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Friday, March 1, 2013

Pope Resignation and Revelation 17

The Resignation of the Pope and Revelation 17


Since this web site was named in honor of the biblical battle of Armageddon, it would be strange for me to blog on the pope’s resignation without addressing a popular speculation regarding the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 17) and recent popes. According to Revelation 17 the beast depicted in the chapter (Rev 17:3-6) has seven heads which appear in consecutive order and represent kings (17:9-10). The seventh of these “kings” reigns just a short while, followed by an “eighth” (17:11), after which the whole beast goes to destruction. While there are many creative ways to do it, a number of lay interpreters attempt to associate these seven heads with recent popes. They speculate that the prophecy begins in 1929, when the Lateran Treaty re-established the independent Papal States (although the actual bequest was only 111 acres– producing the smallest country in the world). According to Wikipedia (I didn’t have time to explore the more scholarly resources) the following popes have ruled since 1929:

Pius XI (1922-1939)
Pius XII (1939-1958)
John XXIII (1958-1963)
Paul VI (1963-1978)
John Paul I (1978-1978, 34 days)
John Paul II (1978-2005)
Benedict XVI (2005-2013)

Compared at least to Pius XII, Paul VI and John Paul II, Benedict XVI reigned for a relatively short time (cf. 17:10). The next pope would be the eighth since 1929, so interpreting Revelation 17 in terms of popes since 1929 suggests to such interpreters that the next pope will be the last, perhaps ushering in the end of the world. I have been hearing about such interpretations for at least 35 years and the interpretations change each time popes change.

There are numerous problems with this interpretation. It makes assumptions about the starting point of the seven heads (1929 AD) and implies that the gift of 111 acres from the Italian government to the Papacy is in itself an event of world-changing proportions. And if the text of Revelation 17 were talking about popes toward the end of history (which it is not), five would be past already in 1929. So calculations beginning with 1929 don’t work out. Combine those problems with the fact that Revelation 17:8-11 comes as part of an angelic explanation of the vision in 17:3-6. Such an explanation would only make sense to John if it is given in the context of his time and place. Whatever the seven heads/kings means, five of them were already in the past when Revelation was written. Revelation 17:8-11 is not about seven or eight popes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It covers a major sweep of history that was already well under way when the Book of Revelation was written.

I will say no more about this in blog form. I already wrote a detailed interpretation of the seven heads of Revelation 17 in the context of John Paul II’s death in 2005 (nothing new under the sun). Go to the home page of this web site and click on the button to the left entitled “7 Heads of Revelation 17.” There you will find a detailed exegesis of the text in light of the seven popes interpretation referenced above. Or you can go directly by opening the following pdf file:www.thebattleofarmageddon.com/seven_heads_of_revelation_17.html.

Devotional readings of the Bible can be fun. But when they are used to interpret major events in history they can become dangerous. Sound biblical applications will be natural extensions of what the text meant in its original context. To read the text in a way that could only make sense today is to break the connection between the interpretation and Scripture. At that point the interpretation claims the authority of Scripture without demonstrating it.

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