Which beast is the Antichrist?
The word Antichrist
In the Bible, the word, "antichrist" occurs only in 1 John 2:18, 22, 4:3, and 2 John 7. In these instances, the antichrist is a person or individual who denies that:
- Jesus is Christ (1 John 2:22), or that
- Jesus came in the flesh; probably meaning to deny that Jesus was fully human (1 John 4:2, 3),
1 John 2:18 refers to “many antichrists.” Therefore, anyone who denies Jesus as Christ was regarded as an antichrist.
But, in general English usage, the title Antichrist has a different meaning. For example, Merriam-Webster also defines Antichrist as:
- A great antagonist
- Expected to fill the world with wickedness
- But to be conquered forever by Christ at his second coming.
This, I believe, is how the average Christian understands the title Antichrist. I also assume that the question was phrased with that meaning in mind. Using that definition, who is the Antichrist in Revelation?
Revelation 12 to 14
To answer this question, this article focuses on Revelation 12 to 14 and identifies the phases and entities described in those chapters.
Revelation 12 and 13 may be divided into four parts. Each of these parts uses a different symbol for Satan’s forces:
- Revelation 12 symbolizes Satan’s forces as a dragon.
- Revelation 13:1-8: A beast arises from the sea, receives a fatal wound, but comes back to life (cf. Rev 13:14), and is worshiped (meaning, accepted as king – Rev 13:4) by the whole world.
- Revelation 13:11-15: A beast arises from the earth, works in the authority of the first beast, “performs great signs,” and “deceives” the people of the world “to make an image to the beast.”
- Revelation 13:15-18: It is then that image that kills all who refuse to “worship” (obey) it and who marks its followers with the mark of the beast (Rev 13:15-18).
Each of these sections is now discussed in more detail to identify the phases of the war:
The Dragon - Revelation 12
Revelation 12 describes a series of wars. In all of these wars, Satan’s forces are symbolized as “the dragon:”
- Before Christ, “the dragon stood before the woman … so that when she gave birth he might devour her child” (Christ) (Rev 12:1-4).
- Against Christ: When Christ was born, the dragon attempted to devour Him but failed (Rev 12:5).
- The war in heaven (Rev 12:7-12): That war began before Satan deceived our first parents but came to an end when Christ ascended to heaven after the cross, causing Satan and his angels to be thrown out of heaven. See - When was Satan thrown out of heaven?
- Against the woman: “When the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child” (Rev 12:13).
- Time and times and a half: But the woman “was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent” (Rev 12:14). This is the same as the 1260 days of Revelation 12:6. We find that Revelation sometimes mentions something briefly but then interrupts itself and goes back to describe the circumstances that led to the thing mentioned so briefly.
- Dragon retreats: Then follows a weak period for the beast: The earth helps the woman, forcing the dragon to go away (Rev 12:16-17).
- The End-time War: The last phase is mentioned in Revelation 12:17 but not described, namely the “war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
- The seven heads of the beast are the seven successive phases of the beast's existence (Rev 17:9-10) and are identified in another article. That article shows that the last three heads of the beast are equivalent to the last three phases above, but the first four in the two series are not the same.
- In Revelation 12-22, the dragon is the first to appear on the scene and the last to be destroyed. It will be “thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone” at the end of the Millennium (Rev 20:10). (See - The lake of fire is the second death.)
- The “time and times and half a time” is not associated with the end-time. After the “time and times and half a time,” the dragon is forced to retreat. The end-time war follows after that weak period for the dragon, namely, the “war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 12:17; cf. Rev 14:12)strong text
- Revelation 12 uses the dragon to symbolize many different entities in many different phases of history. In the context of the war in heaven, the dragon is identified as Satan (Rev 12:9). But the dragon has seven heads and ten horns (Rev 12:3) and both these heads and horns symbolize kings (or kingdoms – Rev 17:9-10, 12). The dragon, therefore, in other contexts, also serves as a symbol for human organizations that opposes God’s people on earth.
The Beast (Rev 13:1-8)
After the dragon is forced to retreat following another defeat (Rev 12:17), Revelation 13:1-8 describes the beast from the sea. It receives its authority from the dragon (Rev 13:2). It has a fatal wound on one of its heads but “his fatal wound was healed” (Rev 13:3). As another article explains, this means that the entire beast was dead but only for a period.
A key element of 13:1-8 is the many allusions to the animals of Daniel 7. These allusions indicate that the beast is part of the series of animals in Daniel 7. On the basis of these allusions, another article identifies the beast as the 11th horn of the 4th beast of Daniel 7.
Since the sea beast receives “authority to act” for 42 months (Rev 13:5) and since the 42 months are the same as the “time and times and half a time” (Rev 12:14), the 42 months describe a period before 12:17. This shows that Revelation does not describe events always chronologically.
The events in 13:1-8 are also not in chronological sequence. For example:
- Verse 2 states that the beast received its authority from the dragon but, after verse 3 mentioned the fatal wound and its healing, verses 5-7 return to that authority and explain what it is, namely, “authority to act for forty-two months” and “authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation” (Rev 13:2, 5, 7).
- Verses 3-4 state that “the whole earth … worshiped the beast” but verse 8 elaborates by stating that “the whole earth” excludes the people “whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life” (Rev 13:3-4, 8).
- 13:4-8 elaborates on 13:1-4.
- Since, in 13:1-4, the beast receives its authority BEFORE the fatal wound, the 42 months describe the period of the beast’s rulership BEFORE the fatal wound.
- The worship describes the period after the fatal wound has been healed.
Consequently, the last phases of Revelation 12 may be aligned as follows with 13:1-8:
- The woman in the wilderness for a time and times and half a time (12:14-15) aligns with the authority to act for 42 months (13:2, 5-7).
- The earth helping the woman, forcing the dragon to retreat (12:16-17) is the fatal wound on one of the beast’s seven heads (13:3)
- The war with the rest of her children (12:17) takes place after the beast's fatal wound was healed. It describes the time when the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast.
So, while Revelation 12 says that the dragon “persecuted the woman” during the “time, times, and half a time” (Rev 12:13-14), we see in Revelation 13 that it is really the beast from the sea that persecutes the woman during that period (Rev 13:5-7). This shows how symbols overlap in meaning.
The beast is destroyed when Christ returns when it is also “thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone” (Rev 19:20).
The False Prophet (Rev 13:11-15)
Comparing Revelation 19:20 with 13:13 shows that the “another beast coming up out of the earth” (Rev 13:11) is also called the false prophet (cf. Rev 16:13, 20:10). In other words, the same power that helped the woman (the earth - Rev 12:16) is the source of this second beast.
“He makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed.” In other words, it works in the time after the wound was healed (Rev 13:12, 14). It also means that it is this second beast that causes the world to worship the first beast. Stated differently, it is this second beast that heals the wound of the first beast.
“He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence” (Rev 12:12). Just like the sea beast receives its authority from the dragon (Rev 13:2), the beast from the earth does its works in the authority of the sea beast. The phrase “in his presence” implies that the first beast still exists, but it is the beast from the land that is the immediate enemy of God’s end-time people; not the sea beast.
The title “false prophet” (Rev 16:13; 19:20) identifies this beast as a religious organization. Since it has “two horns like a lamb” (Rev 13:11) it appears Christ-like. (The word “lamb” is used about 30 times in Revelation and 13:11 is the only instance that does not refer to Christ.) In other words, it is a Christian organization. Since the second beast works in the authority of the first beast, this implies that the first beast also is a Christian organization.
The false prophet is also destroyed when Christ returns (Rev 19:20).
The Image of the beast (Rev 13:15-18)
False Christianity, by means of satanic miracles, will convince the people of the world to create the image of the beast (Rev 13:13-14). It is then this image of the beast that persecutes God’s people (Rev 13:15). Since the beast receives its authority from the dragon (13:2), and since the false prophet “exercises all the authority of the first beast,” the image of the beast symbolizes the organization through which the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet will persecute God’s end-time people (Rev 13:14-15).
The image is a replica of the beast. Before its fatal wound, the beast was “given … to make war with the saints and to overcome them, - and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him” (Rev 13:7). The image receives the same authority: “The image of the beast would … cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (Rev 13:15).
But it is the image that persecutes God’s people; not the beast. The beast is not directly involved in the end-time war. Therefore:
- The beast and its image are two different things.
- The recovery of the beast from its deadly wound is the creation of the image of the beast. In other words, the beast appears in the end-time in the form of the image.
- Revelation does not mention the destruction of this image but, since the image is a reincarnation of the beast, the destruction of the beast is also the destruction of the image.
The war with the rest of her children (12:17) is the persecution by the image of the beast. This may be confirmed as follows:
Firstly, both the war with the rest of her children and the image follow after the wound has been healed:
- As argued above in the section describing the beast, the war with the rest of her children follows after the wound has been healed.
- Since the false prophet will set up the image (13:15) after the wound has been healed (13:12), the image will be set up after the
wound has been healed.
Secondly, God’s people are described similarly in the two contexts:
- In 12:17, they are those “who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
- In the context of “the beast and his image” and the mark of the beast (Rev 14:9), they are similarly described as those who “keep the
commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (Rev 14:12)
So, while Revelation 12 says that the dragon will “make war with” God’s people in the end-time, the real aggressor will be this image of the beast. This shows again how the symbols overlap in meaning.
The Harlot Babylon
The last character in Satan's army is the harlot Babylon (Rev 17:5). She is not mentioned in Revelation 12-13 but she is briefly and abruptly mentioned as part of the message of the three angels in Revelation 14 (Rev 14:8). The three angels symbolize God’s message to the world through His people during the time when the image of the beast forces people to accept the mark of the beast (see, for example, Revelation 14:9).
So, although she is not mentioned in Revelation 13, she is involved. Revelation 17 explains how she is involved. While the previous chapters describe the roles of the dragon, the beast, the false prophet, and the image, Revelation 17 reveals that those forces may be divided into two parts:
- The harlot; representing all religions that oppose God, and
- The scarlet beast; symbolizing the civil authorities controlled by false religions.
The harlot is the evil counterpart of the pure woman (cf. Rev 12:1) and symbolizes false religion. As such, she will appear in the end-time as the false prophet.
The harlot sits on all seven heads (Rev 17:9), meaning that she reigns over all seven phases of the beast (Rev 17:18). These seven phases have been identified as beginning with the Babylonian Empire and reaching until Christ returns. The harlot, therefore, exists during all that time. One may say that she always exists.
She is the one behind all persecution of God’s people on earth (Rev 18:24).
She is destroyed even before Christ’s return, namely, by the 10 horns of the beast (Rev 17:16-17). Before Christ returns, the kings of the world will turn on the false religions that have manipulated them over the millennia “for God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose” (Rev 17:17).
Since the beast receives its authority from the dragon, the dragon is the first to exist. The dragon is first mentioned in the context of Christ’s birth from Mary (Rev 12:3-5).
After the dragon, the beast comes up out of the sea. In the description of the beast, Revelation 13:2 mentions the dragon together with the lion, the bear, and the leopard. Since these are explicitly three of the four animals in Daniel 7, and because of other such allusions, another article identifies the dragon as equivalent to the fourth animal in Daniel 7, which still another article identifies as the Roman Empire.
The beast receives authority to work for 42 months (Rev 13:5). These are the same as the “time, times, and half a time” during which the woman has to hide in the wilderness from the dragon (12:14).
But the beast has a fatal wound on one of its heads (phases). During this phase, the beast is dead. According to Revelation 12, that wound was caused by the earth when it help the woman by drinking up the dragon’s water (the people controlled by the harlot - Rev 17:15). Therefore, the woman no longer has to hide in the wilderness; she can come into the open.
However, the beast will come back to life. Through the false prophet, the beast will be resurrected in the form of the image of the beast.
Revelation 12-14, therefore, describe the following phases of Satan’s war against God and His people:
- The Dragon in the time of Christ’s first coming
- The Beast has authority for 42 months
- The Fatal Wound
- The Beast resurrected by the false prophet in the form of the image of the beast = End-time persecution.
So, which one is the Antichrist? Using the definition above, which entity is expected to fill the world with wickedness but will be conquered forever by Christ at his second coming?
- The dragon no longer exists when Christ returns.
- The beast also no longer exists. In the end-time, it will exist in the form of its image.
- The false prophet and the image only exist in the final phase of world history.
So, I do not know which one is the Antichrist. Perhaps Revelation does not predict an Antichrist as envisaged in popular Christianity. Perhaps the Antichrist is the product of futurist or Dispensational thinking while Revelation 12-13, in contrast, describes the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet over the very long period between Christ’s first and second comings.