There are many theories around that attempt to decipher the number 666, and to identify the Antichrist. We will briefly look at a couple of these theories, and will then focus our attention on what the Bible says will be the fulfillment of these prophecies. For they were indeed written as prophecies, and by examining the word of God, we should be able to tell whether or not theses prophecies have had a past fulfillment, whether they have a present fulfillment or whether the prophecies still lie in the future.
The apostle Paul wrote in his second letter to the Thessalonians that before the Second Advent of Jesus Christ, the “man of lawlessness’ must be revealed. This man “opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship”, and “in the temple of God” claims to be God. The passage reads as follows:
“Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in Gods temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
“Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” 2 Thessalonians 2:1–121
This passage has done much to shape the present thinking on the Antichrist. He is seen as a very powerful person, who will set up a temple in Jerusalem, and will cause the world in general to turn away from the Lord Jesus, and cause people to turn to a false religion that will result in the destruction of very many people, This is a common interpretation of the passage, and this broad thinking is then attached to the verses in John’s writings about the Antichrist, flavouring those verses with the pen of the apostle Paul. The flavor is then superimposed on the beast that is numbered ‘666’, and the result is an apparently overwhelming verdict that the Bible speaks of a certain man arising in the world that has super-power sufficient to divert the whole world (or almost) from the true leader of Christianity, namely Jesus Christ.
In today’s world, such a scenario seems credible. Is it credible? Let us look at the Bible to see what it actually reveals, when all the relevant passages are considered.
The word antichrist is almost directly from a Greek word composed of two parts – anti and Christos. The first part of the word, anti, can mean either ‘one who opposes’ or ‘one who substitutes’. The second part is the Greek name of Christ, which in turn is the Greek interpretation of the Hebrew word ‘Messiah’. So, on the basis of the word segments, an antichrist is either ‘one who opposes Jesus Christ’, or, ‘one who substitutes for Jesus Christ’. Although the former interpretation is probably the more common of the two today, there is good evidence that the latter interpretation was the one that dominated in the time of the New Testament writings. As already noted, the apostle John was the only one who specifically mentioned antichrist.
“Dear children, this is the last hour; as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.” 1 John 2:18
“Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son.” 1 John 2:22
“…but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” 1 John 4:3
“Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.” 2 John 7
These verses indicate that the antichrist is a person, or persons, who substitute a false Christ for the true one—whether the substitution is by lowering the person of Jesus to a mere man of purely human origin or by denying that Jesus was the Son of God.