The Early Church Fathers Belief about the Antichrist
So much in our modern day has been written on the topic of the Antichrist. The Bible certainly has much to say about this coming evil person who is so wicked he is literally the Devil-Incarnate. The Bible gives him many titles, including ‘fierce king’ (Daniel 8:23), ‘master of intrigue’ (Daniel 8:23), ‘contemptible person’ (Daniel 11:21), ‘the prince who is to come’ (Daniel 9:26), ‘man of lawlessness’ (2 Thessalonians 2:3), ‘son of destruction’ (2 Thessalonians 2:3), ‘the Beast’ (Revelation 13:1), ‘the Wicked One’ (Psalm 10:2,4), and ‘the little horn’ (Daniel 7:8) among others. He is the one the Bible says will arise within a 10 kingdom confederacy at the end of days. Some scholars say it will be 10 nations within the old Roman Empire. Other scholars say the world itself will be divided into 10 regions of which he will rule over. It could be either.
Something occurred to me though. Why be satisfied with just studying behind modern day authors? What if we could go back 1,800 years and see what the Early Church Fathers wrote, taught, and believed (i.e., those of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation after the apostles)? Can we know what they believed regarding the End Times? Can we even trace a spiritual lineage after the apostles? The answer to those questions is yes! Not only do we have the original writings of what some of the Early Church Fathers believed about the coming of Christ and Antichrist, we can trace the Early Church Fathers spiritual lineage through the first three centuries and, amazingly, it begins with one of the original 12 Apostles! Just the fact that we can go back to the source for interpretation of the Biblical text has far reaching implications, as you will see.
Church historians have traced a spiritual lineage through 235 A.D., and it all began with the writer of the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John. We are told that Polycarp (martyred in 155 A.D.) was a disciple of John. Further, Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp. Finally, living 170-235 A.D., Hippolytus was a disciple of Irenaeus. Again, and maybe less confusing, it was John followed by Polycarp, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus. Three generations stem from the Apostle John. Those are the Bible teachers who would have most preserved John’s teachings and, just as important, his interpretation of what he wrote because Polycarp would have heard it directly from John himself.
I came by a book entitled ‘The Antichrist’ by Larry Harper. It’s a different type of book as he brought together two separate works on the subject of the Antichrist and the Second Coming of Christ. One work was that of the Church Father Irenaeus. The other was that of his disciple Hippolytus. The premise was that these two men preserved the apostolic teaching of the early Church. Certainly, Polycarp and Irenaeus believed they had been accurately taught the apostolic tradition. Irenaeus wrote this of his great teacher, “Polycarp…instructed by apostles…always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true”.
As stated before, Hippolytus was a disciple of Irenaeus. It is these latter two who clearly believed they were taught those things the original Apostles received from Jesus Christ. As well, and not surprisingly, Irenaeus and Hippolytus agree on the basic points regarding the advent of Christ and Antichrist, these interpretations most likely being handed down by the Apostle John himself through Polycarp! If this is true, then what follows cannot be ignored. Even more so, just maybe we need to factor these points into our own belief system concerning what is about to occur in the near future.
The beliefs* that Irenaeus and Hippolytus held in common regarding the coming Antichrist can be summarized as follows:
1. Satan will appear as a man in the person of the Antichrist because he seeks to reign as king over mankind and desires to focus the worship of God on himself.
2. The Antichrist will be a Jew, and will achieve his stated objectives by being accepted as the Christ, the messianic king of the Jews, taking his seat in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, pretending to be God Himself, and thereby becoming the ‘abomination of desolation’ spoken of by the prophet Daniel and mentioned also by Jesus (Daniel 12:11, Matthew 24:15).
3. The Antichrist is the ‘little horn’ of the fourth beast mentioned in Daniel 7. He will slay three of the other horns and reign as an eighth with the remaining seven (Hippolytus explains that those three are the rulers of Egypt, Libya, and Ethiopia).
4. The Antichrist will achieve his objectives in the middle of the final 7-year period of this age. At that time he will be proclaimed the messianic king of the Jews and will take his seat as God in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. He will reign for three and one-half years.
5. The Antichrist, during his reign, will deceive the majority of people living on the Earth at the time into believing he is God. However, he will persecute those who refuse to worship him because they are able to see through his delusion.
6. Jesus Christ will return to Earth at the end of the three and one-half year reign of the Antichrist, destroying Satan’s kingdom. The resurrection of the just will occur at that time.
*References – IRENAEUS:Against Heresies (V, 19-30); HIPPOLYTUS:Treatise on Christ and Antichrist