Revelation Further Study 1
Further Study 1 Back to main study.
Beginning of the Reformation.
In 1517 indulgences were sold all over Germany by Tetzel, a Dominican monk. The entire proceeds were, officially, to help in the building of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, which seemed, to most men of that day, a worthy objective. In reality, 50 per cent of the revenue from the sale of indulgences had been allotted to the payment of a debt contracted by Albrecht of Brandenburg, who had purchased, among others, the archbishopric of Mainz. As explained on p. 48, the issuance of indulgences was based on the belief that the pope could draw on the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints, a storehouse of supererogatory works, to remit the temporal penalties for sin both for the living and for souls in purgatory. And Tetzel claimed for these indulgences even more than the church officially taught.
For some time Luther had openly questioned the validity of indulgences, especially since the people bought them in the erroneous belief that they were buying God’s forgiveness and the right of absolution. To him this traffic was a scandal, because forgiveness is the free gift of God and cannot be sold. God forgives freely, as Luther knew from experience; no intermediary priesthood is needed, and the church has no jurisdiction over forgiveness. The true treasury of Christ, he argued, is the treasure of God’s infinite grace. Luther attacked the entire system of penance and indulgences. The Ninety-five Theses, which he posted, in Latin, on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, are commonly regarded as beginning the Protestant Reformation. (See number 4 below; Thyatira.)
Further Study 2 Back to main study.
The application of the various messages to the seven churches to seven consecutive periods of church history naturally suggests the utility of a series of transition dates to facilitate the coordination of the several messages with their respective historical periods. In attempting to assign such dates, however, it is well to remember that: (1) The prophecy of the seven churches is not a time prophecy in the usual sense of the term, for no specific chronological data accompany it. It is concerned primarily with successive experiences of the church, and differs considerably from such prophecies as those concerning the 1260 days of Dan. 7:25, the 2300 days of ch. 8:14, and the 70 weeks of ch. 9:25. (2) Major eras of history can hardly be marked off by exact dates. So used, dates are at best convenient landmarks of a rather general sort, not exact boundary markers. Actual transition from one period to another is a gradual process. Nevertheless it is well to select approximate dates as an aid to correlating the messages with the corresponding events of history. Some would suggest different dates from those given below and use different phrases to describe the various periods. However, these variations in dates and names do not materially affect the over-all message found in the letters to the seven churches. 1. Ephesus. (Time Period: A.D. 31-100)
There is general agreement that the period thus represented spans the apostolic age, and may, accordingly, be dated approximately from A.D. 31, the year of our Lord’s ascension, to A.D. 100. 2. Smyrna. (Time Period: 100-323)
For A.D. 100 as marking the beginning of this period see the foregoing on “Ephesus.” The messages to the second and third churches identify the transition from Smyrna to Pergamum as one from persecution to popularity. The reign of Constantine the Great, 306–337, the first so-called Christian emperor of Rome, marks such a transition. Prior to his famous Edict of Milan in 313, Christianity was an illegal religion and experienced repeated periods of severe persecution by the state. That edict decreed equal rights for all religions throughout the empire and restored confiscated Christian property. In the same year Constantine exempted the Christian clergy from civil and military service, and their property from taxation. Either this date, 313, or that of his supposed conversion to Christianity, commonly given as 323 or 325, might be taken as an appropriate year to mark the transition from the Smyrna period to that of Pergamum. 3. Pergamos. (Time Period: 323-538)
For the transition to the Pergamos period see the foregoing on “Smyrna.” Inspiration has characterized the Pergamos period as a time of compromise, apostasy, and popularity, the time during which the Church of Rome was consolidating its power and authority. Accordingly, the close of the Pergamos period should find imperial Rome out of the way and the papacy fully formed and ready to embark on its career as ruler of Western Christendom.
Any one of various events might serve as an acceptable boundary marker for the close of this period. The deposition of the last Roman emperor in 476 marks it as one such date. The conversion, in 496, of the Frankish king Clovis, the first Germanic ruler to embrace Roman Christianity and to ally himself with the interests of the church in the conquest of other Germanic peoples, is another. In 538 Justinian’s decree of 533, according the pope plenary ecclesiastical power in East and West, began to become effective.
Historians generally take the pontificate of Gregory the Great (590–604) as marking the transition from ancient to medieval times, and his reign as pope might be considered another such boundary marker. Gregory is considered the first of the medieval prelates. He boldly assumed, in many ways, the role of emperor in the West, and his administration laid the foundation for later claims to papal absolutism.
The year 756 marks the beginning of papal territorial rule and the accession of France to the role of so-called “eldest son of the papacy”. In that year Pepin of France subdued the Lombards of northern Italy, who had been threatening the pope, and ceded their territory to him. This grant, commonly called the Donation of Pepin, marks the beginning of the Papal States, which the pope governed as an absolute monarch for more than 1,000 years.
However, the importance of 538 as the starting point of the 1,260 years (Dan. 7:25) suggests it as a more appropriate terminal date for the Pergamos period than any of the others. 4. Thyatira. (Time Period: 538-1517)
For 538 as a beginning date for the Thyatira period see above on “Pergamos.” The Thyatira period is characterized as the era of papal supremacy. The importance of the 1,260 year period in Bible prophecy (Dan. 7:25; Rev. 12:6) suggests that 1798 might well be selected as the terminal date for Thyatira. But in view of the importance of the Reformation in breaking papal supremacy, the date 1517 would also be an appropriate terminal date. Some might hold that the loss of the Papal States in 1870 and the consequent self-imposed status of the pope as “prisoner of the Vatican” would, similarly, make that year eligible for consideration. However, the year 1870 seems to be somewhat too late to comport with either the 1,260 years of prophecy or with the remaining periods of church history as delineated in Rev. 2 and 3. 5. Sardis. (Time Period: 1517-1798)
Characteristically, this is the church of Reformation times, and as such may be thought of as beginning in 1517, or possibly 1798 (see the foregoing on “Thyatira”). Those who propose 1798 as the terminal date for the Thyatira church period and the opening of the Sardis period suggest 1833 as an appropriate year marking the close of the latter. For reasons set forth below on “Philadelphia,” others suggest 1755 as an appropriate terminal date. 6. Philadelphia. (Time Period: 1798-1844)
Inspiration has presented this as the church of the great second advent awakening. Various beginning dates have been suggested as appropriate for this period. Some propose 1833, the year of the great climactic sing in nature foretold by our Lord (Matt. 24:33). This point of time was closely connected with the early proclamation of the advent message by William Miller. Others suggest 1798, the beginning of the “time of the end” of the Dan. 11:35, which would also be acceptable. Still others favor the date 1755, which is commonly accepted as marking the first of the specific signs of the end under the sixth seal (Rev. 6:12), considering that this choice comports well with the character of the Philadelphia church as the church of the advent awakening. There is general agreement among Seventh-day Adventist expositors that the year 1844 should be considered as marking the close of the Philadelphia period and the opening of the Laodicean period (Dan. 8:14). 7. Laodicea. (Time Period: 1844-Christ Second Coming)
For the year 1844 as marking the beginning of this period see the foregoing on “Philadelphia.” Being the last of the seven, the Laodicean period continues till the end of time.