My Son, the Antichrist

The conventional wisdom debunked.
Jan. 23 1999 3:30 AM

My Son, the Antichrist

What kind of job is that for a nice Jewish boy?

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The Anti-Defamation League is hopping mad at Jerry Falwell for his speech last weekend in Kingsport, Tenn., where he told a gathering of prophecy-heeding Christians that the Antichrist is "probably" alive and, as a "full-grown counterfeit of Christ," is without a doubt a Jewish male. The ADL said the remarks were typical of "an especially vicious tradition of Christian theological anti-Judaism."

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The Antichrist is Jewish? It does sound bad, especially given the 2,000 year history of Jewish persecution by cranky Christians. The speech was also confusing to longtime Falwell buffs and those of us who have watery knowledge of the Book of Revelation, the New Testament text that causes all this prophecy hubbub. Isn't Falwell a longtime "friend of Israel"? Then why is he making anti-Semitic comments? And does Revelation really say the Antichrist must be a Jew?

The answers: 1) Yes, he is a friend of Israel. 2) In his mind and heart, he wasn't making an anti-Semitic comment. As for 3), it's difficult to say whether the Antichrist is Jewish, because there's no mention of an Antichrist in Revelation, though there is mention of a Beast whose number is 666, who is presumed to be the Antichrist. The word "Antichrist" is mentioned in 1 John and 2 John.

Falwell is a Baptist, but in prophecy matters he's a "premillennialist," which simply means he thinks mankind is living in a time prior to the millennium, a thousand year period of peace that will ensue once Christ returns and kicks Satan's butt. More precisely, he's a "pretribulational dispensationalist," an unwieldy label that refers to two separate but intertwined beliefs that were popularized in the early 1800s by John Nelson Darby, an English minister and a special sort of screwball genius whose ideas later spread to America. Darby put his eyes too close to the Scripture pages and decided that history, past and future, was a series of "dispensations": divinely ordained historical epochs in which the Chosen People had been and would be tested and found wanting by God, always leading to the next dispensation.

Most of these dispensations, such as "Israel Under the Law," are behind us. The most recent was the "Church Age," when Jesus was alive and spread the Word. Next up is the Millennium, followed by the Eternal State. Right now we're living in a weird between-dispensations limbo known to premills as "the Great Parenthesis." This kicked in after Jesus was crucified, a moment they crisply refer to as "Messiah cut off." Next up--according to an exceedingly complex timetable that is pieced together with help from future-specific "time texts" such as the Old Testament's Book of Daniel--is the Tribulation, a seven year period when the Antichrist will bring wrack and ruin to this world, before God dishes out his Wrath and Christ returns to fight the Battle of Armageddon.

Pretribulational premills such as Falwell believe an early highlight of the Tribulation will be an event called the Rapture, when Christ will rescue the souls of righteous individuals by "meeting them in the air." (Rapture isn't mentioned in Revelation, either. Try 1 Thessalonians.)

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

Once that happens, you're finally into the Technicolor material that is found in Revelation: the Whore of Babylon, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and so on. The action starts when Revelation's author, John, sees a vision of a heavenly throne surrounded by 24 white-robed elders. The throned figure, God, holds a book with seven seals that are successively broken by Christ, who is represented as a slain lamb.

Each broken seal brings forth visions of terrors to come. When the seventh seal is broken, John learns that 144,000 faithful Jews, 12,000 each from the 12 tribes of Israel, together with great multitudes who "came out of the great tribulation," will ultimately appear before God, who promises them salvation.

It goes on and on like this, often incomprehensibly. Israel is all-important because premills believe the final dispensation couldn't occur until the Jews were restored to Israel. This is why they've been so supportive of the Jewish state since 1948. Now that the Jews are back, the Tribulation could happen at any moment. (Falwell also said he thinks the Second Coming will happen within 10 years.) When the hard rain falls, as Falwell would gladly tell you, the Jews come out relatively OK. With the raptured Christians gone, everyone else--including dud Christians who have been judged unworthy, Jews, Muslims, atheists, New Agers, pagans, you name it--will be left behind to duke it out with the Antichrist and his gruesome legions. Above all, they must not accept the "mark of the Beast," or they'll be damned for eternity.

When the worst is over, at least 144,000 Jews will make it, possibly many more, though they'll all have to convert to pass muster. It's true that many, many Jews will be killed. John F. Walvoord, a major pretrib writer, recently wrote that "two out of three Israelites will perish" during the Tribulation. But that seems equitable enough. Many, many of everybody will be killed. Hey, it's the End of the World. What did you expect?