I recently picked up a book that looked interesting at a local thrift store. The book is titled “ANTICHRIST: TWO THOUSAND YEARS OF HUMAN FASCINATION WITH EVIL” written by Bernard McGinn. This might be the one of the best texts I have read that explains the various understandings of the devil, demons, antichrist, evil, and wickedness that I have ever read. McGinn writes in a textbook manner and offers so much historical data to consider and review. It’s safe to say I was shocked at how much I enjoyed this book I bought for less than $3 at the thrift store.
I have been working steadily on Wicked. (which is expected to be released at the end of May 2017). As I come to chapters in regards to these wicked things (Satan, evil, demons, etc) I have been reviewing some books I own on the topics. I was not expecting such a fascinating book as ANTICHRIST. Now, I want to say something about fascination and the topic of evil. Unfortunately our “total depravity” (to borrow a doctrinal term from reformer John Calvin) shows all to often when we are so quick to jump into topics about wicked things, and offer up our opinions and thoughts (leaning upon our own misunderstandings and offering more confusion to the mix). And boy oh boy are we quick to do so.
Last week I post a status on my Facebook page and it brought over 87 mostly aggressive comments within 2 hours. Yikes! Arguments went on and on. Some almost calling each other Satan and evil things. Wickedness ran rampant.
I’d like to say that my fascination with the topic is a bit different and prayerfully I will detail that as I share some of the points from ANTICHRIST with you in this blog. Ultimately of course, I would encourage you to keep an eye out for my upcoming book, Wicked. My fascination is more from the standpoint of a student of Scripture and a follower of Jesus Christ. I desire to know the depths of what the Scriptures are revealing. In doing so, I often times bump heads with the Establishment (the traditional Fundamentalist crowd within the Church). An honest study through history show this. Reading and studying through the chaos revealed through Church history on the topic is outrageous, especially detailed so fully in Bernard McGinn. This is or should be a textbook on the topic.
“…I write in the conviction that the Antichrist has already come – That is, the most important message of the Antichrist legend in Western history is what it has to tell us about our past, and perhaps our present attitudes toward evil”. – McGinn
McGinn begins by detailing Isaac Newton’s distaste for those who were always searching for the Antichrist, as well as explaining that much of what people believe today as wickedness show influence of 2nd Temple Judaism/ Hellenism (ultimately confusion that ran rampant among national Israel (God’s vessel up until the time of Christ) from the 3rd century BC to AD 70. “Ultimately that and more led to the coming of the Lord in that generation”. I surely could appreciate even though we may disagree on many specifics – end times taken “seriously but not literally”.
There is so much that can be said about how McGinn shared all these details on the Antichrist. I loved the format of the book! McGinn highlighted the views that were noted (the resources he looked into could be compiled as an encyclopedia) throughout various points of history (which I will share near the end of this blog). Also, McGinn really piqued my interest in reading quite a few resources:
- 2nd Temple literature/ Apocalypses, Enoch, etc)
- The Maccabees and some highlights in Hellenism (1 Macc: 1:11-16; 2 Macc 4:7-18)
- Sibylline Oracles and the Book of Jubilees
In talking about the ancient world McGinn rightly noted the importances of myths:
“Myths serve as archetypal narratives that exercise a special part of the human imagination” to which I would challenge with a proper understanding of the “prophetic imagination” as seemingly understood by the early Hebrews. McGinn notes, “Myth explains, not in an intellectual way by giving an argument, but rather by presenting an accounts of origin or essential structure that mediates meaning to the present”. Essentially myths were natural man’s way of “making sense of reality”.
McGinn really helps provide for an appreciate in regards to history. The style in which he writes captures what he refers to as the “Matrix of Early Christianity” –
– Positive memories of Israel’s great kings
– Remembrance of oppressors and fear of worst in future
– The Messiah as an apocalyptic hope
The best way I can show you some of the great details McGinn brought forth is to use his historical outline/ sections and share my notes.
300 BC – AD 50 : A time marked by Jewish apocalyptic visions, 2nd Temple period, and the Qumran community. A time filled with blasphemy against the One True God, persecution of His Faithful, and false religious leadership (hypocrites). We also see how these historic times mark out the internal conflict between good and evil, or what we might call the “psychological dualism of the struggle of the spirits of good and evil within the human heart”.
AD 50 – 100: A time of the 2nd Adam and His opposite. McGinn highlights that “After the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in AD 70, both Jews and Christians had to face a new religious situation, one that profoundly affected their respective beliefs and the increasing divergent roads these religious traditions would take”.
The teachings of Jesus Christ surely took precedent during this time. In literature and preaching we read of the “Man of Sin”, “the Beast”, Satan/ devil, the evil trinity, and the abomination of desolation. I love the following quote from Gerhard Eberling because it demonstrates that the Christian hope is based upon a reorienting all that was being hoped for through the lens of Jesus:
“What stands at the beginning of Christian theology is the apocalyptic modified by faith in Jesus”.
AD 100 – 500: Throughout this time period we see the Antichrist develop as Christianity itself is developing. We read of “provocative new twists” from Church Fathers through this time of “persecution, heresy, and self-deceit”. Unfortunately, confusion runs rampant during this time. Surely applying the “end times” and the “Deceiver of the world” to a time past the events of the Roman-Jewish war is a misplace concept and bred much confusion in the Church. Some writings that stand out from this period which I seek to read and review in the near future are:
– The Apocalypse of Peter
– The Apocalypse of Elijah – which has been said to be “one of the most complete, but also obscure accounts of the Antichrist in patristic literature”.
– The writings of Hippolytus, presbyter in Rome from AD 200-235A
– The Catechetical Lectures by Cyril (AD 315-386) – these were instructions given to converts as the Roman world became increasingly Christian.
Prior to the Middle Ages it could be said, “….in the West at least, the apocalyptic theology advanced by Augustine and Tyconius emphasized a moral and internal reading of the Antichrist symbolism…”
AD 500 – 1100: The Middle Ages were characterized by various and different enemies being labeled “antichrist” by the Church. The confusion continued into what I would refer to as “scattered thoughts lacking consistency and context”. For example, a monk named Adso wrote some apocalyptic thoughts in which he detailed a 40 day period (or completeness) wherein the Elect would not be temped by the Antichrist due to offer up penance (“…the Lord will grand the Elect 40 days to do penance because they were led astray by the Antichrist”). During this time we see the rise of the “Irish Antichrist tradition” (a writing that stands out is “The 15 Signs Before Doomsday”). Also, Islam saw a rise during this time, and the development of the Dajjal (Antichrist) which resulted from the Hadiths.
AD 1100-1200: In this period of time we saw the effects of the Great Schism in the Church between the East and the West. The formation of the Ordinary Gloss which is “a great Biblical textbook created in the nascent universities of the 1200’s”, which served as commentary during that time and further. We also read of the Moralized Bibles, or “medieval picture Bibles” published during this period which largely included imagery of the Antichrist in different perspectives. This period of time provided interest in reading through the works of Honorious, namely his commentary on the Song of Songs.
AD 1200 – 1335: A time of Church issues and Papal name calling.
AD 1335 – 1500: Surely this period of time was seen as the eve of the Reformation. The term “Antichrist” during this time surely came to be a “symbolic representation of ultimate human evil”. We see the late medieval pessimism during this time with calculations of the coming Antichrist in almost every year (prophesies of 1346, 1347, 1348, 1360, 1365, 1375, 1387, 1396, 1400, 1418, —> and these are just some of the dates listed up until 1450 (that surely should cause us to pause and reconsider dating details that are so often abused in regards to Bible prophecy).
The rise of reformers during this time period is very evident and mark out some of the contemporary mindsets as well. John Wycliffe (1337) labeled the Papacy as Antichrist and John Huss (1372-1415) was apparently killed for referring to the Pope as Antichrist.
AD 1500 – 1660: During this reformation time we surely read of the cries of Reformation regarding the Antichrist Papacy. “Antichrist was definitely seen as a legendary projection of human evil forming the reverse image of the Christian Redeemer”. The splinter groups formed after the Reformation surely caused differences in regards to how evil was viewed, aways seeming to be defined in more contemporary styles. During this time we read of reformers such as Englishman John Jewell, Nicholas von Amsdorf, John Calvin, and Melchior Hoffman. Hoffman was an Anabaptist who prophesied of the end and the coming Antichrist in 1553. Von Amsdorf in 1554 wrote “Five Principles & Certain Signs Before the End”.
We also read of the “counter-reforms” being done in and through the Catholic Church during this time. We see the rise of various Jesuit understandings (some which pointed backwards in history as the fulfillment of prophecy rathering than regarding the Pope as Antichrist). It’s been said, “Catholic preaching and teaching on the Antichrist down to the latter half of the 17th century was partly a repetition of patterns inherited from early era’s and partly a reaction to the Protestant challenge”.
AD 1660 – 1900’s: McGinn properly noted, “While a number of important thinkers continued to speculate about the Antichrist, in many ways the Last Enemy became the hobby of cranks after 1660”. More defining of things based on contemporary situations led to more and more confusion. The early Puritans who had come to America viewed England as the Antichrist, in France due to the French Revolution there was a lot of throwing around of who was the “Antichrist”, and so we see the early confusion and void of clarity that allowed for a renewed interest in Milleniarism and ultimate Dispensationalism. These two doctrinal views has crept in and caused so many chaotic and confusing interpretations into the Christian Church.
That is where we are at now. McGinn’s eloquently detailed where all the confusion has led us: “…the increasing vagueness of the term Antichrist (as seen through the history of the Christian Church) has reached the point where universal invective overwhelmed effective application”.
As I plan to continue to sift through and study these details further I am glad that I sit on the side of careful historical and context review. A Preterist. Every generation thinks excitedly that they are the “terminal generation” as shown through this lengthy review. Surely, I would apply much of the details found in prophecy to the generations it was prophesied to as well as ultimately the generation to whom Christ came and revealed things to. The Biblical Antichrist was revealed in that generation.
However, our understanding of Antichrist, or better said our understanding of evil, need not, must not, stop there. McGinn wrote and I couldn’t agree more, “…Biblical texts, such as the 1st epistle of John, and other major Christian thinkers – Origen, Augustine, Gregory the Great, William Langland – use Antichrist motifs – and insist that the true meaning of antichrist is to be found within, that is, the spirit that resists Christ”. I regularly praise God that as I “study to show myself approved (2 Tim. 2:15)” and go through details for my writing of Wicked. I see the application of various concepts in Scripture.
In my upcoming release Wicked. I detail these “conceptual realities”, which the philosopher Paul Rocoeur in his seminal work, The Symbolism of Evil, explained very well when he noted how contemporary reflection on the symbols found in the ancient myths of the origin of evil could “still give rise to thought”; that is, they provide an “occasion for thought, something to think about”. Surely looking through history in regards to all the characters of evil we have pinpointed we have a lot to ponder. The Qumran community in the first century spoke of the “spirit of perversity” (which we all have the capability to live in and under) as the ultimate evil. In a similar vein, detailing “Who is the Antichrist?”, Church Fathers like Augustine noted “Everyone must question his conscience whether he be such”. In closing, let’s catch this concept as our definite understanding of the Antichrist:
“There you have the Antichrist – everyone that denies Christ by his works”. – Augustine
Some more contemporary resources I plan to take a look at (noting here for my and your benefit):
- The Antichrist by Vincent P. Micelli
- Catholic Prophecy: The Coming Chastisement by Ives DuPont
- The Devil (4 part series) by Jeffrey Burton Russel