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Saturday, November 22, 2014


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The Revelation -- Which Interpretation?
By Graham Pearce


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This Appendix was written by C. Parry.


Bro. Whittaker writes: "One finds an almost obsessive determination to seek an interpretation of Revelation which puts the fulfilment in chronological order demanding (for example) that Seal 3 be fulfilled before Seal 4 begins to operate and Trumpet 6 only after Trumpet 5 has come and gone."

He continues, "It cannot be too strongly emphasised that much Bible prophecy does not follow this pattern at all. The sequence of the "in that day" prophecies in Zechariah 12, 13, 14 is anything but chronological ... The long-received continuous-historic exposition itself could be somewhat more consistent in this respect. For instance, chapters 11, 12 (the two witnesses, the seventh trumpet, the woman and man-child) are hardly in chronological sequence if they refer to the Huguenots, the resurrection, and the Christian take-over in the time of Constantine. Similarly with chapters 14,16." He then goes on to say that the visions of Revelation present a series of "snapshots" of big developments in the Divine purpose, without special regard to time sequence.

It is certainly true that not all Old Testament prophecies are presented in chronological order (Dan. 2 and 7 being noteable exceptions), but this does not necessarily mean that Revelation is presented in the same way. On the contrary there are a number of points which indicate a progression in the sequence of events.

Firstly there is a natural progression in the ordinal numbers, "first", "second", "third" and so on. This is a unique way of presentation and one which follows the

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example of Daniel's image in chapter 2 and particularly chapter 7 with its ordinal "first", "second", "third" and "fourth" beasts which unquestionably have a sequential fulfilment. In contrast when Zechariah was given his night visions in chapters 1 to 6 the visions were not numbered for the obvious reason that they were not sequential fulfilments. On the basis of this Old Testament practice we might expect that if the visions of the seals, trumpets and vials were not numbered sequentially they should be interpreted in the same way -- non-sequentially. The fact that they are listed in this precise ordinal way suggests a different approach to many of the normal Old Testament presentations.

On examining the structure of the Apocalypse we find that there are a number of phrases employed which suggest a chronological progression. In the first seal, a white horse is presented with a mounted conqueror going forth. White is a symbol of righteousness (Rev. 19:18) and the subsequent effect of righteousness -- peace and quietness (Isa. 32:17). Now the conditions in which this horse ventured forth were therefore conditions of peace. In the second seal we note that a red horse appears and "power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth". This can only be considered sequentially. It would be impossible to have the two horses fulfilling the same chronological point of time because they are opposites -- one representing a time of peace, the other taking away that peace. An interpretation which fails to see a chronological time sequence here is fraught with confusion.

Another hint of a natural continuous sequence can be seen in Rev. 15:1. After the seal and trumpet judgements had passed off the scene we read, "And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God".

These judgements are styled "seven last plagues" which clearly implies that some plagues had to precede them. "Last" usually means there must be something coming "first", "second" and so on until the end is reached. It cannot mean the last plagues described in the Revelation because further judgements are described in chapter 18. The only logical interpretation as we see the unfolding of the Seals and Trumpets and then the Vials is that the Seals and Trumpets precede the Vial plagues in continuous sequence. Since the sixth Vial ends with Armageddon (16:16) and the first Seal commenced shortly after the Revelation was given (1: 1), the only logical interpretation is to see a natural progression of events from the first to "the last" in chronological order.

But what about Rev. 11, 12 and 13? Do not these seem to be out of chronological order when compared with the natural order of historical developments? At first glance they seem to be, but there is a very good reason for their position in the middle of these sequential occurrences.

If we examine the structure of the Apocalypse we find that frequently the judgements described are introduced by a vision of the kingdom in symbol. The following diagram illustrates this.

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4:1-5:14 Throne and elders In the Kingdom with the earth at rest.
6:1-17 6 seals -- judgements Events in Western Roman Empire (AD 96-324)
7:1-17 Sealing of 144,000 Preaching of the Truth (AD 96 - latter days)
Description of the righteous in the kingdom.
8:1-13 4 trumpets - judgements Events in Western Roman Empire (AD 395-476)
9:1-12 5th trumpet (1st woe) judgement Events in Eastern Roman Empire (AD 1062-1453)
10:1-11 Rainbowed Angel Description of the righteous judging and teaching the nations
11:1-14 Holy City and 2 Witnesses (2nd woe) Events in Western Empire (AD 312-1794)
11:15-19 Wrath of God on the nations (7th trumpet, 3rd woe) Events in the earth leading to establishment of the kingdom

Up to this point the structure is not difficult to follow. There is a continuous unfolding of developments in both eastern and western sections of the Empire. Note how the events in the Western empire are covered right back from AD 96. Each time there is a major break in the sequence of judgements a section is introduced to encourage the believers with a vision of the future.

It is important to note that the events of 11:1-14 are classified as part of the second woe and because they are not connected with the contemporary events of the same woe in the eastern portion of the Empire (9:13-21) they are separated by the vision of chapter 10 dealing with the future.

Having brought us up to the time of Armageddon in 11:15-19 the Revelator now pauses to explain and define more accurately the terminology used in the first section of chapter 11. Up to this time there has been no mention or allusion to any of the beasts in Daniel but now the Revelator has introduced four new characters into the sequence and he digresses to explain them. In 11:1-2 we are introduced to the "holy city", in v.3 to "the two witnesses" and in v.7 to "the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit". Two time periods of "forty and two months' and "a thousand two hundred and three score days" are also mentioned.

If no further information had been supplied we would have been at a loss to understand the exact significance of these new symbols. It was the purpose of chapters 12 and 13 to unlock the meaning of these symbols and chapter 14 to tell us what happens to these newly mentioned characters.

Who is the beast of 11:7? Rev. 12:3, 7-9; and 13:1-18 describe, using the language of Daniel's fourth beast, the development and successive phases of this beast -- the Roman Empire. The Empire in its pagan constitution is described in 12:3 as a great red dragon with seven heads and 10 horns. Its pagan constitution was removed in a severe conflict (vv.7-9) and so "the great red dragon" became

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known as simply "the dragon" (vv. 13, 17), referring to the military aspect of the same Roman empire centred in Constantinople. It was this power which supported the development of the beast (13:3) which in turn, through successive phases described in chapter 13, began to dominate the Empire. The beast, supported by the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, describes the western section of the Empire dominated by the Papacy and western Europe.

Who is described by the terms "the holy city" and "my two witnesses" in 11:1-3? Rev. 12:1, 13-17 describes who is referred to. In these verses we have the religious community of the fourth century described as a woman who, following the time when Constantine changed the religion of the empire from paganism to Catholicism, was persecuted and caused to flee to the extremities of the Empire. As she fled she was helped by a class of people called "the earth". There was also a class which broke away from those symbolised by "the woman" -- a smaller community called "the remnant of the woman's seed". In these three classes, "the woman", "the earth" and "the remnant of the woman's seed", we have our explanation of the three classes in chapter 11. The "holy city" refers to the true believers, or "remnant of the woman's seed", and the "two witnesses" constitute "the woman" (those religious groups who opposed the state religion on Scriptural grounds but were not sufficiently enlightened to become true believers) and "the earth" (those secular groups who opposed the authoritarian practices of the State religion on non-religious grounds).

Thus the same time periods outlined in chapter 11, are repeated in chapters 12 and 13 because these latter chapters amplify the information supplied in connection with the witnesses. Hence "the holy city trodden under foot for forty and two months" (11:2) is subdued for the same time of existence as the beast which continues "forty and two months" (13:5). The existence of the witnesses lasts 1260 day/years (11:3) which is the same time period in which the "woman" and "the earth" remain active (12:6, 14).

Our diagram can now be completed a few more chapters, knowing that the "flashback" of chapters 12 and 13 are designed to explain the new symbols given in chapter 11.



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12:1-17 Great Red Dragon
War in Heaven
Persecution of Woman
Events in Western Roman empire describing developments of the beast, the religious communities and ecclesia outlined in 11:1-14 (AD 107-1572)
13:1-18 Beast of the Sea
Beast of the Earth
Image of the Beast
Successive developments in Western Roman Empire describing the character of the beast mentioned in 11:1-14 (AD 324-1870)
14:1-5 Lamb on Mt. Zion
Judgements on the final phase of the Beast -- Babylon the great -- and the world
Destiny of those against whom the powers defined in chapters 12 and 13 have waged war. This is an introductory vision. More details are given in 16:19; 17:1-19:21.

After this digression we would expect that if the Revelator was to continue a sequential unfolding of events, the next visions would either be an expansion or continuation of the last events mentioned in 11: 15-19, that is, the 3rd woe. Chapters 15 and 16 fall exactly into this pattern. They form an amplification of the events outlined in the third woe.

Rev. 11:18 describes the nations being angry because God's wrath is come and v. 19 describes the temple of God being opened in heaven and the subsequent manifestation of lightnings, voices, thunderings, an earthquake and great hail. Chapter 15 expands this summary. Verse 5 describes the temple of the tabernacle being opened in heaven and in v.7 we have the angels having seven vials full of the wrath of God. The final result of all these vials culminates in the seventh vial where there appears voices, thunders, lightnings, an earthquake and great hail (16:17-21).

This seventh vial mentions (as did 14:8) the judgement on "great Babylon" (16:19) and again the Revelator in chapters 17 and 18 takes another digression to explain who this new power is and what specifically are the judgements she will receive.

Our diagram for the continuous and sequential development of the historical interpretation could thus be concluded.




15:1-16:21 7 Vials of wrath of God Events in the Western and Eastern section of the Roman Empire culminating in Armageddon and the establishment of the Kingdom (AD 1795-?)
17:1-18:24 Judgment on the Harlot (RV) Description of the development of the Harlot and the destruction of the Catholic System
19:1-21 King of King and Lord of Lords Future subjugation of the beast, the false prophet and the whole world to the victorious armies of Christ
20:1-15 Chaining of Dragon and final rebellion The introduction of the Millennium and the subsequent rebellion at the end of the 1000 year reign of Christ.

Here is an ordered and logical structure of sequential events from chapter 6 to chapter 20 interspersed with a number of visions given of the future glory and a number of visions given of past developments to explain the introduction of new symbols. When we contrast this to the confusion and uncertainty of preterist and future interpretations, we can well see why past generations of Christadelphians were well satisfied with the continuous-historic exposition of Bro. J. Thomas."