Light for the Last Days

Why is Rome significant in terms of Bible prophecy?

Written in 2009

“Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits.  There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time.   The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition.  “The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast.  These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.  These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”  Revelation 17.9-14

This passage in Revelation speaks of seven kings or empires, five of which have fallen, one which is and one which is to come.  The one which ‘is’ from the point of view of the writer, the Apostle John, is the Roman Empire, which was in power at that time.  Before that were five empires which have fallen, the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian and Greek Empires.  After this is one that ‘is to come’ (i.e. has not yet arrived at the time of writing Revelation).  When the final empire does arise it will produce the beast or antichrist who is to arise in the final days of this age before the return to the earth of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In the days when the beast arises there will be ten kings, or rulers contemporary with him who will give him their power.  They will be make war with the Lamb (the Lord Jesus and His followers) and will be overcome at the Second coming when Jesus arrives as Lord of lords and King of kings.

On the basis of prophecies in Daniel and Revelation, some early Christians thought the fall of the Roman Empire, which happened in 476AD would be followed by its division into ten kingdoms out of which the antichrist would arise leading to the Second Coming of Christ, in the days immediately following the fall of the Roman Empire. In this they were shown to be wrong when the Roman Empire fell in 476 AD, because history has continued for 1550 years since this date.  However they were not totally wrong, because these prophecies do indicate some kind of continuation of the Roman Empire with its revival in the last days.

Since the fall of Rome there have been several attempts to recreate the Roman Empire. The Roman Catholic Church became the spiritual and political power in Europe. It came out of the Roman Empire, being a corrupted form of Christianity, which merged church and state. This process was set in motion at the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine in 312. The pope later took one of the titles of the Roman Emperor, Pontifex Maximus, and exercised power over the kings of ‘Christendom’ in Europe.

European kings claimed the title of Roman Emperors, as they sought to recreate the empire with deference to the Pope in Rome – Justinian in 554, Charlemagne in 800, Otto the Great in 962, and the Hapsburg monarch Charles V in 1273. Charlemagne took the title: ‘Charles, the most serene Augustus, crowned by God, great and pacific emperor, governing the Roman Empire.’

Napoleon too dreamed of a resurrected Roman-European civilisation. He told the pope, ‘I am Charlemagne, the Sword of the Church, his Emperor.’ He wanted to create a United Europe with one code of laws and one people. Mussolini signed a concordat with the Pope, and in 1936 declared the resurrection of the Roman Empire through his Italian fascist regime, claiming succession to imperial Rome. The alliance between Rome and Germany was revived as Mussolini made a pact with Hitler, whose ambition was to be ruler of a great German Empire uniting Europe under the ‘Third Reich (Empire)’.

Now we have the European Union, the most extensive attempt to unify Europe since the days of the Roman Empire. So is this significant in the light of Bible prophecy?

In the book of Daniel there are two chapters which deal with an overview of history from the time of the Babylonian Empire until the second coming of Jesus the Messiah. Chapter 2 gives the revelation of the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as it was given to Daniel. Chapter 7 gives the revelation given directly to Daniel. Both of these chapters cover the same ground but from different perspectives.

In Daniel 2 we are told of the magnificent image which Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream. Verses 32-35 describe the image and verses 36-45 give the interpretation. In the unfolding of the interpretation we can see that the head of gold was Babylon, the chest and arms of silver was Medo-Persia, the belly and thighs of bronze was Greece and the legs of iron was Rome. The Roman Empire was divided into the western empire with its capital of Rome and the eastern empire with its capital of Constantinople (modern Istanbul) corresponding to the two legs. The implication of the vision is that the spiritual power behind Babylon would be transferred to the political powers that succeed the Babylonian Empire. The final stage of the development of this would be the feet with the 10 toes partly of iron and clay. During this final stage the stone cut without hands would smite the image on its feet and destroy it and then the stone would fill the whole earth. The stone represents the second coming of the Lord Jesus when He will destroy the Babylon power which has oppressed the earth through the different empires that followed Babylon. The feet of iron and clay represent the kingdom which will be in power at the time of the second coming. Iron and clay do not mix together so it represents an unstable coalition of forces. Since the feet of iron and clay are the extension or continuation of the legs of iron this implies some continuation of the Roman Empire until the end of the age. Note that the metals in the image become more and more debased as the image develops.

In Daniel 7 we are told of four beasts which come out of the sea (the Great Sea = the Mediterranean Sea). The sea stirred up by the wind can also represent humanity in rebellion against God (Isaiah 57.20). The vision is given in verses 3-14 and explained in verses 15-27. It is clear that the two chapters are parallel and give revelation on the same subject but from a different perspective. Daniel 2 has the vision from man’s perspective and so sees the succeeding empires in terms of a magnificent image or statue. Daniel 7 sees the vision from God’s perspective and so sees the empires as wild beasts. The historical overview is the same. The first beast, the lion, represents Babylon, the second, the bear, represents Medo- Persia, the third, the leopard, represents Greece and the fourth beast, ‘dreadful, terrible and exceedingly strong, represents Rome. The fourth beast has ten horns and out of these horns comes a ‘little horn’ who speaks ‘pompous words’. In the days of this little horn the Son of Man comes ‘with the clouds of heaven’ and establishes an eternal kingdom which shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7.13-14). As this verse is quoted directly by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24.30) and in his trial before the Sanhedrin (Matthew 26.64) there is no question that the correct interpretation of it applies to His second coming. Therefore there will be some connection between the extension of the Roman Empire and the body which will be in power at the time of the second coming.

In Daniel 9.26 we are told of the crucifixion (‘Messiah shall be cut off but not for himself’), an event which will be followed by the destruction of the ‘city and the sanctuary’. This is a prophecy of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of the Temple also prophesied by Jesus in Luke 19.41-44. This is to be done by ‘the people of the prince who is to come.’ There is no question who was responsible for the destruction of the Temple – the Roman army on orders of the Caesar in Rome. The fact that not all the soldiers were Romans and that the army was made up of conscripts from the surrounding region is of no consequence whatsoever. The orders and the chain of command went back to Rome, the place to which the Temple treasures were taken. Therefore there is a connection between ‘the prince to come’ and Rome. The prince to come and the little horn of Daniel 7 are names for the coming Antichrist who will make a covenant with Israel in the last days (Daniel 9.27) which will turn out to be a ‘covenant with death’ (Isaiah 28.14-22) and will lead to Armageddon and the return of the Messiah (Zechariah 12-14, Revelation 16-19).

In Revelation 13.1 we are told that the beast or antichrist will have the same characteristics as the fourth beast of Daniel 7 his spiritual roots in the previous empires of Babylon, Persia and Greece (13.2). He will have a global authority for a period of 42 months (3 ½ years), the latter part of the 70th week of Daniel 9.27.

In Revelation 17.8 we are told concerning this beast that he ‘was and is not and yet is.’ This apparent riddle can be explained. From the point of view of John and those who would receive the book of Revelation the beast ‘is’ in the form of the ancient Roman Empire. It ‘was’ in the form of the empires that preceded it and had the same characteristics of pagan idolatry, oppression of God’s people and the deification of its leader / Caesar. It ‘is not’ in the form of the coming revival of the Roman Empire at the end of days.

In Revelation 17.9 we read of the seven mountains. There are seven hills in Rome which is significant but not actually vital to the interpretation as there are other cities with seven hills. The seven heads are described as the ‘seven mountains on which the woman sits.’ The woman is ‘Mystery Babylon the Great, mother of harlots and abominations on the earth.’ In other words it is the spiritual power which originated in ancient Babylon at the time of the tower of Babel through Nimrod (Genesis 10-11) and which has infected the empires that followed it which have oppressed God’s people (NB in Hebrew the word for Babel at the time of the tower of Babel and the later empire of Babylon is the same – Babel).

Concerning this power we are told in Revelation 17.10 that there seven kings. ‘Five have fallen, one is and the other has not yet come. And when he comes he must continue a short time.’ Another apparent riddle. What does it mean? From Daniel’s point of view there were going to be four empires which would oppress God people, the last of which, the Roman, would continue in some form until the end of days and have as its final form the ten toes of the image and the ten horns of the beast. From John’s point of view he was living in the days of the Roman Empire so that is the beast that ‘is’. The five that have fallen are: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece – all empires which oppressed the people of Israel and which were possessed by the spirit of ancient Babylon. From Daniel’s point of view Egypt and Assyria were already history and so are not included in the four beasts of Daniel 2 and 7. The one that is yet to be is the revived Roman Empire which will exist for a short time. Attempts to make this fit in with the Islamic empire do not work for a number of reasons, one of which is that Islam has been around for a long time. The beast comes out of the seventh stage of the development of these empires (the revived Roman one) and is the ‘eighth’ in that he develops this into a global power in the last part of the Great Tribulation.

In the days of this final empire there will also be ten horns who are ten kings who will give their power to the beast (Revelation 17.12). Attempts to locate the ten kings in history are futile because we are told that ‘they have received no kingdom as yet’ (i.e. they do not yet exist as an entity and will only do so for a short time before the second coming of Christ).

Putting all this together we see that the evidence points towards the Roman Empire as the likely seat of power of the coming antichrist. Historically although Rome fell in the fifth century it has continued in some form through the papacy which brought power in Europe back to Rome during the period up to the Reformation with the pope exercising political power over kings and princes of Europe, raising taxes and taking one of the titles of the Roman Caesar, Pontifex Maximus. There have been numerous attempts to revive the Roman Empire in a unified Europe under Charlemagne, the Hapsburgs, Napoleon and Mussolini / Hitler. Historically Europe has been a dominant power colonising other nations. The world’s main power today, the USA, came out of Europe, although in my opinion it is likely that the dominant power will go back to Europe in the final stage of the tribulation.

Today we see the attempt to revive Europe with the European Union. Interestingly the EU has spoken of being a revived Roman Empire in an exhibition recently held in Brussels, it has used the symbol of the woman riding the beast (Revelation 17.1-5) in postage stamps and in a statue outside the Council of Europe building in Brussels. It has modelled the new European parliament building in Strasbourg on the Tower of Babel. The EU constitution is calling for a unified entity with its own president, currency, foreign policy and army. The EU exists in much of the territory of the Roman Empire. If Turkey joins it will extend its power into the Muslim eastern area of the Roman Empire. Already through the Barcelona Agreement the EU is extending a trade agreement into the Muslim north African countries which were a part of the Roman Empire. The EU is actively involved in seeking to resolve the conflict around Israel and the status of Jerusalem.

The EU is also a model for other regions of the world (East Asia, North and South America, Gulf Arab states, sub Sahara Africa) seeking to work together to integrate and develop their economies. It is likely that out of this development will arise the 10 kings who will give their power to the beast.

If the EU is the power out of which the antichrist will emerge it is likely that its power will increase not decrease. It is also likely that the merging of the European nations into the EU will be a step along the way to a global government with other blocs of nations coming together. This antichrist power will finally be brought down by the second coming to the earth of the Lord Jesus Christ, when the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ and He shall reign forever and ever.

Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

Tony Pearce

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