Of all the Old Testament characters that prefigure the coming Antichrist, the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes may be the most complete. The historical exploits of Antiochus [also known as Antiochus IV] mirror and foreshadow the Antichrist’s campaign of terror in Israel in the last days.
Daniel, serving under King Darius the Mede, was given a prophecy around 538 B.C. about the coming decline of the Medo-Persian empire and the rapid expansion of the Macedonian (Greek) empire under Alexander the Great. Daniel, prophesying 200 hundred years earlier, predicted Alexander’s rise to power and abrupt death, forcing him to divide his kingdom with four of his most trusted generals [Daniel 11:2-4]. The Apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees describes the details of this history.
“The wicked ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus the Third of Syria, was a descendant of one of Alexander’s generals. Antiochus Epiphanes had been a hostage in Rome before he became king of Syria in the year 175 B.C.”
[1 Maccabees 1:10]
Like so many Old Testament prophecies, the prophecies of Daniel 11 are dualistic in nature, meaning that the prophetic descriptions have both a historical fulfillment and a future fulfillment. The prophecy is layered in such a way that it applies both to Antiochus, who fulfilled the prophecy in part in the 2nd Century B.C., but also applies to Antichrist and the time of the end [Daniel 11:40, 12:4]. As I said before, Antiochus provides the most comprehensive profile of the Antichrist, so we can learn a great deal about the future by studying this passage.
THE King of the NORth
Daniel’s prophecy refers to Antiochus as the “king of the north,” which is in reference to the Holy Land, Israel. Antiochus was the king of Syria, which is associated with the ancient Assyrian empire and geographically is due north of Israel. The king of the north and king of the south (Egypt) engage in a series of military conflicts, and Israel is caught directly in the middle of these two nations and their armies. Since Antiochus warred with Ptolemy of Egypt in the historical fulfillment of this prophecy, I believe this regional conflict between the king of the north and king of the south will be repeated during the future campaign of the Antichrist. Both Daniel and John speak of Antichrist rising to power and displacing three other kings in the process. Perhaps Egypt is one of these future kings the Antichrist will subdue in his rise to power.
Although it may be difficult to predict the specific national origin of the Antichrist, I think it is safe to say that he will arise somewhere out of the ancient Assyrian/Babylonian empire that reached into parts of Syria and modern-day Turkey. I will spend more time on this idea in a later post when discussing “the Assyrian” from Micah 5 and also Gog of Magog in Ezekiel 38-39, both of which refer to this same antichrist figure who comes from the “north.”
A Usurper of Power
It is interesting that 1 Maccabees described Antiochus Epiphanes as being a “hostage in Rome” before rising to power in Syria. The prophecy of Daniel also implies that the Antichrist will have to usurp or take his power. He will be a master manipulator, making political power plays with flatteries and lies. This also corresponds to Daniel’s description of the Antichrist as the “little horn,” apparently speaking of his seemingly insignificant role on the geopolitical stage before rising to power out of nowhere. Just like Satan himself, Antichrist will be usurper of power, stealing that which doesn’t belong to him.
“In his place shall arise a contemptible person to whom royal majesty has not been given. He shall come in without warning and obtain the kingdom by flatteries.”
Maker and Breaker of the COvenant
Daniel’s prophecies involve the confirmation of some type of covenant with the people of Israel and another nation or nations. Many have speculated about the interpretation of this covenant, especially concerning what role the Antichrist will play in it. Some believe that this covenant — perhaps a peace agreement — will be made between the Antichrist and Israel. Others see the Antichrist as the one who initiates and confirms the covenant between Israel and another party. Perhaps this peace accord will involve the international approval that finally gives Israel the authority to rebuild the third temple. Either way, I believe a future covenant with Israel will play a critical role in the last days.
“And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”
In an clear foreshadowing of this end times covenant, 1 Maccabees describes how Antiochus deceived the Jews in his day.
“Two years later Antiochus sent a large army from Mysia against the towns of Judea. When the soldiers entered Jerusalem, 30 their commander spoke to the people, offering them terms of peace and completely deceiving them. Then he suddenly launched a fierce attack on the city, dealing it a major blow and killing many of the people. 31 He plundered the city, set it on fire, and tore down its buildings and walls. 32 He and his army took the women and children as prisoners and seized the cattle.”
[1 Maccabees 1:29-32]
Daniel provides even more detail about how the Antichrist will deceive many with this false peace agreement.
“Armies shall be utterly swept away before him and broken, even the prince of the covenant. And from the time that an alliance is made with him he shall act deceitfully, and he shall become strong with a small people … For ships of Kittim shall come against him, and he shall be afraid and withdraw, and shall turn back and be enraged and take action against the holy covenant. He shall turn back and pay attention to those who forsake the holy covenant. Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action
The ABomination of Desolation
In the same manner as Antiochus, the Antichrist will use this covenant to get what he wants and then he ruthlessly will turn on all parties involved. Just as there was a temple in Jerusalem in the days of Antiochus, there will be a temple in Jerusalem in the last days. Jesus warns everyone living in or around Jerusalem in the last days to flee the city when they see the “abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place” [Matthew 24:15]. What is this great abomination that makes desolate?
The first thing we learn both from history and prophecy is that the Antichrist will put an end to the regular Jewish sacrifices in the holy place. For the Antichrist to put an end to sacrifices in the last days, that means that the Jewish sacrificial system will be reestablished and the altar to the LORD will be rebuilt, which most likely will be in the third temple complex. Antiochus did the same thing in his day.
“He ordered them not to offer burnt offerings, grain offerings, or wine offerings in the Temple, and commanded them to treat Sabbaths and festivals as ordinary work days. 46 They were even ordered to defile the Temple and the holy things in it. 47 They were commanded to build pagan altars, temples, and shrines, and to sacrifice pigs and other unclean animals there … The penalty for disobeying the king’s decree was death.”
[1 Maccabees 1:45-47, 50]
After putting an end to the Jewish sacrifices in the temple, the Antichrist will totally defile and profane the altar and the temple with some type of pagan blood sacrifice and occult ritual. After defiling the temple, the Antichrist will then take his seat on the “throne” of what is symbolically the earthly throne of the LORD, and he will mock God while magnifying himself before the world.
The Apostle Paul describes this most profane act of blasphemy by saying, “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” [2 Thessalonians 2:3-4]
It is also worth comparing Daniel’s prophecy with the historical accounts of 1 Maccabees. According to history, Antiochus erected an altar to Zeus in the Jewish Temple and defiled the holy place with pagan blood sacrifice.
“On the fifteenth day of the month of Kislev in the year 167 B.C., King Antiochus set up The Awful Horror on the altar of the Temple, and pagan altars were built in the towns throughout Judea. 55 Pagan sacrifices were offered in front of houses and in the streets … On the twenty-fifth of the month, these same evil people offered sacrifices on the pagan altar erected on top of the altar in the Temple. 60 Mothers who had allowed their babies to be circumcised were put to death in accordance with the king’s decree. 61 Their babies were hung around their necks, and their families and those who had circumcised them were put to death.”
[1 Maccabees 1:54-55, 59-61]
Daniel describes the future event in this way.
“And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done.
DIVIDING Up the Land for a Price
Lastly, Daniel 11 also gives an indication that when the Antichrist turns against the people of the holy covenant, he will use the land of Israel as a bartering piece. The prophet Joel also speaks of this wicked scheme of the nations trying to divide the land of Israel, as if it were theirs to give.
“He shall deal with the strongest fortresses with the help of a foreign god. Those who acknowledge him he shall load with honor. He shall make them rulers over many and shall divide the land for a price.”
“For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land.”
As ruthless and blasphemous as Antiochus Epiphanes may have been, he still is nothing compared to the coming Antichrist. All of these pieces to the prophetic puzzle must be taken into account so that we are not deceived by his subtle yet destructive schemes, and so we can boldly proclaim the gospel of salvation for all to hear in these last days.