It's been more than 12 centuries since the names of the pope and Charlemagne were linked, but 2004 saw them both linked again.
On Christmas Day, in the year 800, Charlemagne [Charles the Great] was bent in prayer in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome when Pope Leo III placed a crown of gold on his head. The congregation then proclaimed: "To Carolus Augustus [Charles the venerable or exalted], crowned by God, mighty and pacific emperor, be life and victory."
Charlemagne was the leader of a revived Roman Empire, the first Western emperor of the postclassical world. This Holy Roman Empire, after a brief hiatus, lasted a thousand years—finally giving way to the French Emperor Napoleon less than 200 years ago, in 1806.
Today, more than 12 centuries after Charlemagne's crowning by Pope Leo III, the citizens of the German city of Aachen, Charlemagne's medieval capital (known in French as Aix-la-Chapelle), award the annual Charlemagne prize to the individual they feel has contributed the most to the goal of European unification, as exemplified by the ideals and accomplishments of the Emperor Charlemagne.
This year's prize was awarded on March 24 to Pope John Paul II, once again reaffirming the special link between church and state that has been a constant theme in European affairs since the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century. Separately, earlier in the same month, the outgoing German president Johannes Rau visited the Vatican and thanked the pope personally for his contribution to German reunification and European integration.
The board of directors of the Charlemagne prize, in giving their reasons for granting the award to the pope, stated that "Pope John Paul II demonstrates in his approach to life that the values and traditions for which Europe has struggled can be of decisive importance in building a new political world order, and that Europe should exert its influence in this direction."
Building a new Europe, a new world
Note in that statement that Europe is " building a new political world order. "
Just a few days before the award was announced, the British magazine The Economist ran an article emphasizing the growing divide between Europe and the United States. The article, titled "America Is From Mars, Europe Is From Venus," noted that "there is strong and growing support across Europe for the European Union becoming a powerful counterweight to America" (March 20, pp. 29-30).
Europe is well on the way to becoming exactly that.
The greatest single step to date toward challenging American global supremacy was the launch of the euro, Europe's currency, a few years ago. After an initial decline following its introduction, from late 2000 lows the value of the euro has surged more than 50 percent against the U.S. dollar. The euro is increasingly the preferred currency of peoples around the world.
Although most commodities are still priced in dollars, the U.S. currency is no longer considered the rock-solid investment it once was. America's trade deficit and increasing budget woes are seen as further threats to the value of the greenback, with the euro increasingly seen as a more secure alternative.
Defying the United States
Rising confidence in the euro has encouraged some European leaders to defy the United States. Even before the launch of the euro, with the collapse of communism and the removal of the Soviet threat to the nations of Western Europe, Europeans were slowly changing their attitudes toward the United States. No longer in need of American protection against a heavily armed Soviet Union, clearly a change was coming in the dynamics between the two continents.
The success of the euro has emboldened the European Union (EU) to flex its economic muscles. It recently forced the Bush administration to back down over tariffs on steel, then took on Microsoft, one of the world's biggest and most powerful companies, levying fines of more than $600 million for alleged anticompetitive practices.
Criticism of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq has similarly emboldened European nations, who found their stance was far more popular around the world than was the U.S. position against the regime of Saddam Hussein. Increasing disagreements led the French and Germans last year to lay the groundwork for a new European military force outside the control of the U.S.-led NATO alliance. While still not a powerful military force, Europe is embarking on a foreign policy, backed by military power, separate from the United States.
Spain signals a shift in direction
Determined to become a European superpower, the 25 nations of the new EU met in December to agree on a new federal constitution for the organization. They did not succeed, but the setback was only temporary. They plan to meet again and hammer out a European constitution within the next few months.
The drive for European unification was given a boost by the March 11 Madrid terrorist attacks, described as "Europe's 9/11." Three days before an election in Spain was expected to return to power the ruling Popular Party, led up to then by pro-American Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, 10 bombs blew up trains in the Spanish capital during the morning rush hour. Almost 200 were killed and more than 1,800 were injured.
The government was quick to blame ETA, the domestic Basque separatist movement. But it soon became clear that the carnage was caused by Islamic fundamentalists in retaliation for Spanish involvement in Iraq, where Spain has 1,300 troops supporting coalition forces.
Three days later, the Popular Party was out of power and the socialists were voted in. Within hours, the new prime minister announced that Spain would withdraw its forces from Iraq by June 30, the date set for a handover to a national Iraqi government.
The number of troops being withdrawn from Iraq is minimal, but the symbolism is considerable. And the ripple effect of the bombings will be felt across the European continent for a very long time.
"An ever closer union"
The war in Iraq divided Europe between those nations that supported the U.S. position and those that did not. Britain, Spain, Italy and Poland were the four most notable supporters of military action against Iraq's former regime.
Asked about the European-U.S. divide 10 days after the Madrid bombings, Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, told U.S. viewers on a Sunday morning television program that Europe was fully committed to fighting the war on terror. However, he added that in his view—and presumably that of most Europeans—the war in Iraq was separate from the war on terror.
Spain's withdrawal from Iraq not only lessens support for the United States, it also increases support for the anti-American faction in the European Union. Spain's new leader has promised to return his country to the European mainstream, altering the European balance of power in favor of greater integration—in particular, for support of the proposed new European constitution intended to establish a federal united Europe.
Exactly two weeks after the Madrid bombings, European ministers came together and set up an EU-wide counterterrorism unit. They also resolved to agree on a new European constitution by mid-June. When crisis necessitates, European nations can respond quickly.
It was less than 50 years ago when six nations in Western Europe came together to form the European Economic Community (EEC). The six—West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium—became nine in 1973 with the entry of the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark. Later other nations were added—Greece, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Sweden and Finland—making the total 15. In 1992, the more closely integrating Maastricht Treaty gave the supranational entity a new name—the European Union (EU). Another 10 countries just joined on May 1, making the European Union the biggest single trading power on earth.
All 25 nations pledged to form "an ever closer union." Their union, though slow to come together, is poised to emerge as a global superpower to rival the United States.
As if to emphasize continuity with the ancient Roman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire, it was the 1957 Treaty of Rome, signed in what was once the capital city of the Roman Empire (and the spiritual home of one of the world's major religions), that first established the EEC, now EU. Henri Spaak, former secretary-general of NATO, later remarked on that signing in a BBC documentary: "We felt like Romans on that day ... we were consciously recreating the Roman Empire once more" (emphasis added).
Rome through the ages
To most people, the Roman Empire seems like ancient history. Yet the Bible shows that the Roman political and religious system would be a recurring theme throughout the history of Europe from the time of Jesus Christ until His return. And not only is its future resurrection foretold, the original rise of the Roman Empire was accurately prophesied centuries before it came to pass.
In the Old Testament book of Daniel, chapter 2, we find an account of a dream of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and of the subsequent interpretation that God revealed to the Hebrew prophet Daniel (verse 28). This dream took place in or about 603 B.C. at the height of the Babylonian Empire's power.
In his dream the king saw a "great image" (verse 31)—apparently a giant statue—composed of different materials. God revealed to Daniel not only the dream, but also its meaning.
"This image's head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay," Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar. "You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces ... And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth" (verses 32-35).
Daniel explained to Nebuchadnezzar the significance of this unusual image (verse 36). "You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory ... you are this head of gold. But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth" (verses 37-39).
We know from history that after Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon came the Medo-Persian Empire (the "chest and arms of silver"). This, in turn, was followed by the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great (the "belly and thighs of bronze," the two thighs apparently representing the two strongest successor empires after Alexander's death, the Syrian-based Seleucid Empire and the Egyptian-based Ptolemaic Empire).
Now we come to the fourth kingdom: "And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others" (verse 40).
History shows that the fourth kingdom, the next major dominant power, was the Roman Empire. The two legs of the image may represent its Western and Eastern branches (centered at Rome and Constantinople respectively). But what is particularly interesting here is that the Roman Empire was to continue in one form or another right down until the second coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
Notice verse 35 again: "And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth" (emphasis added throughout). The Kingdom of God will begin small, like a stone, but then grow to become a great mountain. In biblical symbolism a mountain is a great nation or kingdom.
Notice in verse 44 the explanation given for this part of the vision: "And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed" —a reference to the coming Kingdom of God, which Jesus Christ will establish at His return. Unlike the other great kingdoms and empires of human history, it will not be short-lived. Rather, it "shall never be destroyed" and "it shall stand forever." It will be utterly unlike all human empires and kingdoms (to learn more, request our free booklet The Gospel of the Kingdom ).
A religious system opposed to God
A parallel prophecy about these kingdoms found in Daniel 7 gives us an added dimension in understanding this fourth empire.
Here we see four beasts, representing gentile powers that would have a major impact on God's people, that would arise and continue to the end of man's rule at Christ's return to establish God's Kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14 Daniel 7:13-14  I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.
 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
American King James Version×).
As the different parts of the image in the earlier dream represented different empires, here the empires are depicted as different kinds of animals, arising in order. The first three empires, depicted as being like a lion, a bear and a leopard, were the Babylonian, Persian and Greek Empires. The "fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong," is described as "different from all the beasts that were before it" and as having 10 horns (Daniel 7:7 Daniel 7:7After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns.
American King James Version×).
A religious dimension, represented by a little horn, is added in verse 8 and mentioned again in verses 24-25. This religious institution would "change times and law" (verse 25)—for instance, changing the time of the Sabbath from the God-ordained seventh day of the week to the first day of the week and replacing the biblical Holy Days commanded by God with dressed-up ancient pagan holidays.
As prophesied, this power would also "persecute the saints of the Most High," denying religious freedom for centuries to those committed to keeping the commandments of God and at times literally murdering them in waves of persecution. It would also establish a religious system that would change the laws of God, substituting its own religious teachings, practices and traditions in their place.
The mystery of the missing empire
If the Roman Empire was prophesied to exist from ancient times until the return of Jesus Christ, where is it now? The book of Revelation helps us understand this more clearly.
The book of Revelation, Jesus Christ's prophetic revelation to the apostle John given toward the end of the first century A.D., describes this religious institution as one "with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication" (Revelation 17:2 Revelation 17:2With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.
American King James Version×). Politics and religion have been inseparable through almost 1,700 years of European history following the conversion of the Emperor Constantine to Roman Catholicism in the early years of the fourth century.
When the apostle John saw the future of this religious and political system, represented by a fallen woman riding a beast, he "marveled with great amazement" (verse 6). An angel then explained to him that "the beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit ..." Others "will marvel ... when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is" (verse 8).
What is the meaning of such strange wording? When we compare the characteristics of this beast with the beast Daniel saw, which clearly represented the Roman Empire, we see that they represent the same thing. And the fact that this beast "was, and is not, and yet is" tells us that the Roman Empire, which does not exist at this time, will be restored.
It "was," meaning it existed at one time, it currently "is not," meaning it doesn't exist at this moment, and it "yet is" and "will ascend out of the bottomless pit"—meaning it will rise yet again.
In verse 11 we again read of "the beast that was, and is not ..." We then read of a union of "ten kings [leaders] who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour [a short time] as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast" (verses 12-13).
Then in verse 14 we see the clear time setting for this prophecy: "These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them ..." The Lamb is none other than Jesus Christ. He has not returned yet, so the fulfillment of this prophecy of 10 leaders or rulers who are part of this end-time empire is still in the future. But, clearly, at the time of the end of man's rule, there is to be a revived Roman Empire. It will oppose the true Jesus Christ, and its armies will literally fight Him at His return!
Believe it or not, this is what Bible prophecy reveals about where events in Europe are ultimately heading!
Historical revivals of the Roman Empire
Students of history may recognize that this end-time revival of the Roman Empire will not be the first one in history. Many other attempts have been made over the centuries.
The original Western Roman Empire ended in A.D. 476 with the demise of its last emperor. The eastern branch of the Roman Empire, later known as the Byzantine Empire, continued to be ruled from Constantinople until 1453, almost a thousand years later. During this period, the eastern Emperor Justinian tried to revive the Western Empire in the middle of the sixth century.
Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the Roman Empire by the pope in the year 800. In 962 Otto the Great was crowned Holy Roman emperor. In the 1500s there was an attempt by the Hapsburgs under Emperor Charles V and his son Philip II of Spain to create a universal, Catholic empire. Later Napoleon's empire temporarily united Europe.
In the 20th century, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini announced the restoration of the Roman Empire in 1922, but it was his ally Adolf Hitler who forcibly united Europe for a time in his Third Reich. The name Third Reich was chosen to indicate a continuity from the Holy Roman Empire, which was considered the First Reich. The second was the empire of the German kaisers (from the ancient Roman title Caesar ), which came to an end in World War I.
History shows an uneasy relationship between the church and the state during these successive Roman revivals—aptly described as "fornication" in God's Word.
Now the 1957 Treaty of Rome has laid the foundation for the final resurrection of the Roman Empire, different from all the others in that this time Europe is uniting without any one nation or leader conquering others, but rather through consent and mutual cooperation. The history of Europe during the last five decades has been one of different nations striving hard to build "an ever closer union," one of the stated aims of the Treaty of Rome.
Major changes in store for the world
Today's enlarged European Union is not likely to be the exact boundaries of the final configuration involving 10 leaders who come together to form the militaristic end-time revival of the Roman Empire described in the Bible as "the beast." However, the close ties that all 25 are developing will likely spur 10 leaders (whether of nations or groups of nations) to form the prophesied closer union where all turn their power and authority to a common cause that will ultimately prove devastating to the world—and to the future of the United States and other Western powers in particular.
You need to be alert and watching as these long-prophesied events unfold before us. Just as God's Word foretold the rise of the Roman Empire centuries before it actually happened, it also tells us that, shocking as it may sound, a new configuration of the Roman Empire will rise again and astound the world in becoming the next global superpower. It will set in motion events that will climax with the return of Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Will you be ready? What are you doing to prepare for that day? GN