People believe all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons. Many people believe everything they read on the Internet, others believe everything Trump says. A lot of people believe the Bible literally including when it says the world was created in 6 x 24 hour days.
So it should come as no surprise that for hundreds of years, millions of people believed the Pope was the Anti-Christ. These people were called Protestants or Reformers and from the 16th to the beginning of the 19th Century they all agreed on this one thing while disagreeing on many other things. Many well known names agreed that the Pope is the Anti-Christ, people like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and the Wesley brothers. In fact it wasn’t until the beginning of the 19th century that any significant branch of Protestantism began to dispute this position. J.N. Darby of the Brethren movement was among the first.
Of course now hardly any Protestants believe that the Pope is the Anti-Christ except a few die-hard Ulster Unionists from the DUP and other cranks on the Internet with small readership. It is not exactly a popular position among Evangelicals or Pentecostals either. A lot of people would take the view, understandably, that there is little value in adopting such a position.
Be that as it may I still think it is worthwhile looking at why this position was so universally held by so many significant people for so long.
One obvious reason was they were normally in countries that were at war with countries that allied themselves with the Pope or they were in countries where their lives were in danger because they had a bible. They had plenty of historical precedent to know they were up against a mortal enemy. One of the Crusades was sent against a group of people in the South of France whose only crime was to not submit to the Pope. There had been many martyrs before Luther pinned up his famous 95 theses.
The Biblical basis for their beliefs about the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church were also well thought out and convincing. Apart from several passages in Revelation the main passages in the Bible that talk explicitly about the Anti-Christ can be found in 2 Thessalonians Chapter 2:
- In verse 3 the writer (Paul, Silas or Timothy) says that the “man of lawlessness .. will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” In the other letters they saw that Paul was very consistent in calling the body of believers corporately (i.e. the Church) God’s temple. So they understood that the Anti-Christ was going to be someone sitting in the middle of the Church, calling himself God (Vicar of Christ is one of the Pope’s titles which means “in place of Christ”).
- In verses 5-8 the writer says this: “5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.” The common understanding of these verses during Reformation times was that the power that was restraining the Anti-Christ at the time of the first century (when the letter was written) was the Roman Emperor. Their reasoning went that the Anti-Christ could not achieve world dominion or the secular power that he had during the centuries before and during the Reformation if Christianity was being persecuted and kept underground. They could also look back on history and note something that was a very striking fulfilment of the verses. When Constantine became the first Christian Emperor of Rome in the middle of the 4th century he did the most unusual thing. He moved the capital of the Roman Empire a thousand miles away from Rome to a new city called Constantinople (now Istanbul) on the Bosphorus Straits in present day Turkey. Once he was moved out of the way, the stage was set for the government of the City of Rome to be taken over by another. Since there was no separation of Church and State that person was the first Pope. They also used to say that the reason the writer did not come out and explicitly say that the restrainer was the Emperor was so as not to get people receiving the letter in more trouble than they already were with that power.
There are lots of other verses and passages the Reformers used to back up their position which I will explore in further blogs.
Of course they could have been wrong.