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Was Nero the Antichrist?

was Nero the Antichrist

Nero, the fifth emperor of Rome, who ruled from AD 54 until AD 68, is a common target in attempts to identify the Antichrist or the beast of Revelation. Identifying Nero as the Antichrist is common among those who take the preterist position of biblical prophecy. There are at least two reasons some label Nero as the Antichrist.

First, Nero was a brutal and tyrannical persecutor of Christians. Nero blamed Christians for a fire that broke out in Rome, a fire for which he was perhaps responsible. He then used the fire as a pretext for an intense persecution of those who held to the Christian faith in and around Rome. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote, “Covered with the skins of beasts, [Christians] were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as nightly illumination when daylight had expired” (The Annals, trans. by Brodribb, W. J., 15.44). Christian tradition is that the apostles Peter and Paul were both executed at the order of Nero. So, without a doubt, Nero was anti-Christian and exhibited some of the hatred of God that the Antichrist will possess.

Second, some identify Nero as the Antichrist because of Revelation 13:18, which says, “This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.” In attempts to decipher the number 666, some turn to gematria, a type of numerology in which letters are assigned a numerical value. Taking a Hebrew transliteration of the name and title Nero Caesar, assigning a particular numerical value to each letter, and adding the values, one ends up with 666. Others take more creative routes through Aramaic or Greek gematria and similarly arrive at 666, using various combinations of Nero’s names and titles. While the mathematics can be fascinating, the book of Revelation does not specifically say how 666 identifies the Antichrist. To use a complicated methodology to arrive at 666 does not seem trustworthy.

There are also at least three reasons to reject the idea that Nero was the Antichrist. First, the Bible describes the Antichrist being defeated at the second coming of Jesus Christ (Revelation 19:11–21). Nero died by suicide.

Second, while some date the writing of Revelation to the reign of Nero, the majority of Christian scholars and virtually all of early Christian literature place the writing of Revelation during the reign of Domitian, approximately 30 years after Nero’s death. Identifying Nero as the Antichrist requires denying how the book of Revelation says the reign of the Antichrist will end and necessitates a date of authorship that most Bible scholars and early Christian literature reject.

Third, the book of Revelation puts the defeat of the Antichrist near the end of the prophetic calendar. In the book of Revelation, the Antichrist is defeated at the second coming of Jesus Christ and cast into the lake of fire shortly before the establishment of the millennial reign of Christ (Revelation 19:11—20:6). The only way to make Nero fit as the Antichrist is to allegorize the second coming and the millennium and to remove any semblance of chronology from much of the book of Revelation. That is not the proper way to understand the book of Revelation.

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Was Nero the Antichrist?
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This page last updated: May 3, 2023