I first heard about the Common Market in the early 1960s. The British conservative government of Harold Macmillan, encouraged by U.S. President John Kennedy, applied to join in 1962. French President Charles de Gaulle replied with a resounding "Non!"
Britain at the time was going through fundamental changes. It was dismantling its empire after four centuries of looking beyond Europe to the wider world. In the words of the former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson in the same year, "Britain has lost an empire and not yet found a role."
In the middle of the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, "pirate" radio ships started broadcasting a steady diet of pop music into Great Britain. They were situated outside of what was then a three-mile limit, thus outside of U.K. government control.
British radio was seriously limited. Only three radio stations existed, none of them commercial, and the content was fairly strictly controlled. The "pirate" stations offered nonstop contemporary music, which automatically gave them a wider audience. They were financed by commercials. This was their big weakness, as the British government found a way to ban them by prosecuting advertisers. On Aug. 15, 1967, they all closed down.
But not before a strong spiritual message had gone out across the country. A radio program called The World Tomorrow taught the Bible like I'd never heard it explained before. Whereas I had always found the book of Revelation hard to understand, my own church not being able to adequately explain it, this program explained it very well. The programs on biblical prophecy made the Scriptures particularly relevant and very real to our own time.
Not all the programs were about prophecy, but those that were seemed to concentrate on three areas: the decline of the English-speaking countries, the rise of a unified Europe and the Bible's emphasis on the Middle East.
More than 40 years later, these are still the three main areas of prophetic focus, now dominating international news and world affairs as never before.
Europe's rise under the radar
The 1960s saw great turmoil and change in both the United States and Great Britain.
In the United States, Americans saw race riots, student demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, racism and poverty. In the United Kingdom a radical Labour (social-ist) government came to power in 1964 and started dramatically changing laws that had been in effect for centuries. Suddenly, abortion, homosexuality and easy divorce were allowed, while the death penalty was abolished. Serious economic problems continued to plague the country.
In the Middle East, Arabs and Israelis went to war for the third time in less than 20 years, and the British pulled out of the region after losing against an insurrection in Aden.
Meanwhile, Europe was starting to come together.
After World War II, the continent lay in ruins. Germany had twice tried to conquer Europe in a period of 30 years. France had been attacked by Germany three times in the lifetimes of some still living—in 1871, 1914 and again in 1940.
But by the 1960s, these two longtime rivals, whose shared histories went back to one of Europe's greatest monarchs, Charlemagne, were determined that never again would they go to war. Former British wartime leader Winston Churchill spoke of a United States of Europe as the best way for Europe to move forward.
Churchill himself had said at the end of the war that Germany would never rise again. Yet one of the presenters of the World Tomorrow radio program I listened to predicted exactly the opposite—based on a deep understanding of Bible prophecy.
Who was right? Germany has indeed risen again and now boasts one of the world's strongest economies. For some time it has been the world's number-one exporting nation, surpassing even China, which has a population 16 times greater.
An ever closer union
One reason for Germany's postwar success has been the growing unity of Europe.
In An Idea of Europe, Richard Hoggart and Douglas Johnson write: "It has been said that in 1945, when the mists of battle cleared, a corpse was found lying, naked and despoiled, in a corner of the field. It was the corpse of Europe. Or better, it was the corpse of a particular Europe: the Europe which regarded itself as civilization personified, the Europe of humanism and the Europe of world domination in religion, science, commerce and manpower.
"Then in the late 1950s and 1960s another Europe appeared. This was a Europe which put emphasis on unity, on creating a great center of production, on being modern and progressive, on establishing uniform systems of justice and welfare, on giving an example of international cooperation. This Europe, the Western Europe of the European Community, claims to be more than a continent" (1987, p. 5).
In 1951 France, West Germany, Italy and the three Benelux nations (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) formed the European Coal and Steel Community. Six years later in 1957, these states increased integration by signing the Treaty of Rome, which formed the European Economic Community (EEC), also known as the European Community or Common Market, pledging themselves to form "an ever closer union."
At the time, the British decided to stay out. Their empire and commonwealth was still a major force, though it had begun to decline in the aftermath of the war. Trade agreements between Britain and its dominions were still in place, enabling the British to enjoy inexpensive food imports and providing them with secure markets for their exports.
But Britain was in industrial decline. It needed new markets for its exports. Watching the growing success of the EEC, many in Britain felt they had missed out when they failed to join in 1957. Britain applied for membership five years later and was rejected. Applying again in 1971, the new French president, Georges Pompidou, concerned about containing Germany and seeing Britain as a powerful counterweight, said "Oui!" to British membership.
On Jan. 1, 1973, Britain, Ireland and Denmark all joined the EEC, expanding it to nine countries. More new members joined later—eventually expanding it to 12.
These nations became more tightly knit in 1992, when they signed the Treaty of Maastricht, thereby becoming the European Union (EU), reflecting the fact that the renewed entity was more than simply a shared, or common, market. It was increasingly becoming a political union. More members were admitted, including many from Eastern Europe, formerly under Soviet domination, with the number rising to 27 states in 2007.
The end of 2009 saw the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by all 27 member countries, essentially a new constitution for Europe, giving the EU its own long-term president (over the European Council of heads of state), as well as its own foreign ministry and diplomatic service.
The desire for "an ever closer union" may have taken more than five decades, but Europe is now well on the way to superpower status rivaling the United States! It is already the greatest single market in the world and is by far the world's biggest trading power. Its economy is almost as big as the United States and China combined!
While the United States is in serious—and some would say terminal—decline, Europe is striding ahead at the moment, with increasing numbers of countries wanting to join the EU and others wanting to sign on to trade agreements.
A dream that goes back centuries
"It was in the court of Charles the Great [or Charlemagne] that the ancient term of 'Europe' was revived." So wrote British historian Norman Davies in his 1996 History of Europe (p. 302). "The Carolingians [the noble family of the Franks (after whom France is named) who ruled in Western Europe following the fall of the Western Roman Empire] needed a label to describe that section of the world which they dominated, as distinct from the pagan lands, from Byzantium [the Eastern Roman Empire, which still continued as a Christian state], or from Christendom as a whole. This 'first Europe', therefore, was an ephemeral Western concept which lasted no longer than Charles himself" (ibid.).
Charlemagne, crowned by the pope on Christmas Day, A.D. 800, still inspires the dream of European unification more than 1,200 years later.
Every year the inhabitants of his ancient capital city of Aachen award the Charlemagne Prize to the person who has made the most significant contribution to European unity in the previous 12 months. At the end of its weekly European news section, the British newsmagazine The Economist features the "Charlemagne" page, a featured article highlighting some aspect of further European integration taking place on the continent.
Charlemagne's kingdom united the French and the Germans, two nations that, in the seven decades prior to 1945, were in conflict on three separate occasions. Their continuing conflict helped inspire the very idea of European unity—a desire that the continent should never see another continental war.
Using that criteria alone, the European Union has been very successful. Europe did not see conflict between nations from 1945 until the 1990s when the Balkans erupted into violence following the breakup of Yugoslavia, a country that was not a member of the European Union. Member states of the EU contributed to efforts to end the conflict in the region. Parts of the former Yugoslavia are already members of the EU; others want to join.
Further attempts to unify Europe
Charlemagne was not the last ruler to seek unity in Europe. Since the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, there had been a need for unity. Chaos and confusion, often referred to as "the Dark Ages," followed the demise of the empire, with barbaric warring tribes moving into previously civilized areas.
In the sixth century, the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian, who ruled from Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey), tried to revive the Roman Empire in the West. He was partially successful, but his dream did not survive him.
In the eighth century, Muslim Arabs invaded Spain and rapidly moved north, arriving not far from Paris only 21 years later. Here, at the famous Battle of Tours in 732 (also known as the Battle of Poitiers, the place near Tours where it was actually fought), the Muslims were defeated by Charlemagne's grandfather, Charles Martel. The western Christendom of the Roman church was threatened. It's no wonder that Charlemagne was crowned by the pope, who saw the need for a western emperor just as there was an emperor in the east.
Historian John Bowle notes that "the event was crucial in European history, for the revived Western Empire would continue, in medieval times 'Holy' as well as Roman, and in theory dominate European politics until the days of [Emperor] Charles V in the sixteenth century; then...continue until...1806, when Napoleon abolished it" (A History of Europe, 1979, p. 170).
Clearly a regular theme has run through European history—that of a desire for a united Europe in the tradition of the Romans. In fact, it goes even further than that. The desire has been for a united Europe in tandem with the Church of Rome, just as in the late Roman Empire.
It was the pope who crowned Charlemagne. It was also a pope who later crowned Otto I (the Great) in 962, thereby formally establishing the Holy Roman Empire, which lasted until 1806.
"The reign of Otto the Great (936-973) marks a stage in the development of Germany which can best be expressed in the statement that he founded the Holy Roman Empire, which modern Germans like to speak of as 'the First Reich'. In its original conception the Holy Roman Empire was no more than a revival of the Empire of Charlemagne" (J.S. Davies, From Charlemagne to Hitler, 1994, p. 16).
In that sense, Charlemagne is the one who founded the Holy Roman Empire, which lasted a thousand years until Napoleon abolished it. This thousand years was the inspiration for Adolf Hitler's self-proclaimed "thousand-year Reich," his Third Reich intended to recreate the glory of the First.
John Bowle points out on the same page as his quote above that "the revival of the Western Empire, in abeyance since 476 [when the last Western Roman emperor was deposed], reaffirmed the common civilizations of Latin Christendom." He also explained that the crowning of Otto the Great "created not a deputy [for the Roman church] but a rival, even a master...That action was the greatest mistake the medieval popes ever made."
All of this fit with the details of biblical prophecy.
Seven mountains on which the woman sits
In the biblical book of Revelation we read of two themes running through European history, along the lines of what historian John Bowle points out in his book.
Bowle mentions Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V and Napoleon in the same paragraph, all revivals of the Western Roman Empire, which had fallen in the fifth century. He also showed the constantly charged relationship between the church and the state, a relationship described in the Bible as one of "fornication" (Revelation 17:2).
Fornication, or sexual immorality, is used here in a figurative sense for the illicit relationship, from God's perspective, between the church and secular powers. The same metaphor is used today when people representing different interests are said to be "in bed with" one another. Likewise, the 19th century gave us the adage, "Politics makes strange bedfellows." The imagery is one of close and sometimes secretive collusion.
In Revelation 17:1-2 the apostle John saw a vision of how this relationship between church and state would play out in Europe's history: "Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, 'Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.'"
Note that the sexual immorality here is specified as harlotry—prostitution. This is a figurative way of describing selling oneself or one's favors for material gain or advantage. The Roman church endorsed state rulers, promoting popular allegiance, in return for the state ensuring the church's protection, advancement and enrichment. Such mutual advantage is the nature of sexual immorality, which is motivated primarily by selfish interest rather than the love and concern of a committed marriage.
The New Testament likens the true Church of God to a bride, waiting to marry her husband, the returning Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:23; Revelation 19:7-8). In Revelation 12:17, we read of a woman symbolizing the true Church whose members "keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ."
In contrast to this chaste, faithful Church, in Revelation 17 we see a church described as a "harlot." This is a false church—again, one that sells itself for political power and financial gain.
The church described here has been a powerful force in European history, involved in the various resurrections of the Roman Empire—Charlemagne, Otto the Great, Charles V, Napoleon and others.
Verse 10 of Revelation 17 shows that there would be seven "kings"—rulers who, with church sanction, would lead major attempts to restore the Roman Empire down through history. The last, one who "has not yet come," will lead a final revival immediately before the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Justinian, Charlemagne, Otto the Great, Charles V and Napoleon were the first five of these revivals we can identify. In more recent times, we have seen further continuity of the historical themes when the Second Reich of the kaisers and Hitler's Third Reich followed on from the First.
The decades-long struggle between the Germanic peoples and other Western nations for world domination was the sixth revival of the Roman Empire. Benito Mussolini, Hitler's ally in Italy, even explicitly proclaimed the revival of the Roman Empire in 1922. Both these men signed agreements with the Roman papacy, lending legitimacy to their regimes. (To learn more, see "Europe's Amazing Rise: Foretold in Bible Prophecy.")
A final revival of the Roman Empire still ahead
The groundwork for the final resurrection of the Roman Empire began with the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957, which, as mentioned earlier, established the European Economic Community or Common Market.
The European Union, as constituted at the moment, cannot be the final formation of the seventh and last Roman revival—though it almost certainly will lead into it.
The Bible is clear that the final revival involves 10 "kings"—which today could include presidents, premiers or prime ministers—"who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour [indicating a very short time] as kings with the beast" (Revelation 17:12).
This "beast" is the title Scripture gives to the leader of this end-time alliance, which is likewise called "the beast," given its savage nature in the tradition of its tyrannical predecessors. Together the rulers forming this alliance "will make war with the Lamb"—the returning Jesus Christ (verse 14).
The Scriptures do not give clear indications of what will bring about the transition to the "ten kings" at some point in the future. Verse 13 says that the 10 leaders in this final union will be "of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast."
This could be a decision on the part of some member nations to go ahead with "an ever closer union," leaving others behind. Outside circumstances could dictate some sort of change. It could also be a step beyond Europe itself. Just as the first Roman Empire 2,000 years ago included territory beyond Europe's borders, this final revival could extend beyond Europe, with other regions involved.
The year ahead
This year is going to be a test year for the post–Lisbon Treaty European Union. What lies ahead? An article in the British magazine The Economist, in its year-end special publication The World in 2010, states: "The fear of irrelevancy will haunt European leaders in 2010. They devised a new rule book, the Lisbon treaty, to come into force in 2010 and give their union the political heft to match its might as a trading and regulatory power. Its first year will reveal whether the design really does the job" (David Rennie, "More Than a Museum?").
In the last issue of The Good News, I quoted from the 2008 book Picking up the Reins by Norman Moss. The book gave a thorough account of how power passed from Great Britain to the United States after World War II. It happened because Britain was broke after fighting two world wars and could no longer afford to police the world as it had done for two centuries.
America's economic problems today echo those of Great Britain six decades ago. At some point, the United States will lose its preeminent position in the world. Bible prophecy shows that a revived Roman Empire will replace it as the global superpower.
The Dec. 24, 2009, issue of the Canadian newspaper Ottawa Citizen included an article titled "The Decline of America" by Karl Moore and David Lewis. It concluded with the following remarkable assessment of the near future:
"In spite of all the arguments of the Euroskeptics, the European Union has transformed itself into a unique global superstate. Europe now has a president, a foreign minister, a common currency, a passport, a defence industry, a supersonic fighter, and an international role in peacekeeping.
"If and when the United States begins to retrench, no certain thing but a real possibility, the European Union may well begin to fill the vacuum in the Western world . . .
"Is the past key to the future? If one goes back five centuries China and India ruled the global economy. Turkey dominated the world of Islam. Europe suddenly came together under the leadership of the young dynamic Habsburg Charles V, who ruled from Belgium. Charles sought to halt the expansion of Islam, defend European civilization, unite the continent and forge a Latin American empire. Europe enjoyed a global reach under his reign, not only by military might but by 'soft power' and diplomacy.
"If America declines, will Europe fill the vacuum, partly in response to the Chinese challenge? To some this seems unlikely but think back to the world of only a scant 10 years ago when the Anglo-American model of stakeholder capitalism stood triumphantly (and perhaps a tad arrogantly) and practically alone on the top of the heap, and how much has changed since then."
Indeed much has changed since then. And Bible prophecy reveals that far more astounding changes will take place in the coming weeks, months and years. Be sure to continue reading The Good News to better understand the forces that are transforming our world, and why! GN