Already in the medieval period, some Roman Catholics interpreted the Antichrist as the institution of the papacy. The Lutheran confessors agreed with this view, which was over three hundred years old by the time of the Reformation.
The Marks of the Antichrist in Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope 39–40):
1. The Antichrist promotes false doctrine that conflicts with the Gospel of Christ, especially the central article of the true faith: justification for Christ’s sake by grace alone and through faith alone. He claims the right to change doctrine established by Christ.
2. The Antichrist institutes forms of worship that conflict with the Gospel.
Praying to the Saints
Ban on clerical marriage
Invention of rites contrary to the Gospel – the mass as an unbloody sacrifice
3. The Antichrist rules in the church. He assumes the supreme right to forgive or retain sins in this life and even claims jurisdiction over the fate of souls after this life. He is primarily a ruler in the church, although he claims to exercise temporal power as well
He will rule and hold office in the church (2 Thessalonians 2:4 & Apology 7/8:4)
He will rule in both the church and the world (Apology 7/8:23-24)
4. The Antichrist makes himself out to be God by usurping the authority and prerogatives of God himself. He is unwilling to be judged by the church or anyone else and fiercely persecutes any who dissent.
Again, he is the man of lawlessness who exalts himself over every god, he will not favor marriage or worship of any god but himself (2 Thessalonians 2:4 but also Daniel 11:36-37)
The theological point is sound: The loss of the Gospel creates the worst kind of desolation among God’s people (much worse than the loss of the temple and the beauty of buildings and dress).
This is not a teaching of Scripture but a conclusion based upon Scripture and history.
This is also not an anti-Roman Catholic polemic but a constructive attempt at the reform of abuses within the Roman Catholic Church. How?:
First, it identifies the papacy as a mortal threat to the Christian faith. The reformers are warning their brothers and sisters in Christ to remain in the Gospel. The motivation is born out of love for their neighbors as well as themselves.
Second, by stating that the antichrist will arise within the Christian church, the reformers are not questioning that the Roman church is included in the “one holy Christian and Apostolic church” confessed in the Nicene Creed. Also, this does not deny that many popes are Christians saved by grace through faith in Christ and are now saints in heaven. It is the institution and office of the papacy – especially as it has commanded false teaching in the church - that the reformers identify as the antichrist and not any individual popes or all the popes in general.
Five things the confessors could have focused on to give a full Biblical view of the AntiChrist and how the papacy meets all the criteria:
1. Daniel depicts the Antichrist as having “a mouth speaking great things” (7:8&11), speaking “words against the Most High” (7:25) and “against the God of gods … wonderful things” (11:36). These descriptions fit well with the doctrine infallibility
2. The attack on the Gospel could be what Daniel prophesied: he will make “war with the saints” (7:21) and “wear out the saints of the Most High” (7:25). Against justification, the salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
3. the pope’s attempts to change the Gospel by imposing upon Christians rites and customs foreign to the Gospel could be what Daniel was told about the little horn: “it will intend to change times and Law” (7:25). Especially, the unbloody mass and other abuses of the mass.
4. The practice of simony (buying church offices) in the medieval church and at the time of the Reformation
5. The Antichrist is to endure throughout the church age, and he will only be destroyed at the second coming of Christ (2 Thess 2:8). Thus “he will come to his end” (Dan 11:45) just before the resurrection on the Last Day (12:2–3). So the End Times are from Christ's First Advent to His Second Advent.