Q: Is our Lutheran position on ‘The Antichrist’ correct, or is this view now outdated?”
A: As you apparently are aware, the Lutheran position on the Antichrist is that the marks of this “man of lawlessness” find their fulfillment in the Roman papacy. This is a position clearly taught in the doctrinal writings to which the Lutheran Church subscribes, namely, the Lutheran Confessions. For example, in the Smalcald Articles (part II, Art. IV, par. 10) we find this statement: ” . . . the pope is the real Antichrist who has raised himself over and set himself against Christ. . . ” One can also see Article X of the Formula of Concord, paragraphs 20-22.
A careful look at II Thessalonians 2:3-12, the chief Scripture section on the Antichrist, convinces us that the position taken years ago by Martin Luther and the Reformers is the correct one. The fact that the Antichrist “sets himself up in God’s temple” indicates that the one who will fit the marks will be found as a leader in the outward ranks of Christianity, and not some political figure who is separate from the Church. At the same time, this “leader” will be “proclaiming himself to be God.” The Vatican Council in 1870 stated that the pope is to be “possessed of the infallibility with which the divine Redeemer wills that His Church should be endowed for defining doctrine concerning faith and morals.” In other words, this decree granted the Roman papacy the right to establish doctrine, placing itself above God’s own Word—yes, above God himself.
There are other passages which pertain to the subject of the Antichrist, such as: I John 2:18, I John 2:22, I John 4:3, II John 7, Daniel 7:8, 25 and 11:36-45, as well as Revelation 13:11ff. Some have questioned whether the passages in I John can apply to the Roman papacy, since there the Antichrist is described as ” the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ.” The claim is made by some that this cannot apply to the pope, since there is verbal acknowledgement on his part of the Trinity, despite his aberrations on the issue of salvation and on other matters in God’s Word. But our response to this is that any “leader” in the outward form of the Christian Church who adamantly denies justification by faith (the chief teaching in Scripture), is in actuality denying that Jesus is the full “Christ,” the Messiah who has single-handedly and totally procured sinners’ salvation. Any verbal and “formal” acknowledgement of Jesus under such circumstances is not only suspect but reprehensible.
To this day: the Roman papacy promotes the doctrine of salvation by faith and good works, and has officially condemned the teaching rediscovered by Luther, that a person is saved only by faith in Christ apart from his good works (Romans 3:28). The following statement adopted by the Council, of Trent (1545-1563) has never been retracted by anyone occupying the chair of the pope, but instead has received successively the “official imprimatur”: “If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing other than a trust in the Divine Mercy which forgives sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is faith alone that justifies, let him be damned.” This is pure blasphemy to our Lord Jesus Christ who, by his servant, the apostle Paul, has revealed to us: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).
There have been many cosmetic changes in the Roman Catholic Church, but the matter of papal infallibility and the matter of salvation by works still remain. Furthermore, the Unam Sanctam bull signed by Pope Boniface VIII in 1302 has established the Roman Catholic Church perpetually as “the one, Holy Christian Church on earth.”
Until we are shown otherwise, the marks of the Antichrist still zero in on the Roman papacy. This does not preclude the possibility that the Antichrist will have a further “unveiling” than what is now present. In this ecumenical age one might expect a culmination of the Antichrist as Rome joins with other denominations and pushes for one universal head who resides at the Vatican.