Papal Shockwaves

The world was stunned this past Monday morning when in his weekly meeting with Vatican cardinals, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation: “ . . . well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.” As the news bulletin circled the planet, church historians scrambled to find a precedent in Roman Catholic history. The most recent papal resignation, they have told us, was the abdication of Gregory XII in 1415 “to end a dispute with a rival claimant to the papacy” ( Six centuries later the Church of Rome now faces the reality of electing a new pope while his predecessor is still very much alive. What role will Benedict have in the election of his successor? None, the Vatican responds, adding that Benedict’s papal symbols including his ring will be destroyed as would have been the case had he died in office. Instead he will live out the rest of his days in a monastery on the edge of the Vatican gardens. His successor? Already the ubiquitous handicapping of papal candidates is preoccupying the news media and cyberspace. The wait will not be long, since the Vatican indicates that the new pope will be crowned by Easter, March 31. And for students of Bible prophecy what does this nearly unprecedented papal resignation portend? I imagine that over the next few weeks renewed examination of Revelation’s cryptic prophecy in chapter seventeen will focus on “he must continue a short time” (v 10), leading some no doubt to identify Benedict with that phrase and thus conclude there is but one ruler left before the return of Christ. Already some in the press are drawing attention to the purported prophecies of the Catholic mystic Malachy (1139 AD), who apparently predicted with (some say) uncanny detail 112 popes from his day to the end of the world. With Benedict being the 111th Pontiff in Malachy’s prophecy, supporters believe the 112th pope, predicted to be named Petrus Romanus, will be the final one ( What shall we believe? First of all, the Reformation principle of Sola scriptura (the Bible and the Bible alone) must be the foundation of any prophetic interpretation. The Bible remains its own best interpreter—go deep within it. Secondly, be cautious about transforming immediate headlines into Bible predictions. In this age of instant cyberspace news and commentary, be slow to link sensational events to apocalyptic fulfillment. Third, avoid the “lone ranger” interpretations. While every prophetic interpretation begins with someone’s earnest study, faithful interpretation and genuine fulfillment will bear collective scrutiny. Fourth, always remember that God’s mission includes more than you and me. I.e., fulfilling Bible prophecy is not about getting the insiders saved, but rather the earnest reminder that all seven billion of earth’s inhabitants are the passionate object of Heaven’s rescue mission. While you pray “Even so, come, Lord Jesus,” work as never before to lead lost people to their Savior. And finally, let every headline be a reminder that the return of our Lord is near. New Testament Christianity has always lived with the expectancy of Jesus’ Second Coming—“Behold, I am coming quickly” (Revelation 22:12). It is called the “blessed hope” for a reason! So let your heart exult in His hope.