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The Revelation -- Which Interpretation?
TWO PROBLEMS TO BE FACED
In the continuous historical interpretation the 6th Seal fits satisfactorily into the sequence of history. The 5th Seal describes the severe Diocletian persecution of the christians at the beginning of the 4th century; and this is followed by the political and religious upheaval under Constantine, expressed by the 6th Seal and also by the symbols of Revelation chapter 12. Revelation chapter 7 follows the 6th Seal opening with the words "after these things", and there is the sealing work before the Trumpet judgements under the 7th Seal begin. The Trumpet judgements fit accurately the course of history from the end of the 4th century onwards for a 1000 years. Bro. Norris was well acquainted with all this. Why then his Futurist interpretation?
He provides two reasons when dealing with this 6th Seal:
1. The language is too grand to describe the time of Constantine.
2. Men hiding themselves from the wrath of the Lamb on the throne must be when Christ comes.
His conviction is very strong. Quoting:
In this chapter we give evidence showing that the remarkable language of the Seal is suitable for the Constantinian revolution, and also men hiding themselves in the rocks from the wrath of the one on the throne, taken symbolically, was also fulfilled then. In addition we shall show how the symbols of Revelation 12 were fulfilled at this time. The great obstacles raised by Bro. Norris being removed, we shall have complete confidence in the continuous historical interpretation.
IS THE LANGUAGE OF THE 6TH SEAL TOO GRAND FOR CONSTANTINE?
Consideration of similar language used to describe events in the time of the Old Testament will show that it is quite appropriate to apply the language of the 6th Seal to the time of Constantine.
Isaiah 13: The Burden Of Babylon
Zephaniah 1:14: Against Judah
Ezekiel 32:5-8: Against Egypt
The language of the 6th Sea] is not, of course, identical with these quotations, but it is the same quality, depicting great happenings in the past. If the prophets use such language to depict the overthrow of Chaldean Babylon, Judah and Egypt, there can be no objection to such language to describe the decisive battles, and the political and religious upheaval at the time of Constantine. What follows will make this more apparent. This was a "Day of the LORD", as in earlier times, when by human agency God swept away the existing order of things.
So our next question to consider is, did the events in the time of Constantine match up to the language in the 6th Seal?
THE GREATNESS OF THE CONSTANTINIAN REVOLUTION
A blackened sun, the moon turned to blood, heaven rolled away, etc., indicates great civil and religious changes of constitution. Evidence for this is adequately provided by Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in chapters 17 and 20.
A NEW CONSTITUTION
The whole of Gibbon's chapter 17, occupying over 60 pages, is devoted to the changes brought about by Constantine in the political and civil spheres. The heading of the chapter is "Foundation of Constantinople -- Political System of Constantine and his successors -- Military Discipline -- The Palace -- The Finances". He emphasises in his opening paragraph that the new order was quite distinct from the old.
Later in the chapter he introduces the description of the military and civil government and officers with the words:
Notice the frequent use of 'new' - the old Order had gone. His 17th chapter describes in great detail a different constitution; a new heavens with its sun, moon and stars.
FUNDAMENTAL RELIGIOUS CHANGES
But real as was the change in the civil and military rule of the Roman empire at this time, the change in the State religion was far greater and of a most fundamental character. It had its moral and political bearings. Morally the change was from the worship of the host of pagan gods, with temples of idols and altars of sacrifice, with sensuous and cruel rites, to the higher standards of morality contained in the Bible and to the belief in the forgiveness of personal sins by the death of Jesus, the Lamb of God. At this time the moral power of christianity had not been spoiled by the later apostasy of image and relic worship, and other degrading practices. A quotation from Prudentius, a 4th century writer, will convey the ugly character of Pagan ritual, compared with the higher qualities of christianity, especially at this time before it became much more corrupt.
Augustine in the "City of God" describes the vile immorality associated with the pagan worship:
POLITICAL NATURE OF THE RELIGIOUS REVOLUTION
In chapter 20 of his Decline and Fall, Gibbon gives a very full account, 40 pages, of this tremendous revolution in religion in the Roman Empire. The heading of the chapter reads: "The Motives, Progress, and Effects of the Christian or Catholic Church". The new laws that prohibited pagan rites,
demolished temples and established the Christian church, gave a privileged status to the many officers of the church. Here are a few quotalions:
What a change from 20 years earlier when christianity was still a persecuted and despised sect.
These changes in constitution, government and religion were the amazing work of one man in his lifetime. Having conquered his numerous enemies and rivals, he became the supreme power in the Roman world, and could thus carry out his designs without effective opposition. Leaving Rome and the old senate behind, he started afresh at Constantinople, and laid the foundations of a new constitution in church and state that endured for many centuries.
So there is no reason to suggest that the language of the 6th seal is too spectacular for the changes in the time of Constantine. Gibbon in fact uses language that is strikingly similar:
This was the view of the departed pagans, and how similar the language of Rev. 6:12-13:
THE PAGANS FLEEING FROM THE WRATH OF THE LAMB
We next have to answer the criticism that the language just quoted could not apply to the time of Constantine. The remarkable thing however, is that history relates how the pagan people and rulers did fear the all-prevailing might of Constantine and the 'christians' crusading in the name of Christ; just as the inhabitants of Canaan feared and fled before Joshua and Israel and their God Yahweh.
The second war of Constantine against Licinius was openly declared as a war between the pagan gods, on the one hand, and Christ and the God of the bible on the other hand. The pagans were well acquainted with the christian belief that Christ was alive and powerful in heaven at the right hand of his Father. As Constantine won battle after battle in the name of Christ, the pagans really did fear Christ and the God of heaven.
Now to express these historical facts in symbolical prophecy what was more natural than to say they feared the wrath of the Lamb and the One sitting on the throne. We must remember that the Lamb and the One sitting on the throne are already symbols in the vision which John is seeing, and because they have been in view all the while John sees the seals being undone, they are the obvious symbols to use when reference is made to the power of Christ and God. To refer to these symbols in the 6th seal does not mean that the throne of Christ was established in the earth at that time, any more than the reference to the Lamb in the Ist seal means that Christ had returned to the earth in the Ist seal.
Without any doubt the pagans feared this power of Christ and God, and could say appropriately in symbol to the mountains and rocks: "Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb". Gibbon gives adequate proof of this situation in his 20th chapter.
In the decisive battle of Adianople, AD 324, when Licinius the defender of paganism was overcome by Constantine, Licinius declared his realisation that it was a conflict between paganism and Christ. Before the battle he assembled with his friends in a sacred grove with its idol-statues, lighted wax tapers, etc., and offered his sacrifices. He then said:
The fear of Christ and God was expressed by the emperor Galerius in the agonies of his death-bed when he entreated the christians in a public proclamation to pray to their God (i.e. Christ) for him. Likewise Maximin soon after, confessed his guilt and called on Christ to show compassion on him. Thus were the pagans conscious that their gods had fallen before the power of Christ. A bas-relief still remains on Constantine's triumphal arch at Rome and represents the terror of Maxentius and his army in their flight across the Tiber after defeat at the battle of Milvan Bridge, when Constantine became chief Emperor in Rome. Gibbon shows clearly that Constantine was regarded as the servant of Christ, fighting the battles of the Lord. He poured out the symbolic 'wrath of the Lamb':
Gibbon then refers to the alleged miracle, widely accepted, that Constantine was inspired by a vision of the Cross and a voice that told him to conquer in the name of this ensign. So the Cross became his military ensign.
All these quotation taken together show the power of the name of Christ among the armies both of Constantine and his enemies; and how the pagans, losing battle after battle before the invincible Constantine, feared the Christ, and "the wrath of the Lamb".
REVELATION CHAPTER 12 CONFIRMS THE APPLICATION OF THE 6TH SEAL TO CONSTANTINE.
In the continuous historical interpretation, chapters 12 and 13 describe the development of the christian apostasy, and its persecution of the saints. The first part of chapter 12 runs parallel with the 6th Seal, the Seal giving the political side and chapter 12 the religious side. The chapter opens with a great sign of a woman in heaven, clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet. This is a summary statement -- what will be attained when the man child reaches heaven and casts out the Dragon. Constantine, the manchild, as the champion of the christians defeats his pagan rivals, and is the sole ruler in the 'heaven' of the Roman world. The christian church, instead of being persecuted is now received into imperial favour; she is clothed with the sun, she is in heaven, the pagan moon is under her feet. It is not proposed to recount all the complex history of the time and show how it fits the symbols. The diagram (page 63) expresses the great change that took place.
Two criticism of this interpretation are made:
(1) Can we say that in symbol Constantine was "caught up unto God and his throne"?
(2) Could it possibly be true that at, this time "a loud voice in heaven" declared "Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God"?
We will take the second criticism first.
THE APPARENT COMING OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
By Constantine's time the millennial reign of Christ and his return to the earth was but a dim idea. The language of his return was taken as figurative and the rapidly growing concept was that the Church was the kingdom of God. The rapid change of fortune under Constantine encouraged the idea. The following quotations from Eusebius and Lactantius, who were contemporary with the scene, show that in the eyes of the 'christians' at the time, the kingdom of God had come.
"On the fall of Licinius", says Eusebius, "the great conqueror Constantine and his son Crispus the Caesar, received the East as theirs, established one government as formerly over the Romans, and swayed the whole in peace from east to west, and from north to south. The people therefore being freed from all fear of the
PAGE 63 (Chart on Chap. 12 and The Great Events of Constantine's Time)
Court by which they had before been overwhelmed, held festal days of great splendour. There were illuminations everywhere. They who were before dejected, looked on one another with joyful aspects and smiles, and with choirs and hymns through the cities and country, gave honour, first to God the Supreme Ruler of all, as they were taught, and then to the pious emperor and his children. The miseries and impiety of the past were forgotten, joy and exultation prevailed at the blessings now promised, and happy anticipations of the future. Philanthropic edicts were everywhere published by the emperor, and laws that displayed his munificence and piety."
Such was the "loud voice" saying in the new Heaven of the Roman world "Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ" (Rev. 12:10).
There was a remarkable coin minted at this time showing Constantine being crowned with a wreath of victory by a woman with a large bow. This shows that they understood his victory as the climax of two centuries of conflict by the first Seal rider on the horse (ch. 6:2). This will explain the appropriateness of the next verse in chapter 12: "They overcame him (the Dragon) by the blood ofthe Lamb".
ASCENDING TO THE THRONE OF GOD
Constantine saw himself as God's ruler, on God's throne, as the kings of Israel were rulers on God's throne. Previous quotations have shown that Constantine regarded himself as the servant of Christ, fighting God's battles, like Joshua of old. The coin just referred to indicates that he saw himself as the victor receiving the crown. Eusebius says he recognised God as the author of his success. He writes, that "when the whole was, by the power of God, the Saviour, subjected to Constantine, he made known to all the giver of his prosperity, and testifies that God, not he, was the author of his victories."
More specific than Eusebius' words is Constantine personally applying to himself the very symbology of chapter 12. Constantine wrote to Eusebius: "that Dragon having been deposed from the governance of affairs, by God's providence". And in another letter: "But now that liberty is restored, and that Dragon driven from the administration of public affairs by the providence of the Supreme Deity, and our instrumentality, we trust that all can see the efficacy of the Divine power" (quotations from Gibbon).
Even more telling and specific than these quotations are two coins showing Constantine as overcoming the Dragon in the name of Christ. On the one side of each coin is the head of Constantine. On the other side of one coin there is his 'symbol' of Christ, the X with P super-imposed, as his standard and the dragon under his foot; in the other the christian standard is like a stake on the conquered serpent. No one can deny that, instructed by the christians, Constantine saw himself as fulfilling the symbols of Revelation 12 -- he was the Michael, the Man child, in heaven and he had cast out the dragon.
In the light of the evidence of these coins, and the quotations from people living at the time, and the view expressed that God was reigning through Constantine, what is difficult in applying the symbolism of the man-child ascending the throne of God to Constantine? If the 'christian' of that time saw Revelation 12 being fulfilled before their eyes, why should we in the 20th century say this cannot be so?
EXTRACTS FROM THE HISTORIAN MICHAEL GRANT
In conclusion we quote a few words from the well-known historian Michael Grant in his latest book "History of Rome" 1978, page 213. This shows that modern historical research supports the assessment of Constantine's great work by
Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
And regarding "The great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars", Michael Grant's conclusion is very appropriate:
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