The futurist interpretation of Revelation is pretty popular in American culture and in “Christendom” as a whole. Perhaps it is popular because every futurist falsity oozes with alarmist sensationalism. Either way, the impact of the futurist view on the culture around us is unmistakable. Television channels such as the History Channel frequently have programs featuring elements of the futurist view. Even my atheist household is familiar with the theory of coming antichrists, signs ushering in the end of days, 1,000 year reigns, and several tribulations.
Perhaps one of the most sensational futurist falsehoods is that of an “Antichrist” who the world is still waiting on the edge of their seats to see emerge into popularity (if he hasn’t already cf. Barak Obama or Donald Trump). It must be noted that not all doctrines of an antichrist are unbiblical. Especially since the Apostle John writes about such figures in two of the three epistles which bear his name. However, the doctrine that Revelation 13 describes a coming personal Antichrist is unbiblical.
The Futurist Interpretation
Firstly, what the futurists teach on the subject must be examined. In Revelation 13:1, John records, “Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names” (NASB). According to Mounce, the beast that John is referring to is not strictly symbolic of the Roman Empire, but rather “has always been and will be in a final intensified manifestation, the deification of secular authority” (Gregg 333). The dispensationalists go a step further and claim that the beast is a “revived Roman Empire,” thus emptying John’s words of any significance for first century Christians. Walvoord writes that this passage refers to a “revived Roman Empire in its period of worldwide domination,” more specifically, Walvoord claims that the beast is an “evil character who exercises satanic power as the world dictator” (Gregg 335).
In this manner, the beast is interpreted as a future unrighteous person of power. Ironside goes as far as to write the following: “After the church has been caught up to meet the Lord, one man [will arise] who will combine in himself the statesmanship of Caesar, the military genius of a Napoleon, and the personal attractiveness of Chesterfield” (Gregg 337). Suddenly, a beast rising out of the sea with several horns, heads, and crowns obviously refers to a charismatic, militarily minded leader of a far-future revived Roman Empire. The wounding of this beast (Rev. 13:3) is seen by futurists as the antichrist dying, going into the afterlife, and then returning to life with the world marveling all the while (Gregg 339).
In addition to the beast in Revelation 13:1-4 John records the vision of a second beast: “Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon” (Rev. 13:11 NASB). This beast is likewise seen by futurists as an individual who will reveal himself in—you guessed it—the future. Popular futurists are somewhat divided on who exactly this second beast is (or will be). Hendricksen identifies the beast as “a Jew…the final, personal Antichrist…the man of sin, the son of perdition described by Paul in 2 Thess.” (Gregg 353). However, Walvoord asserts the following:
Among premillennial expositors, the trend seems to be to identify all of these terms [the man of sin (2 Thess. 2:3), the little horn (Dan. 7:8), the prince that shall come (Dan. 9:26), the willful king (Dan. 11:36ff.), Antichrist (1 John 2:18)] with the first beast and relegate the second beast to a subordinate role as a religious, rather than a political ruler (Gregg 353).
Whether the first beast is the Antichrist while the second beast is his minion, or if they are both personal antichrists, several things are clear. The antichrist, according to futurists, is revealed through John in detail in Revelation 13, the Antichrist is a political (and perhaps religious) leader who is directly opposed to God, and the Antichrist is an actual person to arise far in the future from the time of John recording his revelation.
The Biblically Consistent Alternative
Next, what the Bible actually teaches must be examined. First, the Revelation of John must be properly interpreted. John records, “And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority” (Rev. 13:2 NASB). The imagery here is almost identical to the beasts in Daniel 7. The beasts in Daniel 7 have components of the same animals as in Revelation 13:2. Likewise, the beasts have a total of seven heads and ten horns, as in Revelation 13:1-2. To understand the beast in Revelation 13:1-2, we must understand the beasts in Daniel 7.
The four beasts in Daniel 7 are related to visions seen in Daniel 2:31-45 and 8:3-25 and are representative of four kingdoms. The kingdoms represented are (in order) the “Babylonian Empire (629-539 B.C.),” the “Medo-Persian Empire (539-330 B.C.),” the “Grecian Empire (330-63 B.C.),” and the “Roman Empire (63 B.C.—A.D. 476)” (Roper 46). All of the kingdoms represented by Daniel’s four beasts represent kingdoms which were extremely hostile towards God’s people. The last of which tirelessly persecuted Christians and is represented by John’s beast.
Futurists seem to forget that Revelation was written to first century Christians and described events which “must soon take place,” “for the time is near” (Rev. 1:2a, 3b emp. added). The question must then be asked if first century Christians would identify the beast of Revelation 13 as the Roman Empire (and not a far-removed personal Antichrist). Eddie Cloer is quoted as saying that “There is little doubt that for John’s day, the beast was the Roman Empire, the persecutor of the church” (Roper 47). Likewise, James Efird writes that for the 1st century Christians “there would have been no mystery at all about the identity of this beast. It was the Roman state, which was directing its power against them” (Roper 47). The similarities between the beast of Revelation and the Roman Empire are ubiquitous throughout Revelation (cf. Roper p.48). Likewise, the second beast of Revelation 13 can more accurately be identified as those who enforced Emperor worship, which was common in early first century Rome (thus the second beast causes people to worship the first beast [Rev. 13:15], cf. Roper 58).
It must also be recognized that the “personal Antichrist” that the futurists are looking for is unfound in Scripture. The “Man of lawlessness” (NASB) in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 cannot be a future figure to be revealed more the 2,000 years after the time of Paul’s writing of the letter. The language certainly suggests that the Thessalonians would be familiar with this figure and know some of his workings (cf. 2 Thes. 2:5-7). Likewise, the Antichrists (notice the “s”) mentioned in John’s epistles are in no logical way a political figure to come. 1 John 2:18 states that “now many antichrists have appeared” (emp. added NASB), and 2 John 1:7 states that “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist!” (NRSV emp. added). An antichrist is defined by the Bible as anyone who denies that Christ came in the flesh. Not the personal political leader of futurist fantasy.
Overall, while the futurist view of the Antichrist and the beasts of Revelation 13 may be sensational and exciting, it has no basis in Scripture. At least not in a proper interpretation of scripture. When the Bible is viewed through biased eyes, and is interpreted without its proper context, astounding things can happen. The futurist Antichrist is a perfect example. These beasts had a specific meaning to the first century recipients of John’s Revelation, and this should not be forgotten.
Gregg, Steve. Revelation Four Views, Revised & Updated. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013. Print.
Roper, David. L. Truth For Today Commentary An Exegesis & Application Of The Holy Scriptures Revelation 12-22. Searcy: Resource Publications, 2010. Print.
New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. Print.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989. Print.