This article was written by Brother Islip Collyer in 1921 for the ‘interested friend’ and formed a chapter in his book Vox Dei, ‘The Voice of God’. It is, however, a clear statement of our traditional exposition of this most important section of the Prophetic Word. Brother Collyer’s concluding paragraph in the chapter may be helpful to explain the background and style of his writing: “We will endeavour to present in condensed and simple form the main features of the apocalyptic forecast as it has been expounded by the genuine students of all ages, and we will test the expositions of two centuries ago in the light of recent history. The subject is most distasteful, even to the majority of religious people. So are the dreadful facts of modern history and everyday experience. We are bound to face the facts of life, however. Will you try to be impartial and with judicial eyes look at the facts of Revelation?” A perusal of this outline of the apocalypse would doubtless be useful to us as well. From the introduction to the book we learn the following facts about our brother: “Islip Collyer was born in 1876, and from an early age was familiar with Christadelphians and their Faith. From the time that he was baptised he became an indefatigable speaker and writer on all aspects of Bible teaching, and until his death in 1953 was one of our best loved and most respected exponents of the Word. By nature he was gentle and peace-loving, and his activities were ever directed to building up, and never to breaking down”.
With this background, then, the following extract unequivocally presents the fundamental basis of interpretation of the Revelation in harmony with “the more sure word of prophecy” which is such an integral and vital part of our faith.

  The devoted student of the Bible is sometimes rather suspicious of those who complain that the book of Revelation is too obscure for anyone to understand it. He cannot resist the conviction that the real difficulty is not that the last message of the Bible is painfully obscure, but that in its main features it is painfully plain. He does not marvel at the efforts at one time made to expurgate it from the canon of Scripture. He regards the preservation of the book as one of the greatest miracles of history, indicating that Providence has sometimes overruled in the councils of men.

We have heard it said that there are three schools of thought in the interpretation of this prophecy. First, that it is progressive, forecasting the develop­ment of history from the time the Revelation was given to the end of the kingdom of men. Second, that it all relates to the past in connection either with the destruction of Jerusalem or the overthrow of paganism. Third, that it is still all future.

In the same way it might be affirmed that there are three schools of thought in astronomical sci­ence… There are many earnest students of Scripture who would regard this as a fair analogy. The man who quotes the alternative theories of exposition as an excuse for not attempting to understand the Apocalypse, seems to them as unreasonable and puerile as the repudiator of astronomical postulates  seems to the scientist.

In all such matters there will always be men who scorn to follow the beaten track made by the patient labours of those who have preceded them. They desire to elaborate a theory entirely their own.

The only genuine plan, either in science or in the exposition of prophecy, is for the student to learn all he can from those who have preceded him, to “prove all things, and hold fast that which is good.” He must test the conclusions of his mentors and only reject them after a humble and careful examination. It is agreed by all such students that in the book of Revelation the future was revealed to the Apostle John by means of signs and symbols. It is agreed that the seals, the trumpets and the vials span the entire period from the time of the vision to the end of the kingdom of men.

It is agreed that the millennium or thousand years’ reign of Christ on earth, instead of being a doctrine peculiar to the book of Revelation, as some theologians have represented, is simply a more de­tailed explanation of the kingdom of God foretold by Daniel and all the prophets, and preached by Christ and his disciples as the very basis of their glad tidings.

This last point is perhaps the most important of all. Wherever there has been an understanding of the reality of the kingdom of God promised by the prophets of both Old and New Testament, there has been a growing appreciation of the book of Revela­tion and an understanding of its message. To the simple follower of the early disciples of Christ it seems certain that the general indifference to the book of Revelation in the religious world today is almost wholly due to the fact that the doctrine of the personal reign of Christ has been so largely discarded. And conversely the original repudiation of this doctrine was due to a failure to understand the book of Revelation, a failure which may have been excusable in those early days, but which is absolutely unpardonable now.

Every student knows that a belief in the reality of the Kingdom of God to be established on earth was universal among the early disciples of Christ. Gradually it came to be discarded. The “spiritualis­ing” method of interpreting prophecy grew in favour. Some of the most “talented” of theologians put forth the theory that the Church was the Kingdom, and that through the Church Christ had begun his reign on earth.

What was the real reason of this change? It seems to us that there is a tremendously strong argument in support of the view that it was the natural outcome of a great triumph and a crushing disappointment. During the first three centuries of the Christian era there was already a marked falling away from the “simplicity that was in Christ”. Some of the ecclesiastical leaders put forth claims and manifested qualities far removed from the days when even the great Apostle to the Gentiles was only “our beloved brother Paul”. In the third century came the terrible persecution under Diocletian. For a time proud prelates and humble disciples of Christ alike suffered tribula­tion. Then, not long after, what a mighty change, with the greatest political earthquake history has yet recorded! Constantine embraced Christianity, and convinced all but the most thorough of Christ’s followers that the time had come for them to take the sword. He led them with rare military genius, and the dragon of paganism was overthrown. It was natural that such a triumph, following a period of subjection and persecution, should produce the belief that the kingdom of God had come at last. In the first blush of success the deliverance from ignominy and constant danger would seem like the restoration of Paradise, with Christ very near if not actually visible. Doubtless the Christians had many ignoble associates, faithless and grasping. Possi­bly there were some at the opposite extreme who, through constant study of the Scriptures, knew that the rejoicing of their fellows was only the mistaken triumph predicted in Rev. 12, and that the worse judgments were yet to come. It is certain, however, that there were very many who honestly believed that the promised kingdom had been established and that before long all its blessings would be manifest.

The crushing disappointment soon followed. There were quarrels between the immediate succes­sors of Constantine. There was an attempt to restore paganism. Before many years had passed away, barbarians swept down from the north, putting an end to the Christian hope of peaceful dominion. Goths, Vandals and Huns successively invaded the western third of the Roman empire. Christians were slain, women were violated; churches were broken down. There was such wanton destruction of all that the civilised world venerated that two of these barbarous races have furnished us with words of reproach that are in common use today. A savage destruction of works of art we describe as vandal­ism. We have applied the name Hun to stigmatise a barbarism too bad for any ordinary word.

It was after this disappointment, this dashing of Christian hopes, that the doctrine of a merely spir­itual kingdom gained ground. Is it not reasonable to conclude that this was merely an illustration of cause and effect ?

To the student who follows the great exponents of the book of Revelation, the error of those who followed Constantine is glaringly apparent. The great change from paganism to a nominal form of Christianity was the great earthquake of the sixth seal. The jubilation of Christians exalted to the political heavens was predicted. After this were to follow the terrible woes of the seven trumpets, and the seven last vials of the wrath of God.

When the student accepts this starting point, he can trace the book of Revelation in history stage by stage. It has not only thrown a wonderful light on past events. It has enabled some of the great exponents to foretell the future in such a manner and with such consecutive order as to forbid the thought that it is mere coincidence.

We emphasise this last point very strongly. When we fit the symbols of the prophecy to the events of the past, critics may accuse us of mould­ing a doubtful form of language to suit the accom­plished fact. When we are able to show that the same interpretation was made by former students centuries before the events, even those who are least inclined to believe are bound to recognise that they are presented with a direct and arresting challenge.