Somewhere on a shelf, in the average home, nestled between the complete works of Shakespeare and a partial set of Britannica, sits the Holy Bible, as good as new, with a thin layer of dust on it from neglect. The majority of people who consider themselves “Christian” simply do not read and study the Bible. The best excuse for not reading the Bible is that it “does not make sense.” How can I understand it, most reason, when so much of it speaks metaphorically about great images, ominous beasts and deceitful harlots?
It’s true that the Bible is filled with prophetic visions and utterances. In fact, one third of the Bible is prophecy, most of which is for the end time. But the Bible also contains many prophecies which have already been fulfilled exactly as predicted. Those fulfilled prophecies should compel us to blow the dust off our Bibles and begin studying. But most people will not.
Much of the Bible’s most famous prophetic text centers around a system of successive world-ruling Gentile kingdoms that precede the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. These successive “beasts,” as they are called, are discussed throughout the Bible, but especially in four prophetic chapters: Daniel 2 and 7, and Revelation 13 and 17. Studied in that order, each chapter adds a few more details to the one preceding it. Together, they build a complete and yet simple foundation for all Bible prophecy.
In Daniel 2, you will find the best one-chapter overview of prophecy in all the Bible. There God reveals through Daniel a vision of a great image representing these four successive kingdoms. History proves these to be the Chaldean Empire, followed by the Persian, then the Greco-Macedonian, and finally the Roman Empire. These four were to continue in succession right up to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
In Daniel 7, the prophet describes four beasts, again representing four Gentile kingdoms, but with special emphasis on the fourth—the Roman Empire. This beast has 10 horns, which the prophet says “are ten kings that shall arise” out of, or after, the Roman Empire (verse 24). Daniel also describes a “little horn” which grew among the 10 horns and uprooted the first three (verse 8). The meaning of this prophecy is made plain in the book of Revelation.
Unlike Daniel 7, Revelation 13 only discusses one beast—which represents the fourth and final kingdom, the Roman Empire. Because John lived during the rule of the Roman Empire when he wrote the book of Revelation, he had little to say about the three previous kingdoms. They were already fulfilled prophecy!
In chapter 13, John describes a beast with seven heads and 10 horns, one head of which received a deadly wound. Historians agree that the Roman Empire existed from 31 b.c. to a.d. 476, at which point the kingdom was crushed. It died. But its deadly wound was healed just as John prophesied (verse 3). There were to be 10 resurrections to come out of that Roman Empire (just as Daniel said), the first three of which were plucked up by the roots by the “little horn”—suggesting that they were not altogether Roman, but nevertheless ruled within the ancient Roman territory after the empire collapsed. And that’s what happened. Three barbaric tribes did rule in the region before Justinian restored the Roman Empire in a.d. 554 and effectively healed the deadly wound.
Revelation 17 fills in the remaining details. In that chapter, once again John describes a beast with seven heads, but none of these heads is wounded. This time a woman, which throughout the Bible symbolizes a church, is riding the beast. She is called a whore in verse 1, and therefore symbolizes a great false church which rides, or heavily influences, this political beast.
Comparing the historical account with these prophecies makes the meaning quite clear. When Justinian recognized the supremacy of the pope in 554, the Roman Empire was revived. And because of its close association with the great false church, this empire eventually assumed the name Holy Roman Empire. Counting Justinian’s empire, there have been six major, historically documented resurrections of the so-called Holy Roman Empire—all of which have been heavily influenced, and in some cases dominated, by the Vatican.
These historical facts shed light on the prophetic passages we have briefly covered. Like the woman riding the beast in Revelation 17, the “little horn” in Daniel 7 represents the great false church. The little horn uprooted the three non-religious kingdoms ruling within the region and then proceeded to guide the seven remaining horns, or resurrections. Similarly, the woman riding the beast holds sway over all seven heads, which represent the last seven resurrections of what has been called the Holy Roman Empire.
That brings us to the purpose for this chapter. There have been six resurrections of the Roman Empire with the great false church straddling them all. The seventh is now forming. These unions, though heavily influenced by religion, have been anything but holy. Students of the Bible are not surprised by this fact because the Bible describes this political force as a terrifying beast and the great church as the mother of harlots, drunken with the blood of God’s saints. But most people do not read the Bible.
Then what about history? Sad to say, most do not study history either. In this chapter, let us take a closer look at the historic relationship between European emperors and the papal throne throughout the Middle Ages. What are the historic fruits of this union of church and state? And how do these unions square with Bible prophecy?
As we briefly review these historical events, you will notice how Germany was, for most of the Middle Ages, the most dominant influence in Europe.
Peaks and Valleys
John refers to the seven resurrections of the Roman Empire as “mountains” in Revelation 17:9-10. But between each “mountain peak,” there were valleys. Though these resurrections were prophesied to be successive, right up to Christ’s return, there were lapses between each of them. H.G. Wells effectively describes this “up and down” scenario in his book The Outline of History: “The Roman Empire staggers, sprawls, is thrust off the stage, and reappears, and—if we may carry the image one step further—it is the church of Rome which plays the part of the magician and keeps this corpse alive.”
Anciently, the Roman Empire was divided into two regions. Rome was the capital in the west, Constantinople in the east. Amazingly, the image of Daniel 2 refers to the two legs of iron being the Roman Empire. By a.d. 476, Rome had been sacked by fierce barbarian tribes of Germanic origin (remember, it was the Romans who labeled these fierce fighters Germani). The eastern empire in Constantinople was virtually powerless. The Roman Empire was officially wiped out.
By 554, Catholicism had gained enough strength to dominate the world. At the pope’s behest, Justinian, the most famous of all emperors in the east, moved his government in the defunct eastern division to the west—Rome. The empire was temporarily revived as the “Holy Roman Empire”—a union of European nations with a Roman pope riding it like a woman on a beast.
Justinian’s rule in Western Europe was short-lived. He died in 565 and the empire languished. True to John’s prophecy in Revelation 17, from its perch on a mountain peak, the beast descended into a valley where it went into hibernation. But not for long. Even before Justinian died, there was another, far more terrifying, political presence emerging which would forever change the face of politics and religion in Europe.
Charles the Great
The Franks were the first barbaric tribe to embrace Catholicism, but it was for political gain, not religious. Mostly of Germanic origin, the Franks used the church to support their expansionist policies, while the church relied on Frankish rulers for protection. It was a union based on politics alone.
The Frankish kingdom reached the pinnacle of its power during the rule of Charlemagne (meaning Charles the Great). Before Charlemagne’s emergence as world ruler, the political scene in Europe was greatly divided. Germany was sliced into many different tribes. Much of Italy was occupied by the Lombards. And Byzantium was recognized as the successor to the eastern region of the old Roman Empire. Charlemagne, in conjunction with the papal throne, eventually changed all that—but not without much bloodshed.
Charlemagne felt it his duty to defend the church. In 774, at the request of Pope Leo iii, he entered into northern Italy and conquered the Lombard kingdom, uniting Italy for the first time in centuries. In 799, he again came to the aid of the pope, who was assaulted, brutally beaten, and thrown into prison by a band of conspirators. With the military backing of Charles and his Frankish troops, the pope was exonerated of all wrongdoing and reinstated to his ecclesiastic office.
The following year, in Rome, while Charlemagne was kneeling in prayer during a Christmas celebration inside old St. Peter’s Church, the pope placed a crown upon his head, pronouncing him “the 73rd emperor of the fourth world empire.”
At this point, we should note that throughout the Middle Ages, many scholars, theologians, even popes, knew the Roman Empire was the fourth world-ruling kingdom. Many of them even identified this fourth kingdom with the one Daniel spoke of in his prophecy. That’s why Europeans and Catholics kept trying to revive the empire! The Bible said there would only be four empires. More on this later.
As king of the Franks, Charlemagne was able to subjugate every single German tribe but one: the Saxons. The Saxons clung to their own faith and refused, even on pain of death, to submit to Roman Catholicism. Charlemagne determined to force his brand of Christianity on them with the sword. For years the Saxons obstinately resisted. At one point, out of sheer frustration, Charlemagne executed 4,500 Saxon prisoners. This barbarous act angered the Saxons even more.
It took 30 years for Charles to completely extinguish the “Saxon” problem, but not before multiple thousands had been executed for their religious beliefs. After more than 18 conquests against the Saxons, Charles finally prevailed. In the end, Saxons either subjected themselves to the rule of Charles, or their defiance ended in death.
As emperor of the “Holy” Roman Empire, Charles felt it his duty to spread the Christian faith using whatever means necessary. The New Encyclopedia Britannica says, “The violent methods by which this missionary task was carried out had been unknown to the earlier Middle Ages, and the sanguinary [bloody] punishment meted out to those who broke canon law or continued to engage in pagan practices called forth criticism in Charles’ own circle” (“Charlemagne, Emperor”).
The violence Charlemagne used to enforce the Catholic religion on his subjects was simply unknown in earlier empires! He forced his brand of Christianity on everyone. His empire may have had distinct ties to the ancient Romans, but it was certainly not “holy”—even if there was a great church guiding it.
And yet, for centuries to come, the aim of succeeding emperors was to restore the traditions of Charlemagne in their quest to revive the Roman Empire!
The German Holy Roman Empire
Charlemagne’s empire, one of the greatest to ever rule in Europe, did not even outlive his son and successor. When it dissolved, the peoples on the western side of his empire eventually became known as French. The German-speaking peoples between the Rhine and the Slavs in the east developed into Germany. The fact that he ruled over both peoples is why some dispute the national heritage of Charlemagne.
While there might be some controversy over Charlemagne’s roots, there is none when it comes to the next Roman revival. Otto the Great, anointed as German king in 936, was the first of a long line of German emperors to dominate the European political arena. The pope bestowed the imperial crown upon Otto in 962. For the next 800 years, German kings called themselves “Roman emperors of the German nation.”
Like so many who followed in his footsteps, Otto was a ruthless warrior. He forcefully extended “Christianity” with the sword. Encyclopedia Britannica says he was “subject to violent bursts of passion” and that “his policy was to crush all tendencies to independence” (“Otto i,” 11th edition).
In each new territory he conquered, Otto carefully planted new German colonies. This marked the dawn of German nationalism. Prior to this time, the Germans were still largely divided according to tribe. “But when their kings acquired the right to be crowned Roman emperors, they themselves became the imperial race. They began therefore to take pride in the common German name. A feeling of nationality was thus aroused, which never afterwards quite left the Germans even in their darkest periods” (Henry Northrop, History of the World, Volume 1).
This world-ruling, nationalistic spirit is what drove so many German kings across the Alps into Italy in search of things Roman. Though relations between German emperors and Catholic popes have not been without competition and struggle for supremacy, it is clear why the affair has endured the test of time. German emperors have always known that the road to world dominion goes through Rome. Equally so, the papacy has long known that the only way to forcefully spread its religion is to straddle the terrifying political beast wielding the sword.
Preserving the Union
Though there is not enough space to elaborate on every emperor who ruled during the third revival of the Holy Roman Empire, it is important to at least show the length at which many German kings went to secure close ties with the papacy. Otto the Great’s next two successors, his son and grandson, spent much of their lives, and eventually died, in the neighborhood of Rome. Later, Henry iv (1056-1106), after being excommunicated from the church, waited outside the pope’s castle in freezing conditions for three days before the pontiff came out to grant him forgiveness. Frederick Barbarossa (1152-1190) spent 15 years in northern Italy during six different military expeditions. He too was intent on keeping alive the ancient glory and power of the Roman Empire.
Barbarossa’s grandson, Frederick ii (1212-1250), was the last great emperor to rule during this German-dominated revival of the Roman Empire. Frederick was one of the most notable German emperors ever. To him, the ideal government was a totalitarian state.
Like emperors before him, Frederick also considered himself quite religious. In 1224, he established legislation which permitted burning heretics at the stake. Pope Honorius iii and his successor, Gregory ix, were delighted with the bill.
After Frederick’s death, the Roman Empire again went to sleep—another valley among the seven “mountain peaks.” The stage was set for another German family to curry favor with the Vatican in its quest for world rule. This royal line would eventually span 600 years of history!
The Habsburg Dynasty
For some time, the Roman Empire endured without an emperor. In 1273, the Austrian Rudolf of Habsburg was crowned king in Aachen, but not emperor. Early on, the Habsburgs seemed more concerned about the power of their own dynasty in Germany and Austria than they were about world dominion.
It wasn’t until the 15th century that the emperorship would again play a key role in the aspirations of German-speaking kings. That’s when Frederick v, the Habsburg king of Germany, was crowned by the pope as Holy Roman emperor. That title remained in the family until the dynasty ended in 1806.
The greatness of the Habsburg dynasty lies more in its duration than it does in its dynamic leaders. Yet it did produce at least two outstanding kings, reigning successively in the 16th century—Maximilian i (1493-1519) and Charles v (1519-1556).
Maximilian laid the groundwork for an international empire by arranging two marriages with the Spanish houses of Castile and Aragon. In one marriage, Maximilian’s son Philip married Joanna, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella. The genealogy of the Habsburg dynasty thus divided along German and Spanish lines.
It was Charles, son of Philip and Joanna, who was crowned Roman emperor in 1520 as Charles v. He became one of the greatest German emperors in history. Like Frederick ii, Charles believed the emperor reigned supreme. It was during his reign that this fourth revival of the Holy Roman Empire reached its peak.
At age 19, Charles became ruler over Spanish and German dominions, including Germany, Burgundy, Italy and Spain, along with sizable overseas possessions. His kingdom became known as “the empire where the sun never set.” Not since the days of Charlemagne had a German emperor ruled over such a vast territory.
Before his coronation in Aachen, Charles was asked the traditional questions by the elector of Cologne: “Wilt thou hold and guard by all proper means the sacred faith as handed down to Catholic men? Wilt thou be the faithful shield and protector of the holy church and her servants? Wilt thou uphold and recover those rights of the realm and possessions of the empire which have been unlawfully usurped? … Wilt thou pay due submission to the Roman pontiff and the Holy Roman Empire?”
“I will,” Charles responded.
Ten years later he was crowned emperor in Rome by the pope, and the love affair between church and state was rekindled once more. Though Charles was sworn to defend the Catholic Church, he did make a few vain attempts to mend the rift in the religious world sparked by Luther’s rebellion in 1517. Nevertheless, his persecution against Arabs and Jews is well documented. In fact, he ascended to the height of his power while the Spanish and Roman inquisitions were raging in Europe.
After Charles’s death, the Habsburg dynasty severed along Spanish and Austrian lines. The Austrian Habsburg line still assumed the title “Roman emperors of the German nation” just like their predecessors five centuries before, except they no longer pilgrimaged to Rome to be crowned by the pope. The imperial office became hereditary within the Habsburg line.
By this point, the power and might of the fourth revival of the Holy Roman Empire had begun to wane. The Protestant Reformation considerably weakened the once-dominant church in Rome. On the secular side, the tide of power was beginning to shift toward France. The fourth revival of the “Holy” Roman Empire was on its last leg.
When Napoleon finally crushed what remained of the Habsburg empire in the 19th century, it appeared that the last vestige of the “Holy” Roman Empire had been destroyed. But what historians do not realize is that when Napoleon pompously grabbed the emperor’s crown from the pope’s hands and crowned himself in 1804, the Holy Roman Empire had merely transferred into the hands of the ambitious Frenchman.
After centuries of German and Austrian dominance, the Holy Roman Empire revived again for a brief interval of French dominance. It was the Roman Empire in disguise. Napoleon set out to carry on the ideals of Charlemagne, only in a more modern world. Like the German emperors before him, Napoleon envisioned himself ruling the world—and once again through the Vatican.
French dominance was short-lived. In the 20th century, the same Roman Empire reared its ugly head for a sixth time, once again with a German “emperor” and the Catholic Church as the main players. Though disguised by modern advancement, it was the Middle Ages all over again—this time on a much larger scale and with more sophisticated weaponry. (More on this in Chapter 4.)
The Great Mistake of the Middle Ages
During Rudolf of Habsburg’s reign in the 13th century, a man named Jordan of Osnabrueck wrote a book about how the Roman Empire was transferred into the hand of the Germans. He was not the only one in the Middle Ages to harbor such ideology. It was the Germans, many thought, who had the monumental task of ruling and preserving the Holy Roman Empire. But why?
Remember that when Charlemagne was crowned, the pope called him emperor of the fourth world empire. The idea that the Roman Empire was the fourth to rule the world did not originate with this pope. In fact, centuries before, while the old Roman Empire still existed, most Jews and Christians thought it would be the world’s last kingdom because of what the Prophet Daniel wrote.
Many scholars knew the Roman Empire was prophesied to be the fourth and final world empire. But beyond that, they tragically misinterpreted Bible prophecies. That is what led to so much violence and bloodshed during the Middle Ages.
People falsely assumed that the antichrist would emerge on the world scene once the Roman Empire was extinguished. What the Bible actually says is that after the fourth empire passes from the scene, God’s Kingdom would be set up (Daniel 2:44).
This also was misinterpreted because people during the Middle Ages assumed the Holy Roman Empire was God’s Kingdom on Earth! That elevated their laws and aspirations for world rule above God’s. Thus, the groundwork for the tragedy of the Middle Ages was laid, not upon a holy empire, but upon Satan-inspired, gross misinterpretations of God’s Word.
The Germans, more than any other people, felt it their divine duty to preserve this “Holy” Roman Empire so that “antichrist” might not appear. So time and time again, when the empire sank into the depths of doom, it would somehow muster enough strength to again raise itself—usually behind one powerful leader, oftentimes German, supported by a powerful religious head in Rome.
What the people of these empires also failed to understand was that these same Roman resurrections were themselves prophesied in God’s Holy Bible! The Bible does prophesy of four, and only four, world-ruling empires. But as we have seen, that final empire, after it was crushed in a.d. 476, was to resurrect 10 more times, the last seven of which would be in conjunction with the papal authority in Rome as the resurrected “Holy Roman Empire.”
It is that same Roman Empire, under new names and titles, which again resurrected last century under German dominance, and which awaits one last hurrah, again prodded by a strong European hand, probably German.
A Call to Remembrance
On May 8, 1997, former German President Roman Herzog was presented with the International Charlemagne Prize for his efforts to unite Europe. In his acceptance speech, Dr. Herzog said, “For 1,000 years the destiny of our continent has revolved round the choice between a cohesive or a fragmented Europe. Charlemagne, after whom our prize is named, made his own particular choice: the first unification of Europe. At such an hour the truth must be told: only by wading through a sea of blood, sweat and tears did he reach his goal.”
Indeed, the history of European unification has been one of much blood. And Germany has been Europe’s greatest perpetrator in instigating that bloodshed.
Roman Herzog has long been one of Germany’s biggest promoters for European unification. He and many other European leaders frequently hearken back to Charlemagne as the inspiration behind modern-day unification.
Very soon now, 10 nations, or groups of nations, in Europe will band together in a union influenced by a great church. Everything about the union will seem right. The religion, the prosperity, the military might. But the final fruits of this union will be horrifying. History bears this out. Conspiracy, betrayal, bloodshed, intolerance, execution. These words best describe the “Holy” Roman Empire of the Middle Ages.
Approximately 40 million people were butchered during the so-called Holy Inquisition—the papacy’s nightmarish vaccine for the “heresy” virus! The Roman and Spanish inquisitions virtually eliminated Protestantism in Italy and Spain! The world has probably never seen a more vile period than those dark and miserable years of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.
The historical fruits of this union between a powerful political beast and a great false church have not been holy—rather unholy. And when those rotten fruits are revealed one last time, the world will be shocked. How could something which seems so right—so religious—be so evil? That answer is found written upon thousands of pages of history. More importantly, God prophesied it long ago in the pages of the book almost no one reads and studies—the Holy Bible. Perhaps it is time we grab that book from the shelf, blow off the dust and crack it open. You’ll be shocked at how accurately God predicts the future.