Has the Antichrist Now Come upon the Scene?

9/9/15

What will be the Antichrist's place of origin? The dominant view of the ancient church was that the Antichrist would be a king of Syria. Their judgment had a strong Biblical foundation, which I have surveyed in my commentary on Daniel (the relevant excerpt available here). When predicting where the Antichrist will first appear, Bible prophecy takes us down four tracks converging on the same conclusion.

  1. Two different visions in the Book of Daniel (one recorded in Daniel 8, the other in Daniel 10-12) present Antiochus Epiphanes, the Syrian king who mercilessly persecuted the Jews in about 165 BC, as a type of the Antichrist.
  2. In Daniel 11:40, the Antichrist is called "king of the north," a title which throughout the preceding chapter is used only for ancient Seleucid kings. The Seleucid dynasty, a remnant of Alexander’s Greek Empire, held sway over a vast region including modern Syria and Iraq.
  3. Isaiah repeatedly (Isa. 14:24–27; 30:31-33; 31:4–9) and Micah once (Mic. 5:2–8) refer to the Antichrist as the Assyrian.
  4. The Book of Revelation teaches that the Antichrist will be a king of Babylon (Rev. 16:10, 12, 19), the context assuring us that the reference is to ancient Babylon rebuilt.

I first came to the position that the Antichrist will emerge from Syro-Iraq about thirty years ago. In my commentary on Daniel, a portion written perhaps ten years ago states the following:

Possible Scenario. The Antichrist’s place of origin makes it likely that he will be an ethnic Arab and, by birth and by profession early in his career, a Sunni Muslim. There are other possibilities, of course, but his designation as king of the north seems to imply that he will succeed in bringing the lands central to the ancient Seleucid dynasty into a modern political union. In other words, he will merge Iraq, or at least northern Iraq, with Syria. Such an accomplishment would probably require that he have the same ethnic and religious background as the Syrian people.

Tensions within Iraq might someday cause the nation to sunder, the Sunni part aligning itself with Syria and the Shiite part with Iran. In this political atmosphere, the man rising to lead greater Syria, which largely corresponds to the heartland of the ancient Seleucid kingdom, could well be the Antichrist.

When Satan grooms a Muslim for the role of Antichrist, he will be pursuing a smart strategy. He wants to put his own puppet in the place of world ruler, yet he faces many obstacles to achieving this goal. Chief among them is probably the Muslim world. Muslims are the most factious group in the world today—the group most resistant to leadership alien to their own culture and religion. Therefore, the easiest way to achieve world government embracing even the Middle East may be to raise a professing Muslim to supreme authority.

The emergence of ISIS in 2014 was a major step toward fulfillment of prophecy. The former nation of Iraq split apart when ISIS conquered much of the Sunni region, while all the Shiite region remained loyal to the government in Baghdad. For the first time in modern history, a sovereign state came on the scene with territorial boundaries drawing together parts of Iraq and Syria and with ambition to bring substantially all of the Seleucid domains under its control.

Is it possible that Abu Bakr al baghdadi, the present leader of ISIS, is the Antichrist? He is certainly a mysterious figure, seemingly controlled by an eerie sense of personal destiny. As an enemy of the Jews and of common decency, he is no doubt one of Satan's protégés. Thus, Satan would no doubt like to maneuver him into a commanding position over all mankind.

But Abu Bakr is not the first figure that Satan has tried to make world ruler. Until now, he has never succeeded. For example, the world under the principal leadership of the United States intervened to keep Saddam Hussein, another of Satan’s protégés, from becoming a worse menace. Therefore, whether Abu Bakr becomes the Antichrist depends on whether the world allows it.

So far, the United States has not taken the decisive military action needed to overthrow Abu Bakr. It has conducted air strikes against his strongholds and supported counteraggression by neighboring states. Let us hope that it will go further and truly put him out of the way. But for now he remains in power, still lurking in shadows from which he could emerge if the world suddenly sinks into chaos, as it will at the beginning of the Tribulation.

Therefore, the question remains, could Abu Bakr be the Antichrist? Let us consider the pros and cons in identifying him as the man foreseen by prophecy.


Pros

  1. He has the right place of origin.
  2. Prophecy describes the Antichrist as a cunning leader full of guile (Dan. 8:23-25). When Abu Bakr first entered world news, some political commentators cited his extraordinary guile as a major reason for his success.
  3. Prophecy says that the Antichrist will someday declare himself to be god and demand worship (Dan. 11:36; 2 Thess. 2:4). Abu Bakr poses as a Muslim, a necessary ploy to advance himself in today’s Middle East. But already we see a grandiose self-image. He presents himself as Mohammed’s successor who deserves the obedience of all good Muslims.
  4. In a video I once saw of this man preaching in a mosque, he spoke faultlessly with ringing sonority and fixed gaze. It certainly seemed as if he were demon-possessed.

Cons

  1. Prophecy requires that the Antichrist’s name bear the value 666 (Rev. 13:13). In Greek, Jesus’ name has the value 888. Since in Scripture, seven is the number of perfection, 666 represents something falling short of perfection and 888 represents something going beyond perfection. So, It appears that prophecy expects us to assess the value of the Antichrist’s name by looking at its Greek transliteration. If I can judge by the one Greek spelling of Abu Bakr’s name that has come to my attention, the numerical value is not 666. But various considerations lead us to suspect that the Antichrist’s blasphemous name (Rev. 13:1) with value 666 will be one he assumes later in his career.
  2. In Christian popular fiction, the Antichrist is generally portrayed as a spellbinding speaker and charismatic mover of events who charms the world into accepting him as their savior from the world's problems. In other words, he will rise to power because he convinces the masses that he represents what is good. But such fantasies may be much too flattering of human nature. God will allow the world to come under the rule of the Antichrist so that all its peoples will face a clear choice between evil in the person of the Antichrist and good in the person of Christ. Thus, God may manage events so that even from the beginning of the Antichrist's career, his true nature will be evident. The basis of his popular appeal will never be his resonance with any form of idealism. It will always be his resonance with the many forms of lust.
  3. It seems that Abu Bakr is now too weak to ever ascend the heights of power. But prophecy teaches that one reason the Antichrist will succeed in gaining godlike stature in the years just before Christ comes to destroy him is that he will ascend from the dead after being assassinated (Rev. 13:1–5). Perhaps the impact of his return to life will be greater because it will seem to be merely the latest proof of his resilience. Perhaps, as preparation for the man's place in history, God may allow him, right from the beginning of his career, to look invincible despite reverses that would overcome anyone else.
  4. Many Christians believe that identifying the Antichrist will be impossible until after the Rapture. The text they quote as authority is 2 Thessalonians 2:7–8. But verse 9 in the same passage shows that the preceding verses are speaking of the Antichrist's emergence as a world ruler who claims to be god. His revealing mentioned in verse 8 is explained in verse 9 as his coming to stand astride the nations in a larger-than-life pose. Therefore, his revealing does not refer to a first disclosure of his identity. He will exercise supreme power only during the last forty-two months of the Tribulation (Rev. 13:5–7), and long before then the godly will be able to infer who he is from many clues in prophecy. Paul's purpose in this passage is merely to assure believers that they need not be "shaken in mind, or be troubled" (v. 2) by fear that they will live under the Beast's vicious tyranny. Sometime earlier, they will be taken out of this world (v. 1).

So, could Abu Bakr be the Antichrist? Let us hope that he is not. Let us hope that men of common decency will remove him from power.