hardly fail to recognize a more detailed description of the man of lawlessness of 2 Thess 2, although in Revelation there is some oscillation between the antichristian power and the individual in whom that power is vested for the time being. But for John of Patmos the antichristian power is unambiguously the Roman Empire which, with Nero’s assault on the Christians of Rome in the aftermath of the great fire of AD 64, had embarked on the intermittent course of persecution of the church which was to last for two and a half centuries.

                But the fact that the imperial power persecuted Christians would not have sufficed to equate it with Antichrist in their eyes. Nero’s attack on them may have been capricious, but the real issue between church and empire in the generations which followed was a religious one. The imperial power claimed divine honors which Christians could not conscientiously accord it. When the emperor claimed the title κύριος in a divine sense, they were bound to refuse it; to them there was one Lord, Jesus Christ, and to grant the title to anyone else in the sense in which they used it of Christ would have been high treason against him. The emperor’s claim to the title in that sense made him Antichrist, a rival Christ, who treated the refusal of the divine honors which he claimed as high treason against him, or against the Roman state.

                John sees this state of affairs developing until it reaches its climax in the first beast of Revelation 13, the ultimate Antichrist. The depiction of this beast represents a conjunction of ancient symbols. Some of these were of great antiquity; his seven heads, for example, link him with Leviathan, the primeval monster that symbolizes the unruly deep, curbed by the Creator’s fiat. His ten horns link him with the fourth beast of Daniel’s vision of judgment (Dan 7:7). (The fact that the great red dragon of Rev 12:3 also has seven heads and ten horns indicates that it is he who energizes the beast, as Rev 13:2b states in less pictorial language.) It is not only with Daniel’s fourth beast that John’s beast is linked; he incorporates features of all four of Daniel’s beasts, and he also takes over the functions of the “little horn” which Daniel saw sprouting from the head of his fourth beast; like the “little horn” (Dan 7:21), he “makes war with the saints and prevails against them” (Rev. 13:7). Like the man of lawlessness, he receives all but universal worship. The duration of his rule (forty-two months) is based on Dan 7:25; 9:27; 12:7.

                In the receiving of worldwide worship, John’s imperial beast is greatly helped by the “false prophet,” portrayed as “another beast which rose out of the earth” in Rev 13:11. It is this false prophet who performs the “mighty works and signs and lying wonders” by which, according to 2 Thess 2:9, 10, people are beguiled into worshiping the man of lawlessness. Here John may have had in mind the priesthood of the emperor-worship which had been established as a popular cult in the province of Asia since 29 BC

                John foresees the end-product of the beast’s regime to be a social and economic boycott of all who refuse to worship him, cutting them off from access to the necessities of life. But, as in 2 Thess 2:8, the man of lawlessness is destroyed by the Advent of Christ, so in Rev 19:20 the beast and the false prophet are consigned to perdition by the victorious Word of God at his appearing.

                In Rev 17 the imperial beast reappears, serving as a mount for the scarlet woman, the city of Rome. The beast’s seven heads are interpreted incidentally as the city’s seven hills but more importantly as seven emperors, five of whom have come and gone, one of whom is currently on the throne, and the seventh of whom will rule only for a short time. The eighth emperor, who will succeed the short-lived seventh, will be the demonically energized persecuting Antichrist, but in fact he will be one of the seven, restored to life. (He is identical with the head which, according to Rev 13:3, had its mortal wound healed.) It has been supposed by many commentators that this detail reflects the belief in Nero redivivus. The identity of this demonic ruler is not divulged; the numerical value of his name is said to be 666, which might point to Nero Caesar (Heb. נרון קסר, so spelled in Mur 18.1, dated AD 55/56). Certainly there is clear evidence in the generations immediately following that the last Antichrist was envisaged by many Christians as a returning Nero.

                Comment


                • #9
                  The Antichrist Legend

                  Continued from last post↑

                  From the Excursus on Antichrist in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, by F. F. Bruce (WBC: Word, Inc., 1982) [via Accordance]:
                  3. The imperial persecutor

                  The Ascension of Isaiah, an early Christian document, incorporates a Testament of Hezekiah, in which the ultimate Antichrist appears as an incarnation of Beliar (the Greek spelling of Belial, as in 2 Cor 6:15), the spirit of evil in the world. This expected incarnation of Beliar, moreover, is identified with the returning Nero, described by King Hezekiah as “a lawless king, the slayer of his mother” (Asc Isa 4:2)—a reference to Nero’s widely suspected responsibility for the killing of the younger Agrippina. This king, Hezekiah continues, “will persecute the plant which the twelve apostles of the Beloved have planted” (Asc Isa 4:3).

                  From about the same date (late first century AD) some of the Sibylline Oracles foretell the domination of Beliar, who will be burned up with “all men of pride, all who put their trust in him” (Or Sib 3.63–75), and also predict the return of Nero (Or Sib 5.137–154), without apparently identifying the two, for Nero is an impious tyrant while Beliar is a false prophet who leads many astray, including “many faithful and elect among the Hebrews.”

                  Both these manifestations of Antichrist—the false prophet and the persecuting tyrant—are found in early Christian literature. But during the age of imperial repression of the church the persecuting tyrant naturally occupied a prominent place in Christian thought about Antichrist. The author of the Ep. of Barnabas (circa AD 90) seems to have envisaged him as overthrowing the Flavian dynasty of emperors (his interpretation of the three “horns” of Dan 7:8, 20) and ruling in their place (4:4, 5). This author was also moved to the conviction that the last days had set in by a report that the temple in Jerusalem was about to be rebuilt (inevitably, from his viewpoint, an antichristian institution). These last days would consummate the epoch of evil, controlled by the power variously called “the black one” and “the wicked archon” (2:1; 4:9, 13).

                  Mention has been made above (see comment on 2:2) of the opinion expressed (by a Christian named Judas, in a discourse on the seventy heptads of Dan 9:24–27) that the severity of the persecution of the church under Septimius Severus (AD 202) pointed to the imminent approach of Antichrist.

                  Christian perspective on the subject was naturally changed when the empire began to show favor to the church instead of persecuting it. On the other hand, the Jews suffered more persecution under the Christian emperors than they had done under their pagan predecessors; it is in the post-Constantinian age that Jewish literature first presents a Roman Antichrist, in the person of Armillus (probably a corruption of Romulus), who is to be slain by the Messiah (Tg Isa 11:4, for example, says of the “shoot from the stump of Jesse,” that “with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked Armillus”).

                  To be continued...
                  Last edited by John Reece; 07-20-2015, 03:25 PM.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    The Antichrist Legend

                    Continued from last post↑

                    From Excursus on Antichrist in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, by F. F. Bruce (WBC: Word, Inc., 1982) [via Accordance] ― the 4th of 6 parts:
                    4. The false prophet

                    The portrayal of the Antichrist as a false prophet and misleader of the elect rather than a persecutor is also attested in the NT writings; indeed, the only explicit NT instances of ἀντίχριστος relate to false teaching. John in his letters sees the spirit of Antichrist manifesting itself in contemporary docetic teaching which denied Christ’s coming “in flesh” (1 John 4:2, 3; 2 John 7); those who misled people by such teaching he describes as “many antichrists” whose activity was a token that it was now “the last hour” (1 John 2:18).

                    While Jude does not use the term ἀντίχριστος, it is probable that, when he denounces certain false teachers as “loud-mouthed boasters” (verse 16), he alludes to the “little hom” of Dan 7:8 with “a mouth speaking great things” and to the self-willed king of Dan 11:36 who “shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods” (the Theodotionic version calls those “astonishing things” ὑπέρογκα, the same adjective as is used of the heretics’ boastful words in Jude 16 and 2 Pet 2:18).

                    The perspective of John’s letters reappears in Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians (circa AD 120).
                    “Whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is antichrist. And whosoever does not confess the testimony of the cross is of the devil; and whoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts and says that there is neither resurrection nor judgment—he is Satan’s firstborn” (7:1).

                    By “the testimony of the cross” Polycarp perhaps means the witness which the passion and death of Jesus bore to his genuine manhood (cf John 19:35; 1 John 5:6–8). “Satan’s firstborn” is presumably a synonym for “antichrist”; on a later occasion, when Marcion met Polycarp and sought his recognition, Polycarp is said to have replied, “I recognize—Satan’s firstborn” (Euseb Hist Eccl 4.14.7).

                    To be continued...

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      The Antichrist Legend

                      Originally posted by John Reece
                      Continued from prior posts above↑

                      From Excursus on Antichrist in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, by F. F. Bruce (WBC: Word, Inc., 1982) [via Accordance] ― the 4th of 6 parts; correction, 7 parts (I miscounted):
                      4. The false prophet

                      The portrayal of the Antichrist as a false prophet and misleader of the elect rather than a persecutor is also attested in the NT writings; indeed, the only explicit NT instances of ἀντίχριστος relate to false teaching. John in his letters sees the spirit of Antichrist manifesting itself in contemporary docetic teaching which denied Christ’s coming “in flesh” (1 John 4:2, 3; 2 John 7); those who misled people by such teaching he describes as “many antichrists” whose activity was a token that it was now “the last hour” (1 John 2:18).

                      While Jude does not use the term ἀντίχριστος, it is probable that, when he denounces certain false teachers as “loud-mouthed boasters” (verse 16), he alludes to the “little hom” of Dan 7:8 with “a mouth speaking great things” and to the self-willed king of Dan 11:36 who “shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods” (the Theodotionic version calls those “astonishing things” ὑπέρογκα, the same adjective as is used of the heretics’ boastful words in Jude 16 and 2 Pet 2:18).

                      The perspective of John’s letters reappears in Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians (circa AD 120).
                      “Whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is antichrist. And whosoever does not confess the testimony of the cross is of the devil; and whoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts and says that there is neither resurrection nor judgment—he is Satan’s firstborn” (7:1).

                      By “the testimony of the cross” Polycarp perhaps means the witness which the passion and death of Jesus bore to his genuine manhood (cf John 19:35; 1 John 5:6–8). “Satan’s firstborn” is presumably a synonym for “antichrist”; on a later occasion, when Marcion met Polycarp and sought his recognition, Polycarp is said to have replied, “I recognize—Satan’s firstborn” (Euseb Hist Eccl 4.14.7).

                      To be continued...


                      It has been many years since I first read Bruce's commentary on Thessalonians, and my memory being as impaired as it is, I had not remembered any of it. I just this evening finished a contemporary reading the whole of it in full, and find that I have misrepresented it in comments in various posts above. The more of it that I read, and the more often I read it, the more favorably impressed with it I have become.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by John Reece View Post
                        From the opening chapter of the book cited above, here is a paragraph from the Prologue on the Babylonian Dragon Myth, by A. H. Keane:

                        "In some respects I might describe my work as a modest continuation of Gunkel's inquirey. In it proof might be advanced to show that the Antichrist legend is a later anthropomorphic transformation of the Dragon myth, and further that this myth has made itself felt in its traditional form far beyond the time of the New Testament, cropping out again and again now in one now in another feature of its old characterist aspects."
                        ## The dragonicity of the aforesaid dragon was pretty thoroughly shattered by Alexander Heidel in 1949. There may well be a connection between the Babylonian "Epic of Creation" - a better name might be, "The Exaltation of Marduk" - and Revelation 12-13; but, not because Marduk's enemy Tiamat is a dragon. The link is that Tiamat is both the Divine Sea, and the monster that comes from it. The Great Red Dragon of 12 has a name that reflects the meaning of the word *mush-hush-shu*, which is the emblematic animal associated with Marduk, just as the lion is the animal of Ishtar, or the bull is the emblem of Adad. But as Heidel shows, there is no reason to identify Tiamat as a dragon in form or even as associated with the dragon.

                        The myth about Marduk and the Sea is a specific version of an ancient and widespread myth. The enemy is variously a deity, a creature sent by a deity, the sea itself, a beast from the sea. The horses of Poseidon that destroy Hippolytus son of Theseus make one variant of the myth, St George and the Dragon is another, Perseus and his sea-monster, the fight of the god Adad with the sea, the Hittite myth of Ishtar and the sea, stories of Apostles and Saints subduing or killing sea-monsters, the goddess Anath and the god Yamm (= Sea) are others; and, not least, Michael and the Great Red Dragon, and the Beast from the Sea, in Rev. 12-13. Not to mention the animals from the sea in Daniel 7. And as Heidel's discussion shows, the OT has many echoes of the myth

                        But it's misleading to talk of the "Dragon myth", because 1) the antagonist is not always a dragon; & 2) if the myth is so called after the antagonist of Marduk, the antagonist is not a dragon, but simply a goddess who is the ancestor of all things (other than her spouse Apsu, apparently).

                        For Heidel 1949, see especially page numbers 82-89, 102-114 of https://oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uch...sc_genesis.pdf
                        Last edited by Rushing Jaws; 07-22-2015, 07:36 AM.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Rushing Jaws ― color emphasis added by JR
                          ## The dragonicity of the aforesaid dragon was pretty thoroughly shattered by Alexander Heidel in 1949. There may well be a connection between the Babylonian "Epic of Creation" - a better name might be, "The Exaltation of Marduk" - and Revelation 12-13; but, not because Marduk's enemy Tiamat is a dragon. The link is that Tiamat is both the Divine Sea, and the monster that comes from it. The Great Red Dragon of 12 has a name that reflects the meaning of the word *mush-hush-shu*, which is the emblematic animal associated with Marduk, just as the lion is the animal of Ishtar, or the bull is the emblem of Adad. But as Heidel shows, there is no reason to identify Tiamat as a dragon in form or even as associated with the dragon.

                          The myth about Marduk and the Sea is a specific version of an ancient and widespread myth. The enemy is variously a deity, a creature sent by a deity, the sea itself, a beast from the sea. The horses of Poseidon that destroy Hippolytus son of Theseus make one variant of the myth, St George and the Dragon is another, Perseus and his sea-monster, the fight of the god Adad with the sea, the Hittite myth of Ishtar and the sea, stories of Apostles and Saints subduing or killing sea-monsters, the goddess Anath and the god Yamm (= Sea) are others; and, not least, Michael and the Great Red Dragon, and the Beast from the Sea, in Rev. 12-13. Not to mention the animals from the sea in Daniel 7. And as Heidel's discussion shows, the OT has many echoes of the myth

                          But it's misleading to talk of the "Dragon myth", because 1) the antagonist is not always a dragon; & 2) if the myth is so called after the antagonist of Marduk, the antagonist is not a dragon, but simply a goddess who is the ancestor of all things (other than her spouse Apsu, apparently).

                          For Heidel 1949, see especially page numbers 82-89, 102-114 of https://oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uch...sc_genesis.pdf
                          Many thanks, Rushing Jaws, for the updating of scholarly refinements of the myth, whatever it may be named or however it may be described.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            The Antichrist Legend

                            Continued from prior posts↑

                            From Excursus on Antichrist in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, by F. F. Bruce (WBC: Word, Inc., 1982, [via Accordance]) ― the 5th of 7 parts (color emphasis added by JR):
                            5. In Irenaeus and his successors

                            The idea that Antichrist will be a Jew is first extant in Irenaeus (circa AD 180). It may have been derived from Papias of Hierapolis, but certainty on this is unattainable because of the fragmentary preservation of his work. (Some have discerned a still earlier reference to the idea in John 5:43, where Jesus says to his critics in Jerusalem, “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive”—but this is very uncertain.)

                            According to Irenaeus, the Roman Empire is to be partitioned among ten kings (cf Rev 17:12), in whose days Antichrist will arise and lead the final apostasy. He is identified with the man of lawlessness (2 Thess 2:3), the abomination of desolation (Matt 24:15 par.), the little horn (Dan 7:8), the “king of bold countenance” (Dan 8:23), the deceiver who is to come in his own name (John 5:43), the beast from the abyss (Rev 11:7; 17:8, etc.). His rule will mark the completion of six millennia of world history; his overthrow will be followed by the seventh (sabbatic) millennium. Irenaeus makes various attempts to solve the riddle of the number of the beast; Euanthas, Lateinos and Teitan are put forward as possible solutions, but he wisely refuses to dogmatize. He bases Antichrist’s Jewish origin—more particularly, his derivation from the tribe of Dan—on Jer 8:16 LXX: “From Dan we shall hear the sound of the speed of his horses; at the sound of the neighing of his cavalry the whole earth shakes; he will come and devour the earth and its fullness, the city and those who dwell therein.” These words, spoken by the prophet with reference to a Gentile invader, are interpreted of Antichrist; “from Dan” is understood not geographically but genealogically, and this, says Irenaeus, is why Dan is omitted from the list of tribes in Rev 7:5–8. Antichrist is thus pictured as an apostate Jew, sitting enthroned in the temple of Jerusalem, and claiming to be worshiped there as God (Adv. Haer. 5.25–30).

                            Hippolytus’s treatise On Antichrist (circa AD 200) takes over and elaborates the ideas found in Irenaeus, including the derivation of Antichrist from the tribe of Dan. If Jacob says, “Judah is a lion’s whelp” (Gen 49:9), referring to Christ as the lion of the tribe of Judah, Moses says, “Dan is a lion’s whelp” (Deut 33:22), referring to Antichrist as a counterfeit imitation of the true Christ. And when Jacob says, “Dan shall be a serpent in the way” (Gen 49:17), the allusion to the old serpent of Eden (Hippolytus thinks) is too evident to be missed. But Jacob also says, “Dan shall judge his people” (Gen 49:16). This, says Hippolytus (who would probably have been unaware of the play on words in Hebrew), is not (as others thought) a reference to Samson, the judge from the tribe of Dan, but to Antichrist as the unjust judge, in which role he figures in one of the Gospel parables (Luke 18:2–5).

                            Hippolytus repeats the various identifications of Antichrist made by Irenaeus and other predecessors, but he recognizes him further in the Assyrian of Isaiah 10:12–19, the Babylonian king of Isa 14:4–21, the prince of Tyre of Ezek 28:2–10. (This joining together of distinct enemies of Israel in earlier days and giving them a unitive eschatological interpretation is similar to the method of OT exegesis attested in the Qumran texts.) Antichrist, according to Hippolytus, is also the partridge of Jer 17:11 (he adds a brief excursus on the natural history of the partridge), and the sender of ambassadors in vessels of papyrus described in Isa 18:2, carrying his directives against the saints. Exegesis has here slipped its moorings to drift in the sea of imagination (De Antichristo 7, 14–18, 54–58).

                            Victorinus of Pettau (martyred AD 303), the earliest Latin commentator on the Apocalypse, is important not only in his own right but also because he preserves material from earlier writers no longer extant, particularly Papias. On Rev 11:7, where the “beast that ascends from the abyss” first appears, Victorinus explains this designation in terms of the Old Latin translation of Ezek 31:3–9 LXX (which he mistakenly attributes to Isaiah, perhaps by confusion with Isa 10:34). In the Greek text of Ezek 31, Assur (the Assyrian) is a cypress in Lebanon nourished by the waters (“the many thousands of men,” says Victorinus, “who will be subject to him”) and caused to grow high by the abyss (which, says Victorinus, “belched him forth”).

                            Victorinus then quotes from 2 Thess 2:7–12, saying that the statement “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” was intended to show that the coming Antichrist was the man who was even then emperor, i.e. Nero (that Nero was not yet emperor when the letters to the Thessalonians were written would not have occurred to Victorinus).

                            On Satan’s expulsion from heaven in Rev 12:9 Victorinus says: “This is the beginning of the advent of Antichrist. However, Elijah must first prophesy and there must be times of peace then; so it is after that, when the three years and six months of Elijah’s prophesying have been completed, that Antichrist, with all the renegade angels, is to be cast out of heaven (to which hitherto he has had the right to ascend). That Antichrist is thus raised up from hell is further attested by the apostle Paul when he says, ‘unless first there come the man of sin, the son of perdition, the adversary, who will exalt himself above everything that is called god or that is worshipped.’”

                            There is some confusion here between Antichrist, who is energized by Satan, and Satan himself; and it is curious to be told that Antichrist is both cast down from heaven and raised up from hell.

                            Following Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 5.30.3), Victorinus dates the Apocalypse in the time of Domitian (AD 81–96); therefore Domitian, he reckons, is the sixth ruler of Revelation 17:10 (the “one” who “is”), while the seventh (who “has not yet come”) is Nerva (A.D. 96–98). The eighth is Nero redivivus, the “head” of Rev 12:3, whose “mortal wound was healed.”

                            But Victorinus’s really original contribution to the understanding of Antichrist is his combining of Nero redivivus with the expectation of a Jewish Antichrist; Nero will come back to life as a Jew, and will indeed demand that all his subjects accept circumcision. It is the new name which he is to bear in his reincarnation that will have (in Greek) the numerical value of 666: this, says Victorinus, will enable the wise to recognize his identity when he appears. He will erect a golden image and require it to be worshiped, as Nebuchadnezzar did. This image, the “abomination of desolation,” representing Antichrist himself, will stand in the temple of Jerusalem. But he will meet his doom at the Advent of Christ, and his dominion will be superseded by the millennial reign of the saints.

                            With the peace of the church, which dawned ten years after the death of Victorinus, the line of interpretation which he represents died out, until aspects of it were revived by Francisco Ribeira in the sixteenth century and again in a fresh form by the latter-day futurism pioneered by Manuel de Lacunza and others at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. But a line of interpretation which was reasonable while the Roman Empire still existed as a persecuting power loses something of its persuasiveness when it has to be stretched on a Procrustean bed to make room for a gap of many centuries between the fall of that empire and the rise of Antichrist.

                            To be continued...

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Would it be fair to say that the Church stopped thinking eschatologically sometime before Victorinus, and if so, why ? The sheer variety of methods of interpretation of Rev is bewildering.

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