We continue our discussion on the “beasts” of Revelation.
From “End Time Delusions”:
That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach. – Aldous Leonard Huxley (1894-1963)
As we have already seen, the major Protestant Reformers had one primary passion: To inspire sinners to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 16:31) and to obey God’s Word above the traditions of men (see Mark 7:13). But as they tried to lead their English and European countrymen to the Bible alone, to Christ alone, to His grace alone, and to faith alone, they encountered fierce opposition from the Roman Church hierarchy. As persecution increased, it drove them deeper into their Bibles.
“There are two great truths that stand out in the preaching that brought about the Protestant Reformation”, American Bible Commentator, Ralph Woodrow, reminds us, “The just shall live by faith, not by the works of Romanism - and the Papacy is the antichrist of Scripture. It was a message for Christ and against antichrist. The entire Reformation rests upon this twofold testimony.”
H. Gratton Guiness provides this stirring testimony, not only of the effects of the Reformation, but also of one of the mightiest instruments in its accomplishment – the preaching of God’s holy prophecies about the antichrist:
From the first, and throughout, that movement was energized and guided by the prophetic word. Luther never felt strong and free to war against the papal apostasy till he recognized the pope as antichrist. It was then that he burned the Papal bull. Knox’s first sermon, the sermon which launched him on his mission as a reformer, was on the prophecies concerning the Papacy. The reformers embodied their interpretations of prophecy in their confessions of faith, and Calvin in his “Institutes”. All the reformers were unanimous in the matter; even the mild and cautious Melanchthon was as assured of the antipapal meaning of these prophecies as was Luther himself. And their interpretation of these prophecies determined their reforming action. It let them to protest against Rome with extraordinary strength and undaunted courage. It nerved them to resist the claims of that apostate Church to the uttermost. It made them martyrs; it sustained them at the stake. And the views of the reformers were shared by thousands, by hundreds of thousands. They were adopted by princes and peoples. Under their influence nations abjured their allegiance to the false priest of Rome. In the reaction which followed, all the powers of hell seemed to be let loose upon the adherents of the Reformation. War followed war, tortures, burnings and massacres were multiplied. Yet the Reformation stood undefeated and unconquerable. God’s word upheld it, and the energies of His almighty Spirit. It was the work of Christ as truly as the founding of the Church eighteen centuries ago; and the revelation of the future which He gave from Heaven – that prophetic book with which the Scripture closes – was one of the mightiest instruments employed in its accomplishment.
As you can imagine, papal Rome rose to its own defense in what became known as the Counter Reformation. In 1545, she convened a special council destined to become the heart of her central intelligence operation against Martin Luther and the Protestants. This famous council took place in northern Italy in the city of Trent, and is now known as the Council of Trent. During its many sessions (which continued until 1563), the leaders of the Vatican developed a highly sophisticated “game plan” to counteract the reformers. Up to this point, Rome’s main method of attack had been largely frontal – the open burning of Bibles and heretics. Yet this type of warfare only confirmed Protestant convictions that papal Rome was indeed the very beast which would “make war with the saints” (Revelation 13:7). A new tactic was needed, something less obvious. This is where the Jesuits came in.
On August 15, 1534, Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) founded the Society of Jesus, otherwise known as the Jesuits. “From the very outset of the Reformation, the Jesuit Order hung upon its heels as closely as its shadow.” This highly secretive and militant Catholic order has a dark history of intrigue and sedition; that’s why its members were expelled from Portugal (1759), France (1764), Spain (1767), Naples (1767), and Russia (1820). “Jesuit priests have been known throughout history as the most wicked political arm of the Roman Catholic Church. Edmond Paris, in his scholarly work, The Secret History of the Jesuits, reveals and documents much of this information.”
The conflict between Romanism and Protestantism was basic and irreconcilable. The Romanist believed in the authority of the Church; the Protestant, in that of the Bible. The one yielded his conscience to the priest; the other, to God alone. The Romanist believed in the pope as the visible representative of Christ on earth; the Protestant looked, instead, upon the pope as antichrist.
At the council of Trent, papal leaders and Jesuits brainstormed about how to counteract Protestantism and bring defectors back to the mother church. Behind closed doors, they decided this was to be done, not only through the Inquisition and torture, but also through theology. What kind of theology? Here’s the answer: by re-interpreting the prophecies about “the man of sin”, “the little horn”, and “the beast”!
Two very intelligent Spanish Jesuits rose to the challenge, Luis de Alcasar (1554-1613) of Seville and Francisco Ribera (1537-1591) of Salamanca. Their strategy was, in a nutshell, one of reapplication and diversion, yet they went in opposite directions. After reading the Bible by candlelight like Martin Luther did, Alcasar decided to apply the Bible’s antichrist prophecies to the ancient past while Ribera applied them to the distant future. “Smart move!” was the response from Rome. By reapplying these prophecies to the past and to the future instead of to the present, these two tricky Jesuit scholars sought to divert the prophetic finger light-years away from the Vatican. Their views quickly became official positions within the Roman Church – even though these two views contradicted each other!
Even the Catholic writer, G.S. Hitchcock, confirmed the origin of these anti-Protestant counter-theories:
The Futurist School, founded by the Jesuit Ribera in 1591, looks for antichrist, Babylon and a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, at the end of the Christian Dispensation.
The Preterist School, founded by the Jesuit Alcasar in 1614, explains Revelation by the Fall of Jerusalem or by the fall of Pagan Rome in 410 A.D.
It’s time to clarify three important isms – preterism, futurism, and historicism – which reflect three competing schools of prophetic interpretation.
Preterism is what Luis de Alcasar taught. Its prefix, “pre”, points back to the past. Preterism sees the majority (or all) of the prophecies found in Mathew 24 and the Book of Revelation as having already been fulfilled in either the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. or the in the fall of the Roman Empire. For preterists, “the end of the world” usually means “the end of the Jewish world”. Concerning the core issue – who is the antichrist? – preterists usually see the Roman Emperor Nero as the number one candidate. Compared with futurism and historicism, preterism has always been a minority viewpoint within the church, yet it is now making increased inroads into 21st century Christianity. Developed in the 1600’s by the Jesuit Alcasar into a full anti-Protestant system, preterism strategically removes the “little horn” stigma away from the Vatican. Jesuit objective achieved.
Futurism is what Francisco Ribera taught. In contrast to preterism, futurism usually sees the majority of Revelation’s prophecies (from Chapter 4 onward) on the horizon. Concerning the antichrist, instead of preterism’s application to Nero in the past, futurism generally applies the prophecies of “the little horn”, “the man of sin” and “the beast” to a single, yet-future Mr. Serpent who will slither into history during time’s last sliver (now usually seen as a “seven year” sliver). Compared to preterism and historicism, futurism has by far the most adherents in the 21st century as the majority report. As with preterism, futurism’s net result is that it also significantly wipes away “the beast” stain from the papacy. Jesuit objective achieved again.
In staunch opposition to both preterism and futurism is historicism, which is what the vast majority of Protestants used to teach. In essence, historicism teaches straight-forward, chronological progression by saying that the major prophecies of Daniel and Revelation find fulfillment throughout Christian history while pointing toward a climactic, visible second coming of our Savior. Historicism also places special emphasis on the ongoing struggle between Jesus Christ and satan inside the Christian church. While not wanting to attack honest individuals, historicism still points the prophetic finger at the Vatican by calling it “the little horn”, “the man of sin”, “the beast” and “Mystery Babylon”. Jesuit objective not achieved.
Describing historicism as the truest and most reasonable method of interpretation, E.B. Elliott comments on the entire Book of Revelation:
Its subject matter I assume to be the continuous fortunes of the church and of the world, (that is of the Roman world and Christian Church settled therein), from the time of the revelation being given, or time of St. John’s banishment, to the end of all things.
In another description of the “historic Protestant view of the Apocalypse,” Elliott wrote:
That view regards the prophecy as a pre-figuration of the great events that were to happen in the Church, and the world connected with it, from St. John’s time to the consummation; including specially the establishment of Popedom, and the reign of Papal Rome, as in some way or the other the fulfillment of the types of the Apocalyptic Beast and Babylon.
Historicist teachers of the past (and present), far from being aberrant theologians, include some of Christianity’s most illustrious scholars: John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, Philip Malanchthon, Ulrich Zwingli, Robert Barnes, Isaac Newton and many others. These may not see eye to eye on every doctrinal detail; but they’ve all discerned the fulfillment of prophecy in church history and especially in the anti-christ nature of the papacy as a colossal institution whose doctrines deny the New Testament message of free salvation by grace through simple faith in the Crucified and Risen One, apart from works.
I think we can all agree that the majority of people in today’s Christian world believe the futurist view of the Bible’s end time prophecies. Did it surprise you that the Roman Catholic Church initiated this theory? It surprised me. I will also say that in all the time I’ve spent in the Protestant Church over the course of my life, I have never once heard that the early Protestants believed the Catholic Church was the antichrist….even though it fits these prophecies. Is the historicist view politically incorrect in our modern world? Why do most Protestant churches now adhere to this view? We’ll examine this in the next posting.
Countless Christian books and movies adhere to the futurist view. It does a nice job of selling books and tickets and there really isn’t any opposition to it. The enemy is always some future bad guy, so therefore, no one gets offended today. Imagine if a movie studio tried to make a movie about Martin Luther and his belief that the Catholic Church was the antichrist. It wouldn’t be pretty. I believed the futurist view myself until earlier this year and I will agree that it is intriguing. It’s also more comforting to believe that these prophecies will happen at some point in the future outside our lifetime. Regardless of whether is makes us feel better, is it the truth? Would God leave a 2,000 year prophetic void in history? As I’ve said before, I believe the answer is no. I agree with Steve Wohlberg in that the futurist view was launched in the 1600’s as a way to deflect us from the truth. It has worked so well, that today, most of us don’t even know when it originated or where it originated from. In the next posting, we’ll examine how this view found acceptance in modern-day Protestant churches.