Continued from Part 4, Gentile and Numerical Themes.
In this section, for narrative convenience, I do not use "I think" and "perhaps" as often as my actual level of certainty calls for. As a result, I shall sound much more certain of my interpretation than I am.
The book of Revelation gives a catalog of God's judgements at three ascending levels: immediate, historical, and ultimate.
The middle four suites are interlocked: the seventh seal is the Suite of Trumps; the seventh trump is the Suite of Signs; the seventh sign is the Suite of Cups. This joins them together into a larger unit, excluding the Suites of Lamps and Visions. It also makes it difficult to interrupt chronological sequence within these four suites, as for example in that interpretation that takes the Seals, Trumps, and Cups to be three different views of the same events.
I take this set of four suites to be a spiritual history of the world from the Fall of Man to the Fall of Rome.
The Suite of Visions, structurally unconnected to the preceeding four, is a vision of the end of secular history and the beginning of the New Creation.
I arrange the dating of the four central suites around the birth of the manchild to the Woman of God in 12:5. If this is the birth of Christ and all four suites are a monotonic narrative sequence, then events before this point must be dated in the BCs and events after this point must be dated in the ADs (assuming they can be assigned dates at all and are not eternal or perennial).
The next clue is the other woman, the Scarlet Woman of chapter 17, identified as a city on seven hills, ruling over many nations. This is clearly Rome, so Rome is Babylon is the Scarlet Woman. If the Beast is a king or set of kings (17:10-12), it follows that the Beast is a Roman emperor or at least overlaps with the imperium.
(The Scarlet Woman and the Beast could, formally, be some future powers centered on Rome, or even on some other city with seven hills, but there is no reason to suppose this unless you have cause to believe the vision concerns only the remote future and not at all the pressing problems of John and his first audience. It is also formally possible that this vision refers to both ancient Rome and some other power, but there is no need to suppose this unless you have cause to believe the vision must have some future fulfillment.)
So I take the birth of the manchild in 12:5 as the birth of Christ and the fall of Babylon in chapter 18 as the fall of Rome. Here, then, is my interpretation of Revelation:
The Suite of Lamps. It opens by giving immediate judgements on the seven churches of Asia. When John moves through the door in Heaven (4:1), we leave the immediate and particular for the historical part of the vision.
Prelude of Seals: The Heavenly Throne. The scroll may hold the visions that follow, or it may hold history itself. I prefer the latter view. In that case, Christ sets in motion the events God presents to him in potential, with the service of Heaven, represented by the Four Living Creatures crying "Come!" and the teams of seven angels, all of which may be the seven spirits of God represented by the lampstand.
Quartet of Seals: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These four figures look very allegorical. One is simply named Death, another is almost named War. On that basis, I take them to be allegorical figures for Tyranny, War, Poverty, and Death. Heaven calls them down on Earth before anything else happens. I take them to be the natural consequences of human evil; Heaven not only allows them, but sends them as judgements on that evil.
Trio of Seals: The Outrage of the Saints. But human evil does not only torment itself; it torments human good. The saints beneath the bronze altar echo a cry for justice and judgement as old as Abel, and it is in answer to that cry that everything else in the vision happens. The major theme of Revelation is vengance.
First Interlude: The Israel Interlude. God's first response to the outrage of the saints is the creation of Israel. The tribes are numbered and sealed, the living temple is raised.
Prelude of Trumps: The Golden Altar. We return to Heaven, where the prayers of the saints are offered up to God as incense and thrown down to Earth as judgement, causing the trumps to begin. God has now entered into human political history, "colonizing" it with Israel. The trumps illustrate His acts in that history.
Quartet of Trumps: One Third of Destruction. The first four trumps strongly resemble the plagues of Egypt, the first nation to be an enemy of Israel. I conclude these four trumps represent the judgement on the nations for their attacks on Israel.
Trio of Trumps: The Woes of the Eagle. I take the last three trumps to be judgements on Israel for its own sins. (The locusts from the pit would then be Joel's locusts, not Egyptian locusts.) The first woe is trouble, the second woe is destruction (the monsters from the Euphrates recalling the Babylonian captivity), and the third is... Well, wait.
Second Interlude: The Jerusalem Interlude. The first interlude described the creation of Israel. This interlude describes its career. In the form of Jerusalem and the outer court, trampled under foot by the gentiles, we see Israel's disasters repeated (culminated and epitomized, perhaps, in the destruction of Jerusalem). The Two Witnesses, patterned after Moses and Elijah, are the law and the prophets, which Jerusalem rejects and kills, giving further cause of judgement. But still their works and signs cause some to give glory to God.
Seventh Trump: Heaven's Invasion. Prelude of Signs: The Opened Temple. The seventh trump, the third woe, is the Suite of Signs. Christ is born and the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of God. The signs are spiritual history from the birth of Christ to the fall of Rome.
Quartet of Signs: The Beasts of the Apocalypse. Christ is born and Satan is cast out of Heaven. In retaliation, he vents his fury on the Woman and her children; Christians (and Jews?) face persecution. In particular, Satan conjures from the nations (the sea) a great instrument of oppression (the Beast, the Roman emperors). To this he adds an instrument of deception (the False Prophet), first using them to produce the emperor-worship (worship of the Beast's living image) that led to the persecutions.
Trio of Signs: Descents from Heaven. Christ gathers the harvest of martyrs and, in retaliation to this persecution, readies the fall of Rome.
Prelude of Cups: The Song of Moses. We return to Heaven again, where, in the form of the drink offering in the liturgy of the heavenly temple, God finally turns His wrath directly against Rome.
Quartet of Cups: The Plagues of the World. Like the trumps, these strongly resemble the plagues of Egypt. An angel singles out the second and third cups, plagues of blood, as appropriate repayment for shedding the blood of the saints.
Trio of Cups: The Plagues of Babylon. These cups are specifically directed against Babylon, the kingdom of the Beast. They darken it (5th cup), open it to attack (6th cup), and destroy it (7th cup). The drying of the Euphrates by the 6th cup recalls the diversion of the Euphrates by Cyrus as part of his conquest of Babylon.
Third Interlude: The Babylon Interlude. In the vision of the Scarlet Woman on the Scarlet Beast, "Babylon" is identified as an imperial city on seven hills and so, clearly, Rome. The Scarlet Beast is a set of kings, and so the line of Roman emperors, or some subset of that line. The emperors will turn on Rome and destroy it (17:17-18).
I do not understand the political allegory of the kings represented by the Beast's heads and horns; I have not heard any interpretation that I find convincing. Here are some data I have gathered that seem relevant:
There's Nero and his career. He's a strong candidate for being the Beast, or part of it:
On the other hand, after Vespasian was firmly in place, Rome and its empire functioned largely as before for some time after that. Concerning the last two points, it's not at all sure that Nero actually
burned Rome, and, if Rome and Nero were in conflict, you could say Rome won; he fled the city, after all. So Nero could certainly contribute to the Beast's persecutions, but doesn't look like he contributes to the destruction of Rome.
- He is close in time to Revelation's original readers.
- He ordered the first big persecution of Christians (which could be said to last 3.5 years).
- The Jews started their ill-fated revolt during his reign (in which the siege of Jerusalem lasted 3.5 years).
- His name can be made to add up to 666 in Greek numerals.
- For turning on the Scarlet Woman (17:17-18), Rome burned during his reign (and he was widely rumored to have started the fire).
- After he was ousted and committed suicide, there followed the Year of Four Emperors, a period of civil war and chaos, ending in the establishment of a new imperial dynasty.
Crisis of the Third Century, a fifty-year period from 235 to 284. Roman generals quarreled over the empire, neglecting border security, and it wound up split into three domains; this could be the Beast turning on the Woman, or the three frogs and the city shattered into three pieces, in chapter 16. The Empire pulled together afterward, but it was permanently damaged, sliding toward the Dark Ages, with cities building walls, travel and trade and economy all sliding downhill, and Rome steadily losing cohesion, until eventually
deliberately split it into East and West halves.
(Diocletian is a fair candidate for being part of the Beast, too, being the one who split the Empire and the perpetrator of the greatest persecution of Christians.)
There is the
Sack of Rome, in 410. This is generally taken as the Fall of the Roman Empire and a standard mark for the end of antiquity and the start of the Dark Ages, but (1) it was only the fall of the Western Empire; the eastern, Byzantime Empire continued into the fifteenth century, and (2) both the Empire and the Goths who sacked Rome were Christians by then (as was the surviving eastern empire), which you'd think would show up in the prophecy somehow.
In none of these cases can I match the seven heads, ten horns, and so forth to history. It may depend on which generals count as emperors/"kings," whether the horns are more Roman emperors or foreign kings, and so forth.
I wonder if this Scarlet Beast is the same as the Beast summoned from the sea by Satan. The original Beast is described as like a leopard and no mention is made of a scarlet color. Perhaps the Scarlet Beast is the living image of the original, animated by the False Prophet (13:14). In that case, perhaps the original Beast is the general Satanic campaign of oppression by political power and the Scarlet Image is one particular instance of it, i.e. the Roman imperium.
For the last 1500 years, we have been between the Suite of Cups and the Suite of Visions.
Prelude of Visions: The Marriage of the Lamb. Now that we have disposed of Babylon, we leave the historical part of the vision and are back with the heavenly court, the twenty-four elders and the four Living Creatures (19:4). We turn now to the end of secular history and the last judgements, celebrated as the coming marriage of Christ and Church.
Quartet of Visions: Armageddon. Babylon fell to the kings of Earth, who acted as instruments of God's wrath. But here the Beast and the kings are allied again, now against the cavalry of Heaven itself. They are so overwhelmed, they do not even offer an interesting fight. Satan, all his instruments stripped from him, is cast into the abyss for the Millenium.
What this will look like in its fulfillment, I do not know. I presume from Christ's own prophecies in the Olivet Narratives that it will be a universal convulsion. Revelation has not really talked about Doomsday until now.
Since this is Christ's return, this is where I would place the Rapture. I would be "post-tribulationist," except that I believe the Tribulation is either 2000 years past (the persecution of the early church) or perpetual (life in this fallen world), not seven years of tumult in the future.
Trio of Visions: Kingdom Come. Christ rules, first on the old Earth and then on the New Earth. What this looks like in its fulfillment is also unknown to me. But the rule on the Old Earth is, I think the fulfillment of many of the messianic prophecies of Israel. And the mention of Earth, old or new, strongly suggest to me that, while the new creation will have unguessable surprises, it will not be wholly other or unlike the old.
The Promise. The vision ends with Christ's invocation of the Christian and the Christian's invocation of Christ: "Come quickly."
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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2011