The False Prophet is the forgotten figure in end time prophecy. There is plenty of speculation about who the Anti-Christ is, but very little about his “promoter.” Yet if we look deeply enough, we can discover what evangelicals and Catholics have believed about this personality, although there seems to be plenty of room for multiple interpretations in both camps.
We begin by taking what at first glance appear to be bit of a rabbit trail, but it’s actually to establish historical context. The early Protestant reformers were firmly united in the belief that the Pope was the Anti-Christ. Actually, as John 2:18 tells us, there are many anti-Christs, but the term is usually reserved for the final one. Although they had many reasons to believe this, perhaps the easiest to explain is the one tied to one of the Pope’s titles — the Vicar of Christ. “Vicar” means “substitute” and “anti” can mean “instead of.” One of the best-known defenses of this point of view is The Two Babylons, by Alexander Hislop. He published his work in 1853, after the “Pope as Anti-Christ” theory was no longer so popular among Protestants.
The viewpoint was rooted in the Historicist interpretation of Revelation, which presents amazing fulfillments of most of the prophetic book up to the present time. However, in an effort to get the Pope “off the hook,” two Catholic theologians started promoting Futurism, which is the dominant evangelical view of Revelation today, and Preterism, which teaches that most of Revelation was fulfilled by the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. A good source for the Historicist interpretation is The Present Reign of Jesus Christ by Robert Caringola. The main weakness I see in Historicism is a lack of appreciation for multiple fulfillments, which would open the door for common ground with Futurists.
It turns out that Preterism has historical roots planted long before the Protestant Reformation. It’s strongly reflected in the writings of Eusebius and may be linked to Saint Augustine, John Chrysostom and Ignatius. This variety is more properly termed “partial preterism” or “historical preterism” because it allows for more future fulfillment of Revelation than does standard preterism. It works nicely with Saint Augustine’s amillenial position, which is still the dominant position of the Catholic Church, namely that the thousand-year period of Revelation 20:3 is symbolic of a great number of years and is our present era. A blogger, identified only as Nic, on CatholicForum.com equates the False Prophet with the Sanhedrin/Pharasaic elite. It remains to be seen how many Catholics share this interpretation.
There’s a new interest among evangelical Protestants in determining the Pope’s place in end time prophecy, and some are taking another look at the forgotten figure, the False Prophet. Tim McHyde has written an article on EscapeAllTheseThings.com called Is Pope Benedict XVI / Joseph Ratzinger The False Prophet (a point of view the authors of the new research book Petrus Romanus disagree with). His arguments include the previously cited one, involving the meanings of “vicar” and “anti.” He also says, “The pope’s mitre literally has two horns. If you go to the Catholic Encyclopedia, they themselves call it a “two horned mitre” (hat). Again, its plain meaning is fulfilled in the pope. He is a like a lamb with two horns.” Another Protestant site, RedMoonRising.com, takes the argument further, “Catholic commentators such as the late Father Malachi Martin, Kathleen Keating and numerous Catholic visionaries are united in the belief that the Catholic Church will at one time be led by a figure they call the Anti-Pope who will turn against the fundamentals of the Christian faith and accept the Antichrist.”
There is a variation of this theme involving an extra-Biblical Catholic revelation called “The Great Monarch and Angelic Pastor.” The anonymous author of An Analysis of Catholic Prophecy writes, “… as Catholics understand it, there will be a Great Monarch and an Angelic Pastor who rule together followed by the Antichrist and then Jesus Christ returns to bring the last judgment.” The author warns that these two personalities are really the False Prophet and the Anti-Christ, which means that when Jesus Christ arrives on the scene, believers in this prophecy would misidentify Him as the Anti-Christ.
The theme of an anti-Pope is further developed in an article in Examiner.com which quotes from a Catholic audio recording called Reign of the False Prophet. It mentions a Father John O’Connor. “Father explains how God will and is punishing the world for sin, and that the Fathers of the Church all wrote that the False Prophet would be a Catholic Bishop who will become an invalid anti-pope while the real Pope dies a cruel death in exile.”
Finally, a Catholic friendly website called EndTimesLion.com fills in more of the details of the anti-Pope theory. “This Anti-Pope will appear to be elected, but he will not be validly so. This Anti-Pope will physically reside in Rome, at least for a time until the “Anti-Vatican” is moved to Jerusalem. The election will be done invalidly through electronic means, such as email, fax and phone, based on the excuse that it will be too dangerous to travel to Rome because of the wars and revolutions in the streets.”
It must be remembered that Saint Malachy’s Prophecy of the Popes (learn more by reading the series in the above left column) contains references to both Popes and anti-Popes. It would be entirely consistent with Catholic teaching and emerging Protestant interpretation, for Benedict XVI’s successor, the final pontiff known as Petrus Romanus, to be both anti-Pope and False Prophet.