2.2. A Pre-Christian Concept

Some have thought the Antichrist to be a Christian invention, but it predates Christianity. This is to be expected since the Old Testament reveals considerable detail concerning this individual.

David Flusser. . . an expert on Second Temple Judaism and the origins of Christianity, . . . categorically states: “The idea of Antichrist is strictly Jewish and pre-Christian.” This is evident from the expression itself, for just as the Greek word Christos (Christ) is the translation of the Hebrew word Mashiach (Messiah), so “Antichrist” is in fact “Anti-Messiah.”1

Among the Dead Sea Scrolls is found the description of an individual who sounds like the promised Messiah, but is said to be an opponent of Israel. This is the role of Anti-Messiah.

In a fragmentary pseudo-Daniel text from Qumran Cave 4, the description of an evil end-time king who oppresses Israel includes the words: “[ ]he shall be great on earth . . . [all] will worship and all will serve [him] . . . great . . . he shall be called and by His name he shall be designated. He shall be named son of God and they shall call him son of the Most High.” (4Q246 1:8-10) This might appear to be a reference to the Messiah rather than the Antimessiah if it were not describing an opponent of Israel.2

Among the legends of Judaism, he is known as Armilus (also Armilius):

Armilus: legendary name of the Messiah’s antagonist or anti-Messiah. Armilus appears frequently in the later Apocalyptic Midrashim, such as Midrash Va-Yosha, Sefer Zerubbavel, and Nistarot shel R. Shimon b. Yohai. He is also mentioned in the Targum pseudo-Jonathan, Isa. Isa. 11:14 and in the Targum Yerushalmi A (Deu. Deu. 34:3). Armilus is first mentioned otherwise in Saadiah Gaon’s Emunot ve-De’ot (Ma’amar 8), apparently under the influence of Sefer Zerubbavel.3

Armilus is first mentioned in the Targum pseudo-Jonathan: Isa. 11:4 . . . which it renders, ‘And with speech of his lips he shall slay the wicked Armilus.’ ”4 Notice how similar this passage is to Paul’s comments in 2Th. 2Th. 2:8. One reference to Armilus even calls him “Antichrist.”5 Although there are many aspects of the Armilus legend which are unbiblical and fanciful, other aspects of the legend reflect Scriptural truths such as his claim to worship (Dan. Dan. 11:36). “He will say to them: ‘I am your god, I am your Messiah and your god!’ . . . (T’fillat R. Shim’on ben Yohai, BhM 4:124-26).”6 In contrast to the claims of the preterists, Judaism understands this coming figure as ruling the entire world, not just first-century Rome. “the whole earth, . . . will tell him that he is the Messiah, . . . and the whole earth will submit to him, and he will slay those who do not submit. . . . (Ma’ase Daniel, pp. 222-25).”7 He was also expected to banish Israel into the wilderness (Rev. Rev. 12:6-15+).

Works such as Sefer Zerubbavel and those by Saadiah Gaon reveal . . . Armilus will deceive the whole world into believing that he is God and will reign over the whole world. . . . Armilus is expected to persecute and banish Israel to the wilderness and it will be a time of unprecedented distress for Israel . . . and the Gentiles will expel the Jews from their lands.8

Whereas some expect the Antichrist to arise from Dan (see below), others suggest Armilus will arise from Ephraim: 9 Interestingly, both of these tribes are omitted in the list of tribes which are sealed for protection during the Tribulation (Rev. Rev. 7:4-8+). See commentary on Revelation 7:4.


1 Randall Price, “Jewish Views of the Antichrist,” in Mal Couch, ed., Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 47.

2 Ibid., 48.

3 Geoffrey Wigoder, ed., Encyclopedia Judaica CDROM Edition Version 1.0 (Keter Publishing House, Ltd., 1997), s.v. “Armilus.”

4 Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts (Detroit, MI: Wayne Statue University Press, 1979), 156.

5 “Remarkable in the statement of one version of the Midrash that he is called ‘Antichrist.’ ”—Ibid., 157.

6 Ibid., 158-159.

7 Ibid., 163.

8 Price, “Jewish Views of the Antichrist,” 49.

9 “That man will be of the Children of Ephraim. . . . who says, ‘I am the Messiah your king and your prince. . . . (Ma’ase Daniel, pp. 222-25)’.”—Patai, The Messiah Texts, 163.