Why “Antichrist” is a great term for Titus and Vespasian

PRETERIST BIBLE COMMENTARY Forums Forum Why “Antichrist” is a great term for Titus and Vespasian

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    Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. . . . 22Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:18-22)

    It is often argued that the book of Revelation never mentions an “Antichrist” and that is true. Revelation also never mentions a “Lawless One,” a “Man of Sin”, a “Little Horn” or even an “Abomination that Causes Desolation” and yet no one can doubt that all these figures and events are present in the text as it is impossible to describe the eschaton in any detail without mentioning these things. This is true especially in light of the fact that all the predictions concerning the Lawless One, Little Horn etc are inextricably intertwined in a way that demands that these two figures are one and the same person.

    In 1 John 2:18 there is the expectation of a singular “Antichrist”: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist [singular] is coming.” This singular figure is generally understood to refer to the Lawless One and Little Horn. Yet there are some who argue that because Revelation never mentions an Antichrist by name that this term just refers to Christians who left the Church: “even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” (1 John 2:18-19) John then goes on to say that whoever denies Jesus is the Christ is the antichrist: “Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist[.]” (1 John 2:22.) In John 2:18-22 we see “Antichrist” defined as anyone who “denies that Jesus is the Christ.” Of course, “Antichrist” just means anyone against Christ. But there is seemingly more to this figure than just being against Christ or denying that Jesus is the Christ as John does still anticipate a singular figure who was yet to be revealed called the “Antichrist” in v. 18.

    In 1 John 4:2-3, John refers to a “spirit of the antichrist”: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.” The “spirit of the antichrist” that “is coming, and now” “is already in the world” appears to be the “secret power of lawlessness [that] is already at work” of 2 Thessalonians 2:7. In 2 Thessalonians 2:9 we learn that this “secret power of lawlessness” and by extension “the spirit of the antichrist” is Satan as it is Satan who is ultimately behind the “signs and wonders” performed by the Lawless One: “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie[.]” We see this “secret power of lawlessness” a.k.a. the “spirit of the antichrist” mentioned in Revelation 12 and 13 as the “red dragon” “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.” Here we see that both the “red dragon” and the “secret power of lawlessness” are equated with Satan (2 Thess 2:7-9, Rev 12:9). In Revelation 13:2 we see that it is the dragon, i.e. Satan/”the secret power of lawlessness/”the spirit of the antichrist” who gives the beast his authority just as he gives the Lawless One the ability to perform “signs and wonders that serve the lie”: “The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority.”

    When John defines the antichrist as anyone who “denies that Jesus is the Christ” he appears to highlighting the fact that the term “antichrist” really just means “against Christ” and that many people even within the Church itself were influenced by Satan’s power. By highlighting this fact John seems to be trying to assure his followers that the end is still coming although it seems to be taking longer than many expected. But the fact remains given the admission that a singular figure was expected that there must have been a tradition surrounding the term “Antichrist” prior to the writing of 1 John that was used to imply more than just any person against Christ including and especially Christian apostates.

    Most Preterists are uncomfortable with the idea of a singular Antichrist as most are unaware of any singular historical figure who aptly fits this title in a way that is popularly understood in modern Dispensational eschatology. However, it is important to note that the term “Antichrist” is a term that seems to more aptly apply to the spirit behind the beast/Lawless One/little horn rather than the beast/Lawless One/little horn themselves.
    That having been said when we look at Vespasian and Titus, the title “Antichrist” does seem to be an apt description of a coming singular malevolent figure who was deceived by Satan and performed “signs and wonders” laid out in 2 Thessalonians 2:7-9 and Rev 13:11-18 “that served the lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-9). Remember that Vespasian and Titus were not part of the Caesar family dynasty and as such were no different from the three usurpers who preceded them—all of whom were assassinated within a few short months of their reign. Thus Vespasian and Titus knew they needed something to legitimize their rule or they risked an equally short and tragic reign. Earlier in the war Rabbi Yochanan told Vespasian that whoever destroyed the Temple would become emperor according to the sacred Scripture of the Jews:

    Rabbi Yochanan b. Zakkai then said to him [Vespasian]…‘You are destined to rule over the Roman Empire!’ . . . ‘Thus has it been passed down unto us, that the holy house will not be given into the hands of a mere commoner, but rather into the hands of a king[.](Avoth deRabbi Nathan 4:5.)

    This assertion is seemingly based on Daniel 9:26: “The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.” Learning this fact, Titus and Vespasian knew that if they destroyed the Temple they could overcome the fact that they were not part of the Caesar family line by claiming their legitimacy through the fulfillment of ancient prophecy together with a divine backing to their reign—something Galba, Otho and Vitellius never had. Vespasian and Titus then fully committed themselves to the idea that they were the Messiah of the Jews. So important was this strategy to their reign that this propaganda made its way to nearly every historical account of the reign of Vespasian and Titus. Tacitus writes, “The majority were convinced that the ancient scriptures of their priests alluded to the present time when the Orient would triumph and from Judaea would go forth men destined to rule the world. This mysterious prophecy really referred to Vespasian and Titus[.]” (Tacitus Histories 5.13.) Suetonius says, “An ancient superstition was current in the East, that out of Judaea at this time would come the rulers of the world. This prediction, as the event later proved, referred to a Roman Emperor.” (Lives of the Twelve Caesars 10.4.) Even Josephus makes the same acclamation:

    But now, what did the most elevate them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how,” about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.” The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination. Now this oracle certainly denoted the government of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judea. (Wars 6.5.4)

    The Church historian Eusebius even goes on to allege that Vespasian sought out all those of King David’s royal line to eliminate any Messianic rivals. (History of the Church 3.12.) The term “Antichrist” is a very apt title for two men who were sent “a powerful delusion so that they … believe[d] the lie” (2 Thess 2:11) that they, not Jesus, were the Jewish Messiah.

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