There is currently a major discussion going on among propecy students concerning Antichrist’s nationality. From whence will he arise? Will he be a Jew or a Gentile? Although I don’t have all the answers (in fact, I don’t even have a specific answer, much less a solution to the riddle), nevertheless, I think this is an important topic of study. And so hopefully, a little discussion of the various views will be helpful to others.
In the early church there was a predominant view that Antichrist would be a Jew from the tribe of Dan. Irenaeus held this theory, as well as his disciple, Hippolytus of Rome. The latter writes: “For it is certain that he is destined to spring from the tribe of Dan, and to range himself in opposition like a princely tyrant, and terrible judge, and an accuser, as the prophet testifies when he says, ‘Dan shall judge the people, as one of the tribes in Israel’ (Gen. 49: 16). For Jeremiah, too, speaks in this same manner: ‘From Dan we shall hear the sound of the sharpness of his horses; at the sound of the neighing of his horses the whole land trembles’ (Jer. 8: 16). And again, Moses says: ‘Dan is a lion’s whelp, and he shall leap from Bashan’ (Deut. 33: 22). (Discourse on the End of the World and Antichrist, xix).
This theory may be said to be based on three primary texts. Whether or not it is correct, however, has yet to be decided. It has one benefit. It would explain why Dan is left out of the enumeration of Israelites sealed before the Great Tribulation (see Revelation 7). However, while we think this view plausible, we are not entirely convinced that Antichrist will be a Jew at all, but a Gentile. He will certainly befriend the Jews, and pose as the world’s Messiah. But we know that there will be another “false prophet” who will arise out of the “land” (as Antichrist will from the sea) and who will support Antichrist’s claims of divine worship. This is that “idol shepherd” of which the prophet speaks in Zechariah 11: 15-17.
The Jewish identity of this idol shepherd is taken for granted. But Daniel’s “little horn,” otherwise known as the Antichrist, seems to have his beginnings among the Gentiles. In Isaiah 14: 4, he is called the “king of Babylon.” In Ezekiel 28, he is identified as the “prince of Tyre.” In the prophet Nahum he is revealed as one who comes out of Nineveh: “There is one that cometh out of thee, that imagineth evil against the Lord, a wicked counsellor” (Nahum 1: 11).
Habakkuk alludes to him as a Chaldean (1: 11), calling him a “proud man” who keeps not at home, “who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people” (2: 5). He is one who “buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity” (2: 12). If the city meant is Babylon, then we have at least a clue to the solution of Antichrist’s origins. For his power must arise before he rebuilds Babylon. As he will use his power to establish that city as his capital, we must look for his origins elsewhere.
Perhaps the predictions of the angel Gabriel will enlighten us. When revealing to Daniel the prophecy of the “70 weeks,” he affirmed that the “people of the prince that shall come” would destroy the city and the sanctuary (Dan. 9: 26). We know already that the Roman emperor Titus destroyed the city and the sanctuary in A.D. 70. But obviously, Titus was not the “prince” referred to. Therefore, it is reasoned that the prediction of the Daniel 9: 27, which speaks of the prince making a one-week covenant with the Jews, has yet to be fulfilled, and that this “prince” will arise out of the re-established Roman empire.
The majority of Pre-Millennial commentators see the “beast from the sea” (Revelation 13) as a depiction of this revived Roman empire. A comparison of Revelation chapters 13 and 17 lead us to believe that a number of “kings” must first struggle for mastery before Antichrist obtains the kingdom (see Rev. 17: 10). After five are fallen, there will come a sixth, during whose tenure the city of Babylon will already be supported by the government. This places the reconstruction of Babylon prior to this time, and antecedent to Antichrist’s dominion over the Roman empire.
It appears, then, that Antichrist must first take his rise at the head of some nation. As the five kings rise and fall (are defeated?), their nations are gradually consolidated into the conglomerate “beast” which, under the eight head (Antichrist himself) will constitute the empire in its final and “superhuman” form. The city of Babylon will be rebuilt prior to this time. And when Antichrist finally takes the reins of the new “beast” government, he will become that “prince” who will make a one-week covenant with the Jews. This covenant will probably grant the Jews permission to rebuild their temple.
All this, however, still doesn’t give us any sure solution as to Antichrist’s national origins. Only we read in Daniel that he will first start his career as a “vile person, to whom they shall not give the honor of the kingdom: but he shall come in peacably and obtain the kingdom by flatteries” (Daniel 11: 21). He is depicted as one who, working deceitfully, shall come up and become strong with a small people (Dan. 11: 23). This phrase “small people” must exclude him from being at the head of any major world-power prior to his amazing and cumulative career. Although he will be a national leader, his country will be relatively insignificant until his career is fully launched. Considering that he’ll use Babylon as his headquarters, it is quite likely that he and his nation will become a factor in Middle-Eastern politics as the age advances to its close.
As stated, we aren’t prepared to give any definite answers. However, if one looks at another of Daniel’s prophetic visions, he’ll find that Antichrist is characterized as a little horn which springs from the fourth horn of the he-goat, which represents Greece (see Daniel 8: 21-23). As commentators generally agree that the fourth horn stands for Syria, it is alleged by some that Antichrist will come out of Syria. The view is confirmed if we interpret the “king of the north” as the “vile person/willfull king” whose career is described in Daniel 11: 21-45, and whose course was foreshadowed, or anticipated, by Antiochus Epiphanes. This is the opinion of Clarence Larkin.
It is strongly argued by E.W. Bullinger, however, that the “vile person” of Daniel 11 is not another successional king of the north, “but a totally different and unique personage, still future. He comes in by flatteries, and in v. 40 he is attacked by both a king of the south and king of the north.” (Companion Bible, pg. 1203). I am inclined to agree with this opinion, which makes the “wilfull king” quite distinct from the “king of the north” who later invades the land. This mysterious “king of the north” may refer to Gog, prince of Russia. In Jeremiah 50-51 it is declared that Babylon will be destroyed by a great nation and many kings from the north (Jer. 50: 41). Perhaps this has something to do with the later political upheavals depicted in Daniel 11: 40-45.
At any rate, the reader will now see how complex the whole issue can become. I frankly doubt whether anyone will solve the riddle of Antichrist’s origins until he himself steps on the scenes and begins fulfilling Bible prophecy. In that day the wise will surely understand what is being played out (Dan. 12: 10), and will be able to identify him when he comes. Until that time, it is important that we keep our minds and our hearts open to fresh revelations of the Word, as we grow in grace and in knowledge, looking for the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, and praying that we shall be accounted worthy to escape all those things which are coming on the earth, and to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21: 35-36).