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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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xxx. ἀντίχριστος, ψευδόχριστος.

The word ἀντίχριστος is peculiar to the Epistles of St. John, occurring five times in them (1 Ep. 2:18, bis; 2:22; 4:3; 2 Ep. 7); and nowhere else in the N. T. But if he alone has the word, St. Paul, in common with him, designates the person of this great adversary, and the marks by which he shall be recognized; for all expositors of weight, Grotius alone excepted, are agreed that St. Paul’s ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἁμαρτίας, his υἱὸς τῆς ἀπολείας, his ἄνομος (2 Thess. 2:3, 8), is identical with St. John’s ἀντίχριστος (see Augustine, De Civ. Dei, xx. 19. 2); and, indeed, to St. Paul we are indebted for our fullest instruction concerning this arch-enemy of Christ and of God. Passing by, as not relevant to our purpose, many discussions to which the mysterious announcement of such a coming foe has given rise, whether, for example, the Antichrist is a single person or a succession of persons, a person or a system, we occupy ourselves here with one question only.; namely, what the force is of ἀντί in this composition. Is it such as to difference ἀντίχριστος from ψευδόχριστος? does ἀντίχριστος imply one who sets himself up against Christ, or, like ψευδόχριστος, one who sets himself up in the stead of Christ? Does he proclaim that there is no Christ? or that he is Christ?

There is no settling this matter off-hand, as some are so ready to do; seeing that ἀντί, in composition, has both these forces. For a subtle analysis of the mental processes by which it now means ‘instead of,’ and now ‘against,’ see Pott, Etymol. Forschungen, 2nd edit. p. 260. It often expresses substitution; thus, ἀντιβασιλεύς, he who is instead of the king, ‘prorex,’ ‘viceroy;’ ἀνθύπατος, ‘proconsul;’ ἀντίδειπνος, one who fills the place of an absent guest; ἀντίψυχος, one who lays down his life for others (Josephus, De Macc. 17; Ignatius, Ephes. 21); ἀντίλυτορον, the ransom paid instead of a person. But often also it implies opposition, as in ἀντιλογία (‘contradiction’), ἀντίθεσις, ἀντικείμενος: and, still more to the point, as expressing not merely the fact of opposition, but the very object against which the opposition is directed, in ἀντινομία (see Suicer, Thes. s. v.), opposition to law; ἀντίχειρ, the thumb, not so called, because equivalent in strength to the whole hand, but as set over against the hand; ἀντιφιλόσοφος, one of opposite philosophical opinions; ἀντικάτων, the title of a book which Caesar wrote against Cato; ἀντίθεος—not indeed in Homer, where, applied to Polyphemus (Od. i. 70), and to the Ithacan suitors (xiv. 18; cf. Pindar, Pyth. iii. 88); it means ‘godlike,’ that is, in strength and power;—but yet, in later use, as in Philo; with whom ἀντίθεος νοῦς (De Conf. Ling. 19; De Somn. ii. 27) can he only the ‘adversa Deo mens;’ and so in the Christian Fathers; while the jests about an Antipater who sought to murder his father, to the effect that he was φερώνυμος, would be utterly pointless, if ἀντί in composition did not bear this meaning. I will not further cite Ἀντέρως, where the force of ἀντί is more questionable; examples already adduced having sufficiently shown that ἀντί in composition implies sometimes substitution, sometimes opposition. There are words in which it has now this force, and now that, as these words are used by one writer or another. Thus ἀντιστράτηγος is for Thucydides (vii. 86) the commander of the hostile army, while for later Greek writers, such as Plutarch, who occupy themselves with Roman affairs, it is the standing equivalent for ‘propraetor.’ All this being so, they have equally erred, who, holding one view of Antichrist or the other, have claimed the name by which in Scripture he is named, as itself deciding the matter in their favour. It does not so; but leaves the question to be settled by other considerations.1

To me St. John’s words seem decisive that resistance to Christ, and defiance of Him, this, and not any treacherous assumption of his character and offices, is the essential mark of the Antichrist; is that which, therefore, we should expect to find embodied in his name: thus see 1 John 2:22; 2 John 7; and in the parallel passage, 2 Thess. 2:4, he is ὁ ἀντικείμενος, or ‘the opposers;’ and in this sense, if not all, yet many of the Fathers have understood the word. Thus Tertullian (De Proesc. Hoer. 4): ‘Qui antichristi, nisi Christi rebelles?’ The Antichrist is, in Theophylact’s language, ἐναντίος τῷ χριστῷ, or in Origen’s (Con. Cels. vi. 45), Χριστᾦ κατὰ διάμετρον ἐναντίος, ‘Widerchrist,’ as the Germans have rightly rendered it; one who shall not pay so much homage to God’s word as to assert its fulfilment in himself, for he shall deny that word altogether; hating even erroneous worship, because it is worship at all, and everything that is called ‘God’ (2 Thess. 2:4), but hating most of all the Church’s worship in spirit and in truth (Dan. 8:11); who, on the destruction of every religion, every acknowledgment that man is submitted to higher powers than his own, shall seek to establish his throne; and, for God’s great truth that in Christ God is man, to substitute his own lie, that in him man is God.

The term ψευδόχριστος, with which we proceed to compare it, appears only twice in the N. T.; or, if we count, not how often it has been written, but how often it was spoken, only once; for the two passages in which it occurs (Matt. 24:24; Mark 13:22) are records of the same discourse. In form it resembles many others in which ψεῦδος is combined with almost any other nouns at will. Thus ψευδαπόστολος (2 Cor. 11:13), ψευδάδελφος (2 Cor. 11:26), ψευδοδιδάσκαλος (2 Pet. 2:1), ψευδοπροφήτης (Matt. 7:13; cf. Jer. 33:7), ψευδομάρτυρ (Matt. 26:60; cf. Plato). So, too, in ecclesiastical Greek, ψευδοποιμήν, ψευδολατρεία; and in classical, ψευδάγγελος (Homer, Il. xv. 159), ψευδόμαντις (Herodotus, iv. 69), and a hundred more. The ψευδόχριστος does not deny the being of a Christ; on the contrary, he builds on the world’s expectations of such a person; only he appropriates these to himself, blasphemously affirms that he is the foretold One, in whom God’s promises and men’s expectations are fulfilled. Thus Barchochab,—‘Son of the Star,’ as, appropriating the prophecy of Num. 24:17, he called himself—who, in Hadrian’s reign, stirred up again the smouldering embers of Jewish insurrection into a flame so fierce that it consumed himself with more than a million of his fellow-countrymen,— was a ψευδόχριστος: and such have been that long series of blasphemous pretenders and impostors, the false Messiahs, who, since the rejection of the true, have, in almost every age, fed and flattered and betrayed the expectations of the Jews.

The distinction, then, is plain. The ἀντίχριστος denies that there is a Christ; the ψευδόχριστος affirms himself to be the Christ. Both alike make war against the Christ of God, and would set themselves, though under different pretences, on the throne of his glory. And yet, while the words have this broad distinction between them, while they represent two different manifestations of the kingdom of wickedness, there is a sense in which the final ‘Antichrist’ will be a ‘Pseudochrist’ as well; even as it will be the very character of that last revelation of hell to gather up into itself, and to reconcile for one last assault against the truth, all anterior and subordinate forms of error. He will not, it is true, call himself the Christ, for he will be filled with deadliest hate against the name and offices, as against the whole spirit and temper, of Jesus of Nazareth, the exalted King of Glory. But, inasmuch as no one can resist the truth by a mere negation, he must offer and oppose something positive, in the room of that faith which he will assail and endeavour utterly to abolish. And thus we may certainly conclude that the final Antichrist will reveal himself to the world,— for he too will have his ἀποκάλυψις (2 Thess. 2:3, 8), his παρουσία (ver. 9),—as, in a sense, its Messiah; not, indeed, as the Messiah of prophecy, the Messiah of God, but still as the world’s saviour; as one who will make the blessedness of as many as obey him, giving to them the full enjoyment of a present material earth, instead of a distant, shadowy, and uncertain heaven; abolishing those troublesome distinctions, now the fruitful sources of so much disquietude, abridging men of so many enjoyments, between the Church and the world, between the spirit and the flesh, between holiness and sin, between good and evil. It will follow, therefore, that however he will not assume the name of Christ, and so will not, in the letter, be a ψευδόχριστος, yet, usurping to himself Christ’s offices, presenting himself to the world as the true centre of its hopes, as the satisfier of all its needs and healer of all its hurts, he, ‘the Red Christ,’ as his servants already call him, will in fact take up and absorb into himself all names and forms of blasphemy, will be the great ψευδόχριστος and ἀντίχριστος in one.

1 Lücke (Comm. über die Briefe des Johannes, pp. 190–194) excellently discusses the word. On the whole subject of Antichrist see Schneckenburger, Jahrbuch für Deutsche Theologie, vol. iv. p. 405 sqq.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G500,G5580.]

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