Prophecies of Book of Revelation Fulfilled in 18th
A common and popular method of exposition of the Book of Revelation, is to link the prophecies in that book to current events and geopolitical realities in our modern world, and to proclaim that the headlines in our daily newspapers are fulfillments of John's prophecies.
These alleged ongoing fulfillments of prophecy are then touted as proof that the Rapture must come soon, since "the stage is being set" for the final consummation of the end-times scenarios of the Book of Revelation. Every day, in every way, Antichrist's roadies are out there setting the stage for his coming, just as they have been for many generations.
For instance, the "10 Kings" of Revelation 17:12-13 are taken to be a reference to the European Common Market. Never mind that there were only 6 nations in the Common Market when it was founded in 1958. Never mind that the European Union now has 25 nations, with 4 applicant nations on the way. Never mind that fewer than 10 of these nations have any literal king or any sort of monarchy.
Meanwhile, the "Left Behind" movie presents the 10 Kings as rulers of countries scattered all over the globe, not just in Europe. The 10 Kings are an amenable, flexible crew of royal gentlemen - they can be anything and anywhere you want them to be. Somewhere in Europe or elsewhere on earth, you can always find some sort of alliance or confederacy that, with a bit of stretching, can be made out to be the 10 Kings of prophecy. And you can cry that up as an evidence that the Rapture is coming really soon.
There are entire schools of sensationalist prophecy, based on the notion that we are now seeing John's visions in Revelation fulfilled, in meticulous detail, right before our very eyes, in the swirl of modern events, wars, peace treaties, alliances, dictatorships and disasters in Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere in the world.
What many of us do not realize is that for many centuries, past generations of sincere Christians have believed the same thing - that they were living through the events portrayed in Revelation, and that these things were signs that the end of the age would come very soon, even within their lifetimes. Obviously, they were mistaken in that belief, and this should caution us to avoid dogmatic certainty in reading the "signs of the times."
Bible-believing Christians in colonial America believed that they were living in the last days and that they were seeing Bible prophecy fulfilled in their time.
Daniel Wojcik, in "The End of the World As We Know It - Faith, Fatalism and Apocalypse in America," notes that Christopher Columbus regarded his discovery of America as a fulfillment of prophecy: Columbus "apparently believed that he was fated to fulfill various prophecies prior to the appearance of the Antichrist and imminent apocalypse. Upon landing, Columbus supposedly quoted scripture from the Book of Revelation about discovering the Terrestrial Paradise - the 'new heaven and new earth' - cited in the Bible."
The Puritans of New England also thought they were fulfilling specific end-time prophecies: "Eschatological beliefs pervade the writings of the Puritans, many of whom maintained that they had been elected by God to fulfill a divinely determined historical plan. Puritan settlements were conceived as communal millennialist prototypes, established in anticipation of Christ's Second Coming. The sermons of Puritan preachers such as John Cotton and Increase Mather dealt with apocalyptic prophecy. Cotton asserted in 'The Pouring Out of the Seven Vials' (1642) that doomsday would occur after the destruction of the Catholic Church, which was identified as the Antichrist. . . . The apocalyptic speculations of Increase Mather's son, Cotton Mather, had an especially strong influence on American colonialist religion. Cotton Mather was preoccupied with prophecy and the specifics of Christ's Second Coming - how Christ would return, who would accompany Him, the exact date, and the location of the millennial kingdom on earth - all of which he believed could be predicted by interpreting contemporary events as providences."
The mid-17th Century was a time of great millennial expectations, partly stirred up by the overthrow and execution of King Charles I in 1649. John Cotton of Boston, Massachusetts predicted the final overthrow of Antichrist's power by 1655. Such eager expectations subsided after the restoration of the Stuart dynasty in 1660, and prophecy teachers moved on to the next big speculative sensation.
King Philip's War, an Indian rebellion in 1675-1676, was interpreted by Increase Mather as a fulfillment of the red horse of Revelation 6:4. Joseph Mede suggested that the American Indians would constitute the demonic army that would rebel against Christ in Revelation 20:9.
In 1691, Cotton Mather, based on current events in the Ottoman Empire and on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in France (1685) tentatively predicted the end of the world in 1697. In 1692 Mather proclaimed that "I am verily persuaded 'The Judge is at the door;' I do without any hesitation venture to say, 'The Great Day of the Lord is near,' it is near, and it hastens greatly."
When the 1697 date passed in an uneventful manner, Mather determined that the world would end in 1736. Later he corrected that to 1716. He dramatically proclaimed, "All that has been foretold . . . as what must come to pass before the Coming . . . is, as far as we understand, Fulfilled: I say ALL FULFILLED!"
Francis Gumerlock, in "The Day and the Hour - Christianity's Perennial Fascination With Predicting the End of the World," says that Samuel Sewall of Boston "believed that the slaughter of Native Americans by the Spanish was the fulfillment of the 4th and 5th seals of Revelation. Sewall believed that the 'souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God' were the Native Americans."
The Great Awakening under Jonathan Edwards and other preachers in the early 1740's was taken as a sign of the approach of the Millennium, but by 1745 revival fires had almost completely died out. In that year troops from New England captured the French fortress of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, and the clergy took this as a hopeful harbinger of the Millennium.
Nathan Hatch, in "The Origins of Civil Millennialism in America," observes, "British victories . . . gave rise to an unprecedented outpouring of hope that Christ's kingdom was imminent. When Louisbourg fell, ministers overcame their theological differences to join in a harmonious chorus of millennial rejoicing. Not only would the Man of Sin no longer rule as vice-regent in the area of Cape Breton, but the conquest of Louisbourg was a sign that the day was not far off when it would be proclaimed that 'Babylon the Great is fallen.' Less than one year later the defeat of the Pretender [Bonnie Prince Charlie] at Culloden evoked even greater displays of millennial expectancy."
Paul Boyer, in "When Time Shall Be No More - Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture," says that Jonathan Edwards avoided public date-setting, although he privately thought that the Millennium might begin in the year 2000. "But Edwards did believe the Millennium was approaching: the Reformation represented the Fifth Vial of Revelation, and the world was now in the period of the Sixth Vial - the last before the end."
The book "The Strange and Wonderful Predictions of Mr. Christopher Love," published in Boston in 1759, predicted the rise of Antichrist in 1761 and the final end in 1763. The same year, Richard Clarke published "The Prophetic Numbers of Daniel and John," predicting the end of the world by 1766.
The French and Indian War (1754-1763) was taken as a sign of the end, as the American colonists fought the French Catholics who were regarded as minions of his infernal majesty, the Antichrist. Samuel Davies described the war as "the grand decisive conflict between the Lamb and the Beast."
Aaron Burr preached in 1756 that "the destruction of Antichrist and the end of this night of popish darkness is near at hand" and that the Millennium would soon begin. John Burt denounced the French as "Offspring of that Scarlet Whore, that Mother of Harlots, who is justly the Abomination of the Earth." When the French were defeated in Quebec in 1760, Samuel Langdon saw it as the fulfillment of Revelation 18:2, "Babylon the Great is fallen, is fallen."
With the French bogeymen safely disposed of, the British were soon identified as the Antichrist, especially after passage of the Stamp Act in 1765, which was identified as the Mark of the Beast of Revelation 13, and a prelude to Antichrist's reign. In 1766 Lord Bute of Scotland was identified as the Beast from the Sea of Revelation 13:1. By 1773 the American colonists had decided that King George III was the Antichrist, and one clever number-cruncher calculated the numerical value of the phrase "Royal Supremacy in Great Britain" as 666.
Samuel Sherwood in 1776 saw American Christians as the Church that fled into the wilderness, Revelation 12:14. In the same year the Maryland Journal denounced a statue of King George III, from which the head had been removed, as the IMAGE of the BEAST."
In 1776, Timothy Dwight predicted that an independent America would be the fulfillment of the prophecy of a 1000-year reign of peace. In 1777 he interpreted General Burgoyne's invasion of northern New York as a fulfillment of Joel's prophecy of invaders from the north.
David Tappan saw the surrender of Cornwallis to George Washington in 1781 as a sign that the millennium would soon begin. Nathan Hatch states that "Sermons during the [Revolutionary] War stressed repeatedly that American liberty was God's cause, that British tyranny was Antichrist's, and that sin was failure to fight the British. With the coming of peace many ministers envisioned Christ's 1000-year reign on earth."
Contrary to the confident expectations of the best prophecy experts of the 18th Century, Antichrist did not arise, Christ did not return, the world did not end nor did we enter the Millennium. All these things were predicted with certainty, as a result of careful correlation of the prophecies of Revelation and other parts of the Bible, with events reported in the colonial newspapers.
The 18th Century prophecy buffs, however sincere, had fallen into the same "Bible in the News" deception that is so heavily worked by the prophecy preachers today. Any event that happens anywhere in the world can be declared to be a fulfillment of the venerable visions of John. You can produce a book or video about it, and make a lot of money. There is a lot of profit in being a prophet.
But as we have seen, there is no factual or scriptural validity to this sanctimonious and deluded form of prophecy divination. There are many helpful teachings to be found in the Book of Revelation, but the timing of Christ's coming is not one of them. In Acts 1:7 Christ said, "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power."
So, when some madcap prophecy guru assures us that we are living in the
"Terminal Generation," let us stop to reflect that Christians of the 18th
Century believed, based on the same Biblical texts that are used to prove the
point today, that they were living in the Last Days also. And they were wrong.
We need to re-evaluate a system of prophetic interpretation that results in
date-setting predictions with a failure rate of 100%. God's Word is true, but
our system of interpreting, massaging and manipulating the Word to fit with
current events is sadly mistaken.