|"The Whore of Babylon" by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1534|
from coloured woodcut of Martin Luther's Bible
As I browse through the tracking statistics of visitors to this blog, I've noticed a startling trend develop over the last several months, particularly over the last few weeks. It appears that there is a growing interest on the web concerning a potential link between the current Pope Francis and the Biblical Antichrist. The number of people, who have searched these keywords, "pope, francis, antichrist" as well as "peter the roman," has gone up exponentially over the last month. My blog is receiving hundreds of "hits" every day from people searching these keywords. What's going on out there? Why all the sudden hysteria? As a former Evangelical fundamentalist I do have some insight.
You see, the concept of connecting the pope with the Antichrist is nothing new. It began 500 years ago in 1520 Germany, when Martin Luther penned his treaties entitled "Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church." In it, Luther made his fierce opposition to the Roman Catholic sacramental system well known. He attacked the doctrine of the transubstantiation, and legitimacy of other sacraments. It was here that Martin Luther openly attacked the pope as the Antichrist, and set into motion a chain of events that lead to this day, and now this blog article. Luther's attack of the papacy as Antichrist was basically academic in nature, though his tone was nothing short of passionate. One has to understand that Luther was primarily making a political statement here. Yes, it was based in religion, but remember, there was no separation of religion and politics back then. All political matters crossed over into religion, and likewise, all religious matters crossed over into politics. The two were so intertwined that it was nearly impossible to make a political statement without having religious repercussions. What Luther sought was political independence of the Church of Germany from Roman control. This meant he had to paint the papacy in a way that would be unappealing to the Christian mind. So he equated the pope with the Antichrist, and the Roman Catholic Church with the "Whore of Babylon" depicted in Revelation chapters 17 and 18. The artwork shown in the image above was a woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder, likely done in 1534. It depicts the scene from Revelation 17 and 18, in which a women dressed in scarlet rides a grotesque beast, but on her head she wears a particular crown. It is the triple-crowned papal tiara worn only by the pope. The crown nowhere appears in the Book of Revelation. It is added to the picture to send a message, and the visual message is clear. The pope is the Antichrist, and the Roman Catholic Church is the "Whore of Babylon."
I have responded to Luther's accusation here on this blog already, and I will include it again below, but before I do, let me say plainly that if Martin Luther could see the way his spiritual descendants are reacting today in the Evangelical world, he would likely back away from his papal-antichrist cabal. This is because I think he would see it's gone too far. Even in Luther's mind, it is doubtful he really believed any particular pope was the actual Biblical Antichrist. His connection of the Antichrist to the office of the papacy, rather than the man himself, clearly demonstrates a political motivation in this attack. Luther was making a philosophical point, he was not trying to play a literal game of "pin the mark on the beast."
QUESTION: Is the pope the Antichrist?
ANSWER: While this question may seem ridiculous to many people, you might be surprised to discover just how many Protestants actually believe it, or are at least suspicious of it. The notion comes from the first Protestant reformer himself – Martin Luther – in the sixteenth century, who asserted that the office of the papacy is the Antichrist. That's not to say any particular pope, but the office of the papacy itself. So when German Protestants began to mix with English Protestants in the United States during the nineteenth century, you can imagine what an explosive combination this created. As new American-style Protestant denominations were formed, the office of the papacy went from being the Antichrist on a purely philosophical level, to the actual incarnation of evil itself!
This notion has become very popular among some Baptist, Evangelical and Pentecostal groups in the United States, and is a bit humorous when you really stop and think about it. Before we start levelling the accusation of "Antichrist" at anybody, or any office, it might help to actually understand what the Bible has to say about it. After all, the whole idea of "Antichrist" is a Biblical concept.
So what does the Bible say about the Antichrist? Well, for starters, the Bible tells us that the "spirit of antichrist" was alive and well even during the Apostolic age (1st John 2:18). It also tells us that in order to be antichrist in any way, one must deny that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Jewish Messiah (1st John 2:22). One must also deny that God the Son came to earth in the form of flesh and blood (1st John 4:3; 2nd John 1:7). These are the only four times the word "antichrist" appears in the Scriptures. So based on the Biblical definition, to be an antichrist (or even THE Antichrist) one must deny that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah and one must deny that God the Son came to earth in the form of human flesh. Sorry, that's just the Biblical definition, and since the term "Antichrist" is a Biblical term, just like the term "Christ" itself, it has no real meaning outside this Biblical definition.
Now since every pope since the time of St. Peter has affirmed that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messianic Son of God, that sort of disqualifies every pope in history from being an antichrist. Of course, the office of the papacy itself was literally founded on Saint Peter's affirmation that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messianic Son of God (Matthew 16:15-19), so that disqualifies the papal office from being antichrist. Since the pope literally teaches, and his office is literally founded upon, the belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messianic Son of God, it is literally impossible (in every Biblical sense) for the pope, or his papal office, to be the Antichrist in any way. Again, sorry, but the Bible speaks for itself here. To assert that the pope or the papacy is somehow, in any way, the Antichrist, is to completely deny the plain and clear teaching of the Bible on this matter. Now, if some people want to go ahead and call the pope the Antichrist anyway, then they can go ahead, but in doing so, the rest of us need to understand they are directly contradicting the Bible when they do this.So is Pope Francis the Antichrist? No, of course not; by virtue of his office and personal testimony, he obviously can't be.
From CATHOLICISM FOR PROTESTANTS by Shane Schaetzel
What has emerged today is something totally different from Luther's original intent. Today, among various Evangelical Protestants, we see what has amounted to nothing short of a witch hunt, in which this pope (or some future pope) is literally connected to the real Biblical Antichrist in some way. Among the more virulent strains of this witch hunt, the pope is depicted as the Antichrist himself, or at the very least the False Prophet who works together with him. As I stated above from my book, this is literally and Biblically impossible. You simply cannot have a man who says "follow Jesus" be the Antichrist. It defies both logic and Scripture.
What I think we are witnessing is the beginning of the end for the end-times hysteria cult launched by Hal Lindsey back in 1970 with his best-seller book "The Late Great Planet Earth." I had the pleasure of meeting Hal Lindsey once, briefly, after watching him speak at a Calvary Chapel in West Covina California. This was back in the early 1990s. He is a gentleman, and I believe he is sincere. I also believe he is sincerely wrong. Lindsey's book set off a firestorm in the Evangelical world, taking what was initially a rather small and private school of thought, and turning it into the mainstream of Evangelical thinking. The premise of his work being that end-times Biblical prophecy is being fulfilled today, in a very literal sense, right in the headlines of the news. He is able to make this assertion by interpreting apocalyptic images from the Book of Revelation as modern day machines of warfare (tanks, helicopters, jets, etc.). This of course led to a rash of similar end-time books and films, eventually reaching a climax at the turn of the century with the "Left Behind" fictional book series (and movies), leaving us where we are today with Pope Francis, and the hysteria over the last pope. The connection of Pope Francis to the "last pope" and probable "Antichrist" is in my estimation, the dying last gasp of this movement. These peddlers of pope fiction are about to paint themselves into a corner, that is, if they haven't already done so.
I discussed this in my previous article entitled Pope Francis = Peter the Roman = Antichrist? The connection here comes from an alleged prophecy, that actually has nothing to do with the Bible, and shouldn't have anything to do with Evangelicalism either. Nevertheless, a tiny group of Evangelicals latched on to it, including Hal Lindsey (at least in part), and the alleged prophecy makes it very clear that this pope -- Pope Francis -- is the final pope on that list. Lindsey certainly wasn't the only one to give this alleged prophecy at least some credence. The real heavy lifters on this are some relative newcomers to the Evangelical prophecy scene -- Thomas Horn and Cris Putnam. These men wrote a book called "Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope Is Here," and their end times theories have been promoted on various Evangelical news broadcasts and websites, including the conservative Internet news outlet WorldNetDaily.
Now to be clear, the alleged prophecy itself nowhere identifies this pope, or any pope, as the Antichrist. That is an interpretation that these Evangelicals have made for themselves. Nothing in the alleged prophecy itself actually says that. Here is the text of the alleged prophecy translated from Latin into English...
"In the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit Peter the Roman, who will nourish the sheep in many tribulations; when they are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The end." -- sourceThe alleged prophecy is credited to an Irish bishop named Saint Malachy who lived in 12th century. There is a quaint story that surrounds the prophecy, which follows with an ambiguous list of phrases that supposedly depict every pope elected from the 12th century, all the way down to this last one. Some of the phrases have an uncanny connection to the pope they are supposed to represent. Others are too vague to make any clear connection. Whether the prophecy is real or not is anyone's guess. It didn't surface for centuries after it was allegedly given, which makes it very suspicious. Some sources indicate the Vatican has dismissed the alleged prophecy as a forgery. That doesn't stop the Evangelical peddlers of pope fiction. Certainly not, because you see, if the Vatican dismisses something, that just lends more credibility to it as far as they are concerned.
I've pointed out in previous blog articles the problems associated with this alleged prophecy... Strike 1: it has never been approved by any jurisdiction within the Catholic Church. Strike 2: it has a questionable history, in that it only surfaced some five-hundred years after it was allegedly written. Strike 3: on the surface, it doesn't appear to agree with other prophecies uttered by canonised saints and approved mystics, but this is debatable.
In addition, I've given a fair and rational interpretation of the alleged prophecy... (1) It specifically says this "Peter the Roman" will nourish his sheep during many tribulations. That means he's a good guy. He's helping the "sheep" (Christians). (2) After the tribulations are finished, the city on seven hills will be destroyed. Notice it doesn't say when the reign of "Peter the Roman" is finished. It says when the tribulations are finished. This could mean anything, because Christ specifically said the Church will suffer tribulations until the end of time. The city on seven hills can only mean Rome or Jerusalem. Rome has already been destroyed many times in history and so has Jerusalem. (3) The dreadful judge will judge his people. This "dreadful judge" could mean anyone. It could mean Jesus Christ. Or it could mean a revived European monarchy. Who knows? This is assuming the alleged prophecy is even real, which evidence seems to indicate it is not, so interpretations may really be a moot point.
Now as I said above, the notion that the office of the papacy is the Antichrist is a very old one, going back to the dawn of the Protestant Reformation with Marin Luther himself. The Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church (LCMS) still officially teaches this as doctrine. So does the Wisconsin Synod of the Lutheran Church (WELS). That kind of academic anti-papalism isn't going away any time soon. What I'm specifically talking about here is the rabid anti-papalism that has re-emerged in recent decades with the end-times prophecy hysteria cult. Herein, Biblical prophecy was reinterpreted to fit the headlines in the news and the trends of the day. So naturally, whenever the trends of the day move toward their logical conclusion, it would appear, to those who subscribe to this hysteria, that prophecy is being fulfilled. Much of this is connected to the nation-state of Israel and the rise of the European Union. As Israel continues to have more problems in the Middle East (many of them her own making), the proponents of the end-times hysteria shout that prophecy is being fulfilled! As the European Union continues to move toward political solidarity, again, the proponents of the end-times hysteria shout that prophecy is being fulfilled. Now, thanks to the Evangelical attachment to the alleged prophecy of Saint Malachy, when the slightest turn of events unfolds in the papacy (such as the retirement of a pope and the election of another), the proponents of the end-times hysteria shout louder than ever that prophecy is being fulfilled. This time they're telling us the Antichrist is here, he is the pope, and prepare for the Great Tribulation and the End of the World.
It is the most bizarre twist of developments that a growing number of Evangelicals would put so much stock into an alleged prophecy (probably a fake) that is not even Biblical, and allegedly came from a medieval Roman Catholic bishop! Aren't Evangelicals supposed to be sceptical of Roman Catholic bishops? Especially those from the Middle Ages!?! I mean, don't Evangelicals consider this the "Dark Ages?" This however, is the nature of the end-times hysteria that has permeated so much of modern Evangelicalism. They're literally grabbing on to anything they can find that might in some remote way back their preconceived notions that we are living in the end-times, the Antichrist is near, and yes, he is probably the pope. By "pinning the mark on the beast" with Pope Francis, they have just painted themselves into a corner. What if he's not the Antichrist? What if his pontificate comes and goes, and the world doesn't end? Now what??? The credibility of these men is on the line, and with them, the credibility of the entire Evangelical end-times hysteria cult.
As I pointed out in a previous article, entitled Why I Don't Believe In The Rapture, the end-times hysteria cult of Hal Lindsey and gang is not necessary to Evangelicalism. In fact, many Evangelicals have abandoned it, and are getting along just fine without it. For example, there is another Evangelical author, who is no friend of Catholicism. He is a staunch Evangelical through and through. He has no problem criticising the Catholic Church on various doctrines and practices, but when it comes to the study of Biblical prophecy, he has done a service to both Evangelicals and Catholics alike. "The Apocalypse Code" written by Hank Hanegraaf, is an excellent Evangelical answer to the end-times hysteria cult. I highly recommend it as good reading for both Catholics and Protestants, but most especially for Evangelical Protestants. End-times prophecy hysteria is not native to Evangelicalism. It doesn't have to be part of it. For the time being, it is, but it doesn't have to be that way. I do hope that many Evangelicals reading this will take it upon themselves to research this matter and bring some common sense back into the topic.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'
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