Viewpoint: Antichrist Fever - The Pope in the US

Adventists all over the world are watching with interest the events unfolding this week in Washington D.C. as Pope Francis is visiting the United States and speaking to Congress. In preparation for this event, independent ministries have mailed out thousands of unsolicited Great Controversy paperbacks to mailboxes in Philadelphia. The web and social media have exploded with links to Revelation seminars, videos and articles.

For conservative Adventists, the implications of the auspicious visit are unequivocal: This is a clear fulfillment of the prophecy Revelation 13. The beast of the earth (America) is finally paying homage to the beast of the sea (Papacy).

Or is it?

Our official reading of Revelation 13 pits the Adventist remnant against monstrous beasts of the end time. The beast that rises from the sea is Catholicism led by the Pope and the beast from the earth is the modern day America. As they unite to persecute the little flock of the faithful in the end time, they impose the mark of the beast (Sunday Law) and trigger the second coming of Christ.

Ellen White practically canonized these interpretations by Uriah Smith and John Andrews when she admittedly copied and pasted them in The Great Controversy as emblematic of the best Adventist thought at the time.

But the traditional Adventist interpretation of Revelation 13 as applied to modern day Papacy and America faces many challenges. I will briefly focus on two.

The first is the fact that a prophecy portending events 2,000 years in the future would be utterly irrelevant to the seven churches for which Revelation was originally intended. The book was supposed to be read out loud in the churches in the first century, probably enacted, but most importantly, understood.

Thus the likelihood that John intended to refer specifically to a nation in a then unknown part of the world (America) in the 21st century and modern day Papacy in Revelation 13 virtually ignoring 2000 years of church history is next to nil. Prophecy may be predictive, but it must be grounded in relevance to its original audience.

A second reason why Revelation 13 probably does not predict entities and powers in the distant future specifically is that, in general, the symbolic prophecies of the book of Revelation were not really meant to be decoded in terms of events, entities or future world powers. The language of the book is just too ambiguous and highly symbolic for narrowing down fulfillments. In case a specific entity seems to be referred to, then a source must be found in the immediate context of the original readers, such as Jezebel (Rev 2:20) an actual person in the church of Thyatira.

Take for example, the number of the beast in Rev 13:18. An intriguing interpretation posits that the beast from the sea (13:1-10) symbolized the Roman emperor vying for veneration as Dominus et Deus (possibly referring to Nero) and the beast from the earth (13:11-18) symbolized the local arm of the Roman government which enforced such adoration by building images and temples dedicated to the Emperor. Surprisingly, according to Suetonius, Nero's name was veiled in at least one contemporary riddle that went like this:

Count the numerical values of the letters of Nero's name, And in "murdered his own mother," You will find their sum is the same.

Both values add up to 1,005 in Greek gematria. This is indeed a striking parallel with the riddle of 666 as "number of the beast" (Rev 13:6). This important evidence may be one more nail in the coffin of the false Vicarius Filii Dei interpretation which lingers stubbornly in the global Adventist South. But this is just one possibility. The fact is that the definitive culprit, guilty of such bestial actions and disguised in a sea of symbolism, remains at large.

This is one of the many possible sources for imagery in the book of Revelation. The high symbolism in the book is precisely the pitfall of historicism as Adventists practice it. The cryptic language leaves the interpretative field wide open to those historicists who would like to place their own favorite modern-day protagonist as the ultimate fulfillment of any given prophecy. Case in point, the beast carrying a harlot in chapter 17 has given rise to the wildest applications and a morass of theories, most of them involving a sequence of popes as the beast’s heads.

As scholars of Revelation have been pointing out for the last few decades, the book seems to be more preoccupied with the "psychology" of Christianity than its dogmas. In other words, by concocting an expressive visual, auditory masterpiece, Revelation's author wants to impact readers to stand up to the many beastly powers menacing their allegiance to Christ from the dawn of the Christian era to the end of time. Even Ellen White hinted at this when she suggests that the messages to the seven churches have elements that are applicable to all churches in all ages.

So the principles of Revelation 13 may be applicable to the U.S. and to the Papacy but such applications are just not meant to be “absolute.” Thus the "idealist" school of prophetic interpretation provides a much more sensible reading of Revelation. Idealist readings are more concerned about the overall principles of the text rather than specific interpretations.

As attractive as it seems to be able to identify characters that may confirm our own theological biases, our first task as Bible students is to respect the intention of the author. If you can't be sure, as is often the case in the most enigmatic passages of Revelation, the safest way forward is to be less dogmatic. Instead, we should look for the general principles of the kingdom of God portrayed in the passage.

We should be concerned that in attempting to enforce our only interpretation of Revelation 13 to the Papacy and America, we have effectively neutered the text. It can no longer speak dynamically today, but must apply either to a medieval religious power or a future triumvirate of devilish politico-religious powers. Surely having the Pope as a collective target to shoot at has strengthened our sense of “community” and “prophetic movement". But was that really the intention of John the Revelator?

The Papacy has also been called the fulfillment of all “antichrist” prophecies in the New Testament. But that view also has its own problems. The obvious meaning of antichrist is to be “against Christ". Is the Pope really “against Christ”? We may take issue with the Pope’s interpretations of many doctrines but this does not mean he is against Christ.

The Pope’s Christology may be faulty, but so is that of many Adventist preachers who advocate a Christ with sinful human nature for example; or a Christ whose sacrifice on the cross was insufficient for salvation. Are they not preaching a diminished Christ? Are they “anti” the Christ of Scripture? How do we decide what qualifies one to be antichrist? Does not fully understanding who Christ is and what he did qualify one to be an antichrist? Or is an antichrist someone who lives in continuous rebellion against the principles of the kingdom of Christ? In that case, I fail to see how the Pope could be described as THE antichrist.

Okay, I get the adrenaline rush such readings of the end times provides. I was born and raised in that milieu. I was in the last generation theology camp for a long time; in those quarters, one needs the theological high this approach to prophecy provides. But we must temper our desire for the dawn of end time with careful application of the prophetic message as the author intended it, especially when considering his original readers.

I remember vividly that when G. W. Bush took office, I preached a sermon in which I showed a photo of him greeting Pope John Paul II. I spoke in ominous terms alerting the congregation that this was a clear fulfillment of prophecy.

But nothing came of it.

And I suspect that nothing prophetically significant will come out of the Pope’s visit to the US this week.

André Reis has degrees in theology and music and is currently finishing a Ph.D. in New Testament at Avondale College. His thesis is on the book of Revelation.

______________________________

Recommended Reading:

Jon Paulien. The Deep Things of God. Review and Herald, 2004.

Richard Bauckham. The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1993.

Adela Yarbro Collins. Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of the Apocalypse. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984.

Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. Revelation: Vision of a Just World. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburger Press, 1998.

________. Revelation: Justice and Judgment. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7092
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Wow just posted this in the lounge, how’s the timing!?

The Pope is speaking in Congress now. If he doesn’t say anything too ‘Sunday law-ish’ it’ll be interesting to see how the secret seals and Amazing fax spin it.

Both ministries have invested a LOT in their build-up to this visit.

It must feel weird eh, almost wanting persecution, like, as a means of validation?

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As a kid I had fun running sound effects during a several week Revelation Seminar for Pastor Batchelor in a local church. Revelation provides a lot of opportunities for dramatic sound effects. Pastor Batchelor said that Jesus was coming in 1996. The series of meetings were in 1990. I still greet people (Adventists) that I grew up with there with ‘Jesus is coming in 1996!’ just to mess with them. (And remind them how easy it is to read into Revelation what you want to find there).

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A wonderful expose of Adventist thinking for its entire history. Like many of us, you came late to this “revelation” of the true interpretation of Revelation. As a few other theologians have taught, Revelation is God’s revealing to us that his church will triumph in the end; not about the meaning of the various beasts.

The wish to decode Bible prophecies is as old as the Bible itself. Many throughout Christianity’s long history have “interpreted” this, and all have been wrong, including the Adventist interpretation. Other OT prophecies have also been “re-interpreted” as predicting early Christianity, but with no factual basis.

We should be careful in reading the Bible not to put a spin on it, regardless of which religious denomination claims to have the “truth” without error. “To err is human…”

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a very clear and timely commentary. Tom Z

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The hands reaching across the water imagery is taking a hit also. This pope is apparently not in unison with the conservative rights agenda, which by the way would include much of the religious right, when it comes to political and social issues ie. immigration, climate change and wealth inequality. I think it is high time to review SDA interpretation of the papacy/the American religious right and make some adjustments. Very good article by the way.

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High time to admit a lot of things in Adventism…but will never happen. Admitting these things will be the end of Adventism/EGW.

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News reports on Thursday indicate Ben Carson attended the joint Congressional address by Pope Francis.

Did Extreme Right Adventists expect Dr. Carson to boycott the pope?

The news report about Carson is here

@Bru_Ram Your posting is far and away too long to be read. I’m surprised you haven’t been notified about it by the @webEd who has warned others much less windy.

Those who would deny the traditional SDA understanding of the Papacy (which most Protestants used to believe) are either blind, or in denial. When JFK was running for the presidency in 1960, it was controversial. He had to assure Americans that he did not take orders from the pope. When John Kerry ran, few noticed that he was Catholic. Now there are no Protestants on the Supreme Court. There are 6 Catholics and 3 Jews. The Lutherans have apologized for Luther and the Reformation; Evangelicals are enamored with the pope. In spite of all it’s shortcomings, the US is the only superpower left in the world. And professed Adventists are questioning our understanding of Rev. 13?

Having said all that, I don’t think our focus should be on the pope and his visit to the US, but, rather on what Evangelicals and their allies are doing. Tony Palmer said that the protest is over; for most non-Catholics in the US, that is true. If that isn’t a sign of the times, I don’t know what is. Ellen White said that Protestants in the US would be foremost in stretching their hands across the gulf to unite with Rome. “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” was a first step. Now the Lutherans have capitulated and joined with the Catholics (“From Conflict to Communion”).

I don’t know what the time frame will be, but certainly events are moving toward the climax outlined in Great Controversy.

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It’s about time we abandon this false and dangerous belief. Our theologians have challenged it a long time ago. Condeming the Pope and catholics in general for something they will do to us in the future (according to this understanding) is highly unethical. And unethical means to join the beastly side…btw…
But the problem seems to be, that this dangerous, false belief has become the center of the faith of many adventists. Their reaction will be strong. Too bad that they are almost unable to detect a false Gospel. Schreven’s prosperity Gospel, Veith’s Gospel of secret “knowledge”…you name it, they just don’t see it.

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André, excellent review of the risk of faulty predictions and interpretations. An interesting old example can be found in the Apocalypse Tapestry produced 1377 to 1382 and displayed at the Château d’Angers in Angers, France. Worth a visit. Changed my understanding of Revelation forever.

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Would love to pay a visit!

I am glad to see that common sense and scholarship are finally starting to cause Adventism’s obsession with the RCC to implode. The classic SdA view of the Catholic church was never based on exegesis: all it was, was a 19th century conspiracy theory elevated to doctrine through the writings of EGW.

What Adventists have had a hard time understanding is that there was no “Catholic” denomination as such before the Reformation. Before Luther, Western Christianity was unified, from Italy to Norway. The church was lower-case catholic, and whatever crimes (or merits) we want to attribute to the “catholic” church before the Reformation, were crimes or merits that all Western Christians, directly or indirectly, had a part in. The Inquisition was carried out by the Christian church in Western Europe, as were the crusades.

Only after the Reformation, can we start assigning merits and demerits on basis of churches being “Catholic” or “Protestant,” and who among us would venture to argue that the RCC acted worse than the plethora of Protestant churches did in the centuries that followed the Reformation?

The idea that the Roman Catholic church is better or worse than any other Christian constellation is ludicrous. It is one manifestation of Christian faith among many others and its strong sides and weak sides are common to all. And the worst fault of the RCC is shared by virtually every conservative branch of Christianity: the idea that God’s free grace is only available to those who know the correct theological handshakes and passwords.

What is so refreshing with Pope Francis is that he sees himself primarily as a pastor and not as an administrator. Unlike most clerics the world over, he has ascended to his high office not in order to avoid the martyrdom of the pastorate but in order to lend it more power. When was the last time you suspected that in your SdA administrators? We’re not used to actual followers of Jesus being leaders of churches (and who knows how long the Vatican will permit Pope Francis to devalue its hierarchial splendor). May his example inspire other churches to follow suit.

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So many are surprised by this Pope, they were expecting someone else. Many were expecting a mean, contentious, divisive figure, to descend from the Alitalia flight from Rome. Newsweek magazine probably made the biggest miscalculation with a cover article criticizing him and asking the question “Is the Pope Catholic?” The special Glow tract with his picture on the cover really emphasized the beastly prophetic intentions of the Pope. Frankly, many Adventists were caught off guard by the reality of how politically astute, sophisticated, and uncomplicated Pope Francis is. Our Brother Ben Carson who was in the congressional audience listening to the Pope may have taught us a practical lesson on how to respond to the Papal visit. He listened, respected and reacted courteously to the Pope as a person, as I believed most sane Adventist did as well. Let’s remember that the Pope’s messages during his visit are not solely religious – they are practical and political. While we have a different mission and message, with many points of difference on biblical doctrines, beliefs and practices, we can be respectful and behave ourselves as Jesus would. I found myself learning some valuable ideas and approaches in understanding the Pope’s style and interaction with others. There are some valuable lessons that we can learn from the style the Pope uses and has as part of his personality
• Inclusion
Very notably, the Pope was an advocate of inclusion and harmony. His challenges echo true to all.
The following traits that Pope Francis showed and talked about can also be applied by all Christians:
• Leadership
It helped that the Pope is charming and charismatic but his leadership style was the strongest magnet for the flock to seek him, to brave the elements, and listen to his words. He is soft to those who need help but unafraid to shake the establishment.
• Communication
Pope Francis’ connection with the people is stronger when he talks from the heart. For business leaders and managers, how many times have we refused to listen and understand what our people, organizations, and constituencies need?
• Courage and humility
The Pope listens to persons who talk to him and meet with him. He has told his hosts that he is there to listen, rather than to preach. The Pope said, “this trip is for me.” We see that he was trying to bravely immerse in the situation, trying to humbly learn the lesson. What we may learn from his example is how to take responsibility in everything that we do. Can we bravely stand for the right decisions? Do we practice fairness to all persons involved? Do we humbly learn from them?
• Responsibility
It takes strong guts to say sorry, own up to the wrongs committed, and alleviate the damage.
In his messages to the youth, he also enjoined everyone to take responsibility to protect the environment: “As stewards of God’s creation, we are called to make the earth a beautiful garden for the human family. When we destroy our forests, ravage our soil and pollute our seas, we betray that noble calling.” I agree with this statement on the way we have treated the environment. I wish the pope a safe trip home, I will continue to pray for him as I pray for all our world leaders, even though those I may disagree with.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Jesus Christ

If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to those you differ with. -Desmond Tutu

No man ever got very high by pulling other people down. The intelligent merchant does not knock his competitors. The sensible worker does not work those who work with him. Don’t knock your friends. Don’t knock your enemies. Don’t knock yourself. -Alfred Lord Tennyson

The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating an adversary is provided by the adversary himself. -Sun Tzu

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“Scholarship”? Didn’t the author of this piece just skim over a couple of verses, and then offer no more than anecdotal information and his personal views? Although, to be fair, were you or he willing to take on the specific arguments tailored for Ford and friends in the DARCOM series (see: vols. 2,6,7), or at the very least Goldstein’s “Graffiti” (see: pp. 17-114), perhaps then we could talk real scholarship. Otherwise, at least for some of us, this article is probably best suited for the less-serious Opinion column.

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I’m very impressed by the author’s analysis and reflection except his outlook on the term antichrist which I deem it a bit narrowed. He rightly defined antichrist as “against Christ”. 1 John 2: 22,23 gives a theological definition: “Who is the liar [imposter]? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist–he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.”

We know the above text is speaking of persons in the church’s early movement who probably have developed theologies that denied the nature of Christ (v. 18-19). They were not merely against Christ as in Paul’s pre-conversion experience. These “denied” the Messiahship of Christ. Perhaps they considered him a prophet.

Again, when Christ was accused of blasphemy, at least we know Christ was not preaching against God. Neither was he exalting his physical comportment as God. It was by His act of forgiving sins. To the Jewish leaders, this was an usurp of YAWEH. They saw Christ as being deified or venerated by his authority to forgive. In the same way, the pope’s authority to forgive and to condemn has ripped the heavenly intersession to the earth. This is an usurp of Christ’s ministry. Instead of going straight to Christ, there stand the pope. This is an act of an antichrist.

I think this quote will be good to answer your reduction ad absurdum on the sinful nature of Christ:

“The human nature that He took was a sinful nature, one subject to sin. If it were not, he would not be a perfect Saviour. We could not then go to Him as one who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Hebrews 4:15.” June 9, 1890 E. J. Waggoner.

Don’t be confused. Romans 8:3 “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh [sarkos hamartias] to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh”

I admire your article aside these inconsistencies and others I cannot explain here.

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It appears that Andre’s misguided historicist applications of prophecies in the past has turned him off historicism and into the open arms of idealism, if not preterism or futurism. Like other critics Andre’s historicist excesses now colors his perception of this US visit by the Pope or any other thing to do with the papacy. He’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
The excesses of historicism isn’t a strong enough case to turn away from it totally, for it addresses the concerns Andre raises while maintaining the authenticity of its key hermeneutical methods which gave rise to this church.
Any turning away from it for flimsy reasons like Andre’s above will prove disastrous, I think.

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This historicist interpretation of the papacy as antichrist predates the Adventist Church by centuries. The Bishop of Orleans identified the pope as the Man of Sin in the 10th Century. The Franciscans identified the papacy as a Revelation beast power in the 13th Century. The Protestant Reformers nearly unanimously believed this interpretation in the 15th Century onward. The Adventist Church just happens to be the only major Christian denomination remaining that continues in the path of historicism as all others have embraced Futurism and Preterism for the most part.

It does appear that the blending contemporary socio-cultural sensitivities, the extraordinary popular belief in global warming, progressive identity, historical critical theology, and Preterist prophetic interpretation is a seductive mixture to the postmodern mindset; and it would appear that this is the swathe of thought that captures a large proportion of the western collective thinking currently. And so, it appears that Francis is capitalizing on this by making it his agenda on this promotional trip to the most important country in the world, and consequently garnering a lot of support.

Oddly, I have yet to hear him speak out against and use his political influence to halt the massacre of Assyrian Catholics by ISIS.

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The article’s point about popish excesses in excitement among SDA’s is something to soberly consider. The frenzy of activity in videos, pamphlets and web designs seeking to promote the certain end time manifestations of the Pope’s address to the US Congress actually works against our message and mission. It’s an overly preoccupied narrow view of what Adventism is to be about: sharing the “everlasting gospel.” We have turned this gospel into fear mongered portrayals of what the Pope’s visit means for God’s people in these last days. Oh, we may not be time setters, but we are surely “sign-setters.” Every scrutinized move of the Pope proves to many that the “signs of the times” point to a sudden summing up of earth history as we know it. Head to the hills, post haste, in fact.

I have heard from our people that the Pope was going to tell Congress to enact the Family Day Law. Another prophecy wonk of SDA influence predicted the Pope performing miracles. Had a man stand up in assembly one vespers to announce that 2031 is the year Jesus will return now that September 24th was going to be “the Day of the Pope.” And so the shrill voices once again make Adventists look like a bunch of wild-eyed alarmists. Ears closing ever more tightly to anything we might have to say.

I wonder when Christ will be the Center of our fascination and enthusiasm for God?

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Our church taught (about the 1st and 2nd beast of Revelation uniting) during a time when such things would have been thought of as ludicrous; insane; out of your mind!..That the U.S. Government, and the Protestant churches, will become more friendlier towards the Papacy, and they will unite. Well, 150 or so years later we see that happening right before our eyes.

For many of us, we see our churches interpretation of the first and second beast, including Ellen White’s prophetic ministry, continuing to get stronger; not weaker; as time goes by.

Edit:

I guess a person could spend a long time on this article; but I’d like to just point out this one thing. You wrote:

“The obvious meaning.”?

You have heard the name Antipas. Lets take a look at the word pas/patér first:

Strong’s Concordance
patér: a father
Original Word: πατήρ, πατρός, ὁ
Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine
Transliteration: patér
Phonetic Spelling: (pat-ayr’)
Short Definition: father, Father, ancestor
Definition: father, (Heavenly) Father, ancestor, elder, senior.
http://biblehub.com/greek/3962.htm

So Herod Anitpas was against his father? Lets look at the word anti now:

Strong’s Concordance
Original Word: ἀντί
Part of Speech: Preposition
Transliteration: anti
Phonetic Spelling: (an-tee’)
Short Definition: instead of, for
Definition: (a) instead of, in return for, over against, opposite, in exchange for, as a substitute for, (b) on my behalf, © wherefore, because.
http://biblehub.com/greek/473.htm

If we use the word anti to mean “as a substitute,” Herod Antipas simply means in place of his farther. Not against him. This also works for Antichrist: in place of Christ - a substitute.

Now the question remains: does the Pope put himself in place of Christ?

One of the name he goes by is Vicar of Christ: a person who acts in place of another; substitute.
www.dictionary.reference.com/browse/vicar

So when we are warned of an Antichrist; it simply means in place of Christ. This name also works with Satan. He will come to deceive people, making himself to be Christ. He is an Antichrist.

Lastly, does not the Pope (and all priests for that matter) claim to be able to forgive sins? Something that only God can do:

And when He [Christ] saw their faith, He said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:20,21)

In conclusion:

Yes, the pope is an Antichrist. He puts himself in Christs place and claims to be able to do things that only God can.

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