We now come to the inquiry, What do the Scriptures teach us respecting the Antichrist? We begin by asking whether the Old Testament speaks of him as the Antimessiah? and this leads us to enquire as to the Messianic expectations of the Jews in our Lord's day. These, as based upon the covenants and the prophets, had their culmination in the Kingdom to be set up by the Messiah. Into the conception of the Kingdom there entered three chief elements: (a) the authority of Jehovah, their covenant God, would be established over all the earth; (6) to the Jews as the covenant people would be given the highest place among the nations; (c) the government under Jehovah would be administered by a Son of David, under whose rule all peoples would dwell in unity and peace. Jehovah would everywhere be honoured as the supreme God, but in Jerusalem would be His temple, and the centre of all worship.
In regard to the time and manner of the setting up of the Messianic Kingdom, it was believed that it would be when the Jews were in great trouble and distress (Dan. xii, 1).
Note — Passages speaking of the Kingdom of the Messiah:
(a) Its King, a Son of David, Jer. xxiii, 5, xxxiii, 15; Isa. ix, 7; Isa. xi, 1.
(6) Under it the Jews will be saved, Jer. xxiii, 6, xxxiii, 7; Isa. xxvii, 6, lx, 21.
(e) Under it all nations will dwell in peace, Ps. lxxii; Is. lx, 3; Isa. ii, 4.
(d) Under it all peoples will worship Jehovah, Isa. ii, 3, xi, 9, lxvi, 23 ; Zech. xiv, 16.
They would be scattered abroad in all lands, and subject to cruel oppression, and encounter the hostility of all nations. But the Messiah would appear, and through Him Jehovah would deliver them from their oppressors, gather them together into their own land, and fulfill to them all the promises made through the prophets of the prosperity and glory of the Messianic Kingdom. The period of trial and judgment immediately introductory to the Kingdom would be one of brief duration. At its beginning, the enemies of the Messiah would be active and triumphant, but at the end would be overthrown, and the authority of the Messiah everywhere be recognized. This period of trial, preceding the coming of the Messiah, and followed by the Kingdom, was known by various names, "the day of wrath," "the day of judgment," "the great and terrible day," "the time of the birththroes "; as the end of the age or dispensation, it was " the last day," or "last days;" and as forming the transition to the Messianic age, it was the conclusion or " end of this world" and "the beginning of the world to come."
It was in " the last days" that both good and evil would come to the full, and the distinction between them be most manifest, and, therefore, the hostility the greatest. Among all peoples there would be division and strife and hatred; and in the physical world, great disturbances and cosmical changes (Joel ii, 30; Zech. xiv); the end of all being "new heavens and a new earth" in which the righteous would dwell (Isa. lxv, 17).
But whilst the Jews believed that the nations would assemble together, and fight against the Messiah at His appearing (Ps. ii, Joel ii, Zech. xiv, 2), did they believe that their enemies would then be united under one head — the Antimessiah? It is not wholly clear what the Jews believed on this point.* The prophecies of Daniel were much read, and largely moulded the popular expectations as to the future. This prophet uses the symbol of a beast to represent the kingdoms which wasted and oppressed his people. He saw four different beasts coming up from the sea — four successive kingdoms — each with its special characteristics, but all hostile to the Jews (Dan. vii). In the image seen by Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. ii, 31), four kingdoms were symbolized by its differing parts of gold, silver, brass, and iron. That the fourth and last is the Roman has been generally held.f This beast (vii, 24) has ten horns (the horn being everywhere a symbol of some form of power), which here represent the fullness of its kingly power: "The ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise." Among these came up "a little horn," having eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows, and who thinks to change times and laws. That this eleventh horn symbolized some great persecutor is plain from the words spoken of him; and it is not likely that the Jews of the Lord's day believed that they had had their fulfillment in Antiochus Epiphanes, or in any persecutor of the past.
* What is said by Bertholdt (Christologia, 16) of the Antichristus is taken from later, and for the most part Christian, sources. Eisenmenger, "Entdecktes Judenthum," quotes only from the later Rabbis. It is said by Jowett, "Essay on Man of Sin": "It was a current belief of the time in which St. Paul lived that the coming of Messiah would be preceded by the coming of Antichrist," referring to GfrOrer as his authority.
f Dr. Todd "Discourses" affirms that the fourth kingdom is that of the Antichrist. Against this interpretation there are very strong objections.
It is more probable that they saw in Antiochus a type of a greater enemy to come, and the last, for after his destruction the kingdom would be given to the saints of the Most High. Understanding the one "like unto a Son of Man" (vii, 13) to be the Messiah, who now takes the Kingdom, this would certainly lead to the conception of this last enemy as an antimessiah; but that the Jews so understood it, is more than we can positively affirm.
The same may be said of "the little horn" (Dan. viii, 9), and interpreted as a symbol of "a king of fierce countenance," who "shall destroy the mighty and the holy people." And also of " the willful king" (xi, 36), though not a few now understand the fulfillment of this prophecy to be wholly in the future. Of the prediction of the "one that maketh desolate" (ix, 24—) we shall speak in considering the Lord's teachings.
If we turn to the other prophets, the words of Isaiah xi, 4: "With the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked," are translated in the Targum, "With the breath of his lips shall he slay Armilus." This shows that at the time of this translation there was a belief that the Messiah would be confronted by a chief personal enemy whom He would destroy. St. Paul applies this to the man of sin (2 Thess. ii, 8). Of this passage Delitzsch (" Messianic Prophecies ") says, "We have an indication that the apostasy of the earth will finally culminate in the Antichrist." Other typical references to the Antimessiah in this prophet are found by many interpreters in x, 5, where the " Assyrian" is mentioned; and in xiv, 12, where "Lucifer," "the shining one," or "son of the dawn," is spoken of, who says, "I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God. . . I will be like the Most High." In the mention of Leviathan (xxvii, 1)," the swift serpent," "the crooked serpent}" "the dragon that is in the midst of the sea," some find a symbolic pointing out of the Antimessiah.
A reference to an Antimessiah is found by some in Psalm cx, 6. "He shall wound the heads over many countries" (in R. V. "He shall strike through the head in many countries"). The singular "head" being used in the Hebrew, they understand it as equivalent to "prince," and to foretell that many countries are to be united in that day —" the day of God's wrath" when He shall judge among the nations—under one man as their chief.
A union of many peoples under one head is spoken of by Ezekiel, xxxviii, 2. But it is not easy to identify Gog, " the chief prince of Meshech," with the blasphemous oppressors of Daniel. He seems rather to be a distinct enemy, and not improbably a Christian power, hostile to the Jews, who will invade their land and oppress for a short time the Jewish people; but at what time or under what conditions we cannot now understand.
Whilst then we do not find in the Old Testament any distinct mention by name of an Antimessiah, we do find predictions that at the time when the Messiah was expected to appear and take the Kingdom, there would be arrayed against Him the nations acting together in unity. This implies a head, some one who is the leader, and possessed of great, if not supreme power. (See Joel iii, 2. "I will gather all nations against Jerusalem," and Zech. xiv, 2, " I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle," also Ps. ii.) The characters of the oppressors mentioned by Daniel, their hatred of the holy people, their selfish exaltation, their contempt of God and of His times and laws — all mark a period when " wickedness is come to the full," and the most bitter enemies of God and His Christ appear. It is not without ground that we may believe that the imprecatory Psalms, especially cix, may prophetically refer to this man in whom would be concentrated all hostility to Jehovah and the Saints.
We may, then, accept the language of Prof. Briggs ("Messianic Prophecy"), "It is not unnatural, but rather in accordance with the analogy of prophecy, that the hostile kingdoms should not only increase in extension, but also increase in intension; we might reasonably expect that a great hostile monarch, an Antimessiah, would precede the advent of the Messiah Himself. . . The sufferings of the people of God would reach their climax under the Antimessiah."
That the Jews of the Lord's day, or at least many of them, believed that the general hostility of the nations to them as the Covenant people, would find its last expression in some mighty one, their leader, who would be overthrown by the Messiah, although nowhere distinctly asserted by the prophets, cannot well be doubted. But was this Antimessiah to be a heathen man, or an 'apostate' Jew? Some have seen a prophetic intimation that he would be a Jew, in the mention by the prophet Zechariah (xi, 17) of " the idol (foolish) shepherd." Thus Delitzsch says: "If the good shepherd is the image of the future Christ, the foolish shepherd iB the counterpart of Christ, that is, the lawless one in whom the apostasy from Christ culminates. A heathen ruler is not meant, but one proceeding from the people having the name of the people of God."* But on the other hand, those whom the later Jews regarded as types of the Antimessiah were heathen, as Balaam and the Assyrian. It is not likely that the Jews believed that anyone of their number would so fall from the faith as to deny the special calling of his people; or that an apostate Jew would be received by the heathen as their head. They saw rather in the Antimessiah, if, indeed, they had any definite conception of him as an individual, one who did not recognize their claim to be God's chosen people, or the claim of their Messiah; a Gentile who hated the Jews for their religious exclusiveness and pride, and who presented himself as the leader of their heathen enemies.
* It was long before said by Jerome: Pastor stultus aut imper itus hand dubium quin Antichristus tit, qui in con su mutations mundi dieitur esse venturus, et qualis sit venturus, indicator.