To many Westerners, the term ‘Mahdi’ conjures up two images. The first refers to the Sudanese figure who faced General Gordon, the second to the ‘Mehdi Army’ – the Iraqi militia linked to Moqtada Al-Sadr. It is noteworthy that both images are associated with anti-Western jihad. Also significant is that the first-mentioned refers to a Sunni claimant, the second to the awaited Twelfth Imam of the Shia. However, it must be recognised that the general public in the West – and to a large extent, Western politicians – are very ignorant about the concept of the Mahdi in either Sunni or Shi‘ite Islam. This is also true of my own community, Evangelical Protestants. It is often a surprise to the latter that the figure of Jesus plays a central role in Islamic eschatology, whether Sunni or Shia. The relevant point here is that the ministry of the Mahdi dovetails with that of Jesus. Moreover, the nature of this interaction concerns the concepts of Justice and Sacred Violence.

I use the term ‘Justice’ to refer to Eschatological Judgment in the first regard, and in the second but inter-related place to refer to the concept of religious Utopia said to be effected by either the coming of the Mahdi (for Muslims) and that of Jesus ( for Christians and also Muslims). With respect to the second term I employ it as equivalent to what is sometimes called ‘holy war’. I am not making a subjective judgment that such violence is ever objectively ‘sacred’, simply that it is seen as such by its perpetrators and that the said violence is religiously-motivated.

Although papers addressing a theological topic are rarely of direct practical import, this subject is essential for the present situation. Some Christian Zionists, holding to a Dispensationalist Premillennialist standpoint, hope that the Al-Aqsa complex in
Jerusalem will be destroyed to make way for the ThirdTemple which they see as an essential stage in preparing for the Second Coming of Christ. The 1985 film Shrine Under Siege by the Israeli filmmaker Ilan Ziv even included suggestions – voiced by the Israeli authorities – that an extremist settler body that carried out terrorist attacks on Palestinians had been armed by one such Christian Zionist group, in the hope that they would blow up the Al-Aqsa Mosque. We can immediately see the link between Eschatology and Sacral Violence as it relates to the Messiah in some interpretations of Christian theology – and I should add a very warped interpretation in my opinion as an Evangelical Christian. In Islamic eschatology, the Mahdi and Jesus are engaged in establishing a millennial regime and in jihad against the Antichrist and eschatological judgment against the infidel. That alone is sufficient cause to study the concept, but another issue is of contemporary political relevance; whether a Shi‘ite Islamic State could ever initiate Offensive Jihad apart from the command of the Mahdi.

1. The Mahdi

1.1 Background to the Mahdi concept 

The Mahdi as a figure is not explicitly present in the Qur’an, but is common to Sunni and Shia Hadith collections. The fact that the idea is emphasised in both traditions in all likelihood points to an early eschatological expectation arising as a result of the of the theological and constitutional crisis that arose following the death of Muhammad and most probably after the death of Ali, the last of the Four Righteous Caliphs (Khulafah Rashidun) in the Sunni tradition and the First Imam of Shia belief. Certainly the prediction of a figure that would effect religious/political revival presupposes a declension! The severing of Muslim unity, the dynastic conflicts that characterised the Ummayad and Abbasid eras, the perception among many Muslims that the current political order was illegitimate would doubtless have enhanced eschatological expectation of a divinely-sent deliverer who would restore Islam to its pristine condition. As such conditions are often perceived to have continued and indeed degenerated in the centuries since then, notably after the collapse of the Ottoman Khilafah in 1924 and with the voracious progress of Western cultural and political dominion since the First World War, it is scarcely surprising that there has been a revival of eschatological expectation in regard to the Mahdi. Khomeini saw a continuity of declension after the death of Ali to the contemporary era, and used it as evidence for his theory of the Vilayet-i Faqih (‘Guardianship of the Jurist’):

After the death of the Most Noble Messenger (s), the obstinate enemies of the faith, the Umayyads (God’s curses be upon them), did not permit the Islamic state to attain stability with the rule of ‘Ali ibn Abi Tālib (‘a). They did not allow a form of government to exist that was pleasing to God, Exalted and Almighty, and to His Most Noble Messenger (s). They transformed the entire basis of government, and their policies were, for the most part, contradictory to Islam. The form of government of the Umayyads and the Abbasids, and the political and administrative policies they pursued, were anti-Islamic. The form of government was thoroughly perverted by being transformed into a monarchy... this non-Islamic form of government has persisted to the present day...

1.2 Alid lineage as a central factor in Sunni 
and Shia traditions of the Mahdi

The central concept of the Mahdi is that of being ‘the Rightly-Guided’ One. In Islamic terms this refers to someone whose character and conduct, unlike the dictatorship and corruption that has often been the defining quality of many Muslim rulers down to the present, reflect the Sunnah of the Prophet in being ‘rightly-guided’. In short, the picture we have is of the ideal Islamic Amir, in many ways a mirror-image of Muhammad. This factor is evidenced by the common tradition of Sunnis and Shia that the Mahdi will be an Alid descendant of Muhammad:

Significantly, even Sunni traditions effectively de-legitimise rule by the Ummayads, Abbasids and most, if not all, Muslim rulers down to the present, because they could not claim the required ancestry. Had the Mahdi emerged during the Ummayad epoch it would have been self-evident that their rule was illegitimate. Obviously, were the Mahdi to appear now, probably all rulers in the Sunni world, who cannot claim the necessary descent from Fatimah, would automatically be rendered redundant on this basis alone. This qualification always presented a potential challenge to Sunni or Shia rulers who could not claim Alid descent. It was a potential source of embarrassment to the ‘Uthmani (Ottoman) Caliphate. According to the Shafi madhab, the Caliph should be an Arab of the Quraysh tribe: 

….of the Quraysh tribe (K: because of the (H: well-authenticated (hasan) hadith related by Nasa’i “The Imams are of the Quraysh,” a hadith adhered to by the Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and those after them, this qualification being obligatory when there is a member of Quraysh available who meets the other conditions) (H: though when there is not, then the next most eligible is a qualified member of the Kinana tribe, then of the Arabs, then of the non-Arabs)… 

Not surprisingly, as Ottoman power began to collapse in the nineteenth century, and Arab nationalism emerged, we find the Ottomans laying emphasis on the Hanafi madhab not least because this school of fiqh did not insist on Arab ethnicity as a requirement for the Caliphate:

The Hanefi school of Islamic jurisprudence had always been the closest to the hearts of the Ottoman rulers as the ‘official belief’ (mezheb-i resmiye). The reason for this preference was the Hanefi interpretation of the caliphate, whereby a strong and able ruler was to be recognized as the legitimate sovereign of all Muslims on the condition that he protected Islam and upheld the Åžeriat even if he was not from the original sacred Arab clan of Qureish.

It is well-known that one of the (broken) promises of the British High Commissioner Sir Henry McMahon in
Egypt to Hussein, Sharif of Mecca in the ‘McMahon-Hussein Correspondence’ was to restore ‘an Arab Khalifate of Islam’. Perhaps what should be also considered is the potential threat posed to Ottoman power by the emergence of someone claiming to be the Mahdi from Sudan in the late nineteenth century – an Arab (or to be precise, Arabised Nubian) asserting the requisite descent (however dubious the claim). In the later stages of his campaign Muhamamd Ahmad bin Abdullah started to refer to proof texts from the Qur’an and Hadith in support of his position. Interestingly, another Mahdi claimant was Syed Muhammad Jaunpuri (1443-1505), who advanced his claim to the role partly because his father was named ‘Abdullah’ whilst his mother’s name was Aamina (as with the Prophet), and he asserted descent from Imam Hussein. We can see how dangerous to Sunni regimes throughout history down to the present are Mahdist claimants, on the basis of ancestry alone.
With Shia regimes, the situation is more complicated. Since Shi‘ites explicitly identify the Mahdi as the Twelfth Imam, it would be difficult for a claimant to advance his pretensions, since the entry into world of the Hidden Imam is held to be both dramatic and miraculous and according to the hadith, no one knows the time of his coming. Nonetheless, this did not make the position of the Shahs in
Iran, notably the last monarch, any easier. Since the revolutionary forces led by Khomeini claimed to be acting in the name of the Twelfth Imam, this in itself undermined the Shah – the son of an army officer who staged a successful military coup, and who rather grandly spoke of Cyrus the Great as his ‘ancestor’ during the 2,500th celebration of Iranian monarchy in 1971 at Persepolis, rather than any genuine descent from Hussein. Moreover, apart from other factors, Khomeini – and many other revolutionaries – could claim to be Alid sayyeds, descendants of the Prophet, and thus linked to the Mahdi in terms of lineage.

1.3 The Revolutionary Challenge of the Mahdi to ‘corrupt’ and ‘unjust’ regimes

It was after the deposition and assassination of Ali that the Caliphate effectively became dynastic until its abolition in 1924 (a hadith reflects this), although there were major disruptions until then by coups staged by various figures. The quasi-democratic nature of the election of Abu Bakr (according to Sunni sources) related to the concept of ijma, consensus, was largely ignored after the Khulafa Rashidun era in terms of selecting an Amir for the Sunni community. This is a crucial issue in examining the concept of the Mahdi. The whole point of his existence is to end sinful governance in the world – in a phrase common to both Sunni and Shia sources, he will ‘will fill the earth with justice and equity as it is filled with tyranny and injustice’, and will be assisted in some sense by Jesus: 

A major cause of the Sunni-Shia divide was the Shia insistence that the succession to the Prophet had been determined by Muhammad and that Ali had been chosen. Instead, Abu Bakr was elected as Caliph, an action which Shia felt was a usurpation of the divine prerogative. Equally, after the death of the four deputies of the Hidden Imam, another crisis of legitimacy arose – this time within Shi‘ism itself. Could there be any legitimate Islamic governance in the absence of the Twelfth Imam? Khomeini’s theory of the Vilayet-i Faqih was an attempt to resolve this issue. Essentially, a popularly elected government in conjunction with guidance by the ulema rules in trust for the Mahdi. However, even in Sunni circles the death of Ali as the final Righteous Caliph has caused questions of constitutional legitimacy – especially as succeeding rulers frequently set aside requirements of the Shari’ah. This is especially relevant to the present situation, when we consider the prevalence of unelected and often despotic regimes in the Muslim world, and their transgression of Shari’ah principles, most notably in terms of subjection to the West and the abandonment of the Palestinian waqf - something for which Khomeini specifically condemned them. The Sunni hadith predicts that the Mahdi will govern of the basis of the Sunnah, and this is also implied in the Shia hadith. Shi‘ism places a particular emphasis on justice and in resisting oppressors: ‘This emphasis on divine justice has influenced not only the theoretical aspect of Shi‘ism, for the Shi‘a regard justice as such so fundamental an aspect of Islam that they have often called for its implementation in society.’ Hence, the absence of Shari’ah governance, the prevalence of injustice and despotism are conditions that the Mahdi is held to remove.

Thus, we can say that the Mahdi is effectively a revolutionary figure as opposed to the ‘unjust’ regimes which characterise much of the Muslim world. This confrontational aspect of the Mahdi’s ministry deserves particular attention. It should be noted that such revolutionary confrontation was a feature of the Mahdist revolt in

…according to al- Sadiq al-Mahdi, the Mahdi’s great grandson, many ‘ulama both in
Sudan and Egypt who justified the Mahdi’s call for a jihad against the Sultan … for the following reasons. First, they regarded Khedive Tawfiq as unfit to rule and hence the Mahdi, like ‘Urabi in Egypt, had a duty to fight against the Egyptian attempt to conquer Sudan. Secondly, every Muslim had a duty to rise against the Ottoman Sultan ‘Abd al-Hamid II who had betrayed Islam through his support of Christian foreigners. The duty of Muslim unity and submission to the legitimate ruler therefore no longer applied and the Mahdist uprising was fully justified. Thirdly, Islam required an active leader who would implement the laws of religion. It was immaterial whether this role was fulfilled by the Mahdi of Sudan or by someone else.

The 1979 Revolution in
Iran possessed the same characteristic. The revolution aimed at establishing legitimate rule – i.e. in the name of the Twelfth Imam, the Mahdi. Significantly, a hadith speaks of the Mahdi’s coming as a revolution that involves military preparedness: Imam Sadiq said: ‘Prepare yourselves for the revolution of our Qa’im, even if it means to gather an arrow [for fighting God’s enemies].’ (Bihar al-anwar, Vol. 52, p. 366). A major feature of the Revolution was the overthrow of the Shah – one of the most autocratic dictators of the twentieth century. The extravagance of the Persepolis celebrations, together with the cruel torture regime of the Shahist secret police SAVAK earned the Shah’s regime an unenviable global reputation for injustice. This contrasted with the expectations of socio-political conditions under the Mahdi, and it should be remembered that one hadith from the Twelfth Imam states: ‘And surely on my re-appearance, whenever I reappear, there will be no allegiance in my neck of any of the oppressive tyrants’ (Bihar al-anwar, v.53, p 181). Perhaps we should call the 1979 Revolution ‘the Mahdi’s Revolution’.

1.4 The Sacred Violence of the Mahdi and 
Messiah against the Antichrist and Kufr

A major feature of Islamic eschatology that often surprises Evangelical Christians is the emphasis on the Antichrist - Al Dajjal Al-Masih (‘the Deceiver-Christ’). There are many and various traditions about him, and we can only examine those pertinent to our theme: 

The Antichrist, then, is the culmination of Kufr – unbelief. The word is even inscribed on his head! He works demonic miracles, and causes people to apostatise (one hadith links this with the Kharijites). In these respects we can see parallels with the Christian concept. Usually the Hadith indicates that the Dajjal is an individual figure, especially as some traditions suggest an identification with a man called Ibn Sayyad. In every way, therefore, the Antichrist is the opposite of both the Mahdi and Jesus. He performs Satanic counterfeit miracles, purveys Satanic counterfeit religion, provides Satanic counterfeit governance, and a Satanic counterfeit religious Utopia. Aspects of this have led some recent Muslim authors to see the Dajjal as a system – such as the New World Order - possibly culminating in a supreme individual. Some basis exists for seeing the Dajjal as a collective figure; there are hadiths predicting the coming of several Dajjals. Others predict his leading multitudes. Further, whilst the Qur’an makes much of ‘nations’ that are antagonistic to Islam, it does not mention the Dajjal, but the Hadith equates attacks upon pagan Arabia, Zoroastrian Persia, Christian Rome with an assault on the Dajjal, which may parallel the way the Gospels never use the term ‘antichrist’ or ‘Man of Lawlessness’ found in the Epistles, but perhaps equate the concept with that of ‘false prophets’ (see below). Moreover, some Muslim commentators have claimed the references to the Dajjal being ‘one-eyed’ and having ‘KFR’ (infidel) stamped on his forehead are metaphorical, and one article noted the following in regard to the US dollar: ‘On the U.S. one dollar bill there is a Masonic sign implicating Ad-Dajjal the Anti Christ, A pyramid with one eye… Underneath it is written “Novus Ordum Seclorum” which when ttranslated [sic] means: “New Secret Order”.’ Harun Yaha has taken up a common belief that the Antichrist will claim deity (which resembles 2 Thessalonians 2):

It is revealed in the hadith of our Prophet (saas) that the Dajjal will first claim “prophethood” and then “so-called divinity” (Allah is truly beyond what they ascribe to Him): 

When the Dajjal appears ... everyone will imagine him to be a genuine guide and will flock to his side, and he will continue his work in the same way when he comes to Kufa, and will lay claim to prophethood ... Rational people who see this will depart from him ... Later still, he will lay claim to divine status, and will even say “I am Allah.” (16) 

He will start by saying that he is a Prophet, but there will be no Prophet after me. Then he will say, “I am your Lord,” but you will never see your Lord until you die. (17) 

… They [the devils] will say to him [the Dajjal], “We are your helpers and under your command.” He will then say to them, “Hurry and tell people that I am their Allah…” (18) 

It should be noted that Mawdudi, in a statement typical of Islamist thinking on governance, equated claims to political sovereignty apart from implementation of the Shari’ah as shirk – ‘association’ with Allah, i.e. polytheism – ‘Anyone who claims the authority and power, independent of or in rebellion against God, to lay down the code of life for men in fact claims to be a god, and one who ascribes such power and authority to anyone associates him as a partner with God and commits shirk…’ Qutb proposed a similar understanding of non-Islamic rule, asserting that to set aside Islamic Law, and rule according to some other ideology is to arrogate to oneself the prerogative of deity:

The principle on which it (i.e. Jahiliyya) is based is opposition to God’s rule over the earth and to the major characteristic of the Divinity, namely sovereignty (al-hakimiyya): instead it invests men with this, and makes some of them gods for the others. This transference of sovereignty does not occur in the primitive manner of the pre-hegira jahiliyya, but by allowing man to unduly arrogate to himself the right to establish values, to legislate, to elaborate systems, and to take positions, all without regard to divine ethics...but rather in accordance with what He has expressly forbidden! Now, to oppose the rule of God in this way is to be the enemy of His faithful.

Therefore, those rulers not obeying God’s will in the constitutional and cultural spheres have apostatised from Islam. They are ‘false gods’ which must be dethroned, and the society purified. Khomeini implicitly stated the same:

…all non-Islamic systems of government are the systems of kufr since the ruler in each case is an instance of tāghÅ«t, and it is our duty to remove from the life of Muslim society all traces of kufr and destroy them… The social environment created by tāghÅ«t and shirk invariably brings about corruption…

It is possible therefore that the ‘deity’ that the Antichrist is said to claim may be more political than ontological. However, the two are not mutually exclusive. It is on this basis we can view the revolutionary actions of the Mahdi and the Messiah in Islam. The Mahdi comes to establish a true Islamic government and society; at his coming, he faces the crystallisation of anti-Islamic forces in the shape of the Dajjal, individual and system, uniting apostate Muslims with other non-Muslim elements. The hadiths, both Sunni and Shia, present their encounter as necessarily confrontational. In order to establish the ideal Islamic State and society, the Mahdi must fight the power of the Antichrist. It is clear from Shia hadiths that the Mahdi engages in jihad and judgement of God’s foes. It is at this point we should note that Shi‘ite theology recognises two distinctions in military jihad, with a qualification on the authority to call to military action: ‘There are two types of jihad: ibtida’i (to be begun by Muslims) and defa’i (defensive). In the view of Shi‘ite jurisprudence, ibteda’i jihad can only take shape under the direction of the Holy Prophet or one of the twelve immaculate and perfect Imams, otherwise it is forbidden.’ This is essential to recognise in the present context of concern about
Iran’s purported ‘nuclear ambitions’. Whatever the truth may be, it is irrelevant to Western independence and security, even if Iran amassed a nuclear arsenal twice the size of that of the USA. Iran, as the Islamic Republic, could not employ those weapons to conquer America – until the Mahdi returns and orders such. At best, Iran could only (theologically speaking) employ them if attacked by American nuclear bombs – i.e. in defensive jihad. Only the Twelfth Imam as the Mahdi can give the order for offensive jihad.

Moreover, whether the Dajjal is a system, an individual or both, he (and/or ‘it’) is not destroyed directly by the Mahdi. Rather, as both Sunni and Shia ahadith testify, this task belongs to the Messiah – Jesus, who slays the Antichrist with a lance. This immediately points to the supernatural character of the engagement. In Shi‘ite narrations, the coming of both the Mahdi and Jesus are miraculous, the former being accompanied by angels and visible in character, the latter, as we have seen, descending from
Paradise. The visibility (rather than secrecy) of the events and angelic presence accompanying them underline the supernatural character of the Mahdist/Messianic judgment and jihad, rather than ordinary human actions. Everyone in the world will be able to recognise these events. This being so, it can be seen that speculation about Iranian nuclear ambitions have proceeded without due attention to the character of the coming of the Mahdi and Jesus in Shia eschatology, the fact that the Mahdi alone can order offensive jihad, and the role of Jesus in the destruction of the Antichrist.
2. The Messiah

2.1 Son of David and Confrontational Judgment

In Christian theology, the Second Coming of Christ climaxes the ministry of Christ commenced in His First Coming. The term Cristov Christos is Greek for ‘Messiah’, meaning the ‘Anointed One’. In the Old Testament, Kings were anointed with oil, symbolising the supernatural unction of the Spirit of God. In 1 Samuel 24:10 the King is described as ‘the Anointed of the LORD’. Thus, a major function of the ministry of Christ is to rule as the legitimate Heir of King David – hence the Christological title, ‘Son of David’, cf. Matthew 22:42. As Christ/Son of David, Jesus brings the Reign of God (
Kingdom of God/Heaven) into the sphere of human history. A major aspect of this is confrontational judgment. This is not effected against human beings, but rather against the demonic realm. The classic example is Matthew 12:22ff, where Jesus exorcises a demon, causing onlookers to exclaim the question ‘can this be the Son of David?’ Jesus later in the discourse (v28) refers to this exorcism as a sign that the Reign of God has entered their midst: ‘But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.’ This is escalated by Jesus’ prediction of His crucifixion in John 12:31, which He presents as ‘regime change’ - through an assault upon the Devil – the Global Tyrant: ‘Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.’ Jesus reigns as King from the Cross, John 19:19, so we can say that the Crucifixion is the Messianic overthrow of the power of Satan.

The completion of this activity occurs at the Second Coming. Jesus returns as enthroned King to effect universal judgment – Matthew 25:31ff: ‘But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him…’ Whilst the wicked are sent to Hell, v46, the righteous receive the kingdom. Divine Justice is thereby enacted in its climactic form. The Second Coming miraculously ends the dominion of evil in the cosmos. The parallels with Islamic eschatology are that as with the ministries of the Mahdi and Jesus, the evil-doers are vanquished, and that a religious Utopia is established. The major differences, of course, are that no physical Sacred Violence is employed, and that the Biblical view concerns the
FinalState, whereas the Islamic presentation involves events immediately prior to this. 

2.2 The Antichrist 

The Antichrist is explicitly mentioned in the epistles of the Apostle John. In 1 John 2:18 we learn that the antichrist was a contemporary phenomenon, rather than one that was yet to come: ‘it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour’. It is clear from the subsequent verse that the term refers to a group of schismatic heretics that seceded from the Apostolic churches: ‘They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.’ The Apostle clearly regards the crux of heresy to be an adoptionist and docetic heresy, as evidenced by his comment in v22 ‘Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.’ The term Docetism derives from the Greek word dokein dokein, ‘to appear, seem’. This denied the genuine corporeal humanity of Christ, in a number of varying forms. For people with these beliefs ‘It was inconceivable that the divine Christ could have come “in the flesh” in any ultimately true sense.’ Kelly wrote that ‘the distinctive thesis which gave it its name …was that Christ’s manhood, and hence His sufferings, were unreal, phantasmal. Clearly its ultimate roots were Græco-Oriental assumptions about divine impassibility and the inherent impurity of matter.’

John fights docetic ideas by describing as ‘a deceiver and the antichrist’ one who denies that Jesus has come in the flesh, 2 John 7. Perhaps the most notorious Docetist, and certainly one of the earliest, was Cerinthus, a heretic in
Asia Minor towards the end of the first century. The Early Church Father Irenæus in his work Against Heresies, details what Cerinthus believed:

I. 26:1. … the world was not made by the primary God, but by a certain Power far separated from him… He represented Jesus as having not been born of a virgin, but as being the son of Joseph and Mary according to the ordinary course of human generation… after his baptism, Christ descended upon him in the form of a dove from the Supreme Ruler... But at last Christ departed from Jesus, and that then Jesus suffered and rose again, while Christ remained impassible, inasmuch as he was a spiritual being.

Some scholars have suggested that the first epistle and possibly even the Gospel of John were written to oppose the error of Cerinthus himself, but this is uncertain, and given that in 3 John 9 John shows no compunction about attacking Diotrophes by name, it may be unlikely that he would restrain himself here. We can see what is meant by denying that ‘Jesus is the Christ’ – not a denial of His Messiahship, as with Judaism, but rather a heterodox assertion that ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’ were two separate beings, one corporeal, the other wholly phantasmal who merely endued the former. The important point for our consideration is that the Apostle labels this docetic heresy as the Antichrist. Later, in 1 John 4:1-3, John identifies docetism with ‘false prophets’ and again the Antichrist, only this time, he states that the emergence of Antichrist had been foretold and expected (v3):

1. Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3. and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

There is nothing in the Gospel of John which immediately suggests itself as the source of this expectation. Two possibilities arise: firstly, oral tradition from John and/or other apostles, or secondly, a prediction by Jesus Himself. In Matthew 24:24, Jesus does speak of ‘false Christs’ - qeudocristoi (pseudochristoi) – ‘pseudo-Christs’. The Greek word anti can be translated ‘instead of’ as well as ‘against’, but it is unsure that this is the meaning here. However, the same verse links this concept with the simultaneous emergence of ‘false prophets’ qeudoprofhtai (pseudoprophÄ“tai). In 1 John 4:1-3 the same phrase pseudoprophÄ“tai appears, and they are equated with the Docetist Antichrist. In Matthew 24:24, Jesus warns that they will try to mislead ‘the elect’ i.e. Christians, and then in v25 He states ‘Behold, I have told you in advance’. This indicates that Jesus expected them to come in the lifetime of His disciples.

2.3 The Man of Lawlessness

In 2 Thessalonians 2:3, the Apostle Paul refers to incipient eschatological tragedies: ‘…the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction’. Traditionally, this figure has been equated with the Antichrist, although the term is never used by Paul. This identification is likely because of parallels with the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse and 1 John. The ‘apostasy’ is equated with the emergence of the ‘Man of Lawlessness’, which ties in with Jesus predicting that people would ‘fall away’, Matthew 24:10. Jesus also seemingly equates ‘false prophets’ with ‘lawlessness’ (’anomia anomia). We should not understand ‘lawlessness’ as referring to dysfunctional misconduct, but rather as aberrant theological beliefs. In Matthew 7:22-23 Jesus states that on the Last Day people will be damned who claimed to perform miracles in His name, but were actually guilty of ‘lawlessness’ (cf. 13:41). This ties in with the ‘miraculous’ activity of the Man of Lawlessness, 2 Thessalonians 2:9 (‘that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders’), and also with his being described as the ‘son of destruction’ (a term also used of Judas Iscariot, John 17:12), since he was destined for eschatological damnation. In Matthew
23:28 Jesus denounces the Pharisees as being inwardly characterised by ‘lawlessness’. The term also appears in Acts 2:23, where it refers to the Jews handing Jesus to the Romans for crucifixion. The Romans, as Gentiles, were ‘lawless’ – i.e. ‘Torah-less’; they did not have the revelation of God. We can understand the force of Jesus’ accusation against the Pharisees of being inwardly Torah-less – of turning their backs on God. Paul’s usage in his epistle probably suggests therefore the idea of ‘heresy’ and ‘apostasy’. In Matthew 24:11-12, the reference to the emergence of ‘false prophets’ who will ‘mislead many’ is followed by an observation of the intensification of ‘lawlessness’ – indicating that theological issues of heresy and apostasy are concerned. Hence, the Man of Lawlessness is the Heretic-Apostate.

Just as the Antichrist would seem to be a generic rather than individual term, so is this figure. In Paul’s time (c. AD 51), the full blown apostasy was still incipient (v7 ‘For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work…’), but by the time of John’s epistle (suggested dates vary from shortly before AD 70 to 80-85), the Man of Lawlessness/Antichrist has been ‘revealed’ or ‘manifested’ – ’apokaluptw apokaluptō (cf. Luke
17:30). At Paul’s time of writing something was ‘restraining’ the emergence of full-blown Apostasy (v7 ‘only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way’). The Thessalonians knew its identity, but we do not (v6. ‘And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed’).

Suggestions include the
Roman Empire, the Holy Spirit, or the proclamation of the gospel. Space does not allow for detailed investigation, but the last-mentioned is most likely; in Matthew 24: 13, immediately following the discourse on apostasy, we are told that the proclamation of the gospel in the ‘whole world’ (which in context, probably means ‘Roman world’, cf. the restrictive use in Luke 2:1) is the terminus for the eschatological troubles. It should be noted that Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles, and in Romans 15:18 claims to have brought in the Obedience of the Gentiles (cf. also 16:26) through his ministry. Paul goes on to state that he has ministered from Jerusalem to Illyricum, v19, and from what he says in both v19 and v23, it seems that he has now concluded his foundational ministry - he has completed the ‘circle’, kuklov kuklos, v19. Since Paul planned to visit Rome prior to Spain, 15:24, and after he visited Jerusalem, v25, it follows that the ‘fulness (plhrwma) of the Gentiles’ (11:25), which in the light of the usage of the word in 13:10, referring to the fulfilment of the moral law, has come in. In this restricted sense, the gospel had been preached to ‘the whole world’. We should then link this with Acts 20:28-30, where Paul warns the Ephesian believers about false, heretical-apostate prophets:

29. ‘I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30. and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them...’

‘Wolves’ is an appellation ascribed to false prophets in Matthew
7:15, and in Revelation 2:1ff, we read that the Ephesus church had to contend with ‘false apostles’. It would seem therefore, that the departure of Paul – whether in terms of moving on or death – was the point when heretic-apostates would come to full force. It might be the case, therefore, that Paul himself – in terms of his apostolic mission – was the restraining influence.

2.4 The Destruction of the Man of awlessness/Antichrist

The significance for Muslims of this Christian expectation is that according to the particular brand of prophetic interpretation held by most Christian Zionists, namely Premillennial Dispensationalism, it is essential to build a Third Jewish Temple, with the implication at least that this will be on the site of the Al-Aqsa complex. This is because, in a rather ironic parallel to the Islamic belief about the Second Coming of Christ, Jesus is held to minister in the new
Temple. This is based on a misreading of Ezekiel 47:1ff which ignores the fact that Jesus is presented as the fulfilment of this eschatological expectation in John 7:37-39 which is best rendered thus: ‘If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink, the one who believes in me. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of His [i.e. Christ’s] heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Verse 39 equates this with the Spirit. In the aforementioned text and in 4:10, 14, Jesus is the Giver of the Water of Life. He is the Temple of which Ezekiel prophesied. This should be compared to John 1:14 - the Word became flesh and dwelt - ‘tabernacled’ (skhnow skénoó) among us, and the verse speaks of ‘seeing His glory’, another temple category; Jesus also describes Himself as the Temple in 2:19-22 (Paul presents the Church as the Temple in Ephesians 2:20-22). Moreover, a literal reading of Ezekiel 47:1ff would require Jesus to perform sacrifices, whereas a central tenet of New Testament theology is that Jesus is the once-for-all ultimate sacrifice (John 19:30; Hebrews 7:27).

The other reason that Dispensationalists await the Third Temple is because they take 2 Thessalonians 2:4 very literally (‘who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God’). They expect a personal Antichrist to proclaim himself as divine in the
Temple. However, Paul is alluding to Daniel 11, which refers to the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes (reigned 175-163 BC), who desecrated the Temple, and who according to Daniel’s prophecy in vs. 36-37 ‘will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will speak monstrous things against the God of gods… he will magnify himself above them all.’ Antiochus regarded himself as Zeus Manifest, and tried to forcibly Hellenise/paganise the Jews. This involved attacking the Torah, which had been state law in Judaea since the decree of Artaxerxes in 458 BC. Hence, Antiochus was ‘Torah-less’ in a very hostile way. Many Jews went along with him – i.e. apostatised (v32).

The figure in 2 Thessalonians symbolically employs this tradition. The Apostasy arises from within the ranks of the Church, and by turning its back on divine revelation as transmitted by the Apostles, they became ‘Torah-less’. In v10 it speaks of such people rejecting ‘the truth’, with v11-12 stating that God will send them a ‘deluding influence so that they will believe what is false’ and be judged on that basis. This resembles Romans 1:24-25, where people ‘exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature’, and of God ‘giving them over’ to do so. This strengthens the idea that the Lawless One is a generic representation. Note also that in 1 John 3:4 it states that ‘sin is lawlessness’.

The important point for our consideration is the role of ‘sacred violence’ by Jesus. We find it is identical with eschatological justice – that it is accomplished by the Second Coming. The Man of Lawlessness is destroyed by the Return of Jesus: the Lord will slay him ‘with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming’, v8. At first glance this presents a parallel with Islamic eschatology – Jesus slaying the Antichrist. However, there are important differences. We do not find any idea of physical Sacred Violence in the New Testament. Jesus rejected physical force against His captors in
Gethsemane, Matthew 26:52, noting that He could call on angelic legions if He wished. We also find that Christian Sacred Violence is not directed against human beings, but is of a spiritual nature, aimed at the demonic realm, Ephesians 6:12. The text in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 reflects Isaiah 11:4 where it is predicted that the Messianic ‘Branch’ will ‘strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.’ This is a general prediction of judgment upon the unrighteous, rather than upon an individual. We have seen that at His Return, Jesus sits as King to dispense Eschatological Justice. In 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, it states that at the Second Coming Jesus will deal out ‘retribution’ to infidels, v8, who will ‘pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power’, v9. The similarity of language and theme demonstrate that the ‘slaying’ is metaphorical and spiritual – in other words, the Torah-less Apostates will be damned in Hell. In New Testament terms, Eschatological Justice is the ultimate Sacred Violence.


It can be seen from this paper that there both surprising parallels and important differences between the role of the Mahdi (and Jesus) in Islam, and that of Jesus in the Bible. The Mahdi is an eschatological ruler, and so is Jesus in Christian theology. In both Islamic and Christian theology Jesus destroys the Antichrist, although the nature of Sacred Violence differs. The Mahdi and Jesus (the latter in both Islamic and Christian traditions) engages in Eschatological Judgment of some kind against the unbelieving or rebellious. Of course, the major difference is that in Shi‘ite Islam the principal role of Jesus seems to be as the military agent of the Mahdi’s rule, and in Sunni Islam He appears to be the Mahdi’s successor as ruler, reigning for forty years, whereas in Christian eschatology Jesus is the central figure in governance, sacral violence and eschatological judgment, with no temporal limitation to His position as Messianic King.

The valuable points of this study for the present time are that a proper understanding of the role of the Mahdi in Shi‘ism in relation to Offensive Jihad will help allay Western fears about purported Iranian nuclear ambitions, as indeed an accurate understanding of role of the Antichrist regarding the Jerusalem Temple as revealed in the New Testament can assure Muslims that there is no threat from Evangelical Christians to the Al-Aqsa holy site based on a proper Biblical exegesis of the relevant texts. In this respect, a more popular knowledge of the doctrines of the Mahdi in Islam and the Second Coming of Jesus in Christianity can aid improved relations between the Western and Islamic civilisations, and even help to prevent war. 


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