Antichrist as a man

Dispensationalists have brought a lot of novelty to the theology of the church in America; talk of “pre-trib rapture” and the like arose in the last 150 years. But one thing that did not come from the dispensational camp is the belief in a literal, physical man termed “the Antichrist”. You don’t have to read much of the Church Fathers to see the man referred to. Take Augustine for example, he writes of 2 Thessalonians 2.1-11 and says:

No one can doubt that he wrote this of Antichrist and of the day of judgment, which he here calls the day of the Lord, nor that he declared that this day should not come unless he first came who is called the apostate—apostate, to wit, from the Lord God. And if this may justly be said of all the ungodly, how much more of him?

Augustine discusses some various conjectures as to who the Antichrist might be and then says:

Thus various then, are the conjectural explanations of the obscure words of the apostle. That which there is no doubt he said is this, that Christ will not come to judge the quick and the dead unless Antichrist, His adversary, first come to seduce those who are dead in soul; although their seduction is a result of God’s secret judgment already passed. (City of God XX.19)

In remarks attributed to Pope Urban at Clermont which called for the First Crusade, he mentions the coming of the Antichrist as a motivation to take Jerusalem:

And you ought, furthermore, to consider with the utmost deliberation, if by your labors, God working through you, it should occur that the Mother of churches should flourish anew to the worship of Christianity, whether, perchance, He may not wish other regions of the East to be restored to the faith against the approaching time of the Antichrist. For it is clear that Antichrist is to do battle not with the Jews, not with the Gentiles; but, according to the etymology of his name, He will attack Christians. And if Antichrist finds there no Christians (just as at present when scarcely any dwell there), no one will be there to oppose him, or whom he may rightly overcome. According to Daniel and Jerome, the interpreter of Daniel, he is to fix his tents on the Mount of Olives; and it is certain, for the apostle teaches it, that he will sit at Jerusalem in the Temple of the Lord, as though he were God. And according to the same prophet, he will first kill three kings of Egypt, Africa, and Ethiopia, without doubt for their Christian faith: This, indeed, could not at all be done unless Christianity was established where now is paganism. If, therefore, you are zealous in the practice of holy battles, in order that, just as you have received the seed of knowledge of God from Jerusalem, you may in the same way restore the borrowed grace, so that through you the Catholic name may be advanced to oppose the perfidy of the Antichrist and the Antichristians then, who can not conjecture that God, who has exceeded the hope of all, will consume, in the abundance of your courage and through you as the spark, such a thicket of paganism as to include within His law Egypt, Africa, and Ethiopia, which have withdrawn from the communion of our belief? And the man of sin, the son of perdition, will find some to oppose him. Behold, the Gospel cries out, ‘Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.’ ‘Times of the Gentiles’ can be understood in two ways: Either that they have ruled over the Christians at their pleasure, and have gladly frequented the sloughs of all baseness for the satisfaction of their lusts, and in all this have had no obstacle (for they who have everything according to their wish are said to have their time; there is that saying: ‘My time is not yet come, but your time is always ready,’ whence the lustful are wont to say ‘you are having your time’). Or, again, ‘the times of the Gentiles’ are the fulness of time for those Gentiles who shall have entered secretly before Israel shall be saved. These times, most beloved brothers, will now, forsooth, be fulfilled, provided the might of the pagans be repulsed through You, with the cooperation of God. With the end of the world already near, even though the Gentiles fail to be converted t the Lord (since according to the apostle there must be a withdrawal from the faith), it is first necessary, according to their prophecy, that the Christian sway be renewed in those regions either through you, or others, whom it shall please God to send before the coming of Antichrist, so that the head of all evil, who is to occupy there the throne of the kingdom, shall find some support of the faith to fight against him.

And more recently within the Reformed tradition Herman Ridderbos discussed the Antichrist in his Paul, An Outline of His Theology:

The most striking thing of course is that this power inimical to God is concentrated here in the figure of what Paul calls the man of lawlessness…In this striking qualification Paul’s corporate way of thinking unquestionably plays a part. Just as elsewhere he places Adam and Christ over against one another as the first and second “man,” as the great representatives of two different orders of men, so the figure of “the man of lawlessness” is clearly intended as the final, eschatological counterpart of the man Jesus Christ, who was sent by God to overthrow the works of Satan. The traits with which the man of lawlessness is described in 2 Thessalonians 2 provide the clearest evidence that not only the prophecy of Daniel, but the appearance and the glory of the man Jesus Christ himself as well determined the representation of the man of sin. His coming, just as that of Christ, is called a parousia; it is marked by all manner of powers, signs, and wonders, like those of Christ in the past;

This belief is not new, it is attested by the universal church.

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