“After three days I will rise again.” Matt. 27:63.
It was on the 5th day of May, 1514, at the ninth session of the Lateran Council that the Papal Orator “pronounced his paean of triumph over the extinction of heretics and schismatics.” “There is an end of resistance to the papal rule and religion: opposers there exist no more.”
Three and a half years later, to a day, on October 31st 1517, Luther posted his 95 Theses at Wittenberg. “The voice of an obscure monk rang through Europe, like the mighty thunder peal; awakening men from the slumber of ages, and shaking to its foundation the usurped dominion of Romanism.” In Luther and the Reformers the slaughtered witnesses to the truth of the gospel, risen from the dead, stood once more upon their feet before Rome and the world.
This was what the martyr Huss, a hundred years before, had foretold. “I am no vain dreamer,” he said, “but hold for certain that the image of Christ shall never be effaced. They wish to destroy it: but it shall be painted afresh in the hearts of gospel preachers better than myself. And I, awaking as it were from the dead, and rising from the grave, shall rejoice with exceeding great joy.” Jerome of Prague, his fellow martyr, named the interval one hundred years, “after which their memory would be vindicated, their cause triumphant.” This double prophecy was fulfilled.
Pope Adrian, Leo X’s successor, in a brief addressed to the diet of Nuremberg in 1523, wrote thus: “The heretics Huss and “Jerome seem now to be alive again in the person of Luther.” “Not in the compass of the whole ecclesiastical history of Christendom, save and except in the death and resurrection of Christ Himself, is there any such example of the sudden, mighty, and triumphant resuscitation of His cause and Church from a state of deep depression.” Their lofty and animated descriptions of this divine revival are clothed by the writers of the period in metaphors borrowed from the pages of the Revelation.
Thus Milton wrote: “When I recall to mind at last, after so many dark ages, wherein the huge overshadowing train of error had almost swept all the stars out of the firmament of the Church; how the bright and blissful Reformation, by divine power, struck through the black and settled night of ignorance and anti-Christian tyranny, methinks a sovereign and reviving joy must needs rush into the bosom of him that reads or hears; and the sweet odor of the returning Gospel imbathe his soul with the fragrance of heaven. Then was the sacred Bible sought out of the dusty corners where profane falsehood and neglect had thrown it; the schools opened, divine and human learning raked out of the embers of forgotten tongues, the princes and cities now trooping apace to the new erected banner of salvation; the martyrs with the irresistible might of weakness, shaking the powers of darkness, and scorning the fiery rage of the old red dragon.”
A new era had dawned upon the world: an era of Light, Liberty, Life, and Progress; The Age of the Book. Then was the Bible translated into the vernacular languages of Europe, and later on into all the leading languages of the world, its sacred pages opened in the eyes of the nations, its truths expounded in their ears, its records placed in their hands, yea, its teachings written in the hearts, and reflected in the lives of millions emancipated from the prison house of Papal bondage.
Then, to use the language of the historian, Gibbon, “the lofty fabric of superstition, from the abuse of indulgences to the intercession of the Virgin, was leveled with the ground. Myriads of both sexes of the monastic profession were restored to the liberty and labors of social life. An hierarchy of saints and angels, of imperfect and subordinate deities, were stripped of their temporal power … their images and relics banished from the Church; and the credulity of the people no longer nourished with the daily repetition of miracles and visions. The imitation of paganism was supplanted by a pure and spiritual worship of prayer and thanksgiving … The chain of authority was broken … the popes, fathers, and councils, were no longer the supreme and infallible judges of the world; and each Christian was taught to acknowledge no law but the Scriptures, no interpreter but his own conscience.”
Advance in Prophetic Interpretation
The advent of the Reformation shed a broad beam of light upon the very center and heart of The Revelation. It illuminated the visions in the tenth and eleventh chapters, removing the obscurity which had hitherto hung upon their meaning; and caused the trumpet call to God’s people in the eighteenth chapter, to come out of Babylon, to sound forth as never before.
Now was the mighty cloud-clothed, rainbow crowned angel of the vision in the tenth chapter seen as it were to descend from heaven holding in his hand a little book open and setting his feet on land and sea, he was heard to cry aloud as when a lion roareth. Then were heard the seven thunders of Rome’s anathemas, pealing forth their defiant reply. Then did the Reformers take from the hands of the angel the “little book” of the newly opened Word of God, and eating it themselves, as Ezekiel had done before them, renew their prophecy, “before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.” Then did the Reformers “rise and measure the temple of God” as commanded, “and the altar and them that worship therein,” leaving out, as bidden, “the outer court” as given to the Gentiles to remain unreformed, and continue trodden under foot. Then also, was “the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt” denounced as such; and the prophesying of Christ’s sackcloth clothed witnesses, like that of the Jewish prophets in the days of the Baal and Babylonian apostasies, clearly recognized: the “olive trees” or anointed ones, like the faithful reformers in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, after the return of Judah from the ancient typical Babylon seen to be “candlesticks” or light bearers, “standing before the God of the earth.”
Now was the mystery cleared up; now was the meaning of these wondrous visions revealed, and the testimony of prophecy confirmed the faith, and justified the position of the Reformers. What Ezra and Nehemiah, Joshua and Zerubbabel had been in the great work of the restoration of Judah from Babylonian captivity, of the rebuilding of the altar, and temple of God, and of the ruined walls of Jerusalem, such were the modern Reformers in the still more glorious work of the Reformation of the Church After her long captivity in the anti-typical “Babylon the Great”; and the visions of the Revelation based as to their symbolism, upon the history of Judah’s restoration, stood forth explained by the events of modern history; a brilliant lamp lighting the Reformers path; a miracle of divine prescience; a seal of approbation upon the Reformation movement; a warrant for its work, a pledge of its success.
A Twofold Discovery
The Reformation was born of a twofold discovery; the discovery of Christ, and the discovery of Antichrist. This discovery was first developed in the mind of Luther; and from his mind it passed into the mind of Western Europe; from whence it has since gone forth throughout the world. It arose from Luther’s finding a Bible. To the awakened monk God revealed through His word the glorious gospel of salvation. Profoundly convinced of sin, Luther embraced “the righteousness of God” revealed in the Scriptures, and justification by faith in contrast with justification by works became the thrilling theme of his testimony.
In October, 1517 followed the posting of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses Against Indulgences, which he affixed to the door of the chief church at Wittenberg, boldly offering to maintain them against all critics. “The truths most prominently asserted in them were the Pope’s utter insufficiency to confer forgiveness of sin, or salvation, Christ’s all-sufficiency, and the true spiritual penitent’s participation, by God’s free gift, independently altogether of papal indulgence or absolution, not merely in the blessing of forgiveness, but in all the riches of Christ. There were added other declarations also, very notable as to the gospel of the glory and grace of God, not the merits of saints, “being the true and precious treasure of the Church”, a denunciation of the avarice and soul deceiving of the priestly traffickers in indulgences; and a closing exhortation to Christians to follow Christ as their Chief, even through crosses and tribulation, thereby at length to attain to His heavenly kingdom. Bold indeed were the words thus published; and the effect such that the evening of their publication has been remembered ever afterwards, and is ever memorable, as the Epoch of the Reformation.” Following Luther’s discovery of Christ came his discovery of Antichrist. In the month of June, 1520, the Pope hurled a thunderbolt at Luther, condemning his doctrines in a bull, and ordering that “unless within sixty days he retracted his errors, he was to be seized and sent as a prisoner to Rome.”
On December 20, 1520, “a pile of wood was erected at the east gate of Wittenberg. One of the oldest members of the university lighted it. As the flames arose, Luther advanced arrayed in his frock and cowl, and amid bursts of approbation from the doctors, professors and students, hurled into the fire the Canon Law, the Decretals, and the Papal Bull.” “The defiance of Wittenberg was followed by the emancipation of half the nations of Europe from their spiritual and temporal bondage.”
Hidden from his persecutors in a lonely castle in the Wartburg forest, Luther now translated the New Testament into vernacular German. He prefixed to the Revelation, in his great edition of the German Bible, in 1534, an outline of his views as to the meaning of the prophecy. He considered it contained a prefiguration of the chief events in the history of the Christian Church. The woman clothed with the sun, and crowned with twelve stars, who flees to the wilderness from her persecutors, represents in his view, the true Church; and the two witnesses a succession of faithful witnesses for Christ. Of the opposing Beast powers, the first beast represents the papal secular revived Roman Empire; and the second beast the Pope’s ecclesiastical or spiritual empire. The number of the beast, 666, signifies according to Luther, the number of years that the beast may be destined to endure, measured, he says in his Table Talk, from Gregory, or perhaps Phocas. The Antichrist is, in his view, an ecclesiastical person. In his “De Antichristo,” he says, “The Turk cannot be Antichrist, because he is not in the Church of God.” “Whoever so came in Christ’s name,” he exclaims, “as did the Pope.”
As the Reformation advanced, the true meaning of the predictions in the tenth and eleventh chapters of the Revelation more and more forced itself upon the minds men. Bullinger, at Zurich, in his expository discourses on the Revelation, published in 1557, boldly explains the angel vision in chapter 10, as representing Christ’s intervention through the Reformers. The “little open book” in the hand of the angel he interprets as the gospel, opened to men by the Reformers, and given to the world with the aid of the newly invented art of printing. He says the oath in the tenth chapter alludes to the three and a half “times” of Daniel 12, and surmises that the redemption of the Church at Christ’s coming, to raise the dead and transform the living was even then drawing nigh. As to the witnesses, the number two indicated that they would be few, yet sufficient. The Great City of their slaughter is the Empire of Papal Rome, Jerusalem a type as the capital of the visible Israel. The falling of the tenth of the city represented the mighty defections already begun from the Papal Church and Empire. On the seventh trumpet he says, “It must come soon, therefore our redemption draweth nigh.” He explains the second beast as the Papal Antichrist, rising under Gregory I, and his successor Boniface, to the position of Universal Bishop. “On the name and number of the beast he adopts Irenaeus’ solution, dwelling on the Latinism of the Papacy, much like Dr. More afterwards.”
Bale, Bishop of Ossory under Edward VI, published an Apocalyptic Commentary entitled Image of Both Churches, ie: the true and the false. He explains the vision of Revelation 10, like Bullinger, as representing the Reformation; the book opened being the Scriptures – then newly translated into the vernacular languages, and expounded by gospel preachers. The measuring rod in Revelation 11 he explains as God’s Word, “now graciously sent as out of Zion,” the temple as God’s congregation or Church, distinguished by His Word from the synagogue of Satan; the witnesses as faithful Protestors for Christ that continue with God’s people all through the time of the Church’s oppression by her so-called “Gentile” court foes. The fall of the tenth part of the city, represents the diminution of the Papal Church. We have here, says Bale, “what is done already, and what is to come under this sixth trumpet, where under we are now; which all belongeth to the second woe.”
In David Chytraeus’ Explicatio Apocalypsis, published at Wittenberg, in 1571, the 1,260 days of the Gentiles treading down the holy city are explained as 1,260 years, to be calculated either from Alaric’s taking of Rome in AD 412, or from Phocas’ decree, AD 606; and thus to end in A.D., 1672, or in AD, 1866. The resurrection of the witnesses he explains of their speedy revival “on each individual occasion of their temporary suppression by Antichrist.”
Augustin Marlorafs Exposition of the Revelation of St. John, published in 1574, under Queen Elizabeth, “is professedly collected out of divers notable writers of the Protestant Churches, viz: Bullinger, Calvin, Caspar Meyander, Justus Jonas, Lambertus, Musculus, Jecolampadius, Pellicanus, Meyer, Firet.” On chapter 10 he sets forth “the clear decisive explanation of its Angel-vision usual among the Reformers, as figuring the opening of the Scriptures and revived gospel preaching at the Reformation: also the exclusion of the outer court in Revelation 11, as signifying the exclusion of Papists.”
Thus similarly the venerable martyrologist John Foxe in his exposition of the Revelation written in the year 1586, a work interrupted by his death, applies the magnificent vision of Christ in Revelation 10 to the restoration of gospel preaching, the book in the angel’s hand representing God’s Word. The temple of chapter 11 he takes to be the Church; its inner court the true worshipers; its outer the false; the measuring of the temple its separation and reformation “as in our day,” implying a previous corruption under Antichrist. All this had been done under the sixth, or Turkish trumpet, whose end he considered to be near. Under the seventh trumpet which would follow, the Church would have its time of blessedness accomplished, in Christ’s coming, and the resurrection of the saints.
Brightman’s Commentary on the Revelation dedicated to “the holy reformed churches of Brittany, Germany and France,” was published in AD 1600 or 1601, before the death of Queen Elizabeth. In this remarkable work which was deservedly popular with the Protestant Churches of the time, Brightman rightly identifies the locust woe of the fifth trumpet with the Saracen invasion, and the Euphrates woe of the sixth trumpet with the Turkish. The casting down of the dragon in chapter 12, he applies to the casting down of the rule of heathen Rome under Constantine, and the subsequent revival of Roman rule under the Popes by Justinian and Phocas in the exaltation of the Papacy in the restored empire.
Considering the Apocalyptic interpretation of the sixteenth century as a whole we recognize not only a considerable advance in the understanding of the prophecy, but a practical application and use of its leading predictions of the highest importance. The glorious work of the Reformation was built upon doctrinal, practical, and prophetic grounds. Apocalyptic prophecy was accorded a prominent position among the stately pillars of its foundation. To the reformers the Church of Rome was “Babylon the great” of the Revelation, clad in purple and scarlet, adorned with “gold, and precious stones, and pearls,” a faithless harlot seated on a Beast power, intoxicating the nations with the cup of her idolatries and superstitions, and drunken with “the blood of the saints and martyrs of Jesus.” The duty of separation from the Church of Rome was boldly proclaimed on the ground of the divine command in Revelation 18, “Come out of her my people that ye be not partaker of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” The duty to reform the Church was urged on the authority of the command in Revelation, “Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.” While Rome excommunicated the Reformers, the Reformers excommunicated Rome in obedience to the command in Revelation 11, “The court which is without the temple, leave out (or rather ‘cast out’) and measure it not.” The Pope of Rome was resisted and condemned as “the Man of Sin,” “the Antichrist,” the “standard-bearer” as Calvin calls him, “of an abominable apostasy.” The long line of pre-reformation martyrs, and the reformers and martyrs of the Reformation, were regarded as the sackcloth clothed and faithful witnesses of the Revelation, God’s anointed “prophets,” like Elijah and Elisha in the days of the Baal apostasy of Israel, and Ezra and Nehemiah in the time of the restoration of Jerusalem, and rebuilding of the temple, who, warred against and overcome by the Beast power, had been figuratively raised from the dead, and exalted in full view of their amazed antagonists.
To the Reformers of the sixteenth century the era of the seventh trumpet was at hand, when “The kingdoms of this world” would become “the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.” And they awaited the predicted and proximate hour when “like a great millstone” “that great city Babylon” should be “thrown down and found no more at all,” and the “great voice of much people in heaven “should lift up the rejoicing utterance, with thrice repeated hallelujahs, “salvation, and glory, and honor, and power unto the Lord our God, for true and righteous are His judgments: for He hath judged the great whore which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of His servants at her hand.” The prominence of Apocalyptic interpretation in the voluminous writings of the Reformers is one of their most marked features. They wielded the word of prophecy as the sharp two-edged sword of the Spirit, “piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit.” And while God sealed their testimony with lasting spiritual success, they, on their part, sealed their witness with their blood. They inaugurated an era of light and liberty such as the world had never seen before, which remains as the colossal confirmation of their testimony, as interpreters and teachers of “the Word of God which endureth forever.”