As the Liturgical New Year approaches, the Church turns her focus to the Second Coming of Christ. We are reminded that although no one knows the hour of His return, we are still to be vigilant in watching (Mk 13:42). This “watching” includes reading the times so that we might be prepared on that day. In this spirit, the Church gives us four signs that we should watch for, namely, the Preaching of the Gospel to the whole world (Mt 24:14), the mass conversion of the Jews (Romans 11:25-30), the great apostasy (Mt 24:9-12) and the coming of the Antichrist. While it is difficult to gage the first three of these, the appearance of the Antichrist is the most easily recognizable. Therefore if, we are to remain with our lamps lit, it is instructive for us to understand what we should be looking for.
Using Sacred Scripture and the writings of the Fathers of the Church, we are able to piece together seven things that we will know about the Antichrist. Much of what we can know is based on using the interpretive principle known as typology. Fr. Hardon’s Catholic dictionary defines a biblical type as a “biblical person, thing, action, or event that foreshadows new truths, new actions, or new events. A likeness must exist between the type and the archetype, but the latter is always greater.” By applying what we know about the type, we can learn more about the archetype. Sacred Scripture abounds with examples, especially related to Christ and Our Lady. One of the more obvious examples in the New Testament of biblical typology is found in the Book of Hebrews which refers to Christ as forever a priest of the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7:17). Melchizedek was a priest that Abraham met who offered a sacrifice of bread and wine (Gen 14:18-20). So Melchizedek’s simple offering was a type of Christ’s perpetual offering of the Eucharist (archetype). Christ Himself also uses this principle when He prophesizes the destruction of the Temple. Because the Temple was views as a microcosm of the entire cosmos and it was literally the center of existence of Israel, its destruction would have been understood to foreshadow the end of the world. This is why He appears to be referring to both the type and archetype when He speaks of the end times.
In his second letter, St. Paul prepares the Faithful in Thessalonica for the coming of the “lawless one” by alerting them to the fact that “the mystery of iniquity is already at work” (2Thes 2:7-8). In essence he is encouraging them to apply this typological principle as a means to recognizing the Antichrist. Because the spirit of the Antichrist is being restrained (2Thess 2:6-7), they know that the antichrists they are witnessing serve only as types of the evil one that is to come. Therefore, with respect to the Antichrist, we can apply this principle to three historical examples in particular. The first is Antiochus Epiphanes who is found in Second Maccabees. After being held captive in Rome for 14 years, he ascended to the throne of Syria. In 175BC, he marched against Jerusalem and eventually stripped Temple of its treasures. By 168 BC the city was completely devastated and he declared one religion and seated himself on the throne in the Temple. This is the “Abomination of Desolation” that was predicted by Daniel (7:8,11,25) and promised by Our Lord during the end times.
The second is the Emperor Nero. During his reign, he embodied all the cruelties attributed to the Second Beast of Revelation 13. It is probable that the number 666 refers to him specifically. While he is not mentioned by name, he is also the “Caesar” referred to in Acts 25 who is ultimately responsible for the martyrdom of St. Paul.
Finally, there is Muhammad. While many in the Church have been duped by the nearly two century dormancy of Islam, Church Fathers and saints label him as a type of the Antichrist. Islam’s absolute monotheism declares that Jesus is not the Son of God, but a mere man—this according to St. John, is the antichrist (1John 2:22-23). St. John Damascene said, “[T]here is also the superstition of the Ishmaelites which to this day prevails and keeps people in error, being a forerunner of the Antichrist…. From that time to the present a false prophet named Mohammed has appeared in their midst.” Certainly the institutionalized persecution of “People of the Book” “until they feel themselves subdued” (Surah 29) is a foretaste of the persecution that Christians will face under the reign of the Antichrist.
Relying on the Sacred Scripture, supplemented with typology and the teachings of the Fathers, we can conclude seven things about the Antichrist.
First, the Antichrist will be a man and not the devil incarnate. Try though he might, the best the devil can do is to mimic God. He is not so powerful that he could effect something like the Incarnation. Instead as a “thief and a liar” he can only possess the man, even if it is to such a degree that the man submits intellect and will over to him
Second, the Antichrist will perform many signs and wonders. Because angels (and demons) have control over material creation, the Antichrist will have the power to perform many seemingly miraculous things. In this way, St. Irenaeus says Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-24) was a foreshadowing of the Antichrist. When he could not “purchase” the Holy Spirit, he set himself in opposition to the Apostles and devoted himself more fully to the study of magic, claiming to be a god and receiving honor even from Claudius Caesar.
Third, he will be thought to be the Christ by the Jews. This is why most of the Church Fathers say he will be a Jew (possibly from the tribe of Dan) and will rise to power in Jerusalem (and why we should be careful in thinking that we should always side politically with Israel). He will also rebuild the Temple and sit in the Desolation of Abomination as Daniel and Our Lord prophesized.
Fourth, he will reign for 3 and a half years. Both the Book of Revelation, “[T]hey will trample on the holy city for 42 months” (Rev 11:2) and the Book of Daniel “[A] time, two times and a half a time” both predict this.
Fifth, St. Cyril of Jerusalem says, the Antichrist will at first put on a show of mildness, soberness and benevolence and will beguile many (especially the Jews who will think he is the expected Christ) by his lying signs and wonders of his “magical deceit” but afterwards he will be characterized by all kinds of crimes of inhumanity and cruelty and will outdo all unrighteous and ungodly men who have gone before him especially towards the elect.
This is where typology becomes so important for understanding just how bad things will be during the persecution of the Antichrist. He will set up a world government and a world religion that worships himself. Because of the harsh persecutions, only the true Faith will remain, even if the Church herself is “given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly to her place in the desert, where, far from the serpent, she was taken care of for a year, two years, and a half-year” (Rev 12:14). St. Augustine interprets Daniel 12:13, “[F]rom the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the desolating abomination is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days” to mean that the offering of the Mass will cease during the reign of the Antichrist. He even speculates that the persecution will be so bad that there will be no baptisms by water during that time.
The Christians who are on earth during this time will suffer their Purgatory on earth. When Christ returns after the forty-two months, He will take everyone who is still alive up with Him. They will have to be so purified that Purgatory is not necessary.
Six, “two witnesses” will plague the Antichrist and he will ultimately slay them. Revelation 11:3-12 speaks of two witnesses who will prophecy for 3 ½ years. It is ultimately their witness that will lead to the mass conversion of the Jews. Eventually they are slain and lay in the streets of Jerusalem for 3 ½ days. After that they are taken up to heaven accompanied by earthquakes.
Many Church Fathers think that these two witnesses are Enoch and Elijah. Both of them were taken to heaven without dying and the thought is that they will return. The thought is that Elijah will preach to the Jews while Enoch preaches to the nations. Part of the Messianic expectation is that Elijah will come again prior to the (second) coming of the Messiah (see Mal 4:5-6) . This helps to make sense of the veiled answer Our Lord gave to the disciples when they questioned whether Elijah had come—“And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came” (Mt 17:11-12).
This taking up of the two witnesses is the definitive sign of the beginning of the end leading to the seventh thing we know—the Antichrist will be killed by “the breath of the mouth” of Christ (2 Thess. 2:8). Whether this means that Christ kills Him with His literal Second Coming or without His physical appearance is questionable.
One of the reasons the Antichrist will garner worldly attention is that he will appear to have been dead and is somehow miraculously healed (Rev. 13:3). This is an attempt of the Evil One to mimic the Resurrection. Along those same lines, some theologians have speculated that the Antichrist will try to mimic Christ’s ascension and Christ will slay Him and drop Him into the pits of hell.