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John is not writing in some sort of code about things which would be understood by his contemporaries. He clearly writes that the events predicted by the visions are to begin soon and are a picture of the future, unfolded sequentially.
The Opening of the Seven Seals
It is not that there are not "symbolic" words in the book of Revelation. There are, but they would be undecipherable, for a large part, until they are compared with the fulfillments of other prophecies or of these themselves. Some of these "symbol" words are defined in Daniel and Ezekiel. There are many which the book opens with and defines for you. For instance:
The one sitting on the Throne is obviously the Father.Many "sign" words are defined for us by the book itself. Other words are defined in usage in other places in the Bible or in the fulfillment of the prophecies themselves. In such places it may be suggested in context whether they are symbolic or to be taken literally. For instance:
The Lamb is Jesus.
Seven candlesticks are seven churches.
Mountains are governments or principalities;Revelation and Symbols of Future Events
Islands are nations;
Earthquakes are revolutions;
Those that dwell in the earth are the unsaved.
Those who dwell in heaven are the saved no matter their address.
Beasts are human authorities, kingdoms or empires.
Fire and brimstone are usually literal explosive destruction.
Fire is sometimes good as zeal or at times purgative punishment.
Horns are divisions of a kingdom or world power.
Stars are symbols of spiritual powers.
The sun are moon symbols of more important earthly authorities.
The dragon is Satan in human government.
Earth refers to the inhabited, civilized, world.
Earth may mean the worldly scheme in contrast to the way of Christ.
1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave to him, to show to his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified [it] by his angel to his servant John:
There are two possibilities in understanding the words "shortly come to pass." It can either mean the symbols will be fulfilled within a short span of time, which is the position of the Futurists who believe that all of the symbols predict events in the last seven years of the world's history; or it may mean that the symbols will begin to be fulfilled soon. That is, that shortly after 96 A.D. the first symbol will epitomize an epoch of world history and each of the following symbols will follow sequentially paralleling the historical periods through history, until such time as the mystery that God wishes to reveal is complete.
We believe the historical parallel approach is the correct one as will be shown in the body of this book. The Futurist view has too many obscurities in it, not the least being that the most popular way of seeing the events of the last seven years is that they are supposed to happen in the world after the church has been "raptured." If that view were correct it makes little sense to tell us, the church, about it, since we will not be here to see it!
The words "sent and signified" indicates the method of revelation. The symbols are just that -- symbols; they signify. They do not describe the events literally but they depict events with signs or symbols.
The Outline of Revelation
1:19 Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.
This verse above is the outline of the book: (1) The things which you have seen: refer to the visions of the first chapter. That is, Jesus among the candlesticks and related items. (2) The things which are: are the descriptions of the seven churches currently in John's times. They describe conditions in which churches find themselves, in every age, including John's. (3) The things which shall be hereafter: The rest of the book is preparation for, or descriptions of, prophecies that are future from John's time.
4:1 After this, I looked, and behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice that I heard was like a trumpet talking to me; which said; Come up here and I will show you things which must be hereafter.
The above verse begins the future material or actually the introduction to it. In chapter four we see the source of the revelation, i.e. the throne room of God. And in chapter five there is a description of the book of prophetic things, "that which must be hereafter," contained in the book of seven seals. Jesus is introduced as the only one able to open the book. He then proceeds to open the book. Those things predicting the future from John's time start in chapter six with the opening of the seven seals.
Revelation 6: The First 6 Seals
6:1 And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as the noise of thunder, and one of the four creatures saying, Come and see. 6:2 And I saw and behold, a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given to him; and he went forth conquering and to conquer. 6:3 And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second creature say, Come and see. 6:4 And there went out another horse, [that was] red; and power was given to him that sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given to him a great sword. 6:5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third creature saying, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. 6:6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four creatures say, A measure of wheat for a penny and three measures of barley for a penny; and [see] that you hurt not the oil and the wine. 6:7 And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth creature say, Come and see. 6:8 And I looked and behold, a pale horse; and the name of him who sat on him was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with pestilence, and with wild beasts of the earth. 6:9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held. 6:10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long O Lord, holy and true, do you not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth. 6:11 And white robes were given to every one of them, and it was said to them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brothers, who should be killed as they were should be fulfilled. 6:12 And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood. 6:13 And the stars fell to the earth, even as a fig tree casts her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. 6:14 And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 6:15 And the kings of the earth and the great men and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 6:16 And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. 6:17 For the great day of his wrath is come and who shall be able to stand?
THE INTERLUDE ASSOCIATED WITH THE SEVEN SEALS
7:1 And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. 7:2 And I saw another angel ascending from the east having the seal of the living God; and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the se 7:3 Saying, Hurt not the earth nor the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. 7:4 And I heard the number of them which were sealed, [and there were] sealed one hundred and forty four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. 7:5 Of the tribe of Judah [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad [were] sealed twelve thousand. 7:6 Of the tribe of Aser [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Napthalim [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses [were] sealed twelve thousand. 7:7 Of the tribe of Simeon [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi [were[ sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar [were] sealed twelve thousand. 7:8 Of the tribe of Zabulon [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph [were] sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin [were] sealed twelve thousand. 7:9 After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 7:10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. 7:11 And all the angels stood round about the throne and the elders and the four creatures, and fell before the throne on their faces and worshipped God, 7:12 Saying, Amen: Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, [be] to our God for ever and ever. Amen. 7:13 And one of the elders spoke, saying to me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and where did they come from? 7:14 And I said to him, Sir, you know. And he said to me, These are they who came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 7:15 Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he that sits on the throne shall dwell among them. 7:16 They shall hunger no more neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 7:17 For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and lead them to living fountains of water; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
THE FULFILLMENT OF THE SIX SEALS
Horsemen: The first four symbols are connected by using the same symbol. In the total scheme of all the symbols, this style -- making the first four in each group of seven to be connected -- continues in the trumpets and bowls. In the first of the four trumpets, blows strike, (1) one third of the land and vegetation; (2) one third of the sea and shipping; (3) one third of rivers and fountains; (4) one third of sources of light, sun, moon and stars.
Under the figures of plagues, the first four vials or bowls are likewise blows against land, sea, rivers, and the sun. In the fulfillment of these figures there would naturally be a relation of the first four symbols historically, with the possibility of some overlapping in the fulfillment. Remember then, the design of the book is that the first four symbols in each group are interrelated.
What to look for:
1. White: is a symbol of something good, the bow and crown of armored authority, and expansion of territory in conquest. So the first period of time after Domitian should be characterized historically as an unusually "good" (righteous) period associated with conquest and expansion. When we look in a secular history book the period just following Domitian should say, "something good."
2. Red: is a symbol of blood, war, fire, not of "good." Take peace from the earth indicates a total disorder. Kill one another indicates internal war, not killing the enemy, it is a figure of civil war. A great sword indicates a lot of dying in battle. So the second period of time should be characterized historically by breakdown of society, a great deal of armed conflict with many killed in civil disorders and not because of invasion of outsiders. This must follow a period of peace and "good" and expansion.
3. Black: is a symbol of darkness and despair. The scales and high prices and instructions not to waste suggest need for care because of shortages. The third period following hard on the civil disorder should be a period of famine and associated hardships. "Hard times" is the key note. 4. Pale: is a symbol of sickliness. The symbols associate closely with death, the abode of the dead (hades) as epitomizing history in the period. Twenty five percent, or the fourth part of the earth, are to die from (1) sword; (2) famine; (3) disease; (4) wild animals. So the fourth period following the previous (and probably overlapping, as death and famine are part of both) should be a period characterized by depopulation of the earth due to war, famine, disease, and wild animals.
5. Saints under the altar: refers to the dead in Christ awaiting judgment day. These have been killed because of their faith and testimony. They want to know how long before God takes vengeance indicating the day of vengeance on the persecutors. "Rest a little season until," should indicate a short interval following the last horse's period. "The time that your brothers should be killed;" when this is fulfilled it will be a period of further persecution for a short but intense period when history is epitomized by that persecution.
So, following the four horsemen (1) peace and good, (2) civil war, (3) famine, (4) depopulation, there should follow a period that is characterized by persecution. In the vision, the persecution has been going on previously, persecution in which Christians have been dying, but this last will be a climax and completion of the persecution. Many Christians will die but after a little season the persecution stops. History is to look like this in the future from John's view.
6. A great earthquake: equals complete shakeup of those things counted secure: government, religion, social order, ethics, economy; all shaken. The sun and moon are symbols of authority in human governments, the emperor, etc. The stars represent spiritual powers just as astrological charts indicate. The gods of paganism were associated with planets and stars. Heaven departing indicates the removal of spiritual powers or ethical inhibitors. No guidance from above! Mountains and islands are symbols of nations and governments. These being moved out of their places is a symbol of turnover of government, continuing the symbol of a great earthquake, that characterizes this period. The following verses (15-17) make it plain that the whole upheaval is identified with Jesus Christ and it is a day of reckoning for the enemies of the cross of Christ. It is a day that will cause his enemies to hide, disappear, flee away, and he will take vengeance.
So following the period of persecution, world history should be characterized by the world being turned upside down, the disappearance of pagan powers, while Christian ethics take their place. Government will be likewise reorganized and shaken violently at the end of which Christianity will be in a good position, as the next symbol makes clear.
The Interval of Chapter Seven.
All of chapter seven speaks of conversion. 144,000 of the nation of the Jews and then a great multitude out of every nation and language, beyond number, are brought to worship God and Christ. (Vs. 9) Verses 14 and 15 contain a description of conversion that is symbolic of the changes that most born again believers associate with their own experience. What is characterized in the whole of chapter seven is a great ingathering or gospel harvest that follows the revolutionary period just previous to it.
So the interval is a period of evangelism and expansion of the Christian gospel that should epitomize that historical period. Any one knowing the history of the world from the time of Domitian through the next few centuries will be struck with the incredible coincidence of the outline of the seer of Patmos with what actually happened.
Let us review one more time. The historical periods following the time of Domitian should follow:
1. Something good.Historical Fulfillment
2. Civil disorder, many die.
3. Hard times.
4. Depopulation by twenty five percent.
6. Revolution of religious as well as political life.
7. Interval of ingathering or expansion of Christian gospel.
1. The period immediately following Domitian introduces a century of peace called the Pax Romana or translated the Peace of Rome. The emperors of the period are known in history books as the "Five Good Emperors." Marcus Aurelius was a philosopher whose doctrines approached the ethics of Christianity. The name of emperor Antoninus Pius indicates his inclinations. This period, from 98 to 180 is also characterized by the additions of large border regions to the empire and expansion to the greatest limits ever. If God wanted to picture the period he could not have chosen a better symbol than a white horse and conquest.
2. History texts call the period from 180 to 280 the period of disorder. Eighty emperors ruled in a space of ninety years and most of them met death by violence. The post of emperor was actually bought and sold at public auction. The empire was ravaged by civil war for most of the period. Every few months a new soldier of fortune would make a claim on the title and march on Rome from distant as well as more local locations, fighting, pillaging, and burning as they approached a war weary city. The depletion of stocks, burning of countryside, disruption of markets, and farms denuded of crops took their toll and the next two figures overlap the end of this period.
3. The devastation of the wars of the previous period brought the empire the worst of famines and shortages. This period overlaps the end of the last.
4. The consequences of the preceding wars and famines created a climate for the depopulation of the earth that historians tell us characterized this period. Due to the depopulation, wild animals increased in formerly civilized areas and death from them was common enough to be placed in the histories. An outbreak of the black plague (bubonic plague) is recorded at this time. The figures of death due to sword, famine, disease, and wild animals is a perfect description of the period, which, with the last, overlaps and extends as a result of the wars to the early 300s when they were cause for what followed. The Christians were blamed!
5. From 300 to 313, "a little season," the history of the Roman empire is characterized by persecution. It is the last and most severe of the ten great persecutions against the Christian religion which were authorized by the emperors of Rome. Many thousands died, many church buildings and Bibles went to the flames. Every elder, (bishop) was arrested and killed and all other Christian leaders went into hiding or suffered death in the arenas publicly, as sport for the spectators. Diocletian resigned midway and his successor and son-in-law carried on the extremities. He it was who issued the edict of persecution. He would later admit defeat and would issue the edict of toleration which ended the OFFICIAL persecution on a world scale forever. Christians have never faced death on such a scale since. Historians all epitomize this historical period as an epoch of persecution.
6. Following the end of the persecution, Constantine the Great left York in Britain and marched against Galerius and his successors. His conquests and subsequent emperorship are characterized by turning the imperial system of Rome upside down. Rather than merely tolerating Christianity, he issued in 325 the Edict of Milan, which made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The pagan temples were closed and they were given to Christian churches; the pagan gods were swept away, not only from their pedestals but from peoples' hearts. The figures of the stars falling and heaven being rolled up could not better describe the disappearance of the old religious and ethical order and the taking of its place by the Christian religion. Imagine being paid to become a Christian when only four or five years ago your family was being torn by lions for the same faith! New government took the place of the old order; the church would play a large part in the affairs of state; and the capitol would be moved from Rome to Constantinople. There could not possibly be a better set of figures to epitomize this great, eventful period than mountains and islands moving, a great earthquake and the day of Jesus Christ's vengeance, and the shaking and disappearance of secure heavenly powers in favor of Jesus! There is much more to say about the fulfillment of these figures and while this is necessarily an outline it is extraordinary in its completeness and simplicity.
7. The period of history that follows this sequence in any history book is always characterized by the expansion of the Christian religion. The interlude of chapter seven predicts that the history of the period would be characterized in this way. The chapter headings in text books on world history that one finds after the discussions of Constantine, and the consequences to the sweeping changes wrought by him are: The Triumph of Christianity, or The Rise of the Church, or The Expansion of Christianity, or The Rise of the Christian Church. With the end of persecution and the support of the empire, Christianity became the most popular life style world wide and grew to undreamed of proportions. The difficulties that resulted from that triumphal expansion is not what is noticed here but rather that the association of the figure, of ingathering of souls, with what historians say actually happened in the world, is too accurate to be mere coincidence.
The History in a Secular Outline
It may be valuable to go over this outline one more time using Barnes and Noble's College Outline.* This is a book that was written for review for College students who want a quick review of the course of study. We begin at the year 96. I will supply the scriptural symbols and let the book outline the periods.
* Rickard, J.A., and Hyma, Albert; Ancient, Medieval, and Modern History; Published by Barnes & Noble, Inc. 1962. The material here is quoted in gleanings from pgs. 62 to 66
1. The White Horse is the good period. College Outline follows:
"Nerva (96-98). Nerva was the first of the so called "five good emperors." As a member of the senate he increased the importance of that body. (5) Trajan (98-117). This war-like ruler subdued Dacia and established a Roman colony there. He also conquered Arabia, Armenia, and Parthia, and made these regions into Roman provinces. (6) Hadrian (117-138). This emperor gave up some of Trajan's conquests, built a wall across Britain, and established a federal civil service system. He also reorganized the army by introducing morals and discipline, extended citizenship to many provincials, and encouraged learning. (7) Antoninus Pius (138-161). He improved the lot of the slave and adopted the principle that a man is innocent until proved guilty. He neglected the defence of the frontier. (8) Marcus Aurelius (161-180). He was a stoic philosopher and writer. While his Meditations approach Christianity in spirit, yet he persecuted Christians. He died while defending the frontier against barbarians."
Could this period be better epitomized than by the symbol of something good, and conquering and to conquer?
2. The Red Horse, when they kill each other with a great sword.
"So low had Rome sunk that Julianus bought the throne at public auction... Eighty emperors occupied the throne within a period of ninety years, and most of them met death by violence."
Thus the period of the next ninety years from 180-270 was a period of civil war, disorders and disruption, just as the symbol states.
3. The Black Horse or hard times. It would be difficult not to predict hard times following ninety years of civil war. This and the next symbol actually overlaps the time of the Red Horse and continues on. Thus in Barnes and Noble for this overlapping
period: "Lacking money the government paid soldiers in land, and received taxes in grain... the army through force put incompetent rulers in power... Wasteful methods of villa farming led to decreased productiveness."
4. The Pale Horse with Death as the rider and the symbols of a twenty five per cent loss of population due to war, disease, wild animals and famine. This period overlaps the last as would be obvious. Barnes and Noble say:
"The Decline of Population. Increased luxury produced a lower birth rate, while higher cost of living made for smaller families. The Asiatic Plague also caused the death of many." and on the next page: "War, slavery, plague, and unprofitable living conditions also caused a decline in population."
This absolutely incredible coincidence between the history and the symbols continues in Barnes and Noble to about 300 A.D.
5. Saints Under the Altar. This can hardly be missed as predicting a final persecution after a series of the same. This persecution started right on time from about 300 to 313. Barnes and Nobel describe Diocletian:
"The Work of Diocletian. Diocletian made Rome into an undisguised Oriental monarchy. He... assumed the role of a god-king... Finally, he engaged in the last and bitterest persecution of the Christians in Roman history."
The coincidence continues
. 6. The Earthquake, Islands, Mountains Moving and Day of Jesus' Wrath. This symbol of disruption and revolution follows the last of Persecution. Barnes and Noble describe this next period:
"Diocletian's...period...was ended by the triumph of Constantine. This Emperor (323-337) is chiefly important for two acts: the recognition of Christianity as the state religion, and the removal of the capital to Constantinople... the period as a whole is a sad story of anarchy and confusion."
Thus the six seals are paralleled in Barnes and Noble as they simply tell the story of the historical periods. The next period of the interlude of the seventh chapter indicates that what follows hard on this should be a multitude of people becoming Christians. They dip their garments in the blood of the Lamb!
The next chapter in Barnes and Noble that covers the period after Constantine from 325 to 460 is called:
"THE RISE OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH"
And it should be, because that is what the book of Revelation says should be next! This is quite an astounding review and should impress the most skeptical.
It might be possible to create one symbolic figure of an historical period and pick it out in history by mere accident. But if one says, as John did, that there will be periods of history, the first one to begin soon, the pattern of which will be identical to symbols that outline and epitomize briefly the events in the epochs to come, what would be the odds of getting seven out of seven right on the money?
The rest of the book of Revelation's symbols can be paralleled right up to the present, and an attempt can even be made of predicting the near future based on what has been gleaned. It would at least be more meaningful than a mere guess, to base your predictions on what has gone before, and then use the similar symbols to project the future.
In the light of these prophecies, anyone who would believe in some other God appears ignorant in the presence of the God of history who pre-wrote the outline in the book of Revelation.
Also in this light, if men would put aside this remarkable historical coincidence so they could follow some remote theory or obscure method of interpreting Revelation, we would look in wonder at what has to be unbelief in the proper intentions of the God who wrote the book of prewritten history. Perhaps they are ignorant through neglect, which is excusable if study would banish the ignorance. We cannot accuse the Futurists, who make great efforts to project their position, of neglect nor indecision, but we speak of others of who cloud the air with their uncertainty. To write a book and have nothing to say is not excusable, although it may mask a poor claim to scholarship, because little effort is needed to take a position of no posture, or give an indefinite application to these wonderful symbols. It takes significantly more time, thought, study, and application, to arrive at definite conclusions of what is the Truth; while it takes little or none to be a skeptic, or simply to be indefinite.
In other words, while any one can read the book, and anyone can print the book, and anyone can make unmeaningful comments on the book in the name of caution, it takes a bit more effort to show its design and tell what it means.
If you are moved to faith in this God and his book, I recommend that you obey him. You begin that obedience by placing faith, or trust, in Jesus Christ; the first act of faith is your submission to baptism, an immersion in water, into his life-giving death to effect your resurrection. This first act of obedience as the start of a life of obedience is a part of every truly repentant believer's Christian experience.
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