The Seven Seals of the Apocalypse @ Historicism.com


Interpreting the prophecies of Revelation



The First Seal

An Improbable Prophecy from a Lonely Exile on Patmos

And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. Rev. 6:2

According to tradition, the author of the book of Revelation was exiled to Patmos by the emperor Domitian in 95 AD for unspecified reasons. (The Acts of John,a 5th-century work supposedly)

In lonely exile, the last of the apostles had his famous vision which opened with a most unlikely prophecy. John saw that the Roman Empire was about to embark on an era of victory, prosperity and glory.


John's Vision of Rome's Future Unwarranted

The Empire Was on a Downward Spiral

John's prophecy was unlikely because the Roman Empire had been on a downward spiral since Tiberius. Edward Gibbon sketches this "age of iron" Vespasian and his son Titus being alone excepted:

"Their unparalleled vices, and the splendid theatre on which they were acted, have saved them from oblivion. The dark unrelenting Tiberius, the furious Caligula, the feeble Claudius, the profligate and cruel Nero, the beastly Vitellius, and the timid inhuman Domitian, are condemned to everlasting infamy."

·  Rev. 6 Verses

·  The Flavians

·  Decadence to 96AD

The Vision Suddenly Begins to Unfold

Domitian's Assassination Ends an Era

Lack of funds made Domitian greedy, and fear of assassination made him cruel. Domitian killed so many people that he ordered no records kept for posterity. His friends had him murdered in 96 AD. Thus the Flavian dynasty ended just as John completed the Apocalypse.

When the emperor died, the Roman Senate revoked his decrees and John was free to return to Ephesus, where he was greeted by crowds of people with the same words that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem: "Blessed is he is comes in the name of the Lord."

Irenaeus tells us St. John "lived in the time of Trajan" and so John was a living witness of the commencing fulfillment of the Apocalyptic prophecy. In like manner, Daniel lived to see the destruction of Babylon, and the decree of Cyrus; and in them the commencing fulfillment of the prophecies of the future revealed to him.

·  Domitian

·  Patmos

Debate over the Date

AD 70 or AD 96?

Preterism has a peculiar and essential teaching that the book of Revelation was written in AD 70. But historicists have always taught that it was written in AD 96.

E.B. Elliott, in the classic Horae Apocalypticae (1862), argues that John wrote the book in exile on Patmos "at the close of the reign of Domitian; that is near the end of the year 95 or beginning of 96". He notes that Domitian was assassinated in September of 96. [1]

Elliot begins his lengthy review of historical evidence by quoting Iraneus a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John. Iraneus mentions that the Apocalypse was seen "no very long time ago;" but "almost in our own age, toward the end of the reign of Domitian." [2]

[1] Elliot, E.B.: "Horae Apocalypticae", Vol 1, page 47. Seely, Jackson and Halliday, London, 1862 [

2] Elliot, E.B.: "Horae Apocalypticae", Vol I, page 32. Seely, Jackson and Halliday, London, 1862

·  Two Dates




A Rider with a Bow - A Cretan Dynasty

And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow... Rev 6:2

At the death of Domitian, the Senate appointed an elder statesman in his place. Nerva was a colonist from the Island of Crete. He was the first to occupy the Throne of Augustus who was neither by birth a Roman or descended from an Italian family.

Nerva was selected on the merit of his ability and not as a result of his birth. He quickly adopted Trajan to succeed him. Trajan adopted Hadrian who adopted Antonious Pius who adopted Marcus Aurelius. Thus five “good” emperors were chosen in succession and Rome flourished under their wise rule.


The Adoptive Emperors

By Roman Law All were Cretans

Known as the “adoptive” emperors each took the name of his predecessor. By Roman adoptive law all were reckoned as Nerva's family and were thus all Cretans.

The bow is an exquisitely appropriate symbol to represent this era for the Cretans were a race of bowmen, the most famous in the ancient world. Alexander the Great was never without a large company of Cretan archers and they were much in use in Roman armies during the time of Julius Caesar.

·  Rev. 6 Verses

·  Commentary

·  Nerva

·  Adoptive Emperors

The Cherithites were from Crete

David's Loyal Bodyguard were Cretan Archers

The Cretans were akin to the Philistines, and thought to be identical with the Cherethites (I Sam 30:14) who formed David's loyal bodyguard. They were daring sailors in addition to being famous archers but had a bad moral reputation. John saw it all in his vision when he saw the rider with the bow.

Horae Apocalypticae is illustrated with coins of the era including the ones above where the Cretan fame for archery and bow making are represented.

·  Five Good Emperors

·  Good Audio

·  The Cherethites


The Laurel Crown of the Conqueror

And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown Rev 6:2

Nerva's chosen successor Trajan was an able ruler whose primary interest was in the welfare of his people and the expansion of the empire. He initiated a brilliant series of campaigns which pushed the borders of the empire to their greatest extent. Trajan's 110 foot column still stands in Rome as memorial to this unparalleled era of military victory which continued until Marcus Aurelius.

Many consider Trajan the greatest Roman Emperor after Augustus. Nerva made a wise choice indeed.


A Laurel Crown not a Diadem

The Greek word Stephanos is Appropriate

E.B. Elliott found splendid coins in the British museum of Trajan crowned triumphing. The crown awarded to the victorious emperors in this era was the laurel crown as opposed to the diadem which was the crown of barbarous kings. Hence it is appropriate that the Greek word stephanos (4735) was used here for crown as opposed to diadema (1238).

The laurel crown continued to be worn by emperors until the time of Diocletian when the diadem came into use. Elliott notes that the beast of Revelation 12 (Rome) has seven diadems.

The five good emperors were all students of stoicism. The last of the five, Marcus Aurelius was a major Stoic philosopher. It is said that "almost every great character, almost every effort in the cause of liberty emenated from the ranks of Stoicism." Lecky (see link.)

·  Trajans Column

·  Trajan Triumphant

·  Adoptive Succession


The White Horse

The Golden Age of the Roman Empire

And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. Rev 6:2

The white horse was reserved for emperors in their triumphal processions and from Trajan through Aurelius the Roman armies "went forth conquering and to conquer." Elliott provides coins with pictures of Trajan and later Hadrian on white horses going forth to war on one side of the coin and with the laurel crown on the emperors head on the reverse.


An Age of Peace and Prosperity

The Golden Age of the Roman Empire

The color white also signifies prosperity and peace which characterized this the golden age of Rome. Of this era Gibbon made his famous quote:

"If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the accession of Nerva to the death of Aurelius."

It was a period unstained by civil bloodshed. By contrast, the next 92 years saw 32 emperors and 27 pretenders to the the throne. It was an era marred by continuous civil war.

·  The Golden Age

·  Antonius Pius

·  The Second Seal

·  Commentary

Emperor Commodus

The End of the Line

For all their virtues, the five good emperors were pagans. Trajan started the gladatorial games to satisfy his sadistic pleasure. Hadrian built the temple of Venus on the site of Christ's death and burial. He and young Antinus were celebrated lovers. But Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius were exceptional rulers.

Emperor Aurelius ended the golden age by giving the throne to his dissolute son instead of adopting a capable successor. Commodus is considered to have been one of Rome's five worst emperors. His assassination ended Pax Romana and the golden age became an age of iron.

Now the empire was to ride a horse of a different color.

·  Commodus

The Seals - A Summary

First and Sixth are Key

We will be skipping from the first to the critical sixth seal. However, the following links pertain to the seals as a whole for those who wish to dig deeper.

Of course Horae Apocalypticae has the finest and most thorough treatment of the seals that can be found. It has been the standard on this section of the Apocalypse ever since it was written over 150 years ago.

·  More on the Seals

·  Illustrated Seals

Reproduced with permission from Historicist.com / Midnightoilministries@hotmail.com 06/2009

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