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The Opening of the Seals
Summary —The Warrior on the White Horse. The Warrior with the Great Sword. The Black Horse and He that Had the Balances. The Pale Horse, Death and Hades. The Fifth Seal, the Seal of Persecution. The Sixth Seal Opened. A Period of Judgment.
The wonderful scene in heaven when the Sealed Book is given to the Lamb, pictured in the last chapter, shows the transcendent importance of the Sealed Book itself, of the act of placing it in the hands of the Lamb of God, and
of the events which be unfolded as its pages are opened. These seals are opened in succession and with the opening of each
seal John sees and records an impressive vision. No system of interpretation which does not make these represent events which
follow each other in time is reasonable. The vision following the opening of the first seal must portray a period of events nearest to the times of John,
while the seventh seal must relate to the remotest events, and when the last symbol that it contains is reached we must have
been carried to the end of time and to the consummation of the history of the church and of the fate of the world. As each
seal is opened a symbol is seen which is designed to outline the character of a new epoch.
THE FIRST SEAL.
1, 2. And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals. The statement “I saw” means that when the Lamb opened one of the seals John saw the vision which is described in what follows. As it were the noise of thunder. A deep, impressive, awe-inspiring sound. Come and see. Attend closely to the vision. 2. And I saw, and behold, a white horse. Let the reader note particularly what John saw, and then remember that it is symbolical, and that instead of looking for a literal fulfillment, we are to ask the meaning of the symbols. There are several features of the vision that fix our attention: 1. The horse. 2. His white color. 3. The armed warrior. 4. His crown. 5. His bow. 6. His mission. It is certain that none of these features would have been named if they did not possess a significance. What do each of these symbols mean? I will consider them in order: (1) The horse. He was never used by the Jews or Orientals as a beast of burden. The ox and the ass were devoted to that office, and the horse was reserved for war. Whenever the horse is mentioned by the prophets it will be found in connection with war-like employments. That the horse is always associated with war can be seen by consulting Job 29:25; Ps. 76:6; Prov. 21:31; Jer. 8:6; Ezek. 26:10. Hence this symbol points to a period of war, though it alone does not declare whether the conflict is carnal or spiritual, is triumphant or disastrous. (2) The white color. As there are three more horses in succession under the three following seals, each of different colors, the color must have a meaning. White must have a different significance from red, or black, or pale. What is indicated by the color of the first horse? White is the color of prosperity, of happiness, and triumph. Whenever a Roman General was given a triumph his chariot was drawn by milk white horses. In Rev. chapter 19, the Mighty Conqueror who wears many crowns is seen riding on a white horse. Commentators are agreed that the white horse signifies prosperous, victorious wars. (3) The rider. His significance is due to his arms, his crown, and the white horse he rides. It is enough to state here that he represents either some conqueror, or a conquering age. (4) The crown. “There was a crown given to him.” This crown is not “the diadem” (diadema) but the “garland crown” (stephanos). The last was the crown given as a reward for victory in battle, for great achievements or for victory in games. The Hero of chapter 19 wears many diadems, kingly crowns, but this rider wears the garland crown, the stephanos. It is important to note this distinction. (5) The bow. He is armed with a usual weapon of war in that age. The bow may simply signify that the rider is a great, warlike figure, or there may be a special significance in the fact that he is armed with a bow instead of a sword or spear.
The Meaning of the First Seal. —In ascertaining the meaning of a series of prophetic symbols, portraying events which follow successively, it is of great importance to interpret the first aright. A wrong start will lead astray along the whole line of interpretation. Before giving my own views I will indicate briefly those of leading commentaries concerning the significance of the White Horse and His Rider. “A symbol of Christ's victorious power.”—Godet. “A symbol of the conquering Gospel.”—Alford. “The Rider is Christ.”—Archdeacon Lee in “Speaker's Commentary.” “It is our Lord riding prosperously.”—Dr. Wm. Milligan of Aberdeen. “Christ is going forth to judgment.”—Hengstenberg. “The Rider is Christ.”—Lange. “The Roman Empire. The Persian Empire was symbolized by a ram (Dan. 8:3); the Macedonian Empire by a goat (Dan. 8:5), and here the Roman Empire by a white horse and his rider.”—Elliott. “The prosperous period of the Roman Empire extending from the Emperor Nerva to the end of the Antonines.”—Barnes.
The preponderance of interpretation is in favor of the view that the symbol signifies the conquests of Christ, either in person or through the gospel. It is with some hesitation that I dissent from the view that spiritual conflicts and victories are signified. (1) Four horses in succession follow. The latter three cannot refer to spiritual changes. If the first horseman represents a spiritual power the others cannot represent carnal powers. If they refer to events in the secular world, the meaning of the first must also be sought there. (2) It has been urged that the Rider upon the white horse in chapter 19 is the same as that of the first seal. There is nothing common but the white horse. The Rider of chapter 19 is clothed, armed and crowned differently. He wears garments sprinkled with blood, has upon his head many diadems (kingly crowns) and out of his mouth proceeds the sword of the Word of God. This warrior holds a bow and wears a garland instead of a diadem. (3) Christ appears often in Revelation, and there is always something symbolical about the manner in which he is represented. In the fifth chapter he appears under the symbol of a Lamb; and again, in chapter 14, it is the Lamb who stands in Mt. Zion. In the fourteenth verse of the same chapter, one “like the Son of Man” is seen upon a white cloud, with a sharp sickle in his hand, to indicate that the harvest time has come, when the earth shall be reaped. In chapter 1, the Son of Man is seen, radiant as the sun, with a two-edged sword proceeding out of his mouth. In chapter 19 one sat upon a white horse, who was called Faithful and True, wearing upon his head many crowns, clothed in a vesture sprinkled with blood, and out of his mouth proceeded a sharp sword, emblematic of the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The sword is constantly used as a symbol of the Word, which is Christ's instrumentality for reducing the world to his sway. The conquering Savior is constantly pictured forth with the sword proceeding out of his mouth, but never appears with a bow.
For these reasons I accept, in part at least, the view of Elliot and Barnes, and believe that a series of events affecting the fortunes of the church but immediately connected with the vast empire which embraced the whole church within its boundaries is signified. The first four seals, all kindred in their imagery, can only be satisfactorily explained by referring them to events in the history of that empire. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by the skeptical Gibbon, is the best commentary on the seals. Nor do I think that the Horsemen are to be sought in individuals, but are representative of great epochs. The First Seal must refer to the period of prosperity and triumphant war closely following John's exile to Patmos. As it has an earthly signification, it is probable that we must look for an epoch in the history of the Roman Empire, beginning near the opening of the second century. An age which meets every characteristic wonderfully is the age of prosperity and conquest beginning with the reign of Nerva, embracing that of Trajan, Adrian, and the two Antonines. This glorious period has been called The Age of the Antonines. John was an exile on Patmos in the last year of the reign of Domitian, a.d. 96. In that year the tyrant was slain. The human Nerva succeeded him upon the Roman throne. With his reign begins a new epoch, at once the most brilliant and the most prosperous in Roman history. He was the founder of a new family of Cæsars. He adopted as his son and successor, the war-like Trajan. His incessant wars were uniformly triumphant, and during his reign the Roman Empire reached its greatest dimensions. Vast as were the limits of the empire under Julius and Augustus Cæsar, the empire ruled by Trajan was much more vast. In order to show that it was an age of conquest I quote Gibbon, vol. 1, page 7: “The degenerate Parthians, broken by intestine discord, fled before his arms. He descended the river Tigris in triumph, from the mountains of Armenia to the Persian Gulf. He enjoyed the honor of being the first, as he was the last, of the Roman generals who ever navigated that remote sea. His fleets ravaged the coasts of Arabia; and Trajan vainly flattered himself that he was approaching the confines of India. Every day the astonished senate received the intelligence of new names and new nations that acknowledged his sway. They were informed that the kings of Bosphorus, Colchos, Iberia, Albania, Osrhoene, and even the Parthian monarch himself had accepted their diadems from the hands of the Emperor, etc.” This age of conquest, when the Empire reached its greatest limits both in Asia and Europe, was also an age of prosperity. Gibbon (Vol. I., page 95) declares that “If a man was called upon to fix the period in history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most prosperous and happy, he would without hesitation name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus.”
We have found that the symbols are strikingly fulfilled in the epoch of Roman history, known as the age of Trajan, or of the
Antonines, beginning with the reign of Nerva. 1. It began immediately after John wrote. 2. It was a period of prosperity.
3. It was the period of the mightiest extent of Roman power. 4. It furnished one of the mightiest conquerors of the Roman
name. 5. He was entitled to wear the garland of victory. 6. This fulfillment is within the scope of prophecy, which embraces the Roman Empire. 7. I might add also that the bow itself may have a special significance. Before
this age the emperors were all of Roman stock, and until the death of Nero were of the line of Julius Cæsar. Nerva, the founder
of a new line of six Cæsars, was of Greek descent, and is said to have been of Cretan stock. The Cretans were a race of bowmen,
the most famous of the ancient world. Some have seen this pointed out in the bow.
THE SECOND SEAL.
3, 4. And there went out another horse that was red. The second living creature said, Come and see, and immediately the first vision is replaced by a second, or a startling character. There appears in the field of view a second horse, no longer white, but as red as blood. Upon the horse sat one with a great sword in his hand, to whom “was given power to take peace from the earth, and to make men that they should slay one another.” The horse is the symbol of war, but the changed color indicates that the conditions of war are entirely changed. It is no longer triumphant war in the dominions of their enemies, while within all is peace, but the land is drenched in blood. During the period of the first seal the fertile provinces of the Roman Empire never saw the face of a hostile soldier, unless borne as a captive from the distant frontiers, where the Roman generals waged triumphant wars in the countries of their enemies. All was peace within. But now a period of internal war is indicated. The “earth” contemplated by John was the Roman earth, or empire. From it peace shall be taken away. Nor is it to be destroyed by foreign invaders. “They are to kill one another.” In as plain language as symbolism can disclose, it is indicated that the next great feature of history is that the land shall be torn by civil war.
The Fulfillment. —The next period is marked in the history of man by the most prolonged and sanguinary civil commotion that history records.
“Peace was taken from the earth” for ninety-two years. During this long period of nearly a century, the Roman Empire, that
portion of the “earth” which was the seat of civilization and of the Christian religion, was constantly torn by bloody contests
between rival competitors for power. The history of this epoch is epitomized by Sismondi in the following language: “With
Commodus commenced the third and most calamitous period. It lasted ninety-two years, from 192 to 284. During that period thirty-two
emperors, and twenty-seven pretenders alternately hurled each other from the throne by incessant civil warfare. Ninety-two years of almost incessant civil warfare taught the world on what a frail foundation the virtue of the Antonines had placed the felicity of the empire.”—Sismondi's Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I., page 36. A full history of this dark and unhappy period is also given in the first volume of Gibbon. During the
ninety-two years there were thirty-four emperors, besides nineteen pretenders, known as tyrants. Of these all but two died violent deaths. What could more strikingly represent such a period of civil contention, of incessant warfare, of fratricidal bloodshed, than
the red horse and its rider, “to whom was given a great sword, and the power to take away peace, that men should kill one another?”
I suppose that no such prolonged and terrible period of civil warfare can be pointed out in the history of the world, and
there is certainly a wonderful correspondence between the vision and the events of history.
THE THIRD SEAL.
5, 6. And I beheld, and lo a black horse, etc. Again there appear a horse and a rider. Again the color of the horse is changed, as well as the instrument held in the hand of the horseman. If the white and red colors, the bow and the great sword, had a significance, this must be true also of the black color and the balances. It has been found that the horse, whatever his color, is the symbol of war. The black horse makes it plain that the land is torn by calamitous war, and is filled with sorrow, mourning and despair. Black is the color of mourning. The prophet (Jer. 14:2) says: “Because of the drought Judah mourneth, and the gates thereof languish; they are in deep mourning (lit. black) for the land.” The balances used for weighing food are a symbol of scarcity and famine. “Bread by weight” always implies scarcity. See Lev. 26:26; Ezek. 4:16, 17. The prices named also signify the same. The measure was about a quart, and the penny about sixteen cents, which would make the wheat worth about $5 per bushel; or, if it be borne in mind that one dollar in that age would usually purchase as $5 now, the wheat would be about $25 per bushel in the modern currency. Oil and wine, though common foods, are entirely prohibited. An age of war, mourning, calamity and famine is certainly symbolized.
The Fulfillment. —The first and second seals mark distinct epochs, clearly separated from each other. We can determine the exact number of
years that belongs to each period. It is not possible to separate, with the same distinctness, the events indicated by the
third and fourth seals. The prophecies are fulfilled with startling accuracy, and the occurrences symbolized by each seal
follow each other in the same order as the seals, but the events overlap, and are related to each other as effects to cause.
During the terrible period of civil commotion, indicated by the red horse, the era of blood and anarchy produces the events
symbolized by the black horse, and as the combined result of the two preceding seals there follow the events indicated by
the pale horse. There is a period of extreme taxation, enormous prices, great scarcity, want and famine, due to the destruction
of armies and untilled fields during a period of civil war of ninety-two years. There is first the civil war as the cause, and second, the scarcity and famine as the effect. I will verify this by historical quotations under the next seal, which also relates
to this calamitous period.
THE FOURTH SEAL.
7, 8. Behold a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was death. Again, for the fourth time John beholds a horse. It is still a time of war. The horse is now pale, the bloodless color of the dead. Upon him sits an undescribed figure, called by the apostle Death. Behind the dread destroyer follows Hades, the unseen world, swallowing up the dying mortals and hiding them from human vision. The means employed to destroy men are described. Death and Hades employ (1) the sword or war; (2) hunger, or famine; (3) death, or pestilence, for so is the word here used often to translated, and such is its meaning in this place; and finally (4) the destruction caused by the wild beasts of forests and field. The evident meaning of this symbolism is so plain that all can understand its application, and we need only ask if the facts correspond. Do we find the scarcity, want, hunger, and pestilence, indicated by the prophecy, during the latter portion of this period of civil commotion? Do we have an awful reign of Death in the forms signified by the seal?
The Fulfillment. —Let the reader turn to the tenth chapter of the first volume of Gibbon's Rome. It details a condition of things which existed in the reign of Gallienus, when the ninety-two years of civil war were drawing towards a close about a.d. 268. During that reign nineteen pretenders to the throne aroused rebellions which were quenched in blood. The chapter closes with a passage which I ask the reader to compare carefully not only with verses 7 and 8, but also with verses 6 and 7. “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 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 years two hundred and fifty to the year two hundred and fifty-six, 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. Applying this authentic fact to the most correct tables or mortality, it evidently proves, that above half the people of Alexandria had perished; and could we venture to extend the analogy of the other provinces, we might suspect that war, pestilence, and famine had consumed, in a few years, the moiety of the human species.”
Note the correspondence, John in round numbers states that one-fourth of the people of the Roman Empire would perish; Gibbon furnishes data for suggesting that one-half perished. John assigns four causes for this awful mortality: the sword, hunger, pestilence and wild beasts. Of these four Gibbon names in the last sentence of the above quotation three, and writers of the period itself speak of the fourth, the scourge of ravenous wild beasts which had multiplied owing to the depopulation of great provinces.
The first four seals, the Seals of the Horses, are associated. These have now been considered. The first, described in verses 1 and 2, I have pronounced the seal of the Triumphant prosperity, the age of Trajan and the Antonines. The red horse of the fourth verse is the seal of civil war, fulfilled in the awful convulsions that began around a.d. 186, and agitated the whole civilized world. The third seal, the black horse and balance of the fifth verse, is the seal of want, while the next, the pale horse of the eighth verse, is the seal of death.
THE FIFTH SEAL.
It is evident from the entire change of imagery, that, after the fourth seal, the subject of prophetic vision is entirely changed. The horse now disappears, and is seen no more in connection with the opening of the seals. Along with the horse the armed warriors sweep out of sight. The next vision is that of suffering saints.
9–11. I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God. These are clearly Christians who had suffered martyrdom. They had died “for the word of God.” They were under the altar. Since the temple is typical of the church, the altar, the center of worship, points to the church and its worship. The brazen altar stood at the door of the tabernacle, and at the bottom of it all the blood of the offerings was poured (Lev. 4:7). Their position probably points out that their own blood was poured out for Christ. 10. And they cried with a loud voice. Their cry denotes that the church had suffered long and severely, and they raise a cry for deliverance. 11. And white robes were given unto every one of them. The robes of justification and victory. They are assured that the day when “they will be avenged” will soon come, but that they must wait a little season. Others must be added to the number of the martyrs before the number is fulfilled. It is a time of persecution. The fifth seal is the seal of persecution, and it evidently marks some notable era in the history of the Church, when more fiercely than ever before it felt the intolerant hand of “them who dwelt upon the earth.” The fulfillment is to be sought in a war of extermination waged against Christianity. Again we ask if, following the events already described, history records events that fulfill this prophecy?
The Fulfillment. —The ninety-two years of civil turmoil began a.d. 192 with the death of Commodus. They ended in a.d. 284. In that year Diocletian ascended the Roman throne, and his reign was distinguished by the most terrible, most prolonged, and most general persecution known in the history of the ancient Church. The Church had often been persecuted before, but no persecution had ever been so universal, so long continued, and so terrible. The Emperor was not by nature a persecutor, but the great men of the empire, especially Galerius, whom he had associated in the duty of government, were alarmed at the astonishing progress of the new religion, and demanded its extirpation. At last Diocletian yielded, and became the leader in the effort to root out the religion of Christ from the very face of the earth.
Early in a.d. 303 secret councils were held in Nicomedia, concerning the destruction of Christianity. “Perhaps,” says Gibbon, “it was represented to Diocletian, that the glorious work of deliverance of the empire was left imperfect so long as an independent people (the Christians) were permitted to subsist and multiply in it.” On the twenty-third of February, the first blow was struck. An armed force was sent to destroy the great church of Nicomedia, and to burn the sacred books, so carefully preserved in that day when the printing press was unknown. This was the signal for beginning a persecution which was, by the consent of all historians, the longest, the most general, and the fiercest ever waged against the Church. It is a remarkable fact that a chronological era, dating from the time when Diocletian began to reign instituted not for religious, but astronomical purposes, and used until the Christian era was introduced in the sixth century, has received its name from the persecution, and has been called the era of martyrs.
With regard to this period I make a quotation from Gibbon, Vol. II., page 69: “The resentment, or the fears of Diocletian, at length transported him beyond the bounds of moderation, which he had hitherto preserved, and he declared, in a series of cruel edicts, his intention of abolishing the Christian name. By the first of these edicts, the governors of the provinces were directed to apprehend all persons of the ecclesiastical order; and the prisons, destined for the vilest criminals, were soon filled with a multitude of bishops, presbyters, deacons, readers and exorcists. By a second edict, the magistrates were commanded to employ every method of severity, which might reclaim them from their odious superstition, and oblige them to return to the established worship of gods. This rigorous order was extended, by a subsequent edict, to the whole body of Christians, who were exposed to a violent and general persecution.” This terrible persecution, conducted with such vindictive fury that sometimes church buildings were surrounded by soldiers, the doors locked and the congregations burned in them, continued for over ten years.
In the answer to the martyrs (verse 11) there are three things that are noteworthy. First, it is said that they must await the great judgment, which would not be
until another distinct set of martyrs was slain. These are evidently the martyrs slain, not by pagan Rome, but by anti-Christ.
Second, they must wait “a little season.” This season is to be measured by God's standard, and not by ours. Third, there were
given unto them white robes. White robes are a symbol of justification and of triumph. “The white robes are given to him that overcometh.” These souls
are not in the inner sanctuary, the type of heaven; but under the altar of the outer court, the type of the world. The white
robes, therefore, imply their triumph and justification upon the earth. This came within twenty-five years of their suffering, through the formal acceptance of Christianity by the Roman Empire.
THE SIXTH SEAL.
12–17. There was a great earthquake. The symbol of political or moral agitation and upheaval. The sun became black as sackcloth. The sun, moon, and stars are symbols of earthly dignitaries, great lights in the political or religious heavens. In the dream of Joseph, which so maddened his brethren, these terms are used in this meaning, as well as by the ancient prophets. In the East it was common to liken the king or emperor to the sun, and the stars as the symbols of princes or rulers. For the use of the term we refer the reader to Dan. 8:10. The blackness of the sun and the bloody hue of the moon point out scenes of mourning and bloodshed among rulers and princes. The falling of the stars would indicate the downfall of those who had high places on the earth, or rather within the Roman Empire. 14. The heaven was removed as a scroll. The old religions, supposed to be of heavenly origin, pass away. Every mountain and island were moved. Mountain and island are used to denote earthly rulers and kingdoms, the latter referring more especially to European provinces which are often called “the isles of the sea” in the Bible. From the period of Diocletian, the great persecutor, the title, “Your Eminence,” or, in other words, “mountain,” was bestowed upon princes. As a mountain stood above the plain, so the rulers of the earth were exalted. 15. And the kings of the earth, and the princes … hid themselves. This implies great terror among “them that dwell on the earth;” their belief that terrible judgments were impending from God; that the wrath of the Lamb was manifested, and their efforts to escape.
The Meaning. —Many have explained this startling symbolism to describe the closing scenes of the world and the personal coming of Christ to judgment. This cannot be the meaning, for the series of visions continues on until the seventh seal is opened, and all it contains is exhausted. Others have supposed that the rush of the northern race which overthrew the Roman Empire is meant. I believe that it refers to great events which have long since taken place. The various phenomena in earth and sky, the earthquake, the falling stars, the heavens rolled away, the mountains and islands moved out of their places, all foreshadow a violent, bloody, remarkable upheaval of systems, rulers, governments, kingdoms, and the establishment of a new order upon the earth. It is on earth, it is in history that we are to look for the fulfillment of the prophecy. And since the “earth” that is present to the mind of John is the civilized world known to the ancients, the Roman Empire, it is within its boundaries that we must look for the fulfillment. There can be no doubt that this is the seal of revolution.
The Fulfillment. —Several circumstances help us to fix the meaning. 1. The time. It follows immediately after the great persecution indicated by the fifth seal, which closed in a.d. 311. These events occur, then, near that time. 2. It is a time of blood and mourning. Who are the mourners? Kings, great men, rich men, bondmen and freemen. Are these Christians? They are enemies of the Lamb, who fear his wrath and mourn over his power. The mourners are the opposers of the Church.—(Verse 16.) 3. The seal is followed by a period of great joy and prosperity on the part of the Church.—(See chapter 7.) An innumerable multitude are sealed with the seal of the Lamb, of which the next chapter gives record. Have we, near a.d. 311, the time when the great persecution closed, a period of mighty revolution, that filled the unbelieving world with mourning, and which was followed by a time of triumph, prosperity and glory to the Church of Christ? In the year 312, leaving Britain, marching through Gaul, Constantine launched his armies upon Italy. The Church watched his progress with singular interest; for although he had, as yet, made no profession of Christianity, his mother, Helena, was a Christian, and it was felt that he was favorable to his mother's faith. The Italian emperor opposed to him, Maxentius, was a firm Pagan, and around him centered the interests of the Pagan faith. Indeed, he gave public assurance that he would extirpate the Christian religion, and vowed to Jupiter that, in the event he was successful, he would make his worship universal on the ruins of Christianity. In three great battles Maxentius was defeated and in the last was slain, and Constantine became the ruler of Rome. In the East another emperor, Licinius, a Pagan and a persecutor, still held the reins of power. Wars, truces and battles followed, until in a.d. 324 he was crushed and put to death. In this period of conflict, lasting about sixteen years, six emperors in all strove for the pre-eminence, of whom Constantine remained the sole survivor.
But these are not the most remarkable changes of this period. Let us note these: 1. The votaries of the old Paganism had rallied around the enemies of Constantine, because he was felt to be its unrelenting foe, who would compass its destruction. When he was seated in triumph upon the ruins of six imperial thrones, there was great mourning from the enemies of the Cross. They felt that theirs was a doomed religion. They were right. 2. In the year 319, before his final triumph, he had decreed that his mother's religion should be tolerated as an acknowledged faith of the empire. 3. In 321 he decreed that Sunday, the sacred day of Christianity, should be observed in all the cities by the cessation of trade and labor. 4. In 325 he abolished by decree the bloody combats of the gladiators, where men killed each other to amuse the populace, a Roman institution that had existed for a thousand years. 5. He convoked, by imperial authority, a great council of Christian bishops, the one known in history as the Council of Nice. 6. In 331 he decreed that the Pagan religion should exist no longer, and that all the heathen temples should be leveled, or converted into churches. 7. At the same time the old Roman laws were remodeled according to the precepts of the Christian religion, and a Pagan empire was transformed into an empire of the Christian faith, under new institutions. Surely the old heavens were moved away as a scroll is gathered together. But this is not all. I name another wonderful change of this age of revolution. In 324 he determined to shake the Roman world to its very center, and to deprive the imperial city of the crown worn for eleven centuries, by removing the capital from Italy to a new city upon the banks of the Hellespont, that should henceforth be called Constantinople, from his own name. The mighty mountain of the West is moved from its place. Not only do these revolutions, the greatest in the history of the world, fulfil the imagery, but the mournings of the heathen in that age almost adopted the language of Revelation in describing this period. The ruin of the Pagan religion is described by the Sophists, says Gibbon, “as a dreadful and amazing prodigy, which covered the earth with darkness, and restored the ancient dominion of chaos and night.”
Those who insist that the opening of the sixth seal portrays the end of the world should bear in mind, not only the chain of events continues on through the 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th chapters, and that it is only when the Seventh Angel sounds his trumpet (11:15) that the proclamation is made that “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ,” but they should keep in mind also that the scenes beheld by John are not literal pictures of the events, but symbolic visions. The interpreter should ask himself not, What would be the literal fulfillment of the visions? but, What do the symbols signify? The earthquake, the blackened sun, the falling stars, the moving mountains and islands of the sixth seal are not to be regarded as literal any more than the pale horse in the fourth seal.
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