Eschatology is defined as the study of end time events. The interpretations of these future events can stir up controversy, particularly if certain viewpoints are embellished or overblown. So I tackle this next article with some trepidation, and therefore ask for some latitude. There is room for disagreement on these issues.
In Revelation 13:1, the Bible talks about a beast that will arise in the last days. Historically, a vast number of Biblical scholars nominated Rome and correspondingly some form of the papacy as this beast of Revelation 13. Additionally, commentators have been ridiculously sure of their understanding of such a difficult passage. Albert Barnes says that the details of the passage “make it morally certain that Rome, in some form of its administration is referred to. Of this there can be no doubt.”[i] To see how cemented this belief is, consider J.B. Phillips, who wrote a new translation of Revelation. Although he did not comment upon it, when reaching Revelation 13:18, he felt compelled to add a footnote stating “This number undoubtedly refers to NERO CAESER by means of a simple Hebrew cipher.”[ii] What is safe to say is that the “undoubtedly” certain interpretation of such an enigmatic passage should be highly suspect.
This view that the beast of Revelation 13 is some form of the revived Roman empire still holds weight today. However, a little investigation shows that some deep-seated problems with this view exist. For example, Dave Hunt recognized that the Bible speaks of an antichrist kingdom which encompasses a much larger territory than a revived Roman empire would currently control. To resolve this problem, Hunt devotes an entire chapter to describing how the Arab world must undergo significant and systemic change in order that it could unite with Europe and fit the mainstream interpretation. Hunt surmises that this melding of Europe and Islamic states cannot come about unless disillusionment with Islamic governments occurs, so he concludes such disillusionment must be “inevitable.”[iii] While clutching to the theory of a revived Roman Empire, he nevertheless recognizes Islam as the primary motivating factor in this crucial part of the world:
“It is impossible to understand the current situation in the Middle East, much less anticipate probable future developments there, except in the context of the religion that grips and motivates the Arab world.” [iv]
Hunt is correct that any analysis of the current global scenario cannot be accomplished without a fuller understanding of Islam. Certainly, the end times scenario must take Islam into account in a systematic and cogent manner. Yet how did so many scholars throughout the ages completely ignore Islam’s potential role and unswervingly look to Rome as the beast of Revelation 13? As it happens, throughout all ages of church history, there was always a minority opinion of those who saw Islam as the antichrist kingdom. Even those who held to the traditional Roman or papal view saw aspects which matched that of Islam if not named specifically.
The patristic authors could not conceive of a future religious force such as Islam, but Lactantius wrote that the Antichrist would come from Syria, currently an Islamic nation.[v] During the middle ages, John of Damascus identified Islam as “the forerunner of Antichrist”.[vi] The Spaniard Paulus Alveras wrote in the 9th century about the connection of Islam and the Antichrist. His contemporary, Eulogius wrote about the Christian martyrs of Cordoba who were killed by Muslims and said they fought “against the angel of Satan and forerunner of Antichrist”.[vii] In the 11th century, Joachin of Fiore held a view that linked the Roman Empire with the antichrist kingdom, but he also thought that the Antichrist would come to the aid of either Saladin or another Muslim ruler. [viii]
Martin Luther vehemently wrote about the Pope as the Antichrist. Yet in his commentary on Revelation, the glimmer of Islam sneaked in as he interpreted the three woes of Revelation 8:13 as the persecutions of Arian, Muhammad, and the Pope.[ix] In an even more dramatic statement, Luther said that “The pope is the spirit of Antichrist, and the Turk (Muslim) is the flesh of antichrist. They help each other in their murderous work.”[x]
Throughout the ages, there have been inklings of prominent Christian authors seeing Islam as having connection to the kingdom of antichrist. The point of these references is not to provide proof texts; far from it. The point is that the specter of Islam has always been subtly present in how the antichrist kingdom has been viewed through the ages, even in the minds of some of the most staunch supporters of the revived Roman Empire theory. For now, we are out of time, so stay tuned.
[i] Barns, Albert. Notes on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1951, p321.
[ii] Phillips, J.B. The Book of Revelation. New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1957, p28.
[iii] Hunt, Dave. Global Peace and the Rise of Antichrist. Eugene OR: Harvest House Publishing, 1990, p200.
[iv] Ibid, p223.
[v] McGinn, Bernard. Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination With Evil. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994, p68.
[vi] Shoebat, Walid. God’s War on Terror. United States, 2008, p328.
[vii] McGinn, Bernard. Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination With Evil. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994, p86.
[viii] Ibid, p141.
[ix] Ibid, p205
[x] Shoebat, Walid. God’s War on Terror. United States, 2008, p329.