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2.8. Relation to the Pope

If the identity of the Antichrist were established by popular vote throughout history, the reigning Pope of any given time would undoubtedly be the most popular candidate:

Following Augustine’s lead the Reformers took the Scriptures pertaining to the antichrist and the mark of the beast as an allegory of either the Pope, Islam (Constantinople had fallen to the Turks in A.D. 1412), or both. The Waldenses held the Pope to be the antichrist. Wycliffe also was of this opinion as was Tyndale. Luther regarded the Pope and the Turks both as antichrist, . . . Calvin took the Antichrist’s desecration of the Temple to be an allegory of the Church and the Pope to be the desecrator, . . . Arminius also held “that the Roman pontiff, who calls himself the head and spouse, though under Christ, is Antichrist.”1

Although the Papal system is an ever-popular candidate for the beast, we believe that this view falls short of serious consideration on at least two counts:
  1. The Antichrist is an individual and not a position or system (Dan. Dan. 7:8; Dan. 7:11, Dan. 7:20-26; Dan. 8:23-25; Dan. 9:26-27; Dan. 11:36-45; John John 5:43; 2Th. 2Th. 2:3-9; 1Jn. 1Jn. 2:18; Rev. Rev. 11:7+; Rev. 13:1-8+, Rev. 13:12-18+; Rev. 14:9-11+; Rev. 15:2+; Rev. 16:2+, Rev. 16:10+, Rev. 16:13+; Rev. 17:8-13+; Rev. 19:19-20+; Rev. 20:4+, Rev. 20:10+).
  2. It appears the Antichrist will be an emerging political leader rather than the existing leader of an established system of religion (Dan. Dan. 7:20-25; Dan. 8:25; Dan. 11:36-39; 2Th. 2Th. 2:8; Rev. Rev. 13:4-5+).
Although the last Pope will undoubtedly play an important role—along with all other false religions—in helping to establish the Antichrist and his political system, it is unlikely that the Pope himself will occupy the role of Antichrist. If anything, the last Pope will more likely be related to the False Prophet (Rev. Rev. 13:11+), although there are reasons for questioning this association too.2 Throughout history, the Scriptural teaching regarding Antichrist has continually suffered perversion in service of near-term political or polemic motivations of Christian interpreters of the day who have readily filled the shoes of Antichrist with their opponents. Not mindful of the fact that the church will not be present to watch for the Antichrist (see Rapture), this trend continues to our own day. If we learn anything from the history of interpretation, we learn that great patience is necessary in relation to prophetic passages. Rather than attempting to shoe-horn prophecy into our own near-term experience, we must patiently wait for God’s timing which alone is sure:

Then the LORD answered me and said: “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” (Hab. Hab. 2:2-3)


Notes

1 Hal Harless, “666: The Beast and His Mark in Revelation 13,” in The Conservative Theological Journal, vol. 7 no. 22 (Fort Worth, TX: Tyndale Theological Seminary, December 2003), 347.

2 Rev. 13:11-17+, as coming out of the earth, and having two horns like unto a lamb, and speaking as a dragon, and exercising all the authority of the first beast in his sight, is referred to the papacy. The false prophet receives a similar application. So Luther, Vitringa, Bengel, Auberlen, Hengstenberg, Ebrard, and many English divines.”—Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997, 1916), 1.xii.101. Some commentators interpret the reference to the false prophet “coming up out of the earth [or land]” (Rev. Rev. 13:11+) as a possible reference to his Jewish origin. If the last Pope were to be the false prophet, then a Jewish Pope is always a possibility.