“They have brought it so far with this ungodly seduction, that they have arrogated to themselves all power in heaven, upon earth, and in hell; they therefore break the bread into three pieces. With the first, they reconcile God; with the second, they intercede for the world; and with the third, as they pretend, they pray for the souls in purgatory.
“Through this accursed infamy they rose so high in honour, that they are above all the potentates of earth, whom they made their own servants. By their hypocritical service and enchanting idolatry, they have hoarded money, goods, gold, silver, land, rents, cloisters, cities, principalities and the dominions of this world; because every one loved this splendid service as a holy and divine work; honoured and feared their exalted and pompous names as the messengers of God.
“By this ingenious and subtle magic, the Roman antichrist has gained such respect and authority , that even the imperial majesty , the highest sovereignty on earth, whom we are commanded of God to respect and fear, had to humble himself and kiss his feet; yea, what is still worse, Frederick Barbarossa, a great and renowned emperor, could not be reconciled with Pope Alexander III until he humbled himself at Venice, before the church, and suffered the Pope to tread upon him with his feet!” Menno Simons (1496-1551)
It is clear from this excerpt that Menno understood the Scriptural references to antichrist to refer to the Pope. This had been the common Anabaptist understanding for many centuries. And no wonder, as Pope after Pope made war with the saints, having them hunted down and murdered by the thousands. The time of the persecution of the church by antichrist, given as 1260 days in Revelation, they understood to mean 1260 years.
The identification of the Pope with the antichrist mentioned in the Bible was later picked up by the Reformers, Luther in particular. In 1556, a Lutheran writer proposed that the 1260 years would span from 606 to 1866. Anabaptists generally understood the 1260 years to have begun much earlier, when the Roman church first became the official religion of the Roman Empire. (It should be noted here that the Protestant state churches were also fierce persecutors of the Anabaptists.)
Jesuit scholars began seeking to divert attention in other directions. Francisco Ribera, 1537-1591, wrote that the Antichrist would appear at the end of the age and reign for a literal 1260 days, or 3½ years immediately prior to the return of the Lord. The antichrist, a single individual, would persecute and blaspheme the saints of God, rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, be received by the Jews, pretend to be God and conquer the world.
About the same time Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, also a Jesuit, wrote a book with a very similar teaching, a future antichrist who would be a single man and reign for 3 ½ years. Manuel Lacunza, 1731-1801, a Jesuit from Chile, proposed that sometime far in the future the Roman Catholic church would become corrupted, abandon the Christian faith and become antichrist. Christ would return twice, first to judge the living and then many years later to judge the dead.
Edward Irving, a Scottish clergyman associated with the Catholic Apostolic church translated Lacunza’s work into English in 1826. This was the beginning of the millennial speculations that still plague the Christian church. Margaret McDonald, a 15 year old member of Irving’s church, had a vision in 1830 that there would be a secret rapture of Christians before the coming of antichrist.
John Nelson Darby of the Plymouth Brethren movement was acquainted with Irving and visited Margaret McDonald to hear her tell her vision. Darby went on to elaborate the dispensational scheme that is so well known today. William Miller also became acquainted with the Jesuit writings and began to predict the date of our Lord’s return, thus beginning the Adventist movement.
The whole premillenial movement began as the result of Jesuit attempts to deflect attention from the corruption and oppressions of the papacy. How many people are aware of that today?
We generally understand antichrist to mean in opposition to Christ. There is a second meaning, that takes nothing away from this first meaning. The prefix anti can also mean in front of, or in place of. Thus any group or theology which says that you can only approach Christ through their teachings, or can only understand God’s Word through their teachings, or can only be reconciled to Christ through the mediation of their priests, is putting itself between Christ and humanity and is thus an antichrist.