A few years ago, I wrote an article entitled "A Catholic View of the End Times." In that article, I outlined twelve "signs of the times" that are to precede the Second Coming of Christ and the final judgment, according to Scripture. I also briefly discussed the role of the antichrist, drawing from the Bible and the writings of Vladimir Soloviev (1850-1900). The present article is a continued reflection on the "mystery of iniquity" that will be manifest at the future appearance of the antichrist.
As the human incarnation of evil who is expected to dominate the world and cause untold harm to mankind, the antichrist is obviously a disturbing figure. But there is something even more unsettling about him: This is the fact that the nations of the world will pave the way for his rise to power. It's not just that most people will be fooled and duped into believing in him; they will actually facilitate and enable his rise to tyrannical world domination.
How could this be? Let's recall what Scripture and Tradition have to say about this evil figure. Here are two important texts on the antichrist, the first from Saint Paul's Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, and the second from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ […] that day will not come, unless the rebellion [Greek: "apostasia"] comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. […] 6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, 12 so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thess 2:1-12)
Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh. (CCC 675)
The "Great Apostasy" and the "Man of Lawlessness"
What do these texts tell us? First, there will be a great "rebellion" before the Lord's Second Coming. The word in the original Greek is "apostasia," which means abandonment, falling away, or apostasy. So we can expect to see a massive abandonment of the Christian faith and a great revolt against Christianity in the time that will precede the antichrist's appearance.
Will the antichrist be a real person? Apparently yes. Scripture describes him as a "man of lawlessness," and the testimony of Christian tradition has overwhelmingly asserted that the antichrist will be a man. Obviously, he will be thoroughly wicked: He is called "man of lawlessness" because he will oppose the natural moral order that God has established in the world and the commandments that He has given to mankind. The antichrist be inflated with pride and will demand to be worshiped, since he "opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god." In the words of the Catechism, the reign of the antichrist will be a form of "pseudo-messianism" by which he exalts himself in place of God and Christ.
The antichrist will not tolerate the Judeo-Christian God and will try to usurp his role, "so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God." In the Gospel, Jesus tell us something similar, namely, that a mysterious "abomination of desolation" will stand in the holy place (Mt 24:15). We're not sure what this "temple of God" or "holy place" is. Some think that it's the Temple in Jerusalem that the Jews will rebuild-perhaps under the leadership of the antichrist who will deceive them into believing that he is the Messiah. Others think that the "temple of God" might be the Church or the Vatican, so the antichrist could be a type of anti-pope who will hijack the papacy and rule from Rome. We don't know. As for the "abomination of desolation," perhaps this is the antichrist himself, or some kind of anti-Christian, neo-pagan worship system that he will establish in the "holy place."
Next, Saint Paul tells us that the "mystery of lawlessness" (or "mystery of iniquity") is already at work, even as he is writing his epistle in the first century, but something is "restraining him now" (2 Thess 2:6). In other words, the power of evil is always active in the world (see also 1 John 2:18; 4:3): every generation has its share of criminals and tyrants, and some of these precursors of the antichrist succeed in grabbing political power, oppressing and killing scores of people. Think of Hitler and Stalin in the 20th century, for example. And yet something has been holding back the power of evil and delaying the full manifestation of the final antichrist. An obstacle has stood in the way of his coming. What might this restraining power be? Some have proposed that it is the Church and her saints, who while remaining in union with Christ, exert a positive influence in the world and keep the devil on a leash, so to speak, thus limiting the proliferation of evil.
Yet Paul also says that this "restraining power" will eventually be taken away, and then the antichrist will be able to rise to power unimpeded (2 Thess 2:7-8). Some fundamentalist Christians think that the "taking away" of the restraining power points to the Rapture, that is, one day believers will suddenly disappear from the world and only unbelievers will be "left behind," at the mercy of the antichrist (as depicted in some end-time novels and movies). But this is very unlikely, because the Rapture is a new theory that was unheard of in Christian tradition before the nineteenth century. Perhaps the removal of the "restraining power" simply points to a great weakening of the Church: it could be that the faith of many Christians will become so watered down and lukewarm that they will no longer have any spiritual power to restrain the forces of evil in the world.
Whatever it may be, when the "restraining power" is removed, then the "lawless one" will be revealed. Here, St. Paul gives us a spoiler: the antichrist will not meet a good end. It will be catastrophic, in fact, for the Lord Jesus will annihilate him in an instant at the moment of his Second Coming (2 Thess 2:8; Rev 19:20). This is good news, but don't rejoice too quickly, because the antichrist will have enough time to wreak havoc on the world before his final destruction. His coming will be truly demonic: he will come "by the activity of Satan" "with all power and with pretended signs and wonders." In his great wickedness, the antichrist will unleash a fierce persecution against believers. The Book of Revelation, describing the antichrist as a great beast rising out of the sea, tells us that he will blaspheme God and "make war on the saints and conquer them" (Rev 13:6-7). Why? Because he will have authority over all peoples and nations, and "all who dwell on earth will worship him" except for those Christians who will have preserved the faith and will refuse to bow down to him (Rev 13:8). It will make him quite angry that some people oppose his global rule, and so he will do all he can to get rid of them.
Hell on Earth?
If you're not a Christian, you might think: "Maybe I'll be off the hook? Maybe the antichrist will just go after the Christians and leave me alone." Unfortunately, this will not be the case. Even though the antichrist will at first come peaceably, pretending to be a great benefactor to mankind, this will only be a mask. Eventually all hell will break loose—literally—under his reign. While it's likely that his wickedness will initially be unleashed against Christians, ultimately everyone will bear the brunt of his rage. Jesus warns us:
For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. (Mt 24:21-22)
So the antichrist will bring unprecedented devastation upon the whole earth. But is it really possible that people will be fooled so as to let such an abominable person rise to power? Worse, is it conceivable that the antichrist will be elected into power by the people and nations of the world? Unfortunately, this scenario is entirely plausible. Recall that the majority of the German electorate voted for Adolf Hitler in 1932-33, leading to his appointment as chancellor and setting the world on the catastrophic course that would soon lead to World War II. If it's possible for an entire nation—and a very cultured one at that—to put a criminal such as Hitler in power, then it's also very possible that the nations of the world will facilitate and enable the antichrist's rise to power.
The Great Deception
Let's consider how this might happen. Recall that the nature of the antichrist system will be one of deception. The Catechism calls his reign, the "mystery of iniquity," a "supreme religious deception" that will offer men "an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth" (CCC 675).
Most people will be fooled, therefore, because the antichrist will offer them "an apparent solution to their problems." What kind of problems? We can imagine that these will be the perennial issues that have always troubled mankind, such as social turmoil, economic crises, and political conflicts. It's likely, then, that the antichrist will appear precisely at a time when the nations of the world are rocked by serious tremors—perhaps social unrest, a financial meltdown or economic depression, violence, terrorism, wars, etc. (cf. Mt 24:6-8). He will appear as a type of "savior," proposing attractive solutions to restore peace, order, and prosperity to the world. Perhaps he will be a committed environmentalist, and even a "spiritual person" of sorts. This is the picture we get from the book of Revelation: since "all who dwell on earth will worship it" (Rev 13:8), the antichrist will obviously boast of great accomplishments that will impress everyone. Moreover, it appears that he will also impose some kind of global economic system on the world: Revelation tells us that he will have a "partner in crime" (described as a beast emerging from the earth or a "false prophet," cf. Rev 13:11; 16:13; 19:20; 20:10) who will force everyone to be marked with the infamous "mark of the beast" (666), "so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark" (Rev 13:17).
The antichrist will deceive most of the world, therefore, by giving them "an apparent solution to their problems." But this will come at a price, "the price of apostasy from the truth." The Catechism borrows this idea from St. Paul: Yes, the antichrist will come "with all power and with pretended signs and wonders" (2 Thess 2:9) and he will apparently resolve some grave socio-economic-political problems, earning him the admiration and loyalty of most people. But this alone would not be enough to fool the world into falling into his trap. Here is the key: the antichrist will come with "wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved" (2 Thess 2:10). God will send upon these men and women "a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thess 2:11-12).
St. Paul is telling us that the spiritual, religious and moral compass of most people will have become so broken that they will be at the mercy of the antichrist's deception. Among them will be simple and well-educated people, workers and professionals, poor and wealthy, young and old. Just as many intelligent Germans voted for Hitler, many intelligent people will be duped into supporting the antichrist. They will be deceived because they refused to love the truth—the truth that is Jesus Christ (Jn 14:6). In other words, the sharpness of our spiritual discernment very much depends on how much we remain in God's truth—Christ, allowing Him to rule in our lives, living according to His Word as revealed in Scripture and in the teachings of the Church, and striving to keep his commandments. The more we remain ignorant of God's Word, the more we seek to live autonomously from Him, trying to "be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:4), and the more we ignore or reject His commandments-the more we are liable to be deceived. God will protect us from the antichrist's deception if we actively seek protection in His truth and goodness. But if we decide to live without Him, He will respect our decision and allow us to be deluded and to fall into the evil one's trap.
Spiritual discernment is therefore intrinsically linked with both doctrinal truth and right moral living: In his Epistle to the Romans, for example, Saint Paul closely connects human delusion and alienation from God with the widespread practices of homosexuality and idolatry. Because men and women did not honor God or give thanks to him, but "became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened," God "gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (Rom 1:24-25).
Elsewhere, Paul describes the "last days" as a time when people will voluntarily give themselves over to demonic deception:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons. (1 Tim 4:1)
This doesn't mean that these people will consciously worship the devil. Men and women expose themselves to demonic deception anytime they turn away from God, abandon His commandments, and give themselves over to sins and vices. Paul provides an impressive compendium of the godlessness that will prevail in the "last days":
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. (2 Tim 3:1-5)
The antichrist's satanic deception will be made possible because people will have abandoned the "sound teaching" of the Word of God and replaced it with their own novel "alternate spiritualities":
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. (2 Tim 4:3-4)
Once the general populace is sufficiently ignorant of God's Word, enslaved to sins and craving only for worldly self-gratification, it will be child's play for the devil to send "false Messiahs and false prophets" with great signs and wonders-culminating in the antichrist-so as to "lead astray, if possible, even the elect" (Mt 24:24).
America, Ripe for Deception?
What will the world look like when it's most vulnerable to the antichrist's deception? What kinds of symptoms can we expect to see in such a spiritually weakened and sick society? Let's look at today's America and see if it qualifies. For some years, an author and video blogger named Mark Dice has been conducting some revealing interviews with common folk on the Californian street and beachside. Though comical, the videos are also disturbing as they display an astounding ignorance and gullibility on the part of the people being interviewed.
What will a society ripe for the antichrist look like? First, there will be a widespread, apathetic ignorance of Scripture and of Christianity. Perhaps something like the following scenario, where a number of people believe in good faith that Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed Jesus in the 14th century.
Second, individual freedoms will not only be threatened; many people will be willing to surrender them without a fight-or they will be so clueless that they don't even know what they're giving away. In this video, watch people support the repeal of the Bill of Rights in order to "advance the new world order":
Third, expect increased hostility against the Bible and Christianity, and against religious freedom. In this video, liberals sign without hesitation a petition to ban the Bible from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble:
Fourth, there will be a great loss of respect for the sanctity of life. The following video shows people willing to sign a petition in favor of implementing a mandatory euthanasia program to kill senior citizens:
Even if these videos display extreme cases of ignorance, apathy, gullibility and moral depravity, and they cannot be relied upon for accurate data, they do reveal an alarming state of mind and soul for many Americans.
Will You Vote for the Antichrist?
In summary, we must remember that the antichrist will deceive the world. At first, his malice will be hidden. He will not appear to be a wicked person, but will pose as a philanthropist who appears to care for the good of humanity, appealing to people's wallets and their natural hedonist desire for pleasure and prosperity.
Will it be possible to see through his masquerade? Yes. Most politicians have a track record, and it's usually possible to know where they stand on key moral issues. Paying close attention to these points will help you to remain vigilant whenever a leader or politician arises, proposing to solve his nation's problems, and asking for your vote. In all likelihood, the antichrist will:
- Give lip service to some form of spirituality, but will reject Christ and the teachings of Christianity, "holding the form of religion but denying the power of it" (2 Tim 3:5).
- Pretend to care about the "good of mankind" but in reality will have no regard for the sanctity of human life, especially that of the weakest. Therefore, he will likely be a globalist and an environmentalist who supports abortion and euthanasia.
- Be a moral relativist. He will reject and oppose God's moral order and commandments, especially those regarding sexuality, marriage and the family; thus, he will support homosexuality and gay "marriage."
- Be hostile to the Catholic Church and to devout Christians who continue to uphold the biblical faith and its moral principles.
- Be hostile to Israel, the "apple of God's eye" (Zech 2:8); perhaps he will eventually lead a coalition of nations that will rise up against Jerusalem, as announced by the prophets (Zech 12:3).
What are we to do to avoid getting duped? First, convert to Christ and find peace and reconciliation with God in His Church, which subsists in its fullness in the Catholic Church. Second, be knowledgeable: study diligently the Catholic faith, especially as communicated in its main sources, the Sacred Scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Third, faithfully grow in your communion with God through prayer and the Church's liturgical and sacramental life. Fourth, conform your life to God commandments as reflected in the Church's teachings, growing in grace and the virtues; there you will find peace, joy and freedom. Fifth, find a community with other like-minded believers who wish to grow together in communion with Christ, in faith, hope, and love, and who are dedicated to sharing their faith with the world in the Church's mission and new evangelization. Sixth, nurture a loving devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of the Redeemer and woman who leads the battle against the ancient dragon, together with "the rest of her offspring" who "keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus." (cf. Rev 12). Finally, be prepared to bear with patience and perseverance the tribulation that will come with the reign of the antichrist, remembering that "he who endures to the end will be saved" (Mt 24:13).
Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him. (Jam 1:12)