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Revelation 9 speaks of three “woes,” all of them having to do with Islam which God raised up to judge the church for its refusal to repent. The first woe came through the Saracens, who swept through the Middle East, North Africa, and into Spain. Rev. 9:12-14 says,
12 The first woe is past; behold, two woes are still coming after these things. 13 And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, 14 one saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.”
The second woe began with the Seljuk Turks, then extended through the Ottoman Turks, and finally concluded with the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Rev. 9:12-21 describes this very well. It begins in verse 14 with the release of the “four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” These are not men, but angels, who are released to judge the Church through the Seljuk Turks and their successors.
The time begins with the death of Tughril Beg, who had been the head of the Seljuk Turkish Empire. He conquered Baghdad in 1055 nearly 300 years after it had been built. However, Tughril Beg died shortly afterward in 1063. Then his nephew, Alp Arslan succeeded him. This was the beginning of a 391-year period to the final overthrow of the prize—Constantinople in 1453 A.D.—which was taken in the 391st year from 1063.
Arslan first conquered Georgia and Armenia from the Byzantines (i.e., the Eastern Roman Empire). Then as he prepared to conquer Egypt in 1071, a new Byzantine army marched against him, and he crushed it catastrophically. From this point on, the Eastern Roman Empire steadily declined while the Islamic forces increased in power.
During this time in history, “the great schism” between Eastern and Western Christianity split the Church. This occurred in 1054, just a year before Tughril Beg conquered Baghdad in 1055. In the final analysis, “the great schism” in the Church between East and West, or between the Greek Orthodox Church and the Vatican, boiled down to the Latin word filoque in the creed.
In the original Nicene Creed (325 A.D.) the bishops had determined that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father.” In the 6th century, the Church in Spain added to this, saying that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son (filoque).” The custom spread in the West, but Rome itself did not officially adopt the alteration until 936 A.D.
The Vatican accused the Eastern Churches of heresy for not using this innovation. The final break came in 1054 when Roman Cardinal Humbert excommunicated Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople. The Patriarch responded in kind. The Church has been split ever since, and it was not until February 12, 2016 that the two sides began to re-engage. Pope Francis met face to face with Russian Orthodox patriarch Kirill.
One can only imagine Jesus rolling His eyes over men’s stupidity and legalistic mindset. But this split was not so much over a point of doctrine as it was over who would submit to who. The split was over the leadership position in the Christian religion. It is fitting, in my view, that the second woe should be unleashed against the church shortly after this carnal fight over church leadership.
Nine years after “the great schism,” Alp Arslan came to power in Baghdad and was empowered by God to begin the first of three rounds of judgment (“woes”) upon the Church. Not that Islam was any more unified than the Church. There was as much infighting among them as in the Church, for both religions were ruled by carnal men driven by personal ambition.
Up to the tenth century, the Islamic Arabs had been a dynamic, well educated people, particularly after Baghdad became their capital in 762 A.D. But by the end of the tenth century, they had lost much of their “fire,” and a new force came into play—the Turks. In 977 a Turkish slave, Subuktigin, established a kingdom which spread over what is now Afghanistan. His successor expanded his kingdom into Iran and northern India.
However, in 1037 they were in turn defeated by another Turkish tribe, the Seljuks, under Tughril Beg. When he died in 1063, his nephew, Alp Arslan, succeeded him and began expanding his kingdom westward into Armenia, taking territory from both the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad and from Constantinople, or “New Rome,” as it was called.
The rise of the Turkish Empire, however, was interrupted for a time by the Mongolian Empire, which began in 1206 when Genghis Khan was crowned as its leader. For the next century, the Mongols spread west into Eastern Europe and the Mideast. Their capture of Baghdad destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate and prepared the way for the later rise of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
By 1150 gunpowder had been discovered in China and was used in battle to frighten evil spirits and horses with the noise of the explosions. They never used it effectively, but in the 13th century the Mongols, led by the grandson of Genghis Khan, swept west across Asia and conquered Baghdad on February 10, 1258. They massacred many citizens and destroyed the great libraries, including the one known as the House of Wisdom. Historians say that this effectively ended the Islamic Golden Age.
The Mongols captured Kiev and controlled territory from the Pacific to the Baltic by the year 1297. Although the empire declined steadily afterward, the West became aware that there were powerful and civilized lands east of “the known world.” This changed their world view. The “silk road” soon brought trade between East and West, but the overland route was long and dangerous. This motivated some to find a sea route to India, Indonesia, and China itself. Some sailed around the horn of Africa, while others sailed west in the attempt to go around the globe to India. They accidentally found the Americas.
The Mongol invasion of the Mideast brought the knowledge of gunpowder and the printing press. The Mongols eventually retreated, but their technological advances remained and had a profound effect upon the Western world, as we will see shortly. Islam despised the printing presses, which were considered to be irreligious, but they found gunpowder to be useful. Europe used both technologies but the printing press proved to be the key to education. Hence, while the Islamic civilization declined after the Mongols destroyed Baghdad, European civilization was revived by the printing press which the Mongols had brought with them.
When the Mongols retreated, the Osmani (or “Ottoman”) Turks came to power. Baghdad had been broken, and many of its educated class had fled to relative safety to Armenia, strengthening the Ottomans. It was not long before they learned to use gunpowder in a new weapon called the cannon. Their first great use of gunpowder came in the siege of Constantinople, where their cannons breached the walls of the city on May 29, 1453. Rev. 9:12-21 describes this very well, as we will see.
Revelation 9:15, 16 reads,
15 And the four angels who had prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they might kill a third of mankind. 16 And the number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them.
Verse 15 gives us the time frame during which these four angels were to capture Constantinople. It is 391 years. A prophetic “year” is 360 days, or in this case, 360 years. A prophetic “month” is 30 days, or in this case, 30 years. A prophetic “day” is one year. An hour is 15 days, if we use the 24-hour model, or 30 days, if we use a 12-hour model. Adding these together, the time frame for the second woe is no more than a month beyond 391 years.
The time begins in 1063 A.D. with the crowning of Alp Arslan, and it ends in 1453 with the capture of Constantinople and the fall of Constantinople, the capital of what remained of the Eastern Roman Empire (i.e., Byzantium). Constantinople fell in the 391st year, according to the time frame given in Rev. 9:15.
Neither the four angels nor the two hundred million in their army are literal people. These are all pictured as coming from the river Euphrates, and all of them had been “bound” up to that time. It is an event occurring in the spirit that pictures spiritual beings, unclean spirits, who are empowered by God to judge the Eastern Roman Empire, using physical armies as proxies.
Recall that the Roman Empire was really divided into three parts: Europe, Africa, and the area controlled by Constantinople, including Greece, the Balkans, Asia Minor, and Syria-Palestine. The judgment of the second woe was loosed upon this Eastern “third” of the Empire. Hence, they were given authority to “kill a third of mankind.” From John’s perspective, “mankind” did not include all the people of the world, or those on yet-unknown continents, but those in the general sphere of the Christian Roman Empire.
In Rev. 9:17-19 John describes the cannons they used to break down the walls of the city.
17 And this is how I saw in the vision the horses and those who sat on them: the riders had breastplates the color of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone; and the heads of the horses are like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone. 18 A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone, which proceeded out of their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents and have heads; and with them they do harm.
The old cannons used in the siege were shaped to have the heads of lions, out of which belched fire and brimstone every time the cannons were fired. Howard Rand, who personally saw some of these cannons in London after the British had captured them many years later, writes of these cannons in his 1959 book, Marvels of Prophecy, pp. 81-82, saying,
“Anything with four legs used in war, John would designate as a horse. He beheld men astride these iron horses. He watched them ramming in the powder and the shot. He observed the burning of the old-fashioned fuse, serpent-like, with its sputtering flame of fire at the tail, or touchhole, of the cannon. This was followed by the fire, smoke and brimstone issuing out of the mouths of these iron horses with lion’s heads, for the cannon used in the siege of Constantinople were cast in the form of lions.”
The cannon pictured earlier is taken from the cover of Marvels of Prophecy. These canons still stand as silent witnesses to what John saw in Revelation 9. The conquest of Constantinople in 1453 is one of the great moments in history that has changed the world.
The Eastern Orthodox Church lost its main power base in 1453. Although the technical head of the Orthodox Church is still the Patriarch of what is now Istanbul, the real seat of power moved first to Kosovo and later to Moscow.
With the fall of Constantinople, many Greek-speaking doctors of the Church fled into Europe, bringing with them Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. At the same time, the printing press had been discovered, and in 1452 the Gutenberg Bible was first printed, bringing the Scriptures to the common people. This is the subject of our next study in Revelation 10.