First Feature of His Religion
The religion that the Antichrist will impose on the whole world is described in Daniel 11.
36 And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done.
37 Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all.
38 But in his estate shall he honour the God of forces: and a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honour with gold, and silver, and with precious stones, and pleasant things.
39 Thus shall he do in the most strong holds with a strange god, whom he shall acknowledge and increase with glory: and he shall cause them to rule over many, and shall divide the land for gain.
The Antichrist will speak marvelous things against the God of gods (v. 36). He will revive the lies first told by Satan in the Garden of Eden.
1 Now the serpent [Satan] was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
The net that the serpent laid for Eve was woven with three separate strands of falsehood.
- When God warned that disobedience to His command would bring death, He was lying (v. 4).
- By seeking forbidden knowledge of good and evil, man himself could become as a god (v. 5).
- God's rule against seeking this knowledge was an attempt to keep others from developing their divine potential and becoming His equal (v. 5).
These three lies implied a fourth, which was the most preposterous of all: that God is not as great as He says He is. God claims to be eternal and infinite, but His true nature would necessarily be far less exalted if finite, created beings like Adam and Eve could attain the same level. However high they rose, they could not make themselves eternal. Nor could they acquire infinite power if God already has it and reserves it for Himself. Nor could they acquire infinite wisdom if God has the power to protect His secrets. Thus, the proposition that mere men can become equal with God assumes that God is a finite being; moreover, that His existence had a definite beginning, or even that He is the product of evolution from something more primitive. The devil probably believed this lie himself, or he would never have conceived and nourished his ambition to displace the Most High. The same lie will surface again when the Antichrist begins his campaign to destroy all vestiges of true religion, revering the God of heaven.
Second Feature of His Religion
Neither shall he regard the god of his fathers (v. 37). Since Scripture often speaks of the Jews as descended from their "fathers" and particularly from their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, many commentators view the phrase "god of his fathers" as evidence that the Antichrist will be a Jew. They are seeking support for an idea that can be traced back to the early centuries of the church. But this old idea has no foundation elsewhere in Scripture, and the only foundation here depends on a strained reading of the text. When seen in a proper light, the reference to the Antichrist's fathers provides no clue as to his race or religion. Earlier, the angel delivering this message compared Antiochus with his "fathers," using this very word, although Antiochus was a non-Jew (v. 24).
The true meaning of the prophecy in question is the exact opposite of the meaning usually drawn from it. The source of key information is not, however, the single word "fathers," but the whole statement that he will not "regard the god of his fathers." When examined in context, the statement shows that he will not be a Jew. A correct interpretation pays respect to the entire thought of verses 36–37. A literal translation runs as follows:
36 . . . And he will exalt and magnify himself above every god [el (1)], and above the God [El (2)] of gods [elim (3)] will speak marvelous things. . . .
37 And above the god [or "gods"—elohim (4)] of his fathers he will not recognize, and above the desire of women, and above every god [elowah (5)] he will not recognize, for above every he will magnify himself.
Daniel 11:36–37 (6)
To underscore how unbridled the Antichrist’s pretensions will be, these verses present a list of deities that he will refuse to honor. The six entries in the list are easy to distinguish, because the preposition above marks each one. In first and last places stands the same general observation—that the Antichrist will lift himself above every god. The middle four entries reveal that he will recognize neither the God of gods, the god (or gods) of his fathers, the desire of women, nor any other god. In two ways, the structure of the list shows us that the God of gods is not the same as the god (or gods) of his fathers.
- Elsewhere in the middle four entries there is no repetition. Each of the last two differs in meaning from the other three. Is it not natural, then, to suppose that the first two entries also refer to different objects of worship?
- The middle four entries fall into two tiers. The entry which solemnly observes that the Antichrist will commit blasphemy against the God of gods stands alone. In recognition that a man’s view of God is far more important than his view of anything else, the oracle inserts further comment here. It explains why God will allow the blasphemer to prosper for a short season. "For that that is determined shall be done" (verse 36). When the oracle comes to the next three entries, including "god [or ‘gods’] of his fathers," it passes over them quickly, thus treating them as a group and creating the impression that the three together give the Antichrist’s view of false gods.
Hence, although it does not treat the matter openly, the Book of Daniel intimates that the fathers of the Antichrist would worship a god other than the God of gods. Since the God of gods is the ancestral God of the Jews, it follows that the Antichrist will not be a Jew. Neither will he have a Christian background.
Someone might wonder whether the word for "god" in the phrase "god of his fathers" is decisive. It is the word elohim, which throughout the Old Testament is a principal name for the God of heaven (7). Yet the expression “elohim of his fathers" need not signify the true God, for elsewhere in the Book of Daniel, elohim has other meanings. In Daniel’s recollection that Nebuchadnezzar took plunder to the "house of his god [elohim (8)]" and the "treasure house of his god [elohim (9)]" (Daniel 1:2), the word seemingly refers to a single pagan deity. In the prophecy that the king of the south would "also bring their gods [elohim (10)] . . . into exile [to] Egypt" (Daniel 11:8) (11), the word appears to designate a group of pagan deities. So, in itself the word elohim does not show anything about the ancestors of the Antichrist.
Polytheism has not survived anywhere in the lands controlled by ancient Greece or Rome. And verses 36–37 seem to frown upon the possibility that the ancestry of the Antichrist will be Jewish or Christian. What possibility is left? If he comes from northern Iraq, he will probably come from a Muslim background and, at the beginning of his prominence, pose as a sincere Muslim. Later, however, he will suppress all established religions and demand worship of himself.
Our conclusion rests on supposing that Scripture views Allah, the Muslim god, as different from the God of gods. Both are known as God, but in their character and in their dealings with man, they show themselves not to be the same. For instance, the Muslim god makes no claim to be a God of love.
Scripture’s choice of Antiochus to serve as a type of the Antichrist leads us to conclude not that the Antichrist will be a Jew, but rather that he will be a gentile who hates the Jews.
Third Feature of His Religion
He will not regard the desire of women (v. 37). This enigmatic prophecy has brought forth a spate of fanciful interpretations.
A common one is that the Antichrist will shun a pagan deity beloved especially by women. Yet, so construed, the prophecy hardly fits modern reality. What pagan deity with a following mainly among women will be important enough in the days of the Antichrist to warrant a place in Biblical prophecy? None of the religions with a strong worldwide following today offer a full-blown polytheism, of the sort espoused by the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Still another common interpretation, perhaps the one favored by the majority of conservative commentators, is that "the desire of women" is Jesus Christ. The name supposedly refers to the desire of every Jewish woman to bear the Messiah. This interpretation is untenable for several reasons.
- Few Jewish women today are filled with hope of the Messiah's coming. Even fewer, perhaps none, fervently desire to be His mother. And the desire to bear the Messiah has rarely been any more prevalent among Jewish women than it is today. Like people everywhere, the Jewish people as a whole have, throughout much of their history, been preoccupied with worldly affairs.
- Nothing in the context limits "women" to some Jewish women. The natural sense of the word widens the view to all women or at least to a great many women.
- If applied to a man, the name "desire of women" suggests that he is the object of their carnal affection. Scripture would not give Christ a name with unseemly connotations.
Yet another interpretation, which many readers find most natural, is that the Antichrist will lack a normal interest in women. Yet his forerunner, Antiochus, was a degenerate womanizer (12). Furthermore, the grammatical construction disallows changing "desire of women" to "desire for women" (13). In parallel instances, such as Haggai 2:7 and 1 Samuel 9:20, the noun following "desire of" is the source and not the object. What the prophecy is clearly saying is that the Antichrist will disregard something that women desire.
At last we come to the only convincing interpretation. It recognizes that since "the desire of women" appears in a list of spurned deities, the name must refer to something else the Antichrist will hold as undeserving of worship. It might signify either a god that women desire or the desire of women to be gods. Of these two possibilities, the second is a better fit both to the context and modern reality. It is the desire of women to be gods that the Antichrist will slight.
- The context. The angelic messenger has just predicted that the Antichrist will speak marvelous things against the God of gods (verse 36). As we argued, he was alluding to the tragedy in the Garden, where Satan used the same lies to corrupt Eve. He succeeded by exploiting woman’s desire to be godlike in her knowledge of good and evil. Although the result was downfall of the human race, that desire has never been extinguished. The fire of self-worship still burns in the hearts of all women who refuse to worship the true God.
Yet while recognizing the pride of women, we should not minimize the pride of men. The male heart is also prone to divine aspirations. After all, the future pretender to supreme deity will be a man, not a woman. But the Book of Daniel is concerned not to leave the wrong impression. To avoid suggesting that men are worse than women, the book adds a little reminder that apart from the grace of God, every woman is also an incorrigible egotist with a lurking desire to take over command of the universe.
- Modern reality. In recent times, the desire of women to be gods has resurfaced in an especially pronounced form: the drive for so-called women’s liberation. At issue between feminists and Christians is not whether women are equal to men. The Bible says that in Christ "there is neither male nor female" (Galatians 3:28). At issue rather is whether a woman ought to be like a man, whether she should be seeking to exchange a woman’s God-ordained role in the home and church for a man’s role.
Imagine what feminists will think when the Antichrist sets himself up as the supreme god and denies equal billing to any goddess! They will regard the exclusion of women from the highest flights of conceit as discrimination. Whatever hope he offers them of attaining a lesser degree of godhood will hardly satisfy their ambition. Yet he will ignore their objections. That is, as the oracle says, he will not regard the desire of women.
Fourth Feature of His Religion
He will honor a god of forces (v. 38). The Hebrew word corresponding to "forces" is ma'uzzim (14); singular, maoz (15). Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the singular form is normally translated "strength" (16). For example,
. . . The joy of the LORD is your strength [maoz (17)].
. . . The LORD is the strength [maoz (18)] of my life; . . . .
Thus, the expression "god of forces" might be rendered "god of strengths." But unlike the more common words for strength, maoz specifically denotes a strong thing or place, such as a rock or a fortress (19). In a typical modern translation, Daniel 11:38 says, "But in his place he will honor the god of fortresses" (20). The usual interpretation is that instead of worshiping any supernatural deity, the Antichrist will worship military might. In other words, he will have virtually a religious zeal for accumulating weapons and waging warfare. This interpretation cannot possibly be correct, however, for the same verse goes on to say that the god of fortresses will be a deity previously unknown. Yet no generation or lineage has been free of men devoted to armed conquest.
What then is the true identity of the Antichrist's god? The answer depends on recognition that the world lies under Satan's control. Thus, only by Satan’s patronage will the Antichrist succeed in rising to the highest pinnacle of power. But Satan will set a price on his favor. He will help the Antichrist only if this man of unbounded ambition meets the same requirement that Satan tried to impose on Christ, saying,
6 . . . All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it.
7 If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.
8 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
It is clear that the title "god of forces" for the Antichrist's sole deity must be a veiled reference to none other than Satan.
Why is he called the god of ma’uzzim? We find a clue in the surprising and insightful rendering "forces," which the KJV translators preferred to the literal meaning, "strengths," perhaps seeing it as a departure from standard English. Their substitute is supported by several considerations.
- The five instances of maoz earlier in chapter 11 (21) show that its meaning is highly flexible.
Verse Translation Form (22) Reference 1 "to strengthen him" —literally, "for a fortress for him" (23) maoz an angel 7 "fortress" maoz apparently, a king's homeland 10 "fortress" maoz apparently, a king's homeland 19 "fort" ma’uzzim actual citadels 10 "sanctuary of strength"—literally,"the sanctuary, the fortress" (24) maoz the Temple
Thus, the context indicates that the perplexing use of ma’uzzim in verse 38 permits a certain freedom of translation.
- If a more abstract word for strength had been chosen, we would suppose that the expression "god of strengths" is a plural of intensity, thus referring to a very strong god. Yet the expression "god of ma’uzzim" leads us in another direction, to the idea that the god revered by the Antichrist will govern a multiplicity of strong things. One way to convey this idea by means of a simple English expression is "god of forces."
- The term ma’uzzim occurs again in verse 39. The phrase "most strong holds" is, in the original, "mibtseray [another common word for fortresses (25)] ma’uzzim" (26). A possible rendering is "fortresses of fortresses," but the use of two different words suggests that they do not have exactly the same meaning. Moreover, the construction implies that the second possesses the first. Thus, we return to "forces" as a way of translating the second. Forces in a military sense are certainly strong things that can possess fortresses.
What exactly are the strong things, the forces, that Satan governs? A recurrent teaching of Scripture, including the Book of Daniel, is that Satan is the head of an organized host of wicked angels. Identifying these as the ma’uzzim under Satan’s control suits the context, where maoz has already appeared as a term for an angel (verse 1). Elsewhere in Scripture, Satan is given titles similar to "god of forces." He is the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), a ruler of the darkness of this world (Ephesians 6:12). The title "god of forces" is consistent also with one of Daniel’s major themes: namely, the angelic realm. A few verses earlier, in chapter 10, his book reveals that Satan has powerful lieutenants with the rank of prince. Now the view expands to take in other forces who do his bidding.
The text presents an apparent contradiction. The angel quoting the Scripture of Truth says in one breath that the Antichrist will not honor any god (verses 36–37), and in the next breath that he will honor a god of forces (verse 38). Help in reconciling these two assertions comes from the next title used for Satan. He is called "a strange god" (verse 39). "Strange" means "alien" (27). As used here, the term implies a god unrecognized by the principal religions of mankind—as it says, "a god whom his fathers knew not" (verse 38). Construing the term in this way clarifies the statement that the Antichrist will not honor any god. The statement must be looking only at the traditional pantheon. The view excludes Satan, who, under his own name and in his own person, has never been a general object of worship.
The oracle proceeds to illuminate Satan’s role in the regime of the Antichrist, but, unfortunately, the KJV offers an unsatisfactory translation. The subject of "acknowledge" is not "he," the Antichrist, but the word wrongly translated "whom." The oracle should read,
And he will do this [that is, honor his god with precious things] in the fortresses of forces with an alien god: any who acknowledge him [the alien god] he [the Antichrist] will greatly honor, and he will make them rule over many, and the land he will divide for a reward.
Daniel 11:39 (28)
We learn first that the Antichrist will honor his god, Satan, in fortresses. Then we learn that these fortresses will be occupied by "forces," doubtless the same ones that verse 38 places within Satan’s sphere of authority. Our second insight is supported by the grammatical construction of verse 39. The whole phrase "with an alien god" can be understood as modifying "forces." Viewed in this way, the phrase tells us the god they will serve. Thus, since the alien god is Satan, the clear sense of the oracle is that the Antichrist will honor Satan in fortresses occupied by Satan’s angelic host.
What the fortresses refer to is not divulged, yet we may suppose that they speak of places set aside for occult practices, which demons will strongly defend from interference by good angels.
The oracle reveals that the Antichrist will award wealth and power only to those who are willing to acknowledge Satan. Since the description of the Antichrist’s religion precedes the account of his conquests, we infer that his worship of Satan will begin early in his career, before he usurps power over three kingdoms. But whether his alliance with diabolical power will be public knowledge then, we cannot tell. It is likely that until the world acclaims him as ruler, he will hide his Satanism from all but his closest confederates.
Fifth Feature of His Religion
He will exalt himself above all gods (v. 37). Not only will he present himself as a god to be worshiped, he will, in the last stage of his career, forbid his subjects from worshiping any other god except presumably his own, Satan.
The Book of Revelation prepares us to recognize the Antichrist by his name.
18 Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.
The words, "Here is wisdom," wherever they or similar words occur in Scripture, signal a riddle. But is not the meaning obvious? The numerical value of the Beast's name (in Revelation, the Antichrist is called the Beast) will be 666. The number 666 is expressed by three Greek letters, the ones with values 600, 60, and 6. Yet for some reason the obvious meaning embarrasses many commentators. They evidently feel that a plain riddle of this sort would compromise the dignity of Scripture. Or perhaps they are reluctant to see a specific prophecy here lest they be forced to see other prophecies as specific also, when they would rather think that the Bible offers only a highly generalized picture of future events. So, they try to patch another meaning onto the text. They say that the three letters are merely symbolic. The first and last are the first and last in one spelling of Christ. The middle has a serpentine shape, revealing that the person characterized as 666 will be a false Christ, a very serpent.
But let us assume that prophecy provides this riddle to give us real help in identifying the Antichrist. How can we determine the numerical value of a modern name? Scripture suggests in two ways that we should look at its customary Greek spelling.
- The name of Jesus sets a precedent. His name as it is spelled in the Greek New Testament is Iasous. Every Greek letter has a numerical value. Therefore, it is a simple matter to evaluate His name. When the letters are viewed as numerals, the sum is 888. Eight, being seven plus one, is the number of superabundant perfection, whereas six, being seven minus one, is the number of falling short.
- The verse in Revelation giving the value of the Beast's name is written in Greek and expresses this value in Greek letters.
If we wished to find the numerical value of a modern name, how would we proceed? To obtain the customary Greek spelling, we would consult a Greek newspaper or some other source of news coverage written in Greek. Although the letters in modern Greek have lost their numerical significance, they are the same as in ancient Greek, so we may resort to their original values to compute the overall value of a modern name.
By this test, I am aware of no eligible candidate on the world scene today whose name equals 666. But I must attach a word of caution. If the Antichrist is now alive on the earth, any attempt to find him by computing the numerical value of names belonging to current world figures is probably futile, for two reasons.
- It is likely that the Antichrist will not attract much attention until after the Rapture.
- The name with value 666 may not be a given name, but one he assumes after rising to prominence. Notice that prophecy tells us not only the number of the name, but also something about its content. From God's perspective it will be blasphemous (Rev. 13:1). We therefore think it likely that it will be a name he deliberately assumes to exalt himself. If so, he will in this respect resemble his forerunner and type Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus also claimed to be divine, but his original name gave no hint of his pretensions. It was not until the peak of his career that he claimed the title declaring his deity. He called himself Theos Epiphanes. Theos means "god" and Epiphanes means "become visible" or "manifest." Likewise, the Antichrist may not give himself the name that God calls blasphemous until events have moved well beyond the Rapture.