Antichrist, Armageddon, and the Second Coming of Christ

by John Walvoord

Christianity by its very nature is a faith based on the historic past, the present work of God in the world, and a predicted glorious future. The history of the world as recorded in Scripture makes clear that God is working in our world to carry out His eternal purposes. Central in this is the work of salvation through Jesus Christ, who in history died on the cross for our sins and rose again. The result of this is that people today, as they put their trust in Christ, experience a supernatural new birth and an experience of walking in fellowship with God. The Bible also, however, is a book about the future, and about one-fourth of the Bible was prophetic when it was written. It is obvious that God intended that we should know something about the future. Though prophecy leaves many questions unanswered, it is also clear that God has given us all the facts we need to prepare for the future that the Bible predicts will ultimately take place.

Unfortunately, a great deal of confusion exists in the interpretation of prophecy. Most of this is occasioned by the fact that people hesitate to accept prophecy as a literal prediction of future events.

If a prophecy which is written in plain language is not interpreted literally, it opens the door to dozens of views as people guess as to what it might possibly mean. The history of prophetic fulfillment, however, is that God fulfills prophecy literally and about half of the 1000 prophecies of the Bible have already been literally fulfilled. This gives us reason to believe that the predictions which have not yet been fulfilled will have a literal fulfillment rather than some other interpretation.

Of major importance in prediction is the fact that Christ is coming again just as literally as He came the first time. All the major orthodox doctrinal statements of Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Greek Orthodoxy contain a statement to the effect that Jesus Christ is coming again to judge the world. This is a literal prediction and was considered to be so in church history. Confusion has arisen, however, because having accepted this as literal, many try to interpret in a non-literal sense the prophecies of events preceding Christ's return, as well as the events that follow. If interpreted literally, however, the prophecies of Scripture yield a consistent and intelligent picture of what God is doing in the world and things will ultimately work out for His glory.

Central in predictions of the future is the second coming of Christ and the events that will precede it. The most important character of preceding events is often called the Antichrist, or the future world ruler who will dominate the world before Christ comes again. He will be "anti" in the sense of against Christ and instead of Christ.

Armageddon is an English translation of the mount of Megiddo, a geographic location in northern Israel which will be the center of the final great world war. Antichrist, Armageddon, and the Second Coming of Christ are central to the predictions which will bring the great climax of the world when Christ returns. According to Scripture, the events preceding the Second Coming are catastrophic and world-shaking and form a dramatic prelude to the return of Jesus Christ. If the return of Christ is near, it is entirely possible that our present generation of people will experience what the Bible predicts for the end time.

In approaching these tremendous themes, it is important to have in mind the chronological development of major events as they occur in the end time, beginning with what is called the rapture of the Church.

First the Rapture

The next major event in the prophetic sequence is the rapture of the Church. The term "rapture" refers to the catching up of the church and its removal from earth and arrival in heaven, a major event of the future described graphically in I Thessalonians 4:13-18. Though many confuse the issue by trying to link the rapture to the Second Coming of Christ, actually this is an entirely different event as the details of the prophecy make clear. The rapture occurs some years before, and the period between the rapture and the Second Coming is one of the most dramatic prophetic periods in the entire history of the world.

If every true believer is suddenly and instantaneously taken out of the world, it obviously will have an important impact on the world because many Christians are in prominent places and their sudden disappearance will call for an explanation. Many will follow a powerful delusion and believe some explanation of the rapture other than the departure of believers in Christ. However, many others will come to terms with the Lord and recognize that the rapture is a tremendous event.

Romans 11:25 specifically mentions how Israel's eyes will be opened. According to this verse, "I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles have come in." In other words, in the present age it is difficult for a Jew to understand that Christ is the Messiah, but when the rapture occurs, this blindness will be lifted. While many will persist in unbelief, no doubt a great number will be saved. Because Israel has representatives in almost every country and every language, once they are saved they will become the missionaries to the world with the truth of Christ's salvation much as they were in the first century after Pentecost.

The rapture will, however, mark the end of our present day of grace in which the Church, consisting largely of Gentiles, has flourished, and will begin the time of the day of the Lord when God deals directly with human sin and divine judgment. Instead of dealing with the church combining Israel and Gentiles, God will deal in a special way with both Gentiles and Israel as separate people with somewhat different destinies.

The Day of the Lord

According to I Thessalonians 5:1,2, when the rapture occurs it begins a new period of time called "the day of the Lord." This is a familiar term in the Old Testament and applies to any period of time during which God dealt in direct judgment of Israel. This is described, for instance, in Isaiah 13:1-22 and is characterized as "a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger" (Isaiah 13:9). The book of Joel almost entirely addresses this subject; it speaks of many days of the Lord as, for instance, in chapter 1, when the invasion of locusts causes starvation. Many descriptions of the day of the Lord go beyond what occurred in the Old Testament, for instance, Joel 2:30-3:3 with the verses that follow describe this terrible time of judgment which is still in the future. The day of the Lord beginning at the rapture will continue even through the thousand-year reign of Christ when there still will be direct judgment of open sin against God, fulfilling the prediction that Christ will rule with an "iron scepter." There will be a display of "the fury of the wrath of God Almighty" (Revelation 19:15). The major events of the judgment of God, however, may not be immediately fulfilled after the rapture but will gradually increase as the period between the rapture and the Second Coming is fulfilled.

Revival of the Roman Empire

The book of Daniel provides a broad prediction of how God is going to deal with the Gentile world, beginning with Babylon in the time of Daniel about 600 B.C. and continuing through the empires that followed, that of Medo- Persia, Greece, and Rome. The predictions of Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece have all been literally fulfilled and are now part of the historic past. The Roman empire, however, which was in power at the time of the first coming of Christ, is still a continuing part of God's purpose. It continued for many centuries after Christ and then eventually disappeared, but, according to Scriptures, will be revived in the end times.

Daniel 7 pictures the four empires as ferocious beasts, with Babylon depicted as a lion, Medo-Persia as a bear, and Greece as a leopard. The fourth empire is described in different terminology in Daniel 7 as follows:

After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast-terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns (Daniel 7:7).

The Roman empire literally fulfilled the picture of a beast with great iron teeth, crushing and devouring everything before it. Its well-disciplined soldiers went into countries that were unprepared to fight. The soldiers then conquered the country, carried off the able-bodied men as slaves, left a detachment of soldiers to collect taxes, and moved on to the next country. As the greatest empire of the past, it was ruthless in its destruction of whatever opposed it. Most of Daniel 7:7 has already been fulfilled.

The final statement in verse 7, however, states, "it had ten horns." Nothing in history corresponds to this, and Bible expositors have been struggling for centuries to explain this prophecy that has not been fulfilled.

But Daniel 7:24 reveals that "The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom." How can this be explained in view of the fact that the Roman empire today is non-existent? In order to understand this period, one has to recognize that the Old Testament described the events leading up to the first coming of Christ, but then many Scriptures skip from the first coming to the Second Coming and omit reference to what we call the present age of grace.

This is brought out in Christ's message in Nazareth, recorded in Luke 4:17-21, The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. "

This is a significant illustration of the absolute accuracy of Scripture. Christ here is quoting from Isaiah 61:1-2, which predicts His coming to the world and ministry to those in need. He quotes Isaiah 61:2, including the expression, "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." He does not quote the last part of the verse, "and the day of vengeance of our God." The point is that His first coming proclaimed the Lord's favor but the last part of the verse deals with His Second Coming and judgment on the world. Here, as in many other cases, the present age is not in view. While Old Testament Scriptures deal with the time of judgment preceding the Second Coming, they do not anticipate that the Roman empire will go out of existence for many centuries, only to be revived in the end time in the form of these ten kingdoms.

Scripture does not indicate exactly when this will happen, but as soon as the rapture occurs, the ten kingdoms are in the background and apparently the formation of the ten-kings power bloc will come together either just before or just after the rapture. The fact that the European Union is friendly today, geopolitically speaking-that is, the major players are not at odds with each other-provides fertile soil for producing a united Europe, which would fulfill, at least in part, this prophecy.

What is happening in Europe is especially prophetically significant. For centuries the major countries of Europe, particularly Great Britain, France, and Germany have been engaged in war. Usually when one war ends, regardless of who wins, the countries immediately begin to prepare for the next war. This has been going on for several hundred years. Suddenly, after World War 11, this process stopped because all these countries now have the atomic bomb and the capacity to completely destroy the other countries. Accordingly, engaging in warfare would not help any of the countries involved-even if they won-because they would suffer terrible losses in the process. Facing this realistically, the countries of Europe decided to form an economic union and they established the Common Market. Having established friendly relationships with each other on an economical basis, many have for years predicted the coming together of a United States of Europe. Steps in that direction-including implementing a common currency- have already taken place. Accordingly, the situation described at the rapture of ten nations banded together is something that could occur at any time and is strategic evidence that the rapture of the church could be near.

The Rise of the Antichrist

When false teachers taught the Thessalonian believers that they were already in the day of the Lord, Paul had to correct this. He argued in 2 Thessalonians 2 that they were not in the day of the Lord period after the rapture because the man of lawlessness had not appeared. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 states:

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.

His work is further described in 2 Thessalonians 2:4: "He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God."

The "man of lawlessness" is another reference to the one who is also called the Antichrist. The word "antichrist" is mentioned four times in the Scriptures (I John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 7). As used by John, it applies to anyone who is opposed to Christ and is a false leader. The term has been used to describe the end-time ruler because his activities are so obviously anti-Christ, and he is Satan's substitute for Jesus Christ as King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and God. However, the book of Revelation and other passages of Scripture outside of the Johannine epistles never used the term.

The Antichrist appears on the scene as the conqueror of the ten-nation revival of the Roman empire. According to Daniel 7:8, a little horn comes up among the ten horns and uproots three of them, which signifies that he has conquered three of the ten countries. From there on, although Scriptures do not explain the reasons, he is regarded as the ruler of all ten nations. In other words, he takes over as the dictator of the revived Roman empire. From this position he rises to power gradually until finally he becomes the world ruler of scriptural prophecy.

2 Thessalonians 2:14 offers remarkable evidence that the rapture of the church occurs before the end-time prophecy. Paul is demonstrating that they are not in the day of the Lord as false teachers have taught them, because the man of lawlessness has not appeared. When will the man of lawlessness appear?

His full revelation comes in the middle of this last seven years of end-time prophecy when he claims to be God. But he will be revealed earlier than that, when he makes the covenant of Daniel 9:27 for seven years leading up to the second coming of Christ. In order to have this position of power, he has to be the one who conquers the Roman empire and becomes the head of the ten countries. This must occur, therefore, more than seven years before the Second Coming. If he has to appear before the day of the Lord can begin, it should be obvious that the day of the Lord will begin more than seven years before the Second Coming. This automatically disposes of counter-opinions which put the rapture at the Second Coming or during the Great Tribulation or at the beginning of the Great Tribulation or the beginning of the seven years, for the man of lawlessness will be revealed more than seven years before the Second Coming. Accordingly, the rise of the Roman empire will become a very important factor in determining how soon the rapture of the church may take place.

One of the great passages of prophecy in the Old Testament is found in Daniel 9:24-27, which predicts that there will be seven times seventy years of Israel's prophetic future. While it is very complicated and various theories have arisen about it, if it has to be fulfilled literally, the last seven years are still future. The first 69 sevens, or 483 years, were fulfilled just before the crucifixion of Christ when the Messiah was cut off. But the last seven years has never been fulfilled, and it will become an important element of the chronology of the end times.

In Daniel's revelation of the seventy sevens, or 490 years of Israel's prophetic future, a ruler will come on the scene during the last seven years that lead up to the Second Coming of Christ. He is described in Daniel 9:26 as "the ruler who will come." The same verse refers to the people of the ruler who destroyed the city in 70 A.D. But the ruler is a future ruler who at the end time does not destroy the city but does take control. According to verse 27 he will confirm a covenant with many for one seven. These are the last seven years of Israel's future. The covenant that the ruler imposes on Israel is a covenant of peace attempting to solve the problem of Israel in relation to the world around her.

The first half of the seven years is marked off as a special time. There is some debate among scholars as to what events take place, but a probable solution is that it will introduce a temporary time of peace for Israel during which Israel can relax from its present military preparedness and rely upon this ruler to defend them. However, this will be interrupted, according to Ezekiel 38 and 39, by an invasion from the north of six countries. All of these countries are named except the country from the far north, which is probably one or more of the states formerly in the Soviet Union. Because they are largely Moslems, they would love to attack Israel, and this is in prospect for this period. As Ezekiel 38 and 39 make clear, however, God intervenes and by a series of catastrophes wipes out the invaders.

The attack is an attempt to weaken the power of the ruler of the ten nations because he is Israel's protector. But when the invaders are defeated, their bodies scattered throughout the land, it tends to enhance the power of the ruler of the ten nations and makes it possible for him to extend his power over the whole world in the middle of the last seven years. This is anticipated in Daniel 9:27: "In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering." Apparently he will take over as ruler over the entire world. Revelation 13:5 confirms that his rule will extend for 42 months and will climax with the second coming of Christ.

This period of three and a half years which is the climax of the preceding events to the Second Coming is described in Scripture as the Great Tribulation. Daniel 12:1 describes it as "a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then." It is predicted that resurrections will follow of both the righteous and wicked. Daniel, like many Old Testament prophets, does not describe the period between the two comings of Christ. Actually, according to Revelation 20:11-15, the wicked will not be resurrected until after the millennial kingdom.

When Christ answered His disciples concerning the end times, He described the same period in Matthew 24:21, "For then there will be great distress unequal from the beginning of the world until now-and never to be equaled again." This is a specific period of time beginning three and a half years before the Second Advent and concluding with the second coming of Christ. The common tendency to blur this with the natural troubles which have beset the human race from the beginning is not justified by the description which the Scriptures give marking this period as a special time of limited duration.

The period of this end time is pictured in Revelation 6:1-19:10. Many expositors think this extends over the entire seven-year period, but others find that it is primarily fulfilled in the Great Tribulation of the last three-and-a-half years.

The details given in the book of Revelation concerning the Great Tribulation are unfolded first in the seven-sealed manuscript which describes terrible judgments on the world, including the destruction of one-fourth of the world's population (Revelation 6:7,8). This is followed by another series of seven called trumpets. As these are sounded, devastating judgments will descend over the world, a period described in Revelation 9:14 as "the great tribulation." In the sixth trumpet, a third of the world and its population will be destroyed (Revelation 9:15). This is followed by a series of seven bowls of judgments which will be poured out on the world.

In Revelation 16, these are devastating judgments on the entire world. The final one will be an earthquake and the graphic portrayal describes the total destruction of much of the world and its population. Revelation 16:18-21 records this devastating situation that will destroy all the nations of the world and most of the people who are surviving to that point:

Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. From the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fell upon men. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.

Armageddon, in connection with the final judgments of Revelation 16, is mentioned in verse 16, "Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon." Armageddon is the English equivalent of the mount of Megiddo, a geographic location in northern Israel located not too far from the

Mediterranean Sea. It is not a very high mountain, perhaps 800 feet in elevation. To the east of this, however, is the broad valley that extends through some 14 miles and extends to several other valleys, which is described in Revelation 16:16 as the central marshaling place for the final great war that will be underway in the months just before the Second Coming.

Actually, if all the Scriptures concerning end time events are put together, the war will extend all the way up and down the nation Israel for some 200 miles from the Mediterranean Sea all the way to the Euphrates River and millions of men will be engaged in mortal conflict. On the very day of the Lord's return, there will be house-to-house fighting in Jerusalem.

According to Zechariah 14:1-4, the nations will be fighting for power: A day of the Lord is coming when your plunder will be divided among you. I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city. Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. On that day, his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.

When the nations see the glory in the heavens which will be the sign of the Second Coming, they will forget their differences and unite to fight the army from heaven. This is why Satan will have arranged for them to be there. The war will be interrupted and brought to an abrupt end by the Second Coming of Christ.

The Second Coming of Christ

As the Scriptures have abundantly demonstrated, catastrophic judgments will lead up to the second coming of Christ before this event happens. The coming of Christ brings to a dramatic close these events as described in Revelation 19:11-16:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "lie will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

When the heavens break open with the glory of Christ and He begins His descent to the world to take over, it is clear that this will be a time of judgment on the world. Earlier in chapter 19, the wedding feast is mentioned, referring to the fellowship of Christ and the church in heaven. The Scriptures record that there will be a terrible feast at this time, the slaughter of the great armies gathered there in the Holy Land, which will be destroyed by Christ. In the process, the world ruler called the beast and the false prophet who has supported him will be captured, and they will be cast alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Revelation 19:20), the final place of judgment for the demon world and for the unsaved.

According to Matthew 25:41, the lake of fire was prepared for the devil and his angels but it also will be the place of final judgment for those who follow Satan instead of believing in Christ. Scriptures distinguish between the lake of fire and sheol in the Old Testament and hades in the New Testament; these terms are used sometimes to describe the grave itself and other times the state of people after the grave. Sheol and hades are viewed, however, as temporary. In the final resurrection of the wicked, recorded in Revelation 20:11-15, hades will be emptied and those in hades at that time who are unsaved will be cast into the lake of fire, their permanent place of judgment. As far as the Scriptures reveal, the beast and the false prophet will be the first to be cast alive into the lake of fire. It is most significant, however, that at the end of the thousand years when the devil is also cast into the lake of fire, the beast and the false prophet will still be there and "They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever" (Revelation 20:10). The beast and the false prophet will not be destroyed by the lake of fire, they are predicted to receive everlasting punishment along with that of the devil.

The Second Coming itself will dramatically demonstrate the power of Christ. The heavens will be ablaze with the glory of God compared to lightning shining from east to west as described in Matthew 24:27. The heavens will be filled with the glory of Christ as He returns to earth accompanied by all the saints and angels who are in heaven. The church will be included in that dramatic procession, having been raptured earlier and taken to heaven before the tribulation. Now they will return to be with Christ forever.

It will be the most dramatic moment in the entire history of the world as Christ manifests His true authority which was hidden when He first came, but which will now be displayed to the entire world. As mentioned previously, according to Zechariah 14, He will return to the Mount of Olives from which He ascended, and when He does, it will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley down to the Jordan River (Zechariah 14:4). Apparently the whole topography of the Holy Land will be changed and Jerusalem will be elevated, as indicated in Zechariah 14:10, and other changes will take place in the Holy Land. The judgment, which will begin with the casting of the world ruler and the false prophet into the lake of fire, will continue as all the armies that are gathered against Christ will be easily put to death along with their beasts (Revelation 19:17-21). Other judgments will follow, including the judgment and binding of Satan (Revelation 20:1-3).

Matthew 25:31-46 predicts the judgment of the nations of the Gentiles still living in the world. The sheep and the goats represent the saved and the lost and the separation will take place several days after the Second Coming. This should support the concept that there will be no rapture or resurrection on the day of the Second Coming itself. The resurrection of those who died during the Tribulation period who are mentioned in Revelation 20:4-6 also occurs after the Second Coming. The sheep-goat separation of Matthew 25 comes after the Second Coming, and if there had been a rapture, obviously the separation would have already taken place.

Clearly mentioned six times in Revelation 20, a millennial kingdom follows in which Christ will reign on earth and bring justice and righteousness to bear upon the world situation. The climax will come at the end of the millennium with the new heaven, new earth and New Jerusalem, and the beginning of eternity.

It would be impossible for any writer of fiction to describe a scene of greater significance or more sweeping events affecting the entire world than the period after the rapture of the Church. While the present world may seem to be one in which God is not dealing with sin and correcting the evil that does exist, it is clearly portrayed that in God's time and in God's way, every sinner will be brought into judgment. The only way of escape from the righteous judgment of God will be the grace of God provided in salvation through Jesus Christ. If there ever was a generation that should be considering the claims of Christ and the desperate need of every soul to be saved and forgiven by faith in Christ, it is the generation that is now living that may soon be plunged into these end-time series of events after the rapture takes place.