Wilhelmus à Brakel
vol. 2, pp. 43-53
The Antichrist: The Foremost and Most Formidable Foe of the Church
Among the enemies which the church has here upon earth, the antichrist is the most significant and primary cause of all the persecutions of the church.
The word “antichrist” consists of two words: anti, which, depending on the context, can mean either against or for, and Christos. Thus the word “antichrist” pertains to someone who is against Christ but who nevertheless creates the impression as if he were for Christ.
Sometimes this word is used as pertaining to every heretic, who opposes the Person and the doctrine of Christ.
“As ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time” (1 John 2:18). Generally, however, it pertains to the great antichrist, the head of the multitude who oppose the doctrine and professors of Christ. That such a person will come is confirmed by many texts in the Holy Scriptures and is a fact which is not denied by anyone.
Question: Who is the antichrist?
Answer: With all Protestants we reply: The pope of Rome. The papists deny this strongly.
Scriptural Proofs that the Pope of Rome Is the Antichrist
We shall first confirm our opinion, and then answer the objections of the papists. In order to perceive the force of our argumentation all the more clearly, one must view all our arguments comprehensively, that is, as one argument. Our proof will consist of several parts, each of which, when considered independently, is convincing in and of itself.
Our first proof is derived from the name itself, which means darkness. “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six” (Rev 13:18). In chapter 15:2 this is referred to as the number of his name. The Lord did not want to call him expressly by name; possibly that he be not hindered in his pursuit, or because the Lord did not wish to reveal His mysteries to everyone (cf. Matt 13:13). It is irrefutable that the reference here is to the antichrist. How to prove this, however, is not equally clear to everyone. To identify him here as such, one must note: 1) John wrote in the Greek language, and the Greek language uses its letters also as numbers; 2) the letters of this number would convey the name of a man. We also read of “… the mark of his name” (Rev 14:11); “… the number of his name” (Rev 15:2); 3) his name would be written with such letters which together would constitute the number six hundred sixty-six.
First of all, Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp who himself was a disciple of John, arrived at the spelling of lateino (lateinos), and concluded thereby that the antichrist would come forth from Italy and from the Latin church. Italy, or at least a portion of it, had a king prior to the birth of Christ. His name was Latinus, who was a son of Faunus, the son of Picus, the son of Saturnus, the son of Janus, the first king of Italy. Italy, or that portion of Italy which surrounds Rome, is called Latinum after this Latinus, and the language spoken there was called Latin, which is true until this very day. Latinus is written in Greek as Lateinos and these letters irrefutably represent the number 666. Therefore, in pursuit of the antichrist one is as it were led by the hand to Rome, to the Latin church and to her bishop, who later was called papa or pope, that is, father. The pope was the proprietor of Latinum, where Latinus was king before Rome was built. He established himself in the Latin Church, for the Western church was long known by the name of Latin Church. Whenever a general ecclesiastical gathering convened, the Western bishops were referred to as Latin bishops, and the Eastern bishops as Greek bishops. Until this very day the pope still uses the Latin language in his directives and decrees. Throughout the entire world the church service, the mass, etc, are conducted in the Latin language, which must be viewed as an extraordinary providence of God, whereby it is clearly proven that he is the antichrist.
Secondly, it becomes even more clear if one compares the pope with the person whose name is expressed by 666.
(1) The seat of his residence would be in Rome, which is built upon seven hills. In Rev 17:1 it is confirmed that this refers to the antichrist, and in verse 9 his seat is identified: “The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth” (Rev 17:9).
(2) According to verses 10-11 he would succeed the emperor in this territory, for the seven heads refer to the sevenfold manner of government in Rome. Five forms of government had already run their course during the time of John. The sixth, consisting of the rule of the emperors, was in place at that time, after which the seventh would follow. However, none but the pope has succeeded the emperors in governing Rome.
(3) He whose name would constitute the number six hundred sixty-six would ascend the throne upon the destruction of the empire, and ten kings would simultaneously receive power to govern with him. “And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings” (Rev 17:12). All of this transpired between 500 and 600 A.D.
(4) This person would again introduce pagan idolatry and the worship of images (cf. Rev 13:3, 12-15). The pagan empire received a mortal wound from Constantine the Great who eliminated idolatry. This, however, was restored by the seventh head, the pope, by reintroducing idolatry and the worship of images.
(5) He whose name would be expressed by 666 would be worshipped, and receive superhuman honor (vs. 4).
(6) This person would blaspheme God and His church (vss. 5-6).
(7) He would engage and prevail in “holy” warfare (vss. 7-8).
(8) The time of His reign would be forty-two months.
(9) The entire world would be loyal to him and follow him (vs. 8).
(10) He would cloak everything with an appearance of piety; he would have the horns of a lamb, but speak as a dragon (vs. 11).
(11) He would deceive by means of lying wonders (vss. 13-14).
(12) He whose name is six hundred sixty-six would make idolatry compulsory, and put to death whoever would not comply (vs. 15).
(13) He would compel everyone to acknowledge him and to name themselves after him, or to declare their allegiance to him. They would be required to bear a mark; whoever would refuse to do so would not be able to buy or sell, and a social relationship with such would be forbidden (vss. 16-17).
When we apply all this to the pope, they resemble each other as two drops of water, as we shall subsequently demonstrate. We have thus considered the name 666 and all the circumstances related to it, as well as who would bear this name. He who cannot conclude from all this that the pope is the antichrist must be blind, since the pope’s name and activity are entirely consistent with all this.
That popery itself cannot perceive this should come as no surprise. Of necessity it cannot perceive this, for this would signal the end of popery, which still must endure for some time.
Objection: “Latinus” must be written without an “e” and thus will not be equivalent to the number 666.
Answer (1) John did not write in Latin, but in Greek. That which is “Latinus” in Latin, is “Lateinos” in Greek. Irenaeus, being a Greek, certainly knew how one ought to write this word in Greek.
(2) Latins would also use “ei” instead of “i,” as for instance in “Sabeinos,” “Antoneinos,” “Lateinos,” as well as in this phrase, quam primum Cascei, Populei tenuere Lateinei. This argument is therefore futile.
The second proof is that the antichrist must have his seat and territory in Rome. “The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.” (Rev 17:18; “And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (Rev 17:18). The antichrist is here presented as a woman, as a great harlot (vs. 1), because of the idolatry—which is referred to as “adultery” in the Word of God—and also due to the shameful physical adultery and lewdness which is particularly in vogue among the so-called clergy of Rome and Italy. This harlot would have possession of the great city, which at that time would hold sway over the kings of the earth. That city is Rome, the seat of emperors. There were seven hills within the confines of Rome’s walls, a fact which obviously needs no further proof. Writers prior to and during this time refer to her as the city upon seven hills. Virgil, who died approximately fourteen years prior to the birth of Christ, writes:
Georgicon, Lib. II, 534-535.
Scilicet, et rerum facta est pulcherrima Roma, Septum quae una sibi muro circumdedit arces.
Translation: Thus, Rome has become the most glorious city of all, which alone has surrounded seven strongholds with a wall.
Ovidius, who was born approximately thirty-eight years prior to Christ, writes:
Tristium, Lib. I, 5, 69-70.
Sed quae de septem totum cirkumspicit orbem Montibus, imperii Roma Deut.mque locus.
Translation: Rome, the territory of the gods, which overlooks the entire earth from seven hills.
Tristium, Lib. III, 7, 51-52.
Dumque suis septem victrix de montibus orbem Prospiciet domitum Martia Roma, legar.
Translation: I shall nevertheless be read as long as warring and victorious Rome overlooks a conquered world from her seven hills.
The pope, however, has his chair in this Rome built upon seven hills. His territory extends to the kingdoms of this earth, and there he rules over many nations (Rev 17:15). He is drunk with the blood of saints and has poured out the blood of professors of the truth as water (vs. 6). The kings of the earth surrender their power to him to this end (vss. 13-14). The pope is thus the antichrist.
Evasive Argument: Popery, in order not to apply this dreadful indictment to itself, agrees that this harlot and this great city refer to Rome, but then to pagan Rome during the time of the emperors, which became drunk with the blood of saints.
Answer: This chapter in Revelation indicates clearly that this refers to Rome after the emperors, and not while they reigned. It is a known fact that the pope of Rome has reigned after the emperors and reigns there as yet. This will be evident from the third proof.
The third proof we derive from the practice of persecution and the time of its public manifestation. The beast had to succeed the emperors in the territory of Rome and the entire earth: “I … saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns” (Rev 13:1); “And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven” (Rev 17:10-11).
“Seven heads” does not merely pertain to seven hills, comprehended within the walls of Rome, but also pertains to seven kings, that is, sovereign governments rather than specific individuals. Five forms of government had already run their course: kings, mayors, councils, governors, and dictators. The sixth form of government was in place when John wrote, for it is irrefutable that the emperors reigned at that time. During their reign this would not transpire, however, but rather under the seventh head of Rome. The beast was the seventh head which would come after the emperors as far as worldly rule is concerned, and be simultaneously also the eighth king as far as the supreme spiritual rulership which he claims for himself relative to the souls of men. This proves that the reference here is not to pagan Rome, but to Rome under the dominion of the pope.
Additionally, this seventh head would not step aside as quickly as the other heads, since the previous forms of Rome’s government were each time but for a short duration. However, this form of government would endure for some time—42 months or 1260 days. Since this refers to years this can only be applicable to the pope. Add to this what is written in verses 12-13, “And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.” This did not occur, however, during the time of the emperors, for they were monarchs, sovereign heads and rulers. Instead, this occurred when the empire was destroyed by the Goths, Lombards, and other pagan nations which divided the empire into ten kingdoms.
Approximately around the same time, the beast also arose, and gained possession of Rome, which none other but the pope accomplished. Even when these nations for some time ruled Italy, they did not have their seat of government in Rome. Ten kings, however, yielded their power to the beast who had his seat of government in Rome, the city of seven hills, desiring to be confirmed and sanctioned by him. They executed his will in doing battle against Christ and His church. Observe, that this is the antichrist who, after the emperors, had his seat of government and territory in Rome and thus in the world—at the time when ten kings gained power after the destruction of the empire. They who are now referred to as emperors did not come to power until 325 years later. They neither exercise any power over Rome, nor have their seat of government there, and thus rule but in name. However, none but the pope has succeeded the emperors in this territory. Ten kings came to power simultaneously with the pope and ten kings have yielded their power to none other than the pope to shed the blood of the church and to persecute her. The pope is thus the antichrist.
This has even further strengthened our second proof and has answered the exception by demonstrating that the reference is not to pagan Rome but to Rome under the dominion of the pope, who would perform all that is stated in Rev 13 and 17. He must be blind who cannot see that this does not refer to the emperors, but to the pope who succeeded them. Therefore it is obvious that the pope is the antichrist.
We derive the fourth proof from the behavior of the antichrist.
He would first of all place himself in the temple of God. “So that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thess 2:4). The church is God’s house (1 Tim 3:15) and God’s temple. “For ye are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16). He would sit in the church as if he were God, viewing himself as the head and officer of the church; he would not approach the church as an external enemy and do battle against the church as such, but would rather proceed from within her and occupy the position of headship in the church. To whom but the pope does this apply, who is openly recognized as head by popery, and to whom they have given the title, “Our Lord God the pope”?
Secondly, the apostasy would be initiated with him. “Except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thess 2:3). The church has always done battle, even in its initial period, against many heresies. The church of Rome maintained its purity the longest, and this gave opportunity to other churches in whom heresies arose to take refuge to the church of Rome. The bishop of Rome in turn used this opportunity to gradually exalt himself above all churches. He wanted his declarations relative to points of contention to be accepted as divine revelation without anyone contradicting him. Since heresies arose in her as well, however, the apostasy from the purity of the faith affected the entire church that much more easily and quickly. This apostasy increased rapidly, and one error led to the next.
The fact that Rome has become entirely apostate is demonstrated everywhere in this book. Rome places its declarations and traditions next to, and in opposition to, the Word of God. Rome forbids the reading of the Bible, commands that a piece of bread be worshipped as God, has introduced the worship of angels and deceased saints, has erected images and altars, claims authority for itself to forgive sin, promotes the apostasy of the saints, teaches that man is not only able to be perfect but can also perform superfluous works which the pope then keeps in his treasure chest and distributes according to his pleasure. Rome denies that the merits of Christ atone for all sin, original and actual. It teaches that one can and must earn heaven himself. It has fabricated the existence of purgatory, and on behalf of the living and the dead, sacrifices Christ anew in the mass. All Romish errors are too numerous to be mentioned here. These sufficiently demonstrate that Rome and its followers have become apostate concerning the faith.
Thirdly, the antichrist would exalt himself above the kings of the earth. “Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped … shewing himself that he is God” (2 Thess 2:4). Kings and governments are referred to as kings and princes in Ps 82:1, 6. The pope exalts himself above all kings and princes. He is well aware of this and also exercises this power as he appoints and deposes kings, releases subjects from their oath and fidelity, and distributes countries to whomever he wills, for instance giving America to the king of Spain. The kings, however, are becoming somewhat wiser, and are not very concerned about his power of deposition. The time is near that they will despise their foolishness for having esteemed him so highly, and will hate and reject him (Rev 17:16-17).
Yes, the Pope allows himself to be carried about as if he were God, and everyone bows the knee before him. He opposes the God of heaven, establishing religious practices which are contrary to what God has instituted. He has the audacity to maintain that even though Christ has instituted the Lord’s Supper with two signs, bread and wine, that it will be administered with one sign—bread only.
Fourthly, the antichrist would perform wonders. “Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders” (2 Thess 2:9); “And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, and deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do” (Rev 13:13-14). Those who belong to popery are the only ones who boast of miracles, wishing to prove thereby that they are the true church. What blind ignorance this is! They thereby convey clearly that the pope is the antichrist. Their miracles, however, no longer have the credibility they once had when thick darkness prevailed. Men now laugh at their lying wonders.
Fifthly, the antichrist would live in great luster and pomp. “And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls” (Rev 17:4). There is an extensive description of this pomp and luster in Rev 18:12, 16. If one examines this text and then considers the pope and his followers, having purple as the color for himself and his cardinals, he will have to say that the pope is most certainly the antichrist described in this passage. He does not resemble Peter in the least—in doctrine or in life.
Sixthly, the antichrist would war against the saints. “And it was given unto him (the beast) to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all … to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (Rev 13:7, 15-17). Compare the pope’s activity to this, and you will observe therein as precise a fulfillment of prophecy as one could wish for. Who but the pope opposes the true church? Who but the pope murders true professors for their witness concerning the truth? How many hundreds of thousands have already lost their lives by order and direction of the pope? Who but he has become drunk with the blood of the saints? All who confess not to be Roman Catholic, who do not wish to acknowledge him as the head of the church, who do not go to mass to worship the god of bread, who do not carry a chaplet or cross or manifest in any other way that they are of popish persuasion, must be expelled and are not able to practice their business, profession, or trade. They are all subject to opposition, tortures, violence, monasteries, prisons, galleys, the gallows, theft of property, and deprivation of children. Does this not bear witness to the entire world that the pope is the antichrist?
Seventhly, add to this what is written in 1 Tim 4:1, 3, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats.” Examine the entire world and ask who has become apostate concerning the faith and who forbids to eat. Would not everyone have to admit that this pertains to the pope who forbids male as well as female members of the clergy to marry, and who forbids the eating of meat, eggs, etc. on Fridays and during their seven weekly fasts? We thus conclude, having the approbation of everyone’s conscience, that the pope is the antichrist.
Objection: It is not written that the antichrist would do all these things; the pope is thus not the antichrist.
Answer: One thing is sure, however: he teaches the doctrines of devils. Furthermore, Scripture states clearly that the devil rules the antichrist, helps him and empowers him. “And the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority” (Rev 13:2); “Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan” (2 Thess 2:9). If we consider these texts, we shall observe that the forbidding of marriage and the command to abstain from meat is the work of the antichrist, and thus we conclude that the pope is the antichrist.
Since little can be said in opposition to the aforementioned truths, they will resort to several other evasive arguments.
Evasive Argument #1: The antichrist will be only one person.
Answer (1) He is one in the same manner as the previous six heads were one. These were one, not as far as the person was concerned, but as far as the form of government. This is likewise true for the seventh head.
(2) He already began with his activity during the time of the apostles, and would continue to stir until he would have free rein and ascend the throne. This did not occur until several hundred years later, and thus it does not pertain to one person.
Evasive Argument #2: He would come after the destruction of the empire, but the empire still exists.
Answer: The empire has already been destroyed, and was terminated with Augustulus who was the last emperor in the fifth century. He who now bears the title “emperor” was not denominated as such by the pope until the year 800. He has no authority in Rome nor in Roman territory. The kings of Spain, France, England, Scotland, Ireland, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Poland—who formerly all belonged to the empire—refuse to acknowledge him as such.
Evasive Argument #3: The antichrist will only appear at the end of the world and will be destroyed by Christ’s coming unto judgment (2 Thess 2:8).
Answer: It is not true that he will appear near the end of the world’s existence. This is nowhere written in Scripture. “The last days” refers to the entire New Testament dispensation (cf. Acts 2:17; Heb 1:1-2). The time of his fall will come, and Christ will come with His judgments to destroy him even prior to His coming in judgment. If this text is understood as referring to the final judgment, one ought to know that even after the destruction of the antichrist, which will occur prior to the millennium5 (Rev 19:20; Rev 20:4), his spirit will nevertheless prevail in many. He will only be destroyed when Christ comes in judgment.
Evasive Argument #4: He will only reign forty-two months, or 1260 days, which is three and one half years.
Answer: Those days are representative of years. Thus, Jacob’s service of one week consisted of seven years (Gen 29:27), and the seventy weeks of Daniel represented seventy year-weeks (Dan 9:24). Such is also the case here, for it is impossible that the antichrist would perform and accomplish all that in such a short period of time.
Evasive Argument #5: He must be a Jew, will rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, and reintroduce circumcision. Enoch and Elijah must first come from Paradise to oppose the antichrist and ascend to heaven again.
Answer: These are fabrications which are contrary to the Word of God.
Evasive Argument #6: The antichrist will deny Christ.
Answer: The pope has always done this, and still does so by way of his doctrines and institutions, just as the Jews made the commandment of God of none effect with their traditions (Matt 15:6). It thus remains certain that the pope is the antichrist.
How correctly our forefathers have acted when they, upon God’s command, departed from Babylon! It is everyone’s duty never to have fellowship with the antichrist, and to die as martyrs for the cause of Christ rather than to be in the least manner polluted by him and his activities.