An increasingly popular view is that the Antichrist will be an Assyrian. This conclusion is arrived at by a citing few passages in Isaiah, primarily Isaiah 10, and one passage in the book of Micah. I want to look closely at these passages, as well as what the proponents of this view say about them, to show you why I think this view is artificially contrived.
Let’s first look at the passages used to support the Assyrian Antichrist view from the book of Isaiah. The context of Isaiah is extremely important for our discussion, so I will spend a few moments describing the issues the prophet was dealing with and writing about in his day.
Isaiah wrote when Israel was being threatened with destruction from Assyria. Isaiah warns that the Assyrian king, whom the prophet occasionally refers to as “the Assyrian,” will capture and carry off the ten northern tribes in addition to many cities in the Southern Kingdom, but the city of Jerusalem would not fall to the Assyrians and God would come to His people’s aid. All of this happens within the book of Isaiah: The Assyrians do indeed conquer the Northern Kingdom, as well as many cities in the Southern Kingdom. The Assyrian king Sennacherib even sets up a siege of the city of Jerusalem. But, as promised, God protects the city by sending an angel who destroys 185,000 Assyrian soldiers surrounding the city and causes the rest of the army to flee, never to threaten Israel again.
In addition to relating this judgment of Assyria, Isaiah also tells us that, later, Sennacherib is killed by his own sons. The Assyrian Empire goes into sharp decline shortly after that and is eventually conquered by Neo-Babylon. The rest of the book of Isaiah is focused on warning Judah, in the Southern Kingdom, that although it was spared from the Assyrians, it would in fact be captured by the empire that would come after the Assyrians—the Babylonians.
In Mideast Beast, Joel Richardson, repeatedly tells his readers that the book of Isaiah says the Messiah will defeat “the Assyrian”:
“God’s promise was that a military leader would be born from the line of David who would deliver all of God’s people from ‘the Assyrian.’ The problem, however, is that this never occurred in history.”
“This passage declares that the Messiah will deliver Israel from the Assyrian.”
“So despite the numerous references throughout Isaiah to the Messiah destroying the king of Assyria in the land of Israel, historically this deliverance never occurred.”
Clearly Richardson believes there are prophecies in the book of Isaiah that say the Messiah will defeat “the Assyrian,” and since this obviously has never happened, he believes these passages must refer to the end times and that the references to the Assyrian must apply to the Antichrist, as well as to the Assyrian king Sennacherib.
If there were such prophecies in Isaiah stating that the Messiah would defeat the Assyrian, I would have to agree with Richardson that there must be an Assyrian component to the Antichrist. But, as we will see, there isn’t a single verse in all of Isaiah that says the Messiah will defeat the Assyrian. Richardson and others come to this conclusion in an extremely roundabout way.
The first thing Richardson does to explain what he means by saying the Messiah is said to destroy the Assyrian is point to Isaiah 7:14–20.He uses this passage to establish that there is a dual prophecy in certain sections of Isaiah that deal with the Assyrian. That passage begins with words that are familiar to Christians as partially a prophecy of Jesus’ birth. But, as Richardson correctly points out, in the original context, these words are also a prophecy of a child in Isaiah’s day that was to be a sign that the Assyrians were going to destroy much of Israel.
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings. The Lord will bring the king of Assyria upon you and your people and your father’s house— days that have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah.” (Isaiah 7:14–20)
The idea that this prophecy, in addition to being about the birth of Jesus, is also about a child in Isaiah’s day who was to be a sign of Israel’s impending destruction is more clearly described in the next chapter.
“For before the child knows how to cry out, ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.” (Isaiah 8:4)
Richardson wants to apply all of this prophecy, not just the virgin birth idea (7:14), to the Messiah in order to have a basis for saying that the Messiah will have some application to the Assyrian. He would not deny that the passage was fulfilled historically, but he would also say that it is a prophecy of future events as well. There are a number of problems with this, however. The first is even if we allowed that every word of this prophecy was to be applied to Jesus in the end times, it is still not saying anything about the child defeating the Assyrian. In fact, it is quite clearly saying the opposite, that the Assyrian Empire will be victorious over the northern tribes. The child in this prophecy is doing nothing but acting as a sign that the destruction of Israel is imminent. There isn’t a single aspect of this prophecy that gives the reader the idea that the child is to defeat the Assyrians. Yet, Richardson says of this passage:
“The fuller context is the coming of the Messiah to break the Assyrian.”
How can a prophecy that a child will be a sign of the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians be evidence that the child will destroy the Assyrians? The point of this passage is that the Assyrian armies are a judgment from God and they will be victorious, not defeated.
Setting aside the fact that this verse is saying the opposite of what Richardson says it is saying, let’s look at the limits of the prophecy of the virgin birth in verse 14, since that seems to be the reason Richardson is suggesting it is okay to treat this entire section as a prophecy of the end times.
It is notable that to even make this erroneous claim Richardson must assert that most of the prophecy in Isaiah 7 is about Jesus, not just the virgin birth idea, which in itself is a problematic claim. The problem with assuming the rest of the prophecy is about Jesus is that the destruction of the northern tribes of Israel was to occur before this child was able to talk (Isaiah 8:4). Obviously, there is danger in applying too much of this prophecy to Jesus because there is nothing even remotely close to a fulfillment of this in the days after Jesus’ birth. There was no attack by the long-dead Assyrian Empire on the northern tribes before He was able to talk. Such a preposterous notion forces us to recognize what scholars have long known: The prophecy of the virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14, like so many other prophecies of the Messiah that have an original context, have a limit as to how much of that context we can apply to Jesus.
For example, Matthew 2:14–15 states that when Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus came back to Israel from Egypt, where they had fled to escape Herod, it was a fulfillment of Hosea 11:1:
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son.” (Hosea 11:1)
Here, the original context is speaking about Israel, but Matthew tells us it is also a picture of Jesus. We know to stop short at that verse and not apply the rest of Hosea 11 to Jesus, because the next verse begins:
“As they called them, So they went from them; They sacrificed to the Baals, And burned incense to carved images.” (Hosea 11:2).
Unless we are willing to say that Jesus made sacrifices to Baal, we would have to admit that there is a limit to how much of a messianic prophecy found in another context can apply to Jesus.
To conclude my main point, there is no mention of the Messiah defeating the Assyrian in Isaiah 7–8. It doesn’t matter if you think that some or all of this prophecy has a future fulfillment. The fact is that the child in this prophecy does not defeat the Assyrian.
Let’s move on to other evidence Richardson offers to support this most important claim that the Messiah is said to defeat the Assyrian. He quotes an obvious messianic prophecy in Isaiah 9:
“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.…For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:1–7)
Richardson writes the following about this prophecy:
“This passage declares that the Messiah will deliver Israel from the Assyrian in the same manner that Gideon in Judges 8 delivered Israel from the Midianite armies.”
That’s quite a claim! Is this really telling us that Jesus will destroy the Assyrian? There is obviously no mention of the Assyrian or even Assyria in this passage, so how is Richardson coming to this conclusion?
Before I answer that, let’s consider this passage in context. As I have pointed out, it was pretty horrible news that the prophet Isaiah was told to deliver. God asked him to tell Israel that He was mad at them and He was going to send the Assyrians to wipe out the Northern Kingdom. The prophecy we just read tells of a future Israel in which the Messiah will rule with strength and justice. There will be no more conquering of Israel by its enemies when the Messiah begins His reign. This prophecy is clearly meant to be an encouragement to Israel in light of the fact that God is saying through Isaiah that it is about to be conquered.
Richardson is essentially saying since this prophecy about hope for a future peace comes in close proximity to other chapters warning of Israel’s destruction by Assyria, that this is a prophecy of the Messiah defeating Assyria when He comes, despite no mention whatsoever of the Messiah defeating Assyria. This same method of interpreting Scripture is applied to Isaiah 10 in order to come to the Assyrian Antichrist view. Here is how another author describes the basis for the idea that the Antichrist will be an Assyrian based on Isaiah 10:
“But there is a catch! Immediately after the Assyrian invades Israel in Isaiah chapter 10 we are introduced to the Messiah on earth! [in the next chapter] That is to say, Jesus Christ sets up his everlasting throne in Jerusalem. In other words this passage also predicts a future event. The Assyrian will once again invade Israel, and then Jesus Christ will come back to earth to defeat the Assyrian and to rule forever!”1
We can see from these words that the mere proximity of a chapter about the Assyrian to another chapter about the messianic kingdom is proof to him that the Messiah will destroy the Assyrian, despite no evidence in the text to support such a scenario. This fits the definition of eisegesis (reading one’s own ideas into the text). There is simply no mention of the Messiah defeating the Assyrian in Isaiah 9:1–7.
If we were to apply this method of interpretation to other passages, we would have many contradictory proof texts for the origin of the Antichrist in Scripture. For example, later on in the book of Isaiah, when Assyria is out of the picture and Babylon is the main threat, we find similar prophecies of hope about the future messianic kingdom that directly follow warnings of Judah’s destruction by the king of Babylon. If we applied Richardson’s view here, we would have to assume that Antichrist would be Babylonian. The same thing can be done to “prove” the Antichrist will be Egyptian. Warnings of impending destruction followed by prophecies of the redemption of Israel are among the most common motifs in the Bible. Unless the text offers an actual reason for us to think we are to apply wholesale the immediate context of one chapter to the prophecy of the Millennium that follows, we shouldn’t do it unless we don’t mind the myriad contradictions it creates.
Richardson also appeals to Isaiah 10 to try to show evidence of the Messiah defeating the Assyrian. In this chapter, God tells His people that after He has used Sennacherib to destroy the Northern Kingdom and humble those in Jerusalem with famine, He will destroy Sennacherib.
“Then, after the Lord has finished His redeeming work of chastisement toward His people. He will punish the Assyrian: ‘When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, “I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.”’” (Isaiah 10:12.
Twenty-six chapters later, the book of Isaiah gives us a picture of this judgment of the Assyrian:
“Then the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses all dead. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went away, returned home, and remained at Nineveh. Now it came to pass, as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god that his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer struck him down with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat. Then Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.” (Isaiah 37: 36–38)
Proponents of the Assyrian Antichrist view try to make the case that this judgment of Assyria is not yet complete. But, from a Biblical perspective, there is no doubt that the destruction of the 185,000 Assyrian soldiers and the murder of Sennacherib by his sons, as well as the eventual desolation of the Assyrian Empire, are considered God’s judgment against “the Assyrian” because Jeremiah refers to God’s judgment of the Assyrian as a past-tense event in his day:
“Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will punish the king of Babylon and his land, As I have punished the king of Assyria.’” (Jeremiah 50:18)
Richardson makes the case that, despite Jeremiah and Ezekiel2 saying the judgment of the king of Assyria prophesied in Isaiah 10 is complete, it can’t be fulfilled because Isaiah 14 says:
“I will break the Assyrian in My land, And on My mountains tread him underfoot. Then his yoke shall be removed from them, and his burden removed from their shoulders.” (Isaiah 14:25)
He says that since Sennacherib wasn’t killed in Israel, but back home in Assyria by his sons, there must be a future fulfillment in which some other Assyrian man is killed, but this time in Jerusalem.
This is answered with a simple study of the grammar of the passage. This is not a reference to the king of Assyria being “broken,” but rather to the fact that the “burden” of the Assyrian yoke was forever broken on the day that God killed 185,000 Assyrians and they left Israel for good.
The NET Bible translates the passage this way:
“I will break Assyria in my land, I will trample them underfoot on my hills. Their yoke will be removed from my people, the burden will be lifted from their shoulders.” (Isaiah 14:25, emphasis added)
The footnotes in the NET Bible explain that the pronouns are collective singular, meaning they likely refer to the nation and not the king. The actual Hebrew word sometimes translated “the Assyrian” is simply Ashshuwr, which is ambiguous because it can mean Assyria or Assyrian. Because of the collective singular pronouns, as well as the context which suggests this prophecy is about the nations yoke, or burden, being removed, the most likely translation of Ashshuwr here is Assyria, not Assyrian
Since the Assyrian yoke was in fact destroyed on the “mountains of Israel” when the angel destroyed the Assyrian troops surrounding Jerusalem, this is not a reason to deny that God has fulfilled His judgment on the Assyrian nation. It should also be noted that the prophecies of Assyria’s past-tense judgment are spoken of in Ezekiel 31: 3–17, which reiterates the very elements described in Isaiah 10, further enforcing the idea that the Bible considers this particular judgment having been fulfilled when God destroyed the Assyrian yoke forever by killing 185,000 soldiers in Israel and forcing the Assyrians to abandon military actions against Israel for good.
Micah 5:5 provides the best hope for anyone wanting to say the Antichrist is an Assyrian. But, as I plan to show, it is a false hope. It is no surprise that Micah mentions “the Assyrian,” since he wrote at the exact same time as Isaiah, during the period when Assyria was threatening Israel. Sennacherib was public enemy number one in Micah’s day, and this fact is evident throughout his writings. The passage in question is another prophecy of the Millennium, encouragement to the people of Israel that one day they would not have to deal with being continually conquered and the Messiah would rule Israel with peace and justice. The difference between this passage and the others we looked at in Isaiah is that Micah actually mentions the phrase “the Assyrian” within the millennial context. In other words, the phrase “the Assyrian” is not just near a chapter about the Messiah; it’s actually in the same chapter and context.
The passage reads as follows:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting. Therefore He shall give them up, Until the time that she who is in labor has given birth; Then the remnant of His brethren Shall return to the children of Israel. And He shall stand and feed His flock In the strength of the Lord, In the majesty of the name of the Lord His God; And they shall abide, For now He shall be great To the ends of the earth; And this One shall be peace. When the Assyrian comes into our land, And when he treads in our palaces, Then we will raise against him Seven shepherds and eight princely men. They shall waste with the sword the land of Assyria, And the land of Nimrod at its entrances; Thus He shall deliver us from the Assyrian, When he comes into our land And when he treads within our borders.” (Micah 5:2–9)
The Assyrian Antichrist proponents would say the fact that Micah mentioned the Assyrian in the context of the Millennium is clearly proof that Messiah will defeat “the Assyrian” in the end times and the Antichrist is an Assyrian. However, there are quite a few problems with this interpretation.
The first problem for this theory is that it is almost certainly not Micah’s intention to give a prophecy of a future attack by an Assyrian in the Millennium. Rather, he is essentially saying, “Yes, it’s really terrible for us right now, being attacked by the Assyrians, but keep in mind that when the Messiah comes, everything will be different, and should the Assyrians try to invade our land at that time, we would prevail over them.” This interpretation is not wishful thinking on my part. The NET Bible, as well as other Bible translations of this passage, highlights Micah’s hypothetical intention:
“He will give us peace. Should the Assyrians try to invade our land and attempt to set foot in our fortresses, we will send against them seven shepherd-rulers, make that eight commanders. They will rule the land of Assyria with the sword, the land of Nimrod with a drawn sword. Our king will rescue us from the Assyrians should they attempt to invade our land and try to set foot in our territory.” (Micah 5:5–6, 49 NET, emphasis added)
The reason the NET Bible and others translate this as a hypothetical scenario is because each of the instances in question are initiated by the Hebrew particle (ki).
This particle has many different uses. It can be related to time, such as when, as in “when the Assyrian”; or it can be conditional, as in “if the Assyrian.” The choice depends completely on context and the translator’s exegesis. In this case at least one contextual reason to suggest the particle should be translated in its conditional form—as it is 170 other times in the Old Testament—is because of the next problem we will look at, the theological impossibility of putting an Assyrian threat in the middle of the millennial reign when Jesus is ruling with strength and power.
Micah 5:5 is most likely a kind of boast, not a prophecy. It is a hypothetical example to illustrate the security that Israel will finally have in the days of Messiah’s millennial rule. The reason Micah uses the Assyrians as an example of people who wouldn’t be able to attack Israel when the Messiah comes is tied to the reason this message of hope was given in the first place. The people of Israel were being so terribly destroyed by the Assyrians in Micah’s day, it seemed that the promises of God would never come true. This is like saying, “Yeah, the Assyrians are hurting us now, but I’d like to see them try this when the Messiah finally rules Israel.”
The second problem with this theory is that this is clearly a reference to events within the millennial reign itself. Not just before the millennial reign, or after, but during the 1000-year period, which would preclude this having anything to do with the Antichrist who is thrown into the lake of fire before the Millennium begins, never to come out again (Revelation 19:20; 20:10). Since the Antichrist’s destruction occurs before the Millennium begins, it is impossible for this to refer to the Antichrist. By contrast, Satan is thrown into the “bottomless pit” at the beginning of the Millennium and is let out at the end for one last deception, in which he gathers people and nations to march on the beloved city in a very unsuccessful campaign. After that, Satan is thrown into the lake of fire, the place where the Antichrist has apparently been the whole time (Revelation 20:1– 10; 19:20). If we absolutely had to link the reference to an Assyrian in Micah 5:5 to a future event, we would be limited to it being a reference to Satan or one of the people he recruits to march on Jerusalem at the end of the Millennium. There is no theological scenario that allows for the Antichrist to cause problems during the Millennium; therefore, there is no possibility that the Assyrian in Micah 5:5 refers to the Antichrist.
In conclusion on this point, the references to the “Assyrian” in Isaiah are clearly referring to the Assyrian king of the day, most notably Sennacherib. There is no reason for anything said about him to require a double fulfillment in the last days, since all the things God said He would do to Sennacherib were accomplished within the book of Isaiah and the later prophets testify that his judgment is complete. In the case of Micah 5:5 the references are almost certainly to be seen as a hypothetical scenario, based on the grammar and context. Even if it isn’t, the references still can’t be about the Antichrist because the Antichrist will be in the Lake of Fire during the events in Micah 5:5.