Yes, this post is a response to the comments by Pres. Donald Trump on August 21, 2019. As a moderate, I usually dismiss media outrage directed at any leader’s bombastic remarks. Yet, when I saw the hashtags #Antichrist and #KingOfIsrael trend on Twitter, I knew that I had to respond. As any user of Twitter knows, hashtags only trend if they garner a lot of responses and re-posts. Naturally, I wondered why so many people were tweeting on these Judeo-Christian topics. It is not everyday that John Q. Public talks about the identity of antichrist or the king of Israel.
Come now, Let Us Argue It Out
For the sake of argument, I will only use Jewish or right-leaning sources in this post. I do this to draw the full context of Pres. Trump’s remarks since most of the outrage comes from left-leaning media. Moreover, even reckless comments by any personality referring to Jesus—even indirectly—should alarm us Christians. As a millennial, I am not old enough to personally remember this 1966 comment by John Lennon about the Beatles’ success: “We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary.”
I read about the fallout among conservatives from that time, to include the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and Lennon’s murderer, Mark David Chapman, a self-proclaimed “born-again Christian” infuriated by his comparison to Jesus. They should be expressing even more disapproval toward Pres. Trump than they did for Lennon, especially considering these extremes of the past. Now, too many Christian conservatives are explaining away his remarks, or they simply approve of them without discernment. Writing to his fellow conservatives, the evangelist Jay Lowder had some strong words for them:
In the evangelical community, we have come to incorrectly believe that any critique of Trump only serves to promote the party on the left. But embracing critiques proves we are objective, not blind to the flaws in political parties or our presidents … Trump is neither the “Second Coming of God” nor the “Messiah.” In repeating the profane quote, he gave a narcissistic endorsement and even thanked Root, a well-known conspiracy theorist, for his words. Messianic claims are dangerous, because God does not share glory with anyone.Michael Gryboski, ‘Disturbing,’ ‘Nutty,’ ‘Dangerous’: 5 Christian Leaders React to Trump’s ‘King of Israel’ Retweet,” ChristianPost.com (Washington, DC: Christian Post, 2019), https://www.christianpost.com/news/disturbing-nutty-dangerous-5-christian-leaders-react-to-trumps-king-of-israel-re-tweet.html?page=2 .
Neither am I here to justify the religious left who now calls Pres. Trump the “antichrist.” However, I must agree with the writer and activist Shane Claiborne: “This is some straight-up first-century emperor worship happening. Rebuke it, in the name of Jesus! Jesus is Lord, Trump is not.”
Scoffers who Rule this People in Jerusalem
As a Christian theologian, it is my task to explain the scriptures in their own context by the historical-grammatical method. What this means is the Bible features a history and a cultural background of its own. We must carefully exegete, or “read out,” the author’s original intent, setting, and audience. We must not eisegete, or ”read in,” our contemporary problems and setting into the text. Simply put, one cannot label someone “antichrist” without first knowing all the characteristics of the lawless one.
Did Pres. Trump and Wayne Allen Root make some blasphemous and anti-Christ remarks? Yes, they did. Here are those comments raw and unedited:
Thank you to Wayne Allyn Root for the very nice words. “President Trump is the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world, not just America, he is the best President for Israel in the history of the world … and the Jewish people in Israel love him like he’s the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God … But American Jews don’t know him or like him. They don’t even know what they’re doing or saying anymore. It makes no sense! But that’s OK, if he keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s good for all Jews, blacks, gays, everyone. And importantly, he’s good for everyone in America who wants a job.” Wow!AP, “‘Like the King of Israel’: Trump Unleashes Bizarre Twitter Storm Day After ‘Disloyal’ Jews Comment,” Haaretz.com. (Tel Aviv: Haaretz, 2019), https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/trump-israel-king-anti-semitism-jews-1.7728867.
Whoever Speaks Against the Son of Man Will be Forgiven
Flippancy aside, such remarks alone do not reveal Pres. Trump as the antichrist. Keep in mind, religious fanatics have called nearly every U.S. president in recent history the antichrist. The office which Pres. Trump holds gives more weight to such blasphemy than the same words from some everyday Joe Schmo who repeats them daily.
Make no mistake: Donald Trump re-tweeted Root’s post because he approves of being called the “king of Israel” and the “second coming of God” (i.e., Jesus) as a sitting U.S. president. But he does not meet other antichrist characteristics mentioned in scripture. We have not heard Pres. Trump deny that Jesus is the Messiah, although welcoming a claim to divinity certainly comes close to it (cf. 1 John 2:22). He should have never accepted this type of praise reserved for God alone, let alone re-tweet it. However, Pres. Trump still has the chance to repent. Jesus taught us that the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the only unforgivable sin (Matt. 12:31–32; Mark 3:28–29; Luke 12:10).
So Now Many Antichrists Have Come
John warned us, “Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). That said, he did not leave us without a clear definition of antichrist: “Those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver …” (2 John 1:7). Neither did Paul of Tarsus leave us without understanding:
Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.2 Thess. 2:3-4
To date, Pres. Trump has not entered a church to declare himself God. In the immediate context, Paul was speaking of the Jerusalem temple that the Romans destroyed in AD 70. Neither can Pres. Trump enter into a Jewish temple which no longer exists, except perhaps for the Western Wall. He may have traits that many of us would consider “anti-Christ,” but there are many qualifications for the final antichrist Pres. Trump does not meet.
The antichrist of the first century was none other than the emperor Nero (AD 37–68). For brevity, I do not have room to explain this fully. However, know that 666 and 616 (as some manuscripts of Revelation have) both total mathematically as Caesar Nero in Hebrew and Greek, respectively. Even Roman literature such as the Sibylline Oracles mentioned the Nero redivivus myth—that he would be resurrected and reclaim the empire. This relates to the beast whose head was healed miraculously after receiving a death-blow (Rev. 13:3, 12, 14). Some biblical scholars believe the emperor Domitian (AD 51–96) was a type of Nero redivivus because he persecuted Christians with even more wrath than Nero himself. The primary characteristic of the antichrist is socioeconomic bans and the systematic murder of Christians, not just rhetorical statements about God. He is not just a denier of Jesus, but also a genocidal maniac such as Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin.
So that We May See and Believe
When Jesus approached him under the fig tree, Nathanael responded, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49). Likewise, the pilgrims visiting Jerusalem for Passover shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!” (John 12:13). These are true statements, that Jesus of Nazareth alone is the true King of Israel. Furthermore, he is the first coming of God and will be the second and final one. When the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, interrogated him, there was a reason he asked Jesus whether he was the “King of the Jews” (Matt. 27:11).
Today, we too often think of “Christ” as being Jesus’ last name or some abstract religious title. Yet, both the Jewish and Roman leaders of Judea knew exactly what the title of Messiah implied: kingship, authority, and justice. Many politicians, both ancient and modern, have sworn peace and prosperity to Israel. This was most especially true of Augustus, the Roman emperor who enforced the Pax Romana—the Roman Peace. The kingship of Israel is not one of rank or popularity, but of divine ordination. Pres. Trump was clearly trying to justify some antisemitic remarks about why so many American Jews disapprove of his presidency. Yet, by turning to the Jews of Israel, he foolishly entered into God’s holy land without due respect. Paul reminds us:
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.Phil. 2:9-11
AP. “Lennon’s Killer Marks 25 Years of Infamy.” FoxNews.com. New York: Fox News Network, 2015. https://www.foxnews.com/story/lennons-killer-marks-25-years-of-infamy.
AP. “‘Like the King of Israel’: Trump Unleashes Bizarre Twitter Storm Day After ‘Disloyal’ Jews Comment.” Haaretz.com. Tel Aviv: Haaretz, 2019. https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/trump-israel-king-anti-semitism-jews-1.7728867.
Gryboski, Michael. “‘Disturbing,’ ‘Nutty,’ ‘Dangerous’: 5 Christian Leaders React to Trump’s ‘King of Israel’ Retweet.” ChristianPost.com. Washington, DC: Christian Post, 2019. https://www.christianpost.com/news/disturbing-nutty-dangerous-5-christian-leaders-react-to-trumps-king-of-israel-re-tweet.html?page=2 .
Kampeas, Ron. “Who is Wayne Allyn Root, the Evangelical Christian Trump Quoted to Validate His Comments on Jews?” JTA.org. New York: Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 2019. https://www.jta.org/2019/08/21/politics/who-is-wayne-allen-root-the-evangelical-christian-trump-quoted-to-validate-his-comments-on-jews.
New Revised Standard Version. New York: Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, 1989.