The next significant interpreter who influenced the whole course of interpretation was the Jesuit Lacunza, born in South America in 1731. He wrote under the Jewish name Ben Ezra (calling the Jews his "brethren" in his preface). His great work was entitled "The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty" and was originally published in Spanish. He believed the Antichrist would appear within the Roman church itself, and rejected the general Catholic interpretation that Antichrist would be an individual Jew. However, he was a Futurist, and was one of the first to interpret the woman of Rev. 12 as the Zion of Isaiah. His book was translated into English in 1826 by Edward Irving, of the Scotch Church in England. The book then received wide circulation, and was the instrument in turning the Protestant world to a Futurist interpretation of prophecy. A great number of Protestant writers then produced Futurist interpretations:
1826 -- Edward Irving - "Babylon and Infidelity foredoomed of God; a Discourse on the prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse, which relate to these latter times, and until the Second Advent."
-- S.R. Maitland - "An Enquiry into the grounds on which the prophetic period of Daniel and St. John has been supposed to have consisted of 1260 years."
1829 -- S.R. Maitland - "A Second Inquiry into the grounds on which the prophetic period of Daniel and St. John has been supposed to have consisted of 1260 years."
1831 -- S.R. Maitland - "A Letter to the Rev. William Digby, A.M., occasioned by his Treatise on the 1260 days."
1838 -- Joseph Tyso - "An Elucidation of the Prophecies, being an exposition of the books of Daniel and the Revelation, showing that the seventy weeks, the one thousand two hundred and sixty days, and the events predicted under the seven trumpets and seven vials have not yet taken place, but that they will be accomplished within the space of about three years and a half from their commencement, and probably at no distant period."
1838 -- W. Burgh - "The Apocalypse Unfulfilled; or an Exposition of the Book of Revelation."
1841 -- D. MacCausland - "The Latter Days of the Jewish Church and Nation, as Revealed in the Apocalypse."
1865 -- D. MacCausland - "The Latter Days of Jerusalem and Rome as Revealed in the Apocalypse."
The general tenor of the writings of the day can be ascertained from the following:
"But are so without rule and measure of interpretation? Is the word of God no rule or measure for its own interpretation? - the word of God, honestly taken, compared with itself, made its own interpreter? We are told we must resort to the foreign aid of history - that none are qualified to interpret prophecy who are not deeply read in history - and that the Christian most thoroughly furnished with knowledge of the Scriptures must here go to the commentators. But if I were called on to name one advantage more than another which the system for which I contend has over that which prevails (i.e. the historical system-ed.), I would say it is its maintaining the SUFFICIENCY OF SCRIPTURE. The interpreter of prophecy must be read in history - yea, truly, in the history of the Bible,- for where are the prophecies, the fulfillment of which we can only ascertain from history - of the fulfillment of which the Scripture history does not contain the record?"'
Generally, Futurists insisted that the book of Revelation referred to the Jewish Nation:
"On hearing such expositions we are inclined to ask how it is that such agreement can exist as to a principle of interpretation which involves so violent a wresting of the words of Scripture ... Commentators supposed it necessary to apply the sixth seal to some of these events and it followed that this seventh chapter could not apply to the Jewish people, but must find its fulfillment in the history of the Gentile church.
Now I do not blame these expositors for being desirous that their systems hang together ... we cannot set aside or accommodate it in a manner as we now find to be necessary to the system by which we hoped to explain this book: this chapter can only refer to the Jewish nation."'(5)
About this same time, historical writers began to defend their understanding of the prophecies. The two most notable works were (1) "First Elements of Sacred Prophecy" by T.R. Birks, 1843. This work contains a detailed review of the Futurist views of his day, and, in our opinion should be read by every individual who is attempting to elucidate the prophecies. (2) In addition, this era saw the publication of E.B. Elliott's "Horae Apocalypticae" a work of some 2800 pages. This work is invaluable as it contains 300 pages outlining what various expositors have understood prophecy to mean from the first century to 1862.
The controversy that existed about prophetical interpretation can be found from reading this comment:
"The Jew is the key to prophecy" says Mr. Burgh . . . Again, on Apoc. xi, 1. "Rise and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein; but the court without, measure not, for it is given to the Gentiles, and they shall tread underfoot the holy city forty-and two months, " he observes to this effect., - that every word marks to an unprejudiced reader that the passage concerns the Jewish nation; and that it is a matter of astonishment that the passage should have been so allegorized by most Protestant expositors, as to exclude all reference to the Jewish people. (6)
A few Protestant writers adopted the Praeterist or destruction of Jerusalem and fall of pagan Rome interpretation. In England, S. Davidson became the chief spokesman; in America Moses Stuart became its chief advocate. The latter, in his commentary, makes the following enlightening comment:
"Near the commencement of the seventeenth century (1614), the Spanish Jesuit Ludovicus ab Alcasar published his Vestigatio arcani Sensus in Apocalypsi, a performance distinguished by one remarkable feature, which was then new. He declared the Apocalypse to be a continuous and connected work, making regular advancement from beginning to end, as parts of one general plan in the mind of the writer. In conformity with this he brought out a result which has been of great importance to succeeding commentators. Rev. v-vi, he thinks, applies to the Jewish enemies of the Christian Church; xi-xix to heathen Rome and carnal and worldly powers, xx-xxii to the final conquests to be made by the church, and also to its rest, and its ultimate glorification. This view of the contents of the book had been merely hinted at before, by Hentenius, in the Preface to his Latin version of Arethas, Par. 1547. 8vo; and by Salmeron in his Preludia in Apoc. But no one had ever developed this idea fully, and endeavoured to illustrate and enforce it, in such a way as Alcasar ... Although he puts the time of composing the Apocalypse down to the exile of John under Domitian, yet he still applies ch. v-xi to the Jews, and of course regards the book as partly embracing the past.
It might be expected, that a commentary that thus freed the Romish church from the assaults of the Protestants, would be popular among the advocates of the papacy. Alcasar met, of course, with general approbation and reception among the Romish community. "'(7)
And so a commentary written in 1880 could summarize as follows: (8)
1. The Preterist System
"According to this system the successive statements of the Revelation apply chiefly to the history of the Jewish nation, down to the destruction of Jerusalem, and to the history of Pagan Rome ... The earliest expositors of this class is to be named Lud. Alcasar ... who prepared the way for the commentaries of Hugo Grotius ... and more recently, of Moses Stuart. . . "
2. The Historical or Continuous System
"The Historical school includes the great majority of Commentators. To it belong those who uphold the "Year-day " theory, as well as those who interpret chronologically. Writers of this school differ widely among themselves. "
3. The Futurist System
"The 'Futurists' apply the predictions of the Apocalypse to the events which are to immediately precede, or immediately follow, the Second Advent of Christ. The writers of this school usually (although they are not always consistent) interpret literally: - Israel is the literal Israel; the Temple is the literal Temple built at Jerusalem; the 3-112 times, 42 months, 1260 days, are 3-112 natural, literal years. It is clear that there can be no discussion as to the accuracy or inaccuracy of the results of this system of interpretation in any of its forms. The Future defies criticism. "Ribera seems to have been the earliest Futurist. "
[*editors note see also The Revelation --Which Interpretation? (Preterist - Continuous Historical - Futurist) By Graham Pearce also on this site ]
Throughout this pamphlet the attempt has been made to support the hypothesis that a case of mistaken identity will occur at the time of the second coming of Christ to the earth. This concept is not new. Soon after the Future Antichrist idea was advanced by the Jesuit priesthood, Joseph Mede, a Protestant expositor wrote:
"The sixth phial shall be poured out upon that great river Euphrates, that being dried up, a passage may be prepared for new enemies of the Beast to come from the East; that is, for the Israelites to be wonderfully converted to the pure faith and worship of Christ, and now to have conferred upon them the kingdom promised so many ages since. Whom the worshippers of the Beast, haply, shall esteem for the army of their imaginary Antichrist to arise from among the Jews, God so revenging the obstinacy of their error . . . "'
In other words, Mede felt that at the end of the age, when Jesus is acknowledged as the king of the Jews and starts making demands on the world, that the peoples of Europe ("worshippers of the beast") would hail him as the Antichrist of their inventions. In our day, as the anticipation of a coming Antichrist rises, it would appear very probable that Mr. Mede's expectation will be fulfilled.
With the acceptance of Futurism, or the idea of an Antichrist yet to come, many "gaps" of time were created in the prophecies to explain the apparent silence of the Bible on events between the fall of Rome (or, in some cases the death of the Messiah) and the Second Coming of Christ. These "gaps" of time, covering 2,000 years, and on which the Bible apparently offers no guidance as to what would occur, were necessitated by preconceived interpretations rather than actually being indicated in the text of the prophecies, and have become a hallmark of Futurist expositions. The reader must judge for himself whether or not they are valid.
In conclusion, it is evident that the real impetus for the interpretation of the Antichrist as being an individual, yet future, arose as a result of the need for the Church of Rome to deflect the force of the Protestant expositions exposing her at the time of the Reformation. Gradually, these views worked themselves into Protestant understanding as noted above, and today are the accepted expositions in the vast majority of professing christian circles. This pamphlet has outlined, hopefully in a constructive manner, what the consequences of these interpretations may yet prove to be in the near future.
"Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from US.
He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.
Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance; and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
Thou shalt break them with rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.
Be wise now therefore, 0 ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, test he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. "
- Hippolytus, in his work, "Christ and Antichrist", quoted in Elliott, E.B., "Horae Apocalypticae", Seeley, Jackson and Halliday, London, 1862, Volume 4, p. 284.
- Hitchcock, G.S., "The Beasts and the Little Horn", Catholic Truth Society, London, 1911, p. 7.
- Quoted in Elliott, op cit., p. 48 1.
- Burgh, W., "Lectures on the Advent", quoted in Birks, T.R., "Elements of Sacred Prophecy", William Edward Painter, London, 1843, p. 26.
- Burgh, W., "Lectures on the Apocalypse", quoted in Birks, op. cit., p. 257.
- Burgh, W., quoted in Elliott, E.B., "Horae Apocalypticae", Third edition, Seeley, Burnside and Seeley, London, 1847, Volume 4, p. 53 1.
- Stuart, Moses, "Commentary on the Apocalypse", Allen, Morrill and Wardell, Andover, 1845, Volume 1, p. 464.
- "Commentary on the Holy Bible", by Bishops and Other Clergy of the Anglican Church, New Testament, Volume 4, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1880, pp. 488-490.
- Mede, Joseph, "The Key of the Revelation", Phil. Stevens, London, 1650, p.118.