I saw a friend’s Facebook post nominating Donald Trump as Antichrist. A comment below the post suggested Joe Biden would better fit the role. This got me thinking about the term Antichrist. It’s bandied about in casual conversation often enough, but I only have a vague understanding of the theology behind the term. Something about end times and an ultra-evil guy. Where did this concept come from? I hit the google machine, and I turned up a bit of history.
The Bible itself only mentions the Antichrist a couple of times in I John and II John. Nothing about a single guy, but instead John generally references people who do not believe in Jesus at all as being Antichrist. Believe it or not, the term doesn’t pop up in the Book of Revelation even once. There is mention of beasts and other nasty folks, but nothing about this Antichrist guy.
Around 950 AD a French queen named Gerberga convinced herself the world was ending and got a monk to write a letter about the end of days. The monk filled the letter with a bunch of stuff about Antichrist behavior and individuals and practices being generally understood as Antichrist. This letter was passed around and added to over many years, and it forms the basis of a lot of the mythos around the Antichrist narrative. We do not have information about how this monk came up with the contents of his letter, but a lot of historians seem to think he just made a lot of it up to appease the queen.
A couple hundred years later another monk named Joachim Of Fiore came along and added his own spin on all this Antichrist stuff and his writings became popular enough to have multiple copies still surviving today.
Martin Luther got in on the act when declared the whole Papacy as Antichrist. When the Catholic church couldn’t get away from indulgences and paying for salvation, Luther declared the Pope, and all popes before him, as deliberately trying to undermine Christ and seeking to take Christ’s place. Thus, the Papacy was Antichrist.
Really, though, for most of history the term Antichrist was just a conceptual reference to not being Christlike. Weirdly, it seems it was the decidedly unchristian Nietzsche who seems to have coined the idea of a singular Antichrist when he published a book titled “The Antichrist” in 1895. It appears the popularity of Nietzsche’s writing caused the concept of a single individual as an Antichrist to enter the common vernacular and become ingrained in modern mythos and culture.
These days it looks like that if you ever become powerful, then soon enough you will be accused of being the Antichrist. One amusing article I found cataloged instances of every president since FDR being accused as the Antichrist. A 2010 Harris poll found 14 percent of respondents thought President Obama could be the Antichrist. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has previously been a contender for Antichrist due partly to his Jewish heritage and partly to some pretty unpopular beliefs that he has championed. Mikhail Gorbachev had some pretty fantastically complicated accusations levied against him to support his Antichrist candidacy. Just this year, Vladimir Putin has publicly suggested that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy could be the Antichrist.
So when next you hear someone accused of being the Antichrist, perhaps consider that they are likely in good company, and also that the concept of an individualized Antichrist is pretty modern indeed.
John Judkins is a Greenfield attorney.