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    2 Seven Keys to Unlock the

         Mysteries of Revelation





Christianity repelled him, and he did not care for the Bible, yet the British novelist and poet D.H. Lawrence wrote Apo­ca­­­lypse, an entire book about Revelation.

        He confidently maintains it is "a kind of pa­lim­p­sest, with 'a pa­gan sub­stratum,'"1 a state­ment requiring evidence. But he presents none, on­ly speculation, as in the following pas­sage, with its three­­fold use of the word probably plus a sure­ly, an if, seem, and a must . . . have been: "The old­est part, surely, was a pagan work, pro­bably the de­scription of the 'secret' ritual of initiation in­to one of the pagan Mys­teries, Artemis, Cybele, even Orphic: but most probably belong­ing there to the east Medi­ter­ranean, probably actually to Ephe­sus, as would seem natural. If such a book existed, say two or perhaps three centuries before Christ . . .  So that the old pagan book must quite early have been taken and written over by a Jewish apo­ca­lyptist, with a view to substituting the Jewish idea of a Messiah and a Jewish salvation (or de­struc­tion) of the whole world, for the purely indi­vidual ex­­­perience of pagan initia­tion."2 (Emphases added.)

       Such is the mental compost he has muddled together, or he read it some­where. But he at least had the grace to confess a few of his moti­va­­tions. He said that his very in­stincts resented the Bible,and that of all its books he found Revelation "most detestable," if it is "taken su­per­­fi­cially."4 But his ap­proach to the Apocalypse is far from pro­­found. On the contrary, it is a wonderful exam­ple of how not to go about ex­plaining the last book of the Bible. 

      We, too, now need to delve more deeply into it, though unlike Law­rence and the so-called scho­lars that may have influenced him we shall not be trying to puzzle out its meaning with an ap­peal to ex­trinsic symbols like those of pagan mythology. Instead, we shall be adhering to seven specific principles of prophetic interpre­ta­tion. (There are no doubt more, but the ones we mention are, we think, the most important ones.) They are paying heed to the Bible's own internal expositors, com­paring Scripture with Scripture, con­­sist­ency, prophetic aug­menta­tion, historical cor­rect­ness and honesty, avoiding the trap of the con­temp­­­orary, and a respect for previous pro­phetic interpreters. Let us briefly consider these principles.


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           2.1 The Internal Expositors


           An interesting feature of the Bible's pre­dictions is that not infre­quently they have a dual nature: part pro­phecy, part explana­tion. The lat­ter often centers in a figure, either human or ange­lic, who acts as an internal expositor. That is, the Lord does not simply say what will hap­pen by using symbols, but also provides inspired guides to tell the reader what they mean. Our first principle is to note and take seriously all such internal ex­positors. These first  occur in Gene­sis and become very prominent in Daniel. They are also found in the New Testa­ment, in­clud­ing the Apo­calypse. Let us briefly note their signi­ficance with reference to the follow­ing.

         Gen. 40, 41. While Joseph, the unjustly en­slaved and ill-treated son of Jacob, was in pri­son, the Egyptian Pharaoh also thrust in two high officials who had offended him: his chief but­ler and his chief baker. In the same night, both had dreams, which they were unable to puz­zle out, until Joseph explained that these were prophecies of their imminent future.

         After­wards Pharaoh also dreamt and could not understand the symbols of the cows and the ears of corn that he had seen. The Egypti­an ma­gi­cians and wise men were also stumped. At this stage, the chief butler remembered and told the king about Joseph, who was hastily pre­pared and summoned into Pha­raoh's presence. Again the young Hebrew ex­plained the symbols.

            For the reader of the biblical text relating these experiences, Joseph is the Lord's internal ex­positor. It would be very incorrect and ridicu­lous to ignore him.

       Everywhere, throughout Daniel, the pro­phe­cies are pre­sented together with internal ex­positors. It is no doubt because of this that Sir Isaac Newton could state that of all the "old Pro­phets, Daniel is most distinct in order of time, and easiest to be under­stood: and there­fore in those things which relate to the last time, he must be made the key to the rest."In the follow­ing, let us observe the abun­­dance of internal ex­positors: 

            Dan. 2. God gives Nebuchadnezzar a dream, which the king forgets. When none of the astro­logers, magi­cians, or other wise men in Babylon could help, another Hebrew captive, Daniel—in­structed, like Joseph, by God—recounts and also explains it. In studying this chapter, it would be wrong to ignore the internal ex­positor and sim­ply come up with our own ex­pla­nation, as some have done. For instance, verses 40 and 41 speak of the "fourth king­dom" and say, "the kingdom shall be divided." These divisions, represented by the feet and toes, are not—as God views his­tory—a fifth and different kingdom. In other words, the feet and toes can only refer to states that developed out of the Roman Empire; they are not some coalition of international powers all over the planet, as some Futurists have ima­gined. The only fifth king­dom mentioned in Dan. 2 is the coming kingdom of God. 

                Dan. 4. Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of a huge, mys­terious tree that is cut down and yet not destroyed. Again it is Daniel who ex­plains it. The tree, he says, is the king himself; therefore, the "seven times" of verse 32 must be obviously literal and cannot be symbolic. To interpret them as a prophetic period extending over more than 2500 years with a terminus in 1914, as taught by some who go from door to door, is to ignore the in­ter­nal expositor.

            Dan. 5. At an impious feast, Belshazzar and his guests are ter­ri­fied by a bloodless hand that appears and writes mysterious cha­rac­ters on the wall. Daniel explains them. They mean that the neo-Babylonian Empire is at an end, with Medo-Persia as its im­mi­nent suc­cessor. Again the now aged Hebrew captive is the inter­nal ex­positor.

                Dan. 7. Four beasts come up out of the sea. Da­niel asks for an explanation from "one of them that stood by" (7:16), who now be­comes the internal expositor. This celestial being also gives details about the fourth beast and its horn (vv. 19, 20). 

                Dan. 8. Daniel has a vision of a ram and a he-goat, with first one and then four horns grow­ing on its head—as well as a little horn that fol­lows these. An instruction is given to a majestic angel, "Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision" (8:16). He is the internal ex­positor.

            Dan. 9. Daniel, who has in the meantime be­come ill, seeks fur­ther illumination, and Gabriel returns (9:21) to explain the seven­ty pro­­phetic weeks, in relation to Dan. 8. Again this mighty angel is the internal expositor. Nobody, neither Fran­cisco Ribera, the Jesuit who went down into dark­ness four hundred years ago, nor one of his Pro­testant successors, should tam­per with what he has to say.

                Dan. 10. Daniel in vision sees two beings, one like the Son of Man, the other a majestic angel. The latter is Gabriel, who comes to ex­­­plain further. He says, "I am come to make thee un­der­­stand" (10:14). Once more he is the in­tern­al expositor.

             Dan. 11. Everything in this chapter is literal explanation rather than a symbolic vision. Sir Isaac Newton convincingly links Dan. 8 with Dan. 11: "This prophecy of the Ram and He-Goat is repeated in the last Prophecy of Dani­el."6 But we do not quite agree with New­ton's word choice: the prophecy of Dan. 8 is not so much repeated by Dan. 11 as it is explained. Ga­bri­el, the internal expositor, does so in literal, largely non-symbolic language. He begins with the Greeks and continues through Roman as well as papal history, right to the end of time. Since some of this appears to be unfulfilled prophecy, it is still obscure, which is not sur­prising. What we should not do in dealing with this chapter is to deviate from the literal mode em­ployed by the internal ex­positor.


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          Dan. 12 directly continues from Dan. 11:1-3. Verse 4 refers to the time of the end. But in verse 9 Daniel is told to ask no more. It will all be sealed up until long beyond his life span, to the time of the end.

             Internal expositors are also at work in the New Testament. The greatest of them is Christ the Lord himself. For instance, in the Oli­vet dis­course (Matt. 24, Luke 21, Mark 13), he is not only a pro­phet in his own right; he is also a di­vine­ly appointed guide to help his hearers and us the readers understand, as where he says: "When ye therefore shall see the ABO­MINATION OF DESOLA­TION, spoken of by Daniel the pro­phet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Ju­daea flee into the moun­tains . . ." (Matt. 24:15, 16). Paying heed to these words, his immediate disciples were able correctly to identify their ap­pli­cability to the Romans, who in the first Jewish war came to crush the uprising against their domination. Fleeing across the Jor­dan, all the Christi­ans were saved. We also need to bene­fit by the insights provided by the supreme internal expositor. 

            Rev. 1:1 states that Jesus used his angel in con­veying his reve­lation to John, the beloved apo­­stle. This celestial guide "has been iden­tified as Gabriel."He had communicated with Daniel. He also spoke to Zacharias, the fa­ther of John the Baptist (Luke 1:19) and Mary, who would become the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26, 27).

            Rev. 17. This chapter is not so easy to under­stand; therefore, here, too, the Lord has provided an internal expositor, an angel who ex­plains about the woman and the beast: "I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns" (v. 7). Apart from providing further de­tails in other parts of the chapter, he speaks of "wisdom" (v. 9) as a prerequisite for compre­hen­sion. This can no doubt be taken to mean that clarity about these symbols is not likely to come easily, though we need not despair. It is also a chal­lenge, like the one in Rev. 13:18 about the number of the beast.

         Rev. 19:9, 10. After this vision, the angel con­tinues as John's pro­phetic assistant. For in­stance, "he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God. And I fell at his feet to wor­ship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy bre­thren that have the testimony of Jesus." (Rev. 19:9, 10)

             Rev. 21:9-27; 22:6. In these passages, the angelic messenger pro­vides both visions and ex­pla­nations. It the same one that showed the wo­man sitting on the beast and as an internal expo­sitor ex­plained their meaning. This is clear from the phrase "one of the seven angels which had the seven vials," which occurs in both Rev. 17:1 and Rev. 21:9. According to Rev. 22:8, 9, John again fell down to worship him; but he once more re­fused to accept such adoration: "For I am thy fel­low­servant, of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God." He went on to state: "Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand" (Rev. 20:10). 

               Rev. 22:16. At the end of the Apocalypse, we read the Re­deemer's reminder, "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches."

        Shea points out that there is not nearly as much internal inter­­pretation in Revelation as in Daniel. The former is a more complex book and harder to expound. And therefore Daniel consti­tutes the most impor­tant single key for un­lock­ing the meaning of the Apoca­lypse. "Even when in Revelation there is an angel talking, he rarely inter­prets a sym­bol, whereas in Daniel the in­ternal expositors say expli­cit­ly: this equals this." Not to use their guidance in our study of Re­ve­lation as well is to leave us "adrift upon a sea of sub­­ject­ivity"8 and to ignore the apostle Peter's warning "that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Pet. 1:20). This links up with our second prin­ciple, discussed be­low. But more than that, the internal ex­positors of Da­ni­el and other Scrip­tures—includ­ing the Lord Jesus—also apply to Revela­tion. 


            2.2 Com­par­ing Scrip­ture with Scrip­ture


           Com­paring Scrip­ture with Scripture to ex­plain a pro­phecy is not to be confused with a simplistic use of "proof texts." It is, rather, com­patible with methods of literary ana­lysis in, say, an Eng­lish college course. Funda­mentally it recognizes that the Old and New Tes­ta­ment to­ge­ther form a single, coherent whole. Its many refer­­­­ences, quo­ta­­tions, and allu­sions are close­ly—often delibe­­rately—inter­­re­lated. This is part­­­­ly so be­cause the various au­thors, including highly gifted poets, were inti­mately ac­quainted with the writings of their predecessors. Bible passages and books are not discrete but reveal a large mea­sure of inter­textuality. This, how­ever, is not con­fined to the Scriptures; it also cha­­rac­­­terizes other litera­tures created over many centu­ries. An exam­ple from outside the Medi­terra­nean world is the highly allusive poetry written in Chinese, which reflects mil­­lennia of develop­ment. Also, over and above this human factor, the Old and New Testaments are linked, and in their details close­ly inter­twined, through the operations of the mind of God. 

           Much of Revelation is made intel­ligible by trac­ing its sym­bols and statements back to other Bible books. We can and need to rely on these, to­gether with the internal expositors, if any are present.

              In doing so, we shall not be referring to the Apo­crypha or the Pseudepigrapha. These are pro­­­blematic books that follow Malachi and ante­date Matthew. Some are ac­cepted by Catholics, while  Pro­-


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tes­t­ants reject them all. They admitted­ly do have their uses as his­tory and for pro­viding a limited perspective on the nature of pro­phe­cy. Certainly the fact that 1 Enoch leans hea­vily on Daniel shows the latter was written before the se­cond century before Christ, a favorite date of liberal scholars. But it is anachronistic to derive from such writings the concept of "Apocalyptic" and then retro­spectively apply it to the earlier book they imitate.

               So we will set this word aside. It has largely been prompted by a study of such extra-Biblical writings, which "in the absence of a living pro­phe­tic voice . . . relate alleged revelations attained through dreams, visions, and heavenly jour­neys." The apocalyptists even pre­tended to be this or that Old Testa­ment saint and uttered pseudo-predictions. That is, they lied and were false prophets. Like the real ones, they also resorted to symbolism, especially imitating Da­ni­el, "often going to bizarre extremes in the em­ploy­ment of a veritable mena­gerie picturing Israel's history and prophesying the coming of God's kingdom."

              The symbolism of Revelation gives up many of its secrets if we let the Bible be its own expo­sitor. It must be allowed to speak for itself. Too often clever people like Lawrence and others are not really ex­plain­­ing the prophecies; they inject ext­raneous mat­ter. Pondering the symbols, they really say: "This is what I think they mean" or worse: "This is what I feel they mean." Then there are those who seek support for their purely sub­jective ideas by claim­ing that the Spirit has inspired them.

               All this is too much like the inkblot game devised by Hermann Ror­schach. This was, to quote Webster, "A personality and in­tel­li­gence test  in which a subject interprets inkblot designs in terms that reveal intellectual and emotional fac­tors." No, we need to start within the text of Revelation, together with its internal exposi­tor(s). Furthermore, we should com­pare Scrip­ture with Scripture and link up what the last book in the Bible tells us with the rest of its witness. For instance, Rev. 13 contains a number of clues that take us all the way back to Dan. 2 and 7.

             Even usually sound expositors like Uriah Smith have sometimes wandered from this path, as in his explanation of Rev. 12. According to him, the woman clothed with the sun is the true church. With this, we are in basic agreement, though there is more to the symbol than that. But he equates the sun with the gospel era and the moon with Old Testa­ment Judaism: "The Mo­saic  period shone with a light bor­rowed from the Christian era, even as the moon shines with light bor­­­rowed from the sun."10

           Though this is plausible, there is unfor­tu­nate­ly no­thing in the rest of the Bible with which to link it up. A more rigorous ap­proach, in accord­ance with the principle of comparing Scrip­ture with Scrip­ture, ne­ces­sitates the following ques­tion: "Where else in the Bible are the sun, the moon, and twelve stars used together symbo­lically?" The Scrip­tures contain a highly satis­fac­­tory answer. 

             Apart from Rev. 12:1, there is only one pas­sage that explicitly deals with the sun, the moon, and twelve stars within a single meta­phoric con­text, namely Gen. 37:9-11:

             "[Joseph] dreamed another dream, and told it to his brothers, and said, 'Behold, I have dreamed another dream; and behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.' But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, 'What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?'"

              In these verses, the sun represents Jacob, the moon his wife Leah, and the stars the sons that would father the tribes of Israel. An objection to this interpretation may be that Joseph saw not twelve but only eleven stars. That is true, but a twelfth star is im­plied, for all these luminaries bowed down to him—the twelfth son.

          Rev. 12 is concerned with God's people from the beginning of time, though the em­phasis is on the period following the Mes­siah's birth. The woman does represent the church, as Smith and others have main­tained, but in this chapter there is also a pointed re­fer­ence to Israel. It is the Jewish nation and Old Tes­tament Judaism that gave birth to the Redeemer.


            2.3 Consistency 


       This principle, suggested by honest common­ sense, requires that wher­ever possible, the writer or speaker on prophecy should assign the same or a similar meaning to the same sym­bol wher­ever it occurs. We must either consider Daniel and the Apoca­lypse a cha­otic jumble not worth our attention or believe that they are a har­moni­ous revelation from a God of order. This means that there is a con­sis­t­ency within particular pas­sages, as well as of the various chap­ters and books among one another. 

              For instance, in Dan. 11:2 Gabriel embarks on a remarkable fu­ture history, first of the Per­sian Empire and then of the Greeks, be­gin­­ning with Alexander the great, whose domains would be di­vided (vv. 3, 4). After this, the internal ex­po­sitor focuses on two powers, the king of the South and the king of the North (vv. 5-15). These are obviously two divisions of Alex­ander's em­pire, ancient Hellenistic Egypt and Syria. Then other entities come onto the scene of history. These we believe to be the Romans and the papacy, with the assistance of another power (vv. 16-39). Near the end of the chap­ter, we once more read about the king of the South and the king of the North (vv. 40). What finally happens (vv. 41-45) seems yet to lie in the future. About this, we here have little to say; the point we wish to


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make is about con­sistency. If formerly the king of the South was Egypt and the king of the North was Syria (plus territories that used to belong to it but now lie in modern Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq), why should these entities be different in mo­dern times? Also, since the entire first part of the chap­ter is about literal battles and con­flicts, it must be an error to interpret its final verses sym­bolic­al­ly.

            Let us take another example. The seven heads and ten horns of Rev. 12, 13, and 17 should, ac­cord­ing to the principle of consis­tency, refer to the same entities as in Dan. 7. These Apoca­lyptic heads have enjoyed the dubious dis­tinc­tion of evoking eight or more interpreta­tions, which largely violate this prin­ciple. And what of the ten horns? They can be seen on the beasts of Rev. 12, 13, and 17, as well as their predecessor in Dan. 7. Surely they re­present the same king­doms, which must fur­ther­more be related to the ten toes on the statue in Nebu­chad­nezzar's dream (Dan. 2). If so, they al­ways refer to the countries of Western Europe. 

              If this seems too simple and restrictive to ima­gi­na­tive minds, we are potentially faced with the idea of twenty-eight heads and forty horns, which are surely too many.

              Consistency also helps to explain the conun­drum of just what is represented by the beast in Rev. 17. For this, we need to consider the total scheme of the Apocalypse. It reveals that this book is con­cerned with only three major oppo­nents of the Lamb: the dragon of Rev. 12, the leopard-like beast, and the two-horned beast (also known as the false prophet), both of Rev. 13. How do we know this? They are the only ones that end up in the lake of fire and brimstone (Rev. 20:10). So the beast of Rev. 17 must be iden­tical with one of these.


            2.4 Prophetic Augmentation


           Closely related to the principle of consistency is prophetic aug­menta­tion, which the ex­positor needs to understand.

             Visions may basically cover the same ground, yet they are almost never repeated exact­ly. Instead, later repre­senta­tions add further de­­­tails to the prophetic scenario, often with a change of focus or to zoom in on elements that require greater clarification. In the pro­cess, sym­bol­­ism may be expanded, modified, or even changed, but it always remains consistent.

              We call this prophetic augmentation, which is at work through­out the Bible as a whole and related to com­paring Scrip­ture with Scrip­­ture. It is particularly evident in Daniel and the Reve­la­tion. Pro­phetic augmentation interacts dyna­mic­ally with his­torical events as human destiny un­folds, progressively unveiling the great contro­versy between Christ and Satan. 

           This principle is clearly exemplified by the vision of the four beasts (Dan. 7). They paral­­lel the statue of the perplexing dream that Nebu­­chad­nezzar had and the youthful prophet ex­plained, yet they are not limited to what we read in Dan. 2. New elements not men­tioned there are now added: especially the Little Horn and the judg­ment, as well as other details, such as the lion morphing into a frightened, quasi human being, to reflect Babylonian impo­tence in the face of the imminent Medo-Persian onslaught. The historical situation has al­tered drastically, and the neo-Babylonian Empire is now on its last legs. 

               The rest of Daniel also illustrates prophetic aug­mentation. Inter alia Ro­man as well as Euro­­pean power—together with the pa­pacy—are pre­dicted in Chapter 7. Further details emerge in Dan. 8. Here, however, the Adversary's attack on the Lord's people and the truth extends to the Messiah as well as his sanctuary. A new time pro­­­phecy, the 2300 year-days, is men­tioned, though not dis­cussed. Dan. 9 explains it in rela­tion to the first 70 prophetic weeks or 490 literal years, which augments Chapter 8. More is also revealed about the Messiah's life and death, as well as the subse­quent de­struction of Je­ru­salem and its tem­ple. Chapter 11 is a further, non-sym­bolic ex­pla­nation of all the en­tities depicted in Dan. 8, expanding on their activities and final fate.

                Prophetic augmentation is powerfully present throughout the Apo­calypse. For instance, the seven heads and ten horns de­picted in Rev. 12, 13, and 17 always—according to the prin­ciple of con­sistency—refer to the same empires and king­doms. Yet the de­tails are dif­ferent, inter alia as symbolized by the crowns. In the first vision, these are on the dragon's seven heads (Rev. 12:3). The leo­pard beast resembles this en­tity, but its heads are without crowns; instead, these now sit on the horns (Rev. 13:1). But nei­ther the seven heads nor the ten horns of the scarlet beast has crowns. There is, however, an addition. The heads are also now equated with seven mountains, and an immoral woman is sitting on them. (Rev. 17:9) 

             What do these changes mean? They signal a dif­ferent period of time. Rev. 12 delineates the dragon, which is Satan through the ages, but it chiefly focuses on his rebellion in heaven before the world was created, his attempts to destroy the Messiah, and his per­se­cution of the early church—though with a glance at the end time. The crowns on the heads refer to an an­cient period, from Babylon to the Roman Empire. In Rev. 13, we see the Antichrist, also to the end of time; but for 1260 year-days (the greater part of his career) its destiny is inter­twined with the mo­narchs which used to dominate West­ern Europe. In Rev. 17, however, the crowns are gone. Al­though the earlier ca­reer of Babylon is briefly described, the focus is now on the final period of this planet's history just before the Second Coming. That portion of Western Europe which used to belong to the Roman Empire no 


                                                                                                                              Seven Keys 59


longer has monarchs with dictatorial power. It consists of republics.

It is true, of course, that England still has a queen and Spain a king, but they are consti­tu­tional monarchs and largely figureheads. In his Idylls of the King (1859), Alfred Tennyson, whom Victoria had made poet laureate and would later elevate to the peerage, aptly de­scribed his country—then the planet's leading imperial power—as the "crowned re­public" of Britain.11  

               Recognizing prophetic augmentation necessi­tates a realization that the visions in Daniel and Revelation should be studied together. Each book presents as it were not separate, dis­con­nected snapshots but a con­nected film consisting of interrelated se­quences. Even more, the Apo­­ca­lypse is like a continuation of Daniel, though it also refers abundantly to other books in the Bible.

Alternative schools of pro­phetic interpreta­tion, like Preterism and Futur­ism, often fall short by over­­­looking prophetic augmenta­tion.


                2.5 Historical Correct­ness and Honesty


           In the second chapter of our first volume, we dealt a little with the in­ter­re­lationship of pro­phe­cy and history. To this we now need to add. The pre­dictions of the Bible should be correctly mea­sured against historical events. This is our fifth prin­ciple.

           Using history as a key to understanding pro­phecy involves a num­­­ber of questions. Some of these are rather theoretical, for in­stance just how objective and scientific historical enquiry can be. Let us admit at once that in its higher reaches it results in a recon­struction from this or that rather subjective point of view. Paul Conkin and Ro­land Strom­berg assert that this makes "much of history a stab into partial darkness, a matter of informed but in­con­clusive conjec­ture."12 Recon­structing the past is, incidentally, also a form of lite­ra­ture, filled with imagi­nation as well as scholar­ship, which needs to please and hold, not lose, its audi­ence.13

So whose point of view do we reflect? As far as possible, we seek to be guided by God's per­spec­tive on history, as made plain in the Bible.

 Let us note, however, that apart from the writer's overall slant on history there is such a thing as basic facts, and it is these with which we are here particularly concerned. For­tunately, now­adays, these are "rare­ly a point of contro­versy among historians; much of it they take for granted."14 That has not always been the case. For instance, as one respected Bible Commen­t­ary puts it:

              "When Sir Isaac Newton wrote his Chrono­logy of Ancient King­doms (published in 1728), his source material consisted of the Bible and the works of classical Greek and Roman writers. His conclu-


sions drawn from the historical parts of the Bible have stood the test 

of time, and need only slight corrections even today, but his recon­struc­tion of ancient history built on secular clas­sic­al information was completely erroneous. . . . 

               "Bible commentators writing in the early 19th century, like Adam Clarke, were in the same predicament as Sir Isaac Newton. . . . Even today [1979], with our much greater knowledge of ancient history, we are still far removed from a correct understanding of all the inter­woven hap­penings of the ancient nations, and are still unable to iden­tify in all cases the figures and events described by the clas­sical authors."15 

              Those words have been corroborated by the statements of pro­fessional historians. For in­stance, J.H. Plumb of Christ's College, Cam­bridge Uni­­versity, declared in 1965: "What the com­mon reader rarely recognizes is the inadequacy of fac­tual ma­te­­rial that was at the com­mand of an histo­rian one hundred years ago or even fifty years ago. Scarcely any archives were open to him; most repo­si­tories of records were unsorted and un­cata­logued; almost every ge­ne­ralization about a man or an event or an historical process was three-quarters guesswork, if not more." To this, how­ever, he could fortunately add: "Laboriously, mil­lions of facts have been brought to light, ordered and rendered coherent within their context."16

         The twen­tieth century has begun to bring about what can justly be called a revolution in the field of his­tory, and this work is still con­tinu­ing. A present-day prophetic inter­preter needs an aware­ness of such findings and insights, which were beyond the reach of former writers. Conse­quently, several older books, like those of A. T. Jones—though competently written—may con­tain some out­dated his­­­toric­al mate­rial. 

             One area in which there has been a notable shift of perspective concerns the per­va­sive influ­ence that Greek civilization has exerted on the Roman Empire. This can have an im­portant bear­ing on a ques­tion like the fol­low­­ing: Why is the Antichrist beast of Rev. 13 depicted as a giant leopard? With this, older writers can­not help us, for history as they understood it did not yet fully por­tray the dominance of the towering Hellenic intellect over the derivative Roman mind, theo­logically and otherwise. A further volume of our Christ and Anti­christ will con­tain a number of chapters about this topic, which is most relevant for inter­preting, inter alia, Rev. 13 and 17.

               Closely connected with using history cor­rect­ly is historical honesty. A shocking fact, to be substantiated in the next chap­ter, is that much of church history is tainted at its source—including Eusebius' im­portant but biased His­tory of the Church from Christ to Con­stan­tine, which co­vers the period "from the birth of Christ down to 323."17 We need to be aware that in ages past and up to the present


Seven Keys 61


reli­gious writers have re­peated­ly per­verted the facts, at times deli­be­­rately falsi­fying them. Zealous to promote the interests of their church, and no doubt for the greater glory of God, clerics have even resorted to bla­tant for­geries. Refrain­ing from similar, shameful abuses needs to be one of our goals.


                  2.6 Avoiding the Trap of the Contemporary      


                 Sometimes a writer, noting a su­per­ficial re­sem­­­blance between pro­phecy and a contem­po­rary event or circum­stance, rushes into print. The book or article produced may be exciting and is almost certain to impress a cer­tain type of reader, especially when a specific person is named. But when subsequent history turns out dif­­­fer­ently and contradicts expectations, the writer is caught in what we call the trap of the contemporary. Mockery and em­bar­­rass­­ment follow. Avoid­ing this trap is another sound principle.

                Some readers may recall that Adolf Hitler, Jimmy Carter, and Henry Kissinger—to mention just a few—have all been unsuccess­fully named as Antichristian vil­lains in some­one's prophetic sce­nario. But Hitler is no longer with us. Carter and Kissinger are now in harmless and bene­fi­cent retire­ment. Once upon a time, Dis­pen­sa­tion­alist Hal Lindsey focused on 1948, when the Israeli state was founded, sug­gesting that the end would come just forty years later. His books were sold by the millions all over the world. But then 1988 came and went, and the world just kept on spinning as usual. He could not have felt good about it.

                Rushing into the trap of the contemporary is an old mistake. People have been making it for centuries. The following can, we think, be in­structive for people in our time. 

                In the first dozen years of the nineteenth cen­tury, Napoleon I, who had risen to eminence during the French Revo­lution, was still con­struct­­ing his empire. This prompted Samuel Too­vey, an Eng­lishman, to write his Essay on the Prophecies of Daniel and the Re­ve­lation, which was published under the pseudonym Philo Bri­tan­nicus in 1813.18 In it, according to Froom, Toovey de­clares, "the two-horned second beast [of Rev. 13] 'is now perso­nated by France.' Then he tries to find the 666 in Bonaparte's name."19 

               Alas, in the very next year, on 31 March 1814, the allied forces conquered Paris, and on 20 April Napoleon was sent packing into exile on Elba, a Mediterranean island near Italy. He es­­caped and jubilantly returned to France but was soon defeated at Water­loo in 1815.20 After that, he was trans­ported to dis­tant St. Helena in the South Atlantic, hundreds of miles from the Southern African Coast. 

This time, the Royal Navy ensured that there would be no escape. After a few years, he died. And then it was not France but the British Empire that became the global super­power for the rest of the nine­teenth century.

        Toovey had been just a little too enthusiastic. He may have final­ized his spectacular prophetic exposition late in 1812 after 14 Sep­tember, when Napoleon took Moscow, even though the retreat­ing Russians had set it on fire. But before the year was out, the ter­rible winter drove the con­queror back to where he had come from, deci­­mat­ing his splendid Grande Armée. This should have warned the author of the Essay, but he did not tell his publisher to hold it back. Perhaps he thought the Russian debacle was just a temporary set­back, yet it proved—for Napo­leon—to be the beginning of the end. When Toovey's work appeared, it was already out of date. Today it is just a curiosity, known to only a few.

                 As a rule, individual people fail to have a suf­ficient impact on his­tory for them to feature in prophecy. Occasional exceptions do occur. Of these, the most prominent is obviously Jesus Christ, who is more than human. Three emperors have also loomed large enough for explicit, indi­vi­dual pro­phetic attention: Cyrus (Isa. 45), Nebu­chad­nezzar (Dan. 2:38), and Alex­ander the Great (Dan. 8:21). The reason for singling them out is that they were virtually synony­mous with their empires, which they founded. 

           But surely contemporary affairs can some­times herald a real ful­fill­ment of prophecy. Yes, they can; after all, another name for the histo­rical ap­proach to its interpretation is the conti­nuistic school. Contemporary affairs can be very relevant, yet we need to be cau­tious in how we interpret and evaluate them, realizing inter alia that only time can really tell. An example of healthy caution is that of Adam Clarke (1762-1832), the famous Irish Wesleyan preacher and Bible com­mentator, in his reaction to the pope's con­temporary capture and exile: 

        "If we knew precisely when the papal power began to exert itself in the antichristian way, then we could at once fix the time of its destruc­tion. The end is probably not very distant; it has already been grievously shaken by the French. In 1798 the French repu­blican ar­my under Gene­ral Berthier took possession of the city of Rome, and entirely superseded the whole papal power. This was a deadly wound, though at present it appears to be healed; but it is but skinned over, and a deadly cicatrice remains."21

                Subsequent expositors have affirmed the im­portance of 1798, with 538 as the beginning date for the 1260 year-days. They have also noted that the apparent healing of the papal wound to which Clarke referred was temporary, a skinning over, as he put it. In 1801,22 Napo­leon con­cluded a Concordat with the Vatican, but no­thing came of it. Through the ups and downs of the nine­teenth century, the pon-


                                                                                                                              Seven Keys 63


tifical beast just kept on bleeding from that deadly wound. In 1870, from a Protestant pers­pective, it seemed to be on the point of expiry; for in that year the Papal State was finally annexed to a united Italian king­dom.23 By then, Adam Clarke had been dead for almost forty years, so in this world he could ne­ver know how cor­rect he had been. 

                Nor was it possible for him, as for us, to see how—in ful­­fill­ment of Rev. 13:3—papal power was to reco­ver since 1929, after its Con­cordat with Mussolini. This created an independent Vatican State, endowing it with a religious monopoly and huge financial advan­tages throughout Italy, including tax exemp­tion. Il Duce also gave the pontiff some $90 million dollars as a cash payment and $150 million in govern­ment bonds. That was to compensate him for the loss of the Papal State in 1870.24 Coming a few months before the Great Depres­sion, this made possible bril­liant invest­ments, which turned the Vatican into a financial superpower, with a stu­pen­dous growth of Catholic influ­ence all over the planet during the last part of the twentieth cen­tury and beyond.

                 Expositors that belong to the Historical School do not always avoid the trap of the con­tem­porary. Like everybody else, they hurry through space-time with their fleeting lives, and some­times stray from a more dependable path—perhaps because they are eager to see their Lord return while they are still alive. In his enlightening Adventists and Armageddon: Have We Misinterpreted Prophecy? Donald E. Mansell in an excellent survey shows over many pages how Uriah Smith, the grand­master of historicist prophetic inter­pretation, on one subject com­mitted this error, sending his church's exegetes and evangelists off on a wild goose chase that lasted for several gene­rations.

               James Springer White (1821–81), who with his wife Ellen and Joseph Bates had largely founded the Seventh-day Adventist Church, earlier maintained that the entity depicted in the last part of Dan. 11 as well as in the preceding verses 20-39, was the Roman power, both pagan and papal. This view observed the principle of consistency already dealt with and linked the whole chapter to Dan. 8, as Sir Isaac Newton had also done.

                 Originally Smith had accepted White's conclusion, but from 1871 veered away from it. Conclusive for him was the outcome of the Franco-Prussian war in which the formerly puis­sant French were defeated. "When Smith learned the humiliating terms of the treaty [signed on 10 May of that year], he evidently concluded that since the papacy's chief defender could no longer help the pontiff, the papacy had no future in the fulfillment of the last verses of Daniel 11." And after all, Garibaldi had already captured Rome during Sep­tember 1870, taking away from the pope the last vestige of temporal power in Italy, where he had reigned as il papa re for a thousand years.25


                Smith became fixated on the Eastern Question, which con­cerned the Ottoman Empire centered in Istanbul (Constantin­ople), the Turk often being referred to as the "sick man" of the Middle East. James White protested against this deviation. Unfor­tu­nately he died on 6 August 188126 and therefore could have no further voice in the debate. 

                With Smith's ideas ascendant, a century of Adventist writers and evangelists—ex­plain­ing both Armageddon and Dan. 11:40-45 in al­most the same breath—watched the ups and downs of the Ottoman Em­pire with eagle eyes. Militarily it appeared to be ever more impotent. Then, in World War I, it made the mistake of joining the Central Powers: Germany and Austria. Like others in the Christian world, these expositors enthralled their audiences by pointing out how the British under General Edmund H.H. Allenby (1861-1936), closed in on and on 9 December 1917 captured Jeru­sa­lem.27 Finally, by war's end, the Ottoman Empire disintegrated. The British victor was "later nick-named 'Allenby of Arma­geddon'"28 He actually called himself Viscount Allen­by of Megiddo and Felix­towe. He had changed his title to incorporate a com­me­mora­tive reference to his victory in the val­ley of Megiddo, although at the end on the tel it was only "a group of about 100 Turkish fighters who were defending the last vestiges of the Ottoman Empire."29 The Second Coming seemed so near! 

              But then, to the world's amazement, the Turkish people rallied under a new and resolute leader, Mustafa Kemal Attatürk (1881–1938). They defeated the Greeks, who between 1919 and 1922 had invaded the western territories of the dying Ottoman Empire. Turkey swiftly became a revitalized and rather formidable republic, which still survives today. Increas­ingly it became evident that the Turk was not going to abandon Constantinople and somehow "plant the tabernacles of his palace in the glorious holy mountain" (Dan. 11:45) of Jerusalem. Though a few diehard writers and preachers persisted with this view, originated by Uriah Smith, until after the Second World War, events had obviously rendered it obsolete and shown it to be wrong. As Harold E. Snide, a Bible Teacher at Union Springs Academy, ruefully remarked as early as 1927, "from being the 'sick man of the East,' Turkey . . . has truly become the 'sick man of prophecy.'"30 

            Nowadays, Adventists have basically reverted to the interpreta­tion that the power depicted in much of Dan. 11 is the papacy, ori­gi­nally enun­ciated by James White. But, as Mansell puts it, present-day interpretations of the "last power" in verses 40-45 are in "disarray."31 Con­cerning this prophecy, he also quotes three simi­larly worded paragraphs by Ellen G. White, inter alia: "The judg­ments of


Seven Keys 65  


God are in the land. The wars and rumors of wars, the destruction by fire and flood, say clearly that the time of trouble, which is to increase until the end, is near at hand. We have no time to lose. The world is stirred with the spirit of war. The prophecies of the eleventh [chapter] of Daniel have almost reached their final ful­fill­ment" (emphasis added).32 

                Despite this language, which could hardly be clearer and more self-evident in its meaning, Mansell thinks that "the 'war' Ellen White speaks of is not necessarily armed conflict between nations. As shown above, it is far more likely she is speaking of the perse­cu­tion of God's people by the nations and, as previously pointed out, she is simply using military termi­nology."33 One reason for be­lieving that Dan. 11:40-45 requires a symbolic interpretation is a traditional view that these verses must neces­­sarily be linked with the imagery of Rev. 16:12-16. But the two passages may just be some­what dif­ferent end-time prophecies. 

                For the reasons stated in a previous section, we think the final events of Dan. 11 will have to be literal in their fulfillment. We sug­gest the following possibility: To solve the Israeli-Palesti­nian conflict, the great powers internationalize Jerusalem, with the pope as pre­siding au­thority and ombudsman. Islamic Jihadists find this unacceptable and stir up first Egypt and then an alliance led by Syria to sweep into the Holy Land, with the purpose of eliminating this arrangement as well as the Jewish state. First one and then the other invade it. Espe­cially successful are the Syrians, helped by Mus­lims from Leba­non, Iraq and Turkey. Sub­sequently they turn on Egypt, which they invade successfully. They enjoy tremendous sup­port in the Middle East, but are distressed by ominous news about develop­ments in the East (possibly Iran with its Shiites) and the North (European forces, perhaps under American leadership, or Russia). At first, however, the Syrian-led coalition enjoys tre­men­­dous suc­cess, exterminating an immense number of Jews, for they "shall go with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many" (Dan. 11:44). They establish an Islamic state with Jerusalem as its capital. Never­theless, the king of the North—Syria together with its allies—"shall come to his end, and none shall help him" (vs. 45). They may be annihilated by Western or other forces, unless they perish in some other, unspecified way. 

                 This, however, is a very tentative idea and may be wide of the mark. Only time will tell. 

                  Other prophetic interpreters who risk being caught in the trap of the con­tem­porary identify fundamentalist Islam with the two-horned beast of Rev. 13, which is wrong for reasons we need not enter into here. It is, more­over, risky to name specific persons like Sad­dam Hussein or Osama bin Laden as figures in Bible pro­phecy. We believe that these men, like so many be­fore them, will soon disappear into 

the mists of his­tory and generally fade from people's minds. 

                 Writers on prophecy could avoid the trap of the contemporary, together with the conse­quent embar­rass­ment, by pondering the shipwreck suffered by those ill-fated views pro­pounded at various times by Samuel Toovey, Hal Lind­sey, and even Uriah Smith.


                  2.7 A Respect for Previous Prophetic Inter­preters


          Another principle is a respect for, though not a slavish adhe­rence to, the conclusions of pre­vious writers in this field. For those who like us be­long to the Historical School of prophetic inter­­­pretation this is more than important; it is indis­­pensable. 

               Those who wish to add to human knowledge, scientists and other scholars as well as col­lege students, take it for granted that they must, through re­search, first find out what pre­deces­sors in their field have already dis­co­vered. The writings of such people are eva­luated. Their errors are discarded, but what is valid in their contri­bution becomes the starting point for fur­ther adven­tures of the human mind and spirit. 

            This is also how modern tech­nology pro­ceeds. For instance, on 16 December 2003, John Glenn, the first American that went into orbit around the earth, together with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first men to walk on the moon, were at Kitty Hawk. Commemorating a hun­dred years of flight in aircraft heavier than air, they had come to honor the Wright brothers, who on that day in 1903 began to equip the human race with wings. Senator Glenn said, "What­­ever we were able to do we were able to do because we stood on the shoul­ders of others."34

               Even business people recognize this prin­ciple. In April 1959, Jo­seph R. Wilson, Hono­rary Chairman of the Board, Xerox Cor­pora­tion, said to the Philadelphia Securi­ties Association, "We build on the treasures of others' minds, pre­sent and past. Intellects of other centuries and from other lands contribute to our progress now be­cause we can make use of their ideas."35 

             A great fault of enthusiasts who hurry into print to acquaint the world with their views about this or that prophecy is often to overlook or even willfully shove aside what others have done in this field. Since we belong to the Histo­rical School of interpretation, we con­sider it both more profitable and safer first to ponder the findings embodied in a classic like Uriah Smith's Daniel and the Revela­tion, written well over a hundred years agoMuch of what he has to say did not originate with him, for it embodies cen­turies of research and hard-won insights obtained throughout the Chris­tian era. De­spite a few blemishes, most of his book is still valid. An outstanding merit is 


                                                                                                                              Seven Keys 67


that for his time Smith had an exemplary grasp of his­tory as well as con­­tem­porary af­fairs. 

           Another such work, though of a somewhat different character, is The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers (1946-54) in four volumes by Le Roy Edwin Froom. As a compendious survey and far-ranging his­tory of the field it has no equal. Denton E. Rebok, referring to it, asserts that it proves "conclusively that Seventh-day Ad­ventists have made but few contributions to this field."35 We think this overstates the case, but he is basically right: Adventists have large­ly not ori­gi­nated but ra­ther perpe­tuated, and still main­­tain, a very ancient tra­di­­tion. It is sad to re­cord that present-day writers pay insufficient at­ten­tion to Froom's mo­nu­mental research. 

            Like scientists, moon explorers, and even busi­ness tycoons, we need to stand on the shoul­ders of others who came before us.

             Where we occasionally modify the positions adopted by in­tel­­lectual giants like Martin Luther, Charles Wes­ley, Sir Isaac New­ton, Uriah Smith, Le Roy Edwin Froom, and other expositors, we are led to do so by no frivolous motives or desire to reinvent the pro­phetic wheel. More often than not, our guide is a more accurate know­­ledge of history, made possible by subse­quent scholar­ship, or the fact that events occur­ring after their time have brought greater clarity.

                 A good example is provided by the seven heads of Rev. 17. In Smith's time and coun­try, nine­teenth-cen­tury Ame­rica, both his­torical theo­­ry and the edu­ca­­tional system placed an ex­cessive em­phasis on ancient Rome. This helped to pro­duce the idea that those heads refer to seven stages of Roman govern­ment. Today we no longer need to take this interpretation seri­­ously. Instead, we know that intel­lec­tual­ly—and in their culture as a whole—the Ro­mans were heavily, even slavishly, indebted to the Greeks. This enables us to view the role of the latter in a different light. It illu­minates a num­­­­ber of pro­phe­cies, including Rev. 13 and 17.

            Another reason for being acquainted with what previous writers have discovered or pro­pounded is that God has had some­thing to say to all his children throughout the ages, not only to our own or some future time. To think that Da­ni­el and Revelation are mostly about us is being shortsighted and not a little ego­centric. (Through the centuries there have been many people, long va­nished, who imagined such a thing about their own time.)

                In all this, moreover, we need to be aware of the rivalry between the Historical School of pro­phetic interpretation and Futurism, which looms so large in Dispensationalist thinking. This is rooted in the tradi­tion­al Catholic approach to the subject, which has evolved from the third and fourth centuries onward and was modi­fied by a Jesuit intellectual, Fran­cisco Ribera, during the Counter Re­forma­­tion toward the end of the six­teenth century. 


              Futurism seeks to focus all the readers' atten­tion on the last few years of human history, brushing aside the views that predo­mi­nated in Pro­testant countries between the Reformation and the ear­ly nine­teenth century. It seeks to divert attention from the career of the real Anti­christ, which right now is quietly but power­fully pro­ceeding apace.

               Furthermore, we maintain as did Froom that the Lord has not only foretold the future through the Scriptures but also from time to time pro­vided "prophetic witnesses," people who could read what Je­sus called the signs of the times. Though not directly in­spired like Daniel or John, these have usually also been guided by the Holy Spirit—over and above their ability and despite the imper­fections of some things they have written. Through the ages, they have aug­mented the work of the internal expositors to whom we have already referred. It is there­fore not inap­propriate to call them external ex­posi­tors.

               The apostle Peter points out "that no pro­phecy of the scripture is of any private interpre­tation" (em­phasis added.) That is, the Holy Spi­rit who inspires the pro­phets also en­ables us to under­stand what they have written. (2 Pet. 1:20, 21) Our Heavenly Father is anxious for us to grasp what the Bible has to say about the fu­ture. He has not left us with a heap of unin­telligible sym­bols, yet only those who have a disposition to serve him will under­stand. 

              The Bible says so, especially in relation to time prophecies: "The wicked shall act wicked­ly: and none of the wicked shall under­stand" (Dan. 12:10, 11). This is very forceful in the Sep­­tua­gint, the Old Tes­ta­ment Greek translation used by the apostles and the early Chris­tians: “ἀνομήσωσιν ἄνομοι καὶ οὐ συνήσουσιν πάντες ἄνομοι" (ano­mēsōsin áno­moi, kai ou sunē­sōsi pántes áno­­moi, "the law­less ones will act law­­less­ly, and none of the lawless will un­der­­stand")—only those who are wise unto sal­va­tion. That word ánomoi ("law­less ones") is most sig­ni­ficant. In the sin­gu­lar, it is Paul's name for the Anti­christ (2 Thess. 2:8). Those who follow or consort with the Beast, featured in Rev. 13, adopt­ing its Futurist expla­na­tions, can­not ex­pect the Lord to illumi­nate their minds as they try to puzzle out what the Scriptures predict.


                 For interpreting prophecy, especially Revelation, we need a sound methodology. We our­selves ap­ply and high­ly re­com­mend the se­ven principles ex­plained above. They are, we think, in­dis­pens­able. And so is a teachable spirit, on the part of those that love and obey the Lord, who will guide them into all truth.