We wrote last time of the first 150 years of the rise of Islam from 612 to 762, ending with the construction of the new city of Baghdad. The capital of Islam moved from Damascus to Baghdad and became a sacred city of sorts.
During this time, Islam ridiculed the Christian West for their veneration of statues and images, calling them idol worship. The Christian response was that they did not worship them, but merely venerated them. However, the same argument might have been made by the ancient idol worshippers, who also venerated their statues, for they represented and pictured the gods that they worshipped.
Yet the Christian religion had become impersonal that the people themselves clung to their statues as a way to make the religion more personal. Even so, under pressure from Islam, in 726 Leo, the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, issued a proclamation ordering the destruction of all statues, prohibiting the use of images in the Church.
Leo III was the Roman Emperor, although the capital of the Empire was no longer in Rome but in Byzantium, known also as Constantinople, the “City of Constantine.” You recall that the original emperor, Constantine, had built his “New Rome” on the Black Sea in what is now Turkey. The seat of empire thus moved East. Italy and the Western part of the Roman Empire soon came under attack by wave after wave of “barbarians” from the north, but received little or no help from the Emperor at Byzantium.
Even so, the Byzantine Emperor was still nominally the recognized emperor even of the West, although the power vacuum left by his absence was more and more filled by the power of the papacy. At first the papal power was purely spiritual in nature. In 606 Pope Boniface III laid exclusive claim to the title of “Universal Bishop,” but did not claim political power. In later years, however, as Islam continued to erode the political power of the emperor in the East, the Roman bishops began to seek or assume political power as well. This became a source of endless trouble for them and for all of Europe for many centuries.
In 717-18 the Saracens laid siege to Constantinople (for the second time). They were unsuccessful, but Leo felt the pressure. At the same time he was disgusted with the image trade and the superstitious claims being made to sell their products.
As we said, in 726 the Emperor Leo issued an edict ordering the destruction of all images in both the East and the West. This edict proved to be the beginning of the end of his rule in the West. Pope Gregory in Rome opposed Leo’s edict and became the spokesman for the passionate voices of the people in the West which honored the images.
The Emperor sent an army to put down the revolt, but they were defeated in bloody battles at Ravenna. After the open warfare abated, the emperor still remained the nominal head of the West. Gregory did not intend to usurp any political power, but he set a precedent that later popes were to follow. In 731, just five years after Leo’s edict, a synod in Rome excommunicated all those who would attack the images of the saints. Though the emperor was not mentioned by name, it was clear to all that he and his theologians in the East had been excommunicated by the one who called himself “Universal Bishop.”
It was inevitable, then, that the power vacuum would be filled by the Pope. This was the beginning of the great division, not only of the political empire, but also of the Church itself. The division over images, however, proved to be only temporary, for Leo’s axe had chopped down the tree, but could not destroy the root of image-worship among the people and the monks. And so this crisis passed and the split was postponed until a later time.
Even so, the decline of Byzantine power in Italy was matched by the rising power of the Lombards, who took many cities in Italy and soon threatened Rome itself. This, in 755, caused Pope Stephen to seek help from Pepin, King of the Franks in the north. Their arrangement was that Pepin would help the Pope retake those cities, but instead of giving them back to the nominal rule of the Emperor in the East, they would be given as Papal States to the Roman Bishop.
Thus, Pope Stephen obtained political power over about 20 cities, including Ravenna, Ancona, Bologna, Ferrara, Iesi, and Gubbio, giving him a good-sized wedge of territory along the Adriatic coast of Italy. This made the Pope a feudal lord and gave the papacy the right to collect taxes from those cities.
From this point on, the papacy became a prize, not only for the spiritually ambitious, but also for those who desired political power and the wealth that could be made from it. As E. R. Chamberlin wrote in his 1969 book, The Bad Popes, page 17,
“But now that the bishop of Rome held not only the keys of heaven but also the keys of more than a score of cities, each with its revenues, the attraction of the office was considerably magnified.
“The first of the papal riots arising from the donation occurred in 767, when, on the death of the reigning pope, one of the numerous local lordlings recognized the opportunity and hastening to Rome, proposed his own brother as successor. The fact that the brother was disqualified because he was a layman was easily overcome, for he was ordained cleric, subdeacon, deacon, and priest—and then consecrated as bishop and pope on the same day. Rival factions immediately arose and two more popes appeared. The first contestant had his eyes dug out and was left for dead. The second was murdered outright and it was only when the third appealed to the hated Lombards for protection that some sort of order was restored.”
Those who have not studied the history of the papacy might be shocked that such things could happen. But this is only the tiniest tip of the iceberg. The moral character of the popes was so carnal and even downright criminal that the people in Italy soon became immune to it. They came to expect such behavior. Most did not question the divine right of the popes to rule men, but they did regret that God had given them such a right. In the centuries that followed, nearly all of the popes had multiple mistresses, who bore them many illegitimate children—many of whom became cardinals and popes after them.
But in this short study, we cannot spend more time on this. We mention it only as another reason for God’s judgment upon the Church. It is part of the reason why God raised up Islam to judge the Church.
The Divine Mandate for Islam
God raised up Mohammed to judge the Church that had become corrupted. Quite early the Church had lost its first love and had begun to manifest its nature as a stiff-necked donkey, which is the biblical portrait of Pentecost. (See our book, The Wheat and Asses of Pentecost.)
The Pentecostal Age was politically foreshadowed by the oppressive reign of King Saul and spiritually by the corrupted High Priest, Eli. Saul was searching for his father’s donkeys when he was anointed by Samuel to be Israel’s first king. As for Eli, he fulfilled the law in Ex. 13:13 when he fell backward and broke his neck. This law deals with donkeys not redeemed by the lamb.
Anyway, the Church in the Pentecostal Age was destined to fulfill the types and shadows of Saul and Eli. The leaven of Pentecost inherent in that feast (Lev. 23:17) began to leaven both of the loaves in the Greek East and the Latin West. As they came more and more in rebellion against God, substituting the traditions of men (Church Councils) for the Word of God, their donkey nature began to manifest to the world.
And so God raised up another “donkey” to be their mirror image and to show the Church what they were doing. This new “donkey” on the scene was Ishmael.
In Gen. 16:11, 12 the angel told Hagar that her son was to be called Ishmael, “God Hears,” and that he would be a “wild-ass man” (Heb., adam pereh). Donkeys have big ears for hearing, because the purpose of Pentecost is to hear God’s voice. The angel also said that “his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him.” In other words, his descendants would live by the sword.
In later years, Jer. 2:24 tells us that Jerusalem itself became a “wild-ass” in its spiritual character. In Gal. 4:25 Paul speaks of the old Jerusalem being Hagar, and the temple worshippers spiritual Ishmaelites.
The Church at first came under the New Covenant (Sarah), and were therefore spiritual descendants of Isaac, the son of the freewoman. But as time progressed, they too began to put Christians into bondage to their hierarchy and so the Christians who served the Church became their slaves. The Church no longer existed to set men free but to put them into bondage to themselves. Thus, the Church in the Pentecostal Age degenerated into the same “wild ass” nature that happened to the old Jerusalem and Judaism in the Old Testament.
For this reason, God raised up an Ishmaelite “donkey” to judge the Pentecostal “donkey.” Even as the Church was forcing or coercing men to convert to their religion or to their particular doctrinal statements—so also did God raise up Islam to do the same. The only difference is that God was merciful in that Islam normally gave Christians the option of paying a special tax instead of converting to Islam. Islam practiced coercion, but not nearly as bad as the Church practiced it. In that way, God was merciful.
The Church had also become a religion of submission to men in the guise of submitting to God. So God raised up Islam, which actually means “submission.” Islam is simply another religion based upon submission to men in the guise of submitting to God (Allah).
The Christian religion therefore was being judged by “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” God was using a mirror-image religion to judge them by their own standard of measure. In effect, God was saying, “If you want to submit to men rather than to Me, then I will judge you by another religion that will force you to submit to the rule of men.”
Neither religion is based upon the love of God as manifested in Jesus Christ. Neither seeks converts in the manner that the Apostle Paul described in 1 Cor. 2:4, 5,
4 in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men but on the power of God.
Both sought converts by military conquest of territory and their populations. Islam was thus a judgment of God upon the Church for their practices.
The Second Woe: The Seljuk and Ottoman Turks
Revelation 9 speaks of three “woes.” The first was the rise of the Islamic Saracens. As we saw earlier, they rose from 612-763 A.D. Their rise began with Mohammed and ended with the building of Baghdad.
The second woe is an Islamic woe that began with the Seljuk Turks, extended through the Ottoman Turks, and finally concluded with the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Revelation 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. Verses 15, 16 say,
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.
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. 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. This judgment was loosed upon this Eastern “third” of the Empire.
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 2 weeks. Adding these together, we get 360 + 30 + 1 = 391 years.
The time begins with the death of Tughril Beg, who had been the head of the Seljuk Turkish empire. He conquered Baghdad in 1055 and died in 1063. Then his nephew, Alp Arslan succeeded him. He first conquered Georgia and Armenia from the Byzantines. Then as he prepared to conquer Egypt in 1071, a new Byzantine army marched against him, and he crushed it catastrophically. 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.
Incidentally, the final split in the Church 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 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.
The Vatican accused the Eastern Churches of heresy for not using it. The final break came in 1054 when Cardinal Humbert excommunicated Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople. The Patriarch responded in kind. The Church has been split ever since. One can only imagine Jesus rolling His eyes over men’s stupidity.
At any rate, nine years later Alp Arslan came to power in Baghdad and was empowered by God to begin another round of judgment upon the Church. Not that Islam was any more unified than the Church. There was as much infighting among them as in the Church.
Up to the tenth century, the Islamic Arabs had been a dynamic people, particularly with Baghdad as their capital. 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 the emperor of Constantinople, or “New Rome,” as it was called.
By 1150 gunpowder had been discovered in China and was used in battle to frighten horses with the noise of the explosions. They never used it effectively, but in the 13th century the Mongols came West and terrorized people from Russia to Arabia. They captured and plundered Baghdad in 1258. Many fled to Anatolia in Western Turkey, adding to the numbers of the Osmani Turks who were now forming a new empire of their own, led by their own chieftain named Osman.
The Osmani (or “Ottoman”) Turks, who came to power after the Mongols left the region, learned about gunpowder and in time developed its use in cannons. Their first great use of gunpowder came in the siege of Constantinople in 1453, where their cannons breached the walls of the city on May 29, 1453.
John describes the cannons they used in Rev. 9:17-19,
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 above 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 have changed the world.
The Eastern Orthodox Church lost its main power base in 1453. 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.