The Book of Revelation - Part 1
Issue No. 170
The book of Revelation starts by telling us the full title of the book itself. Translated literally, it reads:
The Unveiling of Jesus Christ
The Greek word translated “revelation” is apokalupsis, for which reason men refer to it as “The Apocalypse.” This word is usually used today to refer to divinely-destructive events, because the book of revelation has practically become synonymous with disastrous events that are said to destroy the world, particularly during “the tribulation.”
But the literal meaning of the book is “The Unveiling.” It does mean “to reveal” as in “revelation,” but the more precise word picture is one of pulling aside a veil in order to reveal something hidden. What is it that is unveiled in this book? Jesus Christ. It is the unveiling of Jesus Christ, not the unveiling of disasters or tribulation or antichrist.
In general, the word apokalupsis can refer to divine revelation, such as prophecy. Paul uses the term in this way in Gal. 1:12, saying,
12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of [from] Jesus Christ.
The word indicates an unveiling of truth previously hidden from Paul until his conversion to Christ. Yet the revelation of Jesus Christ is more than just a revelation of previously-hidden truth. Real truth is a Person. John 1:1, 14 says Jesus Christ is the Word (logos) made flesh. John 17:17 says, “Thy word (logos) is truth.” So Jesus is also the Truth made flesh (John 14:6).
Therefore, the revelation of truth is the revelation of Jesus Christ. It is more than just a revelation of facts or of future things. It is an unveiling of Jesus Christ Himself and His glory. Paul says in Rom. 8:19,
19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing [apokalupsis] of the sons of God.
It is not prophetic revelation that the creation awaits. It is the unveiling of Christ in the sons of God. To unveil Christ in the sons of God means that Christ becomes visible in them or through them. Heb. 10:20 speaks of “the veil, that is, His flesh.” A veil hides the light, or the glory of Christ. The unveiling reveals that glory to the world.
The unveiling of Jesus Christ, then, is the time when His glory is made apparent to all. The light and glory that was in Jesus was hidden by the fleshly veil until the three disciples saw His glory on the mount of transfiguration (Matt. 17:1, 2). At Pentecost, the glory of God came to inhabit our bodies, having left the old temple of Solomon that was made of mere wood and stone. This is what Paul meant when he spoke of our bodies being the temples of God. He also spoke of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Christ is indeed in us, but He is yet veiled by our flesh. The unveiling will make Christ apparent to all.
Peter exhorts us, then, in 1 Pet. 1:13,
13 Therefore, gird up your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation [apokalupsis] of Jesus Christ.
Peter speaks of this as a future event. Again, Peter says in 1 Pet. 4:13,
13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation [apokalupsis] of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.
The point is that Christ even now indwells us, but He is veiled. One can only see Christ by spiritual discernment. But there is a day coming when Christ will be unveiled in the sons of God. Then the potential will be there for everyone to see Him in the sons of God. Rev. 1:7 does say that “every eye will see Him,” but it does not tell us when or how. Most assume it will be immediate, but Scripture does not say this.
I believe that at first all men will see Christ in the sons of God (overcomers). This is the purpose of “the unveiling of the sons of God” and “the unveiling of His glory.” The pattern is laid down in the Old Testament story of Moses, who came off the mount with his face glowing with the glory of God (Ex. 34:27-33). The Israelites at the base of the mount were not spiritually prepared to see the glory of God and were afraid. So Moses put a veil over his face while he talked with the people.
In the same manner also, when the sons of God come down off the “mount” of their own transfiguration, they will need to return to the people in the form of flesh once again, putting upon their faces the veil of flesh. This is the only way they would be able to manifest Christ to the people without frightening them.
Ezek. 44:15-19 pictures this as putting off the linen garments and putting on woolen garments when these priests minister to the people in the outer court (flesh realm).
The book of Revelation is a more detailed account of how this is to take place. It is the story of the unveiling of Jesus Christ, because that is the goal of history and the purpose of this book.
The Futurist Interpretation of Revelation
The futurist interpretation of the book of Revelation, which is taught in many evangelical and fundamentalist circles is a recent innovation, not having been taught until the mid-1800’s. It was popularized by Dr. Scoffield, a man of dubious character who gave himself his doctor’s degree without any higher education.
In the early 1900’s Scoffield was backed financially by a Jewish lawyer named Samuel Untermyer, who was one of the framers of the Federal Reserve Act and president of the occult Lotus Club in New York. His motive was undoubtedly political, laying the groundwork to convince Christians to blindly support the planned Jewish State.
The futurist view of Revelation changed the feast of Tabernacles into a “rapture.” The primary event of the feast of Tabernacles comes on the last great day of the feast, when the Holy Spirit is given in its fullness and the bodily change takes place in the overcomers (John 7:37-39). The futurists changed the entire concept into what they called “the rapture.”
The purpose of the feast of Tabernacles is to empower the overcomers to finish the Great Commission. Daniel says the Kingdom of God (the “stone” kingdom of Dan. 2:35) is to grow into a great mountain range that fills the whole earth. The futurist view takes believers out of the world and puts forth the Jews as the evangelists during the “tribulation.” What is most strange is that this view says that the Holy Spirit will be removed from the earth at this time. How can the work of evangelism be done without the presence of the Holy Spirit?
By this futurist view, the “rapture” is seen in Rev. 4:1, when John is told to “come up hither.” The rest of the book is then interpreted to refer to events AFTER the “rapture.” And so by the futurist interpretation, most of this book yet remains unfulfilled. They say it will be fulfilled over a seven-year period of time that is yet future.
Rev. 1:1 says that these events written in the book “must shortly come to pass.” This does not seem to fit well with the futurist interpretation that the events would have to wait nearly 2,000 years.
I propose to show that most of Revelation has already been fulfilled. I will show that the only reason men are futurists is because they are unacquainted with history. Secondly, the futurist view has tricked people into not studying the historic fulfillment of these events. The events were fulfilled in ways that they were not suspecting, even as the Messiah came in an unsuspected manner when He was born in Bethlehem.
Rev. 1:1 says about this book: “He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John.” To SIGNIFY means to give a SIGN. The Greek word used is the verb, semaino, which is derived from the noun, semeion, “a miraculous sign.” For instance, when Jesus turned the water into wine, this was said to be the first of the miraculous signs (semeion) that He did to manifest His glory (John 2:11).
In other words, the book of Revelation is a book of SIGNS. It is written in symbolic language and is not to be taken so literally. Beasts and dragons and locusts are not meant to be taken as literal creatures. They represent nations and people who act, in part, like these creatures.
And so, in our study, we will treat this revelation as real history told in symbolic terms. In this way we will see that the book unveils the history of the past 2,000 years. We have not been stuck waiting for the “rapture” of Rev. 4:1. We have seen the fulfillment of the book for many years and are now living near the time of the downfall of Babylon and the time of the first resurrection.
We have already done a complete study on the seven churches in the first few chapters of Revelation. That study is now published in our book, The Seven Churches. We could, perhaps, study chapters 4 and 5. However, our space is limited in these bulletins, so we will instead begin our study with the historical section of the book that begins with the seven seals in Revelation 6.
The Seven Seals of Revelation 6
Seal 1: The White Horse (31 B.C. - 193 A.D.)
Rev. 6:1, 2 says,
1 And I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a loud voice of thunder, “Come.” 2 And I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him; and he went out conquering and to conquer.
The rider of the white horse in Rev. 6:2 is not Jesus Christ. All four riders represent Roman leaders in Roman history. The white horse represents Rome at its height of glory, a time of unparalleled peace and prosperity in the Roman Empire. Rome came to its height of power in 31 A.D. when it defeated Egypt in the battle of Actium. In 27 B.C. the Roman Senate conferred upon Octavian the title of Augustus Caesar. Rome ceased to be a Republic and became an Empire ruled by emperors.
Roman emperors and conquering generals rode white horses in their victory parades. The rider is given a crown. The Greek word is stephanos, a laurel wreath of a conqueror, not a diadem of a king. (See also Rev. 19:11, where Jesus Christ also rides a white horse, for He is the ultimate Conqueror of the world.)
The time from 31 B.C. to 180 A.D. was the golden era of the Roman Empire. In the late 1700’s Gibbon wrote in his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, pp. 41, 42,
“During a long period of two hundred and twenty years from the establishment of this artful system [27 B.C.] to the death of Commodus [180 A.D.], the dangers inherent to a military government were, in a great measure, suspended… But Nero involved the whole empire in his ruin [He committed suicide in 68 A.D.]. In the space of eighteen months four princes [emperors] perished by the sword; and the Roman world was shaken by the fury of the contending armies. Excepting this short, though violent, eruption of military license, the two centuries from Augustus to Commodus passed away unstained with civil blood, and undisturbed by revolutions.”
And so the white horse pictures the Roman emperors as conquerors in a time of relative peace and prosperity. The death of Nero in 68 A.D., during the Judean rebellion, was the only upheaval in finding his successor.
Seal 2: The Red Horse: War (193-284 A.D.)
Rev. 6:3, 4 says,
3 And when He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come.” 4 And another, a red horse went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men should slay one another, and a great sword was given to him.
The time of relative peace and prosperity in Rome was broken in 193 A.D. by civil war and bloodshed. During this 89-year period, Rome was plunged into one civil war after another. Gibbon attributes this primarily to the time when the personal bodyguards of the emperors, the Praetorian Guard, came to see that they were more powerful than the emperors themselves. Gibbon writes of this in his book, pp. 56, 57,
“The Praetorian bands, whose licentious fury was the first symptom and cause of the decline of the Roman empire, scarcely amounted to the last-mentioned number. They derived their institution from Augustus. That crafty tyrant, sensible that laws might colour, but that arms alone could maintain, his usurped dominion, had gradually formed this powerful body of guards, in constant readiness to protect his person, to awe the senate, and either to prevent or to crush the first motions of rebellion.”
He goes on to explain how these guards had been dispersed in other nearby towns, with only a few in Rome itself. But after his death in 14 A.D., his adopted son, Tiberius became emperor. Gibbon writes of him on p. 57,
“Under the fair pretences of relieving Italy from the heavy burden of military quarters, and of introducing a stricter discipline among the guards, he assembled them at Rome in a permanent camp….
“Such formidable servants are always necessary, but often fatal, to the throne of despotism. But thus introducing the Praetorian guards as it were into the palace and the senate, the emperors taught them to perceive their own strength, and the weakness of the civil government; to view the vices of their masters with familiar contempt, and to lay aside that reverential awe which distance only and mystery can preserve towards an imaginary power.”
Most of the emperors were corrupted by luxury and power and had few morals. In their moral weakness, they were easily flattered and manipulated by the worst of men. This situation generally became worse with each new emperor. The Praetorian guards came to despise them more and more, even as they simultaneously began to understand their own military strength and potential.
The emperor Commodus (180-192 A.D.) was the worst of all the Roman emperors. Gibbon says of him on page 52,
“But every sentiment of virtue and humanity was extinct in the mind of Commodus… His hours were spent in a seraglio of three hundred beautiful women and as many boys of every rank and of every province; and wherever the arts of seduction proved ineffectual, the brutal lover had recourse to violence… and he was the first of the Roman emperors totally devoid of taste for the pleasures of the understanding…But Commodus, from his earliest infancy, discovered an aversion to whatever was rational or liberal.”
Commodus finally murdered so many people that even his favorite concubine, Marcia, became afraid for her life. She then poisoned him, but before he could die, another man strangled him.
At this point in history, the Praetorian guards lost all respect for the emperors. They insisted that anyone who would be emperor must obtain their consent, and so they became, in effect, the kingmakers. Commodus’ successor was Pertinax, who was killed by the guards (193 A.D.). Gibbon says of this incident on page 57,
“The Praetorians had violated the sanctity of the throne by the atrocious murder of Pertinax.”
The next emperor, Julian, bought his position for 6,250 drachms, outbidding his rival who had offered only 5,000. The Roman Empire thus entered into a period of civil war. In the next century, it would have 32 emperors and 27 pretenders. It was indeed a time of war and bloodshed, depicted by the Red Horse of Rev. 6:4.
Seal 3: The Black Horse: Famine (250-300 A.D.)
Rev. 6:5, 6 says,
5 And when He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come.” And I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. 6 And I heard as it were a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and the wine.”
This speaks primarily of famine caused by war.
In the days of Valerian, the emperor of Rome from 253 A.D. to his Persian captivity in 260, the eastern part of the Roman Empire was in turmoil. The Goths came across the Black Sea from the north and invaded the cities of Asia Minor and Greece. Gibbon says on p. 100, 101,
“At length the Gothic fleet anchored in the port of Piraeus, five miles distant from Athens, which had attempted to make some preparations for a vigorous defence. . . .
“A general conflagration blazed out at the same time in every district of Greece. Thebes and Argos, Corinth and Sparta, which had formerly waged such memorable wars against each other, were now unable to bring an army into the field, or even to defend their ruined fortifications.”
“The temple of Diana at Ephesus, after having risen with increasing splendour from seven repeated misfortunes, was finally burnt by the Goths in their third naval invasion.”
Soon afterward, the Persians invaded from the east, after destroying the Parthian Empire. Rome’s Emperor, Valerian, was defeated at Edessa and taken prisoner by Sapor, king of Persia. The Parthians then proceeded to plunder Asia Minor. Gibbon says of this on page 104,
“He despaired of making any permanent establishment in the empire, and sought only to leave behind him a wasted desert, whilst he transported into Persia the people and the treasures of the provinces.”
At about the same time, Rome’s bread baskets, Sicily and Alexandria (Egypt), were ravaged by civil strife. Gibbon writes on page 109 about the situation in Sicily:
“The situation [location] of Sicily preserved it from the barbarians; nor could the disarmed province have supported a usurper. The sufferings of that once flourishing and still fertile island were inflicted by baser hands. A licentious crowd of slaves and peasants reigned for a while over the plundered country, and renewed the memory of the servile wars of more ancient times. Devastations, of which the husbandman was either the victim or the accomplice, must have ruined the agriculture of Sicily…. It is not improbable that this private injury might affect the capital more deeply than all the conquests of the Goths or the Persians.”
As for Alexandria, Gibbon writes on pages 110, 111,
“After the captivity of Valerian and the insolence of his son had relaxed the authority of the laws, the Alexandrians abandoned themselves to the ungoverned rage of their passions, and their unhappy country was the theatre of a civil war, which continued (with a few short and suspicious truces) above twelve years….
“But a long and general famine was a calamity of a more serious kind. It was the inevitable consequence of rapine and oppression, which extirpated the produce of the present and the hope of future harvests. Famine is almost always followed by epidemical diseases, the effect of scanty and unwholesome food. Other causes must, however, have contributed to the furious plague which, from the year two hundred and fifty to the year two hundred and sixty-five, raged without interruption in every province, every city, and almost every family of the Roman empire. During some time five thousand persons died daily in Rome, and many towns that had escaped the hands of the barbarians were entirely depopulated…
“An exact register was kept at Alexandria of all the citizens entitled to receive the distribution of corn… it evidently proves that above half the people of Alexandria had perished; and could we venture to extend the analogy to the other provinces, we might suspect that war, pestilence, and famine had consumed, in a few years, the moiety [half] of the human species.”
The book of Revelation attributes this famine to the opening of the third seal, in which God set loose the Black Horse and its rider. The Black Horse of famine was particularly devastating from 150-165 A.D., as Gibbon recorded (above).
This Black Horse was connected to the previous Red Horse that was set loose by the opening of the second seal. These were divine judgments loosed upon the Roman Empire for the depravity of the people and their despotic rulers.
Seal 4: The Pale Horse: Death (250-265 AD)
Rev. 6:7, 8 says,
7 And when He broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” 8 And I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. And authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.
Death is the inevitable result of famine. This was a time of famine, death, and decay of the Empire. At least one-fourth of the population of the Roman Empire perished during this time from famine or famine-related causes, such as disease. Gibbon estimates that close to half of the population of the Roman Empire died of starvation in just a 15-year period! And so we date the Pale Horse era by this time of famine, from 250-265 A.D.
Gibbon seems to have been quoting Rev. 6:8 here. Whether he knew it or not, he was showing the fulfillment of the third and fourth seals in Revelation 6.
The fourth seal ends with the first significant political act of the new emperor Diocletian, after he came to power in 284. In the year 285 he divided the Roman Empire into East and West, setting the stage for its permanent division a century later. Gibbon says on page 124,
“Like Augustus, Diocletian may be considered as the founder of a new empire.
“After the example of Marcus, he gave himself a colleague in the person of Maximian, on whom he bestowed first the title of Caesar, and afterward that of Augustus.”
Later, in 292, these joint-emperors once more divided their power, each appointing a lesser general with the title of Caesar to help them defend the empire from invasions. The other two Caesars were Galerius and Constantius.
Galerius later induced Diocletian to destroy the Church, but Constantius, who was responsible for the defense of Gaul, Spain, and Britain, favored the Christians.
The division of the empire into four parts meant that there were now four royal palaces and courts to maintain, instead of just one. Gibbon writes on pages 131, 132,
“The empire was divided into four parts. . . the political union of the Roman world was gradually dissolved, and a principle of division was introduced, which, in the course of a few years, occasioned the perpetual separation of the eastern and western empires.
This division brought about a substantial increase in taxation as well in order to support the lavish courts of all four rulers. They competed with each other to portray greater pomp and luxury, and each had his own set of magistrates, ministers, and servants to fill their separate positions of government. This added to the problem of famine that we saw earlier in the time of the third seal.
Seal 5: The Great Persecution (303-313 AD)
Rev. 6:9-11 says,
9 And when he had broken the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe, and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, should be completed also.
The fifth seal points out a climactic time when the Roman government persecuted the Church. It is apparent from the complaint of the martyrs under the altar that the persecution had occurred in past years. The point of this seal is to show that there was still more persecution to take place before the persecutors were judged. We see from history that the emperor Diocletian issued an edict in 303 A.D. to destroy the Church in every part of the Roman Empire.
Diocletian became the Roman Emperor in 284 A.D. He was not a military man, but a diplomat and statesman whose parents had been slaves to a Roman senator. Up to that point, Rome had been ruled by military generals, symbolized by horses.
Even so, Diocletian was able to vanquish all his enemies in a long series of military victories. His ill health, however, finally caused him to abdicate his throne in 305—but not before he issued a fateful verdict against the Church. It is this verdict in 303 A.D. that John foresaw in his vision of the fifth seal.
Diocletian’s principal eunuchs, who governed his household and the private treasury, were devout Christians. Their names were Lucian, Dorotheus, Gorgonius, and Andrew. They enjoyed the free exercise of Christianity and also were a powerful Christian witness to Diocletian’s wife, Prisca, and to his daughter, Valeria.
Diocletian and Constantius were very tolerant toward Christians, while their two associates, Maximian and Galerius, hated Christians. After the Persian war, Galerius spent the winter with Diocletian in his palace at Nicomedia (in Asia Minor). During that time, Galerius convinced Diocletian that Christianity posed a danger and needed to be destroyed before it took up arms against him.
Thus, on Feb. 23, 303 A.D. the persecution began. Diocletian’s edict was published the next day. Everyone who refused to offer pagan sacrifices was to be burnt alive and the churches destroyed. All property of the Church was confiscated.
The intense persecution began in 303 AD and did not fully end until the reign of Constantine began in 313 AD. This time period parallels the 10 days of tribulation in the message to Smyrna in Rev. 2:10.
Diocletian’s best armies were the famed Gaulish Legions. They were Christians. Maximian, who was the co-emperor with Diocletian, ordered the execution of all the Gaulish Legions in his hatred of Christians.
Gibbon tells us on page 231,
“Diocletian had no sooner published his edicts against the Christians than, as if he had been desirous of committing to other hands the work of persecution, he divested himself of the Imperial purple. [He resigned in 305 A.D.] The character and situation of his colleagues and successors sometimes urged them to enforce, and sometimes inclined them to suspend the execution of these rigorous laws; nor can we acquire a just and distinct idea of this important period of ecclesiastical history unless we separately consider the state of Christianity, in the different parts of the empire, during the space of ten years which elapsed between the first edicts of Diocletian and the final peace of the church.”
The persecutions were formally ended by the new emperor Constantine’s edict of Milan in 313 A.D. Here the blood of the martyrs was, in a sense, avenged, for the Empire now fell into the hands of its first Christian emperor. The prayer of the martyrs in Rev. 6:10 was finally answered, at least in a political sense.
We will continue in our next bulletin with opening of the sixth seal and see how it was fulfilled in history.