The Seventeenth Century Puritans on the Revelation

The Seventeenth Century Puritans
In tracing the development of the interpretation of the Revelation as ceaselessly following the unveiling of the plan of Providence by the events of history, we direct our attention at this stage to the fresh page of history which lay before the eyes of prophetic interpreters in the seventeenth century.

I. The Reformation of the sixteenth century was succeeded by the great Papal Reaction of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; a movement which included the founding of the Order of the Jesuits, the Marian persecutions, the wars in France against the Huguenots; the Auto-da-fes of the Inquisition in Spain; the decrees and anathemas of the Council of Trent; the diabolical attempt of the Duke of Alva to exterminate Protestants in the Netherlands, of whom 18,000 were slaughtered in six years; the fearful massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572; the invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588; the Jesuit attempts on the life of Queen Elizabeth; the Gunpowder Plot in 1605; the sanguinary Thirty Years War beginning 1618; the massacre of 20,000 Protestants in Magdeburg in 1631; the diabolical barbarities of Count Tilly in Saxony; the massacre of 40,000 Protestants in Ireland in 1641; and wholesale slaughter of the Waldenses in 1655; together with other wars, massacres, and persecutions too numerous to be mentioned.
By these dreadful acts the Papacy was revealed as the persecuting Antichrist, in colors so glaring and terrible as to compel universal recognition. It is noteworthy that while the Church of England in her Thirty-Nine Articles drawn up at an earlier date, in 1562 – articles strongly Anti-Romish in character – refrains from identifying the Pope with the predicted “Man of Sin,” the Confession of the Westminster Assembly of Divines in 1647 (a confession ratified and established by Act of Parliament in 1649), does so identify him; as witness the following article, “There is no other Head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof, but is that Antichrist, that Man of Sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God.” Thus also the Articles of the Church of Ireland, drawn up in 1615, declare “The Bishop of Rome is so far from being the Supreme Head of the Universal Church, that his works and his doctrines do plainly discover him to be that “Man of Sin” foretold in the Holy Scriptures, whom the Lord shall consume with the Spirit of His mouth, and abolish with the brightness of His coming.”
With these solemn affirmations of the Protestant Churches of the seventeenth century the voices of all the leading prophetic interpreters of the period agree. Their works are before us as we write. We have carefully examined their teachings, from those of Lord Napier’s Commentary on the Revelation[1] published in 1593, to Vitringa a century later.[2]
All these seventeenth century writers are agreed as to the historical principle of interpretation, and as to the general outline of events fulfilling Apocalyptic prophecy. Their views on the thirteenth chapter of Revelation are especially important in their clear recognition of the Papacy as heading the second stage of the Beast power; and its persecution of the saints during the forty-two prophetic “months,” or 1,260 years, of its domination. Cressener’s works may be especially mentioned as containing a powerful demonstration of this view.

II. Turning now to events in eastern Christendom we note that the capture of Constantinople, and overthrow of the Eastern Roman Empire by the Turks in 1453 was also near in point of time to the opening of the sixteenth century to be properly judged of by the Reformers. The event was one of such enormous magnitude as to require a more distant standpoint for its correct appreciation. But in the course of the sixteenth century its full character and effects became plainly visible. The Saracen and Turkish conquests in the time of Solomon the Magnificent, and the Amaraths and Achmets of the age were seen in their true colors. The House of Othman was “lord of the ascendant, and numerous and fair provinces had been torn from the Christians, and heaped together to increase its already ample dominions.” The fulfillment of the locust and Euphratean woes of the fifth and sixth trumpets, in the conquests of the Saracens and Turks was now clearly recognized. In 1615 Brightman explained the 150 days ravages of the Locust horsemen as the 150 years of Saracen conquests reckoned from their first ravages of Syria about AD 630. The year, month and day of Turkish conquests he reckons as 396 years (365 + 30+1), measuring it from the revival of the Othmans AD 1300, to the then future date of 1696. It is remarkable that the peace of Carlowitz in 1699, terminating seventeen years of war with Turkey, marked a closing crisis of Turkish power. “From that time forth,” says Sir Edward Creasy, “all serious dread of the military power of Turkey ceased in Europe.” The prophetic period may be reckoned as 391 years (360+30 + 1),[3] and as extending from the reign of Alp Arslan (1063-1072 according to Gibbon) to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Under Alp Arslan the Turks crossed the Euphrates, and invaded Europe. “The myriads of Turkish horse” says Gibbon, “overspread a frontier of 600 miles from Tauris to Erzeroum, and the blood of 130,000 Christians was a grateful sacrifice to the Arabian prophet.” The story of the Turks in Eastern Europe is that of a succession of dreadful massacres without a parallel in the history of the world. With the capture of Constantinople, when Constantine XIV, the last Christian Emperor of the East fell and was “buried under a mountain of the slain,” Gibbon terminates his history of “the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”
Goodwin (1639), expounds the fallen star of the fifth trumpet as Mahomet, fallen from the profession of Christianity; and the smoke issuing from the pit as the false religion of the prophet. Of the sixth trumpet, or Euphrates woe, he says, “No prophecy doth or can more punctually describe any nation or event than this doth the Turks, and their irruption upon the Eastern Empire, who when they came first out of their native country, about the year 1040 after Christ, did seat themselves first by the River Euphrates, and were divided into four several governments or kingdoms,” etc., and completed their conquest of the Roman Empire “in the year 1453, which is 186 years since, who possess that whole Eastern Empire unto this day.” Mede (1643), reckons the Turkish woe from 1057 to 1453; and More (1680), does the same. There is perhaps no point on which historical interpreters of the Revelation from Mede and Goodwin onward are more agreed than in the application of the fifth and sixth trumpets to the overthrow of the corrupt and apostate Eastern Empire by the Saracens and Turks.

III. The recognition of the fall of the Western and Eastern Empires, under the six first trumpets, led Mede, to the view that the Revelation contains two principal prophecies; first the prophecy relating to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire in the West, and in the East, figured under the seals, and six first trumpets; and secondly, the prophecy concerning the fortunes of the Christian Church, beginning with the vision of the descent of the angel in Chapter X, holding in his hand “a little book open.” An analogous twofold feature certainly characterizes the prophecies of Daniel, which consist of an earlier series relating to the Thrones, or governments of the world, and a later series relating to the Temple, and people of God, and the approaching Advent of Messiah. Throne prophecies followed by Temple prophecies, such is the twofold order both in the book of Daniel and in the Revelation.

IV. From the fourth and fifth centuries up to the time of the Reformation the binding of Satan introducing the millennium was regarded as a past event. The Church of the Middle Ages imagined itself to be living in the millennium, and the Reformers considered that the outbreak of Papal persecution at the close of the Middle Ages was the fulfillment of the loosing of Satan for “a little season,” prior to the Great Day of Judgment.
By the middle of the seventeenth century the imagined “little season” of Satan’s loosing had so lengthened out as to prove the error of this interpretation. Mede was the first to appreciate the fact. His demonstration of the futurity of the millennium was an immense advance, and created a new era in the interpretation of The Revelation. Elliott truly describes it as “a mighty step of change from the long continued explanation of the symbol as meant of Satan’s 1,000 years binding from Christ’s time, or Constantine’s.” The futurity of the millennium has held its ground as a Canon of interpretation from Mede’s time to the present day.

V. In harmony with this view, Mede, like the oldest Patristic Expositors: Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, etc., interpreted the first resurrection as a literal resurrection of the Saints to be accomplished at the time of Antichrist’s destruction, at the commencement of the Millennial Age. In this Mede was followed by an imposing array of Puritan Expositors. This was a return to primitive doctrine resulting from the abandonment of the false millennium of the Middle Age. Dr. Twisse, then prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, in an admirable and appreciative preface to Mede’s Commentary on the Revelation, gives a summary outline of the Apocalyptic interpretation of this learned Puritan, and says of him “many interpreters have done excellently, but he surpassed them all.”

VI. Mede’s Synchronisms form the leading feature of his Key to the Revelation. He laid down the principle that in order to gain the correct understanding of this mysterious prophecy, it is necessary in the first place to fix the order of its principal visions, apart altogether from the question of their interpretation. In doing this he gives central prominence to the five times recurring period of 1,260 days, forty-two months, or three and a half “times”; and locates the chief visions of the prophecy by their relation to this period, as preceding it, contemporary with it, or succeeding it.[4]
The first synchronism established by Mede is that of what he calls “a noble quaternion of prophecies,” remarkable by reason of the equality of their times:
1. The woman remaining in the wilderness three and one-half “Times,” or 1,260 “days.”
2. The revived Beast ruling forty-two “months”
3. The outer court trodden down forty-two “months”
4. The witnesses prophesying in sackcloth 1,260 “days”
These periods, Mede shows, are not only equal, but begin at the same time, and end together; and therefore, synchronize throughout. As the various Apocalyptic visions are connected with this central period, as introducing it, contemporary with it, or succeeding it, their place in the Apocalyptic drama is clearly indicated.

VII.            The 1,260 Years of Prophecy
The lapse of time led to essential development of the historic interpretation. Sixteen and a half centuries had rolled by since the commencement of the Christian era; thirteen and a half centuries from the fall of Paganism in the days of Constantine; and twelve and a half centuries since the invasion of the Roman Empire by Alaric, the initial act of its Gothic overthrow.
The principle of the “year day interpretation” of the prophetic times was already recognized, and the fulfillment of the great prophetic period of 1,260 years now forced itself on general attention, a period occurring in different forms no less than seven times in Daniel and the Revelation.
Room at last existed in Christian history for the location of this great prophetic period, and from the beginning of the seventeenth century onward it was accorded a prominent place in the historical interpretation of prophecy.
Naturally, with the lapse of time, and the progressive fulfillment of the predictions relating to the Papal downfall, the location of the period was shifted forward from earlier to later dates. The fall of the Papacy has been gradual, like its rise; and the period in question was found to measure with remarkable accuracy the intervals which extended from the principal dates connected with its commencement, to corresponding dates in its decline and overthrow.
Lord Napier in his Commentary on the Revelation, published in 1593, places the first commencement of the 1,260 years “between the year of Christ 300 and 316,” and its corresponding end “about the year 1560,” at which date “the tenth part of the Papal Empire was reformed.” He indicates a second possible fulfillment of the period in the interval extending from the Accession of Justinian a notable date in the rise of the Papacy to the then future year 1786; which was a remarkable anticipation for the time, of the date of the French Revolution. Had Lord Napier dated the 1,260 years from the decree of Justinian in 533, constituting the Bishop of Rome “head of all the holy Churches and of all the holy priests of God,” he would have correctly anticipated its primary termination in the central year of the French Revolution, 1793, the year of the execution of Louis XVI, and of the reign of terror, in which the Papal Church and State were overthrown as if by the explosion of a volcano.
Mede in 1642, placed the commencement of the 1,260 years at Alaric’s irruption, in 395; the date according to his view of the sounding of the first of the four trumpets connected with the overthrow of the Western Empire. Reckoning it thus, the termination fell in the then future year 1655. This location of the 1,260 years is prominent in Mede’s Chart of the Visions in the Revelation.
Pareus, whose valuable “Commentary on the Revelation” was published in 1643, shortly after Mede’s, places the beginning of 1,260 years in AD 606, when Boniface III was exalted by a decree of the Emperor Phocas to “the chaire of universal pestilence.” “From the yeare of Christ therefore 606, until this time the holy citie hath been trodden under foot by the Romane Gentiles, which is the space of 1,073 yeeres, and is yet to be trodden down 223 yeeres more, to wit, until the yeere of Christ 1866.” We have lived to see the correctness of this remarkable anticipation.
In the year 1866 the overthrow of Papal Austria by Protestant Prussia took place, and the Papal invitation to all Catholic bishops to “celebrate the eighteenth century of the martyrdom of Peter and Paul” was sent forth: 599 bishops were present at the Allocution delivered by the Pope in 1867. The Pope’s encyclical letter summoning the Vatican Council was issued in 1868, and the decree of Papal infallibility coinciding with the outbreak of the Franco-German war, together with the fall of the French Empire and the Papal Temporal Power took place in 1870. In the four years 1866-1870 Papal power was overthrown in Austria, Spain, France, and Italy; and since 1870 the Pope has ceased to possess even a shadow of political sovereignty.
Pareus was not the first to point out 1866 as the termination of the 1,260 years. David Chytraeus in AD 1571 indicated Alaric AD 412, and the decree of Phocas, AD 606, as possible starting-points of the period. But the anticipation of Pareus was more definite in character; and he takes a leading place in the list of prophetic interpreters who during the last two hundred years have fixed on AD 606 and 1866 as the chief termini of the 1,260 years period of Papal rule.[5]
It is a noteworthy fact that the historic interpretation of prophecy, constantly developing century by century with the unveiling of Providence, assumed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as to its leading outlines, a definite form from which it has never since departed. One has but to compare Mede’s diagram of the historical fulfillment of the Apocalyptic visions (1641), and that of Whiston (1706), with that of Elliott (1844-1862), to be convinced of the fact.

This Article is adapted from chapter seven of:
History Unveiling Prophecy or Time as an Interpreter.

[1]The inventor of Logarithms.
[2] including the works of Dent (1607), Taffin (1614), Forbes (1614), Brightman (1615), Bernard (1617), Cowper (1619), Taylor (1633), Goodwin (1639,) Mede (1643), Pareus (1643), Cotton (1645 and 1655), Roberts (1649), Holland (1650), Homes (1654), Tillinghast (1654), Stephens (1656), Guild (1656), Durham (1680), More (1680), Jurieu (1687), Marckius (1689), Cressener (1690), Vitringa (1695), Cradock (1697),and others.
[3]History of the Ottoman Turks, p. 321.
[4]Mede’s work, written in Latin was translated into English by Richard More, one of the burgesses in the English Parliament; and the House of Commons authorized its publication in 1641.
[5]The Papal and Mohammedan powers rose together in the years 606-610. The Magdeburg Centuriators in their monumental history of the Christian Church published in 1559- 1574, point out the fact and fix on the year 606, as that of the rise of the Papacy.
Paulus, Diaconus, and Anastasius (“Historia Ecclesiastica et de Vitis Pontificum,” p. ii, ch. 3) indicate 606 as the date of this event; a date memorialized by the Pillar of Phocas (AD 607), still standing in the Forum at Rome.


2 thoughts on “The Seventeenth Century Puritans on the Revelation”

  1. “Part II. Goodwin (1639) expounds the fallen star of the fifth trumpet as Mahomet . . . . . ”
    I examined this, and immediately recognized this fallen star to be an angel identified as the jailer angel that can set free and lock up.
    The word ‘fallen’ in the RSV, or ‘fall’ in the KJV makes this angel to appear thrown down. But in fact this angel dropped down voluntarily to perform a function, duty or deed.
    Quoting Revelation 9:1 and 20:1.
    RSV. Rev 9:1. And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key of the shaft of the bottomless pit; he opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, . . .
    Rev 9:11.The king released from the bottomless pit is called Abaddon in Hebrew, Apollyon in Greek, and in English Destroyer.
    RSV. Rev 20:1. Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.
    Moffatt. Rev 9:1 the fifth angel blew, and I saw a Star; which had dropped from heaven to earth; he was given the key of the pit of the abyss, and he opened the pit of the abyss, till smoke poured out of the pit, like the smoke of a huge furnace, . . .
    Rev 9:11. . . . they had a king over them, the angel of the abyss – his Hebrew name is Abaddon, but in Greek he is called Apollyon.
    Rev 20:1 Then I saw an angel descend from heaven with the key of the abyss and a huge chain in his hand; he gripped the dragon, that old serpent (who is the Devil and Satan), and bound him for a thousand years.
    The KJV reiterates the same meaning, but in old English – nothing different.
    The point is Mahomet did not release and later jail the Devil for a thousand years, even as Islam. This angelic ‘star’ is not Satan either. This jailer angel dropped or descended down, whereas the king of the smokey abyss arose out of the pit. He was then locked up and then released again after a thousand years of the reign of Jesus as King of kings. Rev 20:7. Finally his fate is Rev 20:10.


    1. I dont agree with every point on what the 17th century Puritans believed either. The point of the article is to demonstrate what they did believe, that they were Protestant/Historicist in their thought. Not really up for debate. The view you are putting forth in neither Historicist or Puritan as far as I can tell, unless you have some reference?


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