God communicates with us in the framework of time and circumstance, so logically, figurative language must be hinged to that idea.   Dt. 6:4 tells us to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, so we are expected to use our ability to reason our way through difficult passages. 2nd Timothy 2:15 says to study or be diligent to rightly divide (assess, make application) God's word...and this is what is pleasing to God.

After dismissing the futurist kooks, I studied a number of Revelation commentary authors:  Barnes, Hendrickson, Haley, Hinds, Elliott, William Barkley and B. W. Johnson. All of them were considered to be scholarly. There is nothing wrong with reading such works to gain perspective, but we still need to make up our own mind.

Most people today have a tendency to throw up their hands and say they cannot possibly understand the many figures used in the book. Or they look to some scholar or commentary for their understanding. God has given us both a mind and freedom to reach our own conclusions, but they must be studied. The next question we should ask is how can we be expected to study and understand something that requires so much intellect, study and research of so many topics from a world that no longer exists. I agree that our understanding of the symbols must be consistent with scripture but it must also be consistent with fact. I'll explain what I mean throughout this article. We should be open to other's point of view when discussing it. We do have freedom to reach our own conclusions, but freedom does not mean we have the right, simply because we are Christians, to be  inconsistent or short-sided in our understanding. We should have the confidence of a sound position, but be solely committed to the pursuit of truth, unafraid of any challenge, knowing it can be tested by the truth and we know that God's word is truth.

The over-all message of the book is that no power on earth can defeat God's plan for mankind. The figures used to represent the evil forces (red dragon, beasts, etc.) brought against the saints are fearsome and malignant, but are always defeated in each of the scenes presented to the reader. Each scenario also reminds readers that God knows about these forces and demonstrates that He will recompense them for their evil deeds, but He does not promise that Christians will not suffer at the hands of wicked men. Instead He paints a larger picture of His perspective, which allows evil to exist in the world, but those who fear and obey Him are assured of a better world awaiting them. Such an understanding of the theme of Revelation would allow for a variety of symbolic representations and would not necessarily require adherence to one set of interpretations. However, for any man to exploit this apocryphal book for his own pet theories, dogmas or denominational teaching, is blasphemy not unlike that described in this book, which has a damning result.

The approach used to communicate to the saints of John's day, is a series of figurative pictures styled much like acts of a play, with Zion (Jerusalem) as the backdrop and stage settings most often the tabernacle or temple. The scenes progress to a seeming hilltop vantage point, looking down on the city and empire of Rome.

Having studied the first five chapters, we learned the correct application of some figures that are identified. In first five chapters, some key phrases give clues to how God is expecting us to make application. Though the phrases "things shortly to come to pass" and "the time is near", indicate a short passage of time we also know that God does not view time as we do.  Some would say within a few years, others would say within a generation or even many centuries,...all would address the relative nature of these phrases. Most conservative Christians don't allow a full spectrum of history; John's day through present day, to the judgement, to be used in our understanding, because of the phrase "shortly to come to pass". The argument is that since Christians of that day were suffering persecution and their need for consolation was immediate, that the book must have that purpose. Certainly, that is one way to look at it, but that can be accomplished in one chapter, or even a few paragraphs. There is no reason to believe events relative to specific periods of Roman history must be divorced from the spiritual application of figurative meanings, particularly because what happened to the Roman government, was inexorably tied to the church. Also, all will admit, the end of the book deals with the end of time and the judgement, so the entire book is not linked to "things shortly to come to pass". There are other phrases that clearly identify a passage of considerable time. "After these things" (1:19, 4:1, 7:9, 15:5, 18:1, 19:1) is such a phrase, especially as it is used in 1:19. Even the repeated occurrence of the term points to a progression of historical events over time. Other verses identify interludes of unknown length (7:1) and some of a specific period like 1/2 hour (8:1) or 5 months. (9:5,10) We know things revealed in this book are figurative, so the meaning here seems to be wait a little while longer, but we should understand this to mean God will accomplish His will without a timetable, though He wants to leave His readers with the impression of a short while. That impression is the same clearly stated in 1rst Thess. 5:6 and 1rst Peter 4:7; 5:8. 

A point to be made here is that, repeatedly, it is noted that time to repent is allowed those that were marked for destruction. While their deaths are long in the past, we are still on this side of the judgement and the world is also a recipient of God's patience. The judgement that was expected shortly in Paul's day is yet to come. The book of Revelation, like all of the New Testament is addressed to all of mankind, as long as time exists. To assume that it has special application to Christians of John's day only, is inconsistent with the overarching reach of God's good news for all mankind. Christians have been persecuted and killed by many different forces over time. It is plain that the message was needed by 1rst century Christians, but not any more than when the true church was forced underground and when God's word was prevented from all but the Catholic church or during the Inquisition when the papacy was murdering anyone who dared to question their authority. The same message from Revelation would be consoling to them as well. That is, that no force on earth can defeat the force for good or the salvation found in the church of Jesus Christ. Those who are sealed for eternity are still being marked and we suppose that has been going on long past the 1rst century, when Revelation was written. John was instructed to... "Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;" This clearly refers to a progression of time. Regardless of how we understand the term "hereafter", a good case can be made that some of the figures in the book apply equally as well to an entire era of persecution, from the first to the 18th centuries.

We also know from 2 Peter 3:8-9, that God's will is not accomplished on man's timetable. In Paul's day (10-67 A.D.), there were a number in the church who believed Christ's second coming was imminent. (2 Thess. 2ff). Paul told them there would be a falling away first. So we know from this that there was a belief system among Christians, extant in apostolic times, that Christ would return soon. Paul addressed that concern and it is very likely that John, being aware of some anxiety among them, would have assuaged their concern with a message that, for their own benefit, would keep them ready and on the guard for false doctrine.

The greatest apostasy ever known was the establishment of a papacy. The damage done to the souls of men from that time to the present day is greater than all the emperor persecutions combined.. 2nd Thess. 2:4 pretty much identifies the "man of sin" that comes with the apostasy.

Paul also wrote a similar warning to Timothy in 1 Tim 4:1-3, further identifying the "man of sin" in verse 3.  It is true there is some overlapping of the markers fitting both early Catholicism, gnostic teaching and other sects of the day. The totality of the context though, is unmistakably pointing to a period when men met together to change God's laws.  One of the early bishops, Evaristus (about 98-106 A. D.), (Catholics say was successor to Clement) had no regard for God's organization of the church and Catholics attribute to him the allotment of definite churches as tituli to the Roman presbyters, and the division of the city into seven diaconias or deaconries.

These changes to God's word were the origins of the papacy, but most would say Popery, in earnest, did not begin until after Constantine, following the edict of Milan, and the construction of Constantinople.(around 301 A.D.) There is little doubt that the true church, by this time, had been driven underground. The ensuing struggle for power between bishops introduced more corruption into the now apostate church and a defacto merge with the Roman government resulted. The Catholic church became the persecutor of the true Church. All this is noted to point out some of the things said "shortly to come to pass" could reach much farther thenthe 4th or 5th centuries.

In answer to the question "How long?", the souls underneath the alter were told that they should rest for a little while longer..."  until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed." Was this through the reign of Domitian (81-96 A.D.) or Diocletian (284-305  A.D.), as they were the principle Roman emperors who persecuted the church? 

Much is said about the use of numbers in The book of Revelation. It should be plain that prophesy uses numbers figuratively, so when we interpret the meaning of a vision with a scene of figures, numbers are also figurative. The most logical approach would be to apply the day year principle, (one day = one year) since we find it used in Daniel 9:24. Note how the same principle is used in Ezekiel 4:6 ..."And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year." There is a lot more evidence that the day year principle is used in Revelation but for now, I will point out that the 1260 day period, as used in Rev. 11:3 and 12:6 could be viewed as 1260 years. This fits very well into the woman figure flying into the wilderness for a time, and times and half a time (12:14) which 12:6 says is 1260 days, which according to the day year principle is 1260 years.

Some object to the use of the day year principle, because they believe the entire context of Revelation is pinned down to the period of Roman dominance by Dan. 7, but it should be obvious that it is not, because the last books of Revelation deal with the judgement, which is still future. The argument is that the fourth kingdom in Daniel's vision is the Roman kingdom, so the prophecy pertains only to that period. No one would argue that the fourth kingdom is the Roman kingdom, which would be "annihilated and destroyed forever" (7:26) However, let's not ignore the meaning of the horns of the beast in verses 20-25. Verse 24 says that out of the fourth kingdom ten kings would arise and another after them. This is again a clear reference to the passage of a considerable period of time and a king unlike the rest. It says he ..."shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. The reign of Constantine marked the beginning of just such a time. It might appear that the church was victorious over the Roman Empire, but in fact Satan and his forces were unleashed on Christians. The deceiver and ruler of this world merely transferred his tactics to work through the apostate church and develop a papal reign. The remnant were "wore out" by the changes of God's laws that were codified and used to persecute them. They were forced underground (into the wilderness) to worship and their numbers diminished by the relentless efforts of what became the Catholic Church, to label them as heretics and thus justify all kinds of heinous persecution. When John said in his gospel that the kingdom is "at hand", he was saying that it was soon to begin, not that it was to exist only for the period of the fourth kingdom identified in Daniel as the Roman kingdom. We know the spiritual kingdom he referred to is the church and it will end at Christ's second coming, with the judgement.

A number of occurrences relating to the decline and fall of the Roman empire (historian Edward Gibbon chronicles) fit well into the figures beginning in chapter 6.


The rider on the white horse coincides well with a period of what Gibbon calls a "happy time" for Rome... 5 emperors ruled in this period, which was characterized this way because this was a time of peace for Rome during which the empire was expanding and the economy was booming. The 5 are Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus, and Marcus Aurelius. (96-180 A.D.)  Christianity took great advantage of the break from persecution. The church grew by leaps and bounds throughout the empire. Some would argue that the self-sacrifice of the martyrs under Domitian began the fervor of Christians of that era. The rider, that many characterize as Jesus, does not fit the figure as described. Firstly, Jesus was the lamb that opened the seal, so to have Jesus both opening the seal and being the rider depicted is not likely. Secondly, the crown (Gr. stephanos) in verse 2  was more of a victory wreath or garland, than a kingly crown, as opposed to the crown (Gr. diadem) in 19:12 which most certainly is Jesus, the king of Kings. Verse 2 says a crown was given to Him. Jesus had no need of anyone giving Him the crown. He was always the king of Kings. The white horse was a symbol of victory, familiar to Christians. Titus, when he rode into Jerusalem in 70 A.D., a victorious conqueror, did so in a  chariot pulled by a team of white horses. Roman generals typically expressed their triumphs both in conquered territories and Rome with pomp and ceremony, using white horses. The rider "going out conquering and to conquer" fits well, not a single ruler but 5 emperors presiding over a period of Roman military successes. This period of success was kicked off by Nerva, though he only reigned 2 years, he was a Cretan and the Cretan symbol was the bow. Coincidence? ...maybe, but all this and the following seals mesh well into the historical record.  

The second seal presented the red horse (vs. 4), whose rider had power given to him "to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword."  Lucius Verus and Commodus ruled from 161-192. Commodus was murdered by his advisers and this started a string of murders and usurpers of the Roman rulers which lasted 92 years. Hinds says during that period, 32 emperors and 27 pretenders alternately hurled each other from the throne by incessant civil warfare. Gibbons says 30 emperors were murdered during that period. This was a huge contrast to the previous period of prosperity in the empire. The red horse was a fitting symbol of the civil warfare. They certainly took peace from the earth and the empire was brought to disgrace and ruin as they slew one another with the "great sword". 

The third seal seems to describe the result of the red horse period. The black horse with a rider holding a pair of scales is a fitting symbol of a period in which the Roman Empire nearly collapsed under the combined pressures of invasion, civil war, plague, and economic depression. Verse 6 pictures this by the shortages and inflation that comes with such conditions occurring over about a 50 year period (235-285 A.D.) The color black has long been associated with mourning. Jeremiah said, concerning a dearth;  "Judah mourneth, and the gates thereof languish; they are black unto the ground; and the cry of Jerusalem is gone up". The balance represents quantity or justice. In this case, it represents shortages caused by inadequate supply of staple commodities, all the product of internal strife and fighting wars on numerous fronts. 

The fourth horse comes forth with a rider we don't have to figure out. It is death. Hades is following him. This result would be what we would expect from the black horse period. The Roman/Parthian wars were off and on for centuries, but the period from 165 to 216 included repeated conflicts that brought an epidemic, possibly small pox, decimating both the Parthian and Roman armies. The Roman army was forced to withdraw from the battlefront and the last such conflict was at Nisibis. (217 A.D.) However, the Roman armies did not get a break. Parthia was conquered by Persian armies (Sassinids) and then became even a greater foe of the Roman empire. There were also growing incursions from the tribes of Germania.  The reign of Severus Alexander (who was friendly to Christians... 222-235 A.D.) was characterized by a significant breakdown of military discipline.  In 223, the Praetorian Guard murdered their prefect, Ulpian,  in Alexander's presence and despite the emperor's pleas.  The soldiers then fought a three-day battle against the populace of Rome, and this battle ended after several parts of the city were set on fire. In A.D. 234, Goths and other barbarians crossed the Rhine and Danube in hordes that even caused panic at the gates of Rome. Severus Alexander was murdered and this was the beginning of the chaotic period known as the Crisis of the Third Century, which brought the empire to near collapse. A number of important provinces seceded during the reigns of Maximinus, Valerian and Gallienus. The chaos and death of this period fits well in this part of the verse..."And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. Gibbon says a long and general famine, along with incessant wars brought confusion and calamity to the empire.  During some time, 5000 persons died daily in Rome. 

How did this effect the church?...While fighting the Persians, Valerian sent two letters to the Senate ordering that firm steps be taken against Christians. The first, sent in 257, commanded Christian clergy to perform sacrifices to the Roman gods or face banishment. The second, the following year, ordered the execution of Christian leaders. It also required Christian senators and equites to perform acts of worship to the Roman gods or lose their titles and property, and directed that they be executed if they continued to refuse. It also decreed that Roman matrons who would not apostatize should lose their property and be banished, and that civil servants and members of the Imperial household who would not worship the Roman gods, should be reduced to slavery and sent to work on the Imperial estates. This indicates that Christians were well-established at that time, some in very high positions. When his son, Gallienus became emperor, he rescinded the order. (260 A.D.)

These pressures against the Roman empire from multiple directions were distractions that allowed considerable growth to the kingdom.

It is important that we understand that the visions John saw were in heaven. They were figurative representatives of something. They are not literal.  The angels holding back the winds pretty plainly represents a particular period of time, during which the saints are sealed. We are not told how long. The main point is that God was not ready to exact His judgement on Rome. This may have been an interlude in the invasions by the northern hordes, but for what reason? Was this to save the church from the barbarians, who were not known for sparing the temples of the Gods of their adversaries? 

There was among professed Christians, a lot of worldliness, and lust for power. Paul tells us the seeds of apostasy were being sown in his day... For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. (2nd Thess. 2:7)  Gal. 1:6..."I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:" Early church fathers and historians wrote matter-of-factly of practices no where authorized in scripture, indicating that no sooner were the apostles in their graves, did deviations present themselves in practice. Tertullian, Ignatius, and Irenaeus, could be plainly shown to teach the unscriptural doctrines and dogmas of Popery. This is one of the reasons we can't accept a single doctrine upon the mere authority of tradition. In Justin Martyr's time, within fifty years of the apostolic age, the cup was mixed with water, and a portion of the elements sent to the absent. The Lord's supper was given to infants. The custom of praying for the dead, Tertullian states, was common in the second century, and became the universal practice of the following ages; so that it came in the fourth century to be reckoned a kind of heresy to deny the efficacy of it. By this time the invocation of saints, the superstitious use of images, the sign of the cross, and consecrated oil, became established practices, and pretended miracles were confidently adduced as proof of their supposed efficacy.

So many problems plagued the church that a purging was being accomplished. The time and circumstances were right for true Christians to emerge from the apostate church. The growth of the church surpassed everybody's expectations. This was looked upon, by the apostate church, as a sign of God's favor. Of course, we know today that growth in numbers is not always the mark of a sound church. The remnant of the true church went into hiding. 

The image below is of a statue of Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. In it you can see Loyola holding the Jesuit Constitution while trampling underfoot a Christian holding a Bible. And this statue resides at the Vatican TODAY! Towards the end of the second century Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, saw the dangers of numerous opinions developing. He attempted to establish an orthodox body of teaching. He wrote a five volume work against heresies, and it was he who compiled a cannon of the New Testament. He also claimed that there was only one proper Church, outside of which there could be no salvation. Other Christians were heretics and should be expelled, and if possible destroyed. The first Christian Emperor agreed. Gibbon summarises the edict which announced the destruction of various heretics:
After a preamble filled with passion and reproach, Constantine absolutely prohibits the assemblies of the heretics and confiscates their public property to the use either of the revenue or of the catholic church. The sects against whom the Imperial severity was directed appear to have been the adherents of Paul of Samosata; the Montanists of Phrygia, who maintained an enthusiastic succession of prophesy; the Novatians, who sternly rejected the temporal efficacy of repentance; the Marcionites and Valentinians, under whose leading banners the various Gnostics of Asia and Egypt had insensibly rallied; and perhaps the Manichæans who had recently imported from Persia a more artful composition of oriental and Christian theology. Theodosuis 1 laid down a new law in 380 A.D.... We command that those persons who follow this rule shall embrace the name of Catholic Christians. The rest, however, whom we adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of our own initiative, which we shall assume in accordance with divine judgement. 

The real truth about the objectives of the Catholic hierarchy may not be recorded by any of them, but what we know is the Roman methods of torture were adopted for the purposes of the Church in order to ensure uniformity. Already, in AD 385, the first recorded executions for heresy had been carried out under Emperor Maximus at the request of Spanish bishops. Priscillian, Bishop of Ávila, had been charged with witchcraft.  In the middle of the fifth century Pope Leo the Great, commended the Emperor for torturing and executing heretics on behalf of the Church.
In theory heresy was the denial of some essential Christian doctrine, publicly and obstinately . In practice any deviation from the currently orthodox line could be judged heretical. By the fifth century there were over a hundred active statutes in the Empire concerning heresy. From  Augustine onward, for well over a thousand years, virtually all Christian theologians agreed that heretics should be persecuted, and most agreed that they should be killed. The murder of Christians by the Catholic church continued until in 1826, a schoolmaster was hanged in Spain  for heresy. His heresy had been to substitute the words 'Praise be to God' in place of 'Ave Maria' in school prayers. These atrocities committed by the Catholic church and the Roman government combined, stopped the growth of the true church.

John Wycliffe was the first to translate the whole Bible into English in 1382.  Wycliffe's Bibles were painstakingly reproduced by hand.  Wycliffe was posthumously condemned by Arundel, the archbishop of Canterbury, as "that pestilent wretch of damnable heresy who invented a new translation of the scriptures in his mother tongue." By the decree of the Council of Constance, more that 40 years after his death, Wycliffe's bones were exhumed and publicly burned and the ashes were thrown into the Swift river.

William Tyndale completed a translation of the New Testament from the Greek in 1525, which church authorities in England tried their best to confiscate and burn. After issuing a revised edition in 1535, he was arrested, spent over a year in jail, and was then strangled and burned at the stake near Brussels in October 6th, 1536. The Coverdale (1535), Geneva (1557) and King James, (1559) followed and became affordable to the common man. Try as they would, the Catholic Church was unable to stop the flow of God's word. Responding to the increasing flood of Protestant Bibles in English, the very first complete Bible in English to be produced by the Catholic Church was the Douay Rheims, a translation from the Latin Vulgate, which was finally completed in the early 17th century.

The catalyst for reformation was the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg. The first book he printed was the Bible around 1448.

Even though Catholicism spread all over the civilized world and alliances were made with governments to rule jointly, the free flow of information raised the literacy level of mankind and the Catholic Church began to lose ground to reformers. For some reason, God has let the Catholic Church off easy and brought the once great Roman Empire to ruin.  Edward Gibbon dated the Fall to September 4, A.D. 476 when a so-called barbarian named Odoacer (a Germanic leader in the Roman army), deposed the last western Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus. There was still one Roman emperor, Zeno, (part of what was called the Byzantine Empire) who lived in Constantinople.  Some see the rise of Christianity as putting an end to the Romans; those who disagree with that find the rise of Islam a more fitting bookend to the end of the empire—but that would put the Fall of Rome at Constantinople in 1453!

The ninth chapter of Revelation describes in detail an invading horde of tremendous proportions. (200 million) The vivid picture John describes to his readers is difficult to match up with any of Rome's invaders, except possibly the Muslims.  It is important that plain statements, prophesy and historical fact should be used in our understanding of Revelation's figures. In Revelation 16:17, following the bowls of wrath, the statement is made that "it is done". Was this saying the beast of Roman emperor rule was ended?  Let's back up to 14:8 where it is stated that "Babylon is fallen" and 18:2 where the same figure is used. Does this mean that Rome is destroyed? If so, when did that occur? The great empire of Rome was divided, fought over and greatly diminished, and clearly we can see God's wrath being poured out on her, with internal strife and invading forces, but we can also see new life breathed into her reign following Constantine. She even survived the Muslim invasion in 846 A. D.. Pope Gregory VII, about 1075 A. D., created a papal monarchy with moral authority over the “temporal sword” (secular state) and rule over the clergy. He urged Catholic princes to recover lands from Muslims in Spain. It could be said the crusades had their origin with his "bulls". No historian places the fall of Rome in the first two or three centuries, Our understanding of Revelation's figures needs to be consistent with fact and if it calls for Rome's destruction in that time frame, we need to re-examine our understanding of those figures. At least, one question we should ask ourselves is...Do we leave the greatest persecutors of the Lord's church (the papacy) out of the running as key to understanding the figures used through out the book? It seems inconceivable that this book, which should be inspirational for all time would be applied to just a few centuries, for this reason and others already discussed. The crimes of the Catholic hierarchy lasted over a thousand years and were largely responsible for casting the world into the dark ages. It could be said that Gutenberg brought us out of that dark time, but it was probably no accident that the Bible was the first work of that marvelous machine.  It was the access to truth that brought about the Reformation and ultimately, the Restoration movement.

It can be said that no greater event in recorded history effected the church more than the truth being made available to all mankind and man finally being able to exercise his God-given right of volition. The Bible shed light on Catholicism and stripped that organization of it's power, though today the Catholic church still captures the minds of those who depend on it's leaders to tell them what to believe about it. 

Though some believe Revelation applies to the destruction of the Roman kingdom only (during emperor rule), It also makes good sense and fits the longer application of God's word, to plug the figures and links to both old and new testament referencesinto a much longer time frame. 

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