Does God know in advance who will be the Antichrist?

This question was asked in a comment on my post entitled “Why Did God Create Satan?

Q. Wow I really love this article. For years I’ve been trying to make sense of two somewhat conflicting beliefs, (1) that we are made as an expression of God’s love and (2) that God made Satan knowing that he would turn on him and tempt Eve. I’ve often wondered if God makes the deliberate choice to not know what choices we will make. Being God he certainly has the option to make that choice if he wants to. My only thought that would seem to contradict this theory is that the Bible talks about the future Antichrist and it’s pretty clear about what choices he makes. What are your thoughts on this?

If God does know in advance what choices we’re going to make, then the creation of Satan certainly raises a great problem for the idea that God loves us and wants the best for us.  How could God create “such a monster,” as the questioner behind my original post put it, knowing what havoc he would wreak on humanity and the creation?

The solution I suggest is that God created not Satan but Lucifer, a great and glorious angel who had tremendous potential for good.  Because Lucifer had the freedom to follow God or not, what he would eventually choose was not knowable in advance—at least according to my understanding of freedom.  And not knowing what cannot be known is not a deficiency in omniscience or foreknowledge.

You’re suggesting a different solution:  God could know every choice in advance, but God chooses not to know, perhaps for the same reasons I describe in my original post, to allow true freedom so that true love will also be possible.  (Love that is compelled is not love.)

I think that both of these approaches work, so I just need to address what you’ve raised as a potential counterexample:  Isn’t it clear from the Bible that God knows in advance what moral choices the Antichrist is going to make—another “monster” whose choices will wreak havoc?

I’d say in response that I think we need to examine critically what we’ve been led to believe about what the Bible predicts regarding the Antichrist, that is, the person who will lead a worldwide rebellion against God at the end of history.

For one thing, the term “antichrist” is not used in the book of Revelation or in any of the other biblical passages that are typically understood as predictions of the end times.  It is used only in the letters of First and Second John, where it is defined as anyone who denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.  This, John writes, “is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”  In other words, for John, “antichrist” is not so much a future person, it’s a spirit that has already arrived.  We need to be careful not to come under its influence ourselves, but this does not mean that God knows in advance which specific people will choose to give in to its influence, not if their choices are truly free.

The Bible does speak under other names of a person whom interpreters often identify with a future “Antichrist.”  In Revelation he’s called the “beast.”  This seems to be an echo of the way this same figure is described in Daniel as one of the “kings” of a “kingdom” that’s represented symbolically in his vision as a “fourth beast.”

But I think it’s important to recognize that the initial application of the prophecies in both Daniel and Revelation must be made to the near future from the standpoint of those books, that is, to the time when they were written, or shortly afterwards.  This is simply responsible biblical interpretation, to ask first what a text would have meant to its author and its original audience.

In that light, as I explain in my study guide to those two books, and in this post, Daniel’s references to the “tenth horn” of the “fourth beast,” equivalent to the “little horn” of his next vision, must be associated primarily with Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who desecrated the Jerusalem temple in 167 BC.  Similarly, as also I say in the guide and in this post, Revelation’s frequent references to the “beast” must be understood as referencing initially the Roman emperor Domitian, who persecuted the followers of Jesus late in the first century AD.

At least according to the “preterist” approach I take to Daniel and Revelation (see the explanation of that term near the end of this post), any further fulfillments of these prophecies will occur in the future by analogy and redemptive-historical “deepening.”  (This is precisely the way that Jesus, according to Matthew, “fulfilled” Old Testament prophecies—not so much literally as typologically.  See this post for a discussion.)

As the conflict between good and evil reaches its culmination at the end of world history—the Bible certainly envisions that happening—somebody will take the lead in opposing God, and that person will gather followers from all over the world.  But I’m not convinced that it’s knowable right now who this person will be, as countless people will make innumerable choices between now and then.  Rather, as Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.”  In other words, the leading astray may be inevitable, but the actual person who leads astray remains indefinite (“anyone”).

As a result, I don’t believe the Bible actually predicts which specific person in the future will lead the opposition against God at the end of history.  And so what the Bible says about this future figure is not a counterexample to the idea that God does not know moral choices in advance because they are truly free and thus unknowable.  What we need to come to grips with is not God knowingly creating a monster, whether Satan or Antichrist, but God endowing us with such beautiful, terrible freedom.

“The Beast from the Sea,” medieval tapestry illustrating figures from the book of Revelation. This “beast” is typically identified with the Antichrist.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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