There are few theological topics that have been the source of more speculation than the doctrine of the Antichrist. A perusal of the shelves of almost any Christian bookstore will reveal literally dozens of titles dedicated to identifying who or what this "Antichrist" is. Most of these titles are written by popularizers of the dispensationalist method of biblical interpretation. In fact, one of the best-selling fictional works in modern memory is the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. These books use a fictional narrative to present the dispensationalist interpretation of the rapture, the tribulation, and the Antichrist. For many readers, the line between this fictional plot and what the Bible teaches has become increasingly blurred. It is, therefore, refreshing to read a book on the subject written by someone who stands firmly within the Reformed tradition and who carefully avoids fanciful conjectures.
Kim Riddlebarger is the pastor of Christ Reformed Church and a cohost of the White Horse Inn radio program. He is also the author of the well-received book A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times (Baker, 2003). In A Case for Amillennialism, Riddlebarger sets forth a biblical argument for the amillennial understanding of eschatology. In the present book the focus is more narrow, dealing with only one facet of biblical eschatology. Riddlebarger clearly states his own theological presuppositions, namely that he approaches the study of the Antichrist from the perspective of a Reformed Christian committed to amillennialism (13). He also explicitly notes those who have influenced his view the most, men such as Meredith Kline, G. K. Beale, Geerhardus Vos, B. B. Warfield, Richard Bauckham, and F. F. Bruce.
The first chapter of the book introduces the subject of the Antichrist and explains the Christian fascination with the topic as well as the reasons for the importance of the doctrine. Chapter 2 is devoted to an examination of Old Testament forerunners to the Antichrist, while chapter 3 outlines some basic New Testament hermeneutical principles such as the "two age" model of eschatology and the phenomena of "double fulfillment." Chapters 4 to 6 then deal with the doctrine of the Antichrist in the Epistles of John, the Book of Revelation, and 2 Thessalonians respectively. Chapter 7 provides an overview of the history of the doctrine of the Antichrist from the early church fathers to the present. In the final chapter, Riddlebarger summarizes his conclusions. There is also a brief appendix on the date of the writing of the Book of Revelation.
In his chapter on the Old Testament background to the doctrine of the Antichrist, Riddlebarger provides context to the discussion that is often ignored in studies of this topic. He explores the way in which Old Testament figures such as Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar and intertestamental figures such as Antioches IV Epiphanes were representative persecutors of God's people. Also included in this chapter is a helpful discussion of Daniel's prophecy of the Seventy Weeks (Dan. 9) and Ezekiel's prophecy concerning Gog and Magog (Ezek. 38-39).
Riddlebarger's own conclusions about the Antichrist are based on his study of the epistles of John, the Book of Revelation, and 2 Thessalonians. He concludes first that the church faces two threats associated with the Antichrist. One threat is the series of antichrists throughout the history of the church who deny the incarnation. The second threat is "the repeated manifestation of the beast throughout the course of history, taking the form of state-sponsored persecution of Christ's church, which will finally culminate in an end-times Antichrist" (167-168). Paul refers to this end-times figure as "the man of lawlessness." The state-sponsored persecution will take a form similar to that of the first-century imperial cult-the worship of the state and its leaders. According to Riddlebarger, the vision of Revelation 13 is a reference to the "imperial power of Rome and the worship of its emperor," but he also argues that "the first century Roman Empire does not fully exhaust the meaning of the vision" (102). He argues that the vision in Revelation 17 provides evidence for a future manifestation of the beastly system of imperial worship. The "mark of the beast" then is the renunciation of Jesus Christ and worship of the state and its leaders.
One of the most helpful sections of the book in today's context is the overview of the history of the doctrine of the Antichrist. From the earliest centuries onward, Christians have been convinced that theirs was the final era of history. Even the most sober and careful of biblical scholars have fallen victim to the tendency to set dates for the end. A careful reading of the history of such speculation should serve as a warning to us all.
One does not have to agree with every detail of Riddlebarger's exegesis to appreciate the contribution of his book. For those seeking a careful and sober presentation of an amillennial understanding of the Antichrist, this work will prove to be a most helpful resource.