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!
THE BOOK OF REVELATION, THE ANTICHRIST AND HIS SLAVIC INTERPRETATIONS
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.
Share Bart’s Post on These Platforms