According to Christian mythology, a human servant of Satan who plays a major role in the events just before the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world. He is described in the Book of Revelations as the Beast whose number is 616 or 666 (the earliest surviving versions of the text differ on this point), and who persecutes Christians for 42 months. He receives an apparently fatal wound but then recovers. His rule finally ends when Christ returns, defeats him in the battle of Armageddon, and casts him and his minions into a lake of fire.

Many modern Bible scholars interpret the Beast as a veiled description of the Roman emperor Nero (37–68 CE), who launched the first great persecution of Christians. Believers in more fundamentalist versions of Christianity, however, treat the Book of Revelation as an accurate account of events that will happen in the future. For most of two millennia, Christian propaganda has focused on the claim that these predictions are about to be fulfilled, and identifying the Antichrist has therefore been a popular sport since the Middle Ages. Religious differences provided the material for Antichrist-baiting for most of this time; it became an item of faith for many medieval Christians that the Antichrist would be Jewish, while during the Reformation, both Martin Luther and the Pope were labeled Antichrist by their opponents.

In recent centuries, however, religious candidates for Antichrist have been outnumbered by political ones. During the English Civil War, for example, Roundhead authors named Charles I as the Antichrist, while Royalists nominated Oliver Cromwell for the same position. In the same vein, American rebels of the Revolutionary War era noted that the phrase “royal supremacy in Britain,” translated into New Testament Greek, added up to 666. Popular candidates in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries included Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon III of France, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, Lenin and Josef Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt. Before his defeat in the second Gulf War, many American fundamentalists considered Saddam Hussein a major contender for the title.

In another category are volunteers for the position, a rare breed before 1900 but fairly common since then. The best known of these was English occultist Aleister Crowley. Raised in a fundamentalist Christian family where the Antichrist and the Second Coming were everyday topics of conversation, Crowley convinced himself that he was the Beast 666 whose new religion of Thelema (“will”) would replace Christianity. See Crowley, Aleister.

Belief in the imminent appearance of the Antichrist has played a major role in spreading conspiracy theories in the western world. The idea that all the real and imaginary enemies of Christianity are in league with one another, under the direction of Antichrist or his agents, has been used to justify persecution of religious minorities for centuries, from the massacres of Rhineland Jews in the eleventh century to the attempts by today’s fundamentalists to deprive Pagans of their religious liberties. Inevitably, Christian versions of the popular “New World Order” conspiracy theory feature Antichrist as a major player. See Antisemitism; fundamentalism; New World Order.


The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006