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The Revelation -- Which Interpretation?
This chapter sets out the reasons for accepting the continuous historical interpretation of the Revelation. In chapter five, headed 'Does the sixth seal apply to Constantine?", a basic criticism of this interpretation is examined. Further criticisms are considered in Appendix 3.
Five reasons are advanced for the continuous historical interpretation:
1. God promised a prophetic record.
2. This interpretation gives to the book a rational and comprehensive structure, or framework.
3. The phrase "things which must shortly come to pass" is appropriate to this onflowing interpretation.
4. Through the centuries students have correctly identified their position, on the basis of a continuous historical interpretation of events in the Roman world.
5. The ultimate test: the fit of history to the symbols.
1. A PROPHETIC RECORD PROMISED
We have already quoted the words of Amos: "Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets". So we know there is a prophetic record for the period after John's time. If it is not found in the book of Revelation, where is it? Only by interpreting the Revelation on a continuous historical basis can we have prophetic guidance for believers over the past 18 centuries.
2. A RATIONAL STRUCTURE
With the historical approach one can give to the Revelation a structure which
PAGE 16 (Chart: Unloosing of the Seven Sealed Scroll)
comprehends the whole and is satisfying. The diagram shows this structure. It represents the unrolled scroll, with a time scale of centuries along the top. The 7th seal area contains the seven trumpets, and the 7th trumpet is detailed in seven vials. One can identify five groups of events which follow in sequence as one proceeds through the book. This is indicated by placing the chapter numbers above the five groups.
Further details of the five main groups are as follows:
1st (Revelation 6), a group of six Seal happenings occupying the second and third centuries in which the new religion of christianity spreads through the Pagan Roman world, and providentially controlled divine judgements reduce the prosperity and strength of the Roman world, so that the time arrives for the old Pagan Roman world to be swept away and replaced by a new world constitution embodying elements of christianity in its laws and religion.
2nd (Revelation 8-9), a group of six Trumpet blasts stretching from the 5th to 15th centuries, these trumpet alarms of war bringing the invading nations of the Huns, Goths and Vandals, etc., into the Western Roman world; and later the Saracens and Turkish hordes into the Eastern Roman world, finishing with the sacking of Constantinople in 1453. These various wars were a sustained punishment of the Catholic christians for their worship of idols and relics, their spiritual murders, fornication, and theft (Rev. 9:20-21). These wars also changed the map of Europe, and in particular contributed to the development of the tyrannical Papal Europe of the middle centuries.
3rd (Revelation 11-13), a group of beasts, based on the prophecy of Daniel, describing the power of the Roman Catholic world reaching its zenith in the 15th to 18th centuries, and making war on the two witnesses and the saints and overcoming them.
4th (Revelation 15-16), a group of six Vials of wrath poured out during the 19th and 20th centuries. The first five Vials are God's judgements particularly on Papal Western Europe, and the 6th Vial prepares the way for the manifestation of Jesus as Lord and Christ under the 7th Vial.
5th (Revelation 17-22). The events of the 7th Vial, in which the beasts, the harlot, the false prophet, and Babylon the Great, are destroyed, and replaced by the Holy City rulership of the Lamb and his bride.
At the ending of each of the groups there is inserted a picture of the consummation, the reward for overcoming, and these occupy the remaining chapters, 7, 10 and 14. In chapter 7, when the full symbolic 144,000 have been sealed, there are the palm-bearing victors in white robes before the throne; in chapter 10, Christ and the redeemed are seen as a mighty rainbowed Angel going forth to conquer the world; in chapter
14, the Lamb is in contrast with the wild beasts of the previous chapter, and the people of God are seen standing on Mount Zion as the 144,000 with the Lamb. This interesting feature of the book was no doubt introduced to give encouragement to believers all through the centuries. Those under the first group of events would hardly understand much of the later events, yet understanding the events of their own group, and seeing the vision of the consummation just beyond these events, they would be encouraged to hold fast.
So there is a definable structure to the book of Revelation, and it reveals the plan and purpose of God, as He controls the history of the world. History is not a series of chance happenings; there is an orderly and understandable progression of events. There is divine control, attaining definite objectives, and moving events to the appointed consummation when the kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdom of Christ.
3. THINGS WHICH MUST SHORTLY COME TO PASS
The Revelation was given to show, or point out, to God's servants those "things which must shortly come to pass" (Rev. 1:1). The phrase 'shortly come to pass' means that God's servants would be warned of what lay immediately ahead. So it is certain that God's servants in the centuries that were to come, would be able to see the outline of events immediately in front of them, from a study of the Revelation. They would not understand the distant future, but they would discern their own times in the appropriate part of the Apocalyptic record. For this to be so, the Revelation must cover the whole of the time period to the coming of the Lord; and this involves a continuous historical interpretation of the book.
4. FULFILMENT UNDERSTOOD IN EARLIER TIMES
History does not provide us with much information about that tiny minority, the true servants of God. We should not expect it to do so. We should not expect therefore much information about their understanding of the Revelation. Nevertheless there are three detailed situations that demonstrate a remarkable understanding of the Revelation on a continuous historical basis.
The first six Seals have a climax in the great earthquake of the 6th Sea]. On the historical basis this applies to the time of Constantine. The detail of the birth of the man child to be caught up to heaven in chapter 12 belongs to this time. There is ample evidence that Constantine and the christians believed this part of the Revelation was fulfilled in their time. The evidence for this is given in chapter 5. If the people living at the time could see the events they were witnessing were a fulfilment of prophecy, we should be wise to recognise they were competent judges; and not from our far off time say the record should be given another meaning, as do the other interpretations we are considering.
The second situation is the time of Joseph Mede in the 17th century. His 'Key of
the Revelation' was published about 1640. He understood the fulfilment of the Seals and Trumpets on the historical basis. This may not be thought to prove very much, but what is of significance is that he could correctly outline 'things which must shortly come to pass' before they came to pass; surely evidence that in broad terms his understanding was the correct one. Bro. I. Collyer in his book Vox Dei, chapter 16, gives detailed quotations from Mede. Writing some 150 years before the events, Mede predicted many of the historical events described by the Vials. He correctly understood the 4th Vial to be poured out on the Austrian empire, the sun; the 5th Vial to be poured out on Rome, the seat of the beast; the 6th Vial on the Turkish empire, 'drying up the river Euphrates'. None of these events looked at all likely in the 17th century! Mede also understood that after the drying up of the river Euphrates, the 'preparing of the way of the kings of the east' involved the restoration of the Jews to their land. When such forecasts come to pass it surely means the forecasts were made on the basis of a right understanding of the apocalyptic scheme.
Still another illustration of correct anticipation is that of Peter Jurieu regarding the French Revolution. Commenting on the 31/2 days of the death-state of the witnesses, their resurrection, and the fall of the tenth part of the city, he says (English translation of his book 1687): "The Tenth part of the City which here fell, will, at some future time, appear to be the Kingdom of France, where a Revolution will take place about the year 1785, and a separation from the Papacy follow, when the Names of Monks and Nuns, of Carmelites, Augustines, Dominicans, etc., shall perish for ever, and all those vain titles and armorial bearings which serve for ornament and pride, shall vanish, and brotherly love make all men equal".
What a remarkable, accurate forecast and understanding of the Revelation. He said there would be a revolution in France "about the year 1785". In fact the French Revolution started 1789. He made this prediction about a hundred years before the event. He correctly interpreted the 'tenth part of the City' as France; he saw that the clergy and nobility would be overthrown, and that 'liberty, equality and fraternity' would be proclaimed. It is most remarkable that he should have correctly understood the '31/2 days' as representing 105 years (31/2 lunar days is 30x3 1/2 = 105, see page 68). So with such knowledge the faithful believers, the down-trodden Holy City, would be sustained in hope, waiting and praying for this day of easement of their afflictions.
The following four pages contain quotations from older writings, compiled by Bro. Alan Eyre, which suggest a continued thread of prophetic interpretation. Bro. Eyre has written, 'There is no question that an enormous amount of material is available to demonstrate that a substantial body of Bible scholars and believers held to the general historical school of prophetic understanding ... I certainly would say that the true witnesses through the ages right from apostolic times have almost solidly followed this scheme and interpretation. Alternative schemes of interpretation have generally been promoted by those false churches which wished to avoid the teaching of Scripture'.
VOICES FROM THE PAST
Cyprian Of Carthage (200-258).
"We pray that our kingdom, which has been promised us by God, may come ... that we who first are his subjects in the world, may hereafter reign with Christ when he reigns" (Treatise 4).
"Let not any one of you, beloved brethren, be so terrified by the fear of future persecution, or of the coming of the threatening Antichrist. Antichrist is coming, but above him comes Christ also. The adversary is enraged and threatens, but there is One who can deliver us. In the Apocalypse He instructs and forewarns, saying, 'If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead or in his hand, the same also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God" (Epistle 55).
"It was predicted by the voice of the Lord, and by the testimony of the apostles, that now that the world is failing, and the Antichrist is drawing near, everything good shall fail, but evil and adverse things shall prosper" (Epistle 67).
Vaudois (Waldenses) (1120).
"(Antichrist) is not any one particular person, ordained to such a degree, office or ministry, but it is Falsehood itself, in opposition to the Truth, covering and adorning itself with a pretence of beauty and piety, not suitable to the church of Christ, as by the names and offices, the Scriptures, the Sacraments, and many other things may appear. Iniquity thus qualified with all the ministers thereof great and small, together with all them that follow them, with an evil heart, and blindfold: such a congregation comprised together, is that which is called Antichrist, or Babylon, or the Whore, or the Man of Sin, the Son of Perdition. Antichrist could not come in any wise, but all these forementioned things must needs meet together, to make up a complete hypocrisy and falsehood, viz. the worldly wise men, the Religious Orders, the Pharisees, Ministers, Doctors, the Secular power, with the worldly people jointly together. And thus all of them together make up the Man of Sin and error completely" (Qual cosa da I'Antechrist).
John Wycliffe (1324-1384).
"Why is it necessary in unbelief to look for another Antichrist? In the 7th chapter of Daniel, Antichrist is forcefully described by a horn arising in the time of the fourth kingdom. For it grew from among our powerful ones, more horrible, more cruel and more greedy ... the horn has arisen from the ten horns, having eyes and a mouth speaking great things against the Lofty One, and wearing out the saints of the Most High, and thinking that he is able to change times and laws. For so our people see the lord pope, as it is said of the eighth blaspheming little head" (De Veritate Sacrae Scripturae -- 'On the Truth of Holy Scripture').
Walter Brute (14th Century).
(At his trial in 1391, the record states, "The said Walter hath oftentimes said,
and commonly avouched, that the Pope is Antichrist, and a seducer of the people, and utterly against the law and life of Christ").
"For although the Christian church continued in the faith from the ascension of Christ even till this time: yet hath it not observed and kept the perfection of the Faith all this whole season. For soon after the departure of the apostles, the faith was kept with the observation of the rites of the Gentiles and not of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Wherefore seeing that this time of the error of the Gentiles is fulfilled, it is likely that Christ shall call the Gentiles to the perfection of the Gospel. Seeing therefore that Antichrist is known, which hath seduced the nations, then shall the elect, after that they have forsaken the errors of the Gentiles, come through the Light of God's Word to the perfection of the Gospel. Daniel, speaking of 62 weeks, doth not speak of the weeks of days but of years, taking a day always for a year, as commonly it is taken in the Prophets. Wherefore the power of the Beast, unto three years and a half, for the reign of that fantastical and imagined Antichrist. Also the Bishop of Rome doth make man to worship him as God. God doth require of us to be obedient unto Him in keeping of His commandments, but now the Pope's commandments be commanded to be kept, and be kept in very deed; but the commandments of Christ are condemned and rejected" (Registrum).
Sir John Oldcastle (1360-1417).
Tried in 1413 by Archbishop Arundle, he made the statement:
"As touching the Pope and his spirituality, I owe them neither suit nor service, foresomuch as I know him by the Scriptures to be the great Antichrist, the Son of Perdition, the open Adversary of God, and the Abomination standing in the Holy Place."
He was asked at the hearing, "What do you say of the Pope?"
He replied: "As I said before, he and you together maketh whole the great Antichrist, of whom he is the great head, you bishops, priests, prelates and monks are the body, and the begging friars are the tail, for they cover the filthiness of you both, with their subtil sophistry. Never will I in conscience obey any of you all, till I see you with Peter follow Christ in conversation".
William Tyndale (1484-1536).
"The bishop of Rome made a law of his own to rule his church by, and put Christ's out of the way. All the bishops must swear unto the bishop of Rome, and all curates unto the bishops, but all forswear Christ and his doctrine ... Now though the bishop of Rome and his sects give Christ these names, yet in that they rob him of the effect, and take the significations of his names unto themselves, and make of him but a hypocrite, as they themselves be, they be the right antichrists, and deny both the Father and the Son" (Exposition of 1 John).
George Joye (?-1553).
'The Roman Empire, the fourth division, dispersed and decayed into Ger-
many, England, Spain, France et cetera shall be mixt together but yet they shall not cleave. They shall be confederate to make a new and all-one monarchy, but all in vain. The little horn was and is the Antichrist's kingdom of the popes of Rome with all their unclean clergy. The ten horned beast ascending out of the sea is the spiritual Antichrist of Rome with all his laws, rites, traditions, decrees, and doctrine" (Exposition of Daniel).
William Sherwin (1607-1687).
"But from the time Antichrist's forty two months begun, to the end of the sixth trumpet or second Woe, we have the fourth trumpet proceeding in the ruin of the Empire in the West, and the fifth trumpet is the beginning of the ruin of it in the East (ch. 10) by the Mohammedan Saracens, those Locusts out of the botomless pit hurting all but the green fruits sealed to be preserved from that first Woe trumpet . . . and after the other Mohammedan locusts under the sixth trumpet, namely the Turks, took away the other part of the Eastern Empire, whose 396 years are not yet expired, till the end of the sixth trumpet" (The Irenicon).
Thomas Beverly (1670-1701?).
"The 2300 days are a definite line of time, from the beginning of the Persian monarchy to the very end of the monarchies, and until the supreme monarchy of Christ, to the breaking of Antichrist without hand, by the stone cut out of the mountains without hands".
"Every vision of Daniel's except the vision of the 70 weeks which has the high and noble subject of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, runs expressly to the last End and Kingdom of Christ. The 1260 Days of Mourning and of the church in the wilderness, are not yet run out, the Beast is yet in power, the tenth part of the city is not yet fallen; the kingdom of Christ not yet proclaimed ... the first act of Christ's kingdom is recorded by the apostle Paul to be the putting down of all rule, authority and power, referring especially to these four Monarchies, the great Emblem of such rule and power, viz., when the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ" (A Scripture line of Time).
Edward Holyoke (?-1660).
"The Empire is described by one beast coming out of the sea, who hath seven heads and ten horns: yea also in this beast is comprised the Pontificality, being the reviver of the wounded head. This beast hath his arms, from the four Beasts in Daniel 7. For Rome having subdued all those countries that those beasts ruled, and being like them for idolatry and cruelty in afflicting the holy city, is a monster compounded of all four: being a beast of seven heads and ten horns, mouthed like a Lion, footed like a Bear and spotted like a Leopard. The four beasts are termed four kings, that is four Kingdoms, Daniel 7. So the ten horns of the Roman beast are ten kings that is kingdoms that give their power to the Beast. From Constan-
tine's time, ecclesiastical teachers were never quiet, but still spired after supremacy, and drew princes to their factions till 600 years after Christ, then about that time, Boniface the third Pope of Roma, obtained by the help of the murderer Phocas, to be called universal Bishop. And this universal supremacy did so increase until the tenth century. The Pope's canon law telleth that none may live under the Empire but by yielding to the Pope's laws, in his subscribing to his Imperial and Ecclesiastical supremacy, and oath of fidelity as a mark on the hand, and some open token of communion with him, and profession of his decrees as a mark in the forehead" (The Doctrine of Life).
Increase Mather (1639-1723).
"The Turkish power is signified by Euphrates (Rev. 9:13,14). The meaning may be that the Turks which lay on both sides of the River Euphrates and were divided into four sultanates or kingdoms, should be let loose, partly by composing their civil dissentions, and partly by being united under one Ottomanical head, to make a dreadful eruption upon the Roman Empire ... our Lord will have a church somewhere or other in Europe until his second coming. The witnesses must there prophesy in sackcloth, there be slain, there rise agin. The ten kings which give their power to the Beast are in Europe. That part of the world was to be principally the Seat of the church of Christ during the reign of Antichrist, who must continue until Christ himself shall destroy him with the brightness of his coming" (Ichabod).
Samuel Hopkins (1721-1803).
"So long the beast, the idolatrous persecuting power, exercised by the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, is to continue, during which time, the church of Christ is to be oppressed, afflicted and opposed, represented by the holy city being trodden under foot by the Gentiles; the two witnesses prophesy in sackcloth; and a woman persecuted and flying into the wilderness, to hide herself from her enemies, where she is fed and protected during the reign of the beast, which is to continue a thousand two hundred and sixty years, a prophetical day being a year" (Treatise on the Millennium).
5. THE ULTIMATE TEST: THE FIT OF HISTORY TO THE SYMBOLS
The Revelation is made up of hundreds of strange symbolic items, and in the major groups -- Seals, Trumpets, Vials -- these symbols are presented in a definite sequence. If history is found to correspond, not only with the character of each symbol, but also events follow accurately the sequence of the symbols, every rational mind will admit this is not a matter of chance. God with his foreknowledge must be behind it. We are despising God's word if we do not accept this correlation of prophecy and history, and propose instead that the events have not yet
happened and belong to the future. So the ultimate ground of acceptance of the continuous historical interpretation is the correspondence we find between symbols and the subsequent history through 18 centuries. The detailed 'fit' of history to the Seals, the Trumpets, and the Vials, demands our acceptance. There is nothing comparable in any other interpretation. Some features of the Seals are presented in chapter 3. In chapter 8 it is shown how adequately the first six Vials describe the history of our time from the French Revolution. Here we will look at some of the detail of the other main group of events, the Trumpets, to illustrate the correspondence of the brief sign language with the great events of European history over many centuries.
A 1,000 Years History That Cannot Be Ignored
The symbol of trumpet blasts is appropriate to wars and is based on the blowing of trumpets when Israel went to war (Numbers 10:9). So in the Revelation each Trumpet summons new forces to operate with war and destruction on the Roman world. The Trumpets belong to the 7th Seal (8:1) and therefore are events following the Constantinian 'earthquake' of the 6th Seal. So we should be looking for events starting around the end of the 4th century. These events are the barbarian invasions of the western Roman world. The history can be checked from any appropriate history book or atlas. It is summarised on page 26.
During the years from AD 400-410 there was a general movement of tribes into the western Empire with dreadful devastation, conquest and including the sacking of the proud capital, Rome. Alaric and the Visigoths (i.e., West Goths) moved from the Danube westward and eventually took Rome, and Rhadagaisus with a host of Vandals, Suevi, and Burgundians "burst like a dark thundercloud" (Gibbon) from the Baltic. The flourishing and fertile provinces of Gaul and Spain were overrun. Quoting Gibbon: "The consuming flames of war spread from the banks of the Rhine over the greatest part of the seventeen provinces of Gaul; ... The scene of peace and plenty was suddenly changed into desert; and the prospect of the smoking ruin could alone distinguish the solitude of nature from the desolation of man". How would one present this widespread destruction, affecting the people and also the rulers in the governing city of Rome? The Revelation used the language of a storm of hail and fire mingled with blood destroying and burning up the grass and the trees (8:7). Could one suggest more graphic or more accurate language? There was a devastation of the wealth of the countryside, the "grass and trees"; and in a more symbolic sense the "blood" mingled with hail and fire was the suffering of the people -- grass, and the rulers -- trees. The storm affects "the third part". We shall show later that this indicates the Western part of the Empire.
After this first widespread destruction of the main territory of the Western Empire, the next happening was the sea wars of Genseric and the Vandals against the maritime provinces of Africa and the islands; the parts bordering on the Mediterranean. He sailed against the provinces of North Africa in AD 429, and resistance ended with the fall of Carthage in 439. Thereafter he dominated the Western Mediterranean with his fleets, and took Sicily, Sardinia and the other Western isles. In 455 he attacked and took Rome. The destruction of the combined fleets of Western and Eastern Rome at Carthage by fire-ships is famous in history.
Appropriately, the symbols of the 2nd Trumpet are a great mountain burning with fire cast into the sea and it becomes blood. So the first and second Trumpet details are accurate in regard to history, and also are in the right sequence -- sea invasions after earth invasions. How could this be so, without the directing hand of God? Was it just all chance, and these Trumpets belong to future events?
Before the work of Genseric was finished a new scourge pressed in on the Western Empire, Attila and the Huns -- names that still stand for savage destruction. Attila had established himself in the Thracian region of the Empire by defeating the Eastern Emperor. But instead of pursuing an eastward course he turned westward up the Danube, along the Rhine and back southward to the region we call Switzerland. Strangely, from a human point of view, he did not press on to Italy and Rome, but returned eastward, and in but a year was suddenly cut off in death, so his was a brief and catastrophic scourge lasting but three years.
And what are the symbols for this most unusual happening?
1. He is described as a shooting star;
2. He is projected from heaven;
3. He affects the rivers and "the fountains of waters";
4. He made the waters bitter and men died.
How exact! How thrilling! Commenting on these points:
1 . He was not a fixed star shining in heaven but a star "blazing as a torch" (R.V.) hurled against rivers and fountains of water. The Greek word LAMPAS was used of a meteor or shooting star. So Attila was like a ball of flame hurtling along with devastation and soon burnt out.
2. Unlike the earlier invaders, he was established by conquest as a ruler in the Roman heaven before he projected his power against the western "third". So the symbology says there fell a great star "from heaven".
3. Did he strike at the throne of the Western Empire at Rome, as well he might? No. His path was circuitous along the main rivers of Europe, and then to the region where all the great rivers rise. So the text says it fell on "rivers and fountains of waters".
4. The waters are made bitter and men died of the waters, we read; surely an apt way of describing the character of his destroying work. Now how could it be revealed in approximately AD 100 that there would be a third invading power doing precisely these things? It is quite impossible for John to know such strange history beforehand. Men do not know the turn of events of the next week. It must be a matter of God's foreknowledge and control.
After the destroying and weakening effect of these three Trumpet invasions, of the Visigoths, Vandals and Huns -- history shows several puppet emperors placed on the throne by barbarian chieftains; and then Oadacer, chief of the Imperial
regalia to Constantinople, and had himself installed as Governor of Italy. Thus the old Imperial Roman rule came to an end in the west, to be followed by a period in which Gothic kings were ruling in Rome. This climax of the wind Trumpets is contained in the 4th Trumpet details, which says that a third of the sun, moon and stars were smitten and shone not. "A third" signified that it was only in the Western Empire that this eclipse had taken place; the old sun, moon and stars, continuing to shine in Constantinople.
It may be questioned whether it is correct to describe the western Empire as a third of the total. The division into thirds is recognised historically, and it also fits the events of the Trumpets. The three parts are:
1. The Latin west -- covered by Trumpets 1-4.
2. The Hellenised east -- covered by the 5th Trumpet, the Saracens.
3. The Hellenic east -- covered by the 6th Trumpet, the Turks.
"Hellenised east" refers to the eastern and southern parts of the Empire where only a veneer of Greek civilisation existed. In Freeman's Historical Geography of Europe this region is so defined: "In a few campaigns the empire lost all its possessions beyond Mount Taurus, i.e., it lost one of the three great divisions of the empire; that, namely in which neither Greek nor Roman civilisations had ever taken root ... Every province that was conquered by the Saracens was utterly lopped off" (pp. 111-112. My emphasis, G. P.).
The first four Trumpets were a series, grouped as wind Trumpets; they brought devastation on the western Roman world. The 5th and 6th Trumpets are distinguished from the first four by calling them 'woe' Trumpets. Appropriately the scene of action is different. These Trumpets bring judgement on the eastern Roman world, soon after the particular judgements in the West have finished. The prophetic record and sequence accurately corresponds with history.
In the 5th Trumpet smoke and fire issue out of the pit of the abyss and darken the sun and the air. The language is appropriate to the effect of the Saracen conquests on the eastern Roman world. It might be said it could be given other applications. But the phrase "pit of the abyss, or deep" provides a geographical aspect appropriate to Arabia; just as the 2nd Trumpet had a similar geographical quality in "the third of the sea" representing the western Mediterranean coast lands. Then when one adds in the further features of "locusts", "crowns of gold", "faces as men, hair as women", "teeth as the teeth of Lions" -- descriptive phrases that are so appropriate to the Arab people, with their bearded faces and flowing hair, so different from the clean shaven Romans, their peculiar turban head-dress, their fierce courageous fighting; -- one surely thinks this again is a description by the foreknowledge of God.
The symbolic locusts act in a way that is quite unnatural for real locusts. "And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree, but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads" (9:4). This strange symbolic behaviour is in strict accordance with the behaviour of the Saracens. They were fierce fanatical fighters, but they were under command from Mahomet to use their swords only against the Catholics, and to avoid general devastation of the countryside. Gibbon in his 51st chapter quotes the instructions given by Abubeker, the successor of the Prophet, to his captains: "Remember that you are always in the presence of God, on the verge of death, in the assurance of judgement, and the hope of paradise. Avoid injustice and oppression; consult with your brethren, and study to preserve the love and confidence of your troops. When you fight the battles of the Lord, acquit yourselves like men, without turning your backs; but let not your victory be stained with the blood of women and children. Destroy no palm trees, nor bum any fields of corn. Cut down no fruit trees, nor do any mischief to cattle, only such as you kill to eat. When you make any covenant or article, stand to it, and be as good as your word. As you go on, you will find some religious persons who live retired in monastries, let them alone, and you will find another sort of people, that belong to the synagogue of Satan, who have shaven crowns; be sure you cleave their skulls and give them no quarter till they either turn Mohammedans or pay tribute." So once again the unusual, the unexpected, is noted centuries before the event in God's prophecy, showing to us that God foreknows and controls all the affairs of history to attain His ends; in this case the protection of true believers,
and the destruction of idolatrous catholics. One may ask, what other fulfilment can be found that fits the strange behaviour of locusts not destroying grass and trees, yet carrying out a work of destruction?
There is a still further element in the symbols of the 5th Trumpet that makes the application absolutely specific to the time of Mahomet and the Saracens. The last thing John is told in the symbolic description of the warfare of the 5th Trumpet is: "The sound of their wings -- the locusts' wings -- was as the sound of scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months". What could this mean?
The military invention of the 7th century was Greek or Saracen fire. (The original secret appears to have been betrayed by a Saracen to the Greeks.) Gibbon in the early part of ch. 52 has several pages on the matter. The fire appears to have been burning crude oil (now so well known to us) mixed with some other secret chemical materials to intensify the burning. The burning mixture was contained in vessels with mouths and was hurled from an engine acting as a sling. "From this mixture, which produced a thick smoke and a loud explosion, proceeded a fierce and obstinate flame, which not only rose in perpendicular ascent, but likewise burnt with equal vehemence in descent or lateral progress" (Gibbon). The Saracens appear to have perfected portable engines pulled by cavalry for hurling this fire; these would be the horses tails like scorpions, in John's vision. How apt is this symbol of "tails like unto scorpions", will be appreciated from the dictionary definitions of scorpion. After giving the proper zoological definition, it adds as a further use of the word: "An ancient form of ballista or catapult for hurling stones, etc." So, in this 5th Trumpet the "scorpions" had a new and powerful sting in their tails; the catapults hurled destructive balls of fire. Again we ask the question, did God by His foreknowledge reveal this to John as something to happen in the time of the Saracens, or is there just a chance correspondence between John's record and history, and John's record is in fact intended to deal with the future (or the events of AD 70)? When one adds together all the peculiarities of the 5th Trumpet, and their correspondence with the Saracen invasions, there can be no doubt that it was a prophecy by God of this time.
But the Trumpets have something more to say about military inventions. This belongs to the 6th Trumpet. First the historical development. Gibbon says, in closing his remarks about Saracen fire: "The use of Greek, or, as it might now be called, of the Saracen fire, was continued to the middle of the fourteenth century when the scientific or casual compound of nitre, sulphur, and charcoal effected a new revolution in the art of war and the history of mankind". It was by the use of gunpowder that the Turks were able at last to take the well- fortified city of Constantinople, and bring about the ending of the eastern Empire AD 1453. Using gunpowder in cannons had been under development in the latter half of the 14th century, but its use in breaching the defences of Constantinople was the first
decisive occasion of its use.
The movement of the several Tartar races into the Roman empire is represented in the 6th Trumpet by the loosing of the four 'angels' bound by the river Euphrates. We should expect to find in the symbols used here some reference to this important factor in their success -- the use of gunpowder. Remembering that gunpowder was quite unknown in John's day, it would have to be symbolically described by its appearance and effect. Consider how they are said to have destroyed their enemies. In the description there are 'horses' with mouths issuing fire, smoke and brimstone, by which men were killed. And the frontal appearance -- "breasts" -- appeared as "fire, jacinth and brimstone". Jacinth or hyacinth is a flower and also a precious stone, with colours in the range blue to red. Brimstone is the old word for sulphur. Gunpowder is a mixture of charcoal, saltpetre, and sulphur: it readily ignites and burns rapidly with a sulphurous smell and the characteristic blue-red colour from the potassium in the saltpetre. Hence "fire, jacinth and brimstone". So the Bible description is very appropriate for the appearance of cannons using gunpowder. The text gives additional information: they "hurt" by their serpent tails with heads; again, a very apt description of the ball of fire sent hurtling through the air from the cannon mouth. This will be appreciated from the above illustration of a 15th century Turkish cannon (taken from Apocalypse and History, page 65, old edition).
So the Saracens in warfare had 'scorpion-like tails with stings in their tails', that is, Greek or Saracen fire projected by catapult; and the Turks some 800 years later had "fire, jacinth and brimstone", that is, gunpowder to project the "heads of the serpents" far more violently than the Saracens could against the enemy. There is a
most remarkable agreement between history and the symbols; and the matters are related in the right order -- the 5th Trumpet followed by the 6th Trumpet details. Is this all a chance happening, and does God really intend these Trumpets to describe something that is to happen in the near future? Let us beware of being intoxicated with Babylon's wine, so that our judgement is blinded to the working of God in the earth.
Taking the full span of the six Trumpets in Revelation chapters 8 and 9, we have symbols and history running side by side in harmony for a thousand years. This is the more impressive as one considers the many symbols used, each presented in the right sequence through the six Trumpets. In addition, the prophecy gives an inner meaning to the events: we are told God was measuring out his judgements on an increasingly wicked 'christian' world. The record concludes: "Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts" -- a true comment on the Catholic Church, and a warning to the brethren living at the time.
We reserve further comment on the claims of the continuous historical interpretation to be the correct interpretation until we have given the alternative interpretations a close examination.
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