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The Revelation -- Which Interpretation?
As presented in Apocalypse for Everyman (issued serially),* Bro. A. D. Norris.
*A second edition has recently been published. This is referred to in Appendix 3.
In this chapter we give a summary of Bro. Norris' views followed by extensive comments. His main criticisms of the continuous historical interpretation are answered in the next chapter.
A SUMMARY OF THE INTERPRETATION
Apocalypse for Everyman aims to give a sequential interpretation of Revelation chapters 6 to 20 as a steadily unfolding series of events, but all in the future, except for the first four seals.
Ch. 4 A vision of heaven itself with the Almighty on his throne.
Ch. 5 Jesus arriving in heaven.
Seals 1-4: A general description of the character of the past 18 centuries -- the world "beset with evils which will plague it until the Lord returns".
Seal 5: "very close to the time of Jesus' coming again"; disillusioned believers as souls under the altar crying for vengeance.
Seal 6: The era of Christ's return; the great earthquake and the wrath of the Lamb.
Ch. 7 Sealing the 144,000: Believers being assured of God's care, in response to the cry of Seal 5.
Ch. 8 Four Wind Trumpets: These will bring the first of a series of judgements, probably miraculous, like the ten plagues on Egypt.
Fifth Trumpet: Locusts out of the abyss -- this will be an intense 5 months blitz, a reign of terror.
Sixth Trumpet: The loosing of the four angels bound by the river Euphrates -- some 200 million soldiers in war; "massive warfare and vast carnage exceeding anything known before".
Ch. 10 The rainbowed angel standing on the sea and the land with the lion roar and the seven thunders -- a messenger from Christ commissioning mortal Christadelphians to preach the gospel after the terrifying events of chapter 9.
Ch. 11 The downtrodden Holy City and two Witnesses: Following the commission of chapter 10, there will be 3-1/2 years preaching supported by 'fire devouring their enemies', 'power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues'. The Witnesses, mortal Christadelphians -- will be killed at Jerusalem and lie unburied 3-1/2 days. They come alive and ascend to heaven, that is to the Judgement Seat.
Ch. 12 The woman clothed with the sun, the man-child, the dragon cast out of heaven: This chapter is said to be out of sequence. The woman is said to be Israel giving birth to Jesus, who as the man-child goes to heaven. The Dragon is the power of sin, represented by having a third of the angels, God having two thirds - the Dragon is powerful, but not equal to God. Jesus' death casts Sin out of heaven.
The woman in the wilderness: This is the nation of Israel scattered amongst the nations. "The nation from whose womb he was born was subjected to grievous oppression by the Romans, and with the desolation of Palestine from A.D. 70 onwards was indeed exiled into the wilderness". Whereas in chapter 11 the 1260 days are taken literally, the 1260 days in this chapter 12 are only commented on as 'a limited period' - historically some 18 centuries! "Now is come salvation and strength and the kingdom of our God" is not dealt with.
Ch. 13 The Beast of the Sea: This is a dreadful antichristian power yet to arise, supported by a new false religion, described as the God of the earth, and later as the False Prophet. The Christadelphians witness against it, and the Beast persecutes them.
Ch. 14 The Lamb on Mount Zion with the 144,000: Christ has not actually returned, it is a picture in anticipation. The preaching of the gospel (v.6) is the same as the work of the two witnesses.
Ch. 15 Preparing to pour out the Vials: Now no more opportunity of repentance.
Ch. 16 Vials poured out: Another series of terrific judgements-- "miraculous events" -- carried out by angels.
Ch. 17 The judgement of the Harlot riding the beast: Israel in the wilderness in ch. 12 now emerges as the harlot in the wilderness to be judged. Somewhat unhappy with this, it is also proposed that the harlot might be apostate christianity; or it may represent a union of apostate Israel and apostate christianity.
Ch. 18 The destruction of Babylon the Great: 'Babylon' may be centred on Rome, or on Jerusalem; it may represent wealth and power of the nation of Israel, or of the Catholic system, or both. She is destroyed by the nations over which she has ruled. Believers are warned to 'Come out of her'. Christ has not yet returned.
The Hallelujah rejoicing: This rejoicing is by the angels.
The marriage feast of the Lamb: Christ has come; believers probably now being taken to the Judgement Seat.
The Faithful and True and his army on white horses: Christ and the angels, and possibly including the saints, waging war with the beast and the kings of the earth; the beast and his False Prophet destroyed.
Ch. 20 Thrones and judgement: The time for the believers to be judged. Those on the thrones (v.4) are doing the judging-"the Lord Jesus Christ and his angelic tribunal".
Ch. 21 New Jerusalem, the bride adorned for her husband: The saints made immortal and reign with Christ.
FOUR GENERAL CRITICISMS OF FUTURIST EXPOSITIONS
(1) The Promise Of Prophetic Guidance
A futurist interpretation leaves 18 centuries of prophetic darkness. This is illustrated in the diagram on page 51. The application of the first four Seals to these centuries, merely saying they will be like all other periods of history, provides no prophetic light and encouragement for believers. But God has promised his people they will have such prophetic guidance, as says Amos: "Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets". From the days of Abraham and the prophecy in Genesis 15:13-21, one can follow this prophetic word down to the detailed account Jesus gave his disciples in the Mount Olivet prophecy; and we can be sure that He has provided for the disciples in the succeeding centuries. Where is that record? Only a continuous historical interpretation of the Revelation provides it.
(2) "Things which must shortly come to pass"
The Revelation opens with the words "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass". The opening words of any book are important; they set the stage for what is to follow. A futurist interpretation is ruled out by these words. The book must be interpreted so that it allows events 'shortly to come to pass'; and the only way to do this is on the continuous historical basis -- events start to be fulfilled soon after John received the Revelation, and the symbols have continued to be fulfilled through the centuries. In every age, for the believer, there have been events 'shortly to come to pass', providing guidance and encouragement.
(3) "Keeping the sayings of the prophecy"
We have already emphasised the charge given at the beginning and the end of the book, that the servants of God are required to 'keep' those things which
are written therein. But if the prophecy, and its many associated exhortations, belong largely to the 20th century, how could our brethren of the 2nd or the 10th or the 15th centuries possibly 'keep' what is written therein? Only the continuous historical interpretation permits a steady fulfilling of the words of the book, so that each generation can look back on the part fulfilled, have some understanding of the signs that belong to their own time; and look for the next events to be unfolded. In particular, they keep the sayings appropriate to their time, receive encouragement in the knowledge that God is in control, are strengthened in their particular circumstances, and are admonished by the warnings given.
(4) An Improbable Grouping Of Symbols
The Revelation has several distinct groups of symbols and judgements, as the seven Trumpets, the seven Vials, the Witnesses, the persecuting Beasts, the reign of the Harlot-City. As our diagram on page 51 shows there are over 200 events to be fulfilled. If all these are in the future, they have to be fitted into a short space of time. It is as if each group was set out on a sheet of transparent paper, and the sheets superimposed, so that in looking through them one sees all the events at once. But this gives such a bewildering quantity of symbols jostling against each other in a small space, that it seem an incredible presentation of prophecy. This is the more incredible when by pushing them all into a short space of time, we are left with a long empty gap of many centuries with no symbols. It must strike every reader as unreasonable that in a revelation of 22 chapters, containing enough symbols to describe approximately 2,000 years, the correct idea is to push them all up into a small space at the end of that period. The logical result of the futurist theory is disinterest in the Revelation wrought by a deluge of symbols obviously inexplicable.
An attempt has been made to counter this criticism by pointing out that in Daniel's prophecies there are gaps of many centuries. But this is no justification, rather the reverse. Revelation clearly picks up the symbols of Daniel and fills in those gaps! This is reasonable; it was not appropriate for Daniel to give all the detail; but when the time of fulfilment is approaching, God provides the Revelation and the filling in of the gaps.
TWELVE DETAILED CRITICISMS
(1) Chapter 6: The Sixth Seal -- Portents of the Lords Return?
Great events are portrayed under the 6th Seal -- the earthquake, the heavens passing away as a scroll rolled up, sun black as sackcloth, stars fallen from heaven, mountains and islands moved, men hiding themselves from the wrath of the Lamb. Bro. Norris cannot accept this as belonging to the time of Constantine, and insists it belongs to the coming of Christ. This ground of disagreement with the historical interpretation is dealt with in detail in chapter 5.
If for the moment we accept Bro. Norris' view', then the great earthquake
and the heaven passing away, etc., signify the ending of the present Order at the time of the 6th Seal. Likewise the universal panic -- kings; great men, rich men, every bondman, every free man -- all fleeing from the wrath of the Lamb and the one sitting on the throne, indicates Christ is here. But on the basis of Bro. Norris' sequential unfolding of the Apocalypse, this puts the end of the present Order out of place. It takes place before the opening of the 7th Seal, and the pouring out of the Trumpet judgements; before the great events of the Vials. Clearly Bro. Norris is in difficulty; for he wants the appearing of Christ to be near the end of the Revelation, in chapter 19. By applying the 6th Seal to the time of Christ's coming and not to Constantine, Christ is on the scene too early. In an endeavour to escape this difficulty Bro. Norris calls the events under the 6th Seal 'portents' -- signs and warnings of Christ's coming. But the events set out in the 6th Seal are not 'portents' of Christ's coming -- events heralding his coming. As we have just seen, under this seal the ruling Gentile 'heavens' pass away; a great political earthquake occurs -- not 'is going to occur in the future'; universal panic happens -- not 'is something for the future'.* The only way out of the difficulty is to apply the 6th Seal to the appropriate time in history, the time of Constantine.
*Strangely Bro. Norris himself describes the details of the 6th Seal as the great day of the Lord -- not portents of it. Referring to Rev. 6:14, "the heaven was removed as a scroll when it is rolled up": "It is impossible to understand the language here being used of any smalltime activity of some human monarch playing God before his friends and enemies (a reference to Constantine, G.P.). This in its context, in language, and in setting, is a message about the activities of God himself, directed towards bringing to an end the existing order of things and ushering in the new".
Again, referring to "every mountain and island were removed out of their places": "It is as though every obstacle which would hinder the triumphant march of God to victory is trampled down or brushed aside; as He plants His footsteps in the sea, the islands are nudged into place to provide His stepping-stones. And we might picture men fleeing to the islands for refuge, only to find the refuge withdrawn from them as, in a figure, God moves the very islands themselves where He wills. "
Referring to Rev. 6:15, men hiding themselves: "His terrors strike the world so that men enter into the rock and hide in the dust before the terror of the LORD (Isa. 2:10, 19, 21). Nothing less than the Second Advent can satisfy the language here before us".
(2) Chapter 7: What is the Sealing of the 144,000?
John sees an angel ascending from the East, having the seal of the living God, and he seals the servants of God in their foreheads. Bro. Norris says this is God comforting and assuring latter-day believers in the midst of their trials. But this is not the idea conveyed by the symbology. Sealing in the forehead is implanting the truth of God in the mind. The Revelation gives us this interpretation. It is the mark distinguishing the faithful from the unbelieving world. So 9:4 -- the locusts were to "hurt" only those men "which have not the seal of God in their foreheads". The redeemed are so described in Revelation 14, "Lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Zion, and with him an 144,000, having his Father's name written in their foreheads ... these were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and the Lamb." Bro. Norris
does not tell us who will be the angel ascending from the East. The historical exposition explains the detail here. After the 6th Seal and the Constantinian revolution, christianity was so corrupt that God instituted a new preaching, calling people out from apostate christianity. Whereas in the first three centuries the Truth had been largely in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, it now started a definite westward progress. The 'angel' ascending from the East represents those preachers of saving Truth found in North Africa -- the Donatists; in Asia Minor and up the Danube -- the Paulicans; and in western Europe -- the Waldenses and Petrobruscians.
(3) Chapter 9: 200,000,000 Horsemen Engaged In A Future War
Bro. Norris speculates on a future army of the order of 200,000,000 men from the "Euphratean" region. He has, however, no substantial interpretation of the extensive detail of this Trumpet. The very precise period of time in which the armies operate -- "an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year" is vaguely seen as "the thought of the 'very instant' which God has determined for this development". The breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone; the horses heads as lions, their mouths issuing fire, smoke and brimstone; their tails like serpents with which they hurt -- all these details are passed over. There is a very real danger that such loose treatment of Scripture could undermine our basic Christadelphian approach to interpretation. Again, let the reader see how accurately all the symbols of this chapter fit the continuous historical interpretation for the time of the Turkish invasions, and the use of gunpowder (briefly set out in chapter two).
(4) Chapter 10: Christadelphians Commissioned To Witness By The Mighty Rainbowed Angel
The rainbowed angel is interpreted by Bro. Norris as a messenger who will come from Jesus to prepare Christadelphians for their witnessing work (as in chapter 11) after the terrible judgements of chapters 8 and 9. How can this be an adequate interpretation of the language used here -- a mighty angel standing on the sea and the land, face as the sun, feet as pillars of fire, roaring as a lion, uttering 7 thunders? This is a manifestation of great power.
In this chapter John is told he has to carry out preaching, and this preaching according to Bro. Norris is detailed in the Ilth chapter. But, to Bro. Norris the resurrection does not take place until many events after this. How can John do his witnessing if he is dead? Clearly the witnessing of chapter 10 cannot be the witnessing of chapter 11. In Bro. Thomas' exposition, the rainbowed angel is a symbol for Christ and his glorified saints descending on the European territory of the enemy.
(5) Chapter 11: Mortal Christadelphians Waging War
Bro. Norris has the witnessing of chapter I I as a sequel to chapter 10. The witnesses are mortal Christadelphians -- faithful witnesses to God's word who will display His gospel in adversity. They support their witness with war and destruction. "That fire proceeds out of their mouths' means, no doubt,
PAGE 51 (Diagram based on "Apocalypse for Everyman")
that at their word the fire comes down from heaven to destroy their enemies as it did at the word of Elijah..." At this time Jesus has not returned to the earth. Do we as a community genuinely believe in this aggressive role for brethren in their future missionary work? What will the tribunals say to such an idea?
(6) Chapter 11: Ascended Up To Heaven -- To The Judgement Seat
These Christadelphians, their witness finished, are dead in Jerusalem for 3 1/2 days, and then they ascend up to heaven -- that is, to the Judgement Seat! Can one seriously interpret heaven as the Judgement Seat? Are verses 11 and 12 a description of going to the Judgement Seat? Verse 12 reads: "And they (the witnesses) heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them". Will the world behold the saints assembled at the Judgement Seat? Does not Jesus say he comes as a thief?
The events of the French Revolution accurately fit these words and the rest of what we read in verses 13 and 14.
(7) Chapter 12: Israel As The Woman Clothed With The Sun And The Moon Under Her Feet
The sun is a figure for strength and rulership and glory. When Jesus was born Israel was subject to Rome, and it was declared at his trial, "We have no king but Caesar". It is quite inappropriate to say Israel was clothed with the sun. Furthermore, the woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet is given as a remarkable sign at that time. We read "There appeared a great wonder in heaven". So at the time of Jesus' birth a situation must have developed fulfilling the words "clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet"; and this was to be a striking sign. Nothing like it occurred. We ask: How was Israel clothed with the sun at this time; what moon was put under her feet? The language does not fit the nation of Israel when Jesus was born. But it fits the development of formal christianity at the time of Constantine.
The symbols of Revelation 12 are given further consideration in the following chapter of this book.
(8) Chapter 12: Jesus And The Dragon In Heaven
In Apocalypse for Everyman the woman in chapter 12 is Israel; Michael and the Man-child are Jesus Christ; the Dragon is Sin revealed in the Roman authorities, "caught up unto God and to his throne" is Jesus going to heaven. Bro. Norris has a problem here, in that the Dragon is also in heaven, and there is war in heaven between Jesus (Michael) and the Dragon. The best that Bro. Norris can say is: "Perhaps it is best to see the vision as one whose topography cannot be pictured in earthly, local terms, in which we distinguish those things which occur in God's purpose (and are seen in heaven) from those things which concern His Son and His saints (who appear close before his throne), while the earth denotes the centre of operations on which God's judgements and purpose are worked out amongst the inhabitants of the world
who have not accepted the call according to His purpose'. The reader must make the best sense he can of this. When an interpretation is not on sound lines, these problems will occur. There is no difficulty here with the continuous historical interpretation; "heaven" is the place of rulership; and in this Roman rulership there was indeed great warfare -- between Constantine and the pagan rulers, i.e. between Michael and the Dragon. This is dealt with fully in chapter 5 of this book.
(9) Chapter 12: The Nation Of Israel Nourished In The Wilderness
The woman in the wilderness, we are told, is the nation of Israel scattered amongst her enemies, suffering God's punishment. Moses prophesied Israel's punishment in Deut. 28:63, "So the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nought. . ."; and Jeremiah: "And it shall come to pass, that like as I have watched over them, to pluck up, and to break down, and to destroy, and to afflict. . ." (31:28). It was the time when God hid His face from them, Ezekiel 39:23. In the light of these scriptures, how inappropriate for an interpretation of the Revelation to say that at this time the nation of Israel was 'nourished' and 'fed' by God. Such language does not fit the nation of Israel at this time. But it does fit God's providential care of the anti-catholic people and the 'remnants of the woman's seed' who were subject to Catholic persecution after the time of Constantine.
With the nation of Israel as his theme in this chapter, Bro. Norris can give no comment on the striking phrase in this chapter: "I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God... and they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb". Again, these words are applicable to the christians of the time; as we show in chapter 5 this is reflected in the sayings of Eusebius and others.
(10) Chapter 17: Israel The Harlot On The Beast
Bro. Norris takes a page or more in trying to establish that the woman that entered the wilderness in chapter 12 is the same woman that appears as the harlot in the wilderness in chapter 17. This would mean that Israel is to become the embodiment of ancient Babylon's myths and mystery religion, that she will deceive and 'intoxicate' the whole world with her teaching, or 'wine', that she will be fabulously rich and powerful as presented by the great city Babylon in chapter 18, and that she will disappear as a millstone dropped into the sea. An alternative is proposed that somehow the woman of chapter 12, Israel, has become apostate christianity in chapter 17; and it is further proposed that perhaps the symbols represent both. Such speculation needs no further comment.
(11) Chapter 19, etc.: Angels Carry Out The Judgements
Apart from the judgements carried out by mortal Christadelphians in chapter 11, all the judgements at the coming of Christ are carried out by angels, according to Bro. Norris, although the saints may be included with the angels
in Rev. 19.11-21. But the Bible evidence is that it is the saints who carry out the judgements. In Daniel 7:18 it is the saints that take the kingdom from the fourth beast and possess the kingdom for ever and ever. Notice they first 'take' the kingdom, then 'possess' it. One cannot say these saints are angels, because the angels do not 'possess' the kingdom. In the same chapter, at the end, it is repeated that after the little Horn has worn out the saints, "the judgement shall sit and they (the saints) shall take away his (the little horn's) dominion, to consume and destroy it unto the end". So the saints are the destroyers both of the little horn (the harlot, the papal power) and the beast.
The Revelation itself is also quite clear on this important matter. Chapter 17 tells us the ten horns and the beast make war with the lamb, "and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful" (17:14). "Called, chosen and faithful" is a description of the saints: angels are not the Lamb's "called and chosen" (see Ephesians 1:1-5).
It is appropriate and fit that those carrying out the judgements are those who have suffered. So the Psalmist declared: "Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people; to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron; to execute upon them the judgements written: this honour have all his saints" (Ps. 149:5-9).
(12) Chapters 20, 21: Punishment Of The Unfaithful
According to Revelation 20:15 and 21:8 the unfaithful at the judgement seat are punished by sharing the calamities expressed in the words: "cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone". But in the sequential interpretation of Bro. Norris, destruction in this lake of fire has already occurred (Rev. 19:20), before the judgement seat of Rev. 20:4. How then can the unfaithful be cast into it? The scriptures quoted require that the resurrection and Judgement has taken place before the 'lake of fire' is developed.
It is clear that Bro. Norris' effort to piece together the Revelation throws up glaring faults and problems. What we have established is that because the saints carry out the future judgements, they must have been resurrected before these judgements occur. So instead of the resurrection taking place at the end of the epoch of Christ's return, it takes place at the beginning. Let us accept the interpretation that the Vials have been fulfilled as far as the frog spirits of the 6th Vial (see the evidence in chapter 8). This means we now await the next item: "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth". How we interpret the Revelation certainly affects our outlook -- whether we are looking for Christ to call us to judgement; or whether we are looking for a whole series of dramatic world-shaking events before Christ actually comes.
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