EDITORS COMMENT: This new series is being offered in memoriam of Dr. Michael Heiser who’s truly groundbreaking research on the Divine Council and Enochian Worldview (based on the book of Enoch and its connection to Hebrew theology before and at the time of Jesus) opened the door for a richer understanding of the Life of Christ than previous generations could have imagined. This series reflects content from the leading-edge books published by Defender Publishing for Dr. Heiser—Reversing Hermon: Enoch, the Watchers, and the Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ as well as his two volume book set titled, A Companion to the Book of Enoch: A Reader’s Commentary, Volume 1: The Book of the Watchers and Vol II: The Parables of Enoch. PLEASE NOTE: ALL PROFITS FROM THE SALE OF DR. MICHAEL HEISER’S BOOKS FROM SKYWATCHTVSTORE.COM WILL BE DONATED TO HIS FAMILY DURING THIS SERIES.
As one might expect, the Enochian story of the transgression of the Watchers is operating in the background of certain points of New Testament eschatology. There is no direct claim in 1 Enoch or the New Testament that the Antichrist would be a descendant of the Nephilim or an incarnation of a Watcher or Satan. There are, however, a number of indications that Second Temple Jews had an “Antichrist theology” before the time of Jesus that had clear conceptual links to the sin of the Watchers and the giants.
The notion of a pre-Christian Antichrist theology understandably sounds anachronistic, but it isn’t. Scholars of Second Temple Judaism have known for quite some time that there was in fact a theological profile of a great eschatological enemy of God—a profile that New Testament writers followed in their own descriptions of the Antichrist. This profile has several interesting points of contact with Genesis 6:1–4 and the story of the transgression of the Watchers from 1 Enoch.[i]
The Great Messianic Enemy in Second Temple Judaism
There are several aspects to consider with respect to how a Second Temple Jew thought about the great enemy of the Messiah—the figure that Christians would call the Antichrist, since they believed Jesus of Nazareth was in fact the Christ, the Messiah. Two aspects of this conceptual profile are Old Testament antecedents and Second Temple Jewish understandings of those Old Testament texts.
The Old Testament elements that most scholars focus upon are summarized by Horbury:
Was an Antichrist already envisaged by Jews in the early Roman empire? They might be expected to have imagined such a figure, because biblical texts which were important in messianic hope naturally emphasize victory over enemies; see for example three passages which were all later connected with an arch-enemy of the messiah, Num[bers] 24:17 (the star from Jacob smites the corners of Moab), Isa[iah] 11:4 (with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked), and Ps[alm] 2:2 (the kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed). Moreover, from the Persian period onwards it was expected that a tyrannical king would oppress Israel and the nations just before the decisive divine victory. This thought is already suggested by the placing of the prophecy of Gog of Magog in Ezek[iel] 38–9, after the prophecies of a David to come and the revival of the dry bones, and before the description of new Jerusalem; and the expectation is developed or alluded to in Dan[iel] 7:8, 24–7, 8:9–11:23–6, on the little horn which signifies a king of fierce countenance.[ii]
To our eye, this picture is tenuous. Several of these passages don’t point to a single tyrant (Antichrist) figure. It would be easy to argue that at least some of them require ignoring context. Nevertheless, Jewish texts of the Second Temple Period make it evident that Jewish religious leaders did produce a doctrine of a great eschatological enemy from these passages.
By way of example, in a pseudepigraphical work known as the Assumption of Moses, a work whose content shows up in the New Testament book of Jude,[iii] we read the following passage (Ass. Moses 8:1–3):
1“And there will come upon them…punishment and wrath such as has never happened to them from the creation till that time when he stirs up against them a king of the kings of the earth who, having supreme authority, will crucify those who confess their circumcision. 2Even those who deny it, he will torture and hand them over to be led to prison in chains. 3And their wives will be given to the gods of the nations and their young sons will be cut by physicians to bring forward their foreskins.[iv]
The interesting line here is the reference to “a king of the kings of the earth” (v. 1). The writer is clearly citing Psalm 2:2, a messianic psalm about how the kings of the Gentile nations will rise up against the Messiah, and transforms the verse to point to a great leader of those kings. Horbury continues:
Jewish notions of an opponent of the messiah are commonly thought to be less well attested, or not attested at all, at the beginning of the Roman imperial period. The earliest full descriptions of Antichrist, identified by that name, are Christian, and they come from sources of the second and third centuries—Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and the exegetical works attributed to Hippolytus. Moreover, the first attestations of the Greek word antichristos are Christian, being found—here without fuller explanation or description—in two of the three Johannine epistles of the New Testament, probably written towards the end of the first century (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). The “antichrists” are those who deny that Jesus is the messiah (1 John 2:18–23); their emergence fulfils the familiar teaching that “Antichrist is coming.”… Accordingly, the emphasis on false teaching in these Johannine passages on Antichrist should not be sharply contrasted with the emphasis on oppressive rule in the traditions on the messianic opponent—which themselves include the motif of false teaching, in the conception of the beast with the mouth speaking great things (Dan[iel] 7:8)…. Antichrist, then, was certainly an important early Christian conception. Nevertheless, the Christian references to him include much to suggest that, like the figure of the Christ or messiah, he derived from pre-Christian Judaism in its Greek and Roman setting. This view is consonant with the lack of explanation of the Antichrist figure in the New Testament, and it is supported by Jewish sources from the end of the Second Temple period which describe an Antichrist-like figure without using this term, naming him rather as the wicked one, Gog, or Beliar. These sources can be said to bridge the gap between the biblical passages already noted, which attest the expectations of messianic victory and of a final arch-enemy of Israel.[v]
Horbury’s point is that, while a developed doctrine of Antichrist is indeed of Christian origin, the component of that Christian teaching that had the Antichrist as an imperial tyrant bent on opposing the rule of Messiah is pre-Christian and of Jewish origin.[vi]
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Second Temple Jewish Demonology
Horbury’s reference to “the wicked one, Gog, or Beliar” brings us to a third background element for this chapter’s discussion of the Beast (Antichrist) of Revelation. Belial (also spelled “Beliar” in some Dead Sea Scrolls) is the leader of the powers of darkness and, as such, a parallel to both Satan and the Antichrist in New Testament theology. Torleif Elgvin provides an adequate summary:
The NT concepts of Satan and his host are closely related to ideas that develop in the intertestamental period and are found in early Jewish literature. In their interpretation of OT passages, various books among the Pseudepigrapha and Qumran literature give different explanations to the presence of evil in the world. Some writings describe the struggle between good and evil as a cosmic-spiritual struggle and anticipate the ultimate annihilation of evil and the evil powers. In some texts, the evil powers have an angelic leader named Semihaza, Mastema, Belial or the Prince of Darkness….
The earliest postbiblical source that elaborates on evil angelic forces is probably the Enochic Book of Watchers (1 Enoch 6–16; 17–36)…. These chapters interpret Genesis 6:1–5: the angelic watchers cohabit with earthly women and bring magic, sin and violence to the earth. Enoch is shown the coming judgment on the angels, who in vain ask him to intercede for them. Their leader is Semihaza, but he is not portrayed as a cosmic opponent to God or the elect. 1 Enoch 10:4 reflects a variant tradition, in which Azazel is the leading angel. The watchers are bound until the final judgment (1 Enoch 10:11–12), while the offspring of the illegitimate union between angels and women become evil spirits who spread sin and destruction on earth (1 Enoch 15:8–16:1).[vii]
Elgvin’s overview of the data shows that, for Second Temple Period Jewish theology, the leader of the Watchers went by different names: Semihaza, Mastema, Belial, or the Prince of Darkness. The last title has obvious overlap with the way the New Testament speaks of Satan (cp. Ephesians 2:2 with Ephesians 6:12; John 12:31). While there is no explicit connection in the Bible between Satan and the transgressing sons of God of Genesis 6:1–4, it’s not hard to see how Jewish thinkers would have aligned the two. The notion that Satan is some sort of divine rebel par excellence seems to be the rationale—followed by an assumption that it was he who gave the Watchers the idea to cohabit with human women. Again, no biblical or Second Temple Enochian text says that. The point is to show that at least some Jews made the association.
Elgvin’s summary also accurately distinguishes the original offending Watchers who were bound and imprisoned until the final time of judgment and the subsequent group of evil Watcher-spirits who were released from the bodies of the Nephilim at their death. He continues:
According to the Damascus Document, the watchers of heaven fell as they did not follow the precepts of God (CD 2:18). This Qumranic work attributes the rising of Moses and Aaron to the Prince of Light and their adversaries to Belial: “For in ancient times, during the first deliverance of Israel, there arose Moses and Aaron, by the hand of the Prince of Lights; and Belial, with his cunning, raised up Jannes and his brothers” (CD 5:18–19). In the present time Israel at large is subject to the dominion of Belial (CD 4:12–19). The first part of the Rule of the Community, prescribes a covenant ceremony to be conducted by the community “for all the days of Belial’s dominion” (1QS 1:18; 2:19)—the present age is “Belial’s dominion” on earth (cf. J[oh]n 12:31; 14:30; 16:11, “the prince of the world”). The liturgy has the sons of light pronounce curses against the sons of darkness, “the men of Belial’s lot” (1QS 2:4–5).[viii]
In this Dead Sea Scroll, the Jewish writer clearly portrays Belial the way the New Testament portrays Satan. He is set in contrast to “the Prince of Lights,” whom most Qumran scholars believe is to be identified with Michael (called Israel’s “prince” in Daniel 10:21; 12:1). Several Dead Sea scrolls describe a great end-times war between the messianic prince, his holy ones, and his faithful human followers and Belial and his forces, divine and human.[ix]
Consider the picture that Elgvin is sketching. Certain Second Temple-Period Jewish writers saw Satan as being the catalyst behind the rebellion of the Watchers. The Watcher-spirits (demonic forces) were in turn behind opposition to people like Moses. These spirits work for Satan/Belial and help him administer his dominion in the present age. In the final battle, these spirits partner with men aligned with Satan/Belial (“men of Belial”). The assumption, then, is that Belial’s army must include a human commander—the Antichrist figure.
This chain of thought is justified by passages in other books of the Pseudepigrapha. For example in Sibylline Oracles 3.63–70,[x] we read:
Then Beliar will come from the Sebastēnoi and he will raise up the height of mountains, he will raise up the sea, the great fiery sun and shining moon, and he will raise up the dead, and perform many signs for men. But they will not be effective in him. But he will, indeed, also lead men astray, and he will lead astray many faithful, chosen Hebrews, and also other lawless men who have not yet listened to the word of God.
The bulk of the various books known as the Sibylline Oracles can be dated securely to ca. 150–117 B.C. via specific chronological indicators in the books. However, many of the oracles are later. As Collins notes:
The phrase ek [from] Sebastēnōn means “from the line of the Augusti.” In this case Beliar can be most plausibly identified with Nero. This interpretation is supported by two parallels. First there is the prominence of Nero as an eschatological adversary throughout the Sibylline corpus. Second, in the Ascension of Isaiah 4:1, Beliar is clearly said to come in the likeness of Nero (“a lawless king, the slayer of his mother”). Most probably, then, Sibylline Oracles 3.63–74 should be taken as a reference to Nero. It was added sometime after A.D. 70 to bring this collection up to date with current eschatological expectations.[xi]
This selection from the Sibylline Oracles shows us that Jews living toward the end of the Second Temple period expected Beliar to be manifest, and perhaps incarnate, as a man. This line of thought may be suggested by Nahum 1:11, 15b:
From you came one who plotted evil against the Lord, a worthless counselor (yōʿēṣ belîyaʿal; lit. “a counselor of/to Belial”).
Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless (belîyaʿal) pass through you; he is utterly cut off.
The phrase in the first passage could be read as we see in ESV, or taken as a proper name, “[one who] advises Belial, a demon or even Satan himself.”[xii] Nahum 1:15b could in turn be interpreted as a person, a “human Belial” being cut off from the land of Yahweh.
The context of these references is not the end times. Rather, the book of Nahum is clearly written as an oracle against Nineveh, the capital of Assyria (Nahum 1:1). Nevertheless, Second Temple Period Jews could (and did) see the great enemy of Messiah in these texts.
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For example, another Qumran text, 4QPseudo-Ezekiel (4Q386), contains this statement:
And yhwh said: “A son of Belial (belîyaʿal) will plot (ḥashab) to oppress my people, 4but I will prevent him, and his dominion will not exist; but a multitude will be defiled, offspring will not remain. 5And from the grapevine there will be no new wine, nor will the bee (?) make honey. [Blank] Blank And the 6wicked man I will kill in Memphis and I will make my sons go out of Memphis: I will turn myself toward their re[mn]ant.”[xiii]
The text describes a “son of Belial” who is clearly a human eschatological enemy. One scholar notes about 4Q386:
We may deduce from this that the “son of Belial” is not himself one of God’s people. The combination of belîyaʿal and the verb ḥashab [“plot”] is reminiscent of Nah[um] 1:11…. That biblical passage refers to Mesopotamia, as does 4Q386 1 iii…. What we have found in this writing is an individual who is evil, who acts tyrannically and has close connections with Satan (belîyaʿal)…. [I]t is possible that the second-century author [of 4Q386] experienced his own time as pre-eschatological and portrayed the foreign ruler of his own days as a “son of Belial”… [T]he most obvious candidate is Antiochus IV Epiphanes.[xiv]
Second Temple Jewish demonology therefore allows us to make several observations that correlated with the military tyrant figure Jews believed would fight against the Messiah:
- Jews of this period believed that the demons, the Watcher spirits of the dead Nephilim, were part of an end-times army against the Messiah and His followers.
- The army of dark powers was led by a supernatural figure variously called Belial, Beliar, Mastema, Semihaza. The latter name is another connection to the Watchers in the minds of Second Temple Jews.
- This demonic army fought in concert with the nations of the earth, the enemies of Israel.
- The human enemies of Israel would be led by an evil tyrant, the “king of the kings of the earth” (Ass. Moses 8:1). Historical figures like Sennacherib of Assyria or Antiochus or a Roman emperor were all prototypes of this enemy.
These introductory concepts are important for our study. The material above illustrates how the Antichrist could have been conceived as “Satan (Beliar) incarnate.” But this isn’t the only perspective of the Antichrist profile that could be entertained in Second Temple Period thought. The great end-times enemy might not be Satan incarnate, but perhaps an embodied Watcher-spirit in league with Satan.
Understanding this alternative requires recalling that, for Second Temple Jews, New Testament demons were disembodied Watcher spirits released from the bodies of Nephilim giants. That means that when writers associated the Antichrist with giants or the fallen Watchers ultimately responsible for the giants, they would not have been claiming the Antichrist would be a giant. Indeed, there is no claim of that nature in the ancient material. Rather, these ancient writers would have been associating the Antichrist with the demonic Watcher-spirits of the giants.
UP NEXT: The Antichrist Figure, the Watchers, and the Nephilim
[i] For a short survey of the historical scholarly “back and forth” as to whether the concept of Antichrist is solely Christian or has deep Jewish roots, see William Horbury, Messianism among Jews and Christians: Twelve Biblical and Historical Studies (London: T&T Clark, 2003) 328–330. Horbury notes, for example: “Antichrist seems as native to Christianity as the devil with horns and a tail. This impression receives learned support in much recent scholarship. Thus G. C. Jenks, C. E. Hill and L. J. Lietaert Peerbolte all contend that the figure of Antichrist is a Christian development. In earlier years, by contrast, it had been considered originally Jewish by Wilhelm Bousset, Moritz Friedländer, Louis Ginzberg and Israel Lévi. Then, however, Paul Billerbeck (1926), concisely summarizing a wealth of material, urged that, despite appearances, there was virtually no contact in substance between ancient Jewish literature and the New Testament on Antichrist; in Jewish sources the messiah had political opponents, but the Christian Antichrist was a religious figure. More recently Stefan Heid, in a book finished in 1990, accepted that Bousset was fundamentally right. A contrast between Christian and Jewish sources, in some ways recalling that drawn by Billerbeck, has nevertheless returned to prominence. For Jenks (1991), Hill (1995) and Lietaert Peerbolte (1996), the expectation of an enemy specifically opposed to the messiah first occurs among the earliest Christians, rather than among the non-Christian or pre-Christian Jews. Pre-Christian traditions, it is urged, refer to an eschatological tyrant, a final attack by evil powers, or the accompanying false prophecy, rather than a messianic opponent who can properly be termed Antichrist. Yet, just as Belial with horns now looms up hauntingly in Qumran texts (see 11Q Apocryphal Psalmsa, col. iv, lines 6–7), so it may be asked again, a hundred years after Bousset, whether Antichrist is not pre-Christian and Jewish as well as Christian. With regard to the Jews in the Roman empire this question frames itself more precisely. In the early empire, was Antichrist a Jewish counterpart of Greek and Roman notions concerning the great enemy of a savior king? If so, Jews and gentiles would have shared, in this as in many other respects, a broadly similar pattern of hopes and fears for the future.” As our own discussion will note, Horbury answered this last question in the affirmative. Jews, in reaction to their Roman overlords, did indeed describe a great tyrant who, logically, would seek to defend the empire against the messianic son of David. Select studies noted by Horbury in the above quotation are: G. C. Jenks, The Origins and Early Development of the Antichrist Myth (Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche 59; Berlin and New York, 1991); L. J. Lietaert Peerbolte, The Antecedents of Antichrist: a Traditio-historical study of the Earliest Christian Views on Eschatological Opponents (Leiden, 1996); C. E. Hill, “Antichrist from the Tribe of Dan,” Journal of Theological Studies, new series 46 (1995): 99–117. See also Geert Wouter Lorein, The Antichrist Theme in the Intertestamental Period (Library of Second Temple Studies 44. London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2003).
[ii] Horbury, 330. We’ll be considering the Gog material in chapter 11.
[iii] As Bauckham notes, “There is widespread agreement that Jude’s source in v 9 was the lost ending of the [Testament of Moses]…preserved for us only in Latin translation.” (Richard J. Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude [vol. 50; Word Biblical Commentary; Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998], 67). Bauckham includes a lengthy excursus in his commentary about other Second Temple texts from Qumran that informed Jude of the idea expressed in Jude 9 (“Excursus: The Background and Source of Jude 9,” 2 Peter, Jude, 65–76).
[iv] Translation is that of James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (vol. 1; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983) 930–931.
[v] Horbury, 332–333.
[vi] The Second Temple Jewish profile of the great end-times enemy of Messiah consistently portrays this figure as an evil tyrant, distinct from Satan/Belial, but in league with or empowered by Satan/Belial. Jews of the period didn’t understand this figure as a Jewish pseudo-messiah, that is, a figure which Jews would mistakenly embrace as the messianic son of David. The Second Temple profile of the great end times enemy, the one Christians would identify as the end-times Antichrist, points to a man who opposes the Messiah, not one who masquerades as Messiah. See Appendix V for more detail.
[vii] T. Elgvin, “Belial, Beliar, Devil, Satan,” Dictionary of New Testament Background: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (ed. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000) 153–154.
[viii] Ibid., 156.
[ix] The main texts in this regard are the War Scroll (1QM); The War Rule (4Q285 or 4QSM, also known as 4QSefer ha-Milhamah).
[x] As I have written elsewhere: “The Sibylline Oracles is a collection of prophetic utterances attributed to a female prophetess known as the sibyl, regularly described as an elderly woman or old hag. The sibyl is actually a legendary figure known from classical sources, most notably the Aeneid of Virgil. She had acquired her reputation well before Virgil’s time, though. Roman sources at times list sibyls, and the Romans kept a record of their oracles for consultation in times of crisis. In the Hellenistic period, the period in which the Sibylline Oracles were composed, there were allegedly several sibyls…. [A distinctive Jewish element] in Book 3 [is the] reference to the final divine judgment when ‘the sons of the great God will live peacefully around the temple’ (702–3) and God ‘will raise up a kingdom for all ages among men’ (767–68)” (Ken Penner and Michael S. Heiser, “Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology” [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2008]).
[xi] John J. Collins, “Sibylline Oracles,” in James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (vol. 1; New York; London: Yale University Press, 1983) 360.
[xii] David W. Baker, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah: An Introduction and Commentary (vol. 27; Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988) 31.
[xiii] Ibid., 775–777.
[xiv] Geert Wouter Lorein, The Antichrist Theme in the Intertestamental Period (vol. 44; Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha; London: T & T Clark International, 2003) 150.