THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA
THE END OF THE 1260 YEARS
As the generation in which the papal power rose to supremacy was a turning-point in the history of the world, so, too, was the generation in which the 1260 years of its supremacy came to an end.
This measuring line of prophecy does more than run from date to date. It connects two great crises in human history, the events of the first tending to establish the papal rule over men, the events of the second signalizing a breaking of those bands.
A Crisis in History
Papal supremacy came at that time of which Finlay says, "The changes of centuries passed in rapid succession before the eyes of one generation." The measuring line of 1260 years runs on through the centuries till, lo, its end touches another time of crisis,—Europe in the convulsions of the French Revolution, when again changes, ordinarily requiring centuries, were wrought out before the eyes of men within the space of a few years. Lamartine wrote of that time:
"These five years are five centuries for France."—"History of the Girondists," book 61, sec. 16 (Vol. III), p. 544.
And the events of these times proclaimed the prophetic period of papal supremacy ended at last.
Thus, in a.d. 533 came the notable decree of the Papacy's powerful supporter, recognizing its supremacy; and then the decisive stroke by the sword at Rome in a.d. 538, cleaving the way for the new order of popes—the rulers of state.
Exactly 1260 years later, in 1793, came the notable decree of the Papacy's once powerful supporter, France,—"the eldest son of the church,"—aiming to abolish church and religion, followed by a decisive stroke with the sword at Rome against the Papacy, in 1798.
Significant Events of the French Revolution
Of the decree of 1793, W.H. Hutton says:—
"On Nov. 26, 1793, the Convention, of which seventeen bishops and some clergy were members, decreed the abolition of all religion."—"Age of Revolution," p. 156.
The frenzy of the days of the Terror presented the spectacle of outraged humanity, goaded to desperation by centuries of oppression in the name of religion and divine right, rising up and madly breaking every restraint. Because in the minds of the people the Papacy stood for religion, they blindly struck at religion itself, and at God, in whose name the papal church had done its cruel work through the centuries.
In the prophecy of Rev. 11:3-13 these events of the wild days of the French Revolution are specifically referred to as coming at the close of the prophetic period of the 1260 years. The prophetic picture was so clear that over a hundred years before the time, Jurieu, an eminent French student of prophecy, wrote that he could "not doubt that 'tis France," the chief supporter of the Papacy, that would give the shock as of an earthquake to the great spiritual Babylonian city. He wrote of France, one of the ten parts of divided Rome:
"This tenth part of the city shall fall, with respect to the Papacy; it shall break with Rome, and the Roman religion."—"The Accomplishment of the Prophecies" (London, 1687), part 2, p. 265.
And so it came to pass. Far beyond France the movement reached. Canon Trevor says of the wave of revolt against absolutism that passed over Europe:
"It is worthy of observation that only those nations which eschewed popery were able to resist the tide. Every throne and every church, without exception, that owned the supremacy of Rome, was prostrated in the dust."—"Rome and Its Papal Rulers," p. 436.
The decree of the French Convention in 1793 was followed by the stroke with the sword at Rome in 1798. The full history is told in fewest words by a Roman Catholic writer, Rev. Joseph Rickaby, of the Jesuit Society:
"When, in 1797, Pope Pius VI fell grievously ill, Napoleon gave orders that in the event of his death no successor should be elected to his office, and that the Papacy should be discontinued.
"But the Pope recovered. The peace was soon broken; Berthier entered Rome on the tenth of February, 1798, and proclaimed a republic. The aged pontiff refused to violate his oath by recognizing it, and was hurried from prison to prison in France. Broken with fatigue and sorrows, he died on the nineteenth of August, 1799, in the French fortress of Valence, aged eighty-two years. No wonder that half Europe thought Napoleon's veto would be obeyed, and that with the Pope the Papacy was dead."—"The Modern Papacy," p. 1 (Catholic Truth Society, London).
These events of the French Revolution marked the ending of the prophetic period of papal supremacy. A "deadly wound" had been given the Papacy. And the blow with the sword at Rome was struck in 1798, just 1260 years from the year 538, when the sword of empire struck that decisive blow against the Goths at Rome, and prepared the way for the new order of popes, the kingly rulers of church and state.
Of the condition of the Papacy at this time Canon Trevor says:
"The Papacy was extinct: not a vestige of its existence remained; and among all the Roman Catholic powers not a finger was stirred in its defense. The Eternal City had no longer prince or pontiff; its bishop was a dying captive in foreign lands; and the decree was already announced that no successor would be allowed in his place."—"Rome and Its Papal Rulers," p. 440.
"No wonder that half Europe," the Jesuit writer says, "thought Napoleon's veto would be obeyed, and that with the Pope the Papacy was dead." But he adds that "since then the Papacy has been lifted to a pinnacle of spiritual power" unreached before.
The stroke dealt the Papacy by the French Revolution was not to be the ending of it, by any means, according to the prophecy. These events proclaimed the ending of the prophetic period of special supremacy. Another prophecy distinctly indicates that following the deadly blow there would come a revival of the Papacy's influence, just as the Catholic writer describes it. The prophet John, speaking of this same power, says:
"I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.... And they worshiped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?" Rev. 13:3, 4.
We see the healing process still going on, with evidences multiplying that the world is more and more wondering after the papal power.
A New Era of Liberty and Enlightenment
With the ending of the 1260 years of papal supremacy, a new order was ushered in. The Papacy had stood for absolutism in state as well as church. Now the power of absolutism was broken. "Absolute monarchy," Edmund Burke said at the time, "breathed its last without a struggle." There came the dawn of an era of greater religious liberty and enlightenment, that has spread blessings over all lands.
The prophecy had said of the Papacy, that the saints and the times and laws of the Most High were to be "given into his hand" for 1260 years. As foretold in Christ's prophecy (Matt. 24:22), these days of the tribulation of God's saints were "shortened." The power of the Reformation weakened the oppressing hand, even before the prophetic period ran out. And when the full 1260 years closed, the world saw the grip of that papal hand yet further loosened, and God's providence at work preparing the way for a world-wide proclamation of His gospel, bearing witness against the perversions of the papal apostasy, and restoring to men the Word and laws of the Most High.
The record of history witnesses that this time prophecy of the 1260 years of papal supremacy was exactly fulfilled. The Lord speaks in prophecy that men may know that He is the living God. In these time prophecies of His Word, He gives assurance not only that this troubled world has not escaped from the hand of its Maker, but that its times are in His hand also; and that when the time of His divine purpose fully comes, He will surely cut His work short in righteousness, and end the reign of sin on earth.
As the prophetic period of Dan. 7:25 meets its fulfilment in the history of the Papacy, even so, we shall see, the work of the Roman Church answers to the further specifications regarding the doings of this "little horn" of Daniel's prophecy.