Lightning struck St. Peter's Dome at the Vatican on February 11, 2013, just a few hours after Pope Benedict XVI made a shocking announcement that he would resign as leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics. Some witnesses were left wondering if it's just a passing weather event—or a sign from heaven. What does the Bible say?
Unexpected. Shocked. Without warning.
That’s how many are responding to the startling announcement on Monday by Pope Benedict XVI that he would resign by the end of the February. While many Americans realize that a change of presidents will impact our political world during a brief four-year term, few consider that a change of popes can have global spiritual repercussions for decades.
During a meeting of Vatican cardinals on February 11, the pope read a statement that surprised many:
“I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” 
The news has captured the attention of the world. It has been about 600 years since a pope resigned from office. Gregory XII in 1415 stepped aside in order to end the Great Western Schism. The response among Catholics has been one of astonishment. “Many Catholics were taken aback by the decision.” “Stuns leadership.” “The pope took us by surprise.” “This was a huge shock to the church.” Archbishop Vincent Nichols of England and Wales said the announcement “shocked and surprised everyone.”
Then again, there are those who say maybe this wasn’t such a total surprise. Some Vatican insiders are suggesting everyone knew all along that Pope Benedict would be a temporary bridge to provide time to groom a younger, more charismatic pope who could carry forward the Catholic agenda for the next generation.
Pope Benedict’s Latin-read words were quickly translated and “ricocheted around the world.”  The Washington Post reports that the pope, who has been nicknamed “God’s Rottweiler,” explained that “both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.” Speculation on a new pope is surging from all quarters. How will he navigate the growing tension between Christianity and the volatile governments of the Islamic world? How will he gain lost ground in first-world countries? Will he indeed be a much younger pope?
As we near the close of earth’s history, it is worth our time to reflect on the spiritual movements taking place in our world. Students of the Bible should sit up and lean into prophetic passages of Scripture that describe events to take place before Jesus comes. How might the change of leadership in the Catholic Church relate to end-time events? Does the fixed attention of many people in the world on the pope relate to prophecy?
The book of Revelation tells us that religious and political powers will unite before Christ’s coming to enforce an agenda culminating in compulsory worship. It will be a time of signs and wonders mingled with deception and confusion, except for those who are determined to follow the Bible. This is a good time to study more carefully the Scriptures, the only foundation to keep us standing firm during times when there are surprising moves.
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