What caused our brethren since the mid 1850’s until today to conclude that the symbology of the Book of Revelation should be applied to relevant historical events that would occur up until the return of Jesus Christ? What caused them to interpret the various symbols the way they did? What caused them to conclude which historical events were to be applied to the symbology? What caused them to see the events as a series of sequential historical events that would cover a period from John’s time on Patmos until the second coming of Christ?

The basis of their approach came from understanding the way in which key Old Testament prophecies were structured and fulfilled. They recognised that the sweep of empires predicted in Daniel 2 and 7 were predictions that covered centuries leading up to the return of Christ; so when Paul spoke of the “man of sin” in 2 Thessalonians 2 and John spoke of the rise and fall of powers in Revelation they realised that both predictions had to be compatible with this overall scheme.

Once this broad pattern was understood, it was then necessary for them to find the starting point for each New Testament prophecy. They discovered that Paul’s predictions of apostasy in 2 Thessalonians 2 commenced in his day. They knew, too, that John’s words related to “things which must shortly come to pass”; hence they deduced that the starting point had to commence in the days when Rome dominated the political scene—the time of the fourth beast system of Daniel 7.

To remain compatible with Daniel, the visions of the book of Revelation have to cover events that would lead up to the return of Christ. The seals, trumpets, and vials would focus on filling in the details which were not revealed to Daniel and had to be compatible with the development of apostasy mentioned by Paul.

The evidence pointing to John writing the Apocalypse around the end of the first century AD has been well documented and this effectively rules out any of the visions applying to the event of AD70. Indeed, enough had been outlined in Deuteronomy 28, Daniel 9, the Olivet prophecy and the Lord’s own parables about AD70 so that no further information was really needed.

The starting point for the Apocalypse became quite clear to them. It had to be soon after John wrote, around the turn of the first century AD.

Times of the Gentiles

The compression of the seals, trumpets, and vials into a brief 31/2 year future period, as suggested by some brethren, leaves believers in the dark for 1900 years and contravenes the Divine methodology relating to the purpose of prophecy. God has mandated that He will reveal elements of His secret purpose to His servants the prophets before those key events occur (Amos 3:7).

The idea that the apocalyptic symbols can have a double application—one to history and the other to the future—is also contradictory to the outline and structure of Revelation. Seals, vials and trumpets are all leading up to a single crisis—the return of Christ and the destruction of the enemy. This event cannot occur twice.

One criticism made against the continuous historical method of interpretation is that it does not seem to allow for any application to the Jewish people while in dispersion. The reason for this is that such matters are exhaustively covered in the Old Testament Scriptures and are not relevant to the “times of the gentiles” as far as the impact on the salvation of man is concerned. Could the Lord in the book of Revelation add anything about the Jews that is not apparent in the Old Testament? The answer is no!

So the focus of the Apocalypse is on the times of the gentiles and approaching the symbols of Revelation from this perspective was seen by our earlier brethren as both logical and Scripturally sustainable.

With this foundation in mind they examined the significance behind the symbols (there are some 285 Old Testament quotations) to determine whether they described political upheavals, famine, revolution, assassination, war, death and glory of the true believers etc. They then compared the key attributes of each symbol with the unfolding drama of historical events. They discovered that the match between the two was overwhelming. Many of the symbols demonstrated a remarkable fitness with the history they were describing.

To determine which nations were involved and what historical events were to be covered they were guided by the following premises:

1 The interpretation must cover the system of apostasy referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2

2 The interpretation must be consistent with the book of Daniel

3 The seals, trumpets and vials must be understood as sequential events in the life of the Roman fourth beast system.

This led to the following conclusions:

1 It must cover the history of the Roman fourth beast system

2 It must cover those who support the Roman fourth beast system

3 It must have reference to those who actively or passively oppose the Roman fourth beast system.

They discovered that the continuous historical approach was completely compatible with these conclusions.

2 Thessalonians 2

2 Thessalonians 2 speaks of an apostasy which already existed in the first century and which would still be in existence when Christ returned. Christ’s response to this system is devastating. As we have seen in this feature series, the man of sin would be religious in nature and would have the audacity to call himself God on earth. Historically only one system meets this description, and that is the Papacy.

Since this person (or system) is to be consumed and destroyed only after the Lord returns, it must exist throughout the times of the gentiles, times which commenced in the first century and remain until today. 2 Thessalonians 2:13–17 encourages us not to be deceived or adhere to such a system, but to be thankful for what we have in the gospel and the everlasting consolation it contains.

2 Thessalonians 2:3 refers to the “man of sin” (singular). How then can we refer this to a system? It is not unusual in scriptural language for many believers to be called a body, or for a king to represent a kingdom (Dan 7:17).

Links between the Man of Sin and the Papacy

There are clear links between the iniquitous system of 2 Thessalonians 2 and the Catholic beast of Revelation.

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These links are clear enough to establish that the identity of the man of sin finds its fulfillment somewhere in the fourth beast system—specifically in the Papacy.

Significance of Daniel’s Prophecies in  Revelation

The book of Daniel is referred to over 50 times in the book of Revelation and half of these allusions are from Daniel 7. The similarity of aspects of the fourth beast system to those beasts in Revelation is unmistakable. This indicates that the book of Daniel is an important basis for understanding the book of Revelation.

Fourth Beast System                          Christ and Saints

verses 7,8                                              verses 9,10

verses 11,12                                          verses l3,14

verse 17                                                  vese l8

verses 19–21                                         verse 22

vereses 23–25                                       veses26, 27

Interestingly enough, Daniel 7 intersperses comments about the Roman fourth beast system with the work of Christ and the saints.

This is the identical pattern which the Apocalypse adopts—historical expositions interspersed with visions of the future.

Daniel 2 paints the overview of the changing fortunes of the kingdom of men from Babylon to Rome and spells out its final removal. Daniel 7 takes the same line but expands on the evil of the fourth power. The book of Revelation focuses on the same kingdom of men by briefly acknowledging its origins in Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece (Rev 13:1) and then concentrating on the details relating to the fourth power—that of Rome.

Just as empires change, so do the various details of the various beasts change. The Roman fourth beast system does not remain the same over the 2,000 years. Hence the symbology changes to consistently portray different political and religious phases.

Historically the Roman system developed as follows:

Paganism—belief in many gods

Christianisation of the whole empire—absorption of paganism and Christianity into the political and religious world. The superiority of the bishop of Rome in the religious world begins

Collapse—the western part of the empire was broken up by barbarian invasions. The eastern part of the empire was later removed by Islamic forces

Authoritarianism—Papal Rome gains the ascendancy—the Pope claims to represent Christ on earth

Reformation—backlash against the Church resulting in numerous religious wars

Revolution—staggering changes occur in the west as a result of the French revolution and the scourge of Napoleon

Dissolution—the eastern part of the empire is broken up into independent nations

Consolidation—in the west Catholic Europe and the papacy start to rebuild the ancient relationships of the Holy Roman Empire.

For each of these distinctive phases the record has provided peculiarly appropriate symbols. It is the same fourth beast power that Daniel saw, but in different colours, subject to varying judgments. This is why there is an underlying unity in the use of certain symbols to ensure that we understand the progressive continuity of events that are outworking at any one time. Such a method allowed believers and expositors down through the ages to recognise where they stood in relation to the state of the empire they lived under.

Furthermore because the book of Revelation uses ordinal numbers (1,2,3 etc), as does Daniel 7, the events described in detail can be considered sequential. There is nothing arbitrary about the arrangement of the symbols.

Hence the seals covered the fourth beast system from John’s time until Constantine when Christianity replaced Paganism as the state religion.

The first four trumpets cover God’s judgment upon the fourth beast system in the West. God uses nations around Rome to exert His judgment upon the empire. The western part, however, remained Christian”.

The power of the fourth beast system was effectively curtailed in the east by Islamic (Muslim) adherents and then the Turks, and that situation remains true today. This was the work of the fifth and sixth trumpets.

The seventh trumpet introduced the Vial judgments upon the whole empire. The first five related to the western part of the empire and the sixth upon both east and west. They covered the twists and turns of life in Europe from the French Revolution to the removal of the Holy Roman Empire by Napoleon.

We are now living in this sixth vial period—a time when the eastern part of the empire, including the Middle East, has been radically restructured and when we are witnessing profound social and religious changes emanating from Europe, drawing all men towards Armageddon.

All of this provides a logical and satisfying picture of world events. It makes sense of the morass of political upheavals over the last 1900 years of history. It provides comfort to those believers who suffered immensely under the persecution of the Papacy, knowing the reward God was offering them for their steadfastness. It offers us insight about the influences that are tearing our world apart, and it warns us to watch and keep our garments. It encourages us with the fact that our generation will see the return of our Lord from heaven.

The message is as valuable to our generation as it was to those living 300 or even 1000 years ago.

The Final Phase

In this context of the impending return of Jesus Christ we are invited with John in Revelation 17 and 18 to come and see the judgments that God will inflict upon the great enemy of the saints. Who is this enemy? What is this power that God hates so much that He will obliterate it from existence? And what if we have misrepresented this enemy to others? It is no wonder that the record assigns a blessing upon those who can unravel the details (Rev 1:3). It is no wonder that the Lord pronounces those who can see the enemy for what it is as wise (Rev 13:18).

The final phase of the fourth beast system unveils the papacy and all her European associates as the people they really are. It might have bewitched the world with its mysteries and deception, but the Lord has shown it for what it is—ugly, debauched and full of evil. It is a system that has defied the Truth for over a millennium! It is a system that has consistently been judged by God over all this time and yet it still flourishes! And what is more disturbing is that it will continue to gain an international influence over the minds of men and women until it is finally removed once and for all by extensive fire and judgment.

Our brethren in past ages recognised this and laid a sound expositional base for us to consider and build upon. Let us not be distracted by fanciful interpretations which rob the record of its power and its warnings. Let’s see the enemy of God for what it really is and remain constant in our opposition to its influence and deceit.