Who is the Antichrist and how will we recognize him when he comes? Will he be driving a new car? A Tesla, perhaps? Complete with bumper stickers reminding us to recycle? Urging us all to reduce our carbon footprint? Will he look like Al Gore?
As tempting as these conjectures may seem, they do not figure in any of the New Testament accounts. In fact, the data of Holy Scripture are entirely silent on the matter of what the Antichrist may look like. There is certainly no mention of a car. Not even a donkey.
What they do reveal, however, and in the most direct and unmistakable way, is the fact that he is a liar. Like his father in Hell, he has been a liar from the beginning. And what he lies about is Jesus, whom he will not acknowledge as the Christ because to do so would amount to an admission that God has indeed come in the flesh in order to save us from people like him.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
So, do not believe in just any spirit. Countless false prophets having been loosed upon the world; one must be on one’s guard, testing all the spirits. How do we know which spirit to believe? “By this,” the apostle John tells us, “you know the Spirit of God:
every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. (1 John 4:2)
Where then will the spirit of the Antichrist be found? He will be found in the one who refuses to believe the Incarnate God has come down into our world; not as an idea or supposition—no mere abstract construct of the mind, thank you—but as an event, a happening, one which we are free to encounter at any time in the life of the Church He founded two millennia ago.
The Apostle Paul is very clear and specific on the matter, calling him in his Second Letter to the Thessalonians, “the son of perdition, 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” (2:3-4). Not only does he disdain to recognize the real appearance of God in the human being Jesus, but he substitutes himself for God, laying claim to the majesty and power which properly belong to God alone.
A very great novel written over a century ago by a priest named Robert Hugh Benson casts a piercing light upon the subject. Called Lord of the World, it imagines a world not so very different from the one taking shape before our very own eyes, into which the Antichrist suddenly appears, bent on possessing everything and everyone. And far from repelling people by the ruthless exercise of his will to power, he is instead welcomed—worshipped even!—by everyone.
Well, almost everyone. There are those few heroic souls who manage to resist the force of his personality, by which so many have been seduced, who thus stand athwart the crushing weight of his effort to replace God with himself.
These brave souls are, for the most part, Roman Catholics, led by a saintly priest (later to become pope) who is determined to rally a beleaguered Christendom into confronting the satanic reign of the Antichrist. Asked what measures he has in mind, he replies at once:
the mass, prayer, the rosary. These first and last. The world denies their power: it is on their power that Christians must throw all their weight. All things in Jesus Christ—in Jesus Christ, first and last. Nothing else can avail. He must do all, for we can do nothing.
I won’t give the ending away, which is terrifyingly apocalyptic, except to say that it is a most thrilling tale along the way. And the key to its meaning is the same on every page: the primacy of Jesus Christ, without whom we are less than zero and the world we live in is lost.
Behind the spectacle of seeing one apparent success after another accrue to the Antichrist, there looms the whole question of Fr. Benson’s book, which is to ask where we, the reader, watching with fascinated attention as each event unfolds, stand in the struggle. Do we still believe in that primacy? Does the truth about Christ, the claim made by Christ, sustained over the centuries by the Church He founded, so compel our assent that, despite either fear or favor, we continue to believe it? That we shall not cease to organize our lives around it, refusing to deny for a single moment the shattering fact of the Incarnate God?
But for the grace of God, say we: Yes, we do believe it. That once upon a time, in a place called Palestine, God actually became one of us. That it was precisely here, in this very place, as Fr. Benson puts it,
Gabriel descended on wide feathered wings from the Throne of God set beyond the stars, the Holy Ghost had breathed in a beam of ineffable light, the Word had become Flesh as Mary folded her arms and bowed her head to the decree of the Eternal.
Many years later, in a work of near-magisterial genius called The Lord, Romano Guardini, lately raised to the Altar as Servant of God, penned the following sentences about Christ, the Eternal Word of the Father, which provide the perfect gloss to the meaning of Fr. Benson’s novel:
This Second Person is also God, “was God,” yet there is only one God. Further, the Second Person “came” into his own: into the world which he had created. Let us consider carefully what this means: the everlasting, infinite Creator not only reigns over or in the world but, at a specific “moment,” crossed an unimaginable borderline and personally entered into history—he, the inaccessibly remote one!
“Infinity dwindled to infancy,” is how Fr. Hopkins famously put it. And all for the world’s salvation. In other words, here alone may be found “the still point of the turning world,” the place of intersection where all the polarities come together—time and eternity, nature and grace, history and Heaven. And, yes, God willing, here is a truth that we are prepared even to die for.
[Image: “Sermon and Deeds of the Antichrist” by Luca Signorelli]