Jumble sales of the apocalypse: Apocalyptic baddies
Simon Jenkins wrestles with apocalyptic baddies
If purgatory gives its inmates time off for reunion get togethers, then one party would easily scoop the prize for the hereafter’s most eccentric celebrity guest list. Among the partygoers would be Putin and Gorbachev doing some dad-dancing with Ronald Reagan and JFK. Pope John Paul II would be sharing nachos with Martin Luther. Mussolini, Hitler and Saddam would be fighting the Emperor Nero for the last cocktail sausage. And milling about would be Elvis, Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton and Santa Claus, discovering what it is they have in common. They’ve all been identified at different times as the Antichrist.
The back end of the Bible has so many apocalyptic baddies, it’s like a Bond movie with too many people stroking white cats. There’s the beast, the whore of Babylon, the false prophet, and the four riders of the apocalypse, just for starters. But the villain who out-villains them all is the antichrist – who leads the whole world astray through vanity, lies and recklessness, until it all comes crashing down. You’d only have to add a bloated orange face, a comb-over blonde toupe, a pair of unfeasibly tiny hands and a mania for reckless tweeting, for the Bible to be talking about Donald Trump. And therein lies the problem.
For 2,000 years, Christians who love the book of Revelation a bit too much have been eager to claim the Donald Trumps of their times as the antichrist. Clearly, none of these thousands of predictions have been right, or we’d all now be in heaven asking each other: ‘How was the rapture for you?’ And yet, despite this colossal failure rate, the predictions of the end-timers shamelessly keep on coming.
One website that’s recently gone quiet is called: ‘Could 2015 Be the Year the Identity of the Antichrist is Revealed?’ (Answer: Er, no.) It followed all the other websites that discreetly shut up shop after 1 January 2000, when the Y2K computer bug failed to make aircraft drop from the sky and the antichrist they had predicted didn’t show up. Cicero, the Roman politician, once quipped: ‘It seems to me that no soothsayer should be able to look at another soothsayer without laughing.’
If you have a sense of humour about the antics of the prophecy hunters, then the funniest aspect of it all has to be antichrist bingo. As is well known, the antichrist’s favourite number is 666. Getting your antichrist candidate’s name to add up to 666 is the purpose of the game and, gloriously, you can do it by fair means or foul. Take Michael Stifel, a 16th-century mathematician, who wanted to prove that Pope Leo X was the evil one. He translated ‘Leo X’ into Latin (LEO DECIMVS) and extracted the letters which also serve as Roman numerals: MDCLVI. Sadly, this added up to 1656. What to do? After some head-scratching, Stifel borrowed the ‘X’ from ‘Leo X’, took off the ‘M’ (since ‘M’ is for ‘mystery’) which got him to DCLXVI. Bingo!
Aside from the popes, who have been in the antichrist pillory so many times since the Reformation that they might as well make the word an official title, US presidents are a perennial favourite. And that’s where Trump comes in. He’s currently one of the top antichrists because his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is part owner of a New York skyscraper whose address is 666 Fifth Avenue. Trump was also elected president in 2016, which is the number you get when you add 666 + 666 + 666 + 6+6+6. Somehow, it seems fitting that the Orange One is winning at antichrist bingo with the help of some creative accounting.
Reportedly, Kushner’s company is trying to change the skyscraper’s address to 660, to avoid the antichrist connotation. It’s like buildings which skip having a 13th floor, and shows how this bizarre area of end-time theology is ruled by paranoia and superstition.
The Revd Ian Paisley – now sadly passed on, but once a keen player of antichrist bingo himself – was taking his seat as an MEP in the spanking new European Parliament chamber in 1999 when he noticed something odd. ‘One seat remains unallocated and unoccupied,’ he said. ‘The number of that seat is 666. The antichrist’s seat will be occupied!’ Today, seat 666 in Brussels belongs to Davor Škrlec, a Croatian electrical engineer and liberal politician, who doesn’t look set on world domination at the moment.
I couldn’t resist putting Ian Paisley’s own name through an online antichrist calculator, just to see what came out. Unbelievably, it adds up to 666. That must surely mean that his invitation to the most eccentric party in purgatory is already in the mail.
Simon Jenkins is Editor of shipoffools.com. His book, Jumble Sales of the Apocalypse, was published in March by SPCK at £9.99. Reform readers can get the book for a discounted rate (£8.99) via this URC Shop link: http://bit.ly/2oXP4IM
This article was published in the July/August 2017 edition of Reform