Times and Signs—Part 9

The Rise and Fall of the Antichrist—Part III

“Then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.” —II Thessalonians 2:8

IN ORDER to understand clearly, prophetically, and historically, what is involved in the rise and fall of the Antichrist, it is essential to recognize that it is not an individual. It is, rather, the union of church and state which was established in the old Roman world, resulting in the transformation of pagan Rome into papal Rome.

The growth and acceptance of this system was not sudden, but gradual, covering a period of centuries. Were we left with only the records of the historians from which to decide upon an exact date for the establishment of the Antichrist, we would find it difficult. But in this the prophecies come to our aid. As we learned in our previous study, the length of time prophetically assigned to this system is 1,260 years. We have also learned that it was Napoleon who, in 1799, dealt the shattering blow to the once undisputed power and authority of church-state unionism as it has been represented in papal Rome.

So, by using the measuring rod of 1,260 years, and counting backward from 1799, we come to the year A.D. 539, as the date when, prophetically, the Antichrist began to reign. It is important that we recognize this as a prophetic date, for in the examination of other prophecies we will find this is a starting point for still other time measurements in the plan of God. Otherwise the exact date when the mystery of iniquity began to reign would be of less consequence.

However, since the Bible points to the year A.D. 539, a glance at history reveals that an important development in the rise of papacy did occur there. In the disputes between the Eastern and Western Empires, the church occupied more and more of a commanding position. Concerning the conquering of Italy in A.D. 539 by Justinian I, a Roman Catholic writer states:

“Under these circumstances it happened that the emperors … lost all actual power, and remained only in name the masters of the government while the popes, in virtue of the needs of the moment, came practically in possession of that supremacy over the Roman domain. … In this legitimate way, the temporal power and sovereignty of the pope was, by divine providence, gradually established.”—The History of the Catholic Church, Vol. 1, pp. 250, 251

While it was thus in A.D. 539 that the church-state rule had its small beginning, it was not until A.D. 800 that this system was exalted to undisputed power and officially designated the Holy Roman Empire. The pope, who crowned Charlemagne, was then recognized as himself ‘king of kings, emperor of emperors’, ‘another god on earth’. The 1,000 years from then until Napoleon defied the pope and shattered his civil power, is claimed to this day as the papal millennium—the thousand years of messianic kingdom glory foretold in the Bible. This false claim helps to establish the identity of the Antichrist.

Gradual Fall of Antichrist

In II Thessalonians 2:7, the Apostle Paul, writing concerning his own day, said, “The mystery of iniquity doth already work.” He did not mean by this that the Antichrist was already in existence and exercising control in the affairs of men. But Paul, with the discernment given him through the Holy Spirit, could recognize the selfish ambitions of many of the professed believers in the Early Church which would, when favorable circumstances arose, lead to its development.—II Thess. 2:3,4

Just as the inception and development of this church-state power was obscure and gradual, so is its deterioration and fall. However, and as we have seen, there were certain definite advance steps of progress in its rise; and this is true also in its fall. The Protestant movement, beginning particularly with Luther, had its weakening effect upon papacy; although the early reformers did little to destroy in the minds of the people the error of church-state unionism. In fact, the denominations started by these reformers usually joined hands with the governments in the countries of their origin.

The most significant turning point toward the downfall of the Antichrist was the taking away of its temporal power by Napoleon. It is this that is referred to in Daniel 7:26, which reads, “The judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end.” Notice in this prophecy three developments are foretold. First, the ‘dominion’ is taken away; secondly, it is ‘consumed’; and thirdly, it is ‘destroyed’ “unto the end.” Here is a sequence of events which blend into one another in their work of destruction unto the end, until that system is completely and forever destroyed.

It is probable that the Apostle Paul had this very prophecy in mind when, in our text, he describes Antichrist’s destruction. He wrote, “Whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and destroy with the brightness of his coming.” Paul enlarges upon Daniel’s prophecy, explaining the manner in which the consuming and destruction will be accomplished. It will be consumed, he says, by the spirit of his mouth, and destroyed by the brightness of his coming.

There is a slight variation in the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words translated ‘consume’ and ‘destroy’ in these prophecies of Daniel and Paul, but basically they describe the same sequence in the fall and ultimate destruction. The Hebrew word translated ‘consume’ in Daniel’s prophecy literally means ‘to desolate’. The Greek word rendered ‘consume’ in Paul’s prophecy means ‘to use up’. The word destroy in Daniel’s prophecy is the translation of a Hebrew word meaning ‘to perish’, while Paul used a Greek word to describe this complete destruction of papacy which means ‘to render utterly idle or useless’. Thus we are presented with the thought of a gradual process of destruction, culminating, of course, in an ultimate and complete downfall. This period of consuming and final destruction is presented in the prophecies as beginning at the time dominion is taken away; that is, A.D. 1799. It is from then onward; in particular, that we are to look for the consuming phase of destruction.

Paul wrote that this wicked system would be consumed by the Spirit of the Lord’s mouth. This seems clearly to be a symbolic reference to the Word of God, the Bible, and the result its truths would have. One of the desolating works of papacy during the height of its power was to prevent the general use of the Word of God. To possess and read the Bible was a crime calling for torture and death as a punishment. But with its dominion taken away it could no longer prevent, except in limited areas, the free circulation of the Bible, and it was soon after the turn of the nineteenth century that Bible publishing societies began to be formed. During the years since, the world has been almost literally flooded with Bibles, and in all the principal languages. Today one of the large Bible societies has an office and supply depot right in the center of Rome!

The printing and circulation of Bibles has not, of course, converted, or even enlightened to any extent, many of the ardent supporters of Antichrist. The Bible has been styled the ‘torch of civilization’, and the light from this torch has sufficiently illuminated the non-papal world as to greatly strengthen its determination to prevent the dominion of the mystery of iniquity being reestablished.

While Napoleon wrested temporal power from the pope in 1799, and the title, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, was shortly thereafter cast aside by Francis II, the pope continued to be a nominal ruler over Rome until 1870, when even this was taken away from him. We repeat, in order to realize the full significance of these events, it is essential to bear in mind that the Antichrist is not just a church or a government, but the union of the two—the system in which civil governments accepted the headship and dictation of a religious overlord.

We know from the prophecies that eventually every government of this present evil world, and every church system, will be destroyed. We know the Lord will turn to the people a pure message of truth, and that this will enlighten all mankind enabling them to call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with “one consent.” (Zeph. 3:9) Then the knowledge of the glory of God will fill the earth!

But these are developments which will follow the consuming and destruction of Antichrist. Indeed, the prophetic picture of enlightenment and blessing through the true kingdom of Christ will not become a complete reality until the end of the millennium. What we are to look for now, and what we see, is the steady consuming and destroying of the Antichrist system, the shattering of the church-state concept of government as a factor in world affairs. True, many religious leaders are doing all they can to influence the course of governments. So does big business; so do the liquor interests; the cigarette manufacturers; the racketeers. Nearly every segment of society, in all countries, brings what pressure it can to bear on government; and the churches are no exception.

But the fact that religion is on the outside, so far as official recognition is concerned, and limited to whatever methods it may have to influence civil rulers rather than being in a position to dictate to them, highlights the tremendous change that has taken place since 1799. Then the pope was humiliated when Napoleon refused to go to Rome to be crowned by him, because up to that time he had been the overlord of kings.

From 1870 to the rule of Mussolini in Italy, the pope was a prisoner in the Vatican. Through a concordat with the fascist dictator, the pope was given Vatican City as a domain of his own, and he is now ruler of this little bit of territory. He has sent his ambassadors to whatever countries would accept them; and in turn, many nations have sent their ambassadors to the Vatican. But this does not mean he has been reestablished as the religious overlord of the Holy Roman Empire, for that empire no longer exists in any form, holy or otherwise.

The Catholic Church, through its cardinals, bishops, and priests, is still a potent influence in many countries of the world. There is, perhaps, no better information-gathering organization in the world, and many nations find it to their advantage to have ambassadors at the Vatican. It will be recalled that President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a personal representative to Rome just to gather whatever vital information might be available through Vatican sources. President Truman continued this arrangement. President Eisenhower hinted at the idea of the State Department sending an ambassador, but the Protestant leaders in this country raised such a storm of opposition that he gave up the idea.

No, the pope has not regained his temporal power, except in a very nominal sense, and in a territory so small as to be without vital significance in the world of today. The Catholic Church no doubt cherishes the hope of one day regaining at least a semblance of the civil power she formerly exercised. This is true also of the Protestant churches, particularly the fundamentalist groups. (Rev. 17:5) The clergy of the modernist Protestant denominations, for the most part, no longer in their hearts believe in eternal torture; although only occasionally does one come out openly and say so. This doctrine is still part of their creeds, as are all the other doctrines that clung to the Reformers when leaving the ‘mother’ church.

The desolating doctrines of papacy are indeed lasting. Take, for example, the very core of the Antichrist ideology; namely, church-state unionism. The Protestant clergy, at least in the United States, profess to abhor the church-state concept of government, and they are doubtless sincere. What they do not realize is that in setting up this system, the Antichrist destroyed the true concept of Christ’s kingdom, and the Reformers never restored it.

Protestant churches today do not, as a whole, look for nor do they expect Christ to establish a literal kingdom, or government, to rule in the affairs of men. To them the kingdom of Christ is merely a righteous, wholesome influence in individual hearts and lives. Their hope, vain though it may be, is that eventually there will be enough hearts in the world thus filled with righteousness and love to control the affairs of the world. It is this that they have in mind when they offer the Lord’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”—Matt. 6:10

In their efforts to bring about Christ’s kingdom in this manner, they do not hesitate to meddle in a mild way in politics. They endeavor to get good laws passed, and by other means improve world society. While they deplore the union of church and state, they are quite willing to use civil governments in any way they can to accomplish what they have decided are good ends. They do not realize that in this they are practicing a mild form of papacy’s church-state doctrine.

The Increase of Knowledge

In our text Paul says, not only that the wicked one would be consumed by the Spirit of the Lord’s mouth, but also that it would be destroyed by the brightness of his coming. The Greek word here translated brightness is epiphania, meaning to make manifest by bright shining. The word coming is a translating of the Greek word parousia, meaning ‘presence’. The Man of Sin, then, is to be finally destroyed by the bright shining of the Lord’s presence.

This bright shining is not a glare of light, as from fire, but is symbolic of knowledge, understanding, and truth. Daniel prophesied that in the time of the end there would be a qreat increase of knowledge, and much running to and fro. (Dan. 12:4) In this prophecy, mention is also made of a “time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation.” (vs. 1) Actually, the increase of knowledge which has suddenly come to the world in the time of the end has been a potent contributing factor in bringing about the foretold time of trouble.

Jesus quoted Daniel’s prophecy pertaining to the time of trouble, and placed its fulfillment at the time of his second presence. (Matt. 24:3,21) In Luke’s report of Jesus’ prophecy he describes the time of trouble, or of tribulation, as “distress of nations, with perplexity.” One aspect of this tribulation, Luke reports, would be that “the powers of the heaven shall be shaken.”—Luke 21:25,26

The ‘heaven’ here is figurative. It symbolizes spiritual control. Just as the new heavens and the new earth are symbolic of the spiritual and earthly phases of Christ’s kingdom, so the heavens and the earth “which are now,” as Peter wrote, symbolize the spiritual and earthly aspects of the present world, or social order. (II Pet. 3:7,13) The shaking of the powers of the present symbolic heavens suggests the weakening of the power of spiritual control in the affairs of men.—Heb. 12:26-28

Starting at the top in identifying the present symbolic heavens, we are obliged to name Satan, the “prince of this world,” and the “god of this world.” (John 12:31; II Cor. 4:4) Paul also speaks of Satan as the “prince of the power of the air,” the present spiritual domain. (Eph. 2:2) Paul says further that Satan is the “spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” Associated with Satan are the fallen angels, so we have the expression, “the Devil and his angels.”—Matt. 25:41

The Devil and his angels do all they can to mislead individual servants of the Lord. It is, of course, a startling thing to say this or that institution is under the influence of the Devil. However, the Scriptures give us a safe guide by which to determine this matter, which is, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matt. 7:16,20) Let us, then, go simply by the fruits as evidenced by the teachings and practices of religious institutions.

When we think of all the various brands of heathen religions with their superstitions, their idol worship, their multiplicity of gods, we cannot say these are the fruit of our loving Heavenly Father’s influence. If we honestly face the facts we have to acknowledge that all heathen religions and the institutions through which they function, are the handiwork of the god of this world, Satan, the Devil.

Going back into the Dark Ages when the abomination of desolation was set up, what do we find? The doctrines of this system were eternal torture; purgatory; the mass; the trinity; church-state unionism; and salvation through masses, indulgences, and purgatorial sufferings. Were any of these of the Lord? Was it possible for a human mind to invent anything so fiendish as the doctrine of eternal torture? Who inspired this diabolical thing? Surely none but the Devil. And it was through the fear inspired by these doctrines that the people were held in restraint. These were the powers of heaven that held undisputed control over the Roman world for 1,260 years.

Individuals, of course, are not involved in this matter. It is institutions we are examining. And what about the major Protestant organizations? Are their doctrines of the Lord? Their beliefs are in many ways the same as those of the Catholic Church—eternal torture, the trinity, and so forth. While they speak of Jesus and the Redeemer, they insist Jesus was God, and therefore could not die. Could these God-dishonoring doctrines be inspired by our loving Heavenly Father? We think not, and yet it has been largely through the fear engendered by these doctrines that the Protestant religion has held the people under a measure of restraint.

But Jesus said that in the time of great tribulation, brought about through the increase of knowledge in the hands of selfish and fallen man, the powers of heaven would be shaken. Has this in any manner begun to take place? We think so, and to a degree that helps us the more clearly to see that ‘mystery of iniquity’ is, indeed, being destroyed by the bright shining of the Lord’s presence.

The first destructive outbreak of the great tribulation of the prophecies occurred in 1914. At that time, while papacy had lost its temporal power, most of the old Roman world was governed by hereditary ruling houses; united in certain instances with one or another state church. In Russia it was the Greek Catholic Church; in Germany, the Lutheran. These were vital remnants of the original church-state organization. But, with one crushing blow, continuing over a period of only four years, these were destroyed!

The revolution in Russia brought an end to the powers of spiritual control in that country. The Emperor of Germany lost his crown, and, in that country also, the church-state system died. All Europe was in turmoil during the intervening years until the beginning of the second global war. Fascist dictatorships thrived in Italy and Germany. Austria was taken over by Hitler and other revolutionary changes occurred. Then came the Second World War, and in its wake the downfall of the House of Savoy in Italy, and the further spread of atheistic communism in Eastern Europe. By this time, religious influence in world affairs was at such a low ebb that the newly formed United Nations could not, and to this day, does not have its sessions opened with prayer; nor is the name of God in its constitution.

Meanwhile, the increase of knowledge continues to expose the old superstitions which restrained the thinking and actions of the people. This has been particularly noticeable in connection with the youth of the world. Even the proper and scriptural moral standards of conduct are now widely flouted, and in almost all segments of society there is a deterioration of morality which is causing millions to fear the ultimate outcome.

Yes, the powers of heaven are being shaken. This is the present heaven patterned largely after the example of the Antichrist system of spiritual control. It means further progress in the destruction of the mystery of iniquity. Actually, of course, the church-state combine, so far as vital control in world affairs is concerned, is destroyed. There are still remnants of the civil powers remaining which committed fornication with the woman—the apostate church. (Rev. 18:3) And the woman herself, as well as her daughters, still remain. But with knowledge increasing on every hand, these, in the general average, will continue to lose their power over the minds of the people, although there will doubtless be impressive exceptions.

But this is merely in preparation for the setting up of a new and righteous social order, which will be the kingdom of Christ. Then the power of the new heavens will be in control. The exalted Jesus will be the Head of this new spiritual rulership, and with him will be his faithful followers. Their human representatives will be the Ancient Worthies—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets and other faithful ones of past ages.

From these new spiritual rulers, through their human representatives, will emanate the truth concerning our loving Heavenly Father and his gracious plan of salvation; the plan which will offer to every son and daughter of Adam a full opportunity to repent, accept Christ as the Savior, obey the laws of his kingdom, and live forever! Then the people will learn the true source of the eternal torture blasphemy. They will learn purgatory was merely a figment of the imagination. They will learn there is but one God—not three—and one Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.—I Tim. 2:3-6

The laws of that new kingdom will be just and righteous. Those who continue willfully to disobey will die in the second death. No one will be burned at the stake, nor will any be tortured on a rack. Even when the death penalty is decreed because of continued willful disobedience on the part of the incorrigible, it will be administered in love.

Then the people will know that God is love. The new heavens will declare the Lord’s righteousness, and all the people will see his glory! (Ps. 97:6) The nightmarish doctrines of the past will then be dispelled from the minds of the people, and they will learn, instead, the true principles of righteousness and love. In obeying those principles, they will live rejoicingly forever. This will be the case because “the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.”—Dan. 7:27

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