These words concerning the identity of the AntiChrist are again taken from Mr. Hodge’s Systematic Theology (volume 3):
Roman Catholic Doctrine of Antichrist.
The general opinion in the early Church was that Antichrist was a man of Satanic spirit endowed with Satanic power who should appear before the second coming of Christ. Jerome says, in his Commentary on Daniel: “Let us say what all ecclesiastical writers have handed down, namely, that at the end of the world, when the Roman empire is destroyed*, there will be ten kings who will divide the Roman world amongst them; and there will arise an eleventh little king, who will subdue three of the ten kings, that is, the king of Egypt, of Africa, and of Ethiopia, as we shall hereafter show. And on these being slain the seven others will also submit. ‘And behold,’ he says, ‘in the ram were the eyes of a man.’ This is said that we may not suppose him to be a devil or demon, as some have thought, but a man in whom Satan will dwell utterly and bodily. ‘And a mouth speaking great things,’ for he is ‘the man of sin, the son of perdition, who sitteth in the temple of God, making himself as God.’”
* Jerome, living centuries after the apostle John, obviously was not a preterist who believed Nero, who lived centuries earlier, fulfilled the AntiChrist prophecies
Substantially the same view prevailed during the Middle Ages. Some however of the theologians of the Latin Church saw that the development of the Man of Sin was to take place in the Church itself and be connected with a general apostasy from the faith. They were therefore sufficiently bold to teach that the Church of Rome was to fall away, and that the Papacy or some individual pontiff was to become the Antichrist spoken of in Scripture. The abbot Joachim of Floris (died 1202), a Franciscan, put himself in opposition to the worldly spirit of the Church of his time, and his followers, called “Spirituales,” came to denounce the Church of Rome as the mystical Babylon of the Apocalypse. This was done with great boldness by John Peter of Oliva (died 1297), whose works were formally condemned as “blasphemous and heretical.” Among the passages thus condemned are the following: “The woman here stands for the people and empire of Rome, both as she existed formerly in a state of Paganism, and as she has since existed, holding the faith of Christ, though by many crimes committing harlotry with this world. And, therefore, she is called a great harlot; for, departing from the faithful worship, the true love and delights of her Bridegroom, even Christ her God, she cleaves to this world, its riches and delights; yea, for their sake she cleaves to the devil, also to kings, nobles, and prelates, and to all other lovers of this world.” “She saith in her heart, that is, in her pride, I sit a queen: — I am at rest; I rule over my kingdom with great dominion and glory. And I am no widow: — I am not destitute of glorious bishops and kings.”
Not only the poets Dante and Petrarch denounced the corruptions of the Church of Rome, but down to the time of the Reformation that Church was held up by a succession of theologians or ecclesiastics, as the Babylon of the Apocalypse which was to be overthrown and rendered desolate.
When the Reformers with one voice pronounced the same judgment, and, making little distinction between Babylon and Antichrist, held up the Papacy as the antichristian power predicted by Daniel, by St. Paul, and by St. John, the Romanists laid out their strength in defending their Church from this denunciation. Bellarmin, the great advocate of the cause of Romanism, devotes an extended dissertation to the discussion of this subject, which constitutes the third book of his work, “De Romano Pontifice.” The points that he assumes are: First, that the word “Antichrist” cannot mean, as some Protestants thought, “substitute or vicar” of Christ, but an opponent of Christ. In this all parties are now agreed [?????? I would question that assertion.]. Second, that Antichrist is “unus homo,” and not “genus hominum.” The Magdeburg Centuriators said: “Docent [Apostoli] Antichristum non fore unam aliquam tantum personam, sed integrum regnum, per falsos doctores in templo Dei, hoc est in Ecclesia Dei præsidentes, in urba magna, quæ habet regnum super reges terræ id est, in Romana civitate, et imperio Romano, opera diaboli, et fraude, et deceptione comparatum.” This view Bellarmin undertakes to refute, controverting the arguments of Calvin and Beza in its support. In this opinion also the leading Protestant interpreters of the present day, as above stated, agree. According to the views already advanced, there may be hereafter a great antichristian power, concentrated in an individual ruler, who will be utterly destroyed at the coming of the Lord, and at the same time the belief may be maintained that the Antichrist described by Daniel and St. Paul is not a man, but an institution or organized power such as a kingdom or the papacy.
The third position assumed by Bellarmin is that the Antichrist is still future. In this way he endeavours to make it plain that the papacy is not Antichrist. But, as just said, even if an Antichrist, and even the Antichrist κατ᾽ ἐξοχήν, is yet to come, that would not prove that the papacy is not the power predicted by the Apostle as the Man of Sin, and the mystical Babylon as predicted in the Apocalypse.
Bellarmin says that the Holy Spirit gives us six signs of Antichrist, from which it is plain that he has not yet appeared. Two of these signs precede his coming, the universal proclamation of the Gospel, and the utter destruction of the Roman Empire, two are to attend it, namely, the preaching of Enoch and Elias, and persecutions so severe as to cause the cessation of all public worship of God; and two are to follow his appearance; his utter destruction after three years and a half; and the end of the world. The passages on which he relies to prove that Enoch and Elias** are to come and oppose themselves to Antichrist, and to preserve the elect, are Malachi iv., Ecclesiasticus xliv. and xlviii., Matthew xvii. 11 (Jesus said, “Elias truly shall first come and restore all things”), and Revelation xi. 3, where the appearance of the two witnesses, who were to prophesy two thousand two hundred and sixty days, is foretold. As modern evangelical interpreters agree with Bellarmin in so many other points, so they agree with him in teaching that there is to be a second appearance of Elias, before the second advent of Christ. Luthardt understands Matthew xvi. 11 as predicting such reappearance of the Old Testament prophet. He was to be one, and Moses the other of the two witnesses spoken of in Revelation xi. 3. Of course, says Luthardt, Elias and Moses are to reappear in the sense in which Elias appeared in the person of John the Baptist.
** see my That “Second Elijah” Prophecy post
Fourthly, according to Bellarmin, Antichrist is to be a Jew, and probably of the tribe of Dan. He is to claim to be the Messiah, and this claim is to be recognized by the Jews. In virtue of his Messiahship he sets himself against Christ, and puts himself in his place, and arrogates the reverence, the obedience, the universal dominion and the absolute authority, which rightfully belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. The seat of his dominion is to be Jerusalem. In the Temple restored in that city, he is to take his seat as God, and exalt himself above all that is called God. He is called “the little horn,” because the Jews are comparatively a small nation. But he is to subdue one kingdom after another until his dominion as a worldly sovereign becomes absolutely universal. The authority urged for this view is principally that of the fathers, many of whom taught that Antichrist was to be a Jew of the tribe of Dan. Appeal was made by those fathers as by their followers to Genesis xlix. 17, where it is said, “Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse-heels, so that his rider shall fall backward.” And also to Revelation vii., because in the enumeration of the tribes from which the hundred and forty and four thousand were sealed, the name of Dan is omitted. Bellarmin argues that Antichrist is to be a Jew from John v. 43: “I am come in my Father’s name and ye (Jews) receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye (Jews) will receive.” That is, will receive as the Messiah; but the Jews, as Bellarmin argues, would never receive as the Messiah any one who was not himself a Jew. The principal Scriptural ground of the opinion that Antichrist is to be a Jew is founded on Revelation xi. 8, where the seat of his dominion is said to be the great city “where also our Lord was crucified.” In answer to this argument it may be said, first, that admitting that the literal Jerusalem is to be the seat of the kingdom of Antichrist, it does not follow that either he or his kingdom is to be Jewish. Many interpreters hold that the Jews, instead of being the supporters of Antichrist, are to be the principal objects of his malice, and that it is by persecuting and oppressing them that he is to get possession of their holy city and profane their temple far more atrociously than it was profaned by Antiochus Epiphanes. And secondly, interpreters so different as Hengstenberg and Mr. David N. Lord, agree in understanding the predictions in Revelation xi. to refer not to the literal Jerusalem and its Temple, but to that of which they were the symbols. The New Jerusalem is the symbol of the purified and glorified Church; the city where our Lord was crucified, the symbol of the worldly and nationalized Church.
Fifthly, as to the doctrine of Antichrist, everything follows, from the assumption that he claims to be Christ. In claiming to be the Messiah predicted by the prophets, he is to claim to be the only object of worship. That he is to admit of no other God, whether true or false, nor of any idols, Bellarmin infers from 2 Thessalonians ii. 2, “He opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or is worshipped.” “Certum est,” says Bellarmin, “Antichristi persecutionem fore gravissimam et notissimam; ita ut cessent omnes publicæ religionis ceremoniæ et sacrificia . . . . [Daniel xii. docet] Antichristum interdictdurum omnem divinum cultum, qui in ecclesiis Christianorum exercetur.” Thus also Stapleton says: “Pelli sane potent in desertam ecclesia, regnante Antichristi, et illo momento temporis in deserta, id est, in locis abitis, in speluncis, in latibulis quo sancti se recipient, non incommode quæretur ecclesia.” During the reign of Antichrist, according to the notes to the Romish version of the New Testament on 2 Thessalonians ii., “The external state of the Romish Church, and the public intercourse of the faithful with it, may cease. Yet the due honour and obedience towards the Roman see, and the communion of heart with it, and the secret practice of that communion, and the open confession thereof, if the occasion require, shall not cease.” Again on verse 4th it is said, “The great Antichrist who must come towards the world’s end, shall abolish all other religions, true and false; and put down the blessed sacrament of the altar, wherein consisteth principally the worship of the true God, and also all idols of the Gentiles.” “The oblation of Christ’s blood,” it is said, “is to be abolished among all the nations and churches in the world.”
Finally, concerning the kingdom and wars of Antichrist, the Roman cardinal teaches, (1.) That from small beginnings, he is by fraud and deceit, to attain the kingdom of the Jews. (2.) That he is to subdue and take possession of the three kingdoms of Egypt, Libya, and Ethiopia.*** (Dan. xi.) (3.) That he is then to reduce to subjection the other seven kingdoms spoken of by the prophet; and (4.) That with an innumerable army, he shall make for a time successful war against all Christians in every part of the world, and finally be overthrown and utterly destroyed, as described in the twentieth chapter of Revelation.
*** I don’t believe Daniel chapter 11 has any connection whatsoever with the AntiChrist; see my Hanukkah, the Maccabees and the Book of Daniel and Antony and Cleopatra and the Book of Daniel blog posts
From this review it appears that the doctrine of the Romish theologians concerning Antichrist, agrees with that of a large body of modern Protestant writers**** in the following points: (1.) That he is to be an individual, and not a corporation, or “genus hominum.” (2.) That he is to be a worldly potentate. (3.) That he is to attain universal dominion. (4.) That he is to be, in character, godless and reckless, full of malignity against Christ and his people. (5.) That by his seductions and persecutions he is to succeed for a time in almost banishing true religion from the world. (6.) That his reign is to be brief.
**** he was writing in the 19th century when many Protestants sadly went from holding to historicism to embracing dispensational futurism
The principal difference between the early Protestants and the modern evangelical interpreters, is, that the former identify Babylon and Antichrist; that is, they refer to one and the same power the prophecies of Daniel referring to the little horn; the description given by the Apostle in 2 Thessalonians ii.; and the account of the beast in chapter xiii. of the Apocalypse and that given in chapter xvii. Whereas, the moderns for the most part distinguish between the two. The papacy they regard as set forth under the symbol of Babylon; and Antichrist, as a worldly potentate, under the beast which came up out of the abyss.
The great truth set forth in these prophecies is, that there was future in the time, not only of Daniel, but also of the Apostles, a great apostasy in the Church; that this apostasy would be Antichristian (or Antichrist), ally itself with the world and become a great persecuting power; and that the two elements, the ecclesiastical and the worldly, which enter into this great Antichristian development, will, sometimes the one and sometimes the other, become the more prominent; sometimes acting in harmony, and sometimes opposed one to the other; and, therefore, sometimes spoken of as one, and sometimes as two distinct powers. Both, as united or as separate, are to be overtaken with a final destruction when the Lord comes. So much is certain, that any and every power, be it one or more, which answers to the description given in Daniel vii. and xi. and in 2 Thessalonians ii. is Antichrist in the Scriptural sense of the term.
According, then, to the common faith of the Church, the three great events which are to precede the second advent of Christ, are the universal proclamation of the Gospel or the conversion of the Gentile world; the national conversion of the Jews*****; and the appearance of Antichrist.
***** I, like other past writers, do not feel a “national” conversion is necessary for prophecy to be fulfilled though I believe non-dogmatically in the possibility of a larger number of Jews coming to Christ near the time of the visible Return of Christ; I could be wrong