Revelation and the problem of the missing one end-time Antichrist

Marko Joensuu         No comments

Many Christians associate Revelation with the figure of the Antichrist, but in fact, the Antichrist is not mentioned in Revelation at all. 

For example, a prominent Bible study site interprets the “beast rising out of the sea” in Revelation 13:1 to be the Antichrist. But is this interpretation consistent with what Revelation itself reveals about the beast? Is it consistent with the way the Bible defines a beast? 

We will proceed from part—one verse—to the whole: from Revelation to the totality of the Bible. And we will soon discover that in the Bible, beasts tend to be empires rather than individuals. 

Revelation is continuation of the Book of Daniel, and to Daniel, beasts are empires. This means that a theory about the beast in Revelation 13:1 being the Antichrist is probably wrong, because a beast is an empire and not a person.

Others link the person behind 666, the number of the beast, mentioned in Revelation 13:18, to the Antichrist, making him some sort of final and evil end-time world ruler.

But I do not think that this interpretation can be easily justified. The reason is that the only books in the Bible that use the word “antichrist” are 1 and 2 John. If you accept that the author of Revelation is the same apostle John who also wrote John’s letters in the New Testament, you will be faced with a major dilemma, as John seems to refute the teaching about one Antichrist as an end-time world ruler in his letters.

He writes in 1 John 2:18-19:

Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us.

In his letters, John gives us a very different definition of an antichrist than most Christians who are searching for the Antichrist today. For John, an antichrist is a false teacher who used to be part of a Christian community.

How could John define an antichrist as a false teacher in his letters and then proceed to present one Antichrist as an end-time world leader in Revelation—but without ever using that term? As an explanation, many liberal scholars would argue that the book, the letters, and the Gospel all have different authors, but I do not think we need to make that conclusion.

And there is no reason to make an effort to save the idea of one Antichrist, as historical context makes it quite clear that John was responding in his letters to a present threat in the minds of many Christians. What he was refuting was a teaching about the Roman emperor as the Antichrist.

Josephus, a Jewish historian, who led the Jewish forces against the Romans in Galilee in the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War (AD 66-73), which led to the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, writes in The Jewish War ( about messianic prophecies that stirred the rebellion:

At about that time, one from their country would become ruler of the habitable world.

At this point, Josephus had already switched on to the Roman side, and he was explaining the Roman victory some years after the destruction of the Second Temple. It appears that he had become disillusioned about the messianic prophecies and was actively repurposing them for the Roman use. So, Josephus, a Jew, loses his faith in the Jewish messianic project after he had been captured by the Romans in Judea.

He then makes the claim that this messiah that the Jews were still expecting was in fact the general Vespasian who would be proclaimed the emperor whilst in Judea. It was Vespasian’s son Titus who would destroy Jerusalem and the Second Temple, whilst Vespasian would return to Rome to become the emperor, “fulfilling” the prophecy about the world ruler coming out of Judea.

According to Eusebius (Church History, Book III, Chapter 12), Vespasian then ordered all descendants of the royal line of David to be hunted down to ensure that no one else could claim this prophecy.

This is the beginning of the antichrist myth; it seems that Vespasian harnessed Josephus’s lucky prediction about him becoming the emperor to be used as propaganda.

This has also been documented by the Roman historians. Suetonius writes in The Life of Twelve Caesars: Life of Vespasian 5.6 about Vespasian in Judea:

When he consulted the oracle of the god of Carmel in Judaea, the lots were highly encouraging, promising that whatever he planned or wished however great it might be, would come to pass; and one of his high-born prisoners, Josephus by name, as he was being put in chains, declared most confidently that he would soon be released by the same man, who would then, however, be emperor.

Over the next few years, the myth about one ruler that would rise in Judea would spread over the whole Roman Empire. What John is saying in 1 John 2:18-19 is that the Christians have heard that an Antichrist—the Roman emperor—has come. But John is refuting the whole idea that the emperor would be the Antichrist. Instead, what he is saying is that the many antichrists in the world are in fact false teachers who have once been part of the Christian community.

1 John 2:22 says:

Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. 

The recipients of the letter were waiting for one political Antichrist; instead, there would be many theological antichrists. It seems that the apostle John perceived false teachers to be much more detrimental to the Church than persecution by the whole Roman Empire.

Is it not rather odd that John does not mention an antichrist at all in Revelation—the most prophetic book of the New Testament—but he mentions him in a letter written to his contemporaries where he seems to argue against one Antichrist? This should inspire us to study the Scriptures more seriously.

For more on the topic, please read my new book Understanding Revelation. 

You can connect with Marko on Twitter @markojoensuu and on Facebook at or by visiting 
Published by Marko Joensuu

Marko Joensuu has worked for over sixteen years in the publishing and media ministries of Kensington Temple. He is an author, publisher and screenwriter.
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