A few months ago I was invited to do a remote interview with a podcaster from Ukraine, Mikhail Abakumov, who has emigrated to Poland because of the war.  Mikhail is a Christian scholar, working with Ukranian refugees, and writing a dissertation on the famous German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, famous for being involved with, and eventually executed for, an assassination plot against Hitler.  Bonhoeffer has been an inspiration to many Christian seminarians, pastors, theologians, and thinkers at large ever since.

During my interview with Mikhail I learned something that blew my mind.  I knew full well that many American fundamentalists had long identified the Soviet Union, and then Russia (or one of its leaders) as the “Antichrist” (the “evil empire”); I had no idea that conservative Slavic Christians returned the favor and thought the same of the USA.  Particularly today.  That in fact the war in Ukraine was a fulfillment of Scriptural prophecies, especially the book of Revelation, which showed how the conflict would end and what world order would emerge from its ashes.

I asked Mikhail to do a blog post for us discussing the matter.  It’s unusually interesting.  Let us know what you think!




Since childhood, growing up in a family of former Christians in Ukraine who did not show much interest in Christianity, and even more so in interpreting the book of Revelation, I heard a variety of interpretations of it in the light of a variety of events. So, back in 2010, in Ukrainian circles there was a hype in popular media about the coming end of the world, which was supposed to happen in 2012 (based on this hype, a film with the same name “2012” was made in 2009, directed by Roland Emmerich). The idea was that the supposedly ancient Mayan tribe left us a calendar that ended on December 21, 2012. And since the Maya are known to everyone as ancient sages and soothsayers, they are definitely telling the truth! I distinctly remember watching a documentary on December 20, 2012, and at the end one of the experts said something like this: “I hope I’m wrong.” Well, he was clearly wrong! Of course, all this was complete nonsense. But in those years there were many people who believed this, and even used the book of Revelation to reinforce this idea. After all, the Maya allegedly talked about some cosmic global events of the future, and the book of Revelation also speaks about this, doesn’t it? (hint: no!).

Such interpretations are inherent not only to the Slavs, but also to the Americans. Not just a single denomination, but different denominations. In history we meet Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and many other groups who have tried to predict the coming of Christ or the end of the world based on the book of Revelation and some other texts. The main problem is that, as Professor Ehrman has so well shown in his new book, “Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says About the End”, the book of Revelation is simply not a book with some kind of cipher, by solving which we can find out a detailed plan for the deployment of future events. And what was the point of the people of the first centuries to know about “helicopters” and “chips”, because they did not even know what it was at all! The bottom line is that the book was not addressed to us, but to them, and therefore in our interpretation we must proceed from this obvious premise, not to mention the fact that we are talking about apocalyptic literature, which has its own peculiarities of interpretation.

But besides the main one, there is also a general problem – namely, the subjectivity of interpretations, depending on the context in which the interpreters of this book live. Note that in the case of Revelation, it is not just about drawing general principles applicable for all time (as can be said, for example, about the Sermon on the Mount), but a specific interpretation that is created based on the context and culture in which a person lives. To be clear: American fundamentalists in the second half of the 20th century argued that the Soviet Union or one of its leaders (for example, Gorbachev, he has a stain on his head, and this is clearly the mark of the beast!) Was the Antichrist. The Antichrist, as you know, is a person described in Christian eschatology, an opponent of Jesus Christ, posing as the Messiah, but having an evil essence. So for the American fundamentalists, it was the Soviet Union. As it is already clear to everyone, this was another mistake, because the Soviet Union safely disintegrated, and nothing happened as expected. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, antichrist is a collective image that can refer to many people and organizations (in this, by the way, they actually think more sensibly than many fundamentalists, details at the end!). For Adventists, the antichrist is the Pope as the main representative of the apostate church (I can understand the meaning of this interpretation somewhere in the Middle Ages, but now the Pope certainly does not look like the Antichrist).

But what is more interesting, for many Slavs, the USA is the Antichrist! Thus, some Christians claim that the first beast in the book of Revelation to be responsible for regulating the right to buy and sell in the world and so on is the United States of America. The fact is that after the end of World War II, the Roman Empire gave its powers to the United States. The United States now symbolically holds the power of the Roman Empire. So here’s the general idea. The US will win the war between Russia and Ukraine (perhaps there will also be a nuclear explosion, because according to their interpretations, there must be grandiose cataclysms). After that, the state of Ukraine will be under the rule of the United States of America. Well, after the victory of Ukraine over Russia, the United States will have a unipolar world. And in a unipolar world, the United States of America will command the nations: “You can’t sell! And you can’t buy!” The economy will be exclusively dominated by the United States of America and that’s when the Antichrist will begin to rule the entire universe. And what will happen next, you ask? And then there will be the last battle in the history of mankind. Because in one of the chapters of Daniel, a confrontation unfolds, a battle between the king of the north and the king of the south. For these people, the king of the North is the United States. This is the Antichrist. And the king of the South is China, because China is a very wicked state. The last clash in history will be the final war between China and the US. That’s it. And if we also remember that before that, the coronavirus showed how close we are to chipization and control over us, then everything converges!

As I said, the general problem with such interpretations is that they are subjective and dependent on current events. Now, being a Christian myself, I would like to say that not all Christians think in this way. G. K. Chesterton once remarked, “And though St. John saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.” It’s straight to the point! Among Christians, however, there are many (although more would be welcome) academic scholars who hold various more plausible interpretations of this book. For example, some have claimed that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a well-known theologian, pastor and member of the Nazi Resistance, called Hitler the Antichrist, quoting his friend Bishop George Bell:

“We know of the despair which seized all those who were engaged in subversive activities in July and August 1940. We know of a meeting held at that time where it was proposed that further action should be postponed, so as to avoid giving Hitler the character of a martyr if he should be killed. Bonhoeffer’s rejoinder was decisive: «If we claim to be Christians, there is no room for expediency. Hitler is the Anti-Christ. Therefore we must go on with our work and eliminate him whether he be successful or not.»”

Others noted that Bonhoeffer called Hitler not the Antichrist himself, but only his henchman. However, let’s leave that aside. My main point is that theologians like Bonhoeffer saw in the concept of Antichrist not a specific person who would be the fulfillment of the literal prophecies of the book of Revelation, but simply a description of those very evil people who opposed God and His church. A number of academic scholars of the book of Revelation, such as Gregory  Beale, note that Revelation says nothing new that Christ did not already say in Matthew 24 or other passages. This book simply tells the whole story that evil forces will always oppose God, that there will always be antichrists and wicked systems, and that ultimately God will put an end to His enemies. This was the message of John. It’s not about helicopters, vaccines, chips, the USSR or the USA. It is about the struggle between good and evil in every generation and in each of us. Bonhoeffer met with his antichrist. We can meet ours. Simple idea, right? But I think if many Christians would put it into practice, we would avoid many troubles.

Over $2 Million Donated to Charity!

We have two goals at Ehrman Blog. One is to increase your knowledge of the New Testament and early Christianity. The other is to raise money for charity! In fact, in 2022, we raised over $360,000 for the charities below.

Become a Member Today!

2023-07-17T14:34:31-04:00July 20th, 2023|Revelation of John|

Share Bart’s Post on These Platforms


  1. dankoh July 20, 2023 at 10:40 am

    Very interesting! I doubt that many of us are aware some Russians see the US this way. Is this a Catholic or an ROC view? Or does it matter?

    Side observation: Jews don’t believe in an antichrist, of course, but we do have Amalek, the enemy of Israel from exodus times, whose descendants are still trying to kill off the Jews. Haman was a descendant of Amalek (he was the Agagite, a descendant of Agag whom Saul was supposed to kill and didn’t, so Samuel did). Hitler was also called Amalek by the rabbis.

    It’s not an exact parallel to the antichrist nor to Satan, but it does show the almost universal need for an implacable enemy to fight against.

  2. kt July 20, 2023 at 4:00 pm

    Thank you for your interesting post!

    The Spirit of the Christ is the Spirit of God, the antichrist is self, ego, the separated self, or the desire for self-exaltation. Consequently, each era, each individual, confronts their own “antichrist”, those elements within their consciousness that hinder spiritual awakening.

    Regarding the Book of Revelation, for me I read it and it presents not a literal foretelling of concrete events, but a so called “mystical” map for spiritual transformation, used and dived into allegory and symbolism. It’s a guide for the soul’s journey towards self-realization and unity with the Divine, more than a prophetic roadmap of worldly events. The Revelation is much more about its call to inner transformation, thanr literal interpretations tied to fear and division.

    Therefore, the so-called “end of the world” as perceived by literalists is in my mind very unlikely! to occur as they have envisioned.

  3. TimTheSkeptic July 20, 2023 at 4:24 pm

    Hey Bart,
    I know this is a bit off topic but I’ve been hearing creationists argue that BC and AD are enough to make the assertion that Christianity is the correct religion. Why else would we use Before Christ and After Death? How would you go on about explaining to a creationist who makes this claim that just because we use BC and AD doesn’t mean Christianity is true?

    Thank you for your time!

    • BDEhrman July 22, 2023 at 12:28 pm

      What? Now *that* is odd. Are these people educated? Do they know how the calendars we use were devised? If you want a particularly interesitng discussion, see Stephen Jay Gould’s in his fascinating book Questioning the Millennium.

    • dankoh July 22, 2023 at 10:29 pm

      BC and AD (nowadays commonly called BCE and CE) didn’t exist until Dionysius the Small came up with the idea in the sixth century (CE, of course). BC/AD were ignored until the Venerable Bede used them for his chronology in the 8th century, then gradually spread throughout Europe by 1200. Bede wanted to use BC/AD because at that time one common Christian dating was AM – anno mundi, the year since the creation of the world – and no one could agree what that was. Was Jesus born in AM 5230, 5500, 3575? Actually, the dating system in use when Jesus was born was AUC – Ab Urbi Condite, the year since the founding of Rome. Jesus was probably born in AUC 750, but Dionysius got it wrong; he thought it was AUC 754.

      So not only does BC/AD tell us nothing about whether Christianity is “correct,” even as a dating system it’s not correct: Jesus was most likely born in 4 BC!

    • Duke12 July 24, 2023 at 3:22 pm

      AD = After Death? Haven’t heard that mistake since Sunday School when I was 12! Anno Domini! = Year of Our Lord! (which is why BCE and CE are preferred: Before the Common Era and Common Era. If you want to sneak your favorite religion in, change “Common” to “Christian” 🙂 )

    • AngeloB July 28, 2023 at 2:34 am

      AD actually means Anno Domini (In the year of our Lord or Christ).

  4. TimTheSkeptic July 20, 2023 at 5:51 pm

    Hey Bart, I recently watched a video of yours on the topic of Mythicism and I too think Jesus existed. However I was hoping you could elaborate one of your points you mentioned in the video.

    You said that just in The New Testament there are a number of Independent sources such as Mark, L, M, Q, and John and his sources (you may have even said more) and since they all independently refer to Jesus, it is evidence that he actually existed.

    But wouldn’t all independent sources actually all be dependent sources in the sense of oral traditions that were being circulated? For example, Mark, Q, L, M, Matthew, John, and John’s sources would all be interconnected in a sense due to oral traditions. Thanks again for your time, much appreciated!

    • BDEhrman July 22, 2023 at 12:29 pm

      Yes, they would be dependent on earlier sources, mostly oral, but not on the same sources.

  5. nanuninu July 20, 2023 at 8:35 pm

    Someone should do an Orson Wells live news report about a beast with seven heads and ten horns rising out of the sea. Don’t panic!

  6. John.Feldmann July 21, 2023 at 12:43 pm

    What is the political or cultural subjectivity of the people who hold to this reading of Saint John’s Revelation? Are they generally pro-Russian, Malorussian, and/or Slavophile in their orientation? I am familiar with the Russian language and usually say that I can speak it on a good day. I have been struck by the religious nature of so many comments on third-party news sites from Russia regarding the Russo-Ukraine conflict. Imagery of Hell and devils is commonly blended with that of Nazis and Hitler. I presume that if the United States is portrayed as the Antichrist then the apocalyptic imaginary does not come from the pro-Western elements of Eastern European society. Are these primarily Russian diasporic communities that were left behind (pun intended) after the collapse of the Soviet Union? Or does belief in this reading of Revelation cut across ethic and national divides?

  7. Kirktrumb59 July 24, 2023 at 2:36 pm

    Interesting. Thanks.
    A few parochial comments of interest at least to one neurologist:
    1. The Jehovah Witnesses’ “antichrist is a collective image that can refer to many people and organizations” pretty much represents a shared Fregoli delusion.

    2. The martyr (as was is brother, both executed by the Nazis) Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a son of Karl Bonhoeffer, a neuropsychiatrist who coined the term “confabulation” and who pioneered the study of confusional states and apraxia among many other important neurologic topics. Although an active early proponent of forced sterilization, Karl (d.1948) was not a Nazi, indeed assisted many Jews (and anti-Nazi non-Jews) in escaping Germany in the 1930s.

    Re: “complete nonsense”: one of my favs from the Book of Mormon: today’s native Americans are descendants of the Lamanites, in turn descendants of a ‘Hebrew prophet’ who emigrated from the holy land to America in about 600 BCE. These Lamanites as well as their Nephite cousins were visited by none other than Jesus himself.

    • BDEhrman July 26, 2023 at 9:31 am

      I didn’t know that about Karl Bonhoeffer! Thanks,

  8. sLiu July 31, 2023 at 7:27 pm

    as I was returning from Hong Kong via TPE to SFO. before 2021
    I repeated to myself God is defeated as probably better “Christians”were praying against the Coronavirus.
    And I 2nd their prayers, not ever praying deeply against this Pandemic, having lived in Shanghai 2003 SARS.

    Coronavirus came from the CCP which is atheist.
    So sin defeats God who is “lying flat”

    if he created the Universe & life in 6 days, not necessarily consecutive according to Dr JohnStevenson Florida. Well the Jewish calendar is less than 7000 years old, so some guy in NT wrote “one day God is our thousand years.”
    so what was Jesus’s 35years?
    How many honest & devout followers of God perished from lack of the Holy Spirit assistance!

  9. Erland October 19, 2023 at 6:15 pm

    The Ukrainians aren’t completely wrong: Donald Trump is the Antichrist, obviously!

    • BDEhrman October 19, 2023 at 9:02 pm

      Well, they’d be completely wrong because in this construal Biden is obviously the Antichrist! It’s always been interesting to see how presidents get dragged into this: when I started teaching at Rutgers, Ronald Wilson Reagan was president. Six letters in each of his three names. 666! And btw, Trump was elected in 2016, which, as it turns out, is 666+666+666+6+6+6. Go figure.

Leave A Comment