OST is closed for business but its spirit survives on my blog.
There is not a shadow of doubt in my mind that the Roman empire was what John had in mind when he penned the Revelation. The book is chocked full of allusions to Roman culture. In fact, if you do not understand Rome, you will not understand the Revelation. That is why I think many commentators blow it so badly when they try to read the Revelation.
Just a few examples for you. The most striking condemnations of Rome in the Revelation are the allusions to the synagogue, depths, and seat of Satan (chapters 2-3). The connection is most clear in the letter to the church of Pergamum, which is called “the throne of Satan.” Pergamum was the imperial Roman capital of the province and thus, the central “throne” of the region.
In chapter 4, John sees the following:
“behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. (Rev 4:2-3)
There has been no shortage of varied opinions on this appearance of God but to me, there is a straightforward explanation plucked from Roman practice. When a conquering general returned to Rome for his triumph, his face and hands were painted red and he was clothed in the purple of the imperator. At the end of his triumpal procession, he would ascend the steps to the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus and sit enthroned, surrounded by the radiance of his spoils.
The parallel here should be obvious. The jasper is an opaque reddish jewel which reflects light rather than refracts it. Likewise, the sardinos is a deep, purplish red which is also opaque. As John sees the Ancient of Days, he sees a Roman conqueror…something greater than a Roman conqueror in fact. The proto-conqueror if you will, of which Rome is a lesser copy.
There are more parallels, but these two should suffice to indicate that Rome is definitely looming large on John’s horizon as he composes the Apocalypse. The problem I have with most futurist (and I am a futurist) is that they want to reject the preterist and spiritualist interpretations out of hand, and they miss that the Revelation addressed an immediate need, not some mystical future need.
That being said, I want to address Joel’s statements concerning the Beast kingdom. Many of the commentators I have read of all persuasions miss the great truth of Nebuchadnezzar’s and Daniel’s visions. These kingdoms are unique, but they are not separate. Each blends into the other, each builds on the other. The Beast kingdom (the futurist antichrist) is in fact, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome and something more. Rome absorbed the kingdom of the Greeks, which absorbed the kingdom of the Persians which absorbed the kingdom of the Babylonians. The individual kingdoms did not disappear but rather melded and contorted into something at the core of the next.
Rome is not dead. It continues to live in our world today. The Roman Republic is the foundation of the government of the USA; the Latin language is the core of most of the Western languages spoken in the world. When the Beast emerges, he will be both Rome and something bigger than Rome. He will be both Rome and Babylon, but also something other than either.
I know of at least one unpublished commentator who has put forward the theory that he will emerge from the Eastern part of the Roman Empire so that he can combine all of the former kingdoms in his person and rule. He even goes so far as to say that he will be of Jewish and Muslim blood by adopt Christianity as his religion, thus uniting the world’s monotheistic religions into one as he declares himself to be the Coming Anointed One of all.
But that is neither here nor there. I haven’t dug into his theories enough to really argue it with any clarity. I simply mention him in passing.
In brief then, I think all of us can agree that the demons (speaking figuratively) that John faced were both Rome and bigger than Rome. Thus, the Revelation faces a Rome that is bigger than Rome. I think it is just wishful thinking on the part of some protestants to target Rome specifically and bend the entirety of the Revelation to the opposition of Catholicism. I think that requires as much twisting and turning as the historicist position, which forces historical parallels for the convenience of the system.
Does Rome still exist today? Yes. Is it the Roman Catholic Church? I won’t pretend to say that I don’t believe that some of old Rome still exists there, but the Church and Empire are not equitable. That is all so much sensationalism that the likes of Luther used to whip their congregants into political fury over.
Don’t get me wrong. I think Luther was right to oppose the excesses and heresies of the Church that he loved. To his dying day, he pledged loyalty to the Church although he felt that Catholicism had long since abandoned its truth. But is the Pope the Great Satan? I don’t think so. To be honest, the current pope is a man of frightening power and possessed of a capacity for things we should rightly fear, but he is not the Antichrist.