Excerpted From Unmasking the Antichrist, by Dr. Ron Rhodes
Many of the prophetic signs of the times seem to be coming to pass in our own day, or at least the stage is being set for the fulfillment of some of these signs. Consequently, many believe the antichrist may be alive in our world today. Let’s give brief consideration to some of these signs.
In our study, a sign of the times is an event of prophetic significance that points to the end times. In a way, signs might be considered God’s intel in advance. Today, powerful nations have their own intelligence agencies that provide intel to their respective governments. For example, the United States has the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). We might say that the signs of the times found in the pages of prophetic Scripture constitute God’s intel regarding what the world will look like as we enter into the end times.
Many of the prophetic signs recorded in the pages of Scripture relate directly to the future seven-year tribulation period. Recall that in Matthew 24:3, the disciples asked Jesus, “What will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” Jesus proceeded to reveal a number of signs of the times that will predominate in the years prior to the second coming—that is, during the tribulation period.
Jesus wanted His followers to be aware of these signs and to become thoughtful observers of the times. To the Sadducees and Pharisees, who rejected Him as the divine Messiah, He said, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:1-3).
These Jewish leaders were supposed to be experts in interpreting the Old Testament Scriptures. In messianic passages like Isaiah 11 and 35, we are told that when the Messiah would come, the lame would walk, the deaf would hear, and the blind would see. When Jesus came on the scene, this is precisely what happened. Therefore, these Jewish leaders should have been able to read the signs of the times and recognize that Jesus indeed was the promised Messiah. But they were blind to this reality. The lesson we learn from this is that Jesus calls you and me to be thoughtful observers of the times. We are to be aware of the biblical signs and keep a close eye on unfolding events in the world so we notice the correlations.
We are never to set dates because we do not know the specific day or hour of Jesus’ coming (Matthew 24:36; Acts 1:7). But we can know the general season of the Lord’s return by virtue of the signs of the times. Jesus instructed His followers to pay attention: “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates” (Matthew 24:32-33).
Jesus indicates in this passage that God has revealed certain things in prophecy that ought to cause people who know the Bible to understand that a fulfillment of prophecy is taking place—or perhaps, in our present day, that the stage is being set for a prophecy to eventually be fulfilled. Jesus is thus informing His followers to become accurate observers of the times so that when biblical prophecies are fulfilled, or the stage is being set, they will recognize what is happening (see also Luke 21:25-28).
Geological and Meteriological Signs of the End Times
Scripture reveals that the future tribulation period will include a great increase in frequency and intensity of earthquakes, famine, pestilence, and signs in the heavens (Matthew 24:7). Consider Luke 21:11, for example: “There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.” Such things are the beginning of birth pangs (Matthew 24:8). Just as birth pangs increase in frequency and intensity, so will these signs.
Most scholars believe these signs refer to the future seven-year tribulation period. However, just as tremors (or foreshocks) often occur before major earthquakes, so preliminary manifestations of some of these signs may emerge prior to the tribulation period. Someone said that prophecies cast their shadows before them. I think this is true. Prophecies that relate specifically to the tribulation are presently casting their shadows before them in our day. That’s why it’s important to be thoughtful observers!
Luke 21:11 mentions terrors but does not tell us specifically what these events are. But we can’t help but notice that global terrorism has never been more prominent and is likely to get even worse.
What about the signs in the heavens? Scholars have debated what this may refer to, but they likely include strange weather patterns, falling stars, a darkening of the moon and other celestial bodies (during the tribulation period), and large bodies striking the earth. The reference to “wormwood” in Revelation 8:10-12 is likely an example.
The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter. The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.
It would appear that the fall of this “star” will in fact be a near-extinction-level “deep impact” of a large meteor or an asteroid that strikes the earth with catastrophic force. It will look like a star because it will burst into flames as it plummets through earth’s atmosphere. It results in turning a third of the waters bitter so that people who drink it die. It may contaminate this large volume of water by the residue that results from the meteor disintegrating as it blasts through earth’s atmosphere. Or it may be that the meteor plummets into the headwaters from which some of the world’s major rivers and underground water sources flow, thereby spreading the poisonous water to many people on earth.
This deep impact may well be what ultimately causes a reduction in light from the sun and other celestial bodies. Following the impact, a catastrophic level of dust will be released into the atmosphere, thereby blocking light.
Moral Signs of the End Times
The world will take on a particularly dark moral climate in the end times.
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
Notice that in the last days, people will increase their love of self (we might call this humanism), love of money (we might call this materialism), and love of pleasure (we might call this hedonism). Humanism, materialism, and hedonism are three of the most prominent philosophies in our world today and often go hand in hand. Jesus describes the end times in similar fashion.
Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold…As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:12,37-39).
This passage specifically refers to the future tribulation period, but I cannot help but notice that we see the attitude Jesus described even in our own day. People are merrily going about their way, seemingly with no concern for the things of God.
As a thoughtful observer of the times, I believe America is presently engulfed in a moral crisis. The moral fiber of this country is eroding before our very eyes, and if the trend continues, it is only a matter of time before the country capitulates. Today there is widespread acceptance of homosexuality. Abortion—especially the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion—continues to be widely practiced, with some 50 million unborn babies murdered since the enactment of Roe v. Wade in 1973.
Pornography is freely available on the Internet, enslaving millions of sex addicts. Drug abuse and alcoholism are pervasive as well among both teenagers and adults. Promiscuity, fornication, and adultery continue to escalate, bringing about the carnage of sexually transmitted diseases.
A number of prophecy experts have also noted that the family unit seems to be disintegrating before our eyes. The divorce rate is around 50 percent, and many today are living together outside of marriage. Out-of-wedlock births have escalated to new highs, with 40 percent of women not being married when they give birth. As well, gay couples are adopting children, raising them in a homosexual atmosphere. The moral atmosphere is darkening by the day.
Religious Signs of the End Times
There are also many religious signs that point to the imminent end times.
The emergence of false christs. Jesus warned of the rise of religious peril in the end times in Matthew 24:24: “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (see also Mark 13:22). The apostle Paul also warned of a different Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:4). The danger, of course, is that a counterfeit Jesus who preaches a counterfeit gospel yields a counterfeit salvation (compare with Galatians 1:8). There are no exceptions to this maxim. Even in our day, we witness an unprecedented rise in false christs and self-constituted messiahs affiliated with the kingdom of the cults and the occult. This will no doubt continue as we move further into the end times.
The emergence of false prophets and teachers. Scripture often warns believers against false prophets and false teachers. Why so? Because it is entirely possible that God’s own people will be deceived. Ezekiel 34:1-7, for example, indicates that God’s sheep can be abused and led astray by wicked shepherds. Jesus Himself warned His followers, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Why would Jesus warn His followers to beware if they could not be deceived? Luke and the apostle Paul likewise warned their readers that Christians can be deceived (Acts 20:28-30; 2 Corinthians 11:2-3). The apostle John exhorts believers to test those who claim to be prophets (1 John 4:1-3).
Scripture explains how to recognize false prophets.
- • They give prophecies that do not come true (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).
- They sometimes entice people to follow false gods or idols (Deuteronomy 13:1-3).
- They often deny the deity of Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:8-9).
- They sometimes deny the humanity of Jesus Christ (1 John 4:1-2).
- They sometimes advocate abstaining from certain foods for spiritual reasons (1 Timothy 4:3-4).
- They sometimes deprecate or deny the need for marriage (1 Timothy 4:3).
- They often promote immorality ( Jude 4-7).
- They often encourage legalistic self-denial (Colossians 2:16-23).
If a so-called prophet says anything that clearly contradicts any part of God’s Word, his teachings should be rejected (Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). All of this is particularly relevant to the rise of the false prophet in the end times.
The emergence of false apostles. Scripture warns of false apostles who are “deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13). The two key characteristics we see here are that these individuals deceive people doctrinally and that they pretend to be true apostles of Jesus Christ. In Revelation 2:2, we read Christ’s commendation to the church of Ephesus for taking a stand against false apostles: “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them false.”
How can we test the claims of apostles? The Word of God is our sole doctrinal litmus test. Like the ancient Bereans, all Christians should make a regular habit of testing all things against Scripture (Acts 17:11), for Scripture is our only infallible barometer of truth. No true apostle will ever say anything that contradicts the Word of God (see Galatians 1:8).
The escalation of apostasy. Apostasy is a theological term that derives from the Greek word apostasia. It literally means “falling away.” The word refers to a determined, willful defection from the faith or an abandonment of the faith. In the New Testament, Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus for 30 pieces of silver is a classic example of apostasy and its effects (see Matthew 26:14-25,47-56; 27:3-10). Other examples include Hymenaeus and Alexander, who made “shipwreck” of their faith (1 Timothy 1:19-20), and Demas, who turned away from the apostle Paul because of his love for the present world (2 Timothy 4:10).
False teachers often encourage apostasy (Matthew 24:11; Galatians 2:4). Apostasy typically escalates during times of trial (Matthew 24:9-10; Luke 8:13). Apostasy certainly occurred in Old Testament times among the Israelites ( Joshua 22:22; 2 Chronicles 33:19; Jeremiah 2:19; 5:6).
Prophetic Scripture points to a great end-times apostasy involving a massive defection from the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:3; see also Matthew 24:10-12). The apostle Paul offers these warnings:
- “The Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
- “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Can there be any doubt that we are witnessing such things in our own day?
People can apostatize by denying various things, including…
- God (2 Timothy 3:4-5)
- Christ (1 John 2:18)
- Christ’s return (2 Peter 3:3-4)
- the faith (1 Timothy 4:1-2)
- sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
- morals (2 Timothy 3:1-8)
- authority (2 Timothy 3:4)
We are living in days of deception!
Technological Signs of the End Times
Certain prophesies about the tribulation period require specific technological advances in order to be fulfilled. We might call these technological signs. Many prophecy scholars believe that the technology is now in place for these things to occur.
Global evangelism. Prophetic Scripture tells us that prior to the second coming of Christ, the gospel must be preached to every nation (Matthew 24:14). With today’s technology—satellites, the Internet, global media, translation technologies, publishing technologies, rapid transportation, and the like—this has never been more possible.
Economic control. We do not know specifically what form the mark of the beast will take, but we do know that the false prophet will control who will be able to buy and sell, depending on whether they submit to worshipping the antichrist (Revelation 13:16-17). With today’s satellites, the Internet, supercomputers, biometric identification procedures (such as hand scanners, retina scanners, and facial recognition scanners), RFID chips, and smart cards, the technology now exists to facilitate the fulfillment of this prophecy.
Nuclear detonations. It might surprise you to learn of evidence in prophetic Scripture that there may be nuclear detonations in the end times. For example, Revelation 8:7 tells us that “a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.” Moreover, Revelation 16:2 tells us that people around the world will break out with harmful and painful sores. Could this be a result of radiation poisoning following the detonation of nuclear weapons? Some believe Jesus may have alluded to nuclear weaponry: “And there will be…people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26). Regardless of whether this is so, technology clearly now exists to burn a third of the earth and cause mass casualties.
Significance of the Signs
Prophetic signs are now casting their shadows before them. We are even now experiencing the foreshocks of some of these prophetic signs. The stage is now being set for the future seven-year tribulation period! Consequently, we can logically infer that the antichrist may be alive somewhere in the world today, waiting in the wings to step onto center stage to rule the world. Has he actually been born? Is he a youngster, a teenager, a twenty- or thirty-something? We do not know—indeed, we cannot know—but it is entirely possible that he may be alive in our day.
Perhaps it would be good to repeat something I said earlier in the book. Satan has had a man ready to play the role of the antichrist in every generation. He does not know God’s sovereign and providential timing of the end times with divine precision, so he must always have a man ready, waiting in the wings. As one prophecy expert put it, “Satan has always had a Nimrod, a Pharaoh, a Nebuchadnezzar, an Alexander the Great, an Antiochus, a Caesar, a Napoleon, a Hitler, a Stalin, and a someone alive today to set up a rival kingdom and to usurp the rightful place of the King of kings.”
When you think about it, if Jesus really is coming back in the next 40 or 50 years, the antichrist is likely to be alive right now.
While the Bible never tells us how old Antichrist will be when he comes on the world scene, we would assume he would be in his forties or fifties. Moreover, while I am certainly not saying that Jesus is coming in the next forty to fifty years, because no one can set a time for His coming, I do think it is highly probable. If this is true, then the Antichrist is alive somewhere on the earth today. He may even be on the world political scene waiting in the wings for his moment.
Might Christians be able to know the precise identity of the antichrist before the rapture? My answer to this is no. The tribulation period will begin when the antichrist signs a covenant with Israel (see Daniel 9:27). As we have seen, the rapture of the church precedes the signing of this covenant, so Christians could not possibly know the precise identity of this individual. Speaking tongue-in-cheek, if you have clearly identified the antichrist based on the criteria in Daniel 9:27, you have been left behind.
To be fair, some Christians have argued that they believe the antichrist is alive in our day because of the belief that the generation that sees the reestablishment of Israel (which took place in 1948) will live to see all the end-time prophecies fulfilled.3 This is based on Matthew 24:34: “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
Other Christians suggest that Christ is simply saying that those people who witness the signs stated just earlier in Matthew 24—the abomination of desolation (verse 15), the great tribulation such as has never been seen before (verse 21), and the sign of the Son of Man in heaven (verse 30)—will see the coming of Jesus Christ within that very generation. It was common knowledge among the Jews that the future tribulation period would last only seven years (Daniel 9:24-27), so it is obvious that those living at the beginning of this time would likely live to see the second coming seven years later (except for those who lose their lives during this tumultuous time).
So Christians differ in their interpretation of this verse and its significance for the manifestation of the antichrist. Most prophecy experts continue to affirm that Christians will not know the identity of the antichrist before the rapture. This is my personal position.