Christ and Antichrist

Hans Rollmann
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Reflecting after many years on the introduction of Pentecostal faith at Clarkes Beach, Alice Belle Garrigus, pioneer of Newfoundland Pentecostalism, wrote that some were praising the Lord, some speaking in other tongues, while others were prophesying of the Great Tribulation, and reign of the Antichrist.

Fervent belief in the imminent return of Christ and his millennial reign is a distinguishing mark of early Pentecostalism.

In that faith, Christ would not return before humankind had gone through a severe period of tribulation and met face to face with that frightening figure of the apocalyptic countdown, the Antichrist.

Ominous character

While Pentecostalism shares the notion of the Antichrist with other kinds of Christians, this ominous and mysterious character of the end-time has undergone considerable change throughout history, so that in Newfoundland the name can even occasionally be applied to an ill-behaved child and so is relieved of some of its metaphysical terror.

In the Bible, the term occurs only in 1 and 2 John, later documents of the New Testament that form part of the so-called Johannine literature with its unique vocabularies: the Gospel of John; 1, 2, 3 John; and Revelation.

Antichrist and its plural antichrists are directed in the first and second letters of John in a pointed way against those who were once part of the authors religious community but who later held differing religious views.

For John, these names refer to the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ or, as the author expresses it in his second letter, the deceivers who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.

These enemies of Christ are most likely Gnostic believers. Gnostics espoused a highly spiritual saviour figure who could never have defiled himself by having a human body such as ours. Such a saviour could never be identified with the historic human being, Jesus, who walked the dusty roads of Palestine and eventually died a shameful death on the cross.

Differing views

While the term antichrist is first applied to people with differing views about the nature of Christ, that figure would eventually acquire the ominous shape of a satanic counter-image or parody of Christ, influenced by other human incarnations of evil in the New Testament.

There is a mysterious lawless one in Pauls second letter to the Thessalonians, who will precede the final judgment.

There are also two Beasts in Revelation, one from the sea and one from the land, who receive their ultimate authorization from the dragon, the devil, and are associated with the number of imperfection 666. Many biblical scholars see these beasts as symbols of the Roman imperial cult and its local representatives in Asia Minor.

The evil twin of Jesus really flourishes in the Middle Ages, when the French monk Adso used the popular literary form of a saints life, only in reverse, to make the Antichrist come alive in the popular imagination.

The visionary nun Hildegard of Bingen, a gifted mystic, composer and artist, painted a picture of the Antichrists birth from a female figure that represented the church.

In her vagina, she writes, there appeared a monstrous and totally black head with fiery eyes, ears like the ears of a donkey, nostrils and mouth like those of a lion, gnashing with vast open mouth and sharpening its horrible iron teeth in a horrid manner.

Not only is the Antichrist born within the church, but, according to Hildegard, he will also deceive believers with his supposed divinity and persecute many Christians.

Martin Luther and the Reformation cast the papacy in the role of the Antichrist, in the mind of Luther even a greater threat to Christianity and the proclamation of the gospel than the invading Turks.

Already, the English reformer John Wycliffe and his Czech disciple Jan Hus had prepared the ground for such an interpretation, which then had a surprisingly long shelf-life in the apocalyptic store.

A recent supermarket tabloid, however, identifies a contemporary as the Antichrist who will usher in the end of the world in 2007 the Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, who plays a sinister role in the apocalyptic countdown.

According to Stephen D. OLeary, a thoughtful analyst of apocalyptic rhetoric, a figure such as the Antichrist personifies cosmic and human evil, which increases as the apocalyptic battle reaches its climax.

The apocalyptic countdown can thus be understood as a symbolic way of reconciling the goodness of God and the ultimate vindication of his own with the current experience of alienation and suffering by the believing community.

The drama played out in heaven and on Earth receives a face in the Antichrist, who seeks to win the hearts and minds of the worlds peoples by deception and conspiracy, a battle that Christ will, in the end, win decisively.

Hans Rollmann is a professor of religious studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland. He can be reached by e-mail at

Organizations: Memorial University of Newfoundland

Geographic location: Clarkes Beach, Newfoundland, Palestine Pauls Asia Minor Middle Ages

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