Does the resignation of the pope fulfill Bible Prophecy?
Those with no Bible knowledge will answer, “Of course not.” Serious Bible students likely would answer, “Good question, but no.” So where does the question come from?
After I wrote a couple columns about the pope’s resignation I received several emails asking if I thought that this and other scandals of the Church were biblically significant. The questions seem to be based on a perusing of the Bible book of Revelation.
Chapter 17 of that book describes a prostitute by the name of “Babylon the Great,” riding a wild beast with seven heads and ten horns. In verse 16 of that chapter we are told that the beast suddenly turns on the woman and attacks her, leaving her “devastated and naked.”
The ‘naked’ reference is what some Bible readers take to mean exposing the Church’s scandalous deeds.
However, Revelation is not for casual skimmers of the Bible; a more in-depth look is needed.
Chapter 18 divides rulership of the whole world into three entities: “Babylon,” “the kings of the earth,” and “merchants.” The book of Daniel, where similar grotesque beasts are described, makes clear that these refer to political rulership. So there is a similarity between the beast of chapter 17 and the 'kings of the earth' of chapter 18. (Some readers see a fourth ruling entity, the media, in the reference to ‘ship captains’ but even if that’s true, the media’s power is driven by commercial interests.)
If Babylon is neither politics nor commerce, she must represent religious authority. Many protestant commentators (and even a few Catholic ones) define Babylon as Catholicism, or more specifically the papacy.
Scottish Bible commentator Adam Clarke, for example, said:
“It is said the TEN horns shall hate the whore; by which is evidently meant, when connected with what follows, that the whole of the ten kingdoms in the interest of the Latin Church shall finally despise her doctrines, be reformed from popery, assist in depriving her of all influence and in exposing her follies, and in the end consign her to utter destruction.” He defines the 10 heads of the beast as the European outgrowths of the Roman Empire where Catholicism has been strongest: “France, Spain, England, Scotland, The [British] Empire, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Hungary, and Portugal.”
American Commentator Albert Barnes:
“These same [European]powers represented by the ten horns, that were formerly in alliance with the Papacy, shall become its enemy.”
British Commentator Thomas Haweis:
“The antichristian whore [is] seated upon a scarlet-colored beast, the Papacy, scarlet being the colour in which the Popeand cardinals are dressed; or to denote the sanguinary edicts executed by her.”
Given that, and given that this multi-headed beast equals the kings of the earth, it does not make sense, as so many (protestant) commentators do, to assume Babylon represents either the papacy or the entire Catholic Church. There are dozens of significant countries on earth where Catholicism has never gained a foothold.
However, other commentators see these verses differently.
The People’s New Testament Commentary says of this:
“The Scarlet Harlot is the symbol of a faithless, apostate church. [Significant,] too, is that [she] is the mother of other false churcheswhich have followed her ways.”
So this commentary sees, as most of the protestant commentators do not, that the teachings, garb, traditions and empty ceremonies of most of the protestant churches are simply carry-overs from the Catholic Church.
Commentators Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown put it even plainer:
“The judgment and the spiritual fornication, though finding their culmination in Rome, are not restricted to it, but comprise the whole apostate Church, Roman, Greek, and even Protestant, so far as it has been seduced from its "first love" (Re 2:4) to Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom, and given its affections to worldly pomps and idols.”
But even that description doesn’t go far enough. If the Revelation were only trying to describe the apostasy of the Catholic church, or even of all of Christendom, away from true worship as defined by God, the woman’s name could just as easily have been ‘Jerusalem the Great.’ For hundreds of years, God labored at correcting Israel’s apostasy from true worship. He even referred to Jerusalem as an adulterous woman for giving to idols the worship to which He alone was entitled. (Ezekiel 16:15) Surely, then, ‘Jerusalem the Great’ would have perfectly described a Church, Catholic or protestant, calling itself Christian but not adhering to true Christianity.
So why, instead, is the prostitute called “Babylon” the Great? What do we know about Babylon? Something to think about until my next column.
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