To make earthly kings his vassals, and earthly thrones his footstool, came far short of the measure of the papal ambition. The Popes have planted their foot upon the throne of God Himself. That the majesty of Rome should give place to the Vice-Christ was but a small matter; the Majesty of heaven must descend from His seat that the Pope may mount into it. "He, as God," says the apostle, "sitteth in the temple of God showing himself that he is God."
The Pope has claimed to be God first in words, second in acts.
Let us listen to the words the "great mouth" has spoken; and also to some which his friends have spoken for him. Let us mark first where Antichrist is said to sit. "He sitteth in the temple of god."
This temple cannot be that of the Jews on Mount Moriah, for the apostle is speaking of an act which was to be done by One who was not to appear till after the fall of the Roman Empire; but long before the empire fell the temple of the Jews was laid in ashes. (In the "Acts" the Jewish temple is spoken of twenty five times. In all these passages the word used is ieron (hieron), never vaos (naos). The term here used by the apostle is vaos. Christian Church," as also Chrysostem, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas.)
The name temple is carried over to the Christian Church, and in places innumerable in the New Testament, it is used to denote, sometimes an individual believer, and sometimes the whole body of professing Christians.
Writing to the Corinthian Christians Paul says, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God."( 1 Cor. iii. 16) And again collectively, "Jesus Christ the chief corner stone; in whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord." (Eph. ii. 20.). We conclude that the temple in which Antichrist is here seen to sit is the Christian Church.
This interpretation preserves the unity of Paul's Prophecy. Antichrist or "man of sin" was to be the outcome and head of the apostacy; but the apostacy was to spring up in the Christian Church, for "the falling away" was to be, and only could be, a falling away from the Christian faith. Antichrist therefore could "sit," that is, establish himself and exercise jurisdiction, nowhere but in the professedly Christian Church. As a Vice-Christ it behoved all his visible characteristics and all his environments to be professedly Christian and ecclesiastical. This effectually disposes of all those theories of Antichrist which would find him in some powerful atheistic confederacy, or in some masterful, political chief, or other embodiment of monstrous iniquity and tyranny yet to arise, and which, during a brief but terrible career, should desolate the world. Such a power could in no sense be said to sit in the temple of God. It would be a power outside the temple; and so far from aspiring to office and dignity in the "temple" — that is, in the church — such a power must needs, from its instincts and character, make war on the church, under the banner of open hostility, and with the cry of: Raze it, raze it."
Moreover, no one-man Antichrist, or Antichrist whose reign is to last for only three years and a half, can fulfil the conditions of Paul's prophecy. How could he spring into being, climb to a height which mortal had never reached before, exhibit his lying wonders, and deceive the whole world, compel all its nations and kings to serve him, make war with the saints and overcome them, and all in the brief period of three and a half years?
Though the Antichristian host had issued from the pit, fully armed and mustered for battle, and had spread themselves on dragon wing to the four corners of the earth, they could hardly have accomplished such a feat. The awful visitation would have been overpast before men had will known that it had befallen; and where would have been the need for "the faith and patience of the saints," or for the cry "how long?"
Antichrist could not make his first appearance full grown. This would have been fatal to his pretensions as Vice-Christ. The fist appearance of the true Christ was as an infant in the manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Not unsimilar must be the beginnings of Antichrist.
He was "working" in Paul's day; he grew up and developed stage by stage, and in process of time reached his full stature, and he was not to be destroyed till the far-future epoch of the glorious coming of Christ. The years of his life were to be counted in centuries; they were far to exceed the days of the life of man; they were to fill the period betwixt the time when Paul wrote, and the appearance of Christ at the Millenium. The system was to be presided over, and necessarily so, by a race of rulers, who were to take their place in succession at its head; but inasmuch as there was to be identity in the system from first to last, and it was to grow as man grows, by regulated stages, and inasmuch as its chiefs were to be linked together by oneness of spirit and aim, Antichrist is spoken of as a corporate individuality.
The conditions of the prophecy, we repeat, could be fulfilled by no one man, however superhuman his power, or however stupendous his wickedness, whose rise, reign, and ruin were to be acted and over in the short space of three years and a half.
We return to the majestic counterfeit, so loftily enthroned, whom the blinded nations mistake for God, and are seen bowing in worship before it.
"He as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God."
The Pope has claimed to be God, first, in words; second, in acts. Let us listen to some of the words which have come from the "great mouth" itself; and next to some utterances to the same effect which have fallen from some of Antichrist's friends.
Sitting in the Temple of God, that is, speaking ex cathedra as Vice-Christ, the Pope has, in the most unequivocal manner, claimed to be god. To this daring pitch of ambition and blasphemy has he carried the parallelism or imitation.
The true Christ is god, therefore the Vice-Christ must claim to be God also.
In the canon law the pope is called God. (Decretum Gregorii XIII. Destinc 96, Can 7.). Again he is called "Lord and God" (Decretales Gregorii IX., Tit. 7.). And again Innocent says in the decretals, speaking of the Pope, "God because he is God's vicar." The cannon law and the decretals are called by Romanist writers the pope's oracle, they are a true expression of the pontifical mind.
To the same effect the papal casuists say, "As Christ was God, he too was to be looked on as God." The Sacrum Ceremoniale has the phrase, "The apostolic Chair is the seat of God." "The Roman Pontiff" says the Decretum of Gregory, "not as mere man, but as true God, reigns in the earth." (Daubuz, 581.). Not to multiply instances in which the Pope calls himself God, or accepts the title from others, we close by referring to a recent illustration. Sir Culling E. Smith, in a tour in Italy, found a book published 1794, with the title: — "History of the Ancient Republic of Amalfi, dedicated to the Vice-god Benedict XIII. With permission of superiors." (Decret. Greg. I. 7, 3.).
So does the Pope bear testimony to himself.
A greater than he said, "If I bear witness of Myself My witness is not true."
He has sought to support his claim to this great title by great deeds. Whatever God does the Pope professes to do also. Does God require that to him every knee shall bow? So, too, the Pope; he requires to be worshipped with prostration and kissing. Does god reveal Himself as the only holy?" So, too, the Pope. He claims to be styled "his holiness." Is God the "only wise?" So, too, is the Pope: he claims to be "inerrable." Did God plant His throne on the summit of Sinai, and thence promulgate those ten commandments which are the world's law? So, too, the Pope: he has planted seat on the seven hills in the character of the world's supreme lawgiver and judge, and he claims an equal authority an infallibility for all that he is please to promulgate ex cathedra as Jehovah claims for the precepts of the decalogue. Is it God's prerogative to pardon sin? The Pope assumes the same great prerogative. He pardons the sins of the living and the dead. Is it god's prerogative to assign to men their eternal destiny? This, too, does the Pope. He pretends to hold the keys that open and shut purgatory, and while he reserves to his followers a sure passport to the realms of paradise, he consigns all outside his church to eternal woe. In fine, does God sit between the Cherubim and receive the homage of His people in His sanctuary? The Pope, seated on the high altar of St Peter's while incense is burned before him, and the knee is bent to him, is invoked as the Lord our God. Romanists are accustomed to call the altar the throne of God, inasmuch as thereon they place the host. The use the Pope finds for it on these occasions, is the not very dignified one of a footstool. "He as God sitteth in the temple of God showing himself that he is God."