Three Angels Messages Part 64

Thanks for joining us in our study of the Three Angel’s Messages today! Because the third angel’s message is so powerful, highlighting a prophetic beast, its image and mark, and warning against receive the mark on pain of death, we have been spending some time in identifying this beast. It’s crucial to understand what God is trying to tell us through the Scriptures.

Not only have we seen that there seven different portrayals of this entity in the Bible, clearly pointing to the system (not the congregants) of the Roman Catholic Church, but that this discovery began many centuries ago. Godly men known today as Protestant Reformers openly challenged the authority of the Church, and spoke boldly against its abuses and departures from the Scriptures.

Would the devil stand idly and allow this information to be spread, exposing his designs to corrupt and withhold the Holy Bible? Not at all. The Catholic Church understood clearly the role that prophetic interpretation was occupying in the Reformation. With such clear and powerful preaching taking effect, as witnessed by the success of the reformation movement, Satan moved upon his agents to come up with different views on prophecy to remove the spotlight from the papacy. We find that not long after Protestant voiced began to be raised, serious attempts were advanced to belittle and discredit the prophetic discoveries of the Reformers. Alternate views were conceived and disseminated to thwart the Protestant movement.

The Jesuit order, founded by Ignatius of Loyola and becoming authorized in l540, became the leader of the counter-reformation movement. The Confession of Augsburg, the battle cry of the reformers, was met by the Catholic Church’s Council of Trent. To the charge of being the antichrist, the Church responded by the teachings of the Jesuits, three of their scholars being Francisco Ribera of Spain, Robert Bellarmine of Italy and Luis De Alcazar of Spain.

Alcazar said, in essence, “The Church cannot be the antichrist, because the antichrist already came long ago.” In his view, the antichrist was the two-fold attack made on the early church by unbelieving Jews and pagans. Because this view sees the antichrist in the past, it has been called “preterism.” Later this view of preterism adopted the teaching that the horn power of Daniel 7 and 8 represented the activities of Antiochus Epiphanies, a Greek ruler who persecuted Jews and violated the sanctity of the temple in Jerusalem in the second century B.C.

Ribera and Bellarmine said essentially, “The Church cannot be the antichrist, because the antichrist has not come yet. The Antichrist will come in the future, will be a single individual and not a system, will be an infidel, will have power for 3 l/2 literal, not prophetic years, will rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, abolish the Christian religion, be received by the Jews, pretend to be God, and conquer the world.” Because this view sees the antichrist as coming in the future, it is called “futurism”.

Notice how these two schools of thought are basically self-contradicting, yet initiated by the same Church. One says, “Look for the antichrist in the past,” while the other says, “Look for the antichrist in the future.”  These two counter-Reformation teachings were taught at the very same time by the papacy. And notice how these teachings sought to undermine the foundation upon which the reformers had built their system of belief. With some success, the Church used these two basically inconsistent schools of prophetic interpretation to counterattack the advances made by the Protestant Reformation. By pushing the identity of the antichrist either backward into distant history (preterism), or forward into the future (futurism), the Church removed the heat from itself.  

By no means, though, is that the end of the story. Prepare yourself for a shock. Unfortunately, what history has shown us is that in time most of Protestantism has embraced these two views of prophetic interpretation. This is truly appalling! Protestantism became the banner-carrier of counter-Reformation theology, the champion of anti-Protestant teaching. Today, in contrast from the testimony of the Reformers, if you go to virtually any current Protestant commentary or school and ask the question, “What or who is the antichrist of Scripture?” the answer you get will be based on either the concepts of preterism or futurism. The antichrist either came and went long ago, or he is not here yet but will come in the future. He is not here among us today. The scholarly shovels undermining the foundation of Protestantism are being vigorously manned by Protestantism itself.

The author Joseph Tanner has put it this way: “It is a matter of deep regret that those who hold and advocate the Futurist system at the present day, Protestants as they are for the most part, are thus really playing into the hands of Rome, and helping to screen the Papacy from detection as the Antichrist. It has been well said that ‘Futurism tends to obliterate the brand put by the Holy Spirit upon Popery.’ More especially is this to be deplored at a time when the Papal Antichrist seems to be making an expiring effort to regain his former hold on men’s minds.” Tanner, Joseph, Daniel and the Revelation. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1898, p. 17.

It is important to keep in mind that if one is not clear as to who the “beast” of Revelation 13 is, it is likely that one will also be unclear as to the “mark of the beast.” This cannot be over-emphasized. Many Protestants today hold that the beast is some giant computer in Belgium, and that the mark of the beast will be a visible “bar-code” or tattoo. These concepts unfortunately miss the spiritual meaning of the prophetic symbols by a wide margin and are misleading, and if retained, will lead to death.

As we scan the horizon of time, it may be said, that with regard to prophetic interpretation, particularly the identity of the scriptural antichrist, most Protestants today do not believe as did their spiritual forefathers, the original Protestants. The counter-Reformation theologies of preterism and futurism, created to forestall the inroads of Protestantism, have become more successful than their originators ever would have dreamed, in that Protestantism itself has become their leading spokesman. The very name “Protestant” has a diminished meaning in the current context of ecumenism.  

Historicists today, upon viewing the history of prophetic interpretation, have nothing to be embarrassed about. The scriptural foundation upon which these prophetic interpretations are based are well-placed, crafted by masons over many centuries, including many of the heroes of the Reformation.  While others may look upon these teachings as being insensitive, uncaring, unkind, or even unchristian, a broad historical outlook puts them in an extremely favorable light. The picture of a long succession of torch bearers emerges, with the light of truth being borne by a many an evangelist, the torch being passed from century to century.  

If you hear a presentation on the horn power of Daniel 7 or the beast of Revelation 13 as being represented by the historical papacy, and the teachings seem strange or weird and it seems that there is no one else in Christendom to stand beside him, I invite you to look again. Look a little more closely. Somewhat hidden from view, clouded by this mists of time, there are others there. In fact, as your eyes look again, you can see that the stage is nearly full with those who have preached the same sermon, who have carried the same torch. There’s Wycliffe, Knox, Zwingli, Calvin. There’s Huss and Jerome, Luther and Melanchthon, and a host of heroes from yesteryear who bore faithful witness to prophetic truth.

Sometimes it’s hard to see what is right in front of us. A lonely woman of Sychar came at noon to get water and met a Man Who opened to her mind spiritual truth as she had never seen it before. She went and told her neighbors, “This couldn’t be the Christ, could it?” John 4:29. The form of this question in Greek grammar anticipates a negative answer. Could this really be the One of prophecy, sitting right before her eyes? It seemed impossible to grasp. Yet the prophetic requirements were all met in Him.

And so today, many wonder with respect to the historical Papacy, “This couldn’t be the Antichrist, could it? This couldn’t be the one of which prophecy has spoken, could it?” It would be easier to look back into the yellowed pages of history to find his uncomfortable existence far in the past, removed from us by millennia, or shove his appearance into the far distant stretches of the future. That would be easier, wouldn’t it? And yet, right before our eyes, we see that prophecy has spoken and history has confirmed. And yes, their own statements corroborate the fulfillment.

Having said that, and recognizing that it is important to know about the “beast,” it is far more important to know the “Lamb.” You can have all the prophetic symbols correctly identified, but without knowing Jesus it will do you no good. It’s not what you know, it’s Who you know. The prophecies of Daniel and Revelation are soon to be completely fulfilled. If you listen carefully today, you can hear the echo of those sentiments which will soon result in the formation of the deadly “image to the beast” foretold later in the 13th chapter of Revelation. Today we must make sure of our salvation. Today we must make sure we have a personal relationship with Christ. Today we must study, pray, work and wait for the fulfillment of God’s plan, which surely will soon come to pass.