The Antichrist in the Apocalypse of Elijah

Since The Apocalypse of Elijah is strongly influenced by the book of Revelation, especially 11:1-12, it is not surprising to find a great deal in this apocalypse about a future Antichrist. Jewish apocalypses anticipated a coming king who would persecute God’s people as Antiochus IV Epiphanes did prior to the Maccabean revolt, as well as a rescue from that oppression by a representative of God (a messiah). These themes are found in both Revelation and 2 Thessalonians in the New Testament.

 Elijah in the Wilderness

Chapter 3 concerns the Antichrist. He will appear and claim to be the Christ (1) and he will perform all sorts of miracles (5-13) including the “messianic” signs of healing the blind, deaf and lame. He will not be able to raise the dead, however. The Antichrist is physically described in 14-18. He will be able to transform himself into a child or an old man, but the sign on his head cannot change.

There is a brief “digression” in 2-4 of this chapter describing the coming of the true Christ. He will come like a covey of doves with the sign of the cross leading him. Why doves? Possibly because Jesus gave the “sign of Jonah” as a sign of his return. The name Jonah means “dove” (OTP 1:744 note e). The whole world will see this sign and then he will come with all of his angels (cf., Matt 24:27, the “sign of the son of man” will be seen by all).

Chapter 4 concerns martyrdom at the hands of the Antichrist. Tabitha, the woman raised from the dead by Peter in Acts 10 goes up to Judea and “scolds” the Antichrist. She is killed at sunset, but raised from the dead in the morning and proceeds to continue her tirade (1-6). Elijah and Enoch also preach against the Antichrist, are killed, and raised to life on the fourth day (7-20). The son of lawlessness will then persecute all the believers, many of whom will be killed by these gruesome tortures (21-29). Sixty of these righteous people are put to death in Jerusalem (30-33).

The activities of the Antichrist are further expanded in Chapter 5. While he continues to persecute, the Lord will take pity on the righteous and will send sixty-four thousand angels who will take up those with the seal of God on their heads into heaven, rescuing them from the wrath of the Antichrist (1-6). This is an interesting passage for later developments in eschatology since it appears to teach an escape from the tribulation for those who are righteous well before the end of the period and the return of Christ. If this is a correct reading of the text, then this is an early reference to a sort of “pre-tribulational rapture.”

Apoc. Elijah 5:2 -4 On that day the Christ will pity those who are his own. And he will send from heaven his sixty-four thousand angels, each of whom has six wings. The sound will move heaven and earth when they give praise and glorify. Now those upon whose forehead the name of Christ is written and upon whose hand is the seal, both the small and the great, will be taken up upon their wings and lifted up before his wrath.

These days will be a time of general chaos and disaster (7-14) and the Antichrist will continue to pursue the righteous (15-21). The Lord himself will “take up fiery wings” and go out to fight on behalf of his saints. A cosmic fire will go out from the Lord and the final judgment will begin (22-29). The Antichrist will be specially judged (30-31) and Enoch and Elijah will return in spiritual flesh (32-35). The Antichrist will melt like ice in their presence and he will “perish like a serpent.”

After the judgment Christ the king will come from heaven along with all his saints (36-39). He will remain in the earth one thousand years then create a new heaven and a new earth without a devil or sinners in it. The thousand year kingdom is another adaptation of Revelation.

5 thoughts on “The Antichrist in the Apocalypse of Elijah

  1. I suppose what this material (which I haven’t looked at since the 1980s!) proves, along with the massive Second Temple writings between the Hebrew and Christian testaments, is that sacred writings were never “fixed” but subject to ongoing interpretations depending on time and place (and we’re not even talking The Mishna, Talmud, Zohar, or even the Post-Exilic re-readings that became canon). James Kugel has made the point many times that what we understand the Adam and Eve story to be, “The Fall” “Satan/Serpent” “Paradise” etc are all later interpretations read back into the story which are now taken as the norm, none of which are present in the text itself. That’s why it’s sometimes prudent to re-encounter scripture on its own turf, in its own context, with its own meaning. One quick example is teaching the gospel of Mark. I was pleasantly amused to see the shock on people’s faces when they discovered what isn’t “in” Mark. But clearing away learned assumptions when content becomes rote, can be a liberating, even ecstatic, experience. To read what’s actually there instead of assuming what is.

    That’s my musing for the day.

    • Thanks for your musing!

      I of course agree the Sunday School versions of the biblical stories are so homogenized that the usually miss the point the biblical writers were after in the first place. Most (American) Christians prefer the story they know to the story as it appears in the Bible. I work in an environment where people are looking for biblical truth, fortunately.

      The problem with this particular piece is the possibility that Christians adapted the text with Revelation in mind. It is remarkable how Apoc of Elijah is more like Left Behind than most Christians expect.

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