Rescuing Man's Nature & the End Times from the Church
- Rescuing the Nature of Man from Christianity
- Rescuing the End Times from Christianity
- Rescuing the Antichrist
“No Bible text authorizes the statement that the soul is separated from the body at death.”
— The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 803).
Human Nature in the Bible
The most important historical biblical period in Hebrew thought runs from the exodus of the Jews from Egypt and God's establishing of a covenant with Moses in 1447 BC to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 AD. In this historical setting and context we can see the approximate definition of man's nature for both Jesus, the original Jerusalem Jesus Movement, and the rest of Judaism.
Historically, Jews see humans as having been created in the image of God. Unlike classical Greek philosophy and its dualistic view of human nature as composed of body and soul, in the biblical view persons are seen as a psychosomatic unity composed of many parts. Overall, for the biblical Hebrews and much of modern Judaism the unity of the ruach, nephesh, and basar constitutes the whole of a human being and none of the parts has an existence apart from the body. Man is conceived of as an animated body, not as an incarnated soul. ... there is, in man, no immortal part which can survive death on its own account. Later Jewish thinkers, such as Maimonides, were significantly influenced by Greek thought—especially that of Plato and Aristotle. Being created in God's image and being called to be like God means, in the Jewish view, to be God's partner in carrying forward God's work of making just order in the world. Humans can descend to great depths but are not by nature irretrievably sinful. Their task is to hallow life, to raise the workaday world in which one eats, labors, and loves, to its highest level so that our every act and thought reflects the divine unity of all being. This understanding of the nature of man is carried by Jesus in the New Testament Gospels as well. The beginning of Jesus' Ministry did not constitute a change in any theology or doctrine from of Judaism to something new; for Jesus and his teachings, the nature of a person was the same as it always was in normal Judaism.
Approaching the Hebrew thought in this historical context we see that Jewish scholars identify three main basic notions about human nature. First, a person is regarded as a living body with various qualities, but with no sharp distinction between body and soul. The Hebrew word meaning "flesh" is often used for humankind in general or human nature in particular. For example, in Genesis the idea of all humankind as a collective is expressed by "all flesh" and by the word attam (man). Second, consciousness was not centralized in the brain, as it is in modern thought. For the Hebrews, human consciousness, with its ethical qualities, was thought to be diffused through the whole body, so that the flesh and bones, as well as the mouth, eye, ear, hand, and so on, had a quasi-consciousness of their own. Third, these "separate consciousnesses" are thought of as being easily accessible to all kinds of outside influences, from possession by demons (as in the case of a toothache) to invasion and control by God's Spirit (as in the case of the prophets).
In addition to these three basic notions, biblical Hebrew uses certain key terms to describe human nature. The Hebrew word nephesh is usually translated into English as "soul" but this is wholly inadequate and misleading. Aalysis of the usage of nephesh in the Hebrew Bible shows three distinct meanings. First, nephesh is commonly the principle of life, with breath as the underlying meaning—for example, in 2 Kings 1:13 the Israelite captain, threatened with death, says to the prophet Elijah, "Let my nephesh and the nephesh of these fifty servants be precious in thy sight." Here the best translation is simply "life." Second, nephesh is "self or "person," as in Psalm 3:2 "Many are saying of my nephesh [self], there is no deliverance for him in God." Here there is no reference lo the psalmist's inner life as distinct from his outer body, and therefore "soul" is a wrong translation. Third, nephesh is also used to denote "human consciousness" in its full extent, as in Job 16:4: "I could speak like you if your nephesh were instead of my nefhesh." Here Job is speaking to God. Of these three usages, the most common would seem to have been nephesh as "breath-soul or the "life principle." This "breath-soul" is considered to be the animating principle of human life and its essential constituent. Death is understood as the departure of nephesh or "breath-soul" from the body. Momentary unconsciousness is described in the same way, as a brief loss of nephesh. And life is described as being returned to someone thought dead by breathing in nephesh. For example, in 2 Kings 4:34 we are told that Elisha stretches himself over a dead boy's body and places his mouth to the boy's mouth to breath life into it. Throughout the biblical usage nephesh is strongly identified with the body, its organs, especially the heart, and its blood as the animating principle of life.
Ruach is a second key Hebrew term. It is especially important for the biblical understanding of how God communicates with the prophets. Ruach has three main usages in the Hebrew Bible. First, ruach is "wind," either the natural wind or the "wind of God"—(God's energy or angry breath). In Hosea 13:15 we are told that the Lord's ruach comes up out of the desert and dries everything up. Second, ruach is "inspirational wind," the spirit of God. In his activity as a prophet, Jeremiah is infused with God's ruach, which speaks through him. And in Ezekiel, chapter 37, it is the ruach of the Lord that gives new psychical and physical life to the dry bones of the valley in Ezekiel's vision. Finally, in biblical thought after the exile in Babylon (c. 598-515 BCE), ruach becomes almost equated with nephesh as the principle of life in humans and animals, but it also signals an origination of life from God. Whereas nephesh is sometimes translated as "soul," ruach is translated as "spirit." which connotes a sense of divine energy acting on human nature from without—implying that the life of humans or animals is drawn from God.
- basar - the body (flesh) of a person constituted of dirt and ash. By itself it is nothing.
- ruach - is our "spirit" or personality. It connotes a sense of divine energy acting on human nature from without - i.e. the life of humanity is drawn from Yahweh
- nephesh - is our "breath-soul" or "life principle". It is considered the animating principle of human life and its essential constituent. The nephesh is what Yahweh provides for earthly bodies to be alive.
We must not be swayed by the body-soul dualism of Greek thought. For the biblical Hebrew, nephesh (breath-soul), ruach (spirit), and basar (body or flesh) are together conceived of as a psychophysical unity—the human personality as an animated body. This includes one's central organs, to which the Hebrews ascribed psychical functions. The heart (leb), for example, is identified with mental rather than emotional activities—the opposite of the way it is often used today when it is contrasted with the mind. In its biblical use, special emphasis is placed upon the volitional role of the heart. This is important, since the will is primary in Hebrew ethics—one chooses with one's heart. Other organs, such as the kidneys, are also given psychophysical function. Emotion that urges the heart to action is seen to be located in the kidneys. Robinson points out that this attribution of psychical functions to parts of the body is not restricted to organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys, but also extends to the ear, eye, mouth, hand, and so forth. The eye, for example, is described in Psalm 131:1 as having the qualities of "pride" or "humility." Ancient thought lacked knowledge of a central nervous system, and the biblical Hebrews (like others of their day) distributed the psychic powers we localize in the mind to various parts of the body* including all aspects of "flesh" and "bone." So the psalmist says "All my bones shall say, Yahweh, who is like thee?" (Ps. 35:9-10). Robinson concludes that for the biblical Hebrews, human nature is understood as a complex of parts drawing their life and activity from a nephesh/ruach, which has no existence apart from the body. The most important aspect of human nature, other than its psychosomatic unity, is its constant openness to "spiritual" influence from without.
The underlying conception of personality in these texts is a unity of body animated by the breath-soul (nephesh) and with a higher nature (ruach) that may be possessed by the Spirit (ruach) of God. The Hebrew Bible knows nothing of autonomous human beings. The Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics states "….man's nature is determined entirely by his relation to God, a relationship which preserves the distance between God and man, between Creator and creature. The belief that man was created in the divine image defines his relation both to God and to the rest of nature." ' Humans cannot claim divine descent, but they are created for a unique fellowship with God that requires obedience to God's will. Because humans are created in God's image, they can be given authority and responsibility. This is true for humanity as a whole, with no distinction of race or nation, which in the biblical view has a collective unity. Israel, however, is understood to have a special role and responsibility, not due to any inherent superiority, but simply due to God's choice.
This special role is understood in the covenant established by God with Moses at Mount Sinai and later reaffirmed by God speaking through the prophets and calling Israel to account. In these instances it is the Spirit (ruach) of the Lord that invades human spirit or ruach and speaks God's word. In biblical understanding, God is not just there, but is turned toward humankind and calling for their cooperative response. God's speaking to humanity was especially experienced by the Israelites who understood themselves as having a special responsibility because they had been chosen as representative humans by God. Consequently, the way for them toward perfection was simple and clear—namely, to completely fulfill their covenant agreement with God. Thus, when the defeated Israelites were carried off into Babylonian exile (587-538 BCE), this was understood as God's punishment of Israel for its conscious neglect of the covenant. This failure to obey revealed other aspects of human nature—namely, its frailty and sinfulness that obstruct perfectibility. Unlike in Pauline Christianity, in the Hebrew Bible sinfulness is not part of the essential definition of human nature. As Genesis 3:11 shows, humans sin because they vainly attempt to assert their autonomy vis-a-vis God. This is exemplified by Adam and Eve, Cain, Lamech, and the builders of the Tower of Babel. The prophets especially brought home the fact of sin to the conscience of Israel and highlighted the nature of sin as an estrangement from and rebellion against God. Human arrogance, self-assertion, and pride, when indulged in by Adam and Eve and the builders of the Tower of Babel, led them to attempt to be like God.
Human Nature in the Gospels of Jesus
In the New Testament much like the Hebrew Bible, human nature is described as having intelligence, emotions, free will, moral responsibility, and the possibility of eternal life. The Gospels indicate that the views of Jesus regarding human nature are those of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. The concept of the physical body, expressed by either "body" or "flesh," represents the whole person or personality (ruach/nephesh/basar), with no sharp distinction between body and soul as in Greek thought.
When Jesus says in Mark 14:38 "The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak," it seems as if he is adopting a dualistic view of human nature. But this is not the case. Jesus fully adopts the Hebrew approach of thinking of the whole personality—mind, body, and spirit—as a psychosomatic unit). Jesus frequently uses the terms "flesh" and "body" to represent the whole personality, as for example in Matthew 5:29 "…that your whole body be thrown into Gehenna." When Jesus uses the word "life" as in Mark 8:35, "Whoever would save his life will lose it," or the word "soul" as in Mark 14:34, "My soul is sorrowful," it is the Hebrew term nephesh (life principle of one's self including the body) that is meant.
In his teachings the most basic aspect of Jesus' view of human nature is his assumption of intelligence, free will, and emotions that require discipline. Human intelligence enables one to understand Yahweh's will, and human freedom gives one the opportunity to choose to follow it. These qualities of intelligence, freedom, and responsibility are seen in Jesus' sayings such as Matthew 5:28, …every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committee adultery with her in his heart." Here Jesus assumes that all moral actions are the responsibility of the self. "Heart" is used here by Jesus in the typical Hebrew sense that the heart is the seat of will and free choice, rather than the mind is, as in modern thought. Jesus knows that human nature is capable of good acts as well as bad, and so he says in Matthew 5:8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see Yahweh." Humans have the ability to choose rightly because, as in the Hebrew Bible, they are understood to be created in the image of God. This responsibility is at the heart of Jesus' parables. For example, in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 13:11-32) the father, who represents God, allows his son the freedom to leave home, and the son returns only after he has freely decided that it is best for him to go back. The understanding of human nature that runs throughout Jesus' teachings is that of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament.
The idea of life after death is found in the final writers of the Old Testament such as in the book of Daniel. Jesus adopted this thinking. There is hardly a word in his teaching which does not presuppose that the possibility of eternal life belongs to the nature of man. However, as in the case with Hebrew thought, it is clear that Jesus had in mind a bodily ruach/nephesh/basar resurrection and not, as in the Greek idea on afterlife, a disembodied soul.
What does it mean to be Mortal?
Every indication in the Hebrew Bible and the teachings of Jesus is that, of and by himself, man is mortal creature, subject to decay and death; indeed, God told Adam after he had sinned, "for dust you are and to dust you will return" (Genesis 3:19).
There is no reference here to a conscious, immortal soul going to a heaven, or a hell, or limbo when the body goes to the grave. Rather, the indication is that when the body returns to the dust, the conscious man, the "living soul", ceases to exist. Of course, it was not long before haSatan appeared on the scene contradicting God's warning about sin and its deadly consequences. Tempting Eve with the forbidden fruit he said, "You will not surely die . . . For Master Yahweh knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:4-5).
Many religions including christianity, believe in the concepts of the immortal soul and reincarnation—that man is inherently immortal—that he won't really die. Ezekiel stated just the opposite:
" . . . the soul that sins, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4, 20).
So, man the living soul, in the biblical sense of the word, it can die. Solomon, the wisest king of Israel, wrote about the fate of humans, "As it is with the good man, so with the sinner . . . The same destiny overtakes all . . . For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten" (Ecclesiastes 9:2-5).
To be sure, Solomon, was writing from a human, temporal perspective—in a very melancholy mood at that; nevertheless, he corroborated the statements of Genesis that death is the cessation of conscious life. The Psalmist wrote that the dead do not praise God, that they "go down to silence" (Psalm 115:17; compare with Psalm 6:5; 1 46:4).
The idea that death is merely a separation of a conscious, immortal soul from the body came not from the Bible but from Greek philosophy. Notice what Plato wrote in Phaedo:
"The soul whose inseparable attitude is life will never admit of life's opposite, death. Thus the soul is shown to be immortal, and since immortal, indestructible... we believe there is such a thing as death? To be sure. And is this anything but the separation of the soul and body?...being dead is the attainment of this separation when the soul exists in herself and separate from the body, and the body is parted from the soul. That is death... death is merely the separation of the soul and body".
An interesting philosophy—very much in harmony with the modern concept of the soul—but it is nowhere taught in the Torah and the Prophets.
Even modern theologians who believe in the immortality of the soul admit frankly that it is not taught in the Bible. Consider what The New Catholic Encyclopedia has to say about the Hebrew word nephesh or nepes:
"Nepes comes from an original root...to breathe, and...thence, breath of life. Since breath distinguishes the living from the dead, nepes is used in regard to both animals and humans... After death, the nepes goes to Sheol rest, (Hebrew word for grave). The above summary indicates that there is no dichotomy of body and soul in the Old Testament... other words in the Old Testament such as spirit, flesh, and heart also signify the human person and differ only as various aspects of the same being. The notion of the soul surviving after death is not readily discernible in the Bible. The concept of the human soul itself is not the same in the Old Testament as it is in Greek and modern philosophy... The soul in the Old Testament means not a part of man, but the whole man - man as a living being" (The New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, art. "Soul, Human, Immortality of").
While the doctrines of Pauline Christianity have forced a Greek dualistic philosophy into the christian definitions of human nature, in the whole of the Hebrew Bible and Jesus' teachings there is simply no support for the idea that a conscious immortal soul goes to heaven or hell (save for literally a hole in the ground) at death. Rather, all indications are that conscious life ceases until the time of a future resurrection—as the prophet Daniel recorded:
"And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to an age-lasting life, others to shame and an age-lasting contempt" (Daniel 12:2).
"As for you (Daniel), go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance" (Daniel 12:13).
Both verses compare death to a sleep, an unconscious state, which is to continue until the time of the resurrection.
How is death like Sleeping?
Throughout the Bible, death is compared to sleep. Notice a couple of Jesus' statements:
"Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going to wake him up" (John 11:11).
"The girl is not dead, but asleep"(Matthew 9:24).
Matthew records that at the time of Jesus' death, "And the tombs were opened and many bodies of the Set Apart Believers who were asleep arose, and went out. And after his resurrection, they entered into the Set Apart City and were seen by many." (Matthew 27:52,53).
If these believers were already experiencing the bliss of heaven, it would have been cruel to bring them back to frail human existence to live and then die again; but if they were truly asleep, unconscious, it would have been a blessing to them and to all who were witnessed to by their new lives.
Daniel wrote of both believers and nonbelievers as sleeping—until they are resurrected: "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to Age-lasting life, and others to shame and Age-lasting contempt." (Daniel 12:2)
Notice that the focus is on the resurrection—not on a reward in heaven or punishment in hell experienced by a conscious immortal soul at death.
Are there Ghosts and Wandering Spirits?
Ghosts of dead people, as believed to be the ‘tortured souls’ and ‘wandering spirits’, do not exist according to the Hebrew Scriptures nor Jesus’ teachings. As discussed above—when a person dies they cease to exist. Nothing continues on after death. When we cease to breathe we die and return to the dust. Our “spirit”, which is the Breath of Life from God, belongs to Him and returns to Him.
“Behold, all souls are Mine; The soul of the father As well as the soul of the son is Mine; The soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4)
“...You take away their breath (or spirit), they die and return to their dust.” (Psalm 104:29)
“His spirit (or breath) departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish.” (Psalm 146:4)
“....because the man goes to his eternal home.....and the dust returns to the earth as it was: and the spirit returns to Master Yahweh who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:5,6,7)
In death there is no conscious existence:
“For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know nothing, nor do they have any more reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5)
The dead 'sleep' in the dust of the earth and we are nothing except in God’s memory, which is His Book of Life, until the End-of-the-Age when Jesus returns to usher in the new Kingdom on earth:
“So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.” (1 Kings 2:10)
"Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to Age-lasting life, and others to shame and Age-lasting contempt." (Daniel 12:2)
There is no body-soul dualism in the Judaism of the Old Testament nor in the teachings of Jesus. There is no reference to a conscious, immortal soul going to a heaven, or a hell, or limbo when the body dies. Instead, the biblical teachings are such that there is a very specific plan that goes above and beyond the philosophical and pagan concepts of immortal souls and multiple dimensions. Biblically, as Jesus knew and understood human nature, it is understood as a complex of parts drawing their life and activity from a nephesh/ruach, which has no existence apart from the body. The teachings of Jesus follow God's biblical plan, when it comes to death and man's nature, of which was reinterpreted and reappropriated over time by the pauline teachings of hellenist christianity.
"The Gospel of salvation — gaining immortality in the coming Kingdom of God on a renewed earth —
is all about how to prepare now to inherit the land with the Messiah at his future, spectacular return to bring about peace among all nations."
— William Strawson, Jesus and the Future Life
How do humans get "eternal life"?
The Greek concept of the dualistic immortal soul inhabiting a body assumes that individuals already possess eternal life—that the only question is where this eternal life is spent after death. In stark contrast, many Bible passages portray immortality strictly as a gift to be given by God.
We see from John’s Letters:
"Everyone that takes hold of the Son takes hold of life; and everyone that takes not hold of the Son, has not life. These things I have written to you that you may know for certain that you have the Age- to-come Life, you who continue to believe in the name of the Son of Elohim." (1John 5:11-12; compare with 1John 3:14-15).
Jesus, prayed to the Father just before He was crucified, "Just as You have given him authority over all flesh that whomever You have given him, he will give to him life in the Age-to-come. Now this is life that is in the Age-to-come, that they might know You, that You are the Elohim of Truth, and he alone whom You have sent, the Messiah." (John 17:2-3).
If man is inherently immortal and his life continues eternally beyond the death of the body, these passages don't make sense - unless, of course, one redefines death as separation of soul and body, a definition not supported in the Hebrew Scriptures nor Jesus' teachings. If, however, death is the absence of life and consciousness, these statements make very good sense.
Immediate reward or punishment after death?
The false doctrines of an immediate reward of a Heaven dimension or an immediate punishment of a Hell dimension are solely christian and come from an unfortunate eastern philosophy and hellenistic background and did not originate with the Hebrew Scriptures, or Jesus. These places do not exist as taught by most Pauline Christian denominations. These places are purposeful interpolations taken from philosophy even some pagan themes and combined with the teachings from New Testament Christianity. The typical christian view of “Heaven” is the same as Mount Olympus and the the typical christian view of “Hell” is that of Hades.
She’ol, The Grave, The Abyss, Gehenna, these are all specific titles or descriptors given by God in the Hebrew Scriptures. They don’t “simply mean hell”. Proper translation of the Gospels also shows that lazy or purposeful translations in the NT should also reflect those proper names and not “hell”. The specific doctrine of “hell” didn’t exist prior to the 4th century and it wasn’t professed by Jesus.
Like the doctrine of “hell” the magical city in the sky of “Heaven” also doesn’t exist outside of paganism or eastern religions. Contrary to the false doctrines in christianity the Kingdom of God is the same thing as the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus taught the same prophesied End Times as the 2nd Temple Judaism of his time taught—At the end of this Age, there will be a new Age, and the Kingdom of God will be reestablished on earth. Satan (The Adversary), Death, and the wicked (unbelievers) will be cleansed by God’s fiery wrath, they will be swept away to nonexistence away from God and an eternal life in the restored Kingdom of God.
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to an age-lasting life, and some to shame and age-lasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2)
“The dead men of Your people shall live, my dead body shall arise. Awake and sing, you that dwell in the dust: for your dew is as the dew on the herbs, and the earth shall cast out the shades of the dead.” (Isaiah 26:19)
“For You will not abandon me among the dead; nor will You allow your set apart believer to rot in the grave.” (Psalm 16:10)
“But who can endure the day of his coming? And who will stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like launderer's soap;” (Malachi 3:3)
“I will bring the third part into the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will test them like gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will hear them. I will say, 'It is my people;' and they will say, 'Yahweh is my Master.” (Zechariah 13:9)
“....And they will be refined and purified day and night for an age of the ages.” (Revelation 20:10)
The Final Resurrection
It simply doesn’t make sense that anyone who has died would already potentially be in “eternal bliss in heaven” and then have to get resurrected to be brought back to earth so that they have to experience the pain and suffering of the “end times” just so that the magical city of “Heaven” could then be brought back here. Not only does that not make sense but it’s supported nowhere in the Torah, the Prophets, nor what Jesus taught. Death is final, until the resurrection of the Restoration of the Kingdom of God.
The important fact to take away from all this is that, according to the Hebrew Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus, although man does not possess an immortal soul, he can receive Age-Lasting (eternal) Life through accepting God as his ruler and creator, cleaving himself to God and accepting the covenental contract God has with man, doing all that God commands, and accepting Jesus the Messiah as High Priest and Leader. Then man will gain entrance to the restored Kingdom of God and receives the promise of an Age-Lasting (eternal) Life, which will be when Jesus returns to this earth to usher in the Restoration of the Kingdom of God.
The biblical End-of-the-Age plays out in the following manner:
The exact biblical sequence of events at the “End-Times” are as follows:
Aggregated from G.W. Lorein & L.J. Peerbolte
The warnings and teachings given by Jesus regarding a False Messiah are not unique or wholly new to his teachings or scriptures. The so-called "Antichrist Theme" had existed far earlier and those teachings are where Jesus drew his knowledge. The vagueness of the Tanakh regarding False Prophets and False Messiahs solidified during the intertestamental period. This is the period from the time of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls through to the time of the original followers of the Jesus Movement in Jerusalem (c. 4th Century BC—1st Century AD).
The idea or theme of the 'antichrist' (in the same manner as the idea or theme of a 'messiah') originated with early Judaism and its apocalyptic end-times teachings and beliefs. Both were pre-christian terms and doctrines. The antichrist theme was taken over (conscripted or stolen) by the gentile hellenist christians and eventually became something almost altogether unrecognizable when compared to the doctrines and themes that were taught and espoused by Jesus the 1st century Galilean Jew.
If we do not wish to contrast the New Testament and the Christian 'Church Fathers', but rather to find out which direct line can be drawn from the New Testament data to the first interpreters of that data, we may generally assume one well-defined Antichrist concept both in the New Testament and with the Fathers, although this concept has not been fully and systematically defined in one single writing. An initial definition could be:
- the Antichrist is a man who will appear at the end of the ages, wholly filled with the Adversary (Satan). He will be an arch deceiver, as a tyrant (unjust, murderous) and as a false god (turning himself and others away from God's Word, Torah). Other descriptions of the Antichrist are 'man of lawlessness', 'Beast' and 'false prophet' (the latter only for his religious aspect).
The following passages prove that the Antichrist theme was present in the Old Testament (even outside the book of Daniel), albeit in a very limited way and although the word "Antichrist" does not occur. The religious aspects of the Antichrist theme appear to be discussed reasonably and fully in the false prophet of Deut. 13.
- Deuteronomy 13:1-6
In this passage about the false prophets, the elements of our Antichrist definition are present. The functional equation of the religious aspect of the Beast, of the False Prophet, and of the Antichrist in the book of Revelation is already being prepared here. There are also remarkable links with the Antichrist passage in the First Epistle of John.
- 1 Samuel 17
Once again, that was not the intention of the original writer. Only in much later literature is the comparison of Goliath with the Antichrist made explicitly. Probably—the concept had long existed, but implicitly. There are not enough elements to prove conclusively that the author of this chapter was thinking beyond the historical data to an end times figure who could be described as the Antichrist.
Yet it is also clear that in later writings Goliath bears much more resemblance to the Antichrist. This can only be explained by the evolution of the historical David into the messianic David. In our further studies of texts we will therefore certainly have to pay attention to the opponent of a messianic figure, even if at first he does not seem to have many links with the Antichrist: what is being said about the messiah will also reflect on his opponent.
- Zechariah 11:15-17
“Woe to the worthless shepherd
Who leaves the flock!
A sword will be on his arm
And on his right eye!
His arm will be totally withered
And his right eye will be blind.”
God told the prophet to play the role of a shepherd. It is unclear in how far this should be taken literally, that is, whether the prophet really acted out this symbolic role. Especially verses 15-17 seem to indicate a more 'normal' prophecy. Here the prophet is commanded to play the role of a godless shepherd. The script for this second role-play is quite short, and in this aspect the first part of the passage (verses 4-14) differs from the second part (verses 15-17).
Although the play is short, its message is clear. After reading these verses (verses 15-17) the reader gets the impression that the preceding passage (verses 4-14) refers to a good shepherd.
The future wicked shepherd would not care for any lost sheep, or seek the young,214 or heal the injured, or feed the healthy. He would even eat the meat of the choice sheep, tearing off their hoofs, the latter probably to make sure he got even the last scrap of meat. He would work only for his own profit (verses 15-16). His time was limited, however, for God already announced the judgment of this wicked shepherd: the conqueror was going to destroy his power.
If verses 4-14 are messianic, this could be another argument for seeing the Antichrist theme in verses 15-17, although we have established that the Antichrist will establish himself as anti-God in the first place, not so much as an anti-Messiah. There is a lot of discussion about the character of the first part and we can conclude from their comments that the exegetes establish the nature of the first part partly by looking at the second part.
The comparison to a man, that is, a shepherd, seems to indicate that a man is being discussed here. This passage is definitely about the future, but it is clear that this future could be seen on an end times level. The link with Satan is not discussed at all, but there is mention of unrighteousness and murderousness. In the religious area it can be said that the wicked shepherd acts in a way that is squarely opposed to God's ways. The occurrence of a messianic interpretation in the history of the reading of the first part should be mentioned here as important, but it is not indicative of the functioning of an Antichrist theme. We do not find any reference to secondary elements of our definition, for example, Beast, false prophet or hubris.
The general conclusion is that the data is limited, that nothing pleads against identification, and even that the combination of "unrighteous and murderous 'end times' man actually pleads for it. When establishing what happened later to the figure of Goliath in 1 Sam. 17, and looking again at the account itself, we must conclude that in Goliath a large part of the Antichrist theme is present in potential, as a man of force, as an 'anti-prophet' marked with hubris.
In Zech. 11:15-17 we find an unrighteous and murderous 'end times' man. During the reading history of this text, this man has certainly been placed opposite a messianic figure, but even without that development we may say that in view of the limited length of the text a reasonably complete picture of the Antichrist can be found here.
This means that the core of the Antichrist theme according to our definition not only occurs in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament, but elsewhere as well, indeed from the earliest period onwards, whether we assume this was the time of the historical Moses, or several centuries later. Our last text (Zech. 11) dates from roughly the same period as the book of Daniel. From this we may deduce that the law concerning the false prophet formed the base of the Antichrist theme. The Goliath materials were available quite early, but were not developed. In Zech. 11 the Antichrist is shown from a different perspective, namely that of the wicked shepherd. Hubris is a characteristic that is often mentioned with the characters described.
The Chronological Development of the Antichrist Theme
It should now be possible to give an overview of the development of the image of the Antichrist on the basis of the writings that are most important to this theme.
We find a first clue in the early Hellenistic passage of Ps. 152:4-6. This features a beast (a bear) opposite a messianic figure (i.e. David) in an end times context. In what cannot be regarded as a further development but rather as another clue, we find in Sir. 47:4-5 (dating from 190 AD) a first mention of Goliath as a type. These texts originate from Palestine and are Hasidic (and quite Pharisaic).
The first Antichrist theme can be found in Sib. Or. 3.388-92 and 608-15. These passages originated in Egypt around 160-150 BC. In them we see the evolution of Antiochus IV Epiphanes into an end-times individual in a messianic context. In Judith, which is slightly younger and of Pharisaic origin, we see all the elements converge for the first time (even the military and religious aspects converge here!), even though the structure of the story prevents us from concluding that we have found a fully end times Antichrist here.
Two texts from the period 150-107 BCE form a kind of interval. 2 Maccabees gives so many clues that we must conclude that some end times awareness is present in this historical work. A peculiar situation is found in the new interpretation that the Qumran Community gave to the Wiles of the Wicked Woman. There are objections to the view that the Woman portrays the Antichrist, but we must insist that this text has laid the foundation for the ideas about the Antichrist in the Qumran Community.
This brings us to our six clearest texts: the Damascus Document, the Habakkuk Pesher, Testimonia, Psalms of Solomon, Treatise of Shem (albeit in an unclear context) and Testament of Moses.
The authors of the Damascus Document (dated in 107 CE) and of the Habakkuk Pesher (final edition only in 60 AD, but with a long history) seem to have believed that they were living in a pre-end times time in which the Wicked Woman and her Wiles, the ideological opponent of the sect (especially as a false prophet), the head of the kings of Greece, Tryphon (especially as a tyrant) and several Hasmonean royal high priests (active both in the religious and the military domain) played the role of the Antichrist. During the same period, the concept of an end times Antichrist was present in the Qumran Community. We first find this in the Testimonia (4Q175) 21-30 AD. Here the Antichrist features opposite messianic figures, and is active in both the military and the religious domain, under the influence of Satan (Belial).
In the writings of a couple generations earlier (64-37 BC), we find the pre-end times Antichrist figures again, this time in Pharisaic circles. The poet of the Psalms of Solomon now projected the theme on later Hasmonean royal high priests (especially Aristobulus II), albeit in a completely different spiritual attitude from his chronological predecessors. Pompey now played a more important role—after Goliath and Antiochus IV—in fleshing out the Antichrist theme. Both were tyrannical and evil. Did the Pharisaic poet base his writing on the thinking of the Qumran Community? In view of my conviction that the ideas of Qumran were known in Jerusalem, this is not impossible. Could the author have delved into 2 Maccabees, which was two generations older? Even that is not impossible, since there are many similarities: both an internal and a foreign enemy, the high priest as a tyrant, the action against the Temple undertaken by the foreign enemy, hubris and wickedness by the foreign enemy, the comparison with an animal or beast. Our poet probably used both sources as well as his own creativity to form a new synthesis.
A generation later, in 25-20 BC, we again find a reflection of the Antichrist theme in Egypt, in Tr. Shem 11.14-18. Obviously the image of the end times black king must have undergone influences from astrological texts. We must also mention other extra-biblical sources: the image of Cambyses, the image of Alexander the Great, the Potter's Oracle.
Yet another generation later, in 6 AD or later, we find a last clear description in Ass. Mos. 8. The end times king of kings—clearly in the footsteps of Antiochus IV Epiphanes—is both tyrannical and active in the religious arena. The chapter has a messianic context and a link to Satan can be demonstrated. The rigorous Pharisee who was responsible for this writing may have consulted the Psalms of Solomon (which originated from his own group) as well as like-minded people in the Qumran Community.
From this we can deduce that a pre-end times interpretation of the Antichrist is only found in the middle of the period covered by this research, that is, from 107 AD to 147 AD. We can also conclude that although the theme was not continually at the center of attention, it was discussed again and again, at least from the historical actions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes onwards and always with intervals of one generation. I do not wish to read too much into that, but it seems to imply a measure of intensity. Incidentally, one generation after the Testament of Moses the theme appears yet again, this time in the New Testament.
Finally some writings were written too late to mark a new stage or which are too vague to be of importance to us. Pseudo-Ezekiel may contain several interesting elements, especially in view of its date in the second half of the second century, but our theme does not feature very clearly in it. The First Book of Maccabees, from 100 BC, contains many elements, but is too similar to the Second, which is older (from 124 BC). The Hymns from Qumran also mention an end times Antichrist, but less clearly so than the Testimonia. The Nahum Pesher speaks evil of a Hasmonean, but since this is closely followed by a discussion of the whole Hasmonean dynasty in the Nahum Pesher, the relative importance of the Nahum Pesher is small. The War Scroll contains many elements of an end times Antichrist, but does not provide new insights, and for its period (60 AD) it is not very interesting. This also applies to the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, which is from nearly the same time. Finally, the oldest additions to the Third Book of Sibylline Oracles are too fragmentary to add anything of interest to our theme for the period in which additions were made to the corpus (around 31 AD).
Elements of the Definition
Aside from references to the historical David, the individual aspect of the Antichrist is first found in Sib. Or. 3.388-92, 608-15, dating from 160-150 BC. If we leave Nebuchadnezzar in Judith and the Abyss in Wiles of the Wicked Woman out of the picture, the link to Satan first appears in the Damascus Writing, which dates from 107 BC. The lawlessness first clearly appears in Psalms of Solomon, if we leave Wiles of the Wicked Woman out of consideration. References to animals or beasts occur from the start. Also the tyrannical and religious aspects are always present, except in very fragmentary passages. If we leave the misleading aspect of Wiles of the Wicked Woman out of consideration, the false prophet is really only discussed in the Wicked Woman. Again the Wiles of the Wicked Woman could be taken as a build-up to the interpretation of Saw as the Antichrist. Often there is a messianic context, but not always, and wherever the Antichrist occurs in this context, there is a clear relationship. Hubris occurs often but not always and only from the time of Judith, that is from 150 BC, until the Psalms of Solomon, that is, until 47 AD. Balaam does not appear to feature in the passages we have studied. Goliath plays a diminishing but important role and is last mentioned in the Hymns, that is, in 60 AD. This attempt, on the basis of the data from the book of Revelation, to keep the themes of the Antichrist and of Gog (the king from the north) separated in the intertestamental writings, proved unsuccessful. This is especially clear in the Psalms of Solomon (in relation to Pompey) and in the War Scroll, while in the Aramaic Apocalypse the theme of Gog simply matches the texts we have looked at. Finally, Antiochus IV Epiphanes does not always feature, but he is referred to during a very long period: from around 160 BC in 5/6. Or. 3.388-92,608-15, through the first two books of Maccabees (while perhaps Tryphon as his successor may be reminiscent of him in the Damascus Writing), and finally in the portrayal of the Antichrist in the Testament of Moses, the last intertestamental text which is important to our theme.
Comparisons with Other Figures
- Satan - The Accuser/Deceiver
The image of the dragon is used for Satan in Rev. 13.:2, but in Pss. Sol. 2.25 and T. Ash. 7.3 there is sufficient reason to assume that they refer to the Antichrist (and also to Pompey). In the Assumption of Moses we see more of God's sovereign power than of dependence on Satan, but the recognition of one does not necessarily imply a negation of the other.
In conclusion we can say that maintaining the distinction between the Antichrist and Satan is important in determining which figures qualify for the Antichrist theme.
- Gog, the King from the North
In Judith it is unclear at first whether this book is more concerned with the Gog theme than with the Antichrist theme, but a closer look reveals that this doubt is unjustified. In Pss. Sol. 17 it is possible to think of Pompey as the king from the north, but Pss. Sol. 2 makes clear that Pompey can carry the full scope of the Antichrist theme. On this basis the dragon in T. Ash. 7.3 can be identified with the Antichrist instead of the king from the north.
Gog is also mentioned in the Qumran documents. The author of the War Scroll is not very systematic, but as we have seen the king of the Kittites it can be equated with the Antichrist, even though there are links with Gog as well.
In conclusion we can say that in principle a distinction can be made between the unsuccessful military figure of Gog and the temporarily successful military and religious figure of the Antichrist, and that the themes are interrelated.
For instance, Ps. 152:4 has messianic connotations, the Laus Patrum has messianic overtones, the messiah in Sib. Or. 3.652-56 is not far removed from Sib. Or. 3.608-15, and in those verses Antiochus IV Epiphanes has been interpreted as a messianic figure, whereas he could also be viewed as the Antichrist. We see a similar situation in Pss. Sol. 17.7-9, but there we are dealing with a divergent aspect of Pompey rather than a wrong interpretation. The Anointed One in Pss. Sol. 17.32-43 is not far removed from the Antichrist mentioned earlier in the psalm. In the Testimonia (4Q175) the passage that we are concerned with immediately follows three messianic testimonies. In the Hymn that we have looked at, the Antichrist (the serpent) is an opposite to the messiah. In Sib. Or. 3.75-77 the messianic figure and the Antichrist can be opposites, but the text is very sibylline.
To the Qumran Community, the Teacher of Righteousness is not the messiah in the strict sense of the word, but he is related to him. In his dependence on God he makes a significant contribution to the salvation of the majority of mankind. Since he is also historical, the term 'pre-messianic' could be used. Like the Teacher of Righteousness, the Antichrist is both before the end times (especially the Man of Arrogance as an opposite to the Teacher of Righteousness) and during the end times . In this New Testament perspective we can also state about Jesus that his first coming heralded the end time, but that we are not yet living in the end times ; only his return will be the end times .
Where the Antichrist can be compared to the messiah in a specific writing (in the Testimonia four separate texts have been grouped together), the comparison is usually antithetical. Only in the oldest parts of the Third Book of Sibylline Oracles is the Antichrist more a bad copy than an opposite of Christ.
In conclusion we can say that there certainly are links between the Antichrist theme and the expectation of the messiah. However, the two figures do not necessarily occur together and in that sense we can definitely view the Antichrist as an independent figure.
- Evil Man, Tyrant, False Prophet
Is the Antichrist the same as the Tyrant? The Antichrist is a tyrant, but not every tyrant is the Antichrist, even though a number of tyrannical figures have contributed to the way the Antichrist is portrayed. Antiochus IV and Cambyses are the clearest examples of this phenomenon, but in this study Iwe have only looked at the tyrant in an end times perspective.
Is the Antichrist the False Prophet? Even though the Antichrist is definitely portrayed as active in the religious arena, 'false prophet' is hardly a description that would immediately spring to mind. The theme of the false prophet does not seem to occur frequently, not even in non-end times perspective, but the deceitful aspect of the Antichrist occurs as early as in the Old Testament.
The Origins of the Antichrist Theme
The following elements from the Old Testament form the basis of the Antichrist theme:
• the concepts of the good and the wicked prophet
• the history of David and his opponents (bear and Goliath)
• the concepts of the good and the wicked shepherd
• the horn
• the actions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes
The prophet, David and the good shepherd belong to the core of the Old Testament, and the horn is a body part that is often used metaphorically. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Hasmoneans and Pompey play a role in the history of Israel itself. It is therefore not necessary to look for origins outside the Old Testament or the history of Israel.
We also need to consider the Gog theme. The origin of Gog has remained unclear. (Is he a historical figure, a Babylonian mythological being, or derived from a Sumeric word?) We note that Zimmerli refers to David, who is also well known and hidden at the same time. This means that the figure of David—as an opponent of the bear and Goliath, as the good shepherd and as a similar enigma—receives more prominence as one of the bases of the Antichrist theme. This would confirm the existence of a connection with messianism from the very start. There is one more area in which opposition to David can be distinguished: the Hasmoneans had usurped David's throne.I6 Actually, the hope for the restoration of Davidic kingship was never very prominent in the Qumran Community.
Intertestamental innovations can all be traced back to the Old Testament. The beast can equally well be a development of David's bear as of a Babylonian monster. The woman originates from Prov. 7 and related passages. Their pre-end times interpretation has proved to be wrong, since their own time did not immediately precede the end times , but the taking shape of an end times theme with the help of historical figures is fully within the lines of biblical thinking.
We conclude that all Antichrist elements can be traced back to the Old Testament (core) and the history of Israel (actualization by idealization), and that at no point does it become necessary to appeal to an Iranian or Babylonian origin. This does not mean, however, that all marginal influence from those areas should be excluded. We have already noted the influence of the image of Cambyses and that of Alexander the Great (who was hardly ever active in Israel), of the Oracle of the Potter and of astrological texts, and undoubtedly there are many other interesting parallels that are probably coincidental.
Essay excerpted & aggregated from:
Lorein, G.W. The Antichrist Theme in the Intertestamental Period. T&T Clark, 2003
Peerbolte, L.J. The Antecedents of Antichrist: A Traditio-Historical Study of the Earliest Christian Views on end times Opponents. Brill, 1996
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