Bible prophecy The Papacy the Reformation worldview

Historical or futurist view of biblical prophecy?

The Roman Church’s reply to the Reformation in the 16th/17th centuries included an answer to the prophetic teachings of the Reformers. The Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingle, Knox, Cranmer, Latimer and others) were involved in the translation of the biblical texts from the source Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts into the vernacularof the people in Europe (English, German, etc). This gave them access to the Word of God directly, which up until that point in history was controlled through the Romish Church.2 The very little that the people did receive was corrupted via the Latin Vulgate translation, where many doctrines had been altered from the original such that the Roman Church maintained control over the masses.

The Basilica of Saint Peter - Rome Credit:
The Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican, Rome Credit:

The Church of Rome responded with their Counter-Reformation3 initiated via the Council of Trent.4,5  The Jesuit order was formed by Ignatius Loyola6 as an organised secret network that would infiltrate the Protestant churches, with the objective to bring about the downfall of the Reformation. Most of Northern Europe, with the exception of most of Ireland, came under the influence of the Protestants. Southern Europe remained Roman Catholic, while Central Europe suffered under the Thirty Years’ War, resulting in massive devastation.7

Origin of futurist interpretation of bible prophecy

The Reformers, upon studying the biblical texts in detail, came to the conclusion that the prophecies in the Bible regarding the rise of the anti-Christ and his final kingdom could be soundly placed in history. They saw it was a description of the establishment of the Church of Rome, as she gained power after the fall of the pagan Roman Empire in 476 A.D. They firmly labelled the Papacy as the AntiChrist, not an individual pope alone, but the institution of the pope, who the Roman Church claimed was Christ’s substitute on Earth, the vicar of Christ. But the Reformers labelled him the “man of sin.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3)

It is evident then that Romanism has fulfilled this part of the prophecy of the “man of sin,” even him whose coming was to be after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders and all deceivableness of unrighteousness. The power of the popes was built up on frauds and deceits of this character, and has been maintained over all the nations subject to it ever since by pretended miracles, spurious relics, lying wonders, and unrighteous deceits. And all these have been employed to oppose the gospel and establish falsehood.8

Through the Jesuits Ribera and Bellarmine, Rome put forth her futurist interpretation of bible prophecy, which largely means the prophecies in the books of Daniel and the Revelation of Jesus Christ to St. John, the last book in the Bible. Ribera was a Jesuit priest of Salamanca. In 1585 he published a commentary on the book of the Revelation (or the Apocalypse), denying the application of the prophecies concerning the AntiChrist to the existing Church of Rome and the Papacy. 

He [Ribera] was followed by Cardinal Bellarmine, a nephew of Pope Marcellus II, who was born in Tuscany in 1542, and died in Rome in 1621. Bellarmine was not only a man of great learning, but “the most powerful controversialist in defense of Popery that the Roman Church ever produced.”

Clement VIII used these remarkable words on his nomination: “We choose him, because the Church of God does not possess his equal in learning.” Bellarmine, like Ribera, advocated the futurist interpretation of prophecy. He taught that antichrist would be one particular man, that he would be a Jew, that he would be preceded by the reappearance of the literal Enoch and Elias, that he would rebuild the Jewish temple at Jerusalem, compel circumcision, abolish the Christian sacraments, abolish every other form of religion, would manifestly and avowedly deny Christ, would assume to be Christ, and would be received by the Jews as their Messiah, would pretend to be God, would make a literal image speak, would feign himself dead and rise again, and would conquer the whole world – Christian, Mohammedan, and heathen; and all this in the space of three and a half years. He insisted that the prophecies of Daniel, Paul and John, with reference to the antichrist, had no application whatever to the Papal power.(my emphases added)

Personal Confession

I have been a bible believing Christian since 1972. I first studied Bible prophecy in 1974 under the tutelage of teachers in the Children of God back in that year. That group had a very strong End-time message and were strongly motivated by it to spread the gospel. At that time I was taught the futurist interpretation with a post-Tribulation, pre-Wrath, pre-Millennium Rapture interpretation. I largely held to this eschatology (study of ‘last things’, i.e. the End Times) most of my Christian life. The idea of a PreTribulation Rapture never made any sense to me. It seemed to me more hope than sound interpretation based on biblical texts.

Besides the futurist and historical (continuous) views of eschatology there exists several other interpretations (preterism, idealism etc) with variations on the meaning of the Millennium10 but the important focus here should be on that which affects us now.  We are warned by God to be aware of the wiles of the devil (1 Peter 5:8) who would like us to be deceived if it were possible (Matthew 24:24, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).

Around 2010 I bought a copy of the Geneva Bible, which was the English translation the Reformers produced in Geneva, published in 1599, a decade before the Authorized King James translation. Reading the Reformers footnotes in the Geneva Bible11 started me questioning all I had previously learned.  Though I do not subscribe to all their interpretations but that much of the prophecies have historical fulfilments I do now believe. The idea, of the futurist interpretation, that God did not describe in the biblical texts any of the history after the 1st century A.D. up until some far future time when an individual one-world dictator arises, neglecting the awful tribulation the true church has had to suffer under the power of popery and the Roman Church through history (millions were slaughtered for their faith in Christ), now seems ludicrous.

It is true that one cannot absolutely refute an argument based on the motives of those who propose it. An hypothesis itself could still be true even if its author was of dubious reputation. This is often referred to as the genetic fallacy. Nevertheless, Satan is alive and operates in the realm of man. His plan has always been to deceive. The great deceiver has operated within the false church now for more than 1500 years to get as many souls into Hell as he can. So agents within that false church should be expected to promote views of eschatology (both preterism and futurism) that takes the heat off the Church of Rome and the Papacy.

Preterism says essentially all prophecy was fulfilled by the end of the 1st century and futurism says all it has yet to be fulfilled. So in either case the antiChrist cannot be the Papacy.  It is a cunningly devised plan of Satan himself.

4.000 skeletons in crypt in Roman Catholic Church in Rome
An astonishing marble skeleton by - yes, the inevitable Bernini - inside Santa Maria del Popolo church. Credit: Bug Bog Travel Guides and Photos
A marble skeleton by Bernini inside Santa Maria del Popolo church in Rome
Credit: Bug Bog Travel Guides and Photos

I recommend you read the works of Sir Isaac Newton12 and Henry Grattan Guinness13 and consider that the prophecies of Daniel, Paul and John, are better explained by the historical interpretationThe true church has suffered great tribulation (Matthew 24) and will suffer much more before Christ returns.

Whereas the false church is full of dead men’s bones (Matthew 23:27).

Today we see much persecution of the true church, the believers worldwide, while the Papacy works on its idea of a one-world ecumenical religion, uniting with the other pagan religions, hoping to bring them into its fold. That is not Christ’s fold, but because the Church of Rome subsumed pagan religious practices from the Romans more paganism is no problem, as long as they all come under the power of Rome.

Notes and References

  1. The language or dialect spoken by the ordinary people of a country or region.
  2. The Bible teaches us the duty of reading and searching the Scriptures. The Lord Jesus Himself said, “Search the Scriptures”; but Romanism forbids the general reading of Scripture, asserting that such a use of the word of God in the vulgar tongue causes more harm than good, and that it must never be practiced except by special permission in writing obtained from a priest. If any presume to read it without that, they are not to receive absolution. Booksellers who sell the Bible to any desiring to obtain it are to have penalties inflicted upon them, and no one is to purchase a Bible without special license from their superior. Quoted from Henry Grattan Guinness, Romanism and the Reformation, p. 32, 3. PAUL’S FOREVIEW OF ROMANISM, available here. (Henry Grattan Guinness – 11 August 1835 – 21 June 1910 – an Irish Protestant Christian preacher, evangelist and author.)
  3. The Counter Reformation,
  4. The Council of Trent,
  5. One of the articles of the Council of Trent asserts that, not only should the Old and New Testaments be received with reverence as the word of God, but also “the unwritten traditions which have come down to us, pertaining both to faith and manners, and preserved in the Catholic Church by continual succession.” In considering this decree, and its fatal effects in exalting mere human traditions to the level of Divine revelation, one is reminded of the solemn words which close the Apocalypse: “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.” Christ taught, on the contrary, that tradition was to be rejected whenever it was opposed to Scripture. “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” “Laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men.” “Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition.” Quoted from Henry Grattan Guinness, Romanism and the Reformation, p. 32, 3. PAUL’S FOREVIEW OF ROMANISM, available here.
  6. Ignatius Loyola,
  7. The Protestant Reformation,
  8. Henry Grattan Guinness, Romanism and the Reformation, p. 32, 3. PAUL’S FOREVIEW OF ROMANISM, available here.
  9. Henry Grattan Guinness, Romanism and the Reformation, pp. 71,72, 8. DOUBLE FOREVIEW OF THE REFORMATION, available here.
  10. Christian eschatology,
  11. 1599 Geneva Bible Notes
  12. Observations upon the prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John by Sir Isaac Newton
  13. Romanism and the Reformation by H. Grattan Guinness

Related Reading

  1. Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth
  2. Daniel 2 prophecy
  3. Observations upon the prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John by Sir Isaac Newton
  4. Romanism and the Reformation by H. Grattan Guinness

By John Gideon Hartnett

Dr John G. Hartnett is an Australian physicist and cosmologist, and a Christian with a biblical creationist worldview. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) and Ph.D. (with distinction) in Physics from The University of Western Australia, W.A., Australia. He was an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA) fellow at the University of Adelaide, with rank of Associate Professor. Now he is retired. He has published more than 200 papers in scientific journals, book chapters and conference proceedings.

One reply on “Historical or futurist view of biblical prophecy?”

Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you are like whitewashed tombs,
which outwardly appear beautiful,
but within are full of dead people’s bones
and all uncleanness (Matthew 23:27)


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