Some Christians believe that the European Union is significant in teaching on the End Times and will be the context of the revival of the Roman Empire. But is this correct?
In view of the pending UK referendum on whether to stay in the European Union, this is an important subject. However, many Christians think that the EU is even more important in terms of the End Times. Sadly, there is a great deal of misunderstanding and even misrepresentation as well as paranoia on the subject. Here is a brief outline.
MISUNDERSTANDINGS ABOUT THE EU
The antichrist spirit?
For example, one favourite ‘quotation’ amongst those who are suspicious about the EU vis a vis the End Times is attributed to Paul-Henri Spaak, former Belgian Prime Minister and President of the Consultative Assembly of the
Council of Europe nearly 50 years ago. The ‘quotation’ is: “We do not want another committee. We have too many already. What we want is a man of sufficient stature to hold the allegiance of all people, and to lift us out of the economic morass in which we are sinking. Send us such a man and, be he God or the devil, we will receive him.”
For some people that shows the antichrist spirit behind the EU. The problem is that, like other people, I have never been able to find proof that Spaak (or anyone else) actually said this. Yet dozens of Christian websites quote it.
The Tower of Babel?
People worry about the Louise Weiss Building in Strasbourg where the European Parliament meets. It is a circular building which looks unfinished. Some have said that it looks very much like the Tower of Babel and that it is modelled on a painting of the Tower of Babel painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in about 1563. There is a remarkable similarity between the two although others have said it is based on the model of Roman amphitheatres. However we must not be paranoid about this. Even if it is modelled on the Tower of Babel the likelihood is that it was to symbolise the idea of the (European) nations coming together in contrast to the nations being divided in the Tower of Babel story.
Obviously, to think that we can reverse what God did over the Tower of Babel is a serious sin of arrogance, which is the very sin associated with the story of the Tower of Babel. However, if the image is of the Tower of Babel, I suspect that those responsible hadn’t thought that through. It is likely to be a superficial attempt to portray nations coming together rather than being divided. Bear in mind that many people today would think that the account of the Tower of Babel is not literal.
I respond similarly to an EU poster which shows the Tower of Babel and the caption “Europe: Many tongues, one voice.”
Some point out that the eurostars on the EU flag and the above-mentioned poster are pentagrams and pentagrams are used in witchcraft. However the eurostars are 5-pointed stars, not pentagrams (there is a difference). There are 5-pointed stars on the flags of many countries (47 to my knowledge). It is therefore not necessary to read anything sinister into the eurostars. Some Protestants think that the 12 golden eurostars are related to the Virgin Mary because she is often depicted with a halo of stars.
The prostitute riding the Beast of Revelation 17?
Others have worried that there is a bronze statue of a woman riding a beast outside the Council of Europe building. The image of this has been used on EU postage stamps, the euro and elsewhere. They fear that this is a representation of the vision in Revelation 17 of the prostitute riding the scarlet beast symbolising the godless world system. However this is actually based on the Greek myth of the maiden Europa riding the bull. It is not an official symbol of the EU but obviously has some artistic relevance.
A pagan anthem?
There is also some concern about the European Anthem “An Ode to Joy” which is based on the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony. It is based on a poem by Friedrich Schiller which is about all men being united in brotherhood by entering the shrine of a goddess. However, to regard this as sinister is extreme since the European Anthem only uses the music and not the lyrics.
I can also add that the seats in the European Parliament are numbered and they include seat number 666 which some claim is left vacant. However this claim is not true.
Is the EU the new Roman Empire?
A few years ago Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business editor of the Telegraph, wrote an article entitled “Art show sees Europe as ‘new Roman Empire.’” He reported that one title used at the EU exhibition was “Roman Empire returns.” It predicted that the EU would become the premier superpower and that “the euro will break the ‘overbearing monopoly of the dollar’ by 2010 as China and India switch their reserves to punish America for its ‘stratospheric deficit’ which, of course, didn’t happen.
He did add: “the display is not a formal expression of EU policy but it captures views that can be heard every day in the corridors and canteens of the Union’s institutions.” But he doesn’t say how many people in the EU institutions say this so it is misleading and difficult to substantiate. However such an article confirms the fears of those who are paranoid about the EU. In actual fact the official description of the exhibition said it gave a history of European political representation, diagrams about the EU structure and then speculated on its possible future. “The story closes somewhere in the 2020s, in a speculative conclusion on Europe’s possible future(s).[i]
Does the Bible predict a revival of the Roman Empire?
Many interpreters believe that the Book of Revelation predicts a revival of the Roman Empire in the End Times. Some of them see this End Times revival of Roman Empire as related to the establishment of the European Union and believe the EU will have a major role in the rule of the Antichrist. They base their belief in the revival of the Roman Empire on the following arguments:
- Daniel prophesies the rise of four empires (in one passage symbolised by four beasts) which these interpreters see as Babylonia (which ended in 626BC), Medo-Persia (626-330BC), Greece 330-63BC and Rome (which began in 63BC). The fourth “beast” (Rome) “had ten horns.” Some interpret the horns as referring to Rome’s immense power. The number ten often symbolised completeness and horns symbolised strength. Others see the horns as ten kings or kingdoms because the horn can symbolise royal power. (See Daniel 2:41-44 which uses different symbolism to describe the same thing and Daniel 7:3-7).
- The Book of Revelation also prophesies the coming of a beast in the End Times with ten horns which had great power and authority. “The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast.” (Rev 13:1-3). The symbolical beast is also said to have seven heads. It interprets the ten horns as ten kings and the seven heads as seven hills (Rome was built on seven hills). Many interpreters see Revelation here predicting an End Time revival of the Roman Empire. See Rev 13:1-3 and 17:3-11.
John Walvoord gives further reasons for expecting the revival of the Roman Empire and I will critique each of them:[ii]
- It is unthinkable that prophecy would not include the Roman Empire which was the greatest empire in history.
This is a good point. It seems clear to me that the fourth empire predicted by Daniel was Rome.
However some interpreters say that the ‘beast’ in Revelation 13 is not the same as the fourth empire in Daniel 2 because the ‘beast’ is a combined version of the first three of Daniel’s ‘beasts’ (empires). It is a Leopard-Bear-Lion (“resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion”). However it should be noted that Daniel speaks of the first beast as a lion with the wings of an eagle (7:4) and the third beast as a leopard with four wings (7:6) so there is some combination (of animal and bird) in them. Hendricksen says: “This composite beast cannot symbolize merely one empire or government. It must indicate all antichristian governments.”[iii]
- The two legs of the visions of the fourth empire in Daniel 2 represent the eastern and western divisions of the later Roman Empire.
However, some interpreters disagree because the western ‘leg’ (the Western Roman Empire) disappeared almost a thousand years before the eastern ‘leg’ (the Byzantine Empire or the Eastern Roman Empire). Also the Byzantine Empire became isolated from Europe. Others add that the prediction in Revelation will not be fulfilled by a revival of the western ‘leg’ of the Roman Empire (including the EU) because Europe is not strong enough to become a politically and militarily dominant world power. Some, though, may respond that this situation might change in time.
- The centre stage of the End Times is the Middle East which is in the territory of the Roman Empire.
This is true but the Middle East can’t be limited to the Roman Empire. It is dominated by Muslim nations. The
Ottoman/Turkish/Islamic Empire controlled much of SE Europe, most of the Middle East, and parts of North Africa. This empire saw the development of four Islamic Caliphates (political and religious systems of governance). Some interpreters point out that the Bible always centres on Jerusalem not on the West. Hence, they say, the idea that Scripture predicts a revived Roman Empire based in Europe is a foreign concept to the Bible. The End Time empire must rule over or directly affect Jerusalem.
- The first part of the biblical prophecy was clearly fulfilled so we should expect the last part (the ten horns etc) similarly to be clearly fulfilled in the future.
So, it is argued, there will be a ten-nation confederacy within the bounds of the ancient Roman Empire (which extended from the Euphrates to N Africa and Europe). There will be a “strong man” who will unite the empire and eventually it will take control of the whole world. Mounce writes: “There is little doubt that for John the beast was the Roman Empire as persecutor of the church. It was that spirit of imperial power which claimed a religious sanction for its gross injustices. Yet the beast is more than the Roman Empire. John’s Vision grew out of the details of his own historical situation, but its complete fulfillment awaits the final denouement of human history. The beast has always been, and will be in a final intensified manifestation, the deification of secular authority.”[iv]
Revelation also describes a symbolic woman riding on the ‘beast’ and she is called “Babylon the great, the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.” Some say this symbolises Rome in its opposition to the church. Others say it symbolises the godless world system.
However other interpreters think that the ‘beast’ of Revelation 13 and 17 will be the Islamic empire – a reincarnation of the Ottoman Empire (which once was, then was not, then was again Rev 17:11). They say that the ten toes of Daniel’s vision of the statue (Dan 2) can be an altogether different kingdom from Rome, which seems possible. They also point out that the fourth ‘beast’/kingdom of Daniel 2 and 7 is predicted as totally crushing the empires which preceded it. Yet Rome never did this. It did not take over all the geographical areas of the Babylonian, Medo-Persian and Greek empires. But the four Islamic Caliphates between 661 and 1924AD did cover the whole of those geographical areas. Irrespective of the interpretation of Daniel and Revelation, the idea that Islam should play a major role in the End Times seems more than credible.
Some of a more Protestant position think the power of the Pope and the Catholic Church will be part of the revival of the Roman Empire. One very old commentary I have comments on the scarlet beast and the woman wearing scarlet: “It is applicable in the description of papal Rome, because it is the favourite colour there … It is remarkable that nothing would better represent the favourite colour at Rome than this, or the actual appearance of the pope, the cardinals, and the priests in their robes, on some great festival occasion.”[v] This is rather naïve fanciful interpretation. More modern Protestant commentators tend to interpret it as an ecumenical apostate church.
I do not find the arguments that the Bible predicts a revival of the Roman Empire convincing. The idea that it could be a Muslim Empire seems more credible because of the history and current developments of the Muslim world. However this is not clear in the biblical text.
What should be our attitude towards the European Union?
I have written that I do not find the allegations of sinister EU symbols etc., convincing. Nor do I find the idea that the Roman Empire will be revived, with the EU at the heart of it, convincing. But that does not mean I have no concerns about the EU. The Bible certainly foretells an End Times anti-christ world dictatorship and we should remember that actions and trends initiated for good reasons can ultimately go wrong and have bad results. We are aware of the quotation “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It would seem that in the future various centres of political power in the world may combine to form a world government (or may collapse with catastrophic results necessitating a world government).
However we must remember that the EU was set up for good reasons, and has led to some very good results, not just economic advantage:
- Maintaining peace in what had been a war-torn continent – and it has succeeded.
- Promoting democracy and human rights in 28 countries.
- Sending peacekeepers to trouble spots elsewhere in the world
- Co-operating closely on crime (and more recently terrorism).
- Giving twice as much aid to developing countries than the US.
However, whilst being grateful for these (and other) benefits we must remember the dangers which come with power. It is clear that there is a strong desire to move towards full political union amongst the countries which have accepted the euro. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 changed the European Economic Community into the political European Union. Full political union could have negative as well as positive effects. This has to be taken seriously. Some Christians will feel that the dangers in the EU growing ever closer (together with its present imperfections) warrants voting against Britain staying in the Union. Others will conclude that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, especially now David Cameron has negotiated that the UK will not be drawn into further political integration.
Is the UK more Christian than the rest of Europe?
Some British Christians seem to imply that the UK’s Christian heritage will be undermined by remaining in the EU. It would be naïve to ignore the fact that the political leadership of the EU, like all political leadership might go wrong, or become undemocratic. But it is not true to say that the EU is less Christian than the UK. In the following statistics many of those claiming to be Christian may, of course, not be practising. Nevertheless the comparison of percentages in the various countries is useful in answering the question “Is the UK more Christian than the rest of Europe?”
According to the 2011 Pew Forum, the percentage of people calling themselves Christians in a number of other countries is greater than in the UK. The UK had 72.6%. Italy had 85.1%, Spain 78.6%, Greece 89.5%, Ukraine 83.8%, Poland 94.3% and Romania 99.5%. Other countries included Germany with 70.8% and France with 63%.[vi]
A 2012 Eurobarometer Poll found that 72% of EU population call themselves Christians.
A 2010 Eurobarometer Poll found the following percentages of population don’t believe there is “any sort of spirit, God or life force”
Greece 4%, Poland 5%, Italy 6%, Austria 12%, Portugal 12%, Spain 19%, Denmark 24%, UK 25%, Germany 27%, Netherlands 30%, Sweden 34%, France 40%.
Some British Christians point to the rich Christian tradition of the UK but don’t seem to realise that other EU countries also have state churches.
England has an established state Christian Church, the Church of England, of which the Queen is the supreme governor on earth and similarly Scotland has the Church of Scotland. But the following EU countries also have state churches:
Armenia (Orthodox), Denmark (Lutheran), Finland (Lutheran and Orthodox), Greece (Orthodox), Greenland (Lutheran), Iceland (Lutheran), Liechtenstein (Catholic), Malta (Catholic), Monaco (Catholic), Switzerland (Catholic and Protestant according to canton) and of course Vatican City (Catholic).
Norway had a state church until 2012 but the monarch must still be a Lutheran. Sweden ceased to have a state church in 2000. The Spanish state church was disestablished in 1978. Austria has no state church but regards the church and state as partners.[vii] Germany and Italy have no state church. France and Belgium are secular.
The issue isn’t whether the UK is more Christian than the EU but rather that the whole of Europe needs an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Revival.
[iii] W Hendricksen, More than Conquerors, Tyndale Press London 1962, p. 146.
[iv] Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, New International Commentary on the NT, Eerdmans Grand Rapids 1977 p 251
[v] Notes on the NT, Albert Barnes, London 1851, vol XI p. 415
[vi] Global Christianity – A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population, Dec 2011. See http://www.pewforum.org/2011/12/19/global-christianity-regions/