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Reviews | Interpreting the Book of Revelation

Interpreting the Book of Revelation

Alfred Nicholls

Paperback or e-book (ePub)

104 pages

Interpreting the Book of Revelation

The Christadelphian review (from December 1988)

Interpreting the Book of Revelation

NEW interpretations of the book of Revelation have created in some minds a sense of confusion, not least because they differ among themselves. Many have felt the need for some general principle and sound basis to guide their understanding. It is this need which Brother Nicholls set out to meet in his articles entitled “He sent and signified it … unto his servant”, first published in The Christadelphian during 1986. Those articles form the basis of the present work.

Pointing out that his book does not undertake an exposition of the whole Apocalypse, but rather an approach to its interpretation, the author stresses the importance of viewing the book of Revelation in the light of earlier prophetic writing. Thus it can be seen as a development and a culmination of God’s explanation of historical times, extending to the time of the end. It is evident that the faithful servants of God would have had no difficulty in recognizing from Daniel’s prophecy the rise and fall of the first three beasts. Hence “every saint for centuries knew that he was living in the time of Daniel’s fourth beast”. Since the phases of the “ten horns” and then of the “little horn” were evidently still to come, this must have been of great significance for the interpretation of the Apocalypse as a whole. To this we may add that “Paul envisaged the rise of an apostate system (2 Thessalonians 2). He cannot have been ignorant of Daniel’s prophecy about the little horn …” It is evident that the faithful of the first few centuries after Christ’s ascension must have had a clearer idea of what historical developments to expect than we are inclined to think.

It is Brother Nicholls’ conviction that the visions of the first six Seals, and of the woman clothed with the sun of chapter 12, are of great importance for the understanding of the Apocalypse as a whole. As regards the Seals, the horse was a widely known symbol of Rome and of warfare, as contemporary coins clearly show (illustrations are given). The Seals show a remarkable development from a comparatively tranquil period in the early years of the Empire, to periods of civil war and political murders, of famine and economic distress, to severe persecutions of Christians, and finally to a political and religious revolution. The author quotes from Michael Grant’s The Climax of Rome, which is “a valuable background contribution to our study … (It) gives confidence that Gibbon had not overstated his case in The Decline and Fall. In fact “the sequence of events from John’s day up the accession of Constantine so exactly matches the unfolding of the scroll … that it is difficult to doubt the correspondence between the history and the vision”. The author concludes that the times of the Seals (2nd–4th centuries A.D.) were “not obscure to those who lived through them”.

The vision of chapter 12, of the “woman clothed with the sun”, has sometimes been related to Israel, because of Joseph’s dream of the sun, moon and twelve stars. But the author insists that Scripture symbols must not be given a rigidly uniform interpretation; that they must be understood “in harmony with the context”. Now the context is not only the sun-clothed woman of chapter 12, but the beasts of sea and earth in chapter 13, and visions of Babylon the Great and the great Harlot of chapter 17.

Constantine was a worshipper of the Sun-god, despite his political support for the Christian Church. Also there had been “Twelve Caesars”, as Suetonius’ work of that title bears witness. Further, the career of “the woman” in Chapter 12, from a glorified state to one of persecution and flight, shows the final rupture between “the official church” and the true servants of Jesus Christ. Rome was well known as “seven-hilled”. With all this as a basis, the readers of Daniel’s prophecies would have recognised the visions of the beasts of the sea and land, and of the great Harlot, as “elaborations and fulfilments of the little horn of the fourth beast” (Daniel 7).

The author points out the great significance for us of this section of the Apocalypse. It is the revelation of a great apostasy, enduring right to the time of the end. It enables us to recognize our contemporary religious scene as a development out of a system first described as “Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots”. Despite their milder image, the religious communities of Christendom are still perverting the truths revealed in the Word. We must beware of attempts to compromise our message: “The time is at hand”.

FRED PEARCE

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