Chapter 4 – A summary of the group of prophecies
Prophecies of revelation, The Judgment of the Roman Empire, The persecution of the Christians, The judgment of all Old Testament nations within the Roman Empire.
When John wrote the book of Revelations, the contend of the book was send to the seven churches who were about to be seriously persecuted. In fact, the persecution that was started by the Jews spilled over to the rest of the Roman Empire. Remember, Judea was part of the Roman Empire. It was actually a small province of the Roman Empire.
At first the citizens of the Roman Empire thought that the Jews and the Christians are of the same faith. Later on, when they finally caught up with the differences between Judaism and the Christian faith, they discovered that both these religions are monotheistic. The fact that both the Jew and the Christian refused to bow before any other god but the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac, led to the persecution of both. For the Jew and for the Christian, emperor worship and the worship of other gods were out of the question and that brought the Roman’s attention to them.
The Roman emperors did not prevent their subjects to worship as many gods as they want to. There was no problem with that. The citizens of Rome was very superstitious. When something bad happened, and bad things almost happened on a continuous basis those days, they offered sacrifices and prayers to as many gods as possible. In an attempt to change the mind of the gods, this was done in order to prevent judgment on the Romans. If some inhabitants of the Roman Empire failed to do this the citizens of Rome became very worried. They surely did not want some crazy people to make the gods cross and to jeopardize their safety. Obviously the Jews and the Christians refused to offer sacrifices and prayers to the pagan gods of the Roman Empire, including sacrifices to the emperors. This is where they brought the wrath of the people of the Roman Empire onto them. Among other things this led to the persecution of the Jews and the Christians.
The persecution of Christians was going to keep on until 315 AD after Constantine became the emperor of the Roman Empire. The Christians of that time completely understood those parts of the book of Revelation pertaining to the time that they lived in. Some of the prophecies were not to be fulfilled in their lifetime and obviously they could not understand these prophecies. Although the prophecies in the book of Revelations were not sealed, there are some prophecies that were not to be fulfilled in their life-time. I doubt if the early church could understand those prophecies. That did not stop them from understanding the prophecies in the book of Revelations that were to be fulfilled in their lifetime. These prophecies and promises were given to exhort these martyrs who suffered severely under the Roman emperors as well as the local Roman government and other Roman citizens.
These prophecies predicted the judgment of God on the Roman Empire and predicted the fall of this great and mighty empire. Just as Daniel prophesied, the stone that was cut from the mountain without hands, came down the mountain and crushed this great kingdom. The Roman Empire gradually lost its power and it was actually consumed from within by the Christian faith. First it was crushed into pieces by the stone (kingdom of God) and then it was gradually blown away.
Just like the early Christians understood that the Jews will be judged for persecuting the Christians, the seven churches also understood that the Roman Empire will be judged. During both these occasions the Christian church was victorious over her enemies through the redemptive work of Christ in terms of judgment on the Jews and the other Old Testament nations.
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles.
Many prophecies in the book of Revelation and other books of the New-Testament were given and written to and for these Christians that suffered under the Roman Empire. It was written to exhort them and to urge them to keep their faith and to keep on serving the Lord Jesus Christ. Stand fast in your faith until the Roman Empire is to be removed out of the way. The big appeal of the book Revelation was not to give up their faith but to keep faithful to the Son of God who will soon deliver them.
History of the Persecutions
At least since the first century, it has been customary to count ten major persecutions in the early church, a number that nicely parallels the ten plagues of Egypt. These ten persecutions are:
Persecution under Nero (c. 64-68). Traditional martyrdoms of Peter and Paul.
Persecution under Domitian (r. 81-96).
Persecution under Trajan (112-117). Christianity is outlawed but Christians are not sought out.
Persecution under Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180). Martyrdom of Polycarp.
Persecution under Septimus Severus (202-210). Martyrdom of Perpetua.
Persecution under Decius (250-251). Christians are actively sought out by requiring public sacrifice. Could buy certificates (libelli) instead of sacrificing. Martyrdoms of bishops of Rome, Jerusalem and Antioch.
Persecution under Valerian (257-259). Martyrdoms of Cyprian of Carthage and Sixtus II of Rome.
Persecution under Maximinus the Thracian (235-238).
Persecution under Aurelian (r. 270–275).
Severe persecution under Diocletian and Galerius (303-324).
Persecution in the early church occurred sporadically almost since the beginning, but it was first sanctioned by the government under Nero. In 64 AD, a great fire ravaged Rome. Nero took the opportunity provided by the destruction to rebuild the city in the Greek style and began building a large palace for himself. People began speculating that Nero had set the fire himself in order to indulge his aesthetic tastes in the reconstruction so, according to Tacitus’ Annals and Suetonius’ Nero, the eccentric emperor blamed the Christians for the fire in an effort to divert attention from himself. Nero was quite insane, and is reported to have tortured Christians with great cruelties for his own enjoyment. According to the Roman historian Tacitus:
Besides being put to death they [the Christians] were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were clad in the hides of beast and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed. Nero had thrown open his grounds for the display, and was putting on a show in the circus, where he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or drove about in his chariot. All this gave rise to a feeling of pity, even toward men whose guilt merited the most exemplary punishment; for it was felt that they were being destroyed not for the public good but to satisfy the cruelty of an individual.
Despite these extreme cruelties, Nero’s persecution was local and short-lived. However, it was the first official persecution and marked the first time the government distinguished Christians from Jews. Tertullian referred to persecution of Christians as institutum Neronianum, an institution of Nero. After Nero, it became a capital crime to be a Christian, although pardon was always available if one publicly condemned Christ and sacrificed to the gods. Christians could buy certificates (libelli) instead of sacrificing.
The total number of Christians martyred in the early church is unknown. Although some early writers speak of “great” modern scholars tend to believe the actual number is not so great as is sometimes imagined. Out of the 54 emperors who ruled between 30 and 311 AD, only about a dozen went out of their way to persecute Christians. It has been calculated that between the first persecution under Nero in 64 to the Edict of Milan in 313, Christians experienced 129 years of persecution and 120 years of toleration and peace.
The Roman persecutions were generally sporadic, localized, and dependent on the political climate and disposition of each emperor.
John wrote the following in his letter to the church:
1 John 2:18
Young children [or, Dear children], it is the last hour. And just as you heard that the antichrist is coming, even now antichrists have become many [or, many antichrists have appeared], for which reason we know that it is the last hour.
From the above Scripture it is obvious that John clearly understood that they, at that moment, found themselves in their last hour. John wrote this letter between 47 and 70 AD or a few years after that. There are some scholars who believe that not only the epistles but even the book of Revelations were written before 70 AD. Even those who believe that it was written after 70 AD agree that it was definitely written long before the final judgment of Israel which occurred in emperor Hadrian’s reign after 132 AD. That means that although this letter of 1 John was addressed to the church, it was probably available or accessible to the Jews still in Jerusalem and Judea, who survived the first judgment in 70 AD. It was only after the final judgment during emperor Hadrian’s reign that the Jews were completely exiled from Jerusalem and Palestine.
Have you ever thought why would the apostle John, between 46-74 AD, write the following words to the Christians of that time: …it is the last hour. And just as you heard that the antichrist is coming, even now antichrists have become many…
Have you ever wondered why the angel of God told John in Revelations 22:10 not to seal the words of the book of Revelations? He said; do not seal the words of this book because the time of its fulfilling is near. Daniel, for a mere 500 years, was told to seal the words of the book of Daniel because the time of it’s fulfillment was not near. That was not the case with the book of Revelations. Most of the prophecies of the book of Revelations was written to exhort the Christians who lived more or less between 47-315 AD. This is the reason why this book or letter was addressed to the seven churches in Asia. Many of the prophecies almost “immediately” came into fulfillment. A relatively small portion of the prophecies in the book of Revelations is not yet fulfilled.
So, are you telling me the last hour was in the time of the early church!? Are you telling me that the antichrist came in their time? It is exactly what the Bible says. The apostle Peter also said that they were living in the last days in Acts 2:14-21. In verse 15 Peter says, “these people are not drunk”, and in verse 16, “this what you hear and see (people speaking in tongues and appearing to be under the influence of alcohol) is what was spoken by the prophet Joel”, referring to the prophecy of Joel in verse 17, “in the LAST DAYS I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh”. The Spirit was poured out already people. This is not some future event. It already happened on the day of Pentecost!
Even Paul warned Felix that the judgment of God is about to be unleashed upon the Old-Testament nations:
Acts 24:25 (Concordant literal version)
Now as he is arguing concerning righteousness, and self-control, and the impending judgment, Felix, becoming affrighted, answered, “Now go. Yet, given occasion, I shall be calling for you
Acts 24:25 (Analytic literal version)
But while he [was] reasoning about righteousness and self-control and the judgment, the one being about to happen, Felix having become terrified, answered, “For the present be going, but having time, I will call for you.”
The correct translation in the original Greek for the word Paul used in this verse, to warn Felix about the “imminent” judgment, means “about to happen“. Paul warned them all about the great and dreadful day of the Lord. This supports John the-Baptist’s warning that the axe is already laid unto the root of the trees.
The purpose for writing this book is to bring people up to date concerning the prophetic events and fulfillment of the time that we are living in right now. This book is not about the Antichrist or the judgment of God on the Roman Empire. For this reason I am only briefly touching on the events during the reign of the Roman Empire. If you wish to read more about those prophetic events, read this book: “A Brief Commentary On the Apocalypse” by Sylvester Bliss. This book was published in 1853 and totally differs from the modern (Roman Catholic) view on the end times doctrines. It can be downloaded for free on Apple’s iBooks or on the “Resources” page of my website, www.asrmartins.com. Please do read this book. It has been translated into modern English and is really a pleasure to read. Also read Isaac Newton’s book on the end times, “Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John,” also free of charge on iBooks and my website.
Both these books are absolutely excellent and the best books on end times doctrines that I ever read.
There is certainly some indication that the tribulation already started in the days of John as He clearly mention in the book of Revelations. We do know that Nero already started with the persecution of Christians during his reign as emperor of the Roman Empire between 54 to 68 AD. The church was therefore already in the tribulation as not only 1 John 2:18 but also Revelations 1:9-10 suggest:
Rev. 1:9-10 (NASB)
I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet,
Do not forget that even the Jews started persecuting the church just a few years after the church was birthed. For those early Christians the tribulation started even before the persecutions of the Roman Empire. The four gospels and even the epistles of the apostles clearly indicated this fact. Jesus Christ, Paul, John, Peter and some of the other writers of the New-Testament epistles numerously warned the early church that they are in the last hour and that perilous times and tribulations are ahead of them. They were continuously warned not to quit their faith in Jesus Christ but to remain faithful. The temporary trials and tribulations of this time cannot be compared to the everlasting and wonderful blessings of the kingdom of God if they prevail.
Israel was to be judged as a nation, according to Old Testament prophecies and promises. Christ dealt with Israel separately from the other Old Testament nations. Their judgment was also much more harsh and severe. This started happening in 70 AD. As Jesus prophesied; not even one stone of the temple was left on another. Their house (temple) was made desolate. The city was destroyed. The Jewish faith was destroyed. It started in 70 AD, it carried on in 115 AD and again in 132 AD with the total destruction of the Jewish nation. Even those who survived this ordeal were ruthlessly persecuted through the years. This judgment on Israel never came to an end.
Yes, a lot of Christians were persecuted and killed (between 1 and 3 million over a period of 250 years). As mentioned above though, some scholars believe that these figures are highly exaggerated and that the real figure was probably far less. In fact, nobody really knows how many Christians were killed during this period.
Eventually, when the fullness pertaining to certain events and the gathering of souls were reached, Jesus Christ came with the angels of God and the Roman Empire, as well as the remnants of people from the previous empires (Assyrian, Median, Persian and Greek who were taken up in and who were part of the Roman Empire) were judged.
A lot of people died during this time of judgment which was caused by war (fire), plaques, starvation, famine, extreme climates, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and other disasters. It was however especially war and plaques that caused the most deaths within the Roman Empire. During the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, more than 7 Million people died. This was quite a large percentage of people in relation to the world’s total population at that time. Even the emperors themselves died the most horrific deaths you could imagine, especially those who forced people into emperor worship and who persecuted the Christians for refusing to do so. As mentioned earlier, about a dozen of the fifty four emperors fell into this category. The citizens and the emperors of the Roman Empire died because of the wrath of God. This was the visitation of Jesus Christ with the angels of God to bring the Roman Empire to justice.
The kingdom of God was not going to take over the earthly kingdoms without a fight. It sounds that way when one reads Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and the interpretation that Daniel gave him: A stone or a rock was cut from the mountain without hands, it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. This was however not just a quick walkover. Christianity was birthed in perilous times. People were really bad and people lived just as they wished. The citizens of the earthly kingdoms and their rulers were ruthless, cruel and lived and behaved like savages. To establish this beautiful and wonderful kingdom of love, peace and goodness was not going to be an easy task.
Earthly rulers at that time were like gods. They were pagan gods. They enforced their ways and their beliefs on the masses. People believed in many gods and they were involved in all sorts of demonic and idol worship. Rulers like the emperors were really acting as if they did not need to answer to anyone. They were treated as gods and they ruled as gods. One emperor instructed his army once to lock all the gates of the packed amphitheater and kill everybody inside the building. This massacre took hours and literally thousands of people were killed that day. This just because the emperor lost his temper.
Emperors reigned over people as gods and just as they pleased. They answered to no-one. It was not uncommon for Roman emperors to instruct their armies or the guard (at that time known as the Praetorian guard) to go and execute people for no reason at all. Sometimes they executed people’s children just to teach them a lesson. The father and mother were sometimes required to witness such executions. These emperors were cruel. Imagine being forced to watch the torture and killing of your own children with an unceremonious, “OK, we are done, you may go home now”.
Christianity was the total opposite of anything and everything that people were used to in those days. It was a total turnaround of everything they knew. The apostles and the early church had a daunting task ahead of them since that wonderful experience in the upper room when the Spirit of God fell on the disciples. For these reasons it was quite an extraordinary miracle and a great effort by the Holy Spirit filled Christians that led to the birth of the church. Surely only people filled with the Holy Spirit could have achieved this.
Through the ages God never allowed wicked nations to destroy the church. He loves the church and he will always protect and comfort his children. Jesus died for His bride and He will protect her. This truth is the most prominent of all end times prophecies and a golden threat right through the end times prophecies.
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