The two visions contained in chapters ro and II of the book of Revelation constitute a double parenthesis or intercalary vision placed between the sixth and the seventh trumpets. In point of time, they belong to a period intervening between the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. The vision of the "two witnesses" (chapter ii) portrays the French nation as it passes through a political, social, moral, and religious catastrophe, this being the logical consequence of its enmity toward the true gospel as represented by the Reformation.
My special object in this study is to show the historical fulfillment of the vision, including a detailed examination of the "three days and a half" prophetic period. The Bible text used will be that of the American Revised Version, To verify the fulfillment of this time prophecy required an examination of the records of the time. I began such an examination in 1908, the result being first published the following year in Les Signes des Temps (Gland, Switzerland). The research was continued in 1913, with the collaboration of C. C. Crisler, at various large libraries in the United States; and last year I carried on alone at the Paris National Library. A summary of the findings has been given herewith.
Let it be noticed, first, that this vision of Revelation II is divided into three distinct parts. First, verses 2-6, which constitute the background or chronological and historical setting. This setting covers the mournful ministry of the two witnesses during a period of twelve hundred sixty years, designated as "forty-two months" or "twelve hundred sixty days." Second, verses 7, 8, and 13, which bring to our attention a narrower cycle of historical setting; namely, the "beast that cometh up out of the abyss" and the "street of the great city." And third, verses 7-13, which introduce the special object of the vision; namely, a final onslaught upon the Bible at the end of the forty-two-month period, and its dire consequences upon the people of France.
1. Historical Setting and Background (Vs. 2-6)
A Latter-Day Reformation.—"There was given me a reed like unto a rod: and one said, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. And the court which is without the temple leave without, and measure it not ; for it hath been, given unto the nations : and the holy city shall they tread underfoot forty and two months. And I will give unto My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth." Verses 1-3.
The spiritual measuring "rod" here mentioned is God's law given on Sinai. The measuring of the temple, the altar, and the worshipers foreshadows a religious reformation which was to take place at the end of the 1260-year period. This reformation regarding God's commandments follows closely, and blends itself with the prophetic proclamation predicted in the first intercalary vision—that of the angel with the little Book open.
The "temple" is no doubt the same as the temple of God that is in heaven, where Christ is interceding for His people. Verse 19. "They that worship therein" compose the true church on earth, whose members at the time of this special reformation are turning their attention and affections toward the heavenly sanctuary. The "altar" symbolizes the place where the antitypical victim was slain. The "court," or the earth, was not to be "measured," for it had long before been "given unto the nations." These are the so-called Christian nations, who have betrayed their profession by "treading underfoot the holy city"—God's true church—during the long period mentioned, already predicted by Daniel. (Dan. 7:25.)
Who are the "Two Witnesses"?—"These are the two olive trees and the two candlesticks, standing before the Lord of the earth." Verse 4. We all understand, from Zechariah 4:3-6, II, 14, and Psalms 119:105, 130, that this twofold symbol typifies the word of God as contained in the Old and New Testaments. This was already understood by Protestant expositors in the seventeenth century. In a work that appeared in 1607 under the name of Jean Napier, at La Rochelle, the Huguenot city of refuge under Henri IV, we read:
"In his mercy, the Lord will see that the two witnesses, the Old and the New Testaments, are allowed to preach during these twelve hundred and sixty years, although not in their own garments, but disguised."—"The Secrets of the Apocalypse," p. 200, 3d ed.
Another book, published at Geneva in 1641, says:
"These two witnesses, the Old and New Testaments, may thus be put to death, their volumes exposed to all kinds of abuse, and shamefully trodden down."—"Paraphrase et Exposition de l'Apocalypse," p. 292.
Protracted War Against Bible.—"Clothed in sackcloth." This figure of speech means "affliction, mourning, desolation." Applied to the Bible, it would signify "suspected, branded, stigmatized, proscribed." These interpretations are well sustained by history. Let a few facts show what a bitter and relentless war was waged against the Bible in France, as over all Christendom, before and after the Reformation. The Council of Toulouse, held in 1229, adopted the following decrees:
"We prohibit laymen possessing copies of the Old and New Testaments. . . . We forbid them most severely (arctissime) to have the above books in the popular vernacular." "The dwellings, the humblest hovels, and even the underground retreats of the
men convicted of having the Scriptures shall be entirely wiped out. These men shall be hunted for in the woods and caverns. Any who shall give them shelter shall be severely punished."—Concii, Tolosanum, P. Gregor IX, Anno. Chr. 1229. Decrees 2 and r4.
The Council of Tarracon, in the year 1234, ordered, by its second canon, that the books of Scripture written in the Roman language should be burned. Coming to Reformation days, we hear of men hanged and burned at the stake for selling the Bible. Such were the treatments inflicted on Hamelin at Paris in 1546, on Stephen de la Forge in 1534, on Nicolas Ballon in 1556, and on two other men in 1559. As late as 1735 we read of a bonfire of Protestant books, including Bibles and New Testaments, which took place in front of the city hall on the public square at Beaucaire. The same war was waged all over Europe as far as the papal rule extended. (Crespin, "History of Martyrs," Bks. III, IV, V, VII; "Antoine Court," Toulouse, 1863, pp-147, 148, 173, 174).
Heavenly Judgments Upon Christendom.—"If any man desireth to hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies; and if any man shall desire to hurt them, in this manner must he be killed. These have the power to shut the heaven, that it rain not during the days of their prophecy: and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with every Plague, as often as they shall desire." Verses 5, 6.
Such treatment of the Word and the people of God could not remain unpunished. The priest-ridden populations of the west were scourged by various plagues, causing millions of deaths. Cholera and famine stalked through Austria, Germany, France, Italy, and England. Taine, the French historian, calls the tenth century "a period of disorder and universal devastation." Speaking of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Dacremont, a recent French writer, exclaims: "What a prodigious accumulation of confusion, disaster, poverty, and bloodshed! Those days witnessed the speedy and fearful decline of everything. The whole of society was crumbling."—"Gerson," Paris, 1931. Referring to Spain, land of the auto-da-fes, the Swiss historian Vulliet writes:
"The would-be universal empire of Charles V and Philip II dwindled from twenty to six million inhabitants. The state which had owned the wealth of Peru and Mexico was forced to borrow money, but found no loaners. Royal absolutism and the Inquisition had quenched every spark of religious liberty. As a consequence, Spain could not show a single writer, thinker, or statesman. Like leprosy, starvation and monkery had spread over the whole country. 'Death held everything in its grip,' writes Mignet : 'the navy, the army, public finance and economics, industry, and even labor.' "—"Histoire Moderne," 3d ed., pp. 296, 297.
II. Beast, Bottomless Pit, and Street of the City
"When they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified." Verses 7, 8.
The first clause carefully locates the events that are to follow—at the time "when they shall have finished their testimony." Three points need here to be settled before we are prepared to appreciate the correctness of the prediction : (I) Who is the beast that cometh up "out of the abyss"? (2) What is the "street of the great city"? (3) What is the meaning of the two metaphors, "Sodom" and "Egypt"? Let us note them in order.
1. The word "abyss," or "bottomless pit," or "deep," from the Greek abussos, is used in the Scriptures to designate: (a) an undesirable, wild, chaotic place; the waves of the ocean (Gen. 7:II ; Ps. 42:7, 104:6; Eze. 26: 19; Luke 8:31) ; (b) in a figurative sense, when applied to nations, confusion, discord, a reign of violence; political, social, and religious anarchy. And this is exactly the condition in which we find France before and during her great revolution. The political aspect of that period of untold turmoil is given in verse 13: "And in that hour, there was a great [political] earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell."
2. "The street" or the "tenth part" of the "great city" (verse 13) can only be one of the ten kingdoms that arose from the ruins of Western Rome—kingdoms which composed the pontifical empire or the Europe of the Middle Ages and modern times. The expression, "the street of the great city," fitly applies to France, which was at that time the main thoroughfare in Western Europe, as regards political power, science, and literature. And here again, we are able to quote a French Protestant expositor of prophecy of the seventeenth century. In his work, -Fulfillment of Prophecy," published at Rotterdam in 1686, fully one hundred years before the beginning of the French Revolution, the famous pastor and controversialist, Jurieu, wrote:
"The tenth part of the city which is to fall is France. . . France is the place of the city, that is, the most beautiful and prominent portion." "I take it for granted that France is one of the ten horns of the beast, and that the French monarchy, as were all the neighboring states, was established upon the ruins of the Roman Empire. . . . I cannot help believing that this prophecy has a special reference to France, which is certainly, today, one of the most eminent provinces of the Papal Empire. Her king is called 'the Most Christian King,' which means the most popish king. Indeed, the popes were made powerful through the liberalities of the French kings. It is today the most flourishing state of Europe, and is therefore the Place of the great city. And I believe that the lying dead of the two witnesses, which will occur especially in France, means that the profession of the true religion will be entirely abolished. . . Truth will be put to death, but will not be buried, burial being a degree beyond death and equal to corruption and total destruction." —Vol. 1,pP. 204, 205; Vol. ii, pp. 209, 210, 175.
3. The two symbolic terms "Sodom" and "Egypt" give added force to the application to France. "Sodom" indicates appalling looseness of morals, a well-known feature of the country before and during the Revolutionary days. "Egypt," a reminder of Pharaoh's haughty and impious question to Moses, "Who is God?" well illustrates the irreligious and blasphemous character of the same period. Duruy, a French statesman and historian, records the following:
"Cynicism in conduct as well as in thought, spread far and near. Never since the fall of the Roman empire had morality fallen so low. The nobles and the wealthy were vying with the court. After the Reign of Terror, people rushed into pleasure and gain with fury. Depravity and dishonesty were equally rampant. It looked as though the state were on the point of dissolving."—"Histoire de France," 21st ed., Vol. II, pp. 422, 341.
"Where Also Their Lord was Crucified."—A fourth identifying feature—"Where also their Lord was crucified"—needs to be fully justified, if we are to understand the lesson taught here by history and Providence. A principle laid down by Christ, is that harm or good done to His people is done to Him (Matt. 25:40, and this expression is a clear allusion to the cruel treatment inflicted on the Albigenses, the Waldenses, and the Huguenots by the French nation. The past tense used here gives this feature a retrospective application. The case of the Huguenots is well presented in the following sketch from the book "The Huguenots," by Samuel Smiles:
"The supporters of the old church [as the rumors of the coming Reformation began to be heard in France], . . . stunned by the sudden spread of the new views, . . . knew that power was on their side —the power of kings and parliaments.. . . and these they loudly called to their help. . . . Bibles and New Testaments were seized wherever found, and burnt. . . . The printers who were convicted of printing Bibles were next seized and burnt. . . . In that city [Paris] during the six months ending June, 1534, . . twenty men and one woman were burnt alive In 1545 the massacre of the Vaudois of Provence was perpetrated, accompanied by horrors which it is impossible to describe."—Pages 21, 28.
The massacre of Vassy, at the instigation of the Duke of Guise—directed against a congregation quietly worshiping in a large barn—made sixty victims besides two hundred wounded. Protestant churches were set on fire. This massacre was followed by those at Amiens, at Meaux, at Troyes, at Bar-surSeine, at Epernay, at Nevers, at Mans, at Angers, at Blois, and many other places.
"At Tours, the number of the slain was so great that the banks of the Loire were almost covered with the corpses of men, women, and children. The persecution especially raged in Provence, where the Protestants were put to death after being subjected to a great variety of tortures."—Id., p. 57.—To be concluded in June