The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the appointment of Francis from Argentina has led some Adventists to inquire about the prophetic significance of these events.
By Marvin Moore
For more than 150 years we have identified the beast from the sea in Revelation 13 as the papacy. We have done this through a comparison Daniel’s little horn (Daniel 7:24, 25*) with the beast from the sea in Revelation 13. We have understood Daniel’s little horn to describe the papacy between 538 and 1798. During this time Rome spoke “great words against the most High,” and it attacked God’s law and His saints. These predictions were fulfilled, among other things, by the papacy’s claim that the popes are vicars of Christ (which Jesus said is the role of the Holy Spirit (see John 14:16, 17), the papacy’s change of the Sabbath, and its persecution of God’s people. Daniel’s 1,260-year prophecy (“time, times, and half a time”) also foretold the papal domination of European politics from 538 to 1798. Papal power reached the zenith of its influence on European politics during the 1200s, after which it went into a steady decline.
There are striking similarities between the little horn in Daniel 7 and the beast from the sea in Revelation 13. The sea beast also blasphemes God, persecutes His people, and has a 42-month (1,260 day) time period (vv. 5–7). However, where Daniel predicted the medieval papacy, the primary focus in Revelation 13 is on papal power in the end time.
Verse 3 says that the papacy received a fatal wound, which was fulfilled when Pope Pius VI was taken prisoner in February 1798. And for the next one hundred or so years, the papacy had almost no influence in European politics. However, a slow resurrection began toward the end of the nineteenth century and on into the early years of the twentieth century.
What’s most astonishing about the prediction in Revelation 13 is that the political power of the papacy was to be restored, not just over European politics but over global politics, for verse 7 says that the beast from the sea “was [to be] given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation.”
And, indeed, this prophetic interpretation is gradually taking shape. A major milestone in its fulfillment was reached in 1929, when the papacy signed a concordat (a Vatican treaty) with the Italian government giving the Vatican sole political control over 108 acres of land that we now know as Vatican City. Once again, the papacy was an independent “nation” among the world’s nations.
And the papacy’s influence has been growing ever since. In the early 1930s the Vatican wanted to sign a concordat with Germany similar to the one it had signed with Italy. However, the Weimar Republic’s constitution forbade such an agreement. So the Vatican pressured Germany’s Catholic Center Party to join with the Nazi Party in voting for an “Enabling Act” in the Reichstag (the German equivalent at the time of the U.S. Congress) that gave dictatorial powers to Adolph Hitler. The rest is history. The point is that the papacy’s political influence in the world was continuing to expand.
Another major political triumph for the Vatican was the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. In June 1982 John Paul II met with Ronald Reagan in the Vatican library, and the two world leaders agreed to try to bring down Communism in Poland. They succeeded brilliantly. John Paul inspired his Polish compatriots to support the Solidarity Union in its opposition to the nation’s Communist government, and Reagan provided the union with the technology it needed to undermine the government.
In June 1989 Poland’s Communist government collapsed, and within six months the ripple effect spread to the rest of the Eastern European nations. By early 1990 every one of Eastern Europe’s Communist governments had fallen, replaced by democratic governments of one sort or another. And in December 1991 the Soviet Union’s Communist government succumbed to the tidal wave. It’s doubtful that back in 1982 either Reagan or John Paul could have imagined the wildly successful result of their agreement. Again, the point is that the papacy’s political influence in the world was continuing to expand.
This pretty much brings us to the present. Where are we now in the fulfillment of the predictions in Revelation 13? While in the past one hundred years the papacy has made great strides in its global political power, there’s more to come. It can’t yet be said that the papacy has political authority over “every tribe, people, language and nation.” And when we combine the first beast of Revelation 13 with the second, we discover that the United States will become the enforcement arm of papal dogma. This is evident in verses 14, 15, which say that the beast that rises from the land will order the world’s inhabitants to “set up an image in honor of the first beast” and to “cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed.” This is still future.
So what is the prophetic significance of Benedict XVI’s resignation and his replacement by Francis? It’s understandable that Adventists should ask this question, because we’re concerned about the delay, and we’re anxious to see Jesus come. However, I do not see a great deal of prophetic significance in the brief papal history of early 2013. It’s better to focus our attention on broad historical trends, such as the expansion of the papacy’s political power in the world during the past 100 or so years.
If there was a pope in modern times who fulfilled our prophetic expectations, in my opinion it would have to be John Paul II, who was immensely popular and made a huge contribution to the positive image in the world that the papacy has today. Benedict’s papacy was rather prosaic, and it’s too early to tell how Francis will influence global politics and the fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
There’s one additional issue I will raise, and that has to do with the papacy in Revelation 17. In this chapter John saw a woman riding a beast with seven heads, which I believe most Adventist interpreters understand to represent the papacy very near the end of world history. I agree. Verses 9 to 11 say that the beast’s seven heads “are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction” (vv. 9–11).
Some Adventists have suggested that the beast’s seven heads represent the popes that would hold office from 1929 to very near the end of time. The seven popes from 1929 to the present are:
- Pius XI, 1922–1939;
- Pius XII, 1939–1958;
- John XXIII, 1958–1963;
- Paul VI, 1963–1978;
- John Paul I, 1978;
- John Paul II, 1978–2005
- Benedict XVI, 2005–2013.
Pope number 8 would be Francis, and according to this interpretation he will be the last pope.
I consider this “interpretation” of Revelation 17:9–11 to be pure guesswork. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that these seven heads represent seven popes, much less that their numbering should start with Pius XI, who was the reigning pope in 1929. A major fallacy in this interpretation is that it’s an attempt to set a date—or at least an approximate time—for the second coming of Christ. Date setting for Christ’s second coming has a long history that began during the apostolic period (2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2) and has continued to the present. However, Christ warned us 2,000 years ago against trying to predict the time of His return (Matthew 24:36). Unfortunately, the excitement generated by such predictions continues to motivate some people to keep trying. So far every one of these predictions has failed, and they will continue to fail.
Let’s not allow the change in popes from Benedict XVI to Francis to delude us into advancing yet another speculative prophetic interpretation.
*Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible verses quoted in this article are from the New International Version, 1984.