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The Book of Revelation - Part 4 Revelation 8

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Issue #173February 2003

The Book of Revelation - Part 4 Revelation 8

When the first trumpet sounded in Rev. 8:7, the invasions of the Roman Empire began with Alaric the Goth, who sacked Rome in 410 A.D. This traumatic event occurred just 30 years after the emperor Theodosius made Christianity the state religion in 380 A.D. It also destroyed the Christian myth that Rome—now a Christian city—was an eternal city that God would never allow to be overthrown. Yet it happened, and it was conquered by pagans! For this reason, in 411 Augustine, bishop of Hippo in North Africa, wrote his famous City of God, explaining that Rome was not the New Jerusalem, but rather, the “city of God” was a spiritual city.

While his basic premise was certainly true, the inescapable truth was that God had allowed a Christian Empire to come under divine judgment. This could be explained only by apostasy and sin in the religion itself. This is the clear message of the book of Revelation.

Keep in mind also that the book of Revelation is a continuation and expansion of the book of Daniel. These judgments were coming upon the “earth”—not the entire planet itself, but the territory of the fourth beast of Daniel. John’s focus of attention is the Roman Empire, first in its pagan setting, and later as a Christian Empire. In both stages of development, the Roman Empire is portrayed as being ungodly and worthy of judgment.

As we saw in our previous bulletin, the sack of Rome occurred precisely 15 years after the Empire had permanently divided in two. In 395 A.D. the Emperor Theodosius had died, leaving the Eastern part of the Roman Empire to his son, Arcadius, while leaving the Western part of the Roman Empire to his other son, Honorius. Gibbon writes in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, page 460,

“The division of the Roman world between the sons of Theodosius marks the final establishment of the empire of the East, which from the reign of Arcadius to the taking of Constantinople by the Turks, subsisted one thousand and fifty-eight years in a state of premature and perpetual decay.”

This division in 395 marked the permanent split of Daniel’s fourth kingdom into the two legs of iron. Constantinople was the capital city of the Eastern half of the Roman Empire. It was built by Constantine a century earlier. When it was finally conquered by the Turks in 1453, it was renamed Istanbul.

The reign of Arcadius (395-408) saw many important people and events in the history of the Church. Augustine in the West rose in importance, championing the doctrine of eternal torment for the unbelievers. In the East, at the death of Bishop Nectarius, a man named John Chrysostom was appointed archbishop of Constantinople. His zealous and undiplomatic zeal to purge the Church of unregenerate bishops made him many enemies, including the empress Eudoxia herself. John undiplomatically compared her to Jezebel and Herodias.

John Chrysostom made many enemies, most notably the archbishop of Alexandria, Egypt, who succeeded in overthrowing him with the blessing of Eudoxia.

We discussed some of his story in chapter 12 of our book, Creation’s Jubilee, because he was called to investigate Theophilus, the archbishop of Alexandria. This unscrupulous archbishop had slaughtered over 200 monks, but about 80 of them had escaped and appealed to John Chrysostom. This event began the first serious opposition to the doctrine of the Restoration of All Things, which had been widely taught and accepted throughout the Eastern Church up to that time.

By political intrigue, Theophilus managed to depose Chrysostom and bring about his exile and early death. Later generations brought his bones back for honorable burial and mourned the loss of a righteous man. Of course, if he had lived in those later generations, he would have made just as many enemies, and so it is doubtful if his fate would have been significantly different.

The Primary Reason for Divine Judgment

Many have written about the rise of corruption in the Church, particularly beginning in the fourth century. While much of this is certainly true, I wondered what the primary factor it was (in the sight of God) that brought about the divine judgment. Passages like Rev. 9:21 gives us a clue:

21 and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.

And yet, these are merely outward manifestations of the real “heart” of the problem. So I sought the Lord in prayer for a deeper, more fundamental answer. I believe that I received the answer from the Lord:

The Church under Pentecost was the fulfillment of King Saul, the first king of Israel. He was crowned on the day of “wheat harvest” (1 Sam. 12:17), which was the day later called Pentecost. We have written extensively on that topic already in other writings. But this means that Saul was a type of the Church in the Pentecostal Age (“church age”).

When we study the story of King Saul, we find that God gave him authority for 40 years. He abused that authority by oppressing the people. He used that authority for his own gain and was willing to kill (David and others) to maintain power. Saul did not rule by love, but by fear.

After Saul died, David began to rule Israel. David’s name means “love.” David was a type of overcomer who ruled by divine love after Saul’s time of authority came to an end. Meanwhile, David was trained by Saul, for David learned from Saul how NOT to rule. David also learned how to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21). He learned also the principle in Matt. 5:38, 39,

38 You have heard it was said, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,’ 39 but I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.

The story of Saul and David are prophecies of the Church and the overcomers and their respective kingdoms. The Church in the first few centuries endured persecution and did not make any attempt to overthrow the Roman government. They followed Jesus’ instructions. There were numerous martyrs, people who were willing to die—not only for Jesus Christ, but also for their enemies. They followed Jesus’ example, for we read in Rom. 5:8-10 that few men would even die for their friends, but Christ died for the “ungodly” and for His “enemies.”

The Roman government was the Christian’s “enemy.” The Christians knew this, and they were willing to die for the sake of their enemies in order to manifest the love of God to them. And so whenever Christians died, more Romans came to admire them and to convert to Christ. This was how Christianity conquered Rome—by love, not by hatred or vengeance.

But as the Church received authority, it lost its first love. Christian zeal was soon turned into fanaticism. They still did not mind being martyrs, but now they saw it only in terms of defending the faith with the sword and dying for Christ in battle against the enemies. No longer were the Christians willing to give their lives for the pagans, heretics, or Jews. In fact, they preferred to oppress or kill the “enemies of Christ,” rather than die for them. So they increasingly made life difficult for the pagans, heretics, and Jews to “encourage” them to convert.

And so many pagans and other unbelievers did join the Christian religion, but with the wrong motive. They joined out of fear, ambition, or simply to find employment. The Christians presented Christ as a God to be feared, not loved. Pagans had to renounce one religion and join another. When they did so, they joined the religion, but they did not become members of the body of Christ.

This change of heart increased membership in the religious organization, but it decreased membership in the true Church, the body of Christ. This is the root of the problem, and this is the primary motive for divine judgment upon the so-called Christian Empire. As I see it.

The Second Trumpet (429-460 A.D.)

Whereas the first trumpet focused upon land events, the second focuses upon the sea. Rev. 8:8, 9 says,

8 And the second angel sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood; 9 and a third of the creatures, which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed.

In biblical symbolism, a mountain is a kingdom. We see this clearly in Isaiah 2:2, 3 where we read,

2 Now it will come about that in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it. 3 And many people will come and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord . . . .”

The “mountain” established in the last days is later called the “kingdom” of God. It is not a literal mountain, although in earlier times it was certainly symbolized by Mount Zion, a literal mountain upon which David ruled.

Thus, the second trumpet calls for the overthrow of a kingdom. It has nothing to do with a huge meteor hitting the ocean from outer space, killing a third of marine life. It has rather to do with judgment upon the Roman fleet, as opposed to judgment upon the land-based cities.

We have shown how the Roman Empire was divided into East and West, with the East speaking Greek and the West speaking Latin. However, there was actually a third major division. The Western Roman Empire was divided by the Mediterranean Sea into two parts: Europe and North Africa. Hence, the book of Revelation seems to consider the nation in three parts and not merely two.

The wealth of the seven African provinces was not evenly divided among its people. There were huge numbers of slaves and serfs who were nearly as bad off as the slaves. These had no loyalty to Rome or the governments of their cities. The tremendous wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy land-owners.

H. G. Wells tells us in his The Outline of History, page 484,

“Manifestly the Vandals came in as a positive relief to such a system. They exterminated the great landowners, wiped out all debts to Roman money-lenders, and abolished the last vestiges of military service. The cultivators found themselves better off; the minor officials kept their places; it was not so much a conquest as a liberation from an intolerable deadlock.”

How the Vandals arrived in North Africa is an interesting story in itself. H. G. Wells says on page 482,

“By 425 or so, the Vandals (whom originally we noted in East Germany) and a portion of the Alani (whom we mentioned in South-east Russia) had traversed Gaul and the Pyrenees, and had amalgamated and settled in the south of Spain.”

Meanwhile, in Rome, Honorius had died in 423, leaving the Western Empire to his six-year-old son, Valentinian III. In reality, his mother, Placidia, reigned for 25 years in the name of her son. Rome’s armies were led by two generals, Aetius and Boniface, who competed with each other and ultimately destroyed each other.

Boniface, one of these generals, rashly proposed to ally with the Vandals in southern Spain, and he sent them an invitation to settle peacefully in North Africa. The Vandals accepted the proposal, and moved into Africa. Boniface soon regretted this alliance.

Genseric had become the king of the Vandals in 428. Under his rule, about 80,000 Vandals moved into Africa in 429, and most of the local population offered no resistance to them, not wanting to see the destruction of their country. Boniface, however, reversed course and resisted the Vandals. Gibbon says on page 475 that he beheld. . .

“. . . the ruin which he had occasioned, and whose rapid progress he was unable to check. After the loss of a battle, he retired into Hippo Regius, where he was immediately besieged by an enemy who considered him as the real bulwark of Africa.”

The local population offered no serious resistance to the Vandals. Even Boniface’s troops were Gothic mercenaries from Europe. The Vandals captured the town of Hippo in 431, where, in the third month of the siege, Bishop Augustine died at the age of 76. When the city was burnt, the library was spared, including Augustine’s writings.

After this, they began their conquest of the Roman fleets in the Mediterranean Sea. H. G. Wells summarizes their conquests on page 482,

“And as a result of intrigues between two imperial politicians, the Vandals of the south of Spain, under their king Genseric, embarked en masse for North Africa (429), became masters of Carthage (439), secured the mastery of the sea, raided, captured, and pillaged Rome (455), crossed into Sicily, and set up a kingdom in West Sicily, which endured there a hundred years (up to 534).

Whereas the first trumpet portrayed judgment upon the earth, the second focuses more upon the sea. Alaric the Goth invaded Italy in a land-based war, and when he attempted to cross the narrow strait into Sicily, a tempest destroyed his ships. Hence, there was no serious judgment upon the Roman fleet in that first trumpet.

With the advent of the second trumpet, however, Genseric (or Gaiseric) the Vandal destroyed the Roman fleets. By 455 A.D. they had obtained the mastery of sea and had actually pillaged Rome itself.

The Roman Emperor from 457-461 was Marjorian. He attempted to reform the decaying Roman Empire, but his reign was too short and the empire too far gone. Insofar as the Vandal threat was concerned, he knew, as Gibbon says on page 503, “it was impossible without a maritime power to achieve the conquest of Africa.” And so for three years he built a great fleet of 300 ships, along with other transport vessels, in order to attack Carthage and its Vandal king. But while the fleet lay unguarded in a port of Spain, the Vandals destroyed it. Gibbon says on p. 503,

“Guided by their secret intelligence, he surprised the unguarded fleet in the bay of Carthagena; many of the ships were sunk, or taken, or burnt; and the preparations of three years were destroyed in a single day.”

This event in 460 A.D. destroyed the last hope for Rome to defend against Genseric, the Vandal king. And so from his entry into North Africa in 429 to the final destruction of the Roman fleet in 460, we see the judgment of the second trumpet upon the corrupt, decaying empire. The great mountain of Rome, already burning, as it were, by the fire of internal corruption and external adversaries, saw its final demise in the sea.

From that moment, it was only a matter of time until the Western Roman Empire, Christian in name but worse than pagan in its immorality and injustice, came to its final end in 476 A.D.

The Donatist Controversy

One of the great symptoms of Church apostasy in those days is shown in the Donatist controversy. During the persecution of the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, in 305 A.D., the bishops in Africa were ordered to give up their copies of the Scriptures to be burned by the political authorities. Some bishops complied with this order, and their lives were spared. Others, however, resisted and refused, believing it was a terrible sin to comply with such an order.

A few years later, the Emperor Constantine ended these persecutions. The “Donatist” controversy then erupted, named after the most important leader of the bishops who had rigorously refused to give up the Scriptures. The Donatists believed that these bishops had denied the faith and should be excluded from the ministry. Others believed their weakness should be forgiven and they should be restored to fellowship. The majority of the mainstream Church ruled against the more rigorous Donatists.

To his credit, Constantine issued an edict in 321 granting the Donatist churches freedom and toleration. However, during the next century other Christian Emperors attempted to force them back into the mainstream “orthodox” church. The Donatists, however, continued in their self-righteous, hard-line position, and many even resorted to violence themselves. There were actually some Donatist monks, as Philip Schaff says, “who wandered about the country among the cottages of the peasantry, carried on plunder, arson, and murder” (History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, page 362).

A century went by without resolving the differences. Finally in 411 A.D., shortly after the sack of Rome, a three-day conference was held in Carthage to try to resolve their differences. In attendance were 286 Catholic bishops and 279 Donatist bishops. The numbers themselves show how divided the Church in North Africa had become.

The conference again failed to resolve the differences, and did not regain “Church unity.” By this they meant unity of the religion—not unity in the body of Christ, which is the true Church. And so, more intolerant laws were passed against the Donatists to try to force them back into the fold. Schaff says on p. 364,

“In 415 they were even forbidden to hold religious assemblies, upon pain of death.

“Augustine himself, who had previously consented only to spiritual measures against heretics, now advocated force, to bring them into the fellowship of the church, out of which there was no salvation.”

They should have allowed what we call “freedom of conscience.” In my view, it is difficult to decide which side was right, because neither side manifested the character of Christ or the fruit of the spirit. They had long since lost sight of the love of the Prince of Peace. Most of them had forgotten that God’s ultimate purpose is not to establish a religion but to prepare for Himself a people in which to manifest the glory of His character and being.

This was the condition of the African church at the time the Vandals arrived. The Church had wasted their opportunity to develop the love of God toward each other. So even though the Vandals were now “the enemy,” no one even thought about showing them the love of God. Thus, instead of the Church looking upon the Vandals as a divine judgment for their spiritual condition, they did not repent. Instead of seeing in this situation an unprecedented missionary opportunity to convert Vandals by love, they reacted in the typical carnal manner like any pagan Roman would have done. Philip Schaff tell us on page 364,

“The conquest of Africa by the Arian Vandals in 428 devastated the African church, and put an end to the controversy. . .”

So ended the judgment of the second trumpet.