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Many people don't realize that the word "antichrist" is used only five times throughout the Bible and then only in 1 John and 2 John.

And one of those times, it's used in the plural.

"Children, it is the last hour," says 1 John 2:18, "and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared."

In other parts of Scripture the antichrist may be what writers meant when they described a "dragon" or "beast" or the "lawless one." The spirit of antichrist, said 1 John 4:3, is the spirit that denies Christ, and this spirit "is already in the world." One day soon, we'll discuss the prospect of a single coming antichrist [see the 1990 prophecy]. But let's stay with the notion of antichrists.

For it is this spirit that intensifies in our time and could precipitate a man of perdition.

A history of that spirit is presented by Father Joseph M. Esper in an engaging book called Defiance: The Antichrists of History and their Doomed War Against the Church. For in history are those who have not only denied Christ but sought to eradicate those who love Him.

The past is prologue. Let us discern. There were the Roman emperors. There were those Caesars: we know about their hideous persecution of the first Christians. Domitian. Nero. The Diocletians, who deified themselves. ("Woe is me!" said one of Nero's successors, Vespasian. "Methinks I'm turning into a god.") There were the Huns and the Alexanders (VI) and the philosophers and men like Weishaupt and Marx and Hitler.

In our time, it seems particularly interesting to consider Mohammed (or "Muhammad"), the founder of Islam.

Was he an "antichrist"? Might the religion he generated precipitate a leader of perdition?

There certainly is no shortage of those in evangelical realms who believe so; this is also true in Catholicism.

As Father Esper points out, the Church has been careful not to condemn Islam.

In its "Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions," the Second Vatican Council affirmed that "the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions." It added that their moral precepts and doctrines "often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men." More specifically, the document said that "the Church has a high regard for the Muslims. "They worship God, Who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of Heaven and earth, Who has also spoken to men." Muslims, it has been pointed out, acknowledge Jesus as a prophet (not what we want to hear, since one must go a major step beyond that, but not completely denying Him, either). Moreover, many Muslim Arabs have a devotion to the Virgin (who in the Koran is mentioned more than Jesus). As the Virgin of Medjugorje once said, "You are not true Christians if you do not respect other religions." She even indicated a Muslim woman in Sarajevo as living the life of a saint.

Yet, in our time there is concern about the rising vehemence and sweep of Muslims who may themselves not respect other religions -- and who, with radical fervor, classify those in the non-Muslim world as "infidels" who may be violently conquered, if necessary (jihad). "In his book God's War on Terror, Walid Shoebat (himself a Muslim terrorist before his conversion to Christianity) makes what many would consider an outrageous (or at least, highly politically incorrect) claim: militant Islam will itself be a direct manifestation of the spirit of antichrist; he asserts that 'all the references in the Bible to nations that God proclaims His war against in the end times... are Muslim," writes Father Esper. "Could such a bold charge be true? Might devout Muslims, willing to give their lives in the name of Allah, actually be fighting against God and His Son's Church? Certainly this claim would not have sounded outrageous to many Church leaders and theologians throughout history. Muhammad -- revered by all Muslims as the Prophet -- was often viewed by Christians as a precursor of the antichrist. For instance, Dante's Inferno placed Muhammad in the lower regions of hell..."

Adds the priest: ""Other Catholic authors shared this extremely negative opinion of Muhammad. In his 1632 book De Antichristo, Dominican friar Tommaso Campanella identified the Muslim prophet as a precursor of the antichrist because of his denial of Christ's divinity, and a similar judgment was expressed by the nineteenth-century convert, Venerable John Henry Newman [left]." There were times, notes Father Esper, when Muhammad feared for his sanity or thought he might be possessed by a jinn (evil spirit). Esper says Muhammad had at least fifteen wives "and perhaps as many as twenty-five -- the youngest of whom, Aisha, was only seven years old when given to the prophet in marriage (and only nine when the marriage was consummated)." The "prophet's" last words, says Esper, "were a curse upon Christians." It is a religion, Islam, that allows violence as the tool of conversion (although the majority of Muslims are not violent whatsoever).

Still, there is cause for concern at this time when Muslims are spreading across Europe and other parts of the West -- if nothing else, waging a war that is demographic. Will it one day turn into an invasion as during the Middle Ages -- when all of Western Europe was under threat? Might Muslims one day team with Russia or China?

In Protestant circles, a current bestselling book called Mideast Beast, by Joel Richardson, argues that this will indeed be the case and that The Antichrist will be Islamic. More Christians are being martyred today than at the height of the Roman persecutions, notes one source Father Esper cites. "And most of them are dying at the hands of Islam. Christianity is again in peril."

We must be cautious. We must respect other religions. Also, we must be vigilant. Will the Virgin one day win over Muslims to Jesus -- as Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen believed?

Will they eventually accept His Divinity?

Or will a new Caesar -- a super-Caesar, a super-Nero, bigger than Hitler -- rise in the northern sweep of the African continent across to the Near East?

[resources: Defiance: The Antichrists of History and their Doomed War Against the Church]

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