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B. W. Johnson
Vision of the Ages (1881)



The Sixth Seal Opened.--The Startling Phenomena in Earth and Sky.--The Meaning of the
Symbols.--A Period of Revolution.--The Political and Religious Agitation of the Reign
of Constantine.--Paganism Destroyed.--A New Civilization.--The Mightiest Change
Known to History.--Rome no Longer Capital of the World.--The Four Winds Held.--The
Sealing.--The Song of Salvation.--The Triumph of the Church over Paganism.


      I must ask the reader to attentively examine the latter portion of Revelation, chapter VI., before reading what I have to say under the head of the sixth seal. It runs as follows:

      And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every [109] freeman, bid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?--6:12-17.

      The scenes beheld by the apostle are startling, and calculated to fill the soul with awe and consternation. The earth reels in a mighty earthquake, that hurls mountains and islands from their places, and the awful agitation extends from the earth upwards to the heavens. The sun is black as sackcloth, the, moon is red as blood, stars fall from their places in the the heavens, and the heavens themselves are rolled away as a scroll. As he gazes, the face of the earth and sky is so changed that there might be said to be a new heavens and a new earth. At the same time he hears the agonized cries of men, both great and small, who cry to the hills to fall upon them and hide them from the face of the Lamb.

      The imagery described is most striking, and certainly portrays remarkable changes. We have already found that this is symbolism, and we are not to look for a literal fulfillment, but for historical events which would correspond to the symbolical pictures. We are not to expect that this seal will be fulfilled by literal earthquakes, falling stars, blackened sun and [110] moving islands and mountains, but by the events of which these physical signs are symbols.

      Before we point out the fulfillment we must pause to indicate the symbolical meaning of some of the terms which are employed. These may be gathered from any good dictionary of symbols, and, indeed, the signification of most of the terms must be apparent.

      An earthquake, in agitation of the earth, must refer to great political or religious commotion upon the earth. As John's "earth" is constantly the Roman Empire, this commotion will be within its limits. The Lord, speaking of the revolution which would be effected by Christ, says, Haggai, 2:6-7: "Yet once, it is a little time, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land, and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come." The earthquake is often used by the prophets as a symbol of political or religious agitation. The sun, moon and stars refer to earthly dignitaries, great lights in the political or religious heavens. In the dream of Joseph, which so maddened his brethren, these terms are used in this meaning, as well as by the ancient prophets. In the East it was common to liken the king or emperor to the sun, and stars are the symbols of princes and rulers. For the use of the term we refer the reader to [111] Dan. 8:10. The blackness of the sun and the bloody hue of the moon point out scenes of sorrow and bloodshed. The, falling of the stars would indicate the downfall of those who had held high places on the earth, or rather within the Roman Empire. Mountain and island are used to denote earthly the latter referring more especially to European provinces which were often called "the isles of the sea." From the period of Diocletian, the great persecutor, the title, "Your Eminence," or, in other words, "mountain," was bestowed upon princes. As a mountain stood above the plain, so the rulers or the earth were exalted.

      With these definitions before our minds, it is easy to discover that the sixth seal is a period of mighty and startling revolutions, not in the heavens, but upon the earth, which are wrought out amid scenes of sorrow and blood. The various phenomena in earth and sky, the earthquake, the falling stars, the heavens rolled away, the mountains and islands moved out of their places, all foreshadow a violent, bloody, remarkable upheaval of systems, rulers, government, kingdoms, and the establishment of a new order upon the earth. It is on earth, it is in history that we are to look for the fulfillment of the prophecy. And since the "earth" that is present to the mind of John is the [112] civilized world known to the ancients, the Roman Empire, it is within its boundaries that we must look for the fulfillment. There can be no doubt that this is "the seal of revolution."

      Some who have held that we were to look in history for the explanation of John's symbols, have thought that the sixth seal was fulfilled in the rush of the savage nations of the North down upon the decaying Roman Empire, a movement which resulted in the destruction of the old nations and the establishment of new kingdoms and races. We shall take a different view, for the reason that there is another revolution, nearer in point of time, closely following the great persecution of the fifth seal, that in a surprising manner fulfills the imagery; and, in addition, the invasions and destruction wrought by the savage hordes from the North are symbolized by, the events connected with the blowing of the first four trumpets, as narrated in the eighth chapter.

      Several circumstances help us to fix the meaning. 1. The time. It follows immediately after the great persecution indicated by the fifth seal, which closed in A. D. 311. These events occur, then, near that time. 2. It is a time of blood and mourning. Who are the mourners? Kings, great men, rich men, bondmen and freemen. Are these Christians? They are enemies [113] of the Lamb, who fear his wrath and mourn over his power. The mourners are the opposers of the Church.--(Verse 16.) 3. The seal is followed by a period of great joy and prosperity on the part of the Church.--(See chapter VII.) An innumerable multitude are sealed with the seal of the Lamb, of which the next chapter gives record. Have we, near A. D. 311, the time when the great persecution closed, a period of mighty revolution, that filled the unbelieving world with mourning, and which was followed by a time of triumph, prosperity and glory to the Church of Christ? We ask the reader's attention to the history of that epoch.

      Three years before, or A. D. 308, the vast Roman Empire had been broken up between no less than six emperors. Jealous of each other, each determined to grasp an undivided power, they watched one another, and prepared for mortal combat. They hesitated four years before the Roman world was dyed in blood. We will observe the course of only one of the six, Constantine, afterwards called Constantine the Great.

      In the year 312, leaving Britain, marching through Gaul, he launched his armies upon Italy. The Church watched his progress with singular interest; for although he bad, as yet, made no profession of Christianity, his mother, [114] Helena, was a Christian, and it was felt that he was favorable to his mother's faith. The Italian emperor opposed to him, Maxentius, was a firm Pagan, and around him centered the interests of the Pagan faith. Indeed, he gave public assurance that he would extirpate the Christian religion, and vowed to Jupiter that, in the event he was successful, he would make his worship universal on the ruins of Christianity. He and his adherents were the avowed enemies of Christ, and Paganism staked all upon his success. Three great battles were fought, the last in the suburbs of Rome. In the retreat Maxentius was slain, and Constantine was master of Italy and the West. In the meantime Licinius, also a Pagan, another of the six, had made himself master of the East by the overthrow and death of rivals, and in A. D. 314 the armies of the West and East were arrayed against, each other, to determine who should be the master of the world. With some truces and treaties, which were made only to be broken, the mighty contest that convulsed the civilized world lasted until A. D. 324, when Licinius, defeated, powerless, a prisoner, was put to death, and Constantine remained the sole master of the possessions of the six emperors.

      We have, then, surely a time of blood, a time of mourning, a time when kings and earthly [115] dignitaries fall and mourn, a time when the kingdoms, signified by mountains and islands, are moved out of their places.

      But these are not the most remarkable changes of this period. Let us note these: 1. The votaries of the old Paganism had rallied around the enemies of Constantine, because he was felt to be its unrelenting foe, who would compass its destruction. When he was seated in triumph upon the ruins of six imperial thrones, there was great mourning from the enemies of the Cross. They felt that theirs was a doomed religion. They were right. 2. In the year 319, before his final triumph, he had decreed that his mother's religion should be tolerated as an acknowledged faith of the empire. 3. In 321 he decreed that Sunday, the sacred day of Christianity, should be observed in all the cities by the cessation of trade and labor, 4. In 325 he abolished by decree the bloody combats of the gladiators, where men killed each other to amuse the populace, a Roman institution that had existed for a thousand years. 5. He convoked, by imperial authority, a great council of Christian bishops, the one known in history as the Council of Nice. 6. In 331 he decreed that the Pagan religion should exist no longer, and that all the heathen temples should be leveled, or converted into churches, 7. At the same [116] time the old Roman laws were remodeled according to the precepts of the Christian religion, and a Pagan empire was transformed into an empire of the Christian faith, under new institutions. Surely the old heavens were moved away as a scroll is gathered together. But this is not all. I name another wonderful change of this age of revolution. It was not enough that he was determined to destroy the old Roman faith and the old Roman customs and laws--he aimed a blow at Rome itself. For near eleven hundred years it had been the seat of empire, growing from a village, with a few miles of territory, to be the mighty capital of the world. In 324 he determined to shake the Roman world to its very center, and to deprive the imperial city of the crown worn for eleven centuries by removing the capital from Italy to a new city upon the banks of the Hellespont, that should henceforth be called Constantinople, from his own name. The mighty mountain of the West is moved from its place.

      In these events, constituting the most remarkable revolution that has occurred in the history of the world, we realize a complete fulfillment of the symbolism. Sun and moon are dark and bloody, the stars fall, and mountains and islands are removed; but it is proper to ask whether, in the mourning of great men, and freemen [117] and bondmen, there was a feeling that they were suffering from the wrath of the Lamb? It is apparent that all regarded the great contest as one between Christianity and Paganism, though Constantine did not proclaim warfare in behalf of the Church. It was also entirely in accordance with Pagan superstition for them to believe that Christ was fighting against them. It was held by Pagans that their gods fought upon the fields of battle by giving strength to the arms of those whom they feared; and when Pagan hopes were blasted by the success of Constantine, it was recognized as the triumph of Christ. The vengeance that was wrought, the sweeping revolutions that took place, the upturning of the old order, and the overthrow of the heathen temples, were all recognized as exhibitions of the wrath of the Lamb; and we are told that more than one imperial champion of Paganism called, in his hour of distress, to Christ, to have mercy. Some of the Pagan writers almost adopted the language of Revelation in describing this period. The ruin of the Pagan religion is described by the Sophists, says Gibbon, "as a dreadful and amazing prodigy, which covered the earth with darkness, and restored the ancient dominion of chaos and night."


      While the sixth seal may be styled the seal [118] of Revolution, the mighty changes of this period are not all violent. If the reader will turn to the seventh chapter he will find that it is a record of visions witnessed by the apostle which precede the opening of the seventh seal. The events of this chapter, however, belong properly to the period embraced by the sixth seal. We quote the beginning of Chap. VII.:

      And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed a hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. 7:1-4.

      It is "after" the events described in the preceding chapter, that these things are seen. Events are therefore described which follow, at least in their consummation, the great political revolution effected by Constantine. Four angels are seen standing at the four corners of the earth holding the four winds, lest they should be blown upon the earth. It is as though four dark storm clouds, charged with fury, were about to rush upon a land, and then some mighty hand was [119] reached forth to stay them in their career and hold them suspended in the heavens, until another work was done. These four angels represent four hurtful agencies which are to do a work of destruction. This impending ruin is arrested and held back until some work of God is accomplished, which is described as the sealing of his servants. These four hurtful angels are ordered to suspend their proposed work by another angel, who is seen arising from the East, having the seal of the living God. He cries with a loud voice, commanding them to withhold their hurtful power until the servants of God should be sealed in their foreheads. Then there were sealed of Israel one hundred and forty-four thousand; and besides these, John says, "I beheld, and lo, a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues stood before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands, who cried, Salvation to our God who sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb."

      It will be observed that there are two classes here represented. There are twelve thousand who are sealed from each tribe of Israel, and then a great multitude, out "of all nations." The first company is composed of Jews, while the second and larger company is composed of [120] Gentiles. In the fourteenth chapter we find again a company of one hundred and forty-four thousand with the Lamb upon Mt. Zion, evidently, from the same number, to be identified with these. We are there told that they were a term whose spiritual signification is that they had never been defiled by idolatry, and that they were "the first fruits" unto the Lamb. These marks, as well as the literal statement here that they were of the tribes of Israel, identify them as the Jewish members of the Church. These had never been guilty of idolatrous fornication, and had been the first fruits of Christianity. Though, at the period we have reached, the original first fruits were no longer upon the earth, yet they were represented by the Jewish Christian element The thought, as it appears to me, is to bring before the wind that ,it this period of triumph there were the Jew and the Gentile elements. I am aware that many commentators have held that this refers to spiritual Israel. All Christians belong to this spiritual Israel, but it is evident that a different meaning is intended here. 1. Those sealed are taken out of the tribes of Israel. They are a remnant, while the great body of the membership of the tribes is left unsealed. 2. The Gentile Christians are named immediately after. These are of the spiritual [121] Israel also, but since they differ from the one hundred and forty-four thousand, the latter must belong to the literal Israel. There are twelve thousand from each tribe, except Dan, which is omitted, and the number twelve is completed by enumerating Levi and the two sons of Joseph. I suppose that this number, small compared with the whole number of Israel, is chosen to show that it was only a remnant of Israel which had accepted Christ. These are said to be sealed in their foreheads. The sealing of the servants of God with the seal of God in their foreheads, must refer to an open and real acknowledgment of Christ by men. The seal is the mark of God, as the seal of the United States is the mark of the United States. This mark is not in some secret place, but where it may be seen by all who meet and behold the sealed face. In Chap. XIII. the servants of the beast receive his mark on their foreheads and their hands. Here a mark on the forehead is understood to be an open profession, while a mark in the hand indicates service. In our present passage the mark on the forehead evidently refers to an open profession of service. It is not a seal in the heart or spirit, which would refer to the Holy Spirit, but a visible mark, seen of all men. An open profession of Christ, an acknowledgment of his name, a [122] public testimony of his grace, a life devoted to his service, a warfare that kept continually unfurled the banner of the Cross, the fellowship of the sufferings of the Master, would be equivalent to the seal of God in the forehead. The four angels of destruction are held back until a countless multitude are thus sealed. This can only be satisfactorily explained by regarding it as foreshadowing a glorious triumph of God and the Lamb.

      The same meaning must be attached also to the song of salvation. An innumerable multitude, from all nations and tongues ascribe praise to God, who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb. I regard this as susceptible of no other explanation than the one we have already given. We quote:

      After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshiped God, saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. 7:9-12.

      Here is, 1. An innumerable multitude. 2. They are of every nation. 3. They are [123] clothed in white robes. White robes are the mark of triumph. 4. They have palms in their hands. Palms belong to victors. 5. They join in a song of praise to the Lamb as the author of their salvation. This is evidently a heavenly picture, representing a great triumph of the saints immediately after the events last described. The subsequent portion of the chapter is in harmony. "Who are these," it is asked, "arrayed in white garments?" It is answered: "These are they who have come up through great tribulation and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." Then, in the remaining verses of the chapter, the constancy of these saints in the service of God, their enjoyment of the presence of God and the Lamb, the fulness of their souls fed upon the bread of Heaven, and the blessedness of their present and everlasting state, are outlined, presenting a sublime picture of a triumphant Church,--triumphant on earth, triumphant in heaven. Those who have come through the (there is an article in the Greek) great tribulation of a suffering and persecuted Church, are permitted to witness its justification and victory.

      Having indicated that the chapter describes a suspension of four destructive powers which were about to be let loose, until a great triumph of the Church was accomplished, I return to [124] inquire concerning these powers. There are four angels of destruction that are restrained from their work until a great triumph of the Christian religion has been wrought. An angel is a messenger. The term may represent a pure spirit sent from the skies, or any earthly agency chosen to accomplish certain work. "He maketh the winds his messengers," as well as the spirits of the sky. There are here four angels--four agencies of destruction. They are appointed to a certain destructive work, but are held back for a time. Will the reader turn to the eighth chapter and examine the events that occur upon the opening of the seventh seal? He will find seven angels with seven trumpets. The angels are divided into two bands; the first, of four angels, and the second, of three (verse 13). The first four trumpet angels of the eighth chapter are the four hurtful angels of the seventh. Both evidently represent four instruments of destruction. There is, then, a work of destruction that will be accomplished. There are four instruments of destruction that will accomplish it. These four instruments are restrained until another work is done.

      What is doomed to destruction? We will find in the sequel that it is the Roman Empire, which is now in its decline and hastening to [125] dissolution; and we will discover also what the four angels signify who wrought its destruction. What is the work which must be accomplished before the angels are let loose to destroy? The four agencies or invasions that utterly overthrew the Roman Empire, ended ancient history and gave birth to modern nations. Before we listen to the trumpet angels and behold the tides of invasion pour down upon the Roman world, we must ask if these agencies were kept back from their destructive work until a glorious triumph of the Christian religion took place? Before the trumpet angels begin to blow, was there of every nation, kindred and tongue, a countless multitude who ascribed the glory of their salvation to the Lamb? Did Christianity effect a great conquest in connection with the reign of Constantine and before the tide of Barbarian invasion set in? We ask these questions concerning the records of the history of the Church, for we think there can be no doubt in the mind of any candid and discriminating reader concerning the meaning of the symbolism of this chapter. Let the student of prophecy always bear in mind, first, that this is a symbolical picture of great historical events connected with the history of the saints; and, second, that the scene of these events is not heaven and eternity, but the earth and [126] time. These hurtful winds are held back that they may not blow upon the earth. Hence, sure or the meaning of the symbolism, we repeat the question: Does history record such a triumph before the accomplishment of the destruction to be wrought by the hurtful angels? Was there such public recognition of Christianity as signified by the mark of the seal of God upon the forehead, upon the part of the civilized world?


      We have already found that the religion of the Roman Empire was revolutionized in the reign of Constantine. For three centuries the ceaseless conflict between the old and the new faith had gone on. Christianity had grappled with hoary religions, entrenched in. the superstitions and affections of men, with the mighty Roman power, and with sin in the human heart. It had been crushed to the earth, but, bruised and bleeding, had risen and continued the conflict. At last, after ages of trial and suffering, it had triumphed over all opposition and become the religion of the civilized world. The temples of Jupiter and Mercury and Mars had been. closed, and their idols broken into dust, never to be restored. An old religion had been utterly destroyed. One century before, if [127] Paul had returned to the earth, he would have looked upon a Pagan world. Had he returned in the last half of the fourth century, he would have looked upon a land of churches and Christians, probably more generally devoted to the Christian religion than any country now upon the face of the earth. Until this sealing, this mighty triumph, is effected, the four winds are held. We repeat that it is significant that we will find following close upon the, triumph of Christianity the Roman Empire utterly overthrown by four agencies, symbolized when four angels blow their trumpets under the seventh seal.

      It was a part of the providence of God that these agencies should be restrained until the empire was converted to Christianity. Indeed, to this providence we may attribute the fact that Europe at this day and for a thousand years, as well as the descendants of Europeans in America, acknowledge the Christian faith. Had the overwhelming hordes of northern barbarians rushed down upon the civilized world before the new faith had been firmly planted, it could hardly have survived the wreck of empires and civilization; but, deeply rooted in the hearts of the vanquished, when all else was lost, Christianity rose above the ruins of the past and pointed the ferocious invaders to the [128] Cross of Christ. The conquerors, in their new lands, laid aside the Paganism of their fathers and accepted a new religion from those whom they had vanquished. The new nations that emerge from the darkness of the Middle Ages, seated within the vast boundaries of the old Roman Empire, all acknowledge the Christian faith. We have thus briefly explained what events were predicted by the four hurtful angels who were restrained, and have shown the fulfillment in the glorious triumph of the Cross of Christ before the downfall of the Roman Empire. [129]

[VOTA 109-129]

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B. W. Johnson
Vision of the Ages (1881)