Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now — Preface

Bible study is a unique topic in that no matter how many times you have read your Bible, there is always more to learn. We must ever remain open to the teaching of the Holy Spirit, who alone is able to illuminate our mind from what He has provided in the Word of God for us. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1:21). “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16). If we want to live righteously, then we must spend time with the Word of God.  

According to the Scriptures themselves, the proper way to study the Bible is by placing one text with another and letting the Bible interpret itself. “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little. (Isaiah 28:9, 10). We gain nothing in our study if, in an attempt to establish a particular religious opinion, we sever a verse from its context, as is often done with the “proof-texting” approach to Bible study. The Scriptures must first be understood within a verse’s immediate context. We must ask: what is the Bible writer conveying as a whole in this section of Scripture? We must then expand the scope of the context to take in the entire chapter in which the verse is found, and put that within the context of the whole Bible itself. The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself by telling us one thing in one place, and the opposite in another. If this were so, we could never know what truth is. But as Christ’s delegated representative on earth, the Holy Spirit has been given to guide us into “all truth” because He does not speak of Himself, but of Christ, who is the Truth, the Way, and the Life (John 16:13; 14:6).

Proof texting is the method by which a person appeals to a Bible text to prove or justify a theological position without regard for the context of the passage they are citing. Verses taken out of context are often strung together to “prove” their position.

The apostle Peter warned us of the danger of “wresting” the meaning of a Bible text. “Our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:15, 16). “Wresting” the Scriptures from their true meaning could result in our eternal destruction, therefore it is imperative that we prayerfully and carefully study the Word of God.


Peter said that Paul wrote “epistles, speaking in them of these things”—what “things” is Peter referring to? Reading the context of these words from Peter’s second letter gives us the answer. The immediate context of the chapter in which these words are found concerns the “last days” preceding the second coming of Jesus, and the conditions that will be found in the world at that time. In other words, the context is end-time events. The apostle Paul wrote three quarters of the New Testament, giving us theological concepts of righteousness by faith which have caused generations of readers to wrestle with the meaning Paul was expressing. These challenging texts are not what Peter was referring to when he wrote his comment stating that Paul’s letters contain “some things hard to understand.” Paul’s letters to the Romans, Hebrews, and Galatians all contain deep theological discussions on righteousness by faith, but they are not “hard to understand,” not being veiled in any symbolic language.

Wrestle—to engage in deep thought, consideration, or debate to determine meaning.

1 Thessalonians 4:13–18: But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

Revelation 1:7: Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen.

Paul wrote very little that can be considered as end-time prophecy, an exception being his two letters to the Thessalonians. While visiting with the people of Thessalonica, Paul spoke about the coming of Jesus and, after he moved on to Berea, some of the Thessalonians became confused about the timing and nature of Christ’s second coming. In his first letter, Paul explains that every person on earth will see Christ when He returns to take His people to heaven—it will not be a hidden or secretive event (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18). The apostle John confirmed Paul’s statement when he wrote that “every eye” shall see Him come in clouds of glory (Revelation 1:7). In his second letter to them, Paul gave an explanation about events that must happen before Christ could return. Those who read the words found in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 without placing them in an historical context, found them “hard to understand.” Verses 1 through 12 are a prophecy of events that would bring the church through challenging times, culminating in a great “falling away” from the Gospel truth of Christ and His righteousness and salvation though Him alone.

From the context of the second letter, Paul reminded the people of Thessalonica that they already knew (but evidently misunderstood or had forgotten) what must take place before Christ could come and take His people home. Paul had discussed this with them while he was personally visiting them (vv. 5, 6). In 2 Thessalonians 2:3–8, Paul was speaking about the certainty of the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of another power to take its place, as was prophesied by Daniel and recorded in chapters 2, 7, and 8 of Daniel’s book. Pagan Rome stood in the way of the development of the institution through which the “man of sin” would arise on the scene of power as the western Roman Empire fell to ruins (2 Thessalonians 2:3–7; cf. Daniel 7:7, 8; 20–25; 8:9–12). Because the Roman Empire outlawed any teaching or writings that could be construed as seditious—and proclaiming that the empire would fall certainly would have caused Paul to be condemned as an insurgent—Paul found it necessary to use somewhat veiled language to protect what he was writing to the Thessalonians in his letters.

Jesus Christ employed the same strategy when presenting the great principles of His kingdom. In answer to the question put forth by His disciples about His use of parables, Jesus said, “For this people’s heart is waxed gross and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” “Therefore speak I unto them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” In contrast, to the believer Jesus said, “it is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them [unbelievers] it is not given.” (Matthew 13:15, 13, 11). Jesus taught in parables for many reasons, but chiefly that He might shield the truth from His enemies so they could not abuse it, while at the same time opening the truth to those who believed His word. Christ’s parables were a veil which both revealed and concealed the truth, opening sacred things to those who would respond, while veiling them from others who would abuse the information.

2 Thessalonians 2:3–7: Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.

When it occurred, the great “falling away” that Paul predicted brought about many changes in the church, effecting numerous doctrines including the vital concepts concerning the nature of the Godhead, and Christ’s humanity. The “falling away” obscured the truth that salvation was accomplished through Christ alone, transformed simple worship practices into complex ceremonies, and perverted true Christian piety. The church struggled through more than a thousand years of increasing darkness, until the light of the Protestant Reformation began to shine once again on the pages of holy Scripture. When men returned to the pure reading of the Word of God, not filtered through accumulated church tradition and the “commandments of men,” truth revived bringing with it significant advances in understanding the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation.

The great falling away that Paul wrote about in 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12 was not the first time God’s people had fallen into apostasy. As a result of repeated rebellion against God, the children of Israel suffered an increasing spiritual darkness, resulting in two deportations by foreign powers. Isaiah prophesied concerning the falling away that ended in Babylonian captivity when he said that even the priests and prophets were not immune from spiritual drunkenness. “They are swallowed up by wine, they are out of the way through intoxicating drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.” (Isaiah 28:7). Isaiah was addressing both an actual indulgence in intoxicating drink, and the spiritual decline brought about through indulgence in spiritually intoxicating false ideas about God. The very leaders of the people, both the kings and the priests, had turned from truth and led the entire nations of Israel and Judah into apostasy. In each case, only a remnant stood for the Lord, while the majority became spiritually and politically bankrupt.


When Christ arrived “in the fullness of time,” the Jews had so perverted the Word of God that they could not recognize Him of whom the Scriptures spoke so plainly. Preferring their own preconceived opinions concerning the Messiah, they wrested the meaning of prophecies concerning His incarnation and the work He would accomplish, leading them to reject and crucify their only source of redemption. The Jews expected an earthly king who would free them from the dominion of a corrupt and oppressive political system, restoring to the Jews an earthly kingdom through which they would be an exalted people as they once were under the reigns of kings David and Solomon. To them, the coming Messiah was a hope in the restoration of worldly glory. Because of their pride and misinterpretation of prophecy, they would not accept a King whose kingdom was not of this world, and who called all persons to “take up their cross” of a life of humble service to Him alone (John 18:36; Matthew 16:24).

Matthew 16:21-23: From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took Him, and began to rebuke Him, saying, Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee. But He turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art an offence unto Me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

1 Corinthians 10:11–12: Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.

Even Jesus’ own disciples failed to comprehend the true character and mission of their Master and what His kingdom actually consisted of (Mark 10:35–37; Matthew 20:20–24; Acts 1:6), causing them to flee behind locked doors when their hopes of earthly glory evaporated on Golgotha’s hill (John 20:19).

All the experiences of the ancient Israelites and Jews of Jesus’ day are “written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4). Thus we are told that through the historical record we will gain knowledge for understanding and properly interpreting the Word of God.[1]

As the darkness of apostasy deepened over the New Testament church there were, scattered here and there, a few men who recognized that corruption had crept in over the years. Submitting themselves to the Holy Spirit’s leading as they studied God’s word, they dug for truth seeking to understand what was happening around them. Opening their Bibles, the Protestant Reformers found answers to their questions regarding the declining conditions existing within the church. Reading the history of the Jewish nation, and studying the prophecies concerning that nation and the Messiah’s first advent, as well as studying the end-time prophecies found in Daniel and Revelation, they reached their conclusions that the church of their day was corrupted by the ambitions of its leaders. The precious truths of Jesus Christ and salvation through faith in Him alone were obscured under the burden of church tradition and the doctrines of men. The reformers realized that the apostle Paul had prophesied that this would take place in his second letter to the Thessalonians. It became clear to them that what the apostle John wrote in Revelation 2:18–21 likening the church to King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, who had seduced God’s people into committing spiritual fornication, did indeed apply to the church that had fallen into such a deplorable condition.


None of the early Protestant Reformers set out to build a new denomination; they were intent upon bringing their beloved church back into line with the teachings of Jesus Christ. The “morning stars” of the Reformation were John Wycliffe (1320–1384) and Jan Hus (1369–1415), who were both professors of theology at church universities, Wycliffe in England, Hus in Prague. A century later in Germany, Martin Luther entered the struggle for reforming the church. It was never Luther’s intent to create a separate church of “Lutherans.” His goal was to bring the truth of salvation through Christ alone—without the sacraments and works demanded by the church—to the common people who so desperately needed to hear the good news of justification by faith. Only after Luther came under censure and threats against his life, did he turn his pen to writing documents condemning the church as the “antichrist” of prophecy.

The word “antichrist” occurs only in 1 John 2:18, 22; 1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7. Defined by the apostle John, an antichrist is one who is denies or opposes Christ and His work in the salvation of mankind. Rather than a single individual, it is an attitude that seduces and draws people away from the true Gospel of Christ and His righteousness. John said “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”

Shortly before his death in 1546, Luther wrote his treatise titled, “Against the Roman Papacy; an Institution of the Devil,” in which he stated that the pope is “the head of the accursed church of all the worst scoundrels on earth, a vicar of the devil, an enemy of God, an adversary of Christ, a destroyer of Christ’s churches, a teacher of lies. … a brothel-keeper over all brothel-keepers and all vermin, even that which cannot be named; an Antichrist … .”[2] Two years before, John Calvin’s treatise titled “The Necessity of Reforming the Church” declared: “I deny that See to be Apostolical, wherein nought is seen but a shocking apostasy—I deny him to be the Vicar of Christ, who, in furiously persecuting the gospel, demonstrates by his conduct that he is Antichrist. …”[3]

The “protestant reformation” did not arise in a vacuum, but was the result of a century of scholarly examination of the history and teachings of the church and the errors that had crept in since the “falling away” began early in life of the New Testament church. The apostles Peter, Paul, and John all witnessed its beginning even in their day, each making comments in some of their letters about heresies that were undermining the foundation of the Christian church (e.g. Romans 16:17, 18; Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Corinthians 11:13; Galatians 3:1–3; Ephesians 5:6, 7; Colossians 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 2 Peter 2:1–3; 1 John 4:1–3).

Acts 20:29-30: For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

2 Corinthians 11:13: For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.

Ephesians 5:6-7: Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them.

Colossians 2:8: Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

2 Peter 2:1-3: But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.

1 John 4:1-3: Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and 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 ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

As an outgrowth of the Northern Renaissance, three main areas of dispute evolved during the Protestant Reformation. Secular and theocratic concepts of government clashed as European churchmen and kings alike spoke out against the ecclesio–political traditions which gave the church unlimited power over the affairs of the states under its dominion. The synthesis of Aristotle and church tradition and its influence upon church doctrine since the middle of the thirteenth century, came into question as the early reformers sought a purer interpretation of the Scriptures, free of mysticism and scholastic argument. The church reform movement of the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries known as Conciliarism, challenged papal authority, criticized its corruption, and sought to limit the power of the Bishop of Rome. The dispute centered on the papal claim to absolute authority over all things in both the spiritual and temporal realms.

The history of the Middle Ages reveals the intimate bond between politics and religion, the one effecting the other in a continual conflict over power. During the medieval period religion, politics, and culture were inseparable. The church ruled men’s thinking in all areas of life; personal liberty and rights of conscience were nonexistent. In 1305, due to a power struggle between Philip IV of France and Pope Boniface VIII, over the state’s right to tax the clergy, France moved the seat of the papacy to Avignon, France, establishing the Avignon Papacy that lasted until 1377. Accusations of corruption, favoritism toward the French, and questioning the papal claim to absolute authority in governing the universal church resulted in legal disputes between the pope in Avignon and a second pope in Rome, that lasted from 1378 until 1418, when the Council of Constance resolved the disagreements. During this crisis, Conciliarism took center stage as the best option for deciding which of the popes would step down. In light of the obvious conflict in claims to absolute ascendancy, there being a pope at Avignon and one in Rome, Conciliarism attempted to establish the principle that the church was best officiated under the supreme authority that resided with an ecumenical council of church representatives rather than a single man claiming inerrant authority.

It was in this tumultuous environment that the Protestant Reformation was born. What began in the mid–1300s as primarily a political struggle eventually developed into a disputation over religious doctrine. Laying aside church tradition, the Reformers turned to their Bibles, searching the Word of God for support or refutation of the church’s teachings. Though the Protestant Reformation sought to sever the power of the church over the state, what resulted was a variety of state-supported denominations adhering to modifications of the Roman doctrines. True separation of church and state did not exist anywhere in the world until the Constitution of the United States was ratified on May 29, 1790, with its First Amendment that guaranteed religious freedom being added a year later. The founding of America embodied the lofty principles of the Protestant Reformation—freedom of conscience for all men, and freedom from persecution under a tyrannical religo-political institution.

The year before Martin Luther died, the church convened the Council of Trent on December 13, 1545. That council consisted of twenty-five sessions over 18 years, ending on December 4, 1563. The main purpose of the Council was to counter the claims of the protesting theologians and priests by determining a means through which the church could buttress its position on the traditional teachings it had held since Augustine. It also sought to refute the reformers’ protestations against abuses of authority, and to officially condemn the principles and doctrines found in the writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other reformers who identified the papacy as the antichrist system described in the prophecies of Daniel, Revelation, and Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians.


As a result of the Council of Trent, the papacy renewed its efforts to restrict, as far as possible, the work of the reformers by officially condemning and absolutely prohibiting all religious writings from the pen of anyone declared a heretic by the church, including any vernacular translations of the Scriptures. Erasmus’s Greek translation completed in 1516, Luther’s 1522 German translation, Tyndale’s 1526 English translation, Myles Coverdale’s 1535 English Bible, and the Geneva Bible printed in 1560 were all condemned by the church as heretical because they could be read in the common language of the people. Any books whether lexicons, concordances, commentaries, or expositions, had to pass the strictest censorship and expurgation before it could be published and distributed. A list of condemned books and treatises was compiled by the Congregation of the Index and published by Pius IV in 1564. Official prohibition, however, had little effect north of the Alps as colporteurs carried the condemned tracts, Bibles, and other religious materials throughout northern Europe.

Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of a mechanical movable type printing press in 1438, seriously threatened the political and ecclesiastical powers by making reading materials more available for wide distribution among the working middle class population of Europe, including a printed Bible that was available by 1455.

In the seventeenth session of the Council of Trent on January 18, 1562, Casper del Fosso, archbishop of Reggio di Calabria, appealed to the tradition of the fathers of the church as the source of the church’s power and authority over men’s consciences. The fact that the church had changed the day of worship from the seventh-day Sabbath to the first day of the week was offered as proof of its power, for nearly all Christians unquestioningly followed this teaching. “Since the Scripture received its authority not from human will, but from God Himself, for that reason there was never any sane man who would have presumed to contradict it or oppose to it anything false, inconsistent, or idle. Likewise the church acquired from the Lord no less authority, so that whoever has heard or rejected her may be said to have heard or rejected God Himself. … Nay, rather, the authority of the church, then, is most emphatically illustrated by the Scriptures; for while on the one hand she recommends them, declares them to be divine, presents them to us to be read, on doubtful matters explains them faithfully, and condemns whatever is contrary to them; on the other hand, the legal precepts taught by the Lord in the Scriptures have by the same authority become invalid. The sabbath day, the most distinguished day under the law, has passed over into the Lord’s day … these and precepts similar to these have not become invalid by a declaration of Christ (for he says that he came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it), but they have been changed by the authority of the church.”[4]


When the Council closed in 1563, (among other things) it had firmly established the Mass as a true sacrifice of Christ through the doctrine of transubstantiation which transformed the bread and wine into the literal flesh and blood of Christ; it affirmed the sale of indulgences, veneration of saints, worship of images and relics, and the worship of the Virgin Mary; it declared the Latin Vulgate as the only authorized and adequate reference for doctrinal proofs, and canonized the Apocrypha as a valid addition to the Scriptures. Ruling against Martin Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone, the Council of Trent defined the nature and consequences of Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin, which by assertion of the Roman church, condemns every individual as guilty of the sin of Adam from the moment they are born. Rome claims that justification for the individual comes only through the mercy of the church. It further claimed that, rather than relying upon Scripture alone, church tradition that had developed over the centuries since Augustine was the primary source of faith and practice for all Christians. Tradition was “more sure” that the Word of God.


The systematic counterattack against the reformers was carried out not only through polemics and suppression of Protestant writings, but through the reinstatement of the Inquisition, the founding of the Order of the Society of Jesus and their enlistment to produce a counterinterpretation of prophecy that would protect the papacy from identification as the antichrist. The vast scope of these repressive measures had far reaching repercussions. The Protestant theologians Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley in England were burned at the stake in 1555 under Catholic Queen Mary I. The Duke of Alva attempted to exterminate the Protestants and their Catholic supporters in the Netherlands with the slaughter of 18,000 persons over a six-year period (1566–1572). The assassination of 50,000 French Calvinist Protestants (Huguenots) under the St. Bartholomew’s Day conspiracy in 1572 which caused a major international crisis; the undeclared Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604) that sought to overturn the Protestant reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England; the outrages of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648); and the massacre of countless Protestants in Magdeburg, Ireland, and France, were all the direct result of the counter-reformation.


For over a century the Protestant Reformation struggled to remain alive. After the Peace of Westphalia ended the persecution (1648), established national sovereignty in Europe, and prohibited political influence over churches, forward progress in the rediscovery of the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith floundered. What began as an intense fire, zealous for the pure word of God, subsided to a dying bed of embers. Of this church period, Jesus declared: “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.” (Revelation 3:1, 2).

With the Peace of Westphalia European kings and princes were no longer bound to the political dictates of the papacy.

The employment of the newly organized Society of Jesus to produce a satisfactory explanation of prophecy that countered the claims of the writings of Luther and Calvin mentioned above, resulted in two main reinterpretations of the books of Daniel and Revelation. Those propositions survive today as the futurist and preterist schools of prophetic interpretation. Francisco Ribera (1537-1591) and Cardinal Robert Francis Bellarmine (1542-1621) postulated a formula that would place fulfillment of the prophecy concerning the antichrist in the distant future, during the “last days,” while Luis de Alcazar (1554-1613) advanced almost simultaneously the conflicting preterist position which presented an allegorical interpretation of Scripture that placed the fulfillment of the antichrist prophecy in the past, suggesting that it occurred through the persecution of the Jews under the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes (175–164 B.C.).


The futurist school of prophetic interpretation had its beginnings with Francisco Ribera, who was commissioned by the church of Rome to deal with Martin Luther and John Calvin’s claims that the pope was the antichrist. Ribera wrote a 500 page commentary on Revelation, denying the Protestant Reformation’s application of the antichrist to the papacy. “The futurist Scheme, as I have elsewhere stated, was first, or nearly first, propounded about the year 1590 by the Jesuit Ribera; as the fittest one whereby to turn aside the Protestant application of the Apocalyptic prophecy from the Church of Rome. … Its general characteristic is to view the whole Apocalypse, at least from after the Epistles of the Seven Churches, as a representation of the events of the consummation and second advent, all still future: the Israel depicted in it being the literal Israel; the days in the chronological periods literal days; and the Antichrist, or Apocalyptic Beast under his last head, a personal infidel Antichrist, to reign and triumph over the saints for just 3½ years, until Christ’s coming shall destroy him.”[5]

Revelation 11:3-8: And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will. And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.

It should be remembered that at the time Ribera was composing his work, there was no Jewish nation anywhere in the world, the Jewish people having been dispersed at the time Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army in AD 70.

Ribera assigned the first few chapters of Revelation to ancient Rome, claiming that spiritual Babylon was Rome of the past and future, but not the present. The rest of the prophecy he restricted to a future time when, for a literal three and a half year reign, an infidel antichrist would appear just before the second coming of Christ. Ribera’s interpretation placed the appearance of the “man of sin” at the close of the seven seals, and placed the fulfillment of all seven of the “trumpets” of Revelation under the seventh seal to occur during a time of great tribulation. The death of the “two witnesses” of Revelation 11:3–8 (proposed by Ribera to be literal persons) was declared by Ribera to take place in literal time under the seventh seal.

Proposing that the antichrist would be a single individual who would befriend the Jews and rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and who would set up his own religious system, Ribera predicted that the Jews would see this man as their long-awaited messiah. According to Ribera, the Jews would accept this man’s teachings and cooperate with his commission to preach his message throughout the world. As a result, the entire world would be converted in less than three and a half years. According to Ribera, following this period of great religious revival, the antichrist would deny the “covenant” he had made with the Jewish nation and would launch a reign of terror upon the world that would last for the remaining three and a half years of the prophecy of Daniel 9:24–27.

Cardinal Bellarmine took the teachings of Ribera and developed them into the most detailed apology ever produced by the Roman Catholic Church. His main assault was against the day-for-a-year principal of prophetic time, used by the Protestants as the basis for their position that the true antichrist’s tyranny would last for 1260 years (538 to 1798), not a literal three and a half years. In doing this, Bellarmine denied the Biblical principle found in Numbers 14:34, Ezekiel 4:5, 6, and Daniel 4:32, depending instead upon church tradition that the Council of Trent had declared was “more sure” than the word of God found in the Bible. Bellarmine insisted that the 1260 prophetic “days” of Daniel and Revelation are actually three and one half literal years that would occur at the end of time. The difference between the 1290 and 1335 days in Daniel 12 were contended to be a literal forty-five days just prior to the actual end of the world.

Numbers 14:33-34: And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness. After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.

Ezekiel 4:4-5: Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it: according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shalt bear their iniquity. For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days: so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel.

Daniel 4:32: And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will.
The Hebrew word idddān, which is translated “time” in this and other prophetic statements, literally means “span” or “year.”

Thus we see that Ribera’s commentary on Revelation laid the foundation for the great structure of modern futurism. Since the Protestant Reformers rejected the doctrinal rebuttals and new theories on the antichrist that were birthed as part of the Counter-Reformation, one naturally is led to ask, how then, did these ideas survive until today? If the Protestant Reformers rejected these ideas because they knew the source of the theories, and knew that the true purpose was to obscure the light streaming from Scripture and history pointing out the apostate church, why are these theories now widely accepted among many of the descendant churches of the Protestant Reformation?

The new theories of prophetic interpretation first formulated by Francisco Ribera lay dormant for more than two centuries, until the work of Manuel de Lacunza was completed in 1791. Manuel de Lacunza was born in 1731 to an aristocratic family in Santiago, Chile. As a young man he chose to dedicate his life to the church through submission to the religious order of the Jesuits. About the same time, Carlos III, king of Spain (r. 1759–1788), came to resent the Jesuits partly as a result of his political disputes with the papacy. He regarded the Jesuit order with suspicion because it was an international organization with a supreme attachment to the papacy, that could be used to counter his absolutist monarchy. Carlos suspected that the Jesuits were the instigators of the violent riots in Madrid and elsewhere in 1766. After an investigation, he ordered their expulsion from Spain and the Spanish colonies in 1767. In 1768, Lacunza and his fellow Jesuits in Chile were arrested and taken to Italy, where they remained imprisoned until 1799, when the Spanish crown lifted the restrictions against them. Lacunza spent his exile devoted to reflection and writing, which resulted in his massive treatise entitled: The Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty.

Writing in support of his church, Lacunza asserted that the Roman Catholic Church, unam, sanctam, catholicam, apostolicam, and Roman, was the true church of Christ, and that the bishop of Rome was the visible head of the true and universal church, and Christ’s vicar on earth.[6] Lacunza built upon Ribera’s foundational theories on prophecy, restating the futurist interpretation of Revelation from chapter 4 to the end of the book. He resurrected the idea that the antichrist would not appear until the “last times” at the end of the world. But Lacunza made significant additions to Riberia’s theories about the end times.


In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the prevailing view of end time prophecies among Protestant churches in Europe was postmillennialism—that Christ would return at the end of a thousand years of peace on earth. But the political and social upheaval throughout Europe that was the result of the French Revolution (1789–1799), influenced a revival of determination to understand the end time prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. Great spiritual agitation followed the French Revolution as men began to reassess their expectations of the second coming of the Lord. Many Bible scholars of that day concluded that the end of all things was at hand, and the prophetic view of postmillennialism came under strong scrutiny in an attempt to determine if the peaceful millennium was impending. Into this ripe environment came Lacunza’s manuscript, released in 1791 under the pseudonym of Rabbi Juan Josafat Ben-Ezra.


Lacunza’s work had an immediate impact, and eventually was translated and printed in London, Paris, Mexico, and Spain (in English, French, and Spanish). The official Roman Catholic reaction came in 1819, when the Tribunal of the Sacred Office in Madrid ordered that the work be taken out of circulation. In September 1824, Lacunza’s work was included by Pope Leo XII in the index of forbidden books. Despite the official condemnation, through various translations into the main European languages, and its distribution to university libraries in key European cities, Lacunza’s book was widely read and discussed. As a result of the wide circulation of Lacunza’s writings in Europe, his prophetic interpretation came to be the accepted opinion among many of the Protestant theologians.


Viewed as fresh insight on the prophecies, Lacunza’s book entered into the theological discussion in England through Samuel Roffey Maitland who was the librarian at Canterbury Cathedral. Maitland discovered Lacunza’s manuscript in the library and gave it to Edward Irving, a popular Presbyterian minister in London. Irving was impressed with Lacunza’s views and worked to translate the manuscript into English under the title The Coming of the Messiah, printed in London in 1827. This version was instrumental in influencing the discussions on prophecy that took place during the interdenominational prophetic conferences held in Albury Park, England, from 1826 to 1830.


Key ideas from Lacunza’s work include the following:

  • futurist interpretation of Revelation that all the prophecy
  • from chapter 4 to the end of the book is yet future
  • the antichrist is to be expected shortly before the second coming of Christ
  • Antichrist will persecute Christians during a literal three and one half years
  • the woman in Revelation 12 is not the church but represents the house of Israel, the ancient spouse of God
  • Jews as a people were never rejected by God but remained His apostate “bride”
  • the gathering of the dispersed Jews to Palestine and their conversion to Christ will take place during the “tribulation” perpetrated by the antichrist
  • 144,000 spoken of in Revelation 7 are literal Jews who will be left on earth after the rapture, 12,000 from each of the ancient tribes
  • the restoration of the temple in Jerusalem as Mount Zion is exalted as the mountain of God, and the kingdom of David is reestablished in Palestine
  • the ancient rites and sacrifices at the temple will be restored
  • Jerusalem becomes the capital of the world
The Jewish nation’s probation of 490 years (Daniel 9:24–27) expired in A.D. 34 with the stoning of Steven. The starting date for the 490 year probation was 457 B.C. with the issuance of Artaxerxes’ letter (Ezra 7:11–28) that released the Jewish people from their obligations under the suzerain covenant made with them under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 17:11–16), and continued for a time under Persian dominion. After rejecting the witness of their Messiah against them, and by continued resistance to the pleadings from the apostles, the Jewish nation finalized their rejection by God of them as a national people. Only through faith in Christ can a Jewish individual be saved; not though any genetic relationship to the ancient tribes of the children of Israel. See Acts 13:46; cf. Acts 7:51–54; Matthew 23:34–38; Matthew 21:33–45; Matthew 18:21, 22; Hebrews 3:7–19; 4:1–11; Romans 11:1–21.

When writing his manuscript, Lacunza assumed the nom de plume Rabbi Juan Josafat Ben-Ezra. He defended the pseudonym by stating that his purpose was to help the Jews by providing them with a “full knowledge of their Messiah.” The primary reason for Lacunza’s work was to rebut the Biblical truth that the Jewish nation is defunct, and that the New Testament church founded upon the message of Christ and His righteousness replaced the Jewish religion, putting the Christian church in the theological forefront until the end time. From Lacunza’s idea was born the view that the Jews have for the last two millennia been a misunderstood and abused race, and were deserving of both ecclesial and political support in their efforts to reestablish themselves in Palestine as a sovereign nation. Twenty years after the publication of Lacunza’s book, political Zionism was a growing phenomenon fueled by the British Protestant revival. Thus was born the binary prophetic concept of dispensational premillennialism and political Zionism.

Lacunza’s commentary was intended to advance the idea that the Jews as a race will be converted to Christ at the end of time, and that they will have a decisive role in the final events, particularly during the millennial reign of peace. Lacunza believed that the Biblical phrase “end of the age” or “day of the Lord” was an allegorical term that merely meant the end of a phase of human history that would be closed by the spiritual and invisible coming of Christ and the beginning of His kingdom of peace on earth through the work of converted Jews. For Lacunza, at the time when this supposedly takes place, the living would be judged and the Jews converted to Christ, after which a new world-wide society would be established with Jerusalem as the capital of the world, ushering in a reign of justice and peace on earth that would last a thousand years.

Dispensationalism divides the history of the world into eras or dispensations during which God interacts with the human race through a progressive series of covenants. John Nelson Darby listed the covenant ages as: Paradise, Noah, Abraham, Israel, Gentiles, the Spirit, and the Millennium. Premillennialism is the belief that the world will get worse until Christ returns to establish a visible, thousand-year reign of peace.

The term Zionism was coined in 1890 by Nathan Birnbaum in response to the British Protestant reformation movement’s claim that the Jews figured into end time prophecy. Its general definition means the political movement for the return of the Jewish people to Palestine and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty as a political state. On the other hand, Judaism is the term that applies collectively to Jewish religious ideals that concern cultural, social, and religious beliefs and practices of the Jews.

Fundamentalist and evangelical Christians who accept the futurist interpretation of prophecy believe that it is imperative that they support Zionism to avoid the curse found in Genesis 12:3.

Lacunza’s ideas on prophetic interpretation were brought to America by John Nelson Darby, who is considered to be the father of modern dispensationalism and the futurist school of prophecy. Darby was born in Westminister, London in 1801 and became a curate in the Church of Ireland. He participated in the 1831-1833 Powerscourt conferences on prophecy, which were annual meetings of Bible students organized by the wealthy widow, Lady Powerscourt. At Lady Powerscourt’s conferences, Darby met Edward Irving. Irving’s intimate knowledge of Lacunza’s material on end time prophecies had an influence on Darby’s views, furthering the development of Darby’s ideas on dispensationalism. At the Powerscourt conferences Darby publicly described his ecclesiological and eschatological views, including the pretribulation rapture, that he claims to have originated.[7] Darby traveled widely throughout England and Europe, and at least five times visited America between 1862 and 1877, presenting his thoughts on end time prophecy at organized Bible conferences. These lectures established his reputation as a leading interpreter of Bible prophecy.

While lecturing in America, Darby met Cyrus Ingersol Scofield, an American theologian, minister, and author. Scofield was influenced in his thinking about Bible prophecy by both Darby and James H. Brookes, a prominent dispensationalist premillennialist pastor from St. Louis. For a time, Scofield was an assistant to Dwight L. Moody (founder of the Moody Bible Institute). Scofield authored the pamphlet “Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth” (1888), which brought him to notice among evangelical Christians, after which he quickly became a leader in the promotion of dispensational premillennialism, a forerunner of twentieth-century Christian fundamentalism. Scofield published an annotated Bible that contained his notes on prophecy, promoting the futurist interpretation. Scofield also influenced the establishment of the Dallas Theological Seminary, which was founded as the Evangelical Theological College in 1924 by Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, who was a student of Scofield’s.

Through Dallas Theological Seminary and Moody Bible Institute well-known fundamentalist authors and preachers such as John Wolvoord, Charles C. Ryrie, Billy Graham, Hal Lindsey, Jack van Impe, John Hagee, Jerry Falwell, John Ankerberg, and Tim LaHaye, learned the theory of prophetic interpretation first postulated by Francisco Ribera in 1590 as part of the assault against the Protestant Reformation. Rbiera’s Counter-Reformation theory, which was designed to combat the Protestant Reformation teachings on the fulfillment within the Roman church of prophecies concerning the harlot and the antichrist of Revelation, has become the accepted position in the fundamentalist and evangelical Protestant churches of today. Amplified through the work of Manuel de Lacunza and John Nelson Darby, and adorned with the rapture theory, dispensational premillennialism has become the predominate teaching on the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. From its beginning this theory is a false conception aimed at maintaining the defensive claims of the Roman church that she cannot be the prophesied antichrist and harlot of Revelation’s prophecies. Futurism effectively removes the stigma by contending that the antichrist has yet to appear.

Daniel 2:36-42: This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king. Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold. And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters’ clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken.

Daniel 8:20-21: The ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia. And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king.

Daniel 7:19-28: Then I would know the truth of the fourth beast, which was diverse from all the others, exceeding dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, and his nails of brass; which devoured, brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet; And of the ten horns that were in his head, and of the other which came up, and before whom three fell; even of that horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spake very great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows. I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom. Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings. And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end.


Contrary to futurism’s position, historicism views the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation as having been fulfilled down through the centuries as the history of the church unfolded, rather than being fulfilled at some future time near the end of the world during a period of “great tribulation” when it is supposed that a single individual “antichrist” will rule the earth. The historical method of prophetic interpretation holds that, through the use of symbolic representations, the books of Daniel and Revelation correlate to present a prophetic outline of the history of the church from apostolic times until the second coming of Christ and the end of this world.

The historicist perspective reveals that Daniel’s prophecies fit those of Revelation like a hand in a glove; they are parallel prophecies of world events effecting the church. Daniel’s prophecy is not open to private interpretation or debate since the definition of three of the kingdoms is given right in the text itself. Daniel stated that the prophecy started with Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar: “Thou art this head of gold” (Daniel 2:38), and the angel sent to assist Daniel in his understanding told him: “the ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia, and the rough goat is the king of Grecia” (Daniel 8:20, 21). Daniel’s prophecy clearly follows a path through historical time from Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon to modern spiritual Babylon and ends with the second coming of Christ. This understanding forms the foundation for our correct interpretation of Revelation. Daniel chapter 2 presents a broad overview of coming world history, with chapters 7, 8 and 9 narrowing the focus eventually to the time of Christ (Daniel 9:24–27). Daniel chapters 11 and 12 and the Book of Revelation pick up the story from the time of Christ carrying us to the end of the world and the second coming of our Lord.

Daniel’s first iteration of the powers that would challenge God’s people is found in Nebuchadnezzar’s “metal man” dream in chapter 2. The same powers depicted as metals decreasing in worth (from the head of gold down to feet of iron and clay), are seen again in chapter 7, where they are portrayed as four beasts. In chapter 8, the focus zooms in on Medo-Persia and its successor, Greece. After these kingdoms fade into history, a fourth empire comes on the scene referred to as the “dreadful and terrible” beast from which the “little horn” arises (Daniel 7:7, 8, 19–25; 8:7–14). The “little horn” remains until the end of the prophecy when the heavenly sanctuary is cleansed and Christ returns to rescue His people (Daniel 8:13, 14; 12:1). Revelation’s prophecy was presented to the apostle John in the same fashion. It follows the great line of historical events beginning with the establishment of the Christian church and ending with the second coming of Christ. Just as Daniel saw the history of four empires from different viewpoints, so John was given a vision of unfolding history from differing viewpoints from his day down to the second advent of our Lord.

Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Protestant Reformers were unanimous in their view that the antichrist prophecy was fulfilled in the papacy, and their interpretation lent emphasis to the movement that demanded ecclesiastical reform. The historicist school of interpretation continued through the writings of Sir Isaac Newton (1643–1727), especially in his two treatises, Observations upon the Prophesies of the Book of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John, published posthumously in 1733. Matthew Henry (1662–1714), John Wesley (1703–1791), Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), George Whitefield (1714–1770), Adam Clarke (1790–1832), Charles Finney (1792–1875), Albert Barnes (1798–1870), and C.H. Spurgeon (1834–1892) were all prominent theologians and Bible commentators who adhered to the historicist position on prophecy, seeing the fulfillment of the antichrist in papal Rome. The United States of America was founded, in a large part, by Protestants who adhered to the historicist view of prophecy and were seeking to escape persecution caused by the work of the papal church, persecution that was foretold in the books of Daniel and Revelation. In their past Anglican–Episcopals, Puritans, Methodists, Presbyterians (both British and American), Baptists, and Congregationalists believed and taught the Protestant Reformation historicist position on prophecy. Until the mid-1950s, American Baptists were in the forefront presenting the truth concerning the papacy. Their adoption of false theories concerning the prophecies was foretold by Paul when he said “they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God sent them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.”

To prepare us for the fulfillment of the final events of earth’s history leading up to the second coming of Christ, we need a firm foundation of truth that is Biblically consistent and historically verifiable. By relying on historical proofs we can confidently approach the study of Bible prophecy. In this commentary, we will adhere to the Protestant Reformation’s historicist position that the prophecy of Revelation has been fulfilled over time through the history of the church and the world since the time of Christ. May you find a blessing in the study presented in this book.

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  1. See Appendix
  2. Luther’s Works, vol. 41 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 1966), 357-358.
  3. Selected Works of John Calvin, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, Mich. Baker Books. 1983); 219, 220.
  4. A New Collection of the Journals, the Acts, the Epistles, the Sermons of the Council of Trent, vol. 8. Resourced from Source Book for Bible Students (1940 ed.), 604.
  5. Horae Apocalypticae, third edition, by E. B. Elliott, vol. IV, (Fleet Street, London: Sealey, Burnside, and Sealey, 1847), 519.
  6. La venida del Mesias en gloria y magestad. Observaciones de Juan Josafat Ben-Ezra, hebreo-cristiano: derigidas al sacredote cristóflio. vol. 2 (London: Ackerman, Strand, 1816), 394, 395, 451–454.
  7. John Darby’s secret rapture theory claims that Christ will remove His true believers from this world without warning immediately prior to the beginning of the tribulation caused by the antichrist. It is also known as the pre-tribulation rapture. Darby’s theory was developed from a misinterpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, and claims that Christians will vanish “in a twinkling of an eye” when Christ comes invisibly and secretly to the world just at the time the “antichrist” appears.

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