Tag Archives: popes

Origins of ‘Preterism’ and ‘Futurism

Is it true that ‘Preterism’ and ‘Futurism’ were Jesuit interpretations of prophecy that were contrived during the counter-reformation? SDA’s and some others (even wickipedia articles) essentially promote that Jesuit scholarship rallied to the Roman cause by providing two plausible alternatives to the historical interpretation of the Protestants. Luis de Alcazar (1554–1630) of Seville, Spain, devised what became known as the “preterist” system of prophetic interpretation, pushing the antichrist as already come. In order to remove the Catholic Church from consideration as the antichrist power, Francisco Ribera (1537–1591) proposed that most of Revelation refers to the distant future just prior to the second coming, the “futurist” system.  

So, are the above statements true? No, that is a lie perpetrated by Seventh-day Adventists and others to stifle investigation through guilt by association. While Alcazar and Ribera championed and popularized those views from the 16th and 17th century, the idea of an antichrist that had already come, and also a future coming anti-Christ was not a new idea among the early church fathers before the reformation. John himself states simultaneously that the “antichrist is coming” and that “now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18; cf. 1 John 2:22; 4:3; 2 John 7). 

Preterism (moderate) sees most of the prophesises fulfilled in the first few centuries. Historicism teaches that much of the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation are to be fulfilled over long ages of church history. Futurism views much of the prophecies of Daniel, and Revelation to be yet future.

The early church fathers had differing views on end times. Here are a few samples of early Church views on anti-Christ:

Irenaeus (AD 189) believed in a single future antichrist who will sit in the temple of Jerusalem for 3 1/2 years.

“By means of the events which shall occur in the time of the Antichrist it is shown that he, being an apostate and a robber, is anxious to be adored as God, and that although a mere slave, he wishes to be proclaimed as king. For he, being endued with all the power of the devil, shall not come as a righteous king nor as a legitimate king in subjection to God, but as an impious, unjust, and lawless one . . . setting aside idols to persuade [men] that he himself is God, raising himself up as the only idol. . . . Moreover [Paul] has also pointed out this which I have shown in many ways: that the temple in Jerusalem was made by the direction of the true God. For the apostle himself, speaking in his own person, distinctly called it the temple of God [2 Thess. 2:4] . . . in which the enemy shall sit, endeavoring to show himself as Christ” (Against Heresies 5:25:1-2 [A.D. 189]).

“But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months and will sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire” (ibid., 5:30:4).

Hippolytus (AD 200) saw a future Jewish antichrist and a rebuilt temple before the second coming.

“We find it written regarding Antichrist . . . ‘Dan is a lion’s whelp, and he shall leap from Bashan’ [Deut. 33:22]. But that no one may err by supposing that this is said of the Savior, let him attend carefully to the matter. Dan, he says, is a lion’s whelp. And in naming the tribe of Dan, he declared clearly the tribe from which Antichrist is destined to spring. For as Christ springs from the tribe of Judah, so Antichrist is to spring from the tribe of Dan” (The Antichrist 6 [A.D. 200]). 14).

“Above all, moreover, he will love the nation of the Jews. And with all these [Jews] he will work signs and terrible wonders, false wonders and not true, in order to deceive his impious equals. . . . And after that he will build the temple in Jerusalem and will restore it again speedily and give it over to the Jews” (Discourse on the End of the World 23-25 [A.D. 217]).

Hippolytus separated Daniel’s 70th week from the 69 weeks, and placed the last 7 years before the end of the world (Treatise on Christ and Antichrist 43).

Tertullian (AD 210) believed in a present day “antichrist” and a future coming “antichrist”.

The man of sin, the son of perdition, who must first be revealed before the Lord comes, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped; and who is to sit in the temple of God and boast himself as being God. . . . According indeed to our view, he is Antichrist; as it is taught us in both the ancient and the new prophecies, and by the apostle John, who says that ‘already many false prophets have gone out into the world,’ the forerunners of Antichrist, who deny that Christ is come in the flesh, and do not acknowledge Jesus, meaning in God the Creator” (Against Marcion 5:16 [A.D. 210]).

Ephraem of Nisibis (AD 306-373), a major theologian of the early Eastern (Byzantine) Church, writes:

All the saints and elect of God are gathered together before the tribulation, which is to come, and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins.” He describes the imminent rapture, followed by 3½ years of great tribulation under the rule of Antichrist, followed by the coming of Christ, the defeat of Antichrist, and the eternal state. His view includes a parenthesis between the fulfillment of Daniel’s sixty-nine weeks and his seventieth week in Daniel 9:24-27. (source: https://tms.edu/m/tmsj13e.pdf )

Brother Dolcino (AD 1307), a leader of the Apostolic Brethren in northern Italy writes:

The Antichrist was coming into this world within the bounds of the said three and a half years; and after he had come, then he [Dolcino] and his followers would be transferred into Paradise, in which are Enoch and Elijah. And in this way they will be preserved unharmed from the persecution of Antichrist” (source: https://tms.edu/m/tmsj13e.pdf )

Peter Jurieu (1637-1713) was a prominent theologian and apologist in the French Reformed Church. In his work, Approaching Deliverance of the Church (1687), he taught that “Christ would come in the air to rapture the saints and return to heaven before the battle of Armageddon. He spoke of a secret rapture prior to His coming in glory and judgement at Armageddon.” (source: https://tms.edu/m/tmsj13e.pdf )

Augustine (AD 354) alluded to Nero as a type of antichrist.

“Some think that the Apostle Paul referred to the Roman empire, and that he was unwilling to use language more explicit, lest he should incur the calumnious charge of wishing ill to the empire which it was hoped would be eternal; so that in saying, ‘For the mystery of iniquity doth already work,‘ he alluded to Nero, whose deeds already seemed to be as the deeds of Antichrist” (The City of God on II Thessalonians 2:7, XX.19.3).

Commodian (AD 260), a Christian poet, writes of the Antichrist, when Nero will return from hell:

“Then, doubtless, the world shall be finished when he shall appear. He himself shall divide the globe into three ruling powers, when, moreover, Nero shall be raised up from hell, Elias shall first come to seal the beloved ones; at which things the region of Africa and the northern nation, the whole earth on all sides, for seven years shall tremble. But Elias shall occupy the half of the time, Nero shall occupy half. Then the whore Babylon, being reduced to ashes, its embers shall thence advance to Jerusalem; and the Latin conqueror shall then say, I am Christ, whom ye always pray to; and, indeed, the original ones who were deceived combine to praise him. He does many wonders, since his is the false prophet” (Instructions, XLI).

Irenaeus (AD 189), a church father comments on the number of the Beast, warned against “making surmises, and casting about for any names that may present themselves, inasmuch as many names can be found possessing the number mentioned; and the same question will, after all, remain unsolved” (Against Heresies, V.30.3).

He understood John’s vision to have occurred “almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign“, a tradition repeated by Eusebius (AD314) in his Ecclesiastical History (III.18.3) and by the church fathers (e.g., Clement of Alexandria, The Rich Man’s Salvation, XLII; Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse, X.11; Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, IX; Sulpicius Severus, Sacred History, II.31)—which is to say, sometime before AD 96, when the emperor was assassinated and just a few years before John himself died of old age, having been banished to the island of Patmos, where Revelation was written. Source: University of Chicago/paper

Jerome (4th Century), in his Commentary on the Book of Daniel, expressed this idea:

And so there are many of our viewpoint who think that Domitius Nero was the Antichrist because of his outstanding savagery and depravity. (Source: https://www.tertullian.org/fathers/jerome_daniel_02_text.htm)

John Calvin did not write a commentary on Revelation, but in his Commentary on Daniel, he identifies the little horn of Daniel 7 as Roman Caesar’s:

“It is sufficiently clear, therefore, that this exhibition ought to be referred to the first advent of Christ. I have no doubt that the little horn relates to Julius Caesar and the other Caesars who succeeded him, namely, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, and others” 

(Source: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/calvin/daniel/7.htm)

In Calvin’s Institutes, the little horn is Antiochus:

“In another passage, the Spirit, portraying him in the person of Antiochus, says that his reign would be with great swelling words of vanity” (Dan. 7:25). Source: (Calvin’s Institutes IV:7:25)

Calvin also accused the Pope of being the Antichrist not based on Daniel 7 or 8, but because of his “tyranny,” “destruction of the truth,” “corruption of the worship of God,” “breaking of His ordinances,” and the “dispersion of the order of His Church.”

Martin Luther, who had grave reservations about Revelation as a canonical book, subscribed to historicist ideas in his later years and found resources for an anti-Catholic message in the Bible. Martin Luther was probably unaware of the previous attacks on the papacy when, in 1517, he drafted his 95 Theses. However, for Martin Luther, the popes were not only the antichrist. For him, popes were the “spirit” of antichrist, while the “Turks” (Muslims) were the flesh. In reading Daniel 8, Luther also saw Antiochus Epiphanes as the forerunner of the great antichrist.

In the first few centuries of the Church, the Roman Caesars from Nero to Diocletian became “antichrists,” and Rome was “Babylon.” Some also saw a future literal anti-Christ, and rebuilt temple (all this before the arrival of Papacy).

Yet, centuries later, with the arrival of Muhammad, the idea of antichrist took on a distinctly Muslim flavor.

John of Damascus (6th century) wrote in his Against Heresies about the “deceptive error of the Ishmaelites, the forerunner of the antichrist.” 

As early as 634 A.D., in The Doctrine of Jacob, a Jewish merchant from Palestine who had converted to Christianity laments over the Arab invasions. He writes: “What can you tell me about the prophet who has appeared with the Saracens? He replied, groaning deeply: “He is false, for the prophets do not come armed with a sword.” Truly they are the works of anarchy being committed today and I fear the first Christ to come, whom the Christians worship, was the one sent by God and we instead are preparing to receive the Antichrist.

Another eyewitness to the initial Arab attacks was Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem. In 634 A.D., Bethlehem had already fallen to the Arab invaders, so he was forced to give his Nativity sermon in Jerusalem. His most detailed description of the Muslim invasion came in his Epiphany sermon, in probably 636 A.D., a dire moment, as the Arab army had surrounded Jerusalem itself. He spoke of the “God-hating Saracens, the abomination of desolation clearly foretold to us by the prophets.” Jerusalem fell in 637 A.D., and in due course they established Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, meant to forever cement the idea that Islam had supplanted Christianity and Judaism, even in the very heart of the Judeo-Christian world.

Peter the Venerable (12 the century), saw Muhammad as the precursor to the Antichrist (source: Wikipedia).

During the 13th century, works by scholars such as Peter PascualRiccoldo da Monte di Croce, and Ramon Llull, depicted Muhammad as an Antichrist while Islam was shown to be a Christian heresy (source: Wikipedia).

Kenneth Setton (an American historian) wrote that Muhammad was frequently calumniated and made a subject of legends taught by preachers as fact. For example, in order to show that Muhammad was the anti-Christ, it was asserted that Muhammad died not in the year 632 but in the year 666 – the number of the beast – in another variation on the theme the number “666” was also used to represent the period of time Muslims would hold sway of the land (source: Wikipedia).

Islam undoubtedly punctuated Martin Luther’s wholehearted belief that he was living amidst the Last Days, so Martin Luther wrote, “The pope is Antichrist, so the Turk (Muslims) is the very devil … both shall go down to hell”.

Luther was not the first to attribute antichrist characteristics to the papacy. Back in 991, Bishop Arnulf of Orleans, applies that title to papacy. 

Luther and others went on to identify the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church as the “Antichrist” and “Whore of Babylon” during the Protestant reformation. This was the central conflict of Luther and the reformers of the Protestant Reformation. Hence, Protestantism redirected and divided the views of the antichrist away from where it had been for the first centuries. After Luther, for many centuries until the middle of the 19th century, the dominant view in the church was the Historicist school of thought which was held by such people as John Knox, William Tyndale, Isaac Newton, and many others. Today, SDA’s champion the historicist view, continuing with much of the ideas held by the Protestant reformers.

Now, was John Calvin influenced by Jesuits for writing that the little horn of Daniel 7 refers to Caesars? Were the early church fathers influenced by Jesuits for holding a flavor of preterist and futurist ideas of antichrist? Far from it. As you can see, the SDAs and others who propagate that preterist and futurist ideas of antichrist (in opposition to Popes being the antichrist) were a Jesuit invention in the 16th century is utterly false. Preterist ideas were more common than futurist ideas, but they were nothing knew among several early church believers.

Preterism traces its roots back to the second century, and there have been many prominent preterists (partial or moderate) since long before the Jesuit order was born. Historicism, which also had a long history on the periphery, only gained prominence during the Reformation as Protestant leaders “discovered” the papacy on the pages of almost every evil power in Daniel and Revelation, as they believed they lived in the very last days of apostasy. Apparently contrived from an anti-Catholic mindset rather than a critical evaluation of the facts, and good exegesis, Historicism’s fortunes waned as anti-Catholic fervor died down. Its highly subjective (such arbitrarily picking of dates to pinpoint fulfillments) and controversial nature led many to question if it was not based more on wishful thinking rather than actual fact. Due to its nebulous interpretation method and the fact that John’s original readers could not have understood the book of Revelation in a historicist manner, the historicist view is not widely held today. As historicism came to be viewed as unreliable because of having so many differing variations on interpreting the same symbols, and following the very public humiliation of the October 22, 1844, Great Disappointment, there was widespread abandonment of historicist view among protestants. Futurism’s more literalist approach gained favor among Christian denominations there after. Futurism (with varying degrees) has arisen to prominence over the past two centuries, and Preterism (partial, moderate, etc.) has also been making inroads.

While we do not side with any particular camp, the bottom line is, regarding antichrists, there are many antichrist spirits that have gone out into the world (1 John 2:18), and so will there be many coming through out the church age.

Interestingly, the only place in the New Testament where the word “antichrist” appears is in the Johannine Epistles, not in Revelation. Nowhere in Revelation is the “beast” ever called “antichrist”. In his first epistle John emphatically states (1 John 2:18) that we may know this is the last hour because of the existence and activity of many antichrists. He says: “Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour” (2:18).

Note well that the entire period between the first and second comings of Jesus is called either the “last hour” as well as the “last days”. See Acts 2:17; 2 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 1:2; 1 Pt. 1:20 (cf. 1 Cor. 10:11). Thus the “last hour” in 1 John 2:18 is not a reference to the final days preceding Christ’s return but a reference to the entire church age in which we now live.

For John, “antichrist” is anyone “who denies that Jesus is the Christ” (1 John 2:22), or anyone “who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). The term “antichrist” is a combination of anti (against or instead of) and christos (Messiah, Christ).

We would be agreeable to say that the spirit of antichrist has revealed itself in Antiochus Epiphanes, Julius Caesar, Nero Caesar, and the papacy— and many others like Islam. This is consistent with the beliefs of the Reformers such as Calvin, and Luther, and the early church fathers, who applied the antichrist figure to more than one individual unlike what SDA’s try to portray! Besides, we believe the beast and Babylon powers of Revelation goes beyond Caesars and Popes as outlined in our Revelation commentary. See:

1) Our verse-by-verse complete Daniel Commentary

2) Our verse-by-verse complete Revelation Commentary

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