An Early Historicist Interpretation of Revelation
After writing “A Historicist Interpretation of Revelation,” the author came across a much earlier historicist explanation of Revelation than that described in the previous article. John Wesley gives this earlier explanation in his notes (1754) on Revelation. Wesley’s notes are based on the works of Bengelius. The following summarizes this historicist interpretation.
For Wesley’s explanation of the symbolism used in Revelation, the reader should consult his notes. In several places, Wesley’s explanation differs significantly from the description given by the authors reviewed in the previous article.
The first four seals (Rev. 6:1-8) cover the time from which John writes (96 A.D.) to the end of Trajan’s reign (117). The horsemen represent a swift power that brings (1) a flourishing state (white), (2) bloodshed (red), (3) scarcity of provisions (black), and (4) public calamities (pale). The first horseman is a conqueror (conquers in the East); the second is a warrior (wars in the West); the third controls the production of the land (food crisis in the South); the fourth is death (enormous lost of life).
The first seal, the white horse (Rev. 6:1-2), represents conquest. This seal covers the reign of Trajan (98-117). It describes the conquest of the East.
The second seal, the red horse (Rev. 6:3-4), covers the years following Vespasian’s dedication of a temple of peace in 75. These years are filled with wars in the western portion of the Empire. Peace is taken from the world with Trajan’s ascension to the throne.
The third seal, the black horse (Rev. 6:5-6), describes food shortages. A dearth of food production occurs during Trajan’s reign, especially in Egypt.
The fourth seal, the pale horse (Rev. 6:7-8), refers to the large lost of life during Trajan’s reign. During his reign, perhaps a fourth of the inhabitants of the Roman Empire die of war, famine, pestilence, natural disasters, and wild beasts.
Events on earth and in heavens are described in the fifth, sixth, and seventh seals. Thus, they refer to the invisible and visible. The fifth seal (Rev. 6:9-11) refers to happy death. It depicts the martyrdom of Christians at the hands of Rome. This seal pertains to Pagan Rome and Papal Rome persecuting and killing Christian. It covers from Trajan’s persecution beginning in 98 to the first crusade against the Waldenses in 1209 (a “time” or 1111 years).
The sixth seal (Rev. 6:12-17) refers to unhappy death. It shows God’s judgment of the wicked dead.
The seventh seal is divided into seven trumpets. Covering the first, second, third, and fourth centuries are the first, second, third, and fourth trumpets, respectively. Each of the last three trumpets is a woe with an interval between each woe.
The first trumpet (Rev. 8:7) depicts conflicts and wars between Rome and the Jews during the first century. God sends vengeance against the Jewish enemies of Christ’s Kingdom.
The second trumpet (Rev. 8:8-9) covers the European part of the Roman Empire during the second century. It depicts the barbarian invasion of the Roman Empire.
The third trumpet (Rev. 8:10-11) pertains to the African part of the Roman Empire, primarily Egypt, during the third century. It depicts the rise of Arianism and the conflicts and wars between the Arian Christians and non-Arian Christian. Arius is the “great star” in verse 10.
The fourth trumpet (Rev. 8:12) describes the barbarian invasions of the fourth century and the breakup of the Roman Empire following the death of Theodosius. In 476, Odoacer captures Rome and disposes the emperor. Thus, ends the Roman Empire.
Accompanying each of the next three trumpets is a prelude. A prelude comes before each woe. For the first woe, the prelude begins in Persia (now called Iran) in 454 when Isadegard II seeks to abolish the Jewish Sabbath and continues with Phiruz’s persecution of the Jews in 474.
The fifth trumpet, first woe (Rev. 9:1-12) takes place between 510 and 589. This woe begins with a holy angel (“a star falls from heaven”) opening the bottomless pit. “Locusts” are the Persians, who zealously push their false idolatrous doctrine. These verses depict the Persian persecution of Jews during the sixth century. Persecution lasts 79 years, i.e., five prophetic months (“tormented five months”).
For the second woe, the prelude is the rise of the Saracens, Islamic Arabs. This prelude falls between 589 and 634.
The sixth trumpet, second woe (Rev. 9:13-21) takes place between 634 and 840. This woe begins with the loosing of “the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.” These verses describe the rise and expansion of Islam, which bloodshed accompanies. Corresponding with the four angels are Islam’s first and most eminent caliphs: Ali, Abu Bekr (Abubeker), Omar, and Osman. In verse 15, the prophetic hour, day, month, and year equal 212 years. These 212 years begin with the ending of Abu Bekr’s reign in 634 and end with Leo IV’s repulse of the Muslims at Rome in 847.
In Revelation 10:6, “time no more” refers to a period slightly less than a chronos. A chronos is a whole time or 1111 years. This period begins in 800 when Charlemagne begins a new line of emperors in the West. It ends in 1836. Contained within this period are the “short time” of the third woe, the “three times and a half” of the woman in the wilderness, and the duration of the beast.
For the third woe, the prelude covers 840 to 947. During this era, Innocent I and his successors strive to expand their episcopal jurisdiction beyond all bounds and to expand greatly their temporal power.
The seventh trumpet, third woe (Rev. 11:19) takes place between 947 and 1836. It begins with the dragon, Satan, being cast out of heaven. This trumpet contains the seven vials. In heaven, the seventh trumpet is celebrated with great joy. On earth it heralds dreadful events until Christ comes and establishes his Kingdom.
In Revelation 12:6, the 1260 days equal 777 years. It covers the years 847 to 1524. The woman represents the true Church, which is centered around Bohemia during this time.
In Revelation 12:12, “a short time” is probably about four-fifth of chronos or 888 years. Therefore, the “little time” begins with Satan coming to earth in 947 after being cast out of heaven and lasts until 1836. Shortly after 864 begins the war in heaven in Revelation 12:7.
In Revelation 12:14, “a time, and times, and half a time” is 777 years. It begins in 1058 after which Christianity is soon brought to the parts of Europe that are still pagan. It ends 777 years later or 1836. The “time” is when “the earth helped the woman,” and runs from 1058 to 1208. During this period, the Turks are powerful, but the emperors check their movements northward. Consequently, they protect the woman, i.e., the Church from the Turks. The “two times” is from 1280 to 1725. During this time Turkish power expands. Again the rulers of Europe, “earth,” helped the woman by repulsing Turkish advancement northward. The “half time” covers 1725 to 1836. Now the Turks focus on Persia and become less involved with Christendom.
Chapter 13 pertains to the Papacy. “Wild beast” is the Papacy. “The sea” is Europe. In 1077, the beast comes “out of the sea.” That is when Pope Gregory VII claims authority over all Christian rulers. The mark of the beast and the number of the beast, 666, refer to the Pope.
In Revelation 13:5, the 42 months are 666 years. They fall between the beginning and the ending of the three and a half times of Revelation 12:14. They begin in 1143 and end in 1810. In 1143, the Pope takes over government of Rome, and the cardinals alone now select the Pope.
Wesley gives no time frame or events specifically associated with the first four vials. From Wesley’s perspective, all the vials are poured out in the future. They come quickly. The first (Rev. 16:2) affects the land; the second (Rev. 16:3), the sea; the third (Rev. 16:4-7), rivers; the fourth (Rev. 16:8-9), the sun. They begin at the end of the 42 months in 1810. These four vials primarily affect that part of the world under the Papacy.
The fifth vial (Rev. 16:10-11) concerns the Papacy. The sixth vial (Rev 16:12-16) concerns the Muslims. The seventh vial (Rev. 16:17-21) concerns the heathens. Pouring out of the fifth, sixth, and seventh vials occur consecutively instead of concurrently.
In Revelation 17:8, the beast ascends “out of the bottomless pit” in 1832. This beast is the Papacy. In 1836, the Papacy is finally overthrown (Rev. 18:20).
The Millennia begin in 1836 or shortly afterwards. Two Millennia, two thousand- year periods, are mentioned in Chapter 20. One of the thousand years covers the time that Satan is bound (verse 2, 3, 7). This thousand years occurs before the end of the world. During these thousand years occurs the flourishing of the Church (Rev. 10:7). The other thousand-year period is when the saints reign with Christ. It comes after the first thousand years and goes to the general resurrection.
At the end of the first thousand years, Satan is released for a small time (Rev. 20:7). Also, at the end of the first thousand years, the first resurrection begins. After the end of the second thousand years come the new earth and new heavens.
The following table summarizes Wesley’s time line.
Copyright ©2011 by Thomas Coley Allen.
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