Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
Just Who or What Is the "Antichrist"?
Yeshua the Messiah came into the Mediterranean world at a time of deep religious ferment. Many faiths and philosophies were competing for the allegiance of that world -- and all of them were more congenial to that pagan Roman world than were the teachings of the Messiah. The religion now known as Christianity, which became established as the official religion of the Roman Empire during the time of Constantine, appeared to reject the "cult of the gods" and the "cult of the Emperor." "Christianity" appeared to differ from the Mystery Cults; yet it embraced all the KEY doctrines of the pagan Mystery Religions. This included the concept that their God (the Messiah) was pre-existent. However, the Bible (including the New Testament) NOWHERE promotes this pagan concept.
by Ralph Woodrow and John D. Keyser
Who hasn't heard of the term "Antichrist" these days -- it gets a lot of publicity on religious radio and TV programs, and in religious tracts and prophetic books. Some of these books are sensational and scary, as are numerous motion pictures dealing with this theme. The common conception is that the "Antichrist" will be an atheistic politician who will explode on to the world scene in the near future with vast control of air power -- including rockets, bombs, computers, spy satellites -- and cause all manner of hell to break out on this earth.
As far back as World War I, many believed that the German Kaiser would be the dreaded man of sin -- the Antichrist. A few years later it was Joseph Stalin. When the New Deal was instituted in the Unites States, some thought that Franklin Roosevelt was at least the forerunner of Antichrist. Others believed Hitler or Mussolini were likely candidates. Herbert W. Armstrong, in his early writings, certainly believed that Mussolini was more than likely the Antichrist. A book published in 1940 echoed Armstrong's theory by asking the question: "Is Mussolini the Antichrist?" and the author , John R. Rice, answered: "He may be. I know of no reason why he should not fit the description of this terrible man of sin...He is evidently an atheist" (World-wide War and the Bible, p. 212). Another writer even claimed that Mussolini had fulfilled forty-nine of the prophecies concerning the Antichrist!
Others have thought the Antichrist will be Nimrod, Nero, or a Roman Emperor resurrected from the dead. Some believe it will be Judas Iscariot. After comparing John 17:12 with 2 Thessalonians 2:3, M.R. De Haan proclaimed: "Judas, then, will be the Antichrist" (Thirty-five Simple Studies on the Major Themes in Revelation, p. 184). Author Dan Gilbert put it this way: "Antichrist will be Judas come to earth again!" (Who Will be the Antichrist? p. 21).
Some believe the Antichrist will be assassinated and that Satan will raise him from the dead. Oral Roberts writes: "The Bible tells how, right in the middle of his rise to power, Antichrist will be assassinated. The devil will then make his big move. He will raise Antichrist from the dead in an attempt to reproduce the Holy Trinity" (How to be Personally Prepared for the Second Coming of Christ, p. 36). Though often differing on details, futurists all believe the Antichrist is someone yet to appear on the world scene and, with each passing year, promote this leader or that as the most likely candidate. Candidates range from Prince Charles to King Carlos of Spain to William Clinton and Saddam Hussein! Take your pick!
In contrast to the futurist position taken by many modern preachers is what we will call the FULFILLED interpretation -- that the prophecies concerning the man of sin or Antichrist have found their fulfillment in the PAPACY -- the succession of popes that rose to power in Rome following the fall of the Roman Empire. To some this viewpoint will appear too ridiculous to even consider -- and it will be cast aside immediately. But before doing this, surely the evidence for this position should be carefully weighed and investigated. Right or wrong, many noted men through history all believed that the prophecies of the man of sin had found their fulfillment in the Roman Papacy. Men such as Wyclif, Huss, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Zwingli, Tyndale, Foxe, Newton and Wesley -- to name a few. Should we not, as Bereans, at least inquire why these men believed this way? When all the evidence is in you will be surprised to find that the fulfilled interpretation will not seem as absurd as some have thought!
Held Up By the Roman Empire
When the Christians at Thessalonica supposed the day of Yeshua's coming was right at hand, Paul explained to them that certain events had to happen before that time. There would come "a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed." And before that man of sin could be revealed, something else would need to happen. There was something restraining -- holding back -- his appearance -- something that would need to be taken out of the way. Notice:
Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed...(2 Thessalonians 2:5-8).
Though Paul does not identify this "restraining" by name, his words show it was not something unknown or obscure to the people of the time. He knew what it was. The Christians at Thessalonica also knew what it was. Solid evidence shows that the Christians of the early centuries believed it was the ROMAN EMPIRE that was in the way -- the fall of which would bring on the man of sin. When they were accused of holding this belief, they did not deny it. Their reply was that they did not wish the fall of the Empire, for its fall would bring on the Antichrist. As Lactantius put it: "Beseech the God of heaven that the Roman State might be preserved, lest, more speedily than we suppose, that hateful tyrant should come" (Baron Alfred Porcelli, The Antichrist -- His Portrait and History, p. 49).
Justin Martyr spoke of Christians praying for the continuance of the restraining Roman Empire, lest the dreaded times of Antichrist, expected to follow upon its fall, should overtake them in their day (LeRoy E. Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, p. 19). Hippolytus believed the breaking up of the fourth empire, Rome, would bring on the Antichrist who would persecute the saints (ibid., p. 271). Tertullian said: "What is the restraining power? What but the Roman State, the breaking up of which, by being scattered into ten kingdoms, shall introduce Antichrist upon [its own ruins]?" (ibid., p. 258).
Cyril of Jerusalem, in the fourth century, speaking of this same prophecy said:
"This, the predicted Antichrist, will come, when the times of the Roman Empire shall be fulfilled....Ten kings of the Romans shall arise together...among these the eleventh is Antichrist, who, by magical and wicked artifices, shall seize the Roman power" (Thomas Newton, Dissertations on the Prophecies, p. 463).
Jerome, noted bishop and translator of the early church, stated: "He [Paul] shows that that which restrains is the Roman Empire; for unless it shall have been destroyed, and taken out of the midst, according to the prophet Daniel, Antichrist will not come before that" (Jerome, Commentaria, Book 5, chapter 25).
"Let us therefore say what ALL ecclesiastical writers have delivered to us, that when the Roman Empire is destroyed, ten kings will divide the Roman world among themselves, and then will be revealed the man of sin" (Porcelli, op. cit., p. 49).
Ambrose said the Roman Empire was that which was holding back the appearance of Antichrist and that "after the falling or decay of the Roman Empire, Antichrist would appear" (Newton, op. cit., p. 463).
Chrysostom stated: "One may naturally enquire, What is that which withholdeth?" He answered that it was the Roman Empire and that "when the Roman Empire is taken out of the way, then he [Antichrist] shall come. And naturally. For as long as the fear of this empire lasts, no one will willingly exalt himself, but when that is dissolved, he will attack the anarchy, and endeavor to seize upon the government both of man and of God" (Chrysostom, Homilies, pp. 388-389).
"We have the consenting testimony of the early fathers," writes Edward B. Elliott, "from Irenaeus (130-200 A.D.), the disciple of the disciple of St. John, down to Chrysostom (347-404) and Jerome (331-420) to the effect that it was understood to be the Imperial power ruling and residing at Rome" (Horae Apocalyticae, Book 3 p. 92). The Expositor's Bible Commentary states: "There is no reason to doubt that those fathers of the church are right who identified it with the Empire of Rome and its sovereign head" (Denny, Commentary on Thessalonians, p. 325).
Also, after many pages of carefully documented proof for his statement, researcher Froom says that the "restraining" power impeding the development of the "man of sin" was interpreted in the early church as the Roman Empire (op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 150).
H. Grattan Guinness remarks: "The early writings of the fathers tell us with remarkable unanimity that this "restraint" or hindrance was the Roman Empire as governed by the Caesar; and that on the fall of the Caesar, he [the man of sin] would arise" (Romanism and the Reformation, p. 119). Clarke's Commentary adds that the UNITED testimony of the church leaders of those first few centuries was that the restraint which was to be removed was the Roman Empire (Adam Clarke, Vol. 6, p.569). The Encyclopedia Britannica clearly says this was universally believed by Christians everywhere (1961 edition, article: "Antichrist," Vol. 2, p. 60).
Now we can clearly understand why the apostle Paul was careful -- when writing about it -- not to mention the restraint by name. To teach that "eternal Rome" would fall and be broken up would have brought on unnecessary conflict with the leaders of the Empire within which they lived. And, especially when writing to the Christians at Thessalonica, would this caution be in order. It was at Thessalonica that the Christians had been accused of doing things "contrary to the decrees of Caesar" and believing in "another king, one Jesus" (Acts 17:7). Wisdom dictated that Paul should simply write: "Remember...when I was yet with you, I told you these things?" (2 Thessalonians 2:5).
Jerome understood exactly why Paul was so careful in this matter: "If he had chosen to say this openly, he would have foolishly aroused a frenzy of persecution against the Christians" (op. cit., Book 5, chapter 25), and Chrysostom added: "Because he said this of the Roman Empire, he naturally glanced at it, and speaks covertly and darkly. For he did not wish to bring upon himself superfluous enmities, and useless dangers" (Homilies, p. 388-389).
Now that we understand it was the Roman Empire that would fall -- the fall of which would bring on the man of sin -- we have a TIME FRAME for the prophecy! Since the fall of Rome is now long past, it is strongly inferred that we should look for the rise of the man of sin in a HISTORICAL context -- not the future! More of this in a moment.
If we look again at Paul's prophecy (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7) we find that he mentions that something ("what") was restraining -- and also someone ("he). "What" is neuter in gender; "he" is masculine. Paul plainly referred to the Roman Empire as "what," and the Caesar as "he." Logically, then, if Caesar would have to be "taken out of the way" for the man of sin to come to power, we have a STRONG INDICATION of WHERE the man of sin would rule.
As an illustration, let's suppose we would like to build a home on a certain piece of property -- but another building was in the way. Obviously it could not be said that the old building was in the way -- and needed to be taken out of the way -- unless it was occupying the exact spot where the new house was to be built! Understood in the context of the prophecy we are examining, the man of sin would rise to power in the exact same location that the Caesar ruled -- Rome! The man of sin would be a Roman power!
Therefore, we now know WHERE the Antichrist would rise to power and we know WHEN! Looking into history, what power rose up in Rome following the fall of the Empire? All the evidence points to the PAPACY. The highly esteemed Biblical commentator, Albert Barnes, has well said: "To any acquainted with the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, nothing can be more manifest than the correspondence of the facts in history respecting the rise of the Papacy, and the statement of the apostle Paul here" (Barnes' Commentary, p. 1115).
The breaking up of the Roman Empire and the removal of the Caesar from power in Rome took place over a period of some time. Records the historian Alexander Flick: "The removal of the capital of the Empire from Rome to Constantinople in 330, left the Western Church practically free from Imperial power, to develop its own form of organization. The Bishop of Rome, in the seat of the Caesars, was now the greatest man in the West and was soon forced to become political as well as spiritual head" (The Rise of the Medieval Church, p. 168). Cardinal Manning wrote: "The possession of the pontiffs, commences with the abandonment of Rome by the emperors" (quoted by Clarence H. Hewitt in The Seer of Babylon, p. 113).
Finally in 476, the last Western Caesar, Augustulus, was forced out of office by the Goths. With the fulfillment of this prophecy the mighty Roman Empire of the Caesars had passed from the scene of human history. The "restraint" was now fully ek mesou -- "out of the way." According to what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, the stage was now cleared for the next scene in this immense prophetic drama -- the rise to power of the man of sin. H. Grattan Guinness wrote --
The mighty Caesars had fallen; Augustus, Domitian, Hadrian, Diocletian, were gone; even the Constantines and Julians had passed away. The seat of sovereignty had been removed from Rome to Constantinople. Goths and Vandals had overthrown the western empire; the once mighty political structure lay shivered into broken fragments. The imperial government was slain by the Gothic sword. The Caesars were no more, and Rome was an actual desolation. Then slowly on the ruins of old imperial Rome rose another power and another monarchy -- a monarchy of loftier aspirations and more resistless might, claiming dominion, not alone over the bodies, but over the consciences and souls of men; dominion, not only within the limits of the fallen empire, but throughout the entire world. Higher and higher rose the Papacy, till in the Dark Ages all Christendom was subjected to its sway (op. cit., p. 61).
Once it is admitted that the Roman Empire under the rule of the Caesars was that which was holding back the appearance of the Antichrist, it is clearly evident that the Papacy -- rising to power at the time and place indicated -- met all the requirements of the prophecy. How, then, can preachers and evangelists of the futurist viewpoint project this prophecy into the future? Interestingly, these same people conveniently ignore all the evidence about the Roman Empire being the "restraint" and promulgate nonsense such as the following --
"The hindering influence in this passage is, of course, the ministry of the Holy Spirit in and through the lives of Christians today" (William W. Orr, Antichrist, Armageddon, and the End of the World, p. 11). "This One who hinders the man of sin must be the Holy Spirit. At the rapture of the saints, we believe, the Holy Spirit will be taken out of the way of the man of sin so that he may be revealed" (John R. Rice, The Coming Kingdom of Christ, p. 125). These writers merely echo the theory spread by Scofield -- who was influenced by the propaganda of the Jesuits -- that the restrainer "can be no other than the Holy Spirit in the Church, to be 'taken out of the way'" (Scofield, Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1272). But as Oswald Smith has rightly pointed out in his book Tribulation or Rapture -- Which? regarding the verse under consideration: "There is no mention of the Holy Spirit at all. That is a Scofield Bible assumption. The Holy Spirit and the church remain to the end of the age" (page 8).
The Holy Spirit Is Not the "Restraint"
Most Christians recognize that YEHOVAH's holy spirit within the Church is a great force against evil -- but this was not the restraint of which the apostle Paul wrote. He clearly told the Thessalonians that the coming of Yeshua to gather the Church would NOT take place until after the man of sin would be revealed -- see 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3. To then turn right around and say the Church would be taken out of the way BEFORE the man of sin would be revealed, would be a direct contradiction and totally unscriptural!
We have seen, in the preceding pages, the reason WHY Paul was so careful not to mention the restraint by name when writing to the Thessalonians. But if the restraint had been the holy spirit or the Church, there would be absolutely no reason for this caution. As a matter of fact, Paul mentions the Church and the holy spirit several times in his epistles to the Thessalonians -- see 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 5, 6; 2:14; 4:8; 5:19; etc.
It is also a fact that there is no record of anyone believing that the restraint mentioned by Paul was the holy spirit until the latter half of the fourth century -- and we only know of this belief because Chrysostom REJECTED IT! Notice: "Some indeed say, the grace of the Spirit." But he goes on to point out that the restraint was the Roman Empire and could NOT be the spirit: "Wherefore? Because if he [Paul] meant to say the Spirit, he would not have spoken obscurely, but plainly."
What Chrysostom rejected was a theory about the restraint being the grace of the spirit in connection with spiritual gifts. It had nothing to do with the dispensational idea of the spirit being taken out of the world in a secret rapture of the church. Comments Hogg and Vine, the teaching that the holy spirit will be taken out "seems to be of quite modern origin; there is, apparently, no trace of it in early writings on the subject" (The Epistle to the Thessalonians).
Turning to the "Jews"?
Those who adhere to this viewpoint face serious problems of interpretation. They teach that after the Church is gone, YEHOVAH will turn to the Jews -- a believing remnant of which will preach the gospel of the kingdom into all the world. They will be so empowered, some ask us to swallow, that they "will become the mightiest evangelists this world has ever seen" (Hyman Appleman, Antichrist and the Jews, p. 12).
According to Hal Lindsey in his popular book on prophecy, "They are going to be 144,000 Jewish Billy Grahams turned loose on this earth -- the earth will never know a period of evangelism like this period....They are going to have the greatest number of converts in all history"! (The Late Great Planet Earth, p. 111). As much as Billy Graham might be gratified by this, the fact is that this idea is total nonsense!
Those of a discerning nature might ask HOW these Jews will be so empowered if the holy spirit, which convicts and converts, is taken from this earth? If you look into the arguments given to explain away this glaring discrepancy, you will find them to be totally weak and unconvincing.
There is absolutely no reason to believe that the restraint of which Paul wrote was the holy spirit or even the Church. We have solid, incontestable evidence that the early Christians believed it was the Roman Empire that would be taken out of the way -- and then the man of sin would be revealed. The early Christians knew that the Roman Empire would be broken up and its demise would bring on a man of sin. Now since this man of sin would make war against the saints, Paul correctly concluded that the man of sin would have to come to power BEFORE the saints would be gathered at the second appearance of the Messiah! (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3).
The Man of Sin
Continuing now in Paul's prophecy, we see that he links the man of sin with a falling away. "That day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed..." (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3). The Greek word that is here translated "falling away" is apostasia, defined by Strong's Concordance as "defection from the truth." It is from this word we get our English word "apostasy." This was not to be a falling away from religion into atheism, but rather a falling away that would develop within the confines of YEHOVAH's Church. As R.C.H. Lenski wrote: "This is apostasy. It is, therefore, to be sought in the church visible and not outside the church, not in the pagan world, in the general moral decline, in Mohammedanism, in the French Revolution, in the rise and spread of Masonry, in Soviet Russia, or in lesser phenomena" (The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistles, p. 433).
Has this "falling away" already happened -- or is it still in the future? Those who have studied church history know the answer. The original New Testament Church of Yehovah was filled with truth and spiritual power. But as time passed by, even as the inspired apostles had warned (Acts 20:29-30; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Peter 2:2-3), there began to be subtle departures from the true faith. The mystery of iniquity was at work. Compromises were made with paganism. Finally, what the world recognized as the "Church" in the fourth and fifth centuries had actually become the FALLEN church. Only if Christianity had remained doctrinally pure through all the centuries until now, could the apostasy be yet future. This has obviously not been the case.
As the falling away gathered steam, the bishop of Rome rose to power claiming to be "Bishop of bishops" and insisted that the whole Christian world should look to him as head -- and to ROME as the headquarters for the church. Through the ensuing centuries this apostasy has continued with a "man," at Rome, exalting himself above all others, claiming Divine honors and worship -- a continual reminder for those with the eyes to see that this falling away took place centuries ago.
Thomas Newton wrote: "If the apostasy be rightly charged upon the church of Rome, it follows that the man of sin is the pope, not meaning this or that pope in particular, but the pope in general, as the chief head and supporter of this apostasy. The apostasy produces him and he promotes the apostasy" (op. cit.). Albert Barnes expressed it this way: "That his [the pope's] rise was preceded by a great apostasy, or departure from the purity of the simple gospel, as revealed in the New Testament, cannot reasonably be doubted by anyone acquainted with the history of the church. That he is the creation or result of that apostasy, is equally clear" (op. cit., p. 1112)
The Temple of YEHOVAH
As noted in Paul's prophecy, the man of sin was to "exalt himself above all...in the temple of God" (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Futurists suppose that Paul was speaking of a future Jewish Temple in Jerusalem; but, unless this verse is the exception, Paul NEVER applied this term to the physical Jewish Temple! Repeatedly he used this expression in reference to YEHOVAH's chosen people, to the Church -- never to a literal building. Notice --
"Don't you know that you people are God's temple and that God's spirit lives in you? So if anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you yourselves are that temple" (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
"Or don't you know that your body is a temple for the Ruach HaKodesh who lives inside you, whom you received from God?" (1 Corinthians 6:19).
"You yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house [temple] to be cohanim [priests] set apart for God to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to him through Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Peter 2:5).
"What agreement can there be between the temple of God and idols? For we are the tem- ple of the living God -- as God said, 'I will house myself in them,...and I will walk among you. I will be their God, and they will be my people" (2 Corinthians 6:16).
"You have built on the foundation of the emissaries and the prophets, with the cornerstone being Yeshua the Messiah himself. In union with him the whole building is held together, and it is growing into a holy temple in union with the Lord. Yes, in union with him, you yourselves are being built together into a spiritual dwelling-place for God!" Ephesians 2:20-22).
The location, then, in which this man of sin would seek to position himself would be, as Barnes notes, "the Christian church" -- NOT the Temple in Jerusalem! To this he adds: "It is by no means necessary to understand this of the temple at Jerusalem....The idea is that the Antichrist would present himself in the midst of the CHURCH as claiming the honors due to God alone....The authority claimed by the Pope of Rome, meets the full force of the language used here by the apostle" (ibid., p. 1114).
The man of sin would "sit" in the temple of YEHOVAH "as God," -- implying he would claim a place of rulership within the church. "Sit" (kathizo) implies a "seat" (kathedra), from which we derive the word "Cathedral" -- the bishop's seat. When the Pope speaks "ex cathedra," he is speaking from his seat officially, such pronouncements being considered infallible. Guinness says: "There, in that exalted cathedral position, and claiming to represent God, the man of sin was to act and abide as the pretended vicar, but the real antagonist, of Christ, undermining His authority, abolishing His laws, and oppressing His people" (op. cit., p. 57).
The man of sin is further described as he that "will oppose himself to everything that people call a god or make an object of worship; he will put himself above them all, so that he will sit in the Temple of God and proclaim that he himself is God" (2 Thessalonians 2:4). We understand from this description that the man of sin would exalt himself in great pride, would make great claims, would magnify himself above all others.
Similar expressions are found throughout the Bible. The prince of Tyrus was represented as saying: "I am a God, I sit in the seat of God" (Ezekiel 28:2). The king of Babylon, being lifted up with pride, was represented as saying: "I will exalt my throne above the stars of God...I will be like the most High" (Isaiah 14:4-15). Daniel spoke of one who "shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god...for he shall magnify himself above all" (Daniel 11:36-37).
Expressions about leaders exalting themselves unto heaven, exalting themselves above every god, sitting in the seat of YEHOVAH, being like the most High, etc., figuratively describe their pride and arrogance. In the case of the man of sin, he would exalt himself above all others -- above all others IN THE CHURCH! That is, he would not only claim to be "a" leader in the church -- he would actually claim to be "THE" leader in the church. The man of sin would claim to be "as God," exalting himself as head of the church -- a position that belongs only to the Lord himself -- "showing that he is God." There is no article before "God" here in the original Greek; the meaning clearly is that the man of sin would claim Divine attributes. "This expression would not imply that he actually claimed to be the true God," writes Barnes, "but only that he sits in the temple, and manifests himself as if he were God. He claims such honors and such reverence as the true God would if he should appear in human form" (Barnes, op. cit., p.1114).
Let me ask you this: Have the popes claimed to be above all that is called god, have they claimed to be as YEHOVAH in the temple of YEHOVAH, and have they attempted to show that they are Divine? You bet they have! They have claimed to be above all kings and emperors. They have claimed not only the rule of earth, but heaven and hell, also! They have claimed attributes and titles which can rightly pertain to YEHOVAH only. At the coronation of Pope Innocent X, the following words were addressed to him by a cardinal who knelt before him: "Most holy and blessed father! head of the Church, ruler of the world, to whom the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed, whom the angels in heaven revere, and the gates of hell fear, and all the world adores, we specially venerate, worship, and adore thee!"
Moreri, a noted Catholic historian, wrote: "To make war against the Pope is to make war against God, seeing the Pope is God and God is the Pope." Decius said: "The Pope can do all things God can do." Pope Leo XIII said of himself in 1890: "The supreme teacher in the Church is the Roman Pontiff. Union of minds, therefore, requires, together with a perfect accord in the one faith, complete submission and obedience of will to the Church and to the Roman Pontiff, as to God himself." In 1894, he said: "We hold the place of Almighty God on earth." What blasphemous arrogance!
On April 30, 1922, in the Vatican throne room before a gathering of cardinals, bishops, priests, and nuns, who fell on their knees before him, Pope Pius XI in haughty tones said: "You know that I am the Holy Father, the representative of God on earth, the vicar of Christ, which means that I am God on the earth." Incredible!
The pagan Roman Caesar was called "our Lord and God." For centuries the popes accepted the same title. On the arch raised in honor of Pope Borgia were the words: "Rome was great under Caesar; now she is greater: Alexander VI reigns. The former was a man: this is a god"! Pope Pius X, when Archbishop of Venice, said: "The Pope is not only the representative of Jesus Christ, he is Jesus Christ himself, hidden under the veil of the flesh. Does the Pope speak? It is Jesus Christ who speaks."
A False Apostle
The man of sin is referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 as "the son of perdition." This same title was applied to Judas Iscariot in John 17:12. By this repetition of the term, the Bible is showing that the man of sin would resemble Judas. To all outward appearances, Judas was a priest and apostle -- see Acts 1:20, 25). Nevertheless, he "was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein" (John 12:6). Such graphic words could well describe papal practices -- especially during the Dark Ages. Though Judas had received thirty pieces of silver to betray Yeshua, he approached him in the garden with a kiss and the words, "Hail Master"! So also has the Papacy claimed to be Yeshua's apostle and friend, but has betrayed him by promoting doctrines and practices that are contrary to what he taught -- indulgence selling, prayers for the dead in purgatory, payment for masses, relic sales, offerings before idols, etc., etc., etc.
The man of sin's rise to power was to be accompanied by claims of supernatural signs and wonders. Writes Paul: "Whose coming is after [according to] the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders" (2 Thessalonians 2:9). A full account of all the miracles that have supposedly occurred within this system would literally fill volumes: crucifixes have spoken; images have come down and lit their own candles; idols have sweat, moved their eyes, moved their hands, opened their mouths, healed sicknesses, raised the dead, mended broken bones; souls from purgatory have appeared on lonely roads and begged that masses be said in their behalf; many have claimed that the virgin Mary visited them, etc. All of these "miracles" -- whether supposed, real, or faked -- greatly increased the fallen church of Rome.
We see, then, that the man of sin would appear in connection with the falling away or apostasy; he would rise to power within the very framework of Christianity, claiming to be above all others, as YEHOVAH; his rise to power would be accompanied with lying signs and wonders. We have seen evidence -- point by point -- that these things did indeed find fulfillment in the Papacy of the Roman Catholic Church.
Some might object to this interpretation on the basis that Paul spoke of "THE man of sin" -- meaning an individual man, not a succession of men. But this is not necessarily true. "The" is used in the expression "the man of God" (2 Timothy 3:16) -- a reference to a class of men of certain character, a succession of similar individuals. Also, we read about "the high priest" (Hebrews 9:7) -- meaning a succession of high priests. The church -- the long line or succession of believers through the centuries -- is spoken of as "one new man" (Ephesians 2:15). A single beast in prophecy often represents a whole empire or kingdom in all its changes and revolutions from beginning to end. The four beasts of Daniel 7 are mentioned as four kings, yet the meaning is not limited to individual kings, for each of these kingdoms included a succession of rulers.
Grammatically, the expression "the man of sin" could mean either an individual or a succession of similar individuals. There is a strong indication, however, that a succession of men is meant. "He that letteth [or restrains]" was a line or succession of Caesars, so it would not be inconsistent to believe "he that sitteth" would also be a succession of men. Even so, the idea of one man is not eliminated by this interpretation, for there is only one man at a time who occupies the papal office.
There is something else we should point out here: The early Christians, not knowing the times and seasons (Acts 1:7), had no way of knowing that time would continue on for at least another 2,000 years. Consequently, from their prospective, they may have believed the fall of the Roman Empire would be sudden -- in their lifetime -- and that the Antichrist would be an individual who would rise to power immediately thereafter. Centuries later, when the Bible became an open book again during the Reformation, many Christians and students of the Bible came to see that these prophecies had indeed been fulfilled -- though on a somewhat longer scale than might have been originally understood.
Rome had indeed fallen, but it was a decline and fall -- taking place over a period of many years. The rise of the Papacy was also gradual -- many years passing before it met all the requirements of the prophecy. In actual fact, the Papacy persecuted the saints century after century during the period of history known as the Dark Ages -- during which over 50 million people were tortured and killed.
The Antichrist in John's Prophecy
Let's turn now to the books of the apostle John, the only Biblical writer who actually uses the term "Antichrist." Writing at a time when many new doctrines were appearing and the "truth once delivered to the saints" was rapidly being watered down and corrupted, the burden of John's message was for Christians to hold fast to the original faith as taught in the beginning --
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard [from Christ]...declare we unto you....This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you" (1 John 1:1-5).
John speaks of the instruction they "had from the beginning" and the word which they had "heard from the beginning" (2:7):
"Let that therefore abide in you which you have heard from the beginning. If that which you have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, you also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father" (2:24); "the message that you heard from the beginning" (3:11).
He mentions "that which we had from the beginning" (2 John 5) and "as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it" (verse 6).
The reason that John placed such strong emphasis on that which was taught "at the beginning," was because many had departed from the original faith into false doctrines. These who had departed he termed "antichrists."
"Little children...you have heard that ANTICHRIST shall come, even now are there many antichrists....They went out from us..." (1 John 2:18-19).
These "antichrists" -- a type of the Antichrist that was to come -- were not atheists! They were people who professed to be Christians. Scofield was correct when he said: "'Went out from us,' that is, doctrinally. Doubtless then, as now, the deniers of the Son still called themselves Christians" (Scofield, op. cit., p. 1322). Logically, then, if the ones that John used as a type of the Antichrist to come were professing Christians -- ones who had departed into erroneous doctrines -- WHY should we look for the Antichrist somewhere outside the realm of professing Christianity?
The next "Antichrist" passage is 1 John 2:22-26 --
"Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is ANTICHRIST, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father....Let that therefore abide in you, which you have heard from the beginning. If that which you have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, you also shall continue in the Son and in the Father....These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you" (1 John 2:22-26).
Again, those who taught things contrary to that which was from the beginning were termed "antichrist." By teaching such doctrines they denied the Father and the Son. But it was not a barefaced, blatant denial -- for John mentions the seductive nature of these teachings. Some, upon reading the word "denied," assume the Antichrist will be an atheist -- one who denies the very existence of YEHOVAH -- or at least an infidel! We hear talk about the Antichrist being "the World's number one ATHEIST" (Howard C. Estep, Antichrist's Kingdom, p. 24). However, the early Christians had never heard of an infidel Antichrist! Apparently this idea was first taught in a ninth century commentary by Berengaud (Guinness, op. cit., p. 125).
Fred Peters, in his article "The Mystery of Antichrist," wrote: "When we teach that the Papacy (the dynasty of popes) is the Antichrist, in common with all the great Reformers and Protestants for 1000 years past, we are often told...that the Antichrist has to be an unbeliever, an atheist, an infidel, which the Pope is not. Thus with a wave of the hand is the mighty prophetic teaching, that shook the Papacy to its foundation, dismissed....Often an earnest seeker asks of some futurist preacher if the Pope is the Antichrist of the Bible, and the matter is settled in a minute, in the most superficial way, by saying, 'No, for he does not deny the Father and the Son'...and that ends the subject, for the seeker does not seek further along that line, unless he has a firm resolve to know all the truth, and why the old Reformers and Protestants thus taught" (Old Fashioned Prophecy Magazine, reprint of 1942 edition, p. 29).
Those "antichrists" that the apostle John mentioned were not atheists, but professing Christians. Their teachings were "seducing" Christians into counterfeit doctrines. Teaching atheism would not have this seductive effect, for it does not even pretend to be a Christian doctrine. What, then, is meant by the statement that they denied the Father and the Son? It was not that they denied the existence of YEHOVAH -- they denied Him in other ways. They denied Him by claiming to be Christians, yet adhering to false doctrines which were not the original teachings of the church founded by Yeshua. This point becomes clear when we see how this word "deny" was used in the scriptures.
1/. Jude, like John, wrote of the apostasy that was creeping into the Church: "It was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that you should earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered unto the saints." Why? "For there are certain men crept in unawares...turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and DENYING the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 3, 4). Notice that these false teachers were so deceptive with their novel doctrines that they "crept in unawares." By their erroneous and counterfeit doctrines, they denied the Lord! Nothing is said that would indicate these apostates denied the existence of YEHOVAH. If they had come in among the Christians denying the existence of YEHOVAH, in NO WAY could they have come in unawares.
2/. Peter likewise wrote of apostasy that would develop within the Church. "There shall be false teachers among you, who privily [secretly, in a hidden way] shall bring in damnable heresies, even DENYING the Lord that bought them...and many shall follow their pernicious ways" (2 Peter 2:1-2). Clearly these false teachers were not denying the existence of YEHOVAH, for that would not deceive those Christians to whom Peter wrote. The way they denied Him was by teaching erroneous and deceptive doctrines. On an earlier occasion, Peter said that the Jews delivered up Yeshua "and DENIED him in the presence of Pilate...they DENIED the Holy One and the Just...and killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead" (Acts 3:13-15). The ones who denied Yeshua did not deny his existence. They denied him by rejecting his claims and having him crucified.
3/. Paul used the word "deny" in connection with those who taught false doctrines among the Christians. They are mentioned as "deceivers...who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not." Such were not "sound in the faith"; but gave heed to doctrines that cause men to "turn from the truth....They profess that they know God; but in works they DENY him, being abominable, and disobedient" (Titus 1:10-16).
Now that we have considered the word "denied" as used by Jude, Peter, Paul and John, it is clear that atheism is NOT meant. Those who denied the Lord did so by not fully following the original Christian in word and deed. These were called "antichrists."
The next passage that mentions "antichrist" is 1 John 4:1-6:
"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world...every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of ANTICHRIST, whereof you have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world....They are of the world....We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us [the apostles]; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error."
Since John and the other apostles had received their instruction directly from Yeshua himself, he could say that those who believed their message were of YEHOVAH. Those who did not stand for the apostolic faith were "false prophets," their inspiration not coming from the spirit of YEHOVAH, but the antichrist spirit. John was not dealing here with such things as political corruption, alcoholism, prostitution, brutality, or crime in the streets. True Christians could easily recognize these for what they were. What John dealt with here was the deception of counterfeit doctrines.
John warned the people to continue in the truth "as you have heard from the beginning" -- the apostolic doctrine -- "for many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an ANTICHRIST...whosoever abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son" (2 John 7-9).
In this particular case John was pointing out that deceivers were saying that Yeshua pre-existed and did not "begin (come) in the flesh," but this was not a denial of the existence of Yeshua -- this certainly would not have deceived the Christians of the time. Instead, it was an erroneous and counterfeit view regarding the very nature of Yeshua.
The fact that John especially mentioned a prominent false doctrine of that time -- the teaching that Yeshua had pre-existed before his birth -- does not infer that Antichrist would be limited in his denial to the same doctrines that those apostates held. Neither those who hold the futurist view or those who hold the fulfilled view, limit the errors of Antichrist to this one point of doctrine.
The Meaning of "Antichrist"
Some suppose John's use of the word "antichrist" simply means a person against Christ. But millions of people have been against Christ. Paul, before his conversion, was against Christ or Yeshua. Jews, pagans, and members of non-Christian religions in varying degrees have all been against Yeshua. However, if John used the word "antichrists" concerning people who professed to be Christians -- but who were against Yeshua because of their false doctrines -- we have a very specific point of identification! Since these "antichrists" were a type of the Antichrist to come, there is a very strong inference indeed that Antichrist would profess to be a Christian, supposedly for Yeshua, yet actually against him because of false doctrine.
It is a well-established fact that the word "antichrist" can mean one of the following: (1) Against (in opposition) to Christ, (2) instead of (in the place of) Christ, or (3) both meanings. States Edward Elliot in Horae Apocalyticae: "When anti is compounded with the noun signifying an agent of any kind, or functionary, the compound word either signifies a vice-functionary, or a functionary of the same kind opposing, or sometimes both" (Vol. 1, pps. 67, 68).
A good example of the word having both meanings can be found within the terminology of the Roman Catholic Church itself. At times in Catholic history two men at one time have claimed to be pope. The one who was considered to be a hostile, self-substituted, usurping pope, was called an "antipope." Such a "pope" positioned himself in place of the Pope, as the pope, but was, as such, against the Pope -- thus an "antipope." For a man, then, to claim to be the head of the Church, in place of Christ, what is this but to be, in reality, against Christ -- or ANTICHRIST? The very reason for this is quite simple: In Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; and Colossians 1:18 CHRIST (Yeshua) alone is the head of the Church!
In an interesting aside to this, the very title which the Pope of Rome bears -- "Vicar of Christ" -- can only be turned into Greek as "Antichristos" -- that is, the Vice-christ, substitute Christ, or Antichrist! Therefore, the popes have claimed to themselves a title which is the equivalent of the word coined by the apostle John!
Just like the "antichrists" of whom John wrote, so also have the Popes DENIED YESHUA by promoting false doctrines that cause men to stray from the faith once delivered. They have even dared to oppose Yeshua by teaching things that are the exact opposite of what Yeshua and the apostles taught!
The Counter Interpretation
Hundreds of books have been written in the contest between Catholics and Protestants. So great was the uproar that in 1516 the Fifth Lateran Council rose up FORBIDDING anyone to write or preach on the subject of the Antichrist. Nonetheless, in Germany, Switzerland, England, France, Denmark and Sweden, the truth about the Antichrist continued to be preached with power and conviction by ministers of various Protestant churches. The scriptures, after a long hiatus, were getting into the hands of the common people. Thousands came to see, within the pages of the Bible, that the Papacy was indeed the Antichrist -- a teaching which dealt havoc to the church of Rome.
The Roman Catholic Church quickly came to realize that it must produce a counter interpretation or lose the battle. Records the Encyclopedia Britannica, "Under the stress of the Protestant attack there arose new methods on the papal side" -- special mention being made of the Jesuits Ribera and Lacunza, who founded the futurist school of interpretation.
Francisco Ribera (1537-1591) published a 500 page commentary on the grand points of Babylon and Antichrist, the object being to set aside the Protestant teaching that the Papacy is the Antichrist. In his commentary, Ribera assigned the first chapters of Revelation to the first century. The rest he restricted to a literal three and a half years at the end of time. He also taught that the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem would be rebuilt by a single, individual Antichrist who would abolish the Christian religion, deny Yeshua, pretend to be YEHOVAH, and conquer the world. When Thomas Brightman (1562-1607), a Protestant scholar and reformer, first saw a copy of Ribera's futurist commentary, he was aroused to indignation and fury. Scathingly he proclaimed: "Once they would not suffer any man to scarce touch a Bible, now they produce a commentary to explain it -- to point men away from the Papal Antichrist"!
For the next few centuries the Jesuit futurist view of the Antichrist was summarily rejected by the Protestant churches. Then, in 1826, Samuel R. Maitland (1792-1866), librarian to the Archbishop of Canterbury, became the first Protestant to accept Ribera's and Lacunza's futurist interpretations. States George Ladd: "This futurist interpretation with its personal Antichrist and three and a half year tribulation did not take root in the Protestant church until the early nineteenth century. The first Protestant to adopt it was S.R. Maitland" (The Blessed Hope, p. 38).
LeRoy Froom sums it up in these words --
In Ribera's Commentary was laid the foundation for that great structure of Futurism, built upon and enlarged by those who followed, until it became the common Catholic position. And then, wonder of wonders, in the nineteenth century this Jesuit scheme of interpretation came to be adopted by a growing number of Protestants., until today Futurism, amplified and adorned with the rapture theory, has become the generally accepted belief of the Fundamentalist wing of popular Protestantism! (op cit., Vol. 2, p. 493).
Because of the flood of books promoting the futurist point of view that are widely circulated today, there is much speculation regarding which world leader will soon emerge as the Antichrist of Bible prophecy. Many in the Churches of God are totally unaware of the old, standard, Protestant (and Church of God) interpretation of the Reformers; that the MAN OF SIN rose to power following the breakup of the Roman Empire; that he seated himself above all others (including YEHOVAH) in the church of the falling away; that these things have all found fulfillment in the Papacy of the Roman Catholic Church.
Today the Pope has world-wide fame. Thousands attend masses he performs. His travels and activities are given far-reaching news coverage. He is visited by presidents and kings. In the eyes of many, he is a man of peace and good will. Million upon millions of Roman Catholics look to the Pope as the head of the church, a belief that is foundational to the entire structure of Roman Catholicism. If the Pope is the head of the Church, then Protestants and Church of God adherents surely err by not acknowledging him as such. But if he is not, what can be said about a system that makes such a claim? The BIBLE clearly teaches that the head of the Church is Yeshua the Messiah -- and that the Papacy is the Antichrist. For this position there are strong scriptural and historical proofs, as we have seen in this article. Will you ignore these facts?
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