As anyone who is familiar with Bible prophecy knows, Russia was the designated end-time bad guy throughout the 21st century. With the fall of the former Soviet Union, prophetic speculators have regrouped to paint a new end-time picture based on current events.
The takeover of the American Embassy by a group of Islamic extremists during the Carter administration fueled speculation that Islam was an emerging prophetic movement. Some went so far as to maintain that the Islamic nations would align themselves with Russia in an assault on Israel. This scenario allowed them to keep the Russia factor alive without too much revision. With the assault on America on September 11, 2001, Islam once again took prophetic center stage.
A number of new prophecy books have adopted the premise that an end-time Islamic leader called the Mahdi is the predicted antichrist:
“In ‘The Islamic Antichrist,’ Joel Richardson breaks new ground with this devastating account of the possible connection between the Biblical Antichrist and the Islamic Mahdi. The Bible predicts that in the last days a charismatic leader will establish a global following in the name of peace. The Quran also predicts that a man will rise up to lead the nations, pledging to usher in an era of peace. The man in the Quran is called the Mahdi, or Islam’s savior. However, the man in the Bible is the Antichrist. Could it be possible that they are one and the same person?”
The Bible does not define the antichrist as a “charismatic leader” or someone who comes “in the name of peace.”
Michael Youssef, founding pastor of The Church of the Apostles in Atlanta, Georgia, and president of Leading the Way with Dr. Michael Youssef, has written End Times and the Secret of the Mahdi. It’s a popular commentary on the book of Revelation that claims to present “striking parallels between the Antichrist of Revelation with the Mahdi of Islam.”
The thing of it is, in 1988 Dr. Youssef published Earth King which was republished in 1992 as Man of Peace: A Novel of the Anti-Christ and claims that the antichrist is “born to a Russian-Jewish family” (ix). So in 1988 the antichrist was a Russian Jew, but in 2016 he’s a Muslim.
The problem with the Islamic Mahdi interpretation presented by Richardson, Youssef, and others is that there were many antichrists when the New Testament was written and they served as a sign that the end of the Old Covenant was near for that first-century generation. How do we know this? Because John tells us:
“Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18).
Rarely do these prophecy books begin with a biblical definition of antichrist and follow that definition consistently. Dr. Youssef’s End Times and the Secret of the Mahdi does not start with John’s timing, the number, or definition of the biblical antichrist.
Instead, he begins with the book of Daniel. Dr. Youssef substitutes word “antichrist” where the Hebrew text uses the word “king” (melek) (11:36). He then moves to Revelation 13:5, 7 and follows with 2 Thessalonians 2 and later back to Daniel (9:27). It’s not until page 105 that he cites a passage where the word “antichrist” is used. He cites 1 John 2:18 (see above) and then offers this interpretation:
“The Antichrist with a capital A is yet to be revealed, but antichrists with a small a are all around us, spreading false teaching in our culture and in the church.”
There is no such distinction between a capital A antichrist and small a antichrists. There were only antichrists who were defined in a very specific way: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7).
The word “antichrist” only appears in two of John’s short epistles (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). It’s not found anywhere else in the Bible, including the book of Revelation, although there are allusions to it (Rev. 2:9, 13; 3:9). There is no such mention of an antichrist as defined by John in the book of Daniel, and this includes Daniel 9:24-27. (See my book Last Days Madness for a discussion of Daniel 9:24-27 and the topic of “antichrist.”)
First, John is not describing different types of antichrists. The people had “heard antichrist is coming.” John clarifies this point by telling them that there’s more than one antichrist, and they’re all defined in the same way (2 John 7).
Second, John is not describing a distant future antichrist. It was “the last hour” (1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 1:1-2; Heb. 9:26) for the people of John’s day and the existence of antichrists was evidence of that truth. That’s why Peter could declare that “the end of all things has come near” (1 Peter 4:7), and those who dismissed the nearness of the end of the old covenant were described as “mockers” (2 Peter 3-4). These passages refer to the prediction Jesus gave on the Mount of Olives that resulted in His judgment coming on Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple (Matt. 24:1-2; Mark 13:2; Luke 19:44; 21:6) before that generation passed away (Matt. 24:34).
Third, “even now many antichrists have appeared.” Notice the word “now.” In 1 John 4:3 John confirms that the “now” was the now of his day by declaring “you have heard that it” – the spirit of antichrist – “is coming and it is already in the world” (1 John 4:2-3).
Fourth, an antichrist was someone who did not “acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (2 John 7). John was describing the unbelieving Jews of his day. Only they fit the time and context of John’s words. Jesus was handed over to the Romans because He claimed to be God incarnate: “For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18; also see 8:58-59; 10:33; 17:5; 19:7).
They had denied “the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22).
The Romans didn’t care about Jewish religious squabbles as long as they did not affect the fragile peace of the Rome Empire. That’s why Israel’s religious leaders brought political charges against Jesus to Pontius Pilate (Luke 23:2, 14; John 18:33-40; 19:12; Acts 17:7). But all along it was Jesus’ religious claims – that He was the Son of God – that turned the Jewish religious leaders against Him.
In the early years of Christianity’s claim that it was the biblical fulfillment of what had been prophesied in the Old Testament there was intense opposition from some Jews. After hearing the gospel preached by Peter and seeing people bringing their sick to the apostles, some Jews “were cut to the quick and intended to kill them” (Acts 5:33). Heeding the counsel of Gamaliel not to kill Peter and his associates, they called “the apostles in” and “flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and released them” (5:40).
Stephen was the first martyr at the hands of a Jew named Saul (Acts 7:54-8:1-3). In time, Saul the persecutor became Paul the persecuted at the hands of his fellow-Jews. He writes that he had “received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes”1 and was in “dangers” from his own “countrymen” (2 Cor. 11:24, 26).
Islam needs to be evaluated in terms of sound biblical and theological study and dealt with in the same way as any religious or political enemy intent on imposing its will on people. Is Islam an anti-Christian movement? Yes. Does it need to be opposed? Yes, like revolutionary Communism and Nazism were opposed, also two anti-Christian ideologies.
This will mean the proclamation of the gospel, the application of the Bible to every area of life, and a sound defense against the advance of Islam.
Making predictions about the end times has a long and failed history. It’s time we get to work and not be preoccupied with talk of the end of the world. That’s just what secularists and Muslims want us to do — be preoccupied about a near coming end that we neglect what’s going on in the present.
To make sure they were not violating the law that said that 40 lashes was the maximum punishment (Deut. 25:3), the Jews in the case of Paul only issued 39 lashes. ↩