Personally, I have no idea. My job is to point to biblical prophecy and then point to current news and events and let the reader decide. In this case I'll do the same.
Below is a list of various websites and blogs that are covering the story, and I'm sure in the coming days there will be much more written.
One thing I will say, is this: If you read these prophecies and compare to the various popes, the accuracy is uncanny. Additionally, if correct - then it is clear that the next pope will be in "office" during the Tribulation, and may take part in the Tribulation government/religious system - perhaps even as the false prophet, as proposed by some.
He became Pope in 2005 following John Paul II's death.
Resignations from the papacy are not unknown, but this is the first in the modern era, which has been marked by pontiffs dying while in office.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is quoted as saying he is "greatly shaken by this unexpected news".
The BBC's Alan Johnston in Rome says the news has come "out of the blue", and that there was no speculation whatsoever about the move in recent days.
A Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said that even the Pope's closest aides did not know what he was planning to do and were left "incredulous".
At 78, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was one of the oldest new popes in history when elected.
The Vatican says it expects the period between the Pope's resignation and the election of his successor to be as brief as possible, but there has been no confirmation on when cardinals will meet to choose a new pontiff.
Approximately 900 years ago, Pope Innocent II summoned Saint Malachy, a popular archbishop, to Rome to update the Vatican on the status of Malachy's Northern Ireland diocese. Malachy made the arduous journey from Northern Ireland to Italy and gave his full report.
As he was leaving Rome to return to his church he had what he described as a “frenzied vision.” In this vision, Malachy was given the descriptive information of every pope that would ever exist, beginning with Pope Innocent II all the way to the final pope, Pope Petrus Romanus.
Malachy's vision tallied 112 popes, ending with Pope Petrus Romanus, and the current pope,Pope Benedict XVI, is number 111, which means there will only be one more pope.
Whether we choose to believe in the prophecy or not, states Horn, “It's historic in the sense that we have this medieval prophecy and the very next pope will be the last one on the list.”
When host, George Noory, asked Horn the significance of the prophecy and the last pope, Horn explained the prophecy states this final pope will be the pope who leads the church into the great Tribulation.
He then provided an English translation of the prophecy for the last pope:
"In extreme persecution the seat of the Holy Roman Church will be occupied by Peter the Roman, who will feed the sheep through many tribulations. When they are over, the City of 7 Hills will be destroyed and the terrible or fearsome judge will judge his people."
In his research for his book, Horn spoke with many Catholic theologians who believe the final pope will not be the anti-Christ, but he'll be a false pope, under the influence of Satan. Horn believes this final pope will be the person who steers the religious community into following a great political figure who will be the anti-Christ.
Horn's research also indicated that the third secret of Fatima, as well as other Marian prophecies, stated that the last pope would be affiliated with Satan.
According to Horn, Pope Petrus Romanus, or Peter of Rome, won't necessarily have to be named Peter. Every pope who ascends to the Throne of Peter becomes a direct descendant of Saint Peter. However, if the next pope is Italian, then the prophecy will be fulfilled.
But, why should this Catholic prophecy be of concern to people of other religions? If you're not Catholic, who cares if there's only one more pope or one hundred?
According to the prophecy this final pope will signal the beginning of the Tribulation period, the time when the anti-Christ starts coming into power. This will effect everyone on the planet, no matter your religion.
The 900-year old prophecy predicting the final pope is close at hand.
Brother Hal Lindsey weighs in - and this may be the best/most reasonable review of the situation:
Hal Lindsey Report: 11-04-11
Below is a fascinating video update by Hal Lindsey, also recorded on 11-04-2011 and is very germane to today's news and is well worth watching for perspective:
Video Update: St Malachy Prophecies And The Last Pope