Historical Eschatology

Eschatology is the fancy name for the study of the end times.  There are quite a few theories out there about how things are going to work out usually involving a rapture, a great tribulation, a millennium and an Anti-Christ.  One of the popular theories includes a significant tribulation to come at the end lasting 7 years out of which the Christian church will be raptured, usually before the great tribulation starts (conveniently).  There was even a film called “Left Behind” starring Nicholas Cage produced recently based on this particular view of the end times.

However, had you been born into a Protestant family anytime in the 3 hundred years following the start of the Reformation in 1518 your ideas of the end times would have followed a different tack, one that is not at all popular these days.  In those days the Anti-Christ and the great tribulation were in your face and unmistakable.  A pre-tribulation rapture was not even a consideration.  Your country was possibly in a war with the forces of the Anti-Christ.  If not you were quite possibly struggling to survive in a country under his control.  In those countries the Bible was a banned book and if you were found with one you could be imprisoned or killed.  These are times that many Protestants today seem eager to forget.

But pick up a King James Version of the Bible today from your shelf and you will read these words in the preface:  “…by writing in defence of the Truth, (which hath given such a blow unto that man of sin, as will not be healed,)”

The man of sin referred to here was the pope of the time.  There was very little disagreement among the reformers as to who the Scripture said the Anti-Christ was, i.e. the popes of Rome since about the 4th Century.  They had ample evidence in front of them to come to that conclusion and there are several Scriptures which support this assertion.

The Reformation was an amazing move of God affecting hundreds of millions of people which changed the course of history.  One of the expectations of the Reformers (as mentioned in the KJV preface) was that the Reformation would prove to be a fatal blow to the Anti-Christ but this didn’t happen.  In fact, the papacy has somehow survived that fatal blow (see Revelation 13:3) and spread even further abroad afterwards.  However, it has been much weakened by the Truth that the Reformation and the accompanying printing press made abundantly available through the Bible. It has not the civil power it used to be able to wield but its nature hasn’t changed.

There are several places in the Scripture to which the reformers would refer when it came to explaining the mystery of the Anti-Christ to their listeners.  Here is an institution – the Roman Catholic church with the pope at its head – which ran the lives of the people from birth (baptism) to death (final unction) and all stages in between.  It took their money, ran their schools and hospitals, determined who their kings were and, if required, would withdraw all or any of these services in response to an order from their hierarchical heads based in Rome.

Their adherents considered Canon Law (as laid down by the pope) of greater authority than the civil law (as laid down by their parliaments and kings) and used it to justify the most immoral behaviour.  And if you think that was for then and not now just remember what the Bishop of Cloyne John Magee did when he covered up for paedophile priests in the Diocese of Cloyne during the early part of this century.

And, if you can, read a few good books on the subject.  Here are a couple of my favourites:

  1. D’Aubigne’s History of the Reformation (try and get an unedited and unabridged version) originally written in French with lots of Latin in the notes.  This is a massive work (thankfully available on Amazon) which has been translated into English by Henry Beveridge.  If you are from a Roman Catholic background like me or just need to get a good understanding of what happened during the Reformation from a believer’s standpoint these volumes are the best reading I know of out there.
  2. His Waiting Bride by Edgar F. Parkyns (out of print but there are a few copies available on Amazon).

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