The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun (Rev. 12 1–4), William Blake, 1803–1805
St. John receives his Revelation. Saint-Sever Beatus, 11th century.
Irenæus introduced an opinion that the Apocalypse was written in the time of Domitian; but then he also postponed the writing of some others of the sacred books, and was to place the Apocalypse after them: he might perhaps have heard from his master Polycarp that he had received this book from John about the time of Domitian’s death; or indeed John might himself at that time have made a new publication of it, from whence Irenæus might imagine it was then but newly written. Eusebius in his Chronicle and Ecclesiastical History follows Irenœus; but afterwards in his Evangelical Demonstrations, he conjoins the banishment of John into Patmos, with the deaths of Peter and Paul: and so do Tertullian and Pseudo-Prochorus, as well as the first author, whoever he was, of that very antient fable, that John was put by Nero into a vessel of hot oil, and coming out unhurt, was banished by him into Patmos. Tho this story be no more than a fiction yet was it founded on a tradition of the first churches, that John was banished into Patmos in the days of Nero. Epiphanius represents the Gospel of John as written in the time of Domitian, and the Apocalypse even before that of Nero. Arethas in the beginning of his Commentary quotes the opinion of Irenæus from Eusebius, but follows it not: for he afterwards affirms the Apocalypse was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, and that former commentators had expounded the sixth seal of that destruction.
With the opinion of the first Commentators agrees the tradition of the Churches of Syria, preserved to this day in the title of the Syriac Version of the Apocalypse, which title is this: The Revelation which was made to John the Evangelist by God in the Island Patmos, into which he was banished by Nero the Cæsar. The fame is confirmed by a story told by Eusebius out of Clemens Alexandrinus, and other antient authors, concerning a youth, whom John some time after his return from Patmos committed to the care of the Bishop of a certain city. The Bishop educated, instructed, and at length baptized him; but then remitting of his care, the young man thereupon got into ill company, and began by degrees first to revel and grow vitious, then to abuse and spoil those he met in the night; and at last grew so desperate, that his companions turning a band of high-way men, made him their Captain: and, saith Chrysostom, he continued their Captain a long time. At length John returning to that city, and hearing what was done, rode to the thief; and, when he out of reverence to his old master fled, John rode after him, recalled him, and restored him to the Church. This is a story of many years, and requires that John should have returned from Patmos rather at the death of Nero than at that of Domitian; because between the death of Domitian and that of John there were but two years and an half; and John in his old age was so infirm as to be carried to Church, dying above 90 years old, and therefore could not be then suppos’d able to ride after the thief.
This opinion is further supported by the allusions in the Apocalypse to the Temple and Altar, and holy City, as then standing; and to the Gentiles, who were soon after to tread under foot the holy City and outward Court. ‘Tis confirmed also by the style of the Apocalypse itself, which is fuller of Hebraisms than his Gospel. For thence it may be gathered, that it was written when John was newly come out of Judea, where he had been used to the Syriac tongue; and that he did not write his Gospel, till by long converse with the Asiatick Greeks he had left off most of the Hebraisms. It is confirmed also by the many false Apocalypses, as those of Peter, Paul, Thomas, Stephen, Elias and Cerinthus, written in imitation of the true one. For as the many false Gospels, false Acts, and false Epistles were occasioned by true ones; and the writing many false Apocalypses, and ascribing them to Apostles and Prophets, argues that there was a true Apostolic one in great request with the first Christians: so this true one may well be suppos’d to have been written early, that there may be room in the Apostolic age for the writing of so many false ones afterwards, and fathering them upon Peter, Paul, Thomas and others, who were dead before John. Caius, who was contemporary with Tertullian, tells us that Cerinthus wrote his Revelations as a great Apostle, and pretended the visions were shewn him by Angels, asserting a millennium of carnal pleasures at Jerusalem after the resurrection; so that his Apocalypse was plainly written in imitation of John’s: and yet he lived so early, that he resisted the Apostles at Jerusalem in or before the first year of Claudius, that is, 26 years before the death of Nero, and died before John.
These reasons may suffice for determining the time; and yet there is one more, which to considering men may seem a good reason, to others not. I’ll propound it, and leave it to every man’s judgment. The Apocalypse seems to be alluded to in the Epistles of Peter and that to the Hebrews and therefore to have been written before them. Such allusions in the Epistle to the Hebrews, I take to be the discourses concerning the High-Priest in the heavenly Tabernacle, who is both Priest and King, as was Melchisedec; and those concerning the word of God, with the sharp two-edged sword, the σαββατισμος, or millennial rest, the earth whose end is to be burned, suppose by the lake of fire, the judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries, the heavenly City which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God, the cloud of witnesses, mount Sion, heavenly Jerusalem, general assembly, spirits of just men made perfect, viz. by the resurrection, and the shaking of heaven and earth, and removing them, that the new heaven, new earth and new kingdom which cannot be shaken, may remain. In the first of Peter occur these: The Revelation of Jesus Christ, twice or thrice repeated; the blood of Christ as of a Lamb foreordained before the foundation of the world; the spiritual building in heaven, 1 Pet. ii. 5. an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us, who are kept unto the salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time, 1 Pet. i. 4, 5. the royal Priesthood, the holy Priesthood the judgment beginning at the house of God, and the Church at Babylon. These are indeed obscurer allusions; but the second Epistle, from the 19th verse of the first Chapter to the end, seems to be a continued Commentary upon the Apocalypse. There, in writing to the Churches in Asia, to whom John was commanded to send this Prophecy, he tells them, they have a more sure word of Prophecy, to be heeded by them, as a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in their hearts, that is, until they begin to understand it: for no Prophecy, saith he, of the scripture is of any private interpretation; the Prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake, as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Daniel himself professes that he understood not his own Prophecies; and therefore the Churches were not to expect the interpretation from their Prophet John, but to study the Prophecies themselves. This is the substance of what Peter says in the first chapter; and then in the second he proceeds to describe, out of this sure word of Prophecy, how there should arise in the Church false Prophets, or false teachers, expressed collectively in the Apocalypse by the name of the false Prophet; who should bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, which is the character of Antichrist: And many, saith he, shall follow their lusts; they that dwell on the earth shall be deceived by the false Prophet, and be made drunk with the wine of the Whore’s fornication, by reason of whom the way of truth shall be blasphemed; for the Beast is full of blasphemy: and thro’ covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandize of you; for these are the Merchants of the Earth, who trade with the great Whore, and their merchandize is all things of price, with the bodies and souls of men: whose judgment — lingreth not, and their damnation slumbreth not, but shall surely come upon them at the last day suddenly, as the flood upon the old world, and fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrha, when the just shall be delivered like Lot; for the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished, in the lake of fire; but chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, being made drunk with the wine of the Whore’s fornication; who despise dominion, and are not afraid to blaspheme glories; for the beast opened his mouth against God to blaspheme his name and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. These, as natural brute beasts, the ten-horned beast and two-horned beast, or false Prophet, made to be taken and destroyed, in the lake of fire, blaspheme the things they understand not: — they count it pleasure to riot in the day-time — sporting themselves with their own deceivings, while they feast with you, having eyes full of an Adulteress: for the kingdoms of the beast live deliciously with the great Whore, and the nations are made drunk with the wine of her fornication. They are gone astray, following the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness, the false Prophet who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel. These are, not fountains of living water, but wells without water; not such clouds of Saints as the two witnesses ascend in, but clouds that are carried with a tempest, &c. Thus does the author of this Epistle spend all the second Chapter in describing the qualities of the Apocalyptic Beasts and false Prophet: and then in the third he goes on to describe their destruction more fully, and the future kingdom. He saith, that because the coming of Christ should be long deferred, they should scoff, saying, where is the promise of his coming? Then he describes the sudden coming of the day of the Lord upon them, as a thief in the night, which is the Apocalyptic phrase; and the millennium, or thousand years, which are with God but as a day; the passing away of the old heavens and earth, by a conflagration in the lake of fire, and our looking for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
Seeing therefore Peter and John were Apostles of the circumcision, it seems to me that they staid with their Churches in Judea and Syria till the Romans made war upon their nation, that is, till the twelfth year of Nero; that they then followed the main body of their flying Churches into Asia, and that Peter went thence by Corinth to Rome; that the Roman Empire looked upon those Churches as enemies, because Jews by birth; and therefore to prevent insurrections, secured their leaders, and banished John into Patmos. It seems also probable to me that the Apocalypse was there composed, and that soon after the Epistle to the Hebrews and those of Peter were written to these Churches, with reference to this Prophecy as what they were particularly concerned in. For it appears by these Epistles, that they were written in times of general affliction and tribulation under the heathens, and by consequence when the Empire made war upon the Jews; for till then the heathens were at peace with the Christian Jews, as well as with the rest. The Epistle to the Hebrews, since it mentions Timothy as related to those Hebrews, must be written to them after their flight into Asia, where Timothy was Bishop; and by consequence after the war began, the Hebrews in Judea being strangers to Timothy. Peter seems also to call Rome Babylon, as well with respect to the war made upon Judea, and the approaching captivity, like that under old Babylon, as with respect to that name in the Apocalypse: and in writing to the strangers scattered thro’out Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, he seems to intimate that they were the strangers newly scattered by the Roman wars; for those were the only strangers there belonging to his care.
This account of things agrees best with history when duly rectified. For Justin and Irenæus say, that Simon Magus came to Rome in the reign of Claudius, and exercised juggling tricks there. Pseudo-Clemens adds, that he endeavoured there to fly, but broke his neck thro’ the prayers of Peter. Whence Eusebius, or rather his interpolator Jerom, has recorded, that Peter came to Rome in the second year of Claudius: but Cyril Bishop of Jerusalem, Philastrius, Sulpitius, Prosper, Maximus Taurinensis, and Hegesippus junior, place this victory of Peter in the time of Nero. Indeed the antienter tradition was, that Peter came to Rome in the days of this Emperor, as may be seen in Lactantius. Chrysostom tells us, that the Apostles continued long in Judea, and that then being driven out by the Jews they went to the Gentiles. This dispersion was in the first year of the Jewish war, when the Jews, as Josephus tells us, began to be tumultuous and violent in all places. For all agree that the Apostles were dispersed into several regions at once; and Origen has set down the time, telling us that in the beginning of the Judaic war, the Apostles and disciples of our Lord were scattered into all nations; Thomas into Parthia, Andrew into Scythia, John into Asia, and Peter first into Asia, where he preacht to the dispersion, and thence into Italy. Dionysius Corinthius saith, that Peter went from Asia by Corinth to Rome, and all antiquity agrees that Peter and Paul were martyred there in the end of Nero’s reign. Mark went with Timothy to Rome, 2 Tim. iv. 11. Colos. iv. 10. Sylvanus was Paul’s assistant; and by the companions of Peter, mentioned in his first Epistle, we may know that he wrote from Rome; and the Antients generally agree, that in this Epistle he understood Rome by Babylon. His second Epistle was writ to the same dispersed strangers with the first, 2 Pet. iii. 1. and therein he saith, that Paul had writ of the same things to them, and also in his other Epistles, ver. 15, 16. Now as there is no Epistle of Paul to these strangers besides that to the Hebrews, so in this Epistle, chap. x. 11, 12. we find at large all those things which Peter had been speaking of, and here refers to; particularly the passing away of the old heavens and earth, and establishing an inheritance immoveable, with an exhortation to grace, because God, to the wicked, is a consuming fire, Heb. xii. 25, 26, 28, 29.
Having determined the time of writing the Apocalyse, I need not say much about the truth of it, since it was in such request with the first ages, that many endeavoured to imitate it, by feigning Apocalypses under the Apostles names; and the Apostles themselves, as I have just now shewed, studied it, and used its phrases; by which means the style of the Epistle to the Hebrews became more mystical than that of Paul’s other Epistles, and the style of John’s Gospel more figurative and majestical than that of the other Gospels. I do not apprehend that Christ was called the word of God in any book of the New Testament written before the Apocalypse; and therefore am of opinion, the language was taken from this Prophecy, as were also many other phrases in this Gospel, such as those of Christ’s being the light which enlightens the world, the lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world, the bridegroom, he that testifieth, he that came down from heaven, the Son of God, &c. Justin Martyr, who within thirty years after John’s death became a Christian, writes expressly that a certain man among the Christians whose name was John, one of the twelve Apostles of Christ, in the Revelation which was shewed him, prophesied that those who believed in Christ should live a thousand years at Jerusalem. And a few lines before he saith: But I, and as many as are Christians, in all things right in their opinions, believe both that there shall be a resurrection of the flesh, and a thousand years life at Jerusalem built, adorned and enlarged. Which is as much as to say, that all true Christians in that early age received this Prophecy: for in all ages, as many as believed the thousand years, received the Apocalypse as the foundation of their opinion: and I do not know one instance to the contrary. Papias Bishop of Hierapolis, a man of the Apostolic age, and one of John’s own disciples, did not only teach the doctrine of the thousand years, but also asserted the Apocalypse as written by divine inspiration. Melito, who flourished next after Justin, wrote a commentary upon this Prophecy; and he, being Bishop of Sardis one of the seven Churches, could neither be ignorant of their tradition about it, nor impose upon them. Irenæus, who was contemporary with Melito, wrote much upon it, and said, that the number 666 was in all the antient and approved copies; and that he had it also confirmed to him by those who had seen John face to face, meaning no doubt his master Polycarp for one. At the same time Theophilus Bishop of Antioch asserted it, and so did Tertullian, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Origen soon after; and their contemporary Hippolytus the Martyr, Metropolitan of the Arabians, wrote a commentary upon it. All these were antient men, flourishing within a hundred and twenty years after John’s death, and of greatest note in the Churches of those times. Soon after did Victorinus Pictaviensis write another commentary upon it; and he lived in the time of Dioclesian. This may surely suffice to shew how the Apocalypse was received and studied in the first ages: and I do not indeed find any other book of the New Testament so strongly attested, or commented upon so early as this. The Prophecy said: Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this Prophecy, and keep the things which are written therein. This animated the first Christians to study it so much, till the difficulty made them remit, and comment more upon the other books of the New Testament. This was the state of the Apocalypse, till the thousand years being misunderstood, brought a prejudice against it: and Dionysius of Alexandria, noting how it abounded with barbarisms, that is with Hebraisms, promoted that prejudice so far, as to cause many Greeks in the fourth century to doubt of the book. But whilst the Latins, and a great part of the Greeks, always retained the Apocalypse, and the rest doubted only out of prejudice, it makes nothing against its authority.
This Prophecy is called the Revelation, with respect to the scripture of truth, which Daniel was commanded to shut up and seal, till the time of the end. Daniel sealed it until the time of the end; and until that time comes, the Lamb is opening the seals: and afterwards the two Witnesses prophesy out of it a long time in sack-cloth, before they ascend up to heaven in a cloud. All which is as much as to say, that these Prophecies of Daniel and John should not be understood till the time of the end: but then some should prophesy out of them in an afflicted and mournful state for a long time, and that but darkly, so as to convert but few. But in the very end, the Prophecy should be so far interpreted as to convince many. Then, saith Daniel, many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be encreased. For the Gospel must be preached in all nations before the great tribulation, and end of the world. The palm-bearing multitude, which come out of this great tribulation, cannot be innumerable out of all nations, unless they be made so by the preaching of the Gospel before it comes. There must be a stone cut out of a mountain without hands, before it can fall upon the toes of the Image, and become a great mountain and fill the earth. An Angel must fly thro’ the midst of heaven with the everlasting Gospel to preach to all nations, before Babylon falls, and the Son of man reaps his harvest. The two Prophets must ascend up to heaven in a cloud, before the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of Christ. ‘Tis therefore a part of this Prophecy, that it should not be understood before the last age of the world; and therefore it makes for the credit of the Prophecy, that it is not yet understood. But if the last age, the age of opening these things, be now approaching, as by the great successes of late Interpreters it seems to be, we have more encouragement than ever to look into these things. If the general preaching of the Gospel be approaching, it is to us and our posterity that those words mainly belong: In the time of the end the wise shall understand, but none of the wicked shall understand. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this Prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein.
The folly of Interpreters has been, to foretel times and things by this Prophecy, as if God designed to make them Prophets. By this rashness they have not only exposed themselves, but brought the Prophecy also into contempt. The design of God was much otherwise. He gave this and the Prophecies of the Old Testament, not to gratify men’s curiosities by enabling them to foreknow things, but that after they were fulfilled they might be interpreted by the event, and his own Providence, not the Interpreters, be then manifested thereby to the world. For the event of things predicted many ages before, will then be a convincing argument that the world is governed by providence. For as the few and obscure Prophecies concerning Christ’s first coming were for setting up the Christian religion, which all nations have since corrupted; so the many and clear Prophecies concerning the things to be done at Christ’s second coming, are not only for predicting but also for effecting a recovery and re-establishment of the long-lost truth, and setting up a kingdom wherein dwells righteousness. The event will prove the Apocalypse; and this Prophecy, thus proved and understood, will open the old Prophets, and all together will make known the true religion, and establish it. For he that will understand the old Prophets, must begin with this; but the time is not yet come for understanding them perfectly, because the main revolution predicted in them is not yet come to pass. In the days of the voice of the seventh Angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God shall be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the Prophets: and then the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ, and he shall reign for ever, Apoc. x. 7. xi. 15. There is already so much of the Prophecy fulfilled, that as many as will take pains in this study, may see sufficient instances of God’s providence: but then the signal revolutions predicted by all the holy Prophets, will at once both turn mens eyes upon considering the predictions, and plainly interpret them. Till then we must content ourselves with interpreting what hath been already fulfilled.
Amongst the Interpreters of the last age there is scarce one of note who hath not made some discovery worth knowing; and thence I seem to gather that God is about opening these mysteries. The success of others put me upon considering it; and if I have done any thing which may be useful to following writers, I have my design.
Revelation 6.2: “And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.” White Rider from Tolkovy Apocalyps, Moscow, 17th century.
The Apocalypse of John is written in the same style and language with the Prophecies of Daniel, and hath the same relation to them which they have to one another, so that all of them together make but one complete Prophecy; and in like manner it consists of two parts, an introductory Prophecy, and an Interpretation thereof.
The Prophecy is distinguish’d into seven successive parts, by the opening of the seven seals of the book which Daniel was commanded to seal up: and hence it is called the Apocalypse or Revelation of Jesus Christ. The time of the seventh seal is sub-divided into eight successive parts by the silence in heaven for half an hour, and the sounding of seven trumpets successively: and the seventh trumpet sounds to the battle of the great day of God Almighty, whereby the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of the Lord and of his Christ, and those are destroyed that destroyed the earth.
The Interpretation begins with the words, And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the Ark of his Testament: and it continues to the end of the Prophecy. The Temple is the scene of the visions, and the visions in the Temple relate to the feast of the seventh month: for the feasts of the Jews were typical of things to come. The Passover related to the first coming of Christ, and the feasts of the seventh month to his second coming: his first coming being therefore over before this Prophecy was given, the feasts of the seventh month are here only alluded unto.
On the first day of that month, in the morning, the High-Priest dressed the lamps: and in allusion hereunto, this Prophecy begins with a vision of one like the Son of man in the High-Priest’s habit, appearing as it were in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, or over against the midst of them, dressing the lamps, which appeared like a rod of seven stars in his right hand: and this dressing was perform’d by the sending seven Epistles to the Angels or Bishops of the seven Churches of Asia, which in the primitive times illuminated the Temple or Church Catholic. These Epistles contain admonitions against the approaching Apostacy, and therefore relate to the times when the Apostacy began to work strongly, and before it prevailed. It began to work in the Apostles days, and was to continue working till the man of sin should be revealed. It began to work in the disciples of Simon, Menander, Carpocrates, Cerinthas, and such sorts of men as had imbibed the metaphysical philosophy of the Gentiles and Cabalistical Jews, and were thence called Gnosticks. John calls them Antichrists, saying that in his days there were many Antichrists. But these being condemned by the Apostles, and their immediate disciples, put the Churches in no danger during the opening of the first four seals. The visions at the opening of these seals relate only to the civil affairs of the heathen Roman Empire. So long the Apostolic traditions prevailed, and preserved the Church in its purity: and therefore the affairs of the Church do not begin to be considered in this Prophecy before the opening of the fifth seal. She began then to decline, and to want admonitions; and therefore is admonished by these Epistles, till the Apostacy prevailed and took place, which was at the opening of the seventh seal. The admonitions therefore in these seven Epistles relate to the state of the Church in the times of the fifth and sixth seals. At the opening of the fifth seal, the Church is purged from hypocrites by a great persecution. At the opening of the sixth, that which letted is taken out of the way, namely the heathen Roman Empire. At the opening of the seventh, the man of sin is revealed. And to these times the seven Epistles relate.
The seven Angels, to whom these Epistles were written, answer to the seven Amarc-holim, who were Priests and chief Officers of the Temple, and had jointly the keys of the gates of the Temple, with those of the Treasuries, and the direction, appointment and oversight of all things in the Temple.
After the lamps were dressed, John saw the door of the Temple opened; and by the voice as it were of a trumpet, was called up to the eastern gate of the great court, to see the visions: and behold a throne was set, viz. the mercy-seat upon the Ark of the Testament, which the Jews respected as the throne of God between the Cherubims, Exod. xxv. 2. Psal. xcix. 1. And he that sat on it was to look upon like Jasper and Sardine stone, that is, of an olive colour, the people of Judea being of that colour. And, the Sun being then in the East, a rainbow was about the throne, the emblem of glory. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats; answering to the chambers of the four and twenty Princes of the Priests, twelve on the south side, and twelve on the north side of the Priests Court. And upon the seats were four and twenty Elders sitting, clothed in white rayment, with crowns on their heads; representing the Princes of the four and twenty courses of the Priests clothed in linen. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings, and voices, viz. the flashes of the fire upon the Altar at the morning-sacrifice, and the thundering voices of those that sounded the trumpets, and sung at the Eastern gate of the Priests Court; for these being between John and the throne appeared to him as proceeding from the throne. And there were seven lamps of fire burning, in the Temple, before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God, or Angels of the seven Churches, represented in the beginning of this Prophecy by seven stars. And before the throne was a sea of glass clear as chrystal; the brazen sea between the porch of the Temple and the Altar, filled with clear water. And in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four Beasts full of eyes before and behind: that is, one Beast before the throne and one behind it, appearing to John as in the midst of the throne, and one on either side in the circle about it, to represent by the multitude of their eyes the people standing in the four sides of the peoples court. And the first Beast was like a lion, and the second was like a calf, and the third had the face of a man, and the fourth was like a flying eagle. The people of Israel in the wilderness encamped round about the tabernacle, and on the east side were three tribes under the standard of Judah, on the west were three tribes under the standard of Ephraim, on the south were three tribes under the standard of Reuben, and on the north were three tribes under the standard of Dan, Numb. ii. And the standard of Judah was a Lion, that of Ephraim an Ox, that of Reuben a Man, and that of Dan an Eagle, as the Jews affirm. Whence were framed the hieroglyphicks of Cherubims and Seraphims, to represent the people of Israel. A Cherubim had one body with four faces, the faces of a Lion, an Ox, a Man and an Eagle, looking to the four winds of heaven, without turning about, as in Ezekiel’s vision, chap. i. And four Seraphims had the same four faces with four bodies, one face to every body. The four Beasts are therefore four Seraphims standing in the four sides of the peoples court; the first in the eastern side with the head of a Lion, the second in the western side with the head of an Ox, the third in the southern side with the head of a Man, the fourth in the northern side with the head of an Eagle: and all four signify together the twelve tribes of Israel, out of whom the hundred forty and four thousand were sealed, Apoc. vii. 4. And the four Beasts had each of them six wings, two to a tribe, in all twenty and four wings, answering to the twenty and four stations of the people. And they were full of eyes within, or under their wings. And they rest not day and night, or at the morning and evening-sacrifices, saying, holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. These animals are therefore the Seraphims, which appeared to Isaiah in a vision like this of the Apocalypse. For there also the Lord sat upon a throne in the temple; and the Seraphims each with six wings cried, Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts. And when those animals give glory and honour and thanks to him that sitteth upon the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty Elders go into the Temple, and there fall down before him that sitteth on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. At the morning and evening-sacrifices, so soon as the sacrifice was laid upon the Altar, and the drink-offering began to be poured out, the trumpets sounded, and the Levites sang by course three times; and every time when the trumpets sounded, the people fell down and worshiped. Three times therefore did the people worship; to express which number, the Beasts cry Holy, holy, holy: and the song being ended, the people prayed standing, till the solemnity was finished. In the mean time the Priests went into the Temple, and there fell down before him that sat upon the throne, and worshiped.
And John saw, in the right hand of him that sat upon the throne, a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals, viz. the book which Daniel was commanded to seal up, and which is here represented by the prophetic book of the Law laid up on the right side of the Ark, as it were in the right hand of him that sat on the throne: for the festivals and ceremonies of the Law prescribed to the people in this book, adumbrated those things which were predicted in the book of Daniel; and the writing within and on the backside of this book, relates to the synchronal Prophecies. And none was found worthy to open the book but the Lamb of God. And lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four Beasts, and in the midst of the Elders, that is, at the foot of the Altar, stood a lamb as it had been slain, the morning-sacrifice; having seven horns, which are the seven Churches, and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came, and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne: And when he had taken the book, the four Beasts and four and twenty Elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us, unto our God, Kings and Priests, and we shall reign on the earth. The Beasts and Elders therefore represent the primitive Christians of all nations; and the worship of these Christians in their Churches is here represented under the form of worshiping God and the Lamb in the Temple: God for his benefaction in creating all things, and the Lamb for his benefaction in redeeming us with his blood: God as sitting upon the throne and living for ever, and the Lamb as exalted above all by the merits of his death. And I heard, saith John, the voice of many Angels round about the throne, and the Beasts and the Elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I, saying, Blessing, honour, glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four Beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty Elders fell down and worshiped him that liveth for ever and ever. This was the worship of the primitive Christians.
It was the custom for the High-Priest, seven days before the fast of the seventh month, to continue constantly in the Temple, and study the book of the Law, that he might be perfect in it against the day of expiation; wherein the service, which was various and intricate, was wholly to be performed by himself; part of which service was reading the Law to the people: and to promote his studying it, there were certain Priests appointed by the Sanhedrim to be with him those seven days in one of his chambers in the Temple, and there to discourse with him about the Law, and read it to him, and put him in mind of reading and studying it himself. This his opening and reading the Law those seven days, is alluded unto in the Lamb’s opening the seals. We are to conceive that those seven days begin in the evening before each day; for the Jews began their day in the evening, and that the solemnity of the fast begins in the morning of the seventh day.
The seventh seal was therefore opened on the day of expiation, and then there was silence in heaven for half an hour. And an Angel, the High-Priest, stood at the Altar, having a golden Censer; and there was given him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all Saints, upon the golden Altar which was before the throne. The custom was on other days, for one of the Priests to take fire from the great Altar in a silver Censer; but on this day, for the High-Priest to take fire from the great Altar in a golden Censer: and when he was come down from the great Altar, he took incense from one of the Priests who brought it to him, and went with it to the golden Altar: and while he offered the incense, the people prayed without in silence, which is the silence in heaven for half an hour. When the High-Priest had laid the incense on the Altar, he carried a Censer of it burning in his hand, into the most holy place before the Ark. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the Saints, ascended up before God out of the Angel’s hand. On other days there was a certain measure of incense for the golden Altar: on this day there was a greater quantity for both the Altar and the most holy Place, and therefore it is called much incense. After this the Angel took the Censer, and filled it with fire from the great Altar, and cast it into the earth; that is, by the hands of the Priests who belong to his mystical body, he cast it to the earth without the Temple, for burning the Goat which was the Lord’s lot. And at this and other concomitant sacrifices, until the evening-sacrifice was ended, there were voices, and thundrings, and lightnings, and an earthquake; that is, the voice of the High-Priest reading the Law to the people, and other voices and thundrings from the trumpets and temple-musick at the sacrifices, and lightnings from the fire of the Altar.
The solemnity of the day of expiation being finished, the seven Angels found their trumpets at the great sacrifices of the seven days of the feast of tabernacles; and at the same sacrifices, the seven thunders utter their voices, which are the musick of the Temple, and singing of the Levites, intermixed with the soundings of the trumpets: and the seven Angels pour out their vials of wrath, which are the drink-offerings of those sacrifices.
When six of the seals were opened, John said: And after these things, that is, after the visions of the sixth seal, I saw four Angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another Angel ascending from the East, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four Angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, nor the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. This sealing alludes to a tradition of the Jews, that upon the day of expiation all the people of Israel are sealed up in the books of life and death. For the Jews in their Talmud tell us, that in the beginning of every new year, or first day of the month Tisri, the seventh month of the sacred year, three books are opened in judgment; the book of life, in which the names of those are written who are perfectly just; the book of death, in which the names of those are written who are Atheists or very wicked; and a third book, of those whose judgment is suspended till the day of expiation, and whose names are not written in the book of life or death before that day. The first ten days of this month they call the penitential days; and all these days they fast and pray very much, and are very devout, that on the tenth day their sins may be remitted, and their names may be written in the book of life; which day is therefore called the day of expiation. And upon this tenth day, in returning home from the Synagogues, they say to one another, God the creator seal you to a good year. For they conceive that the books are now sealed up, and that the sentence of God remains unchanged henceforward to the end of the year. The same thing is signified by the two Goats, upon whose foreheads the High-Priest yearly, on the day of expiation, lays the two lots inscribed, For God and For Azazel; God’s lot signifying the people who are sealed with the name of God in their foreheads; and the lot Azazel, which was sent into the wilderness, representing those who receive the mark and name of the Beast, and go into the wilderness with the great Whore.
The servants of God being therefore sealed in the day of expiation, we may conceive that this sealing is synchronal to the visions which appear upon opening the seventh seal; and that when the Lamb had opened six of the seals and seen the visions relating to the inside of the sixth, he looked on the backside of the seventh leaf, and then saw the four Angels holding the four winds of heaven, and another Angel ascending from the East with the seal of God. Conceive also, that the Angels which held the four winds were the first four of the seven Angels, who upon opening the seventh seal were seen standing before God; and that upon their holding the winds, there was silence in heaven for half an hour; and that while the servants of God were sealing, the Angel with the golden Censer offered their prayers with incense upon the golden Altar, and read the Law: and that so soon as they were sealed, the winds hurt the earth at the sounding of the first trumpet, and the sea at the sounding of the second; these winds signifying the wars, to which the first four trumpets sounded. For as the first four seals are distinguished from the three last by the appearance of four horsemen towards the four winds of heaven; so the wars of the first four trumpets are distinguished from those of the three last, by representing these by four winds, and the others by three great woes.
In one of Ezekiel’s visions, when the Babylonian captivity was at hand, six men appeared with slaughter-weapons; and a seventh, who appeared among them clothed in white linen and a writer’s ink-horn by his side, is commanded to go thro’ the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and cry for all the abominations done in the midst thereof: and then the six men, like the Angels of the first six trumpets, are commanded to slay those men who are not marked. Conceive therefore that the hundred forty and four thousand are sealed, to preserve them from the plagues of the first six trumpets; and that at length by the preaching of the everlasting gospel, they grow into a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people and tongues: and at the sounding of the seventh trumpet come out of the great tribulation with Palms in their hands: the kingdoms of this world, by the war to which that trumpet sounds, becoming the kingdoms of God and his Christ. For the solemnity of the great Hosannah was kept by the Jews upon the seventh or last day of the feast of tabernacles; the Jews upon that day carrying Palms in their hands, and crying Hosannah.
After six of the Angels, answering to the six men with slaughter-weapons, had sounded their trumpets, the Lamb in the form of a mighty Angel cane down from heaven clothed with a cloud, and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the Sun, and his feet as pillars of fire, the shape in which Christ appeared in the beginning of this Prophecy; and he had in his hand a little book open, the book which he had newly opened; for he received but one book from him that sitteth upon the throne, and he alone was worthy to open and look on this book. And he set his right foot upon the sea and his left foot on the earth, and cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth. It was the custom for the High-Priest on the day of expiation, to stand in an elevated place in the peoples court, at the Eastern gate of the Priests court, and read the Law to the people, while the Heifer and the Goat which was the Lord’s lot, were burning without the Temple. We may therefore suppose him standing in such a manner, that his right foot might appear to John as it were standing on the sea of glass, and his left foot on the ground of the house; and that he cried with a loud voice, in reading the Law on the day of expiation. And when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices. Thunders are the voice of a cloud, and a cloud signifies a multitude; and this multitude may be the Levites, who sang with thundering voices, and played with musical instruments at the great sacrifices, on the seven days of the feast of Tabernacles: at which times the trumpets also sounded. For the trumpets sounded, and the Levites sang alternately, three times at every sacrifice. The Prophecy therefore of the seven thunders is nothing else than a repetition of the Prophecy of the seven trumpets in another form. And the Angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth, lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, that after the seven thunders there should be time no longer; but in the days of the voice of the seventh Angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the Prophets. The voices of the thunders therefore last to the end of this world, and so do those of the trumpets.
And the voice which I heard from heaven, saith John, spake unto me again and said, Go and take the little book, &c. And I took the little book out of the Angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey, and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings. This is an introduction to a new Prophecy, to a repetition of the Prophecy of the whole book; and alludes to Ezekiel’s eating a roll or book spread open before him, and written within and without, full of lamentations and mourning and woe, but sweet in his mouth. Eating and drinking signify acquiring and possessing; and eating the book is becoming inspired with the Prophecy contained in it. It implies being inspired in a vigorous and extraordinary manner with the Prophecy of the whole book, and therefore signifies a lively repetition of the whole Prophecy by way of interpretation, and begins not till the first Prophecy, that of the seals and trumpets, is ended. It was sweet in John’s mouth, and therefore begins not with the bitter Prophecy of the Babylonian captivity, and the Gentiles being in the outward court of the Temple, and treading the holy city under foot; and the prophesying of the two Witnesses in sackcloth, and their smiting the earth with all plagues, and being killed by the Beast; but so soon as the Prophecy of the trumpets is ended, it begins with the sweet Prophecy of the glorious Woman in heaven, and the victory of Michael over the Dragon; and after that, it is bitter in John’s belly, by a large description of the times of the great Apostacy.
And the Angel stood, upon the earth and sea, saying, Rise and measure the Temple of God and the Altar, and them that worship therein, that is, their courts with the buildings thereon, viz. the square court of the Temple called the separate place, and the square court of the Altar called the Priests court, and the court of them that worship in the Temple called the new court: but the great court which is without the Temple, leave out, and measure it not, for it is given to the Gentiles, and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months. This measuring hath reference to Ezekiel’s measuring the Temple of Solomon: there the whole Temple, including the outward court, was measured, to signify that it should be rebuilt in the latter days. Here the courts of the Temple and Altar, and they who worship therein, are only measured, to signify the building of a second Temple, for those that are sealed out of all the twelve tribes of Israel, and worship in the inward court of sincerity and truth: but John is commanded to leave out the outward court, or outward form of religion and Church-government, because it is given to the Babylonian Gentiles. For the glorious woman in heaven, the remnant of whole seed kept the commandments of God, and had the testimony of Jesus, continued the same woman in outward form after her flight into the wilderness, whereby she quitted her former sincerity and piety, and became the great Whore. She lost her chastity, but kept her outward form and shape. And while the Gentiles tread the holy city underfoot, and worship in the outward court, the two witnesses, represented perhaps by the two feet of the Angel standing on the sea and earth, prophesied against them, and had power, like Elijah and Moses, to consume their enemies with fire proceeding out of their mouth, and to shut heaven that it rain not in the days of their Prophecy, and to turn the waters into blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues as often as they will, that is, with the plagues of the trumpets and vials of wrath; and at length they are slain, rise again from the dead, and ascend up to heaven in a cloud; and then the seventh trumpet sounds to the day of judgment.
The Prophecy being finished, John is inspired anew by the eaten book, and begins the Interpretation thereof with these words, And the Temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his Temple the Ark of the Testament. By the Ark, we may know that this was the first Temple; for the second Temple had no Ark. And there were lightnings, and voices, and thundrings, and an earthquake, and great hail. These answer to the wars in the Roman Empire, during the reign of the four horsemen, who appeared upon opening the first four seals. And there appeared a great wonder in heaven, a woman clothed with the Sun. In the Prophecy, the affairs of the Church begin to be considered at the opening of the fifth seal; and in the Interpretation, they begin at the same time with the vision of the Church in the form of a woman in heaven: there she is persecuted, and here she is pained in travail. The Interpretation proceeds down first to the sealing of the servants of God, and marking the rest with the mark of the Beast; and then to the day of judgment, represented by a harvest and vintage. Then it returns back to the times of opening the seventh seal, and interprets the Prophecy of the seven trumpets by the pouring out of seven vials of wrath. The Angels who pour them out, come out of the Temple of the Tabernacle; that is, out of the second Temple, for the Tabernacle had no outward court. Then it returns back again to the times of measuring the Temple and Altar, and of the Gentiles worshiping in the outward court, and of the Beast killing the witnesses in the streets of the great city; and interprets these things by the vision of a woman sitting on the Beast, drunken with the blood of the Saints; and proceeds in the interpretation downwards to the fall of the great city and the day of judgment.
The whole Prophecy of the book, represented by the book of the Law, is therefore repeated, and interpreted in the visions which follow those of sounding the seventh trumpet, and begin with that of the Temple of God opened in heaven. Only the things, which the seven thunders uttered, were not written down, and therefore not interpreted.
This artwork from Augsburger Wunderzeichenbuch illustrates Revelation 11:5-8 “And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed... And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city.” (c. 1550)
The whole scene of sacred Prophecy is composed of three principal parts: the regions beyond Euphrates, represented by the two first Beasts of Daniel; the Empire of the Greeks on this side of Euphrates, represented by the Leopard and by the He-Goat; and the Empire of the Latins on this side of Greece, represented by the Beast with ten horns. And to these three parts, the phrases of the third part of the earth, sea, rivers, trees, ships, stars, sun, and moon, relate. I place the body of the fourth Beast on this side of Greece, because the first three of the four Beasts had their lives prolonged after their dominion was taken away, and therefore belong not to the body of the fourth. He only stamped them with his feet.
By the earth, the Jews understood the great continent of all Asia and Africa, to which they had access by land: and by the Isles of the sea, they understood the places to which they sailed by sea, particularly all Europe: and hence in this Prophecy, the earth and sea are put for the nations of the Greek and Latin Empires.
The third and fourth Beasts of Daniel are the same with the Dragon and ten-horned Beast of John, but with this difference: John puts the Dragon for the whole Roman Empire while it continued entire, because it was entire when that Prophecy was given; and the Beast he considers not till the Empire became divided: and then he puts the Dragon for the Empire of the Greeks, and the Beast for the Empire of the Latins. Hence it is that the Dragon and Beast have common heads and common horns: but the Dragon hath crowns only upon his heads, and the Beast only upon his horns; because the Beast and his horns reigned not before they were divided from the Dragon: and when the Dragon gave the Beast his throne, the ten horns received power as Kings, the same hour with the Beast. The heads are seven successive Kings. Four of them were the four horsemen which appeared at the opening of the first four seals. In the latter end of the sixth head, or seal, considered as present in the visions, it is said, five of the seven Kings are fallen, and one is, and another is not yet come; and the Beast that was and is not, being wounded to death with a sword, he is the eighth, and of the seven: he was therefore a collateral part of the seventh. The horns are the same with those of Daniel’s fourth Beast, described above.
The four horsemen which appear at the opening of the first four seals, have been well explained by Mr. Mede; excepting that I had rather continue the third to the end of the reign of the three Gordians and Philip the Arabian, those being Kings from the South, and begin the fourth with the reign of Decius, and continue it till the reign of Dioclesian. For the fourth horseman sat upon a pale horse, and his name was Death; and hell followed with him; and power was given them to kill unto the fourth part of the earth, with the sword, and with famine, and with the plague, and with the Beasts of the earth, or armies of invaders and rebels: and as such were the times during all this interval. Hitherto the Roman Empire continued in an undivided monarchical form, except rebellions; and such it is represented by the four horsemen. But Dioclesian divided it between himself and Maximianus, A.C. 285; and it continued in that divided state, till the victory of Constantine the great over Licinius, A.C. 323, which put an end to the heathen persecutions set on foot by Dioclesian and Maximianus, and described at the opening of the fifth seal. But this division of the Empire was imperfect, the whole being still under one and the same Senate. The same victory of Constantine over Licinius a heathen persecutor, began the fall of the heathen Empire, described at the opening of the sixth seal: and the visions of this seal continue till after the reign of Julian the Apostate, he being a heathen Emperor, and reigning over the whole Roman Empire.
The affairs of the Church begin to be considered at the opening of the fifth seal, as was said above. Then she is represented by a woman in the Temple of heaven, clothed with the sun of righteousness, and the moon of Jewish ceremonies under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars relating to the twelve Apostles and to the twelve tribes of Israel. When she fled from the Temple into the wilderness, she left in the Temple a remnant of her seed, who kept the commandments of God, and had the testimony of Jesus Christ; and therefore before her flight she represented the true primitive Church of God, tho afterwards she degenerated like Aholah and Aholibah. In Diocesian’s persecution she cried, travelling in birth, and pained to be delivered. And in the end of that persecution, by the victory of Constantine over Maxentius A.C. 312, she brought forth a man-child, such a child as was to rule all nations with a rod of iron, a Christian Empire. And her child, by the victory of Constantine over Licinius, A.C. 323, was caught up unto God and to his throne. And the woman, by the division of the Roman Empire into the Greek and Latin Empires, fled from the first Temple into the wilderness, or spiritually barren Empire of the Latins, where she is found afterwards sitting upon the Beast and upon the seven mountains; and is called the great city which reigneth over the Kings of the earth, that is, over the ten Kings who give their kingdom to her Beast.
But before her flight there was war in heaven between Michael and the Dragon, the Christian and the heathen religions; and the Dragon, that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan, who deceiveth the whole world, was cast out to the earth, and his Angels were cast out with him. And John heard a voice in heaven, saying, Now is come salvation and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony. And they loved not their lives unto the death. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe be to the inhabiters of the earth and sea, or people of the Greek and Latin Empires, for the devil is come down amongst you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
And when the Dragon saw that he was cast down from the Roman throne, and the man-child caught up thither, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man-child; and to her, by the division of the Roman Empire between the cities of Rome and Constantinople A.C. 330, were given two wings of a great eagle, the symbol of the Roman Empire, that she might flee from the first Temple into the wilderness of Arabia, to her place at Babylon mystically so called. And the serpent, by the division of the same Empire between the sons of Constantine the great, A.C. 337, cast out of his mouth water as a flood, the Western Empire, after the woman; that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. And the earth, or Greek Empire, helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood, by the victory of Constantius over Magnentius, A.C. 353, and thus the Beast was wounded to death with a sword. And the Dragon was wroth with the woman, in the reign of Julian the Apostate A.C. 361, and, by a new division of the Empire between Valentinian and Valens, A.C. 364, went from her into the Eastern Empire to make war with the remnant of her seed, which she left behind her when she fled: and thus the Beast revived. By the next division of the Empire, which was between Gratian and Theodosius A.C. 379, the Beast with ten horns rose out of the sea, and the Beast with two horns out of the earth: and by the last division thereof, which was between the sons of Theodosius, A.C. 395, the Dragon gave the Beast his power and throne, and great authority. And the ten horns received power as Kings, the same hour with the Beast.
At length the woman arrived at her place of temporal as well as spiritual dominion upon the back of the Beast, where she is nourished a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent; not in his kingdom, but at a distance from him. She is nourished by the merchants of the earth, three times or years and an half, or 42 months, or 1260 days: and in these Prophecies days are put for years. During all this time the Beast acted, and she sat upon him, that is, reigned over him, and over the ten Kings who gave their power and strength, that is, their kingdom to the Beast; and she was drunken with the blood of the Saints. By all these circumstances she is the eleventh horn of Daniel’s fourth Beast, who reigned with a look more stout than his fellows, and was of a different kind from the rest, and had eyes and a mouth like the woman; and made war with the saints, and prevailed against them, and wore them out, and thought to change times and laws, and had them given into his hand, until a time, and times, and half a time. These characters of the woman, and little horn of the Beast, agree perfectly: in respect of her temporal dominion, she was a horn of the Beast; in respect of her spiritual dominion, she rode upon him in the form of a woman, and was his Church, and committed fornication with the ten Kings.
The second Beast, which rose up out of the earth, was the Church of the Greek Empire: for it had two horns like those of the Lamb, and therefore was a Church; and it spake as the Dragon, and therefore was of his religion; and it came up out of the earth, and by consequence in his kingdom. It is called also the false Prophet who wrought miracles before the first Beast, by which he deceived them that received his mark, and worshiped his image. When the Dragon went from the woman to make war with the remnant of her seed, this Beast arising out of the earth assisted in that war, and caused the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the authority of the first Beast, whose mortal wound was healed, and to make an Image to him, that is, to assemble a body of men like him in point of religion. He had also power to give life and authority to the Image, so that it could both speak, and by dictating cause that all religious bodies of men, who would not worship the authority of the Image, should be mystically killed. And he causeth all men to receive a mark in their right hand or in their forehead, and that no man might buy or sell save he that had the mark, or the name of the Beast, or the number of his name; all the rest being excommunicated by the Beast with two horns. His mark is ✚✚✚, and his name ΛΑΤΕΙΝΟΣ, and the number of his name 666.
Thus the Beast, after he was wounded to death with a sword and revived, was deified, as the heathens used to deify their Kings after death, and had an Image erected to him; and his worshipers were initiated in this new religion, by receiving the mark or name of this new God, or the number of his name. By killing all that will not worship him and his Image, the first Temple, illuminated by the lamps of the seven Churches, is demolished, and a new Temple built for them who will not worship him; and the outward court of this new Temple, or outward form of a Church, is given to the Gentiles, who worship the Beast and his Image: while they who will not worship him, are sealed with the name of God in their foreheads, and retire into the inward court of this new Temple. These are the 144000 sealed out of all the twelve tribes of Israel, and called the two Witnesses, as being derived from the two wings of the woman while she was flying into the wilderness, and represented by two of the seven candlesticks. These appear to John in the inward court of the second Temple, standing on mount Sion with the Lamb, and as it were on the sea of glass. These are the Saints of the most High, and the host of heaven, and the holy people spoken of by Daniel, as worn out and trampled under foot, and destroyed in the latter times by the little horns of his fourth Beast and He-Goat.
While the Gentiles tread the holy city under foot, God gives power to his two Witnesses, and they prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days clothed in sackcloth. They are called the two Olive-trees, with relation to the two Olive-trees, which in Zechary’s vision, chap. iv. stand on either side of the golden candlestick to supply the lamps with oil: and Olive-trees, according to the Apostle Paul, represent Churches, Rom. xi. They supply the lamps with oil, by maintaining teachers. They are also called the two candlesticks; which in this Prophecy signify Churches, the seven Churches of Asia being represented by seven candlesticks. Five of these Churches were found faulty, and threatened if they did not repent; the other two were without fault, and so their candlesticks were fit to be placed in the second Temple. These were the Churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia. They were in a state of tribulation and persecution, and the only two of the seven in such a state: and so their candlesticks were fit to represent the Churches in affliction in the times of the second Temple, and the only two of the seven that were fit. The two Witnesses are not new Churches: they are the posterity of the primitive Church, the posterity of the two wings of the woman, and so are fitly represented by two of the primitive candlesticks. We may conceive therefore, that when the first Temple was destroyed, and a new one built for them who worship in the inward court, two of the seven candlesticks were placed in this new Temple.
The affairs of the Church are not considered during the opening of the first four seals. They begin to be consider’d at the opening of the fifth seal, as was said above; and are further considered at the opening of the sixth seal; and the seventh seal contains the times of the great Apostacy. And therefore I refer the Epistles to the seven Churches unto the times of the fifth and sixth seals: for they relate to the Church when she began to decline, and contain admonitions against the great Apostacy then approaching.
When Eusebius had brought down his Ecclesiatical History to the reign of Dioclesian, he thus describes the state of the Church: Qualem quantamque gloriam simul ac libertatem doctrina veræ erga supremum Deum pietatis à Christo primùm hominibus annunciata, apud omnes Græcos pariter & barbaros ante persecutionem nostrâ memoriâ excitatam, consecuta sit, nos certè pro merito explicare non possumus. Argumento esse possit Imperatorum benignitas erga nostros: quibus regendas etiam provincias committebant, omni sacrificandi metu eos liberantes ob singularem, qua in religionem nostram affecti erant, benevolentiam. And a little after: Jam vero quis innumerabilem hominum quotidiè ad fidem Christi confugientium turbam, quis numerum ecclesiarum in singulis urbibus, quis illustres populorum concursus in ædibus sacris, cumulatè possit describere? Quo factum est, ut priscis ædificiis jam non contenti, in singulis urbibus spatiosas ab ipsis fundamentis exstruerent ecclesias. Atque hæc progressii temporis increscentia, & quotidiè in majus & melius proficiscentia, nec livor ullus atterere, nec malignitas dæmonis fascinare, nec hominum insidiæ prohibere unquam potuerunt, quamdiu omnipotentis Dei dextra populum suum, utpote tali dignum præsidio, texit atque custodiit. Sed cum ex nimia libertate in negligentiam ac desidiam prolapsi essemus; cum alter alteri invidere atque obtrectare cæpisset; cum inter nos quasi bella intestina gereremus, verbis, tanquam armis quibusdam hastisque, nos mutuò vulnerantes; cum Antistites adversus Antistites, populi in populos collisi, jurgia ac tumultus agitarent; denique cum fraus & simulatio ad summum malitiæ culmen adolevisset: tum divina ultio, levi brachio ut solet, integro adhuc ecclesiæ statu, & fidelium turbis liberè convenientibus, sensim ac moderatè in nos cæpit animadvertere; orsà primùm persecutione ab iis qui militabant. Cum verò sensu omni destituti de placando Dei numine ne cogitaremus quidem; quin potius instar impiorum quorundam res humanas nullâ providentiâ gubernari rati, alia quotidiè crimina aliis adjiceremus: cum Pastores nostri spretâ religionis regulâ, mutuis inter se contentionibus decertarent, nihil aliud quam jurgia, minas, æmulationem, odia, ac mutuas inimicitias amplificare studentes; principatum quasi tyrannidem quandam contentissimè sibi vindicantes: tunc demùm juxta dictum Hieremiæ, obscuravit Dominus in ira sua filiam Sion, & dejecit de cælo gloriam Israel, — per Ecclesiarum scilicet subversionem, &c. This was the state of the Church just before the subversion of the Churches in the beginning of Dioclesian’s persecution: and to this state of the Church agrees the first of the seven Epistles to the Angel of the seven Churches, that to the Church in Ephesus. I have something against thee, saith Christ to the Angel of that Church, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. The Nicolaitans are the Continentes above described, who placed religion in abstinence from marriage, abandoning their wives if they had any. They are here called Nicolaitans, from Nicolas one of the seven deacons of the primitive Church of Jerusalem; who having a beautiful wife, and being taxed with uxoriousness, abandoned her, and permitted her to marry whom she pleased, saying that we must disuse the flesh; and thenceforward lived a single life in continency, as his children also. The Continentes afterwards embraced the doctrine of Æons and Ghosts male and female, and were avoided by the Churches till the fourth century; and the Church of Ephesus is here commended for hating their deeds.
The persecution of Dioclesian began in the year of Christ 302, and lasted ten years in the Eastern Empire and two years in the Western. To this state of the Church the second Epistle, to the Church of Smyrna, agrees. I know, saith Christ, thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, but thou art rich; and I know the blasphemy of them, which say they are Jews and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: Behold, the Devil shall call some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. The tribulation of ten days can agree to no other persecution than that of Dioclesian, it being the only persecution which lasted ten years. By the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan, I understand the Idolatry of the Nicolaitans, who falsly said they were Christians.
The Nicolaitans are complained of also in the third Epistle, as men that held the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to Idols, and to commit spiritual fornication. For Balaam taught the Moabites and Midianites to tempt and invite Israel by their women to commit fornication, and to feast with them at the sacrifices of their Gods. The Dragon therefore began now to come down among the inhabitants of the earth and sea.
The Nicolaitans are also complained of in the fourth Epistle, under the name of the woman Jezabel, who calleth herself a Prophetess, to teach and to seduce the servants of Christ to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to Idols. The woman therefore began now to fly into the wilderness.
The reign of Constantine the great from the time of his conquering Licinius, was monarchical over the whole Roman Empire. Then the Empire became divided between the sons of Constantine: and afterwards it was again united under Constantius, by his victory over Magnentius. To the affairs of the Church in these three successive periods of time, the third, fourth, and fifth Epistles, that is, those to the Angels of the Churches in Pergamus, Thyatira, and Sardis, seem to relate. The next Emperor was Julian the Apostate.
In the sixth Epistle, to the Angel of the Church in Philadelphia, Christ saith: Because in the reign of the heathen Emperor Julian, thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which by the woman’s flying into the wilderness, and the Dragon’s making war with the remnant of her seed, and the killing of all who will not worship the Image of the Beast, shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth, and to distinguish them by sealing the one with the name of God in their foreheads, and marking the other with the mark of the Beast. Him that overcometh, I will make a pillar in the Temple of my God; and he shall go no more out of it. And I will write upon him the name of my God in his forehead. So the Christians of the Church of Philadelphia, as many of them as overcome, are sealed with the seal of God, and placed in the second Temple, and go no more out. The same is to be understood of the Church in Smyrna, which also kept the word of God’s patience, and was without fault. These two Churches, with their posterity, are therefore the two Pillars, and the two Candlesticks, and the two Witnesses in the second Temple.
After the reign of the Emperor Julian, and his successor Jovian who reigned but five months, the Empire became again divided between Valentinian and Valens. Then the Church Catholick, in the Epistle to the Angel of the Church of Laodicea, is reprehended as lukewarm, and threatened to be spewed out of Christ’s mouth. She said, that she was rich and increased with goods, and had need of nothing, being in outward prosperity; and knew not that she was inwardly wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. She is therefore spewed out of Christ’s mouth at the opening of the seventh seal: and this puts an end to the times of the first Temple.