The Book of Revelation - Part 2
Issue No. 171
In part one of this series we outlined the first five seals in Revelation 6 and how they were fulfilled in the time of the Roman Empire. We now come to the sixth seal, which speaks of divine judgment upon the Roman Empire, which began in 310 A.D. when Constantine became Emperor. The Empire itself did not disintegrate; rather, the new Emperor changed it into a different sort of Empire.
Constantine ended the persecutions, and formally issued the Edict of Milan in 313. It is also called the Edict of Toleration, because it was actually designed to set a policy of religious toleration throughout the Empire. From this point on, Christianity and other religions were given relative freedom of religion.
Seal 6: Judgment on Rome (310-395 A.D.)
The city of Jerusalem came under divine judgment in 70 A.D. when Jesus’ words in Matt. 22:7 were fulfilled. This event took place 40 years after John the Baptist was beheaded.
The Roman war in Judea ended with the capture of Masada at Passover of 73 A.D., precisely 40 years after Jesus’ crucifixion.
The year 313 A.D. concluded 280 years of testing and trial for the Church that had begun in 33 A.D. It is also a period of 40 Rest Years, (40 x 7) in the Age of Pentecost that began in 33 A.D.
This time, instead of Jerusalem being judged, the entire Roman Empire began to come under divine judgment.
Church property that had been confiscated in earlier persecutions was returned to the Church. Thus, he brought a measure of justice and even restitution to those who had been wronged.
It was not long before the intolerance of pagan Rome was replaced by the intolerance of the Church. The freedom to worship pagan gods came under attack as the Church became politically stronger. At the same time, the Church began to attack views that it considered to be heretical. The unity of the Church became more important than Christian love. Freedom to think outside the boundaries of the established orthodoxy of the majority of bishops was often a capital offense. Love was sacrificed upon the altar of doctrinal unity.
Thus the Church became a religion, rather than a way of life. It assumed the right of life and death over men, not to prevent injustice between neighbors, but for thinking differently. It was not long before the Church was using its power in the same way that the pagan Roman emperors had done, except in reverse. While this was, perhaps, a way of judging pagan Rome for its intolerance of the Church, it was certainly not how Jesus would have acted.
Any Christian who cannot win men by showing them the fruits and gifts of the Spirit should not use brute force as a substitute form of evangelism. The use of brute force is merely a tacit witness of an empty religion. Men must be won to Christ only by instilling in them the desire to emulate Christ as shown in His living disciples.
But instead, we began to see what would happen if God were to allow the Church to rule the world. Would the world be a better place under Christians rather than under pagan leaders? Would pagans have an overwhelming desire to emulate the character of Christian leaders?
The problem is that the Church was under a mere pentecostal anointing in a Pentecostal Age. As we showed in our book, The Laws of the Second Coming, the feast of Pentecost was a leavened feast (Lev. 23:17). The problem with leaven is that it is impossible to remove it from the dough. One can only stop its spread by the use of fire. As long as the Church was required to pass through its fiery ordeal, the leaven was held in check to some extent. But once the fires of persecution ceased, the leaven spread quickly, and many Church bishops were shown to be just carnal, ambitious sons of Adam like any other pagan.
Rev. 6:12 and 13 says,
12 And I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood. 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind.
Symbols have different meanings that depend upon their context. The sun, moon, and stars, have various meanings in different contexts. In the context of the sixth seal, however, the sun speaks of the rulers of Rome, the moon speaks of the Church rulers, and the stars speak of the overcomers.
1. The Sun
The sun is a symbol of the earthly rulers of Rome and the empire itself. This pictures Constantine’s conquest of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the end of the pagan gods, particularly the god of the sun. It is of interest to note that Constantine himself had earlier considered himself to be under the special protection of the sun god.
Previous emperors beginning with Julius Caesar had used the title of Pontifex Maximus (Latin for “High Priest”). Constantine at first assumed that title, then later abandoned it. Constantine also threw out the heathen standards of the Roman army and substituted the Cross for them. Pagan temples were closed and heathen sacrifices banned. The great “earthquake” hit the entire political structure of the Roman Empire, and the pagan rulers fell from their positions of authority and were replaced by Christians. This was a revolution of unprecedented proportions in the history of Rome.
Next we read in Rev. 6:12 that the moon became as blood. The moon is a symbol of the Church. This phase of prophecy begins in 325 A.D. when the Church held its first Council at Nicea. The Emperor himself called for this Council in order to establish unity in the Church and in the empire in regard to the nature of God and the trinity.
It is not our purpose to discuss these doctrines here, but rather to show that this Council set a precedent in how the Church would deal with those who might deviate ever so slightly from the official decisions of the majority of bishops. Some men believed that Jesus Christ was of the same essence to the Father while some said He was of like essence. Each side seemed more than willing to spill the blood of the other side over theoretical minutiae that really made no practical difference in one’s Christian life.
In the bloody dispute over precise terminology that might define God and Christ, they only splintered all the more with the introduction of other terms that seemed more suitable. The arrogance of men thinking that their carnal minds could precisely define an infinite God is truly astounding. But that is precisely the pride of the carnal mind. And the fact that they were willing to shed blood over the use of a single word shows the fanaticism of the carnally-minded rulers of the Church.
Not a single Church Council truly met to pray about their doctrinal differences. Not a single Church Council apparently had the ability to hear God’s voice and to receive a true revelation of truth in the spirit of the prophets and apostles. They came to argue, to make deals behind the scenes, even to threaten or bribe the votes of fellow bishops. Hence, the Church came to be ruled by the mind of man, and the Church Councils established traditions of men in the same way that the Jews had done in previous centuries.
2. The Moon
And so the year 325 A.D. and the Council of Nicea marks the beginning of the time where the moon would turn to blood. The light of revelation dimmed with each new tradition of men that the Church established with the sword and the bribe.
3. The Stars of Heaven
The stars, too, fell. Among the casualties of the newly-establish Church religion were the overcomers. These were men and women who, like Christ, had no personal ambitions and did not value wealth. Overcomers seldom, if ever, became bishops, because it required too much political ambition to hold such a position.
When the Church came to be ruled by the traditions of men, anyone having a genuine revelation from God was likely to find himself differing with official Church leaders both in doctrines and methods. This was certainly the case with Jesus Himself, who was always at odds with the religious hierarchy of His day. The overcomers, in following His example, could not help but be among the “heretics” from that moment to the present day. And so the Church took the sword from pagan Rome and continued the persecutions, now in the name of Jesus Christ.
The overcomers—the stars of heaven—fell as unripe figs, for they died at an unripe age.
The “stars” of Rev. 6:13 are “the host of heaven” in Is. 34:4, where we read,
4 And all the host of heaven will wear away [Heb. mawkak, “to melt away, dwindle, dissolve”], and the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; all their hosts will also wither away as a leaf withers from the vine, or as one withers from the fig tree.
The stars in Rev. 6 fall to the earth, while Isaiah sees them melting away, or dwindling in numbers. This is mentioned again in Dan. 7:25, where the “little horn” wears down the saints. Daniel uses the Chaldean word bela, which the KJV translates as “wear out.” Strong’s Concordance tells us that it means “to afflict” and is from the root word balah, “to fail; by impl., to wear out, decay.” To wear down or decay means to diminish the size of the body or object.
Daniel tells us that this little horn (power) comes as an extension of the fourth kingdom (Rome) and succeeds in overpowering the saints for a season (Dan. 7:21). Thus, we see the Church—the new Roman power—afflicting the saints, persecuting them, and diminishing their numbers, either by forcing them to recant their views of the Word or by executing them as heretics.
4. Heavenly Revelation Closes
Rev. 6:14 says,
14 And the sky [ouranos, “heaven”] was split apart [“parted asunder”] like a scroll when it is rolled up; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.
This is not talking about literal mountains, islands, or the literal sky splitting apart. Men used to write things on scrolls until about 360 A.D., when they began to replace them with books. Heaven being rolled up as a scroll speaks of the revelation of God being rolled up like a scroll. In other words, it is like closing a book.
When men prefer the traditions of men to the revelation of God, the Spirit of Truth departs, and revelation ceases. The Church soon stopped teaching the Bible to the average Christians. In 663-4 Pope Vitalian of Rome mandated that the Church liturgy itself be spoken only in Latin, depriving more and more people from understanding anything other than to remain subservient to the Church leaders.
Any real understanding of the Word of God dropped to a very low level for more than a thousand years. The Bible became a closed book, and did not begin to reopen until Gutenberg’s use of the printing press in 1452 A.D. His first project was the Bible. This began to bring the Scriptures back to the common people. We will have more to say about this when we study Revelation 9.
5. The Figs
Rev. 6:13 compares the stars of heaven to figs being cast to the ground before they are ripe. The comparison is very appropriate. In the Bible, the fig tree is the national symbol of Judah. Jeremiah 24 divides Judah into two groups of people: a basket of good figs and a basket of bad figs. The good figs are those who submit to God, even when God pronounces judgment upon the nation. The bad figs refuse to submit, thinking God wants them to fight God’s “enemies” in order to retain their freedom.
In Jeremiah’s day God classed the majority of the people as bad figs, for they fought Babylon, instead of recognizing king Nebuchadnezzar as God’s servant (Jer. 27:6) and instrument of divine judgment for sin.
In Jesus’ day God’s servant was the Roman Empire. The majority of the Judean people again held the same view as their forefathers in Jeremiah’s day. They chafed under Roman authority, believing that it was God’s will that they be free. They wanted their freedom in order to be able to continue their empty and hypocritical worship in the temple, believing their own traditions and setting aside the divine law (Matt. 15:1-9).
The point is this: there were two fig trees portrayed as Judah. One produced fruit so rotten that it could not be eaten. The other produced fruit that was very good. John the Baptist came, prophesying that the axe was laid to the root of the tree (Matt. 3:10), because any tree that does not bring forth good fruit was to be cut down and burned.
The good figs, on the other hand, were represented by Jesus Christ and His followers. Those of this fig tree became the inheritors of the promises to Judah. Even as the evil fig tree was cut down, the good fig tree carried on the banner of Judah and became the legitimate tree of the tribe of Judah.
For this reason Paul says in Rom. 2:28 and 29 that those who possess only the physical circumcision—Jews who had rejected Jesus Christ and remained part of the evil fig tree—were NOT Jews (Judahites) at all. Likewise, those who had been circumcised in their hearts ARE Jews (that is, Judahites, of the tribe of Judah).
The early Church began as the legitimate tribe of Judah, for they were loyal followers of the King of Judah, Jesus Christ, the legal heir of King David’s throne.
When the Church was scattered by persecution into other lands, many other people of different “trees” were converted to Christ. These “branches” of other trees were cut off from their former trees and grafted into this Judah fig tree. Soon the number of foreign converts exceeded that of the genealogical Judahites, so that this fig tree began to look like a “gentile church,” bearing peaches, pears, apples, and plums, with only a few branches bearing figs. Hence, men began to think of this tree as something other than Judah. But they were mistaken.
What men call the “Church” is, in reality, the original fig tree of Judah with many other branches grafted into it. The Church, then, carries the banner of Judah. Those who remain unattached to Jesus Christ, the Root of this tree, are not true Judahites, regardless of their genealogy.
And so, when Rev. 6:13 compares the stars of heaven (the overcomers) with the figs, it is no idle comparison. The overcomers are indeed the true Jews (Judahites). They may not all be descended genealogically from the tribe of Judah, but they all derive their sustenance from Jesus Christ, the King of Judah. They are the good figs of Judah. These are the ones cast down at an early age as unripe figs. These are the ones persecuted and worn down by the little horn of Dan. 7:21-25.
6. The Kings of the Earth
The sixth seal deals with the fall of pagan Rome and the establishment of religious Christian Rome. Therefore, the judgment upon the kings and other great men of the earth at the end of Revelation 6 is referring to events that occurred in the early fourth century. Though the basic principle may be applicable to modern times, the historical fulfillment of these verses took place specifically when God brought pagan Rome into judgment.
Rev. 6:15-17 says,
15 And the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come; and who is able to stand?
This is a graphic way of describing the fear among the wealthy and powerful pagans, who were apprehensive about their own future under Constantine and the other Christian Emperors who succeeded him. Constantine had a policy of toleration, but within a century paganism itself was banned under Theodosius, who ruled from 392-395.
In 395 Theodosius banned all pagan animal sacrifices, closed the pagan temples, and prohibited pagan rites. Gibbon writes on p. 409 of his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,
“The ruin of Paganism, in the age of Theodosius, is perhaps the only example of the total extirpation of any ancient and popular superstition, and may therefore be considered as a singular event in the history of the human mind.”
Although the Roman senate still had a pagan majority, these senators saw that their political future hinged on their conversion to the religion of the Emperor. Gibbon says on page 410 that up to that time “paganism was still the constitutional religion of the senate.” But now the great families of Rome submitted to the Christian religion and concurred in the abolition of paganism. Gibbon writes on page 412,
“The hasty conversion of the senate must be attributed either to supernatural or to sordid motives; and many of these reluctant proselytes betrayed, on every favourite occasion, their secret disposition to throw aside the mask of odious dissimulation. But they were gradually fixed in the new religion, as the cause of the ancient became more hopeless . . .”
Yet another important consequence of this political earthquake was seen in the transfer of the Empire’s capital from Rome to Constantinople—a new city that Constantine built on the Black Sea at the border of Europe and Asia. Constantinople became more important than Rome itself, making it easier for the final split of the Empire in 395 A.D. The political earthquake, then, did not take place all at once, but over a period of time from 310-395 A.D. In 395 the Emperor Theodosius died, and the Empire was divided among his two sons, Honorius and Arcadius. This completed the judgment of the sixth seal.