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Chapter 2

Who is the Antichrist? 

 

ECCLESIASTICAL turmoil was everywhere. The new pope, Urban VI, returned the seat of the Papacy to Rome after seventy years of exile in Avignon, France. But many of the cardinals rebelled against Urban’s strict discipline. They returned to Avignon and crowned the bishop of Geneva, Robert of Cambray, as Pope Clement VII. Now there were two popes. That year was 1378. For thirty-one years, both Rome and Avignon continued to elect popes; each claiming to be the vicar of Christ; each claiming to be the infallible successor to Peter; each claiming that the other was the antichrist.

In England, a powerful priest who was the rector of Lutterworth, John Wycliffe, agreed with both of them.

The fiend no longer reigns in one, but in two priests that men may the more easily overcome them both in Christ’s name. Now is antichrist divided, and one part fights against the other. (Emma H. Adams, John Wycliffe, Pacific Press Publishing Association, Oakland, 1890)

Wycliffe’s stand against papal taxation would have led him to the stake if it were not for the powerful friendship of English peers, and even the royal court; however, two great Moravian Reformers, John Huss and Jerome of Prague were burned at the stake in Bohemia. They were greatly influenced by Wycliffe.

Identification of the Papacy as the antichrist became the constant theme of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther believed that the Papacy, not an individual pope, was the antichrist. These sentiments were shared by Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, and other Reformers. The following are the comments of just a few of the Reformers. The agreement of their views is striking.

1. Martin Luther:

There sits the man, of whom the apostle wrote [2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4], that will oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God. That man of sin to be revealed, the son of perdition . . . He suppresses the law of God and exalts his commandments above the commandments of God. (LeRoy Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2, p. 281)

We here are of the conviction that the Papacy is the seat of the true and real antichrist. (Ibid., p. 256)

2. John Calvin:

I deny him to be the vicar of Christ. . . . He is antichrist—I deny him to be head of the church. (John Calvin Tracts, vol. 1, pp. 219, 220)

3. John Knox:

That tyranny which the pope himself has for so many ages exercised over the church, the very antichrist and son of perdition, of whom Paul speaks. (The Zurich Letters, p. 199)

4. Philipp Melanchthon:

It is most manifest, and true without any doubt, that the Roman pontiff, with his whole order and kingdom, is very antichrist. . . . Likewise, in 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul clearly says the man of sin will rule in the church by exalting himself above the worship of God. (LeRoy Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2, pp. 296–9)

5. Sir Isaac Newton:

But it [the Papacy] was a kingdom of a different kind from the other ten kingdoms [referred to in Daniel 7:7, 8]. . . . And such a seer, prophet, and king is the Church of Rome [referring to the little horn of Daniel 7]. (Sir Isaac Newton, Observations on the Prophecies, p. 75)

6. John Wesley:

Romish Papacy, he is, in an emphatical sense, the man of sin. (John Wesley, Antichrist and His Ten Kingdoms, p. 110.)

7. Samuel Lee (a seventeenth-century Rhode Island minister):

It is agreed among all main lines of the English Church that the Roman pontiff is the antichrist. (Samuel Lee, The Cutting Off of Antichrist, p. 1)

The statement from the Westminster Confession of Faith of the Church of England, which was later used by the Presbyterians, is significant:

There is no other head of the church but the Lord Jesus Christ, nor can the pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof, but is that antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition that exalteth himself in the church against Christ and all that is called God. (The Westminster Confession of Faith, Section 6, chapter 25)

The Helvetic Convention of Switzerland mentions the Papacy as the predicted antichrist. The Lutheran statement, contained in the Smalkald articles, refers to the pope as the very antichrist who exalts himself and opposes Christ. The 1680 New England Confession of Faith stated that Jesus Christ is the head of the church, and not the pope of Rome, who was identified as the antichrist and the son of perdition.

The identification of the Papacy as the antichrist was the focal point of the Reformation.

These ideas became the dynamic force which drove Luther [and the other Reformers] on in his contest with the Papacy. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1962 edition, vol. 2, p. 61)

After the initial thrust of the Reformation, the identification of the Papacy as the antichrist became less common; however, it was still strong among Protestants of almost all denominations until about the end of the nineteenth century. Today, in the environment of the ecumenical movement, it has certainly become most unpopular to identify the Papacy as the antichrist. The majority of Christians prefer to ignore the issue, believing it to be of little importance in today’s modern society.

The concept of the antichrist goes far back in history. From the time of the sixth century b.c., when Daniel prophesied about the apostate power that is called the little horn (see Daniel 7:8–11, 24–26; 8:9–12, 23–25), Jews living in the period before the birth of Christ often referred to the coming of the anti-messiah. Some of the Maccabees, a powerful Jewish sect of this period, were convinced that the little horn (the anti-messiah) was fulfilled when the Seleucid king, Antiochus Epiphanes, desecrated the temple in Jerusalem in the second century b.c., necessitating the rededication of the sanctuary.

Some Christians thought that Emperor Nero (died a.d. 68), who ruthlessly slaughtered many of the Christians in Rome, might have been the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy. But the apostle John clarified the matter when he indicated that neither Antiochus Epiphanes nor Nero could fulfill the specifications of the antichrist. Writing about the end of the first century after Christ, John identified the antichrist not as one person, but as many people, some of whom were present in his day.

Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. (1 John 2:18)

It surprises many people to learn that the antichrist is mentioned by name only four times in the Bible, and then only by the apostle John (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). But this fact has not dampened the enthusiasm of Christians who know that the antichrist is the most crucial enemy of truth, salvation, the cross, and of Christ Himself. There has been no shortage of efforts to provide a contemporary identity of the antichrist. During the dreadful years of the Second World War, some even identified Adolph Hitler as the antichrist. Others have identified the great Muslim power and, more recently, atheistic communism as antichrist.

While the term antichrist is sparingly used in the Scriptures, this apostate power is vividly described in the Bible. Paul uses the terms man of sin and son of perdition. He pinpoints the appearance of antichrist as occurring prior to the second coming of Christ.

Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4)

In Revelation, John uses different symbolism to identify the antichrist, including the beast, Babylon, and the impure woman.

And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. (Revelation 13:2)

And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. (Revelation 16:19)

So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: and upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. (Revelation 17:3–5)

As stated earlier, the Old Testament prophet, Daniel describes this antichrist power with the symbol of the little horn.

And he [the little horn] shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. (Daniel 7:25)

The centuries-old question remains: Who or what is antichrist? Is it one person? Is it a succession of persons, or a nation, or a power? Has the antichrist come? Is he here now, or will he appear in the future?

Many within modern conservative Protestantism look for a satanic individual who appears just prior to the end of the world, who will sit in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, blaspheming and desecrating it, and ruthlessly persecuting; however, many Christians cannot accept this position. They discern many statements of Scripture that do not support such an interpretation.

Still others brush aside the issue of the antichrist, declaring it to be unimportant. Such a position is untenable, for this power will, Scripture declares, deceive almost all of the world. Such a fact demands that Christians search for an accurate identity of the antichrist power.

Already it has been established that the Reformers unitedly identified the Papacy as the antichrist. In spite of the planned efforts of the Roman Catholic Church to employ numerous strategies in order to dissuade Protestants from their identification of the antichrist, the identification of the antichrist with the Papacy remains largely unshaken.

In his book, The Church of Rome, the Apostasy (Presbyterian Board of Publications, 1841), William Cuninghame specifically identified the Papacy as the man of sin and the antichrist. He pointed to the Roman Catholic Church as guilty of idolatry, Mary reverence, image worship, and saint worship (p. 105). He also pointed out numerous instances of blasphemy by the church (pp. 199, 200). He identified the call to come out of Babylon (Revelation 18:4, 5) as a call out of the Roman Catholic Church (pp. 155–160).

In 1846, in his book, Christ and Antichrist, the former pastor of the Norfolk, Virginia, Presbyterian Church, Samuel J. Cassels, presented one of the most comprehensive reviews that identified the Papacy as the antichrist. This book was thoroughly endorsed by Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist, and Baptist leaders of the day; yet, by the end of the nineteenth century, the identification of the Papacy as the antichrist had been undermined.

In his book, Christianity and Anti-Christianity in Their Final Conflict, Samuel Andrews identified the beast described in Revelation 13 as a cruel and oppressing secular state. He did not identify it as the Papacy, as Protestants, prior to the twentieth century, had consistently identified it. By the earlier part of the twentieth century, the futurist interpretation of prophecy had received almost universal acceptance among Protestants; yet there were still a few Protestants who correctly identified the Papacy as the antichrist. Fred J. Peters, in his work, The Present Antichrist (1920), was one of these. He cited the Waldensians, Huss, Jerome, Luther, Calvin, Sir Isaac Newton, Latimer, Bunyan, Moody, and Spurgeon as dedicated Christians who were agreed that the man of sin is the anti-Christian pope. Peters correctly identified the seventy-weeks prophecy of Daniel 9 as the 490 years left to the Jews as God’s chosen people.

The Roman Catholic Church determined to dispel the indisputable scriptural evidence of the identity of their church as the antichrist power. They claim, in the futurist view of prophecy, that the antichrist is a person who will appear only at the end of time, and will cause havoc in the Christian church for a literal period of three and a half years.

Today, the futurist view is predominant in mainstream Protestantism. In his book, His Apocalypse (1924), John Quincy Adams presented the futurist concept to be the satanic power that will appear at the end of time. This false concept was also supported by F. M. Messenger in his book, The Coming Superman (1928). More recently, the futurist view was supported by Herman Hoyt in his book, The End Time (Moody Press, 1969).

It has taken time; yet the Jesuits have done an effective work. During the Council of Trent (1545–1563), one of the great burdens of the Roman Catholic bishops was to destroy the influence of the Protestant identification of the Catholic Church as the antichrist. Eventually, the task was given to the newly formed elite intelligentsia, the Jesuits. In 1585, Francisco Ribera contrived his futurist interpretation of prophecy. His whole thesis was that the antichrist was a future personage who, at the end of time, would challenge the power of Christ. And, with great persecution, he would suppress God’s people.

The early part of the nineteenth century saw the rise of the Anglo-Catholic movement within the Church of England. The Oxford professor, S. R. Maitland, imbibed and taught the futurist concepts of Ribera in order to muffle the alarmed protest of faithful evangelistic Anglicans against the suggestions of reunifi-cation with Rome (see chapter 3, entitled "Roman Catholicism and the Antichrist").

The pioneers of the Protestant Reformation were not simply following a concept of retaliation when they identified the Roman Catholic Church as the great antichrist power of prophecy. They were correctly discerning the inspired words of Holy Scripture.

Notice the following reasons the identification of the antichrist is so important to God’s end-time people:

1. So that we will not be deceived by the great effort to unite the world under the banner of this power (Revelation 13:8).

2. That we might seriously take the challenge of Revelation 18:4, 5 to call God’s people out of this apostate religion into the truth of God. True Protestants do not make this identification out of bigotry or hatred; instead, they do it out of love for lost humanity. An integral part of the proclamation of the gospel commission necessitates that men and women be led to the salvation that will free them from the bondage and deception of sin. Today, as in no other time in our history, the identification of the antichrist and the invitation to call men and women out of Babylon must be made.

3. Both the second and the third angels’ messages of Revelation, chapter 14, focus upon the fall and the destruction of this power and all who serve it. Its identification is necessary to warn the world.

The delinquency of the Christian churches over the last several decades to correctly identify the antichrist must be reversed if God’s people are to do the work necessary in warning men and women before the end of human probation. The invitation of the kingdom of God demands that the warning against the papal antichrist and his work be given.


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