The term "antichrist" occurs only in 1 and 2 John, and there in both singular and plural forms. It is part of a complex of images and figures that represent the activity and power of evil of those forces that are hostile to God. The Old Testament uses the figure of a dragon to symbolize evil's conflict with God existing from the time of creation to God's final triumph ( Isa 27:1 ; cf. Gen 1:21 ; see also the reference to Rahab the dragon/sea monster defeated at the time of creation, Psalm 89:9-10 ; cf. Job 9:13 ; 26:12 ). The dragon figure is applied to earthly powers who are enemies of God, such as Nebuchadnezzer ( Jer 51:34 ) and Pharoah ( Eze 32:2 ). The figure of the beast also denotes forces (specifically political powers) hostile to God ( Dan 7 ). Both these figures reappear in the New Testament, particularly in Revelation. The dragon is used twelve times in Revelation and designates the devil and Satan and the enemy of God's Messiah. The beast is a central image in Revelation used to symbolize that which opposes and parodies God.
The New Testament indicates the presence of cosmic opposition to God through reference primarily to forces, people, or a person who seek to deceive those who already know God's Messiah. The cosmic struggle with evil is now chiefly localized in the church. So the spirit of antichrist ( 1 Jo 4:3 ), the false Christs ( Mark 13:22 ) and antichrists ( 1 Jo 2:18 ), the antichrist ( 1 John 2:18 1 John 2:22 ; 4:3 ; 2 John 1:7 ), the man of lawlessness ( 2 Th 2:3 ), and the "desolating sacrilege" ( the 1:1 Mark 13:14 the ; masculine participle suggesting a person such as the antichrist ) all concentrate their activity on the elect or the community of faith. These figure(s) lie and deny Christ ( 1 John 2:22 ; 2 John 7 cf. 1 John 4:3 ), lead astray ( Mark 13:22 ), oppose and even declare himself as God in the temple ( 2 Thess 2:4, ; cf. Mark 13:14 ).
In both Testaments these figures function not only to describe the magnitude and threat of evil but to affirm God's control over creation. In the Old Testament and New Testament the image of the beast is used to describe both the power and intensity of evil and to declare God's ultimate victory. The figure of the antichrist and the man of lawlessness do not occur in the Old Testament, although their New Testament use is replete with Old Testament allusions. In the New Testament these figures function in line with the Old Testament conviction that God will ultimately defeat the forces of evil.
The predominant venue for these figures in the Bible is in the context of discussion of the last days. The eschaton is recognizable because of the unleashing of evil and will be characterized by a particularly vivid and horrific confrontation between God and his enemy ( 2 Thess. 2 ; 1 John 2:18 ). This expectation accords with that of Jewish apocalyptic literature (Sybilline Oracles, Book 3; 4 Esdras 5:6) and early Catholic Christianity (Didache 16:1-4). The constant biblical conviction is that God will ultimately triumph over every opposition to him and his people, whether such enmity is manifested in earthly or supernatural powers. The last battle will be won by God and the beneficiaries will be God's people.
L. Ann Jervis
Bibliography. M. D. Hooker, BJRL65 (1982):78-99; H. K. Larondelle, Andrews UNIVersity Seminary Studies21 (1983):61-69.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[T] indicates this entry was also found in Torrey's Topical Textbook
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[H] indicates this entry was also found in Hitchcock's Bible Names
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Antichrist'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".