What is the "Historicist" interpretation?
You have probably heard that the Apocalypse prophesies of an Antichrist, who is going to rule the world for a period of 3.5 or 7 years, usually referred to as the "Great Tribulation", after which Jesus Christ will make His second appearance. This is the "Futurist" interpretation. Other interpretations of this prophecy exist as well. For example, until the 19th century, most Protestants believed that all of AD History was encoded in the Apocalypse. This is the "Historicist" interpretation. The reason it is not widely known today is that it was abused by various 19th century cult leaders, who tried to pinpoint the exact year of the Second Coming based on it and failed.
Who or what is the "Beast" of the Apocalypse, according to this interpretation?
The Old Testament prophet Daniel uses the term "Beast" to describe an empire that dominates the world. The Babylonian Empire is symbolized by a lion, the Medo-Persian one by a bear and the Empire of Alexander the Great by a leopard. Daniel also speaks of a fourth "Beast", which is not similar to any known animal and has seven heads and ten horns. The seven heads are thought to symbolize the seven hills of Rome, and the ten horns the provinces and territories of the Roman Empire, the number of which varied over time. Daniel's prophecy speaks of a "little horn" that would arise among the ten horns, would devour three of them and would reign supreme, making war with the saints and committing blasphemies and abominations. This is precisely what the 12th and 13th chapter of the Apocalypse talk about.
In chapter 12, a Dragon with seven heads and ten horns is presented to us. This is the Roman Empire. This Dragon persecutes a "Woman clothed with the sun". This is the Church during the early centuries of her existence. In chapter 13, a "Beast" arises. It has inherited its power from the Dragon. It too has seven heads and ten horns. It looks like it is made up of several wild animals, resembling the semi-barbaric peoples that invaded and took over the Western part of the Roman Empire, mainly during the 5th century CE. The power behind this Beast is another Beast, with two horns, resembling a lamb, but speaking as a dragon. This second Beast makes war with the saints and commits blasphemies and abominations, like the "little horn" of the Beast of Daniel. It is the Papacy. The Papacy would be the supreme authority on all spiritual issues, possessing huge influence regarding secular ones as well, throughout a large part of Europe and the world, for many centuries.
The "three horns" that had to fall for the Papacy to rise are believed to represent the Heruli, the Ostrogoths and the Vandals, who were in control of the city of Rome and the Italian peninsula after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The Papacy grew into an independent and powerful entity only after these nations disappeared. At first, the Ostrogoths defeated and replaced the Heruli and, later on, the Byzantines annihilated the Ostrogoths and the Vandals.
A "Beast" with seven heads and ten horns is an empire that rules the (known) world, or a large part of it, in the name of Rome. Central and Western Europe, during the centuries of Papal dominance, did in fact constitute a "Roman" empire, since Rome, being the seat of the Papacy, was the spiritual capital and decision-making centre for most of Europe. Later on, overseas colonization gave Rome dominion over a large part of the world.
The Papacy did in fact commit "blasphemies and abominations" during its reign. Jesus says that only the Lord is good without flaw. But the Papacy has declared itself infallible, and continues to do so until this day. The Bible also says that only the Lord can forgive sins, but the Papacy has claimed that it too has that power. And the Inquisition is still remembered as one of the evilest institutions that have ever been created.
Does this mean that Catholics are bad Christians, while the others are good?
Of course not. Anyone who genuinely seeks the Truth is a good Christian, and anyone who does not is a bad one.
Who is the Antichrist? And what does that mysterious number 666 mean?
What does "Anti-Christ" mean? In Greek, "anti" means either "the opposite of sth" or "in place of sth". The Popes have claimed to be the representatives of Christ on earth, or Vicars of Christ. "Vicar" actually means "substitute". It shares the same root with the word "vice", as in "vice-president". The Greek word for "vice-president" (meaning "in place of the president") is "anti-proedros". In other words, the Popes have given themselves the title "Anti-Christ".
666 is "the number of the name of the Beast". The Beast is referred to in the masculine gender in several passages. What is the name of the Beast? Is it not "Roman"? What is the Greek word for "Roman" in the masculine gender? It is "Latinos". During the time that the Apocalypse was written, a frequent alternative spelling of that word was "Lateinos". Now, every Greek letter has a specific value. And the value of l+a+t+e+i+n+o+s is 30+1+300+5+10+50+70+200, which is 666.
Does this mean that to be the Pope is to be damned, cursed, etc.?
Of course not. A person cannot be automatically damned and cursed. They have to deserve it. The present Pope, John Paul II, is a nice person, and many Popes have been good Christians. But the majority of Popes during the centuries that the Papacy was the undisputed spiritual authority throughout most of Europe, during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, were evil, and the Church they were the heads of was characterized by worldliness, hypocrisy, ruthlessness and thirst for power. They were the ones that committed the blasphemies and abominations. And it is not surprising that the Lord knew about all these things before they happened, and warned us about them in this magnificent Prophecy.
Then the Apocalypse has already been fulfilled?
Mostly, but not completely. In fact, some quite recent fulfillments have taken place. The Napoleonic Empire and the Third Reich have been prophesied in chapters 17 and 16 respectively, as brief revivals of the Roman Empire. Both of these empires can be traced back to the (Holy Roman) Empire of Charlemagne, which was a continuation of the Western Roman Empire. Even the Jewish Holocaust has been prophesied, as an "accomplishment" of the Third Reich.
You mean the Third Reich was a "Beast"? Maybe this explains why I always felt there was something spooky about it.
Did you know that Goethe felt the same way about the Napoleonic Empire, and was wondering whether there was a divine scheme behind it? Come to think of it, that empire put an end to more than a millennium of Papal supremacy in Europe. Is that not a Biblical event? Does it not deserve to be mentioned in the Bible?
Wait a second. The Jewish Holocaust has been prophesied?
I think the Holocaust was the definition of a Biblical event.
What about our time? And what does the Apocalypse say about our future?
Chapter 3 describes the last period of the Church age as an era of material abundance and spiritual indifference, where the people are mainly interested in obtaining material goods and are lukewarm in their relationship with God. From this, we may deduct that we are now in the last period of the Church age. Chapter 16 also makes me think that the end of the Church age is imminent. We should be cautious, as it seems that a "blasphemy" will take place sometime in the near future. An unspecified disaster will also take place. In the end, a new society will emerge, and there will be a thousand years of peace and love, followed by a brief revival of the powers of Darkness.
Will there be another revival of the Roman Empire in the near future?
I don't think so, although I don't entirely dismiss the possibility. Chapter 19 again speaks of a "Beast", but it is in the context of what I believe is a recapitulation of the whole story.
So there's no 666 ahead of us? No future Armageddon? No devilish microchip implants? No seven-year tribulation? This is hard to swallow.
All of these things that you have mentioned were the results of human thought processes during attempts at interpreting the Apocalypse. They are not doctrines. They should neither be accepted nor dismissed without thinking. Ask yourself, which interpretation reveals a more meaningful Book of Revelation? Which one points to a smarter Author for the Book? Which one takes into consideration the pain and suffering caused by the monsters of history, like Adolf Hitler? Which one proves that God is not indifferent to the crimes committed by those who have used His name for their own dark purposes?
You can save all the pages of this site in your hard disk at once by downloading these zip files:
historicist.zip (110 kb): text
images.zip (492 kb): images
1. Unzip the file "historicist.zip" to a folder of your choice, e.g. "C:\historicist".
2. Unzip the file "images.zip" to a new folder named "gr" within the folder mentioned in 1.
3. The main page is named "index", e.g. "C:\historicist\index.htm".