Supposedly, the next pope who comes to power is the last pope before the end of the age. The story goes that in 1139 A.D. or so, a guy named Malachy visited Rome and had a vision. He was shown how many popes there would be before the end time. With Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation announcement today, it seems like we’re on the cusp of big things about to happen.
So, is it true? Did a Roman Catholic bishop have a vision in 1139 that really showed him how many popes there would be before the end of the age? It’s not impossible. God has given prophecies to those who are obedient followers of His as well as those who are very decidedly not (Balaam comes to mind, Numbers 22:35).
But it could also be bunk. The Wikipedia article about the “Prophecy of the Popes” explains difficulties with the accuracy of the prediction. Namely, the way Malachy wrote down what he saw was in the form of 112 very cryptic phrases. The phrases supposedly describe something about each pope. But they’re so vague, figuring out what they mean relies heavily on interpretation. And while some have been accurate, some have also been way off-base.
It’s so interesting, mysterious, intriguing to think about. If the next pope is the last pope, does that mean the end of the age is coming in the next 30 years or so (or sooner)?
Let’s get back to basics, here. We know and believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. We don’t know that about Malachy’s prophecy. And frankly, the biblical prophecies about the end time are clearer and less obscure than what Malachy wrote anyway.
A key prophecy we should look for to determine when the end will come is the “man of sin.” Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians about him, and the vision John recorded in Revelation 13 corroborates it. Here’s Paul: “Don’t be fooled by what they say. For that day [the day of the Lord, which culminates in Jesus’ return] will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. He will exalt himself and defy every god there is and tear down every object of adoration and worship. He will position himself in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, New Living Translation).
The guy claims to be God Himself.
So before Jesus returns, this man has to come on the scene. John seemed to have a vision of the same guy, which he described as a beast: “Then I saw another beast come up out of the earth. […] He did astounding miracles, such as making fire flash down to earth from heaven while everyone was watching. And with all the miracles he was allowed to perform on behalf of the first beast, he deceived all the people who belong to this world. He ordered the people of the world to make a great statue of the first beast, who was fatally wounded and then came back to life. He was permitted to give life to this statue so that it could speak. Then the statue commanded that anyone refusing to worship it must die” (Revelation 13:11-18, NLT)
By the way, it’s this same guy who institutes the “mark of the beast,” which is calculated to 666.
What is the conclusion of the matter? If the next pope is the last one, it’s either coincidence or it really was an inspired prophecy. But instead of trying to figure out if some cryptic and mysterious prophecy from the 12th century is true, I think it’s more worth our time to read the plain language of the Bible.
The point of prophecy is to get us to take God seriously and make changes in our life today. Hold fast to the teachings of Christ. Be a good Christian. In fact, Paul said exactly that right after he wrote about the man of sin (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Or to quote Jesus Himself: live a life showing fruits of repentance (Matthew 3:8).
St. Malachy’s prophecy of how many popes there would be before the end time probably isn’t true. But the Bible definitely is true, and it clearly says that a “man of sin” who claims to be God and does amazing miracles will come to power before the end time. The point of prophecy is to make us focus today on being a good Christian. So live a life worthy of repentance.
Update: March 13, 2013 - First Pope from Latin America. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina is chosen as the new Pope. He will take the name Pope Francis the First.