I thought I would quote from Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology Volume III concerning the topic of the AntiChrist:
That Antichrist is to appear before the second coming of Christ, is expressedly asserted by the Apostle in 2 Thessalonians ii. 1-3, “We beseech you . . . . that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled . . . . as that the day of Christ is at hand. . . . . For that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.” This is clear; but as to who or what Antichrist is, there is no little diversity of opinion.
1. Some understand by that term any antichristian spirit, or power, or person. The Apostle John says, “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time . . . . Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.” (1 John ii. 18 and 22.) And again, “Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” (iv. 3.) And in 2 John 7, it is said, “Many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist (ὁ πλάνος καὶ ὁ ἀντίχριστος, the deceiver and the antichrist).” Thus our Lord had predicted, “There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” (Matt. xxiv. 24.) And the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy iv. 1, says. “The Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.” These passages refer to a marked characteristic of the period between the apostolic age and the second coming of Christ. There were to be many antichrists; many manifestations of malignant opposition to the person and to the work of Christ; many attempts to cast off his authority and to overthrow his kingdom.
2. Besides this general reference to the antichristian spirit which was to manifest itself in different forms and with different degrees of intensity, many believe that there is yet to be a person, in whom the power of the world shall be concentrated, and which will exert all his energies to overthrow Christianity, and to usurp the place of Christ on earth. This is the Antichrist of prophecy; of whom it is assumed that Daniel, Paul, and St. John in the Apocalypse speak. This is the view generally adopted by Romanists and by many eminent evangelical Protestant theologians.
3. The common opinion, however, among Protestants is, that the prophecies concerning Antichrist have special reference to the papacy. This conviction is founded principally on the remarkable prediction contained in Paul’s second epistle to the Thessalonians. The Apostle knew that the Thessalonians, in common with other Christians of the early Church, would be exposed to grievous persecutions; to comfort them under their sufferings, to give them patience and to, sustain their faith, he referred to the promised second coming of Christ. When the Lord should come all their sorrows would be ended; those who in the meantime had fallen asleep, would not lose their part in the blessing of his second advent. For “we which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thess. iv. 15-17.) These words it seems had been perverted and misinterpreted, by some who were “disorderly, working not at all, but” were “busybodies;” unsettling the minds of the people, turning them off from present duties, as though the day of the Lord were at hand. To correct this abuse, the Apostle writes his second epistle. He does not set the doctrine of the second advent in the background, or say anything to weaken its power as a source of consolation to the suffering believers. On the contrary, he sets forth the glory of that advent and the richness of the blessings by which it should be attended, in more glowing terms than ever before. “We ourselves,” he says, “glory in you in the churches of God, for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure; which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God. for which ye also suffer; seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you, who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: . . . . when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe.” (2 Thess. i. 4-10.) All this stands true. Nevertheless the Thessalonians were not to be deceived. The great day of deliverance was not at hand. They had much to do, and much to suffer before that day should come. The time of the second advent was not revealed. In his first epistle he had said, “Of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” (1 Thess. v. 1, 2.) That being conceded, they should know that great things must occur before that day could come. First, there was to be a great apostasy. As the Church was then in its infancy, and had just begun to make progress among the nations, such language naturally presupposes a much more extended propagation of the Gospel, than had as yet taken place. The second event that was to precede the second advent was the coming of Antichrist, or, in other words, the man of sin was to be revealed.
The first question, to be determined in the interpretation of this prophecy, is, Whether Antichrist is a particular individual, or an institution, a power, or a corporation. Protestants generally adopt the latter view; because they do not regard any one pope, but the papacy, as the Antichrist of Scripture. In favour of this view it may be urged, (1.) That it is according to the analogy of prophecy to speak of nations, institutions, or kingdoms, as individuals. In Daniel, the ten kings are ten kingdoms or dynasties; the several beasts which he saw in vision, were not the symbols of particular men, but of nations. When therefore the Apostle speaks of Antichrist as “the man of sin,” and “the son of perdition,” it is perfectly consistent with Scriptural usage to understand him to refer to an order of men, or to an institution. (2.) The work assigned to Antichrist in prophecy, extends over far too long a period to be accomplished by one man. (3.) Those who insist that the antichrist here predicted, is an individual man, are forced to admit that what is said in 2 Thessalonians ii. 7 (“He who now letteth, will let, until he be taken out of the way”) is to be understood of a power. It is generally understood of the Roman power. Luthardt understands it of the moral power which sustains the right, and therefore is opposed to the reckless disregard of all law, which is one of the characteristics of Antichrist. It is true that he supposes that reference is also made to one of the guardian or protecting angels spoken of by the prophet Daniel. But such an angel is not to be “taken out of the way.” And there is nothing in the context or in Paul’s writings anywhere to justify the assumption that reference is here had to any angelic personage.
The second question is, Whether the antichrist here described is an ecclesiastical or civil power; whether it is to arise in the Church or in the world. The considerations which are in favour of the former of these assumptions are, —
1. That the designations “man of sin” and “son of perdition” have a religious import, and are more appropriate to an ecclesiastical than to a worldly power or potentate.
2. Antichrist was to have the seat of his power in the “temple of God.” It is there he sits. This seems clearly to indicate that it is an ecclesiastical usurping, tyrannical, and persecuting power, that is here depicted. By the temple of God in this passage is generally understood the Church which is so often elsewhere called, and especially by Paul, God’s temple. Some, however, suppose that the reference is to the literal temple in Jerusalem; but this supposes, (a.) That the Jews are to be restored to their own land. (b.) That they are to be restored as Jews, or unconverted, and that the temple is to be there rebuilt. (c.) That the Thessalonians knew all this and would understand the Apostle as referring to the temple made with hands; which is to the last degree improbable.
3. His coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders. This is not the way in which worldly potentates gain their power; they rely on force. But this is the way, as though traced by the pen of history rather than by the pencil of prophecy, in which the papacy has attained and maintained its fearful ascendancy in the world. Its power has been achieved mainly by fraud, “by the deceivableness of unrighteousness;” by forged documents and false pretences, by claiming that Peter was made primate over the whole Church and the vicar or plenipotentiary of Christ on earth; that he was the bishop of Rome; that his successors in that office were his successors in that primacy; and that as the vicar of Christ he was superior to all earthly potentates, not merely as the spiritual is above the temporal, but as lord of the conscience, authorized to decide what was right and what was wrong for them to do in all their relations as men and as rulers; which is a claim of absolute dominion. This, however, is a small matter so far as it concerns the things of this world. It was to the mass of the people of little moment whether their absolute sovereign was a bishop or a prince; whether he resided at Rome or in Paris, whether his authority extended over one nation or over all nations. It is the false claim of the papacy to have supreme authority over the faith of men, to decide for them what they must believe on the pain of eternal perdition, that is the most fearful power ever assumed by sinful men. To this is to be added the false claim to the power to forgive sin. This is, as we have seen, a twofold power, answering to the twofold penalty attached to sin, namely, the eternal penalty as a violation of the divine law, and the penances still due after the remission of the eternal penalty, as satisfactions to divine justice. The former can be obtained only through the intervention or absolution of the priest; and the latter can be imposed or remitted at the discretion of the Church. This includes power over purgatory, the pains of which are represented as frightful and of indefinite duration. These pains the pope and his subordinates falsely claim the power to alleviate or remit. These claims have no parallel in the history of the world. If such pretensions as these do not constitute the power which makes them Antichrist, then nothing more remains. Any future antichrist that may arise must be a small affair compared to the papacy.
Then again, the Apostle tells us, these portentous claims, these unrighteous deceits, were to be supported by “signs and lying wonders.” These have seldom, if ever, been appealed to by worldly powers to support their pretensions. They ever have been and still are among the chief supports of the papacy. There is not a false doctrine which it teaches, or a false assumption which it makes, which is not sustained by “lying wonders.” Its whole history is a history of apparitions of the Virgin Mary or of saints and angels; and of miracles of every possible description from the most stupendous to the most absurd. It has ever acted on the principle “populus vult decipi,” and that it in right to deceive them for their own good, or, the good of the Church. The whole system, so far as it is distinctive, is a system of falsehood, or false pretensions, supported by deceit.
4. Antichrist is to be a persecuting power. Is not this true of the papacy? It has been drunk with the blood of the saints. It not only persecutes, but it justifies persecution, and avows to this day its purpose to enforce its dominion by the rack and the stake wherever it has the power. This is involved in its justification of the past, and in its making it a duty to suppress every form of religion but that of Rome. The thirty years’ war in Germany; the persistent attempts to exterminate the Piedmontese; the massacres by the Duke of Alva in the Netherlands; the horrors of the inquisition in Spain; the dragonnades and the massacre of St. Bartholomew in France, over which Te Deums were sung in Rome, show that the people of God can hardly have more to suffer under any future antichrist than they have already suffered, and perhaps have yet to suffer, under the papacy.
TO BE CONTINUED