Dear SDA Friends,
I have been reading through a number of commentaries by Scottish Bible teacher William Barclay. I just completed part 2 of his commentary on Revelation, and I would like to share some of his insights with you.
Barclay demonstrates pretty convincingly that John's images of the Beast in Revelation 13, the seven horns and ten heads, and the woman riding the beast, all refer to different aspects of the pagan Roman Empire, which was persecuting the early Christians at the time John had this vision.
His discussion of chapter 18, the lament over destroyed Babylon, is particularly interesting. I always found this chapter pretty prosaic, but Barclay brings it to life by showing how everything mentioned alludes to different aspects of the wantonly profligate and gluttonously depraved lifestyle of the Roman aristocracy. Much of his evidence is amassed from pagan Roman authors who had no pro-Christian bias at all. And what he discusses is frankly shocking and nauseating!
I had no idea how wickedly corrupt and decadent this period of ancient Rome actually was! I want to include some quotations here for your own edification. But before that I would like to note that if Barclay is correct in his analysis, then the Rapture Dispensationalist - "Left Behind" crowd are so far off base that it is frightening. Walid Shoebat, too, in his efforts to diflect Revelation 18's condemnation of Babylon's moral squalor onto Saudi Arabia and the other Arab oil sheikdoms, also is woefully off base. And finally it would appear that according to this reading of Revelation, the advent of Emperor Constantine and his acceptance of Christianity was exactly the triumphant breakthrough envisioned by John. The battle of Armaggedon then would be a description of the struggle of the early Christian community to endure the hatred and persecution of pagan Rome and to await its overthrow or transformation into a more tolerant and Godly society. And from Barclay's citation of pagan Roman sources, no amount of cruelty or depravity allegedly found in the behavior of the Roman Catholic Church, or in the profligacy of the Arab Oil Sheikdoms, can even come close to the wickedness of pagan Rome in the first century AD.
This further would imply that the violent struggles that people like Hal Lindsey focus on are not part of "Armaggedon" - which apparently already took place long ago - but in fact are part of the process of the spiritual deterioration at the end of the Millenial Reign (i.e., the Church Age) described in Revelation 20 leading up to the descent of the Heavenly Jerusalem. So perhaps there is still validity to the "hysteria" of the Rapture Dispensationalists, even if they seem to have mistakenly termed the pre-Millenial "Armaggedon" what Revelation identifies as the later post-Millenial struggle against "Gog and Magog". I am not certain about this latter point....
I highly recommend this book. It is not terribly long, and you will be able to glean the most relevant information from it very quickly!
another important point about the SDA effort to denigrate the early Christian church concerns the Emperor Constantine. i like to ask my Adventist friends why they think Constantine is less laudable or virtuous than Cyrus the Great, whom the book of Isaiah praises as "God's Anointed" because of the favor he showed to the Jews, but who apparently never renounced Zoroastrian paganism! surely Constantine the Great can compare favorably to that!
in my view, the real tragedy of the false interpretation of Revelation (by both SDA and Rapture Dispensationalist groups) is that it mocks the tremendous sacrifices made by the early Christians and covers up the extraordinary act of grace performed by God to transform the immoral toilet that was pagan Rome into the Church. their efforts to denigrate this transformation is especially insidious as it is like completely rooting up the foundation of the Church. (and there is no doubt in my mind that it is connected to the resurgence of militant Judaistic-Zionism.)
Some of Barclay's Comments:
1. p.97 - "It is an intolerable paradox to defend the gospel of the Love of God by using the violence of man."
2. p.98 - "There are always excellent arguments why the Church should compromise with the world; but the fact remains that, when it does, Christ is betrayed again!"
3. p.111 - "Behind all this remains the eternal truth that the nation or the men whose influence is evil will not escape the avenging wrath of God"
4. p.118 - "May God deny you peace and give you glory" [attributed to Spanish mystic Unamuno]
5. p.134 - "The mills of God may grind slowly but in the end there is no escape for sin."
6. p.142 - "God will never hold guiltless the man who seduces others into sin"
7. p.149 - "The truth behind this is that God never loses control of human affairs. In the last analysis God is always working things together for the good."
8. p.154 - "There is a sin which the Greeks call hubris, which is that arrogance, that comes to to feel that it has no need of God. the punishment for that sin is ultimate humiliation."
9. p.157 - "In the time when John was writing a kind of insanity of wanton extravagance, to which it is difficult to find any parallel in history, had invaded Rome."
10. p.165 - "The real Christian attitude is to destroy enmity, not by force, but by the power of that love which won the victory of the Cross."
11. pp.173-4 - "There was never a time in history in which such forces were drawn up against the Church as when the Revelation was written. There was never a time when the Christian was called upon to undergo such suffering and to accept so continually the prospect of a cruel death. And yet in such times John calls God pantokrater [Greek for "the one who controls all things, The Almighty]. Here is faith and confidence; and the whole point of this passage [Revelation 19:6-8] is that that faith and confidence are vindicated. The Church, the Bride of Christ, is clothed in fine linen, pure and shining. There is a contrast with the scarlet and gold of the great harlot. The white linen represents the good deeds of God's dedicated people; that is to say, it is character which forms the robe which arrays the Bride of Christ."