July 21, 2014

As I See It

Many Adventists are rubbing their eyes in amazement these days: they are seeing a pope who does not fit their image of the antichrist. Pope Francis appears extremely likable. He seems humble and modest, rejects pomp and pageantry, uses a small car instead of a luxury sedan, distributes money to poor individuals at night, and questions the power of the Catholic Church, and even of his own office. This “Francis effect” (so the German newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine) is not only felt in the Vatican, but now throughout the entire Catholic Church. Has “the beast” been converted?

In fact, this apparent change started about 50 years ago, but now under Pope Francis it is reaching a new peak. The change was initiated by the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). Since then, the Papacy portrays itself in much more gentle terms than Ellen White described it in The Great Controversy. While Pope Gregory XVI in the nineteenth century was still describing freedom of conscience as “madness” and “pestiferous error,” Pope John XXIII declared religious freedom in 1963 as a basic human right. The expert on Catholicism, Hans Heinz, says in his latest book: “Among his successors, particularly John Paul II (1978–2005) did not miss any opportunity to present himself as the champion of freedom of conscience and religion.”1

Champion of Conscience?

The pope as supporter of freedom of conscience and religion—in addition to being modest and humble? Is it not obvious that our interpretation of Revelation 13 does not fit anymore? some may ask themselves. Is our negative image of the Papacy not influenced by the history of the Middle Ages? Does this image not belong to nineteenth-century anti-Catholic America? Was this view not only there and only at that time “present truth”? Ellen White and the early Adventists could scarcely know how much the Second Vatican Council would change Catholicism.

If we actually want to revise our interpretation on this point, we would have to dump our complete understanding of end-time events. Is ecumenism under Catholic leadership then maybe not such a bad idea? And what about the alleged divine inspiration of Ellen White? Some Adventists have already drawn appropriate conclusions. Are they correct?

Prophecy or Futurology?

To answer these questions, we must first realize that prophecy is not futurology. The latter extrapolates trend lines of the past into the future. On this basis, it paints a picture of what presumably will happen. If we know, for example, that the world population has grown in the past five years by a half billion people, we can assume that in 2019 about 7.6 billion people will inhabit our globe—considering certain factors.

Prophecy, by its very nature, however, is entirely different. God does not speculate about the future. He knows it. Because He exists outside of time and space, for Him past, present, and future happen at the same time. He does not calculate or surmise what will happen—He knows it. And that includes surprises that no futurologist would ever have on his or her radar. We can learn this from history.

Which futurologist, for example, foresaw the collapse of the Soviet Union and the terrorist attack of September 11? Not one. However, both events had consequences that changed our world. The disappearance of the Soviet Union left only one global superpower, namely, the United States of America, as suggested in the Adventist interpretation of Revelation 13.

The terrorist attack of September 11 and the ensuing war against terrorism have strengthened the role of secret services worldwide. It also resulted in other countries willingly ascribing to American intelligence agencies a leadership role in this battle. This terrorist attack was also responsible for providing the rationale for the data collection mania of the National Security Agency—at least within the United States. Through September 11 we have taken a significant step closer to a worldwide control of all people, just as Revelation 13 implies.

What will happen next on the road to the fulfillment of prophecy? We do not know. No futurologist knows. But God does. And so far He has always been right.

Does It Fit?

Does this new and so very likable face of the Papacy not fit exactly the prophetic prediction? “And his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast” (Rev. 13:3).2 This is talking not only about a strengthening of the political power of the Papacy, but also about an increase in admiration and respect. Pope Francis achieves just that at the moment. “All who dwell on the earth will worship him” (verse 8).

The text speaks of an adoration of worldwide proportions. In the enlightened and liberal mind-set of our world, people would not tolerate papal orders and prohibitions. But a model of humility, modesty, and charity is more acceptable. That is what we are experiencing at the moment. According to CNN, Pope Francis is the most discussed person on the Internet around the world. Even with atheists, says the TV channel, he now enjoys an increasing popularity. Not least because of that, Time magazine named him the Person of the Year of 2013.

One should not dispute his sincerity. Prophecy speaks about the Papacy and not about a specific pope. We know that there is a great strategist behind the Papacy. On the one hand, we do not know how long Francis will be pope. Maybe his job is simply to help the Papacy to new popularity, in the sense of a “Pontifex,” a bridge-builder for his successor.

On the other hand, we must distinguish between what is before our eyes and what we cannot see. The futurologist—just as everyone else who does not believe in divine foreknowledge—opts for what is before our eyes. What else is there to do? But as believers we have a choice: Do we believe that the Papacy has changed and that our interpretation of divine prophecy was mistaken? Or do we trust that God in the end will be right and that He, corroborated by His messenger Ellen White, has provided us with a reliable look behind the scenes and into the future?

Without referring directly to any individual, Ellen G. White wrote about powerful deceivers: “Vowed to perpetual poverty and humility, it was their studied aim to secure wealth and power, to be devoted to the overthrow of Protestantism, and the re-establishment of the papal supremacy. When appearing as members of their order, they wore a garb of sanctity, visiting prisons and hospitals, ministering to the sick and the poor, professing to have renounced the world, and bearing the sacred name of Jesus, who went about doing good. But under this blameless exterior the most criminal and deadly purposes were often concealed. It was a fundamental principle of the order that the end justifies the means. By this code, lying, theft, perjury, assassination, were not only pardonable but commendable, when they served the interests of the church. . . . Wherever they went, there followed a revival of popery.”3

For a world that under the influence of relativism has turned away from biblical truth and a saving faith, social behavior and gestures of humility mean everything. And Pope Francis has mastered these topics. However, we should not forget that the Catholic Church continues to stand for blatant heresies. These include the change of the Ten Commandments, the godlike devotion to Mary, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, purgatory, eternal torture in hell, as well as blocking direct access to Christ through priestly intercession and the rite of confession. Babylon is in fact still fallen.

When the Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., was elected as pope, one of his first official acts was to pray to Mary. No, the pope has not been converted. And all the indications are that the Adventist interpretation of Revelation 13 still holds true. The new pope—amid
all legitimate sympathy for him—has made it even a bit more credible.

  1. Hans Heinz, Glaube, Macht, und Hybris: Die Katholische Kirche in Geschichte und Prophetie (Mundelsheim, Germany: Basista Media, 2013), p. 28.
  2. Texts in this article are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  3. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), pp. 234, 235.