"It is important for the Catholic apologist to have a good handle on what Scripture does and does not say regarding the Antichrist because the opponents of the Catholic faith have often depicted the pope as the Antichrist.
This was a psychological necessity for the early Protestant leaders because they were in the process of breaking away from what their contemporaries universally recognized as the authentic Church of Christ, governed by the authentic Vicar of Christ. Since breaking with such a body is inconceivable to any one determined to follow Christ’s will, it was necessary for Protestant leaders to deny that the Catholic Church and the pope were these things.
The recognition of the Catholic Church as the one Christ established was so strong—given its centuries of existence, its ubiquity in Europe, and the absence of any plausible rival in tracing its roots back to Christ—that it created severe cognitive dissonance that Protestant leaders had to find ways to overcome. “If it’s not the Bride of Christ then what is it? How can it be explained otherwise?” would be logical questions.
Protestant leaders cast about in Scripture for alternative explanations for a large, false religious system expected to exist during the Christian age. They chose the religious system associated with the beast from Revelation, whom they identified as the Antichrist. They further identified this religious system with the Whore of Babylon, who in Revelation is in contrast to the Church, the Bride of Christ.
They thus came to portray the Church as the Whore of Babylon and the pope as the beast/Antichrist. Only in such a way could breaking away from what everyone recognized as the true Church of Christ be psychologically justified.
Thus the Lutheran Book of Concord states, “The pope is the real Antichrist who has raised himself over and set himself against Christ . . . Accordingly, just as we cannot adore the devil himself as our lord or God, so we cannot suffer his apostle, the pope or Antichrist, to govern us as our head or lord” (Smalcald Articles 2:4:10, 14).
The Presbyterian and Anglican Westminster Confession states, “There is no other head of the church but the Lord Jesus Christ; nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be the head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and that son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God” (25:6).
The difficulty with the papal Antichrist theory is that while it may have provided psychological comfort to early Protestant leaders, it does not fit the facts as they are presented in Scripture.
Even given the identification of the Antichrist with the beast, the pope is the last person who would fit the biblical requirements for being the individual Antichrist (or any Antichrist). The epistles of John clearly indicate that the Antichrist is one who denies that Christ has come in the flesh. However, the basis for the pope’s position in the Church is that Christ has come in the flesh and has ascended to heaven, leaving the successor of Peter as his vicar or representative on earth.
For the pope to deny that Christ has come in the flesh would be to undercut the basis of his position. Since no pope historically has made such claims, it is easily verifiable that no pope in history has been an Antichrist. Neither will any future pope be inclined to deny the basis of his position. The anti-papal argument simply is not credible.
Further, in Scripture the beast is clearly a political leader, not a Church leader. In fact, the beast is literally identified with one of the early Roman emperors, who had no part of the Church.
Now that Protestantism has been in a state of separation from the Church for several centuries, psychological pressures have eased, and many Protestants today recognize the absurdity of the papal Antichrist theory and reject those portions of their confessional writings that endorse it.
This praiseworthy recognition provides the Catholic apologist with an opportunity to invite individuals to fundamentally reconsider the Protestant Reformation. If Protestants are prepared to admit that the pope is not the Antichrist and that the Catholic Church is not the Whore of Babylon, then the questions may be posed: “Then what are they? How can they be otherwise explained?”
Most Christians are and always have been members of the Catholic Church. The pope and the Catholic Church are too central to historic Christianity to be dismissed as simply an accident. They must have some part in God’s plan. But if they are not the Antichrist and the Whore of Babylon, then the logical alternative is to recognize them as the Vicar of Christ and the Bride of Christ—the very realization that drove the early Reformers to the papal Antichrist theory. From “The Antichrist” - This Rock Magazine - James Akin