We have noticed a marked interest among some Protestants in the end times
(that is those that still strive for some spirituality). At the same time
certain segments of Jews also sense the approach of the fulfillment of
ancient prophecies; in Jerusalem's Old City a special seminary seeks to
revive the Levitical priesthood in preparation for the day when Solomon's
temple is rebuilt. Their efforts are supported by some evangelical
Christians who see in the restoration of the Temple the approach of
Christ's Second Coming. What is the view of the Orthodox Church concerning
the end times? Various periods of history have witnessed outbursts of
apocalyptic fervor and messianic expectations. In Russia, for example,
many people thought Napoleon was the Antichrist. In this country in the
1840's a Baptist minister by the name of William Miller calculated on the
basis of prophecies in the book of Daniel that Christ was due to return
sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. (In spite of what came
to be known as The Great Disappointment of 1844, Miller's followers clung
together and formed the Seventh-Day Adventist Movement.)
We are certainly not the first to experience 'wars and rumors of wars ...
famines, pestilences and earthquakes" which our Lord said would signal the
coming of the end of the world (Matt. Chapter 24). Nevertheless, without
indulging in sensational speculation, too often characteristic of end-time
prophecies, the signs of the times clearly indicate that world apostasy is
gathering momentum in anticipation of receiving Antichrist. His reign will
be heralded by many false prophets who "shall deceive many," even, if it
were possible, "the very elect." Already a veil of delusion is being spread
over the face of the earth. If we hope to remain faithful to Christ we
must seek to discern these signs of the times and prepare ourselves that we
"may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand"
Little children, it is the last time. (I John 2:18)
We cannot understand what is to happen at the end of the world without
understanding the creation of the world and man's purpose in the world.
Thru Adam man was created in the image of God. Of all God's creatures man
alone was imbued with the breath of life, the grace which made it possible
for him to become God-like. Man was given the ability to love, to have
compassion, trust, holy aspirations; he was given the ability freely to
communicate with God. As the crown of God's creation man was made from
Love and for love. Love, however, is not mechanical; it is born of a free
will and involves a constant choice of action: "If ye love Me, keep My
commandments" (John 14:15). Adam was given a commandment not to eat of the
tree of knowledge. In willfully breaking this commandment, he severed the
special relationship with God, that bond of perfect love. Since that time
God has been calling man back to Himself, and He will do everything to save
a soul -- if only that soul truly desires to be with Him. This is the
choice faced by everyone brought into the world: does he want to belong to
God or not. This choice underlies our purpose here on earth. Our true
home is heaven; we don't belong here; the earth is but a testing ground.
Life is a battle between God and the devil for man's soul, and in the
middle is man, who must exercise his free will to choose his eternal fate.
In the process of time, however, evil will reach such proportions as to
eliminate any possibility of choice. Then the earth will have lost its
purpose and the end will come.
And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because
iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. (Matt. 24:11-12)
This growth of evil is caused by the apostasy, the falling away from the
Truth, which will make possible the godless reign of Antichrist. As
St.Paul said: "That day shall not come except there come a falling away
first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition" (II Thess.
2:3). Although the apostasy has been in effect ever since the early
history of the Church, this century has seen such a dramatically sharp rise
in the influence of evil that even now it is becoming difficult for people
to see the light. And things are happening too quickly and in too
organized a fashion to be merely incidental. In the religious sphere, one
finds a maze of false prophets all schooling their adherents in the
acceptance of delusion; the insecurity on the political and economic fronts
has inspired the New Age movement with its enthusiasm for a one-world
government; culturally, the mass media is helping to promote a taste for
what is crude, vulgar and grotesque, exemplified by the punk-rock heroes in
the noise that passes for music; crime is rampant: abduction, rape,
murder; cable television brings pornography into the home; there is a total
erosion of values encouraged by a lifestyle which rejects Christianity as
"inconvenient." Thru all of this mankind is being manipulated into a state
of spiritual blindness which will allow the coming of Antichrist.
So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near,
even at the doors. (Matt.24:33)
Once the world has been sufficiently prepared, how shall Antichrist make
his appearance? Where will he come from? Who or what will he be, this red
beast of the Apocalypse? To answer these questions we must begin with an
understanding of the word "Antichrist." "Anti" means "against" or "in place
of". Antichrist will try to imitate Christ for the sake of fulfilling Old
Testament prophecies about the Messiah. Like a wolf in sheep's clothing,
he will make a pretense of good, claiming to bring "peace on earth, good
will toward men." Later, he will show his true colors; he will challenge
God and demand worship of himself. Whereas Christ was perfect man, perfect
goodness, Antichrist will demonstrate the perfection of evil in human form;
in submitting his will entirely to the devil, he will be completely
possessed by him. It is important here to note that Antichrist is not
Satan, for God would not allow such a supernatural domination of evil. If
Satan were actually to rule over man, man would be left with no choice; he
would no longer be able to exercise free will -- and this would be a
mockery of God's love. What is tragic is that even now human beings are
using this divinely planted free will to choose evil. In the world today
we see that of our own free will we are affecting each other to be demonic.
We can not say that the Apostasy is merely the work of the devil: "It
can't be helped." No, it is the direct result of man's choice not to follow
Christ -- and this decision can only lead to Antichrist.
Just as Christ was born of a pure virgin, the crown of humanity, so His
opposite, Antichrist, will be born of a harlot. St. John Damascene says
that "he becomes a man as the offspring of fornication and receiveth all
the energy of Satan. For God, foreknowing the strangeness of the choice
that he would make, allows the devil to take up his abode in him"
(Exposition of the Orthodox Faith).
Most Holy Fathers agree on the basis of Scripture that Antichrist will be
of Jewish descent from the tribe of Dan. According to the prophecy of the
patriarch Jacob, "Dan shall be a serpent in the way" (Gen.49:17;cf
Jer.8:16); among the remnants of the tribes of Israel which are sealed unto
salvation (Rev.7:4-8), the tribe of Dan is exclusively omitted. It is
interesting here to note that the Ethiopian Jews, of whom several thousand
were airlifted to Israel in the much publicised "Operation Moses" a few
years back, are declared to be "undoubtedly of the tribe of Dan" (a
statement by the Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, "Time", Jan. 14,
It is also assumed that Antichrist's life will pattern itself after the
life of Christ in the sense that it will be divided into three periods.
During the first period, which will last about 30 years, he will remain
hidden. "Antichrist will be raised secretly" (St.John Damascene), and will
be expertly educated.
During the second period of his life, he will come before the attention of
the world as one able to solve the world's problems. It is more than
likely that his public ministry will begin in a time when tremendous chaos
and upheavals will have brought men to the brink of despair. St. Ephraim
says: "At the time when the serpent shall come, there will be no calm on
the earth; there will be great affliction, consternation, disorder, death
and famine unto all the ends of the earth." Mankind, spiritually blinded,
will cry out for a resolution of the world crisis and will gratefully
accept Antichrist's plan for establishing a one-world government, a plan
which is already in preparation. "A voice of appeal will issue forth in
human society, expressing the urgent need for a 'genius of geniuses,' who
would elevate material development and progress to a higher plane and bring
about prosperity on earth" (Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov).
Antichrist will first appear as a wolf in sheep's clothing, in order to
deceive the people and win their confidence. "He will come as one humble,
meek, a hate (as he will say of himself) of unrighteousness, despising
idols, giving preference to piety, good, a lover of the poor, beautiful to
an extreme degree, constant, gracious to all ... He will not accept
bribes, speak with anger, show a gloomy countenance, but with a decorous
exterior he will take to deceiving the world, until he has become king"
(St. Ephraim). In further imitation of Christ, he will perform signs and
wonders: "Being the father of falsehood, he will deceive the imagination
by means of false actions as that the multitudes may think that they see
dead men raised and lame men walking or blind men seeing when no cure has
been wrought" (St. Cyril of Jerusalem). One of Antichrist's first
objectives will be to attain popularity among the Jews: "He will succeed
in completing the organization of the Jewish government and will set about
realizing the age-old dream of the Jews -- the restoration of the temple of
Solomon." With the help of mass media and advanced communication
technology, Antichrist will rapidly achieve world-wide renown, and his
appeal will be irresistable: "When the many classes and the people see
such virtues and power, suddenly all will conceive the same thought, and
with great joy will proclaim him king, saying among themselves: 'Can
another man so good and righteous be found?'" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).
During this second period when Antichrist will work to consolidate his
popularity, God will send two prophets to warn people against the deception
encompassing them. This confirms the Savior's unspeakable love for man,
for even at this darkest hour, "He will not leave the human race without
His preaching, in order that all will be without answer at the Judgment"
(St. Ephraim). The two prophets understood to be Elias and Enoch who did
not taste of death but were received up into heaven. And when these
prophets "shall turn again the heart of the father to the son, and the
heart of a man to his neighbor" (Mal.4:5). Blessed Theophilact interprets
this to mean that they "shall return to faith in Christ all the Jews who
are found to be obedient, remaining faithful, as it were, to the paternal
heritage of those who had fallen away therefrom."
For three and a half years (Rev.11:3) these two prophets shall work to
fulfill their mission without the interference of Antichrist. His power,
however, will already be such that many of the Jews will disregard the
prophets' warning and will be first to proclaim Antichrist as their ruler,
the true Messiah. In imitation of the Lord's entry into Jerusalem,
Antichrist will reveal himself as the (false) Messiah in his own triumphant
entry into Jerusalem where he will take up his seat in the temple. This
will herald the third and final period of his life when he will attain the
fulfillment of his three-fold ministry -- as Prophet, King, and High
Having received power and authority from Satan (Rev.13:2) in return for his
complete submission to him (the very temptation Christ withstood in the
wilderness), Antichrist will secure his position as world ruler. This is
described in the prophecy of Daniel which indicates that "kings shall
arise." Of these, seven will readily submit to Antichrist while it will be
necessary to subdue another three by means of military force. This
explains the portrayal of Antichrist in the book of Revelation as "a beast
... having seven heads [those rulers who submitted voluntarily] and ten
horns' [the ten kingdoms].
At the same time, by reason of his tolerance and false sanctity, Antichrist
will be proclaimed the spiritual leader of all religions. He will show
partiality towards Christians, "promising them every sort of protection in
return for their acknowledgment of his leadership." "Those not
comprehending Christianity will see in him a representative and champion of
the true religion and will join with him' (St. Ephraim).
Once he is proclaimed world ruler, Antichrist will begin to demand worship
for himself, the man-god, in place of the worship of the God-man, Jesus
Christ. Those who remain faithful to Christ will incite his wrath "and
then this serpent will become proud in his heart and vomit forth his
bitterness" (St. Ephraim). His first victims will be the two prophets who,
by reason of converting many Jews to Christ, will evoke the most intense
malice. "And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that
ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war and kill them"
(Rev.11:7). Their murder will signal a fierce persecution of Christians.
They will be forbidden to serve Divine Liturgy and the Church will hide
itself in the catacombs. "My sacrifice and drink offering shall be taken
away; and on the temple shall be the abomination of desolation" (Dan.9:27).
Such will be the tribulation of that time that "all men will call blessed
the dead and those already buried before this great sorrow came upon the
earth" (St. Ephraim).
By that time any organized opposition to Antichrist will become impossible.
"Do not attempt to stay him with your weak hand. Withdraw, save yourself
from him; and this shall be enough for you" (Bishop Ignatius
Brianchaninov). Then the faithful rement of Christians "will flee into the
wilderness and mountains and caves -- praying day and night in great
humility ... that they may be delivered from the serpent ... And this
will be granted them from the holy God" (St. Ephraim).
The world rule of Antichrist will last for three and a half years
(Rev.13:5). Blinded by their own impiety and the delusions of Antichrist,
the mass of mankind will join him in his disdain for Christians. "The
enemies of Antichrist will be counted as rebels, as enemies of the public
good and order" (Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov). This majority will enjoy
a period of relaxation, "eating and drinking, marrying and giving in
marriage." Then, suddenly the vessals of wrath will be poured out upon the
followers of Antichrist: sores and boils will afflict those bearing the
mark of the beast, and the waters of the earth will be turned to blood."
All this will happen when least expected and when the departure of man from
God has reached its extreme limit. Then the Antichrist will assemble his
armies from the ends of the earth for a final battle at Armageddon, but God
will send a great earthquake which will level mountains and crush the works
of man's pride, and the armies will be destroyed. And then shall the Lord
come, as He promised, like lightning flashing from heaven -- and so shall
the end be.
But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man
Clearly then, the final destruction of the world will ultimately owe itself
not to nuclear arms but to a humanity which has become possessed with evil.
"For by permission of the Holy God, [Antichrist] will receive the power to
deceive the world, because impiety will have filled the earth, and
everywhere every sort of horror will be committed" (St. Ephraim).
Let us not think that because we are members of the true Church we are
immune to deception. "A courageous soul will be required, that will be
able to keep its life in the midst of these temptations. For if a man is
proved to be even a little careless, he will easily be exposed to assault
and will be captured by the signs of the evil and cunning beast" (St.
Ephraim). We must begin now to exercise our spiritual faculties and to set
ourselves apart from the world in a conscious struggle against the spirit
of the times -- the spirit of apostasy. "Every avoidance of such a
struggle now, every compromise with evil today, be it even the most
insignificant .. will only increase the difficulty of struggling with it
tomorrow." We must saturate ourselves in the sources of holy Orthodoxy
which alone will preserve to the end the fullness of the truth. Thru
careful reading of Scripture and other spiritual books; thru prayer and
conscious attendance at church services; thru daily, determined warfare
with our passions and thoughts -- we shall develop a sense for what is
truth and, amidst all the chaos and confusion of the end times, we shall be
able to discern the voice of the Chief Shepherd Who will be calling
everywhere for His sheep. Then we shall have no cause to fear what is to
come; rather, made bold thru steadfast faith,