Among Protestant groups today there is found a marked interest in the end times. Christian bookstores have entire sections devoted to Scriptural prophecy, displaying such books as The Late Great Planet Earth which has sold literally thousands of copies in the past decade. At the same time certain segments of Jews also sense the approach of the fulfillment of ancient prophecies; in Jerusalem's Old City a special seminary seeks to revive the Levitical priesthood in preparation for the day when Solomon' s temple is rebuilt. Their efforts are supported by some evangelical Christians who see in the restoration of the Temple the approach of Christ' s Second Coming. What is the view of the Orthodox Church concerning the end times?
Various periods of history have witnessed outbursts of apocalyptic fervor and messianic expectations. In Russia, for example, many people thought Napoleon was the Antichrist. In this country in the 1840's a Baptist minister by the name of William Miller calculated on the basis of prophecies in the book of Daniel that Christ was due to return sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. (In spite of what came to be known as The Great Disappointment of 1844, Miller's followers clung together and formed the Seventh Day Adventist Movement.)
We are certainly not the first to experience "wars and rumors of
wars ...famines, pestilences and earthquakes" which our Lord said would
signal the coming of the end of the world (Matt. 2A). Nevertheless, without
indulging in sensational speculation, too often characteristic of end-time
prophecies, the signs of the times clearly indicate that the world apostasy is
gathering momentum in anticipation of receiving Antichrist, His reign will he
heralded by runny false prophets who "shall deceive many," even, if it
were possible, "the very elect." Already a veil of delusion is being
spread over the face of the earth. If we hope to remain faithful to Christ we
must seek to discern these signs of the times and prepare ourselves that we
"may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to
stand" (Eph. 6:13).
Little children, it is the last time. (I John 2:18)
growth of evil is caused by the apostasy, the falling away from the Truth, which
will make possible the godless reign of Antichrist. As St. Paul said: "That
day shall not come except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin
be revealed, the son of perdition" (II Thess. 2:3). Although the apostasy
has been in effect ever since the early history of the Church, this century has
seen such a dramatically sharp rise in the influence of evil that even now it is
becoming difficult for people to see the light. And things are happening too
quickly and in too organized a fashion to be merely incidental. In the religious
sphere, one finds a maze of false prophets all schooling their adherents in the
acceptance of delusion; the insecurity on the political and economic fronts has
inspired the New Age movement with its enthusiasm for a one-world government;
culturally, the mass media is helping to promote a taste for what is crude,
vulgar and grotesque, exemplified by the punk-rock heroes of today' s
adolescents; crime is rampant: abduction, rape, murder; cable television brings
pornography into the home; there is a total erosion of values encouraged by a
lifestyle which rejects Christianity as "inconvenient." Through all of
this mankind is being manipulated into a state of spiritual blindness which will
allow the coming of Antichrist.
So likewise ye, when ye shall see alt these things
know that it is near, even at the door.
Once the world has been sufficiently prepared, how shall Antichrist make his appearance? Where will he come from? Who or what will he be, this red beast of the Apocalypse? To answer these questions we must begin with an understanding of the word "Antichrist." "Anti" means "against" or "in place of". Antichrist will try to imitate Christ for the sake of fulfilling Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. Like a wolf in sheep's clothing, he will make a pretense of good, claiming to bring "peace on earth, good will toward men.' Later, he will show his true colors; he will challenge God and demand worship of himself. Whereas Christ was perfect man, perfect goodness, Antichrist will demonstrate the perfection of evil in human form; in submitting his will entirely to the devil, he will be completely possessed by him. It is important here to note that Antichrist is not Satan, for God would not allow such a supernatural domination of evil. If Satan were actually to rule over man, man would be left with no choice; he would no longer be able to exercise free Will--and this would be a mockery of God's love. What is tragic is that even now human beings are using this divinely planted free will to choose evil. In the world today we see that of our own free will we are affecting each other to be demonic. We cannot say that the Apostasy is merely the work of the devil: "It can't be helped." No, it is the direct result of man's choice not to follow Christ--and this decision can only lead to Antichrist.
Just as Christ was born of a pure virgin, the crown of humanity, so His opposite, Antichrist, will be born of a harlot. St. John Damascene says that "he becomes man as the offspring of fornication and receiveth all the energy of Satan. For God, foreknowing the strangeness of the choice that he would make, allows the devil to take up his abode in him" (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith).
Most Holy Fathers agree on the basis of Scripture that Antichrist will be of Jewish descent from the tribe of Dan. According to the prophecy of the patriarch Jacob, "Dan shall be a serpent in the way" (Gen. 49:17; cf Jer. 8:16); among the remnants of the tribes of Israel which are sealed unto salvation (Rev. 7:4-8), the tribe of Dan is exclusively omitted. It is interesting here to note that the Ethiopian Jews, of whom several thousand were airlifted to Israel in the recently publicized "Operation Moses ," are declared to be "undoubtedly of the tribe of Dan" (a statement by the Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, "Time," Jan. 14, 1985).
It is also assumed that Antichrist's life will pattern itself after the life of Christ in the sense that it will be divided into three periods. During the first period, which will last about 30 years, he will remain hidden. "Antichrist will be raised secretly" (St. John Damascene), and will be expertly educated. Many people of spiritual life believe that Antichrist has already been born.
During the second period of his life, he will come before the attention of the world as one able to solve the world's problems. It is more than likely that his public ministry will begin in a time when tremendous chaos and upheavals will have brought men to the brink of despair. St. Ephraim says: "At the time when the serpent shall come, there will be no calm on the earth; there will be great affliction, consternation, disorder, death and famine unto all the ends of the earth." Mankind, spiritually blinded, will cry out for a resolution of the world crisis and will gratefully accept Antichrist's plan for establishing a one-world government, a plan which is already in preparation. "A voice of appeal will issue forth in human society, expressing the urgent need for a 'genius of geniuses,' who would elevate material development and progress to a higher plane and bring about prosperity on earth” (Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov).
Antichrist will first appear as a wolf in sheep's clothing, in order to deceive the people and win their confidence. "He will come as one humble, meek, a hater (as he will say of himself) of unrighteousness, despising idols, giving preference to piety, good, a lover of the poor, beautiful to an extreme degree, constant, gracious to all... He will not accept bribes, speak with anger, show a gloomy countenance, but with a decorous exterior he will take to deceiving the world, until he has become king" (St. Ephraim). In further imitation of Christ, he will perform signs and wonders: "Being the father of falsehood, he will deceive the imagination by means of false actions so that the multitudes may think that they see a dead man raised and lame men walking or blind men seeing when no cure has been wrought" (St. Cyril of Jerusalem).
One of Antichrist's first objectives will be to attain popularity among the Jews: "He will succeed in completing the organization of the Jewish government and will set about realizing the age-old dream of the Jews--the restoration of the temple of Solomon." With the help of mass media and advanced communication technology, Antichrist will rapidly achieve world-wide renown, and his appeal will be irresistible: "When the many classes and the people see such virtues and power, suddenly all will conceive the same thought, and with great joy will proclaim him king, saying among themselves: 'Can another man so good and righteous be found?'" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).
During this second period when Antichrist will work to consolidate his popularity, God will send two prophets to warn people against the deception encompassing them. This confirms the Saviour' s unspeakable love for man, for even at this darkest hour, "He will not leave the human race without His preaching, in order that all will be without answer at the Judgment" (St. Ephraim). The two prophets understood to be Elias and Enoch who did not taste of death but were received up into heaven. And these prophets "shall turn again the heart of the father to the son, and the heart of a man to his neighbor" (Mat. g:5). Blessed Theophilact interprets this to mean that they "shall return to faith in Christ all the Jews who are found to be obedient, remaining faithful, as it were, to the paternal heritage of those who had fallen away there from."
For three and a half years (Rev. 11:3) these two prophets shall work to fulfill their mission without the interference of Antichrist. His power, however, will already be such that many of the Jews will disregard the prophets' warning and will be first to proclaim Antichrist as their ruler, the true Messiah. I n imitation of the Lord' s entry into Jerusalem, Antichrist will reveal himself as the (false) Messiah in his own triumphant entry into Jerusalem where he will take up his seat in the temple. This will herald the third and final period of his life when he will attain the fulfillment of his three-fold ministry --as Prophet, King, and High Priest.
Having received power and authority from Satan (Rev. 13:2) in return for his complete submission to him (the very temptation Christ withstood in the wilderness), Antichrist will secure his position as world ruler. This is described in the prophecy of Daniel which indicates that "kings shall arise." Of these, seven will readily submit to Antichrist while it will be necessary to subdue another three by means of military force. This explains the portrayal of Antichrist in the book of Revelation as "a beast...having seven heads [those rulers who submitted voluntarily] and ten horns' [the ten kingdoms].
At the same time, by reason of his tolerance and false sanctity, Antichrist will be proclaimed the spiritual leader of all religions. He will show partiality towards Christians, "promising them every sort of protection in return for their acknowledgment of his leadership." "Those not comprehending Christianity will see in him a representative and champion of the true religion and will join with him" (St. Ephraim).
Once he is proclaimed world ruler, Antichrist will begin to demand worship for himself, the man-god, in place of the worship of the God-man, Jesus Christ. Those who remain faithful to Christ will incite his wrath "and then this serpent will become proud in his heart and vomit forth his bitterness" (St. Ephraim). His first victims will be the two prophets who, by reason of converting many Jews to Christ, will evoke the most intense malice. "And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them and kill them" (Rev. 11:7). Their murder will signal a fierce persecution of Christians. They will be forbidden to serve Divine Liturgy and the Church will hide itself in the catacombs. "My sacrifice and drink offering shall be taken away; and on the temple shall be the abomination of desolation" (Dan. 9:27). Such will be the tribulation of that time that "all men will call blessed the dead and those already buried before this great sorrow came upon the earth" (St. Ephraim).
By that time any organized opposition to Antichrist will become impossible. "Do not attempt to stay him with your weak hand. Withdraw, save yourself from him; and this shall be enough for you" (Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov). Then the faithful remnant of Christians "will flee into the wilderness and mountains and caves--praying day and night in great humility.., that they may be delivered from the serpent,.. And this will be granted them from the holy God" (St. Ephraim).
world rule of Antichrist will last for three and a half years (Rev. 13:5).
Blinded by their own impiety and the delusions of Antichrist, the mass of
mankind will join him in his disdain for Christians. "The enemies of
Antichrist will be counted as rebels, as enemies of the public good and
order" (Bp. Ignatius Brianchaninov). This majority will enjoy a period of
relaxation, "eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage,"
Then, suddenly the vessels of wrath will be poured out upon the followers of
Antichrist: sores and boils will afflict those bearing the mark of the beast,
and the waters of the earth will be turned to blood." All this will happen
when least expected and when the departure of man from God has reached its
extreme limit. Then the Antichrist will assemble his armies from the ends of the
earth for a final battle at Armageddon, but God will send a great earthquake
which will level mountains and crush the works of man's pride, and the armies
will be destroyed. And then shall the Lord come, as He promised, like lightning
flashing from heaven--and so shall the end be.
But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. (Matt. 24:37)
Clearly then, the final destruction of the world will ultimately owe itself not to nuclear arms but to a humanity which has become possessed with evil. "For by permission of the Holy God, [Antichrist] will receive the power to deceive the world, because impiety will have filled the earth, and everywhere every sort of horror will be committed" (St. Ephraim .)
Let us not think that because we are members of the true Church we are immune to deception. "A courageous soul will be required, that will be able to keep its life in the midst of these temptations, For if a man is proved to be even a little careless, he will easily be exposed to assault and will be captured by the signs of the evil and cunning beast" (St. Ephraim). We must begin now to exercise our spiritual faculties and to set ourselves apart from the world in a conscious struggle against the spirit of the times--the spirit of apostasy. "Every avoidance of such struggle now, every compromise with evil today, be it even the most insignificant... will only increase the difficulty of struggling with it tomorrow." We must saturate ourselves in the sources of holy Orthodoxy which alone will preserve to the end the fullness of the truth. Through careful reading of Scripture and other spiritual books; through prayer and conscious attendance at church services; through daily, determined warfare with our passions and thoughts--we shall develop a sense for what is truth and, amidst all the chaos and confusion of the end times, we shall be able to discern the voice of the Chief Shepherd Who will be calling everywhere for His sheep. Then we shall have no cause to fear what is to come; rather, made bold through steadfast faith, we shall cry out from our hearts: "Come, Lord Jesus!"
Sources: Apostasy and Antichrist; Jordanville, 1978; "Antichrist" by Archpriest Boris Molchanoff in Orthodox Life, Vol. 30, Nos. 3 and 4; and a lecture delivered by Hieromonk Alexis Rosentool at the Orthodox Youth Convention. New Shamordino_ Dec. 26. l982.[OA/_private/oabot.htm]