This earthquake was the reign of Julian the Apostate, a crucial figure in the story of religion, being the last of the pagan Roman emperors. Born in Constantinople (the then capital of the Roman Empire) in AD332, Julian was noted for his power and his genius as a writer, scholar, philosopher, an outstanding military leader and a persistent enemy of Christianity. Despite his education, culture, competence and intelligence, his reign would last for just 19 months between AD361- 363 for God had other plans …

A political earthquake under the sixth seal had erupted over the Roman Empire when Julian’s uncle, Constantine the Great, brought in the new era of Christianity following his vision of the cross and subsequent victory at the battle of the Milvian Bridge (Rev 6:12). As a result of Constantine’s triumph over paganism, peace pervaded the Empire under the seventh seal from AD324 to AD337. This time period of peace was the “silence in heaven for the space of about half an hour” (Rev 8:1), a time of “preparation” for the trumpet judgments to be out-poured on Catholic Rome (Rev 8:6), and an answer to “the prayers of the saints” (Rev 8:3-4).

In Revelation 8:3-4, the angel stands at the altar with a golden censer full of incense from which the prayers of the saints ascend to God out of the angel’s hand. We take great encouragement from this verse, as we see how our lives can be bound up in the purpose of God. We can be personally involved in the outworking of God’s purpose, praying for the return of our Lord, praying for the welfare of the ecclesia and each other. It is from this altar that the angels filled their censers with fire to execute judgments on Catholic Rome. It will be from the altar of the saints’ prayers that the judgments on this world will come, something we will have the great honour to execute if we are part of that altar now (Psa 149).

Julian the Apostate’s attempt to restore the Roman Empire to paganism is the political earthquake of Revelation 8:5. In March AD363, he turned his eyes to the east (like Alexander the Great) and commenced his campaign against the Persian Sassanid Empire. His aim was to take back the Roman cities lost to the Sassanids under Constantius II. His death in this very same year marks the end of the pagan red dragon phase in the Western Roman Empire.

Set in the heart of the rugged Zagros Mountains of western Iran is the Kurdish dominated city of Kermanshah, rich in history. On its outskirts lies Tag-e Bostan, where we find a beautifully preserved 1700-year-old bas relief depicting the defeat of Julian the Apostate (26 June 363). This relief illustrates the Persian Sassanid king, Ardashir II, receiving the diadem of kingship from his predecessor and brother Shapur II. Behind him, standing on a lotus ower is the sun god, Mithra. Interestingly, Mithra was the ancient sun god of Persia, the god of light and wisdom, identified with Sol Invictus (the unconquered sun) who was born on 25 December! Mithra is seen by many as being the pagan Christ! Many of the elements of the rituals of the Catholic Church are adopted from Mithra and other pagan religions.

Just as we see Julian the Apostate prostrated dead under the feet of Ardashir and Shapur, we look forward to the time when Christ “hath put all enemies under his feet and God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:25-28).