But we must now turn to the other Jesuit scholar: Francisco Ribera (1537-1591), from Salamanca, Spain. Ribera was a brilliant student who specialized in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. He received a doctorate in theology from the University of Salamanca and joined the Jesuit Order in 1570 when he was just 33 years old.
Before we analyze Ribera’s methods of prophetic interpretation we must underline that the Early Church fathers (not the New Testament writers!!) had certain futuristic elements in their eschatology. They almost unanimously believed that the “restrainer” of II Thessalonians 2 was the Roman Empire. They also believed that as soon as the Empire fell apart, a literal evil individual would arise to rule the world for three and a half literal years. (See, George Eldon Ladd, The Blessed Hope, pp. 28-31 where he presents, for example, the views of Lactantius and Hippolytus).
In all fairness to these Church Fathers, we must remember two things:
1) They did not expect the history of the world to last another 2000 years. They believed that the coming of Christ was in the foreseeable future.
2) Prophecy is usually not understood in its fulness until the times of fulfillment.
Jesus Himself explained to the disciples: “And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.” (John 14:29).
The Gospels reveal that the disciples of Jesus totally misunderstood and misapplied Bible prophecy before the resurrection. It was not until after the fulfillment of these prophecies that their hearts burned within them as Jesus opened unto them the Scriptures (Luke 24:32). History proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the meaning of the prophecies becomes clearer and clearer as the time of fulfillment draws near (see, II Peter 1:19).
The Early Church Fathers lived in the time of the fourth beast (Rome). The Empire had not yet crumbled into ten kingdoms. The little horn had not yet risen. The best they could do was guess about the identity of the Antichrist.
But the Protestant Reformers did not need to guess. They had the benefit of looking back at over one thousand years of church history and saw, with their own eyes, what the Early Church fathers could not have foreseen. By the time of the Reformers, the Roman Empire had crumbled into ten kingdoms
and an evil spiritual empire (Papal Rome) had risen among these kingdoms to rule over them. Thus, the Reformers had the benefit of history to help them identify the little horn, the Man of Sin, the Beast, the Harlot and the abomination of desolation.
Now, back to Ribera. This Jesuit scholar capitalized on the incomplete views of the Early Church fathers. In 1590 he published a 500-page commentary on the Apocalypse where he expounded the prophecies of Revelation using the literalistic hermeneutic of futurism. The main tenets of his eschatology are described by Froom:
“Ribera assigned the first few chapters of the Apocalypse to ancient Rome, in John’s own time; the rest he restricted to a literal three and a half years reign of an infidel Antichrist, who would bitterly oppose and blaspheme the saints just before the second advent. He taught that Antichrist would be a single individual, who would rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, abolish the Christian religion, deny Christ, be received by the Jews, pretend to be God, and conquer the world–and all in this brief space of three and onehalf years!” (Froom, PFF, II, pp. 489-490, ).
Ribera was more of a writer than a lecturer. He also died at the early age of 54. For these reasons, Ribera’s views needed a shrewd and articulate champion to carry his message far and wide. The champion was found and his name was Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621).
Bellarmine was an Italian cardinal and also one of the ablest Jesuit
controversialists. He was a powerful speaker and lectured to large audiences. Bellarmine picked up where Ribera left off. In fact, Bellarmine made it his special project to spread the literalistic hermeneutic of futurism with unabated passion.
“He insisted that the prophecies concerning Antichrist in Daniel, Paul, and John, had no application to the papal power. This formed the third part of his Disputationes de Controversiis Christianae Fidei Adversus Huius Temporis Haereticos [Polemic Lectures Concerning the Disputed Points of Christian Belief Against the Heretics of This Time], published between 1581 and 1593. This was the most detailed apology of the Catholic faith ever produced, and became the arsenal for all future defenders and expositors. It called forth a host of counter-writings from Protestant leaders, who considered him their greatest adversary.” (Froom, PFF, II, p. 495).
Though the basics of Bellarmine’s prophetic views were identical to Ribera’s, he “perfected”, “refined” and amplified many of the details. And he crusaded in favor of the literalistic futurist view and against the Protestants with an evangelistic zeal worthy of admiration!
Bellarmine was an expert at turning the Reformers against themselves. For example, he wondered why Luther, who taught that his views were based on Scripture alone, doubted the canonicity of the book of Revelation. In contrast, Bellarmine appeared to be the defender of the book of Revelation as part of the New Testament canon.
He also took painstaking efforts to document the fact that the Reformers could not even agree among themselves as to when the prophetic periods
began and ended. For example, some Protestants dated the beginning of the dominion of the Antichrist from the fall of Rome (400 A. D.). Others dated it to 600 A. D., when Pope Gregory the Great took the papal throne, and still others dated it to somewhere between 200 and 773, 1,000, or even 1,200. Bellarmine contended that if the Reformers could not agree on the time period of Antichrist’s dominion, neither could they be trusted to identify who he was. Bellarmine also documented that the Early Church fathers (not the New Testament writers!!) taught an individual Antichrist who would rule for a literal three and a half year period. In this way he tried to prove that his view was the original belief of the Early Church. He also showed that each of the Reformers interpreted Daniel and Revelation’s symbols differently. In this way he worked to undermine their views regarding the identity of the
In chapter five of his work, Bellarmine employed an argument which would later be picked up by Protestants. There, Bellarmine rewrote history, saying that the Roman Empire had never been divided according to the specifications of the prophecy and therefore, Antichrist could not have come yet. According to Bellarmine, the complete desolation of the Roman Empire must come before the advent of the Antichrist, and this had not yet taken place. Later on we will see that a host of Protestant writers picked up this argument and “ran with it”.
The essence of Bellarmine’s argument is that the Papacy cannot be the Antichrist for three reasons:
- The Antichrist prophecies call for an individual but the Papacy is a system.
- The Antichrist time periods demand a literal three and one half years, but the Papacy has existed for centuries.
- Antichrist is to sit in the Jerusalem Temple, but the popes are ruling in Rome.
Let’s allow Bellarmine to tell us these things in his own words:
“For all Catholics think thus that the Antichrist will be one certain man; but all heretics teach. . . that Antichrist is expressly declared to be not a single person, but an individual throne or absolute kingdom, and apostate seat of those who rule over the church.”
(Quoted in Froom, PFF, II, p. 500).
“Antichrist will not reign except for three years and a half. But the Pope has now reigned spiritually in the church more than 1500 years; nor can anyone be pointed out who has been accepted for Antichrist, who has ruled exactly three and one-half years; therefore the Pope is not Antichrist. Then Antichrist has not yet come. (Quoted in Froom, PFF, II, p. 502).
“The Pope is not antichrist since indeed his throne is not in Jerusalem, nor in the temple of Solomon; surely it is credible that from the year 600, no Roman pontiff has ever been in Jerusalem.”
(Quoted in Froom, PFF, II, p. 502).
It is abundantly clear that Bellarmine applied the hermeneutic of a stringent literalism in his exposition of the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. As we shall see later, this literalistic hermeneutic was picked up by conservative Protestants and taken to ridiculous extremes. But now we must get back to our story of futurism’s “incredible journey.”
For over 150 years after Ribera and Bellarmine, Protestantism remained true to its prophetic principles. But then there was a shift, gentle at first and then with a vengeance!! In the early 19th century some Protestant expositors began to make overtures to Rome. This can be seen most clearly in the Oxford Tractarian Movement of the Anglican Church in England. Let’s allow Froom to describe the movement toward Rome:
“But now, in the nineteenth century in Britain, the Futurist concept was again revived, by Samuel Maitland, James Todd, William Burgh, John Darby of the Plymouth Brethren, and the renowned John Henry Newman.” (Froom, PFF, III, p. 656).
It all started with Samuel Maitland who in 1826 published a series of pamphlets entitled, Enquiries. Froom states that “In these Maitland had militantly assailed the whole Protestant application to the Roman Papacy of the symbols of the little horn, Daniel’s fourth beast, the Apocalyptic Beast, and Babylon–holding that a personal and avowedly infidel antichrist was meant, and asserting that the prophetic days of its dominance were simply literal days.” (Froom, PFF, III, p. 657).
Maitland’s views were shared by James Todd (1805-1869) and William Burgh (1800-1866)[both were clergymen in the Church of England]. These views would eventually form the foundation for John Henry Newman’s return to Rome.
Notice the following words from William Burgh: “First that ‘THE MAN OF SIN’ is not popery appears from the necessity that this chapter be understood of an individual, and not of a power or office vested in numbers or held by succession.” (William Burgh, Lectures on the Second Advent [second edition], p. 63).
“I would say that an individual is intended–one person whose pretensions live and die with himself. . .” [don’t forget these last words which will later be picked up verbatim by Dave Hunt]
(William Burgh, Lectures on the Second Advent, pp. 64, 65).
“Secondly, the nature of these same acts and pretensions prove that the ‘man of sin’ is not the Pope.” (William Burgh, Lectures on the Second Advent, p. 65).
James H. Todd was likewise categorical in his denial of the Papacy as the Antichrist. His lectures for 1838 were later published as Discourses on the Prophecies Relating to Antichrist in the Writings of Daniel and St. Paul. The book was dedicated to Samuel Maitland.
The basic tenets of Todd’s concept are:
- Antichrist will be an individual who will appear at the end of the world just before the second coming of Christ.
- The evil deeds of the Antichrist will be connected with the Jews rather than the Gentiles. In fact, the Antichrist will sit in a rebuilt Jerusalem Temple.
- His period of rule will be for 1260 literal days.
- The fourth kingdom of Daniel 7 is not the Roman Empire and the horns are not fulfilled in the Roman Empire.
In other words, the fourth kingdom will at some future period be established upon the earth. (Froom, PFF, III, p. 661).
Todd went so far as to say that “Romanism [is] not properly an apostacy from the faith”. He also states: “. . . the Errors of Romanism do not amount to Apostasy.”
And amazingly, he affirms: “The Church of Rome [is] a true Christian Church.” (James H. Todd, Discourses on the Prophecies Relating to Antichrist in the Writings of Daniel and St. Paul, pp. xv, 259-267, 320-321, 322-323).
Protestants of the Church of England were now applying the futuristic and literalistic hermeneutic they had acquired from the Society of Jesus!! No wonder they could no longer detect the Papacy as the predicted Antichrist of Bible prophecy.
The concepts of Todd and Burgh were foundational to what has become known as the Oxford Tractarian Movement. To make a long story short, this movement lasted from 1833-1845. [Don’t let the dates pass you by. During the identical time frame but on the other side of the Atlantic, the Millerite Movement was going full steam ahead].
During this period a series of ninety Tracts for the Times were prepared with the express purpose of “deprotestantizing” the Church of England. The principal writers were Newman, Pusey, Keble, Froude and Williams. These men seized upon the writings of Maitland, Burgh and Todd to absolve the Papacy from the stigma of being called the Antichrist. Protestants were openly encouraged to return to Catholicism and to accept the Bishop of Rome as the legitimate leader of the Christian world.
The movement toward Rome was driven by the literalistic prophetic principles of futurism. If the Papacy was not the predicted Antichrist, then what was to keep Protestantism from reuniting with Rome? It was in this way that the counterfeit hermeneutic of literalistic futurism led to an ecumenical spirit [as will happen at the end as well]. As the historicist hermeneutic had given Protestantism its driving force and the courage to separate from Rome, so futurism stalled the progress of Protestantism and led it to seek a reunion with Rome.
The climax of the Oxford Movement came when John Henry Newman (1801-1890) defected from the Church of England and joined the Roman Catholic Church. He had been one of the prime movers of this movement. Twenty nine of the 90 tracts were composed by Newman. Though he had previously spoken harsh words against the Papacy, in 1843 he “published a retraction of all the hard sayings he had formerly said against Rome.” Finally, in 1845 he was received into the Roman communion, leaving Oxford for Rome where, in 1846, he was ordained a priest and later given a D. D. degree by the pope.
In 1847 he returned to England, where he continued to reside. In 1854 Newman was called to Dublin as rector of the newly established Catholic University, and in 1879 he was given the cardinal’s hat.” (Froom, PFF, III, pp. 666- 667).