Judgements on the Western Empire of Rome

Book of Revelation – a series presented by pastor Michael Walker

Lesson #8 – Revelation, chapter 8

The dramatic portrayal of the coming judgements is about to commence as the 7 trumpets prepared to sound. The first four of those trumpets sounded the warning upon the Western Empire of Rome. When the apostle John received this vision, the Roman Empire was at its height, but its future was about to topple as it became more and more corrupt and disgusting in its degraded and sordid pleasures. Through the former prophet Daniel God had previously forecasted the fragmenting of that infamous empire. That fragmenting was soon to be realized when the trumpets were about to sound.

v. 6

The dramatic portrayal of the coming judgements is about to commence. Trumpet symbolism:

a. Priests blew trumpets as Israel advanced to war: Numbers 10:9. This was to announce confidence – i.e. faith – in God Who would fight for them – c.f. Joshua 6:1-16.

b. Festival of Trumpets marked 9 days’ preparation for the Day of Atonement: Leviticus  23:23-27.

c. To summon camp to assemble or move on: Numbers 10:1,2.

d. Warning of coming judgement – an alarm of approaching disaster: Joel 2:1,2.

v. 6

The 7 Trumpets in Revelation proclaim the unfolding of history from a militaristic aspect upon those claiming to belong to God (1 Peter 4:17): Also, warnings of the coming Judgement (Acts 24:25; Daniel 8:14) against those great international powers that affected God’s Church. The climax comes with the 7th Trumpet when the Second Coming of Christ is about to take place after the Investigative Judgement.

It was during the Roman Empire that John received these revelations. Prophecy had previously foretold that the empire would eventually break up (Daniel 2:40-42; 7:7,23,24). To speak openly about the disintegration of the Roman Empire would have been paramount to treason. Hence the wisdom of God in using symbolism. Extra-biblical writings dating back to the first half of the second century, reveal that some Bible scholars understood the forecasted downfall of Rome.

“In a still clearer light has John, in the Apocalypse, indicated to the Lord’s disciples what shall happen in the last times, and concerning the ten kings who shall then arise, among whom the empire which now rules shall be partitioned. He teaches us what the ten horns shall be which were seen by Daniel.” – Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 5, Preface in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, p. 526.

Edward Gibbon’s Decline and  Fall of the Roman Empire identifies the corruption and  immorality, amongst other things, that led to its inevitable downfall.

The 7 Trumpets proclaim the historical phases of God’s judgements on earth in chronological order – namely:

– Trumpets 1 to 4 – The fall of the Western Empire of Rome;

– Trumpets 5 and  6 – The fall of the Eastern Empire of Rome;

– Trumpet 7 – The fall of the kingdoms of the world.

v. 7 1st Trumpet – The Roman World Divided by the Goths

This judgement on the Western Roman Empire was realized when the Visigoths, one of the 10 tribes, under Alaric, a former officer in the Roman army, led the first invasion on Rome. He had united the powerful Germanic peoples and  following the death of Emperor Theodosius in January AD 395, and  before the winter was ended, the Goths were in arms. c. AD 396, the Visigoths overran Thrace,  Macedonia and  Greece in the eastern sector of the empire for several years before crossing the Danube. According to the apocalyptic description, they descended from the Alps like a hailstorm mingled with fire and blood!

The City of Rome fell to the Goths in AD 410. Terrible slaughter ensued. The palaces were plundered for almost a week, during which time furnishings, priceless statues, gold and silver plates were carried off.

The empire was shaken to its foundations! He also ravaged what is now known as France and settled in Spain. Some authorities state he died in Southern Italy.

* NOTE: the reference in the first four and sixth trumpets to 1/3 parts implies a substantial part but not the major portion.

vs. 8-9 2nd Trumpet – The Plundering and Destruction by the Vandals

Driven from their settlements in Thrace by the incursion of the Huns from Central Asia, the Vandals migrated through Gaul (now France) and Spain where they crossed into North Africa, where they established a kingdom around Carthage. From there, they dominated the Western Mediterranean with a navy of pirates, pillaging the coasts of Spain, Italy and  Greece; and preying upon Roman shipping.

This trumpet heralds a maritime war. Once again, the apocalyptic description is like “a great mountain burning with fire” that was cast into the sea. A few examples will suffice to confirm this graphic scene:

– The Imperial Navy of 300 ships, specially gathered in Spanish Bay, Cartagena, to confront the Vandal menace, were totally destroyed by the Vandals in a single day!

– In AD 468, a fleet of over 1,000 ships with 100,000 men left Constantinople for Carthage at the direction of the Eastern Emperor; but while anchored, they were destroyed during the night by means of fire-ships!

Their leader, Genseric, set his heart on Rome. He sailed into the Tiber in AD 455, looted and pillaged the City of Rome for a fortnight and took thousands of prisoners, including the Empress and her two daughters! The Roman Fleet was much larger than Genseric’s, having 1,300 ships; but under cover of darkness, he towed some ships loaded with combustibles amongst them and set fire to them. Most of the fleet was destroyed!

The term “Vandalism” as used today is coined from the activity of the Vandals.

v. 8

With reference to “the sea became blood”, it implies wholesale human slaughter.

vs. 10-11 3rd Trumpet – The Invasion by the Huns

“A great star from heaven” is universally understood to portray the invasions and ravages by the Huns under the fearsome leadership of Attila during the 5th century AD.

The Huns who had previously settled along the lower Danube region c. AD 372, eventually moved on almost 100 years later. For a brief period they caused havoc in various regions, creating more weakness to the tottering Roman Empire. They were so rapacious in their devastations that their name has come down through history to symbolize the worst kind of slaughter, plunder and destruction.

v. 11

“Wormwood” is a notoriously bitter herb and represents the bitter consequences of Attila’s attacks.  “Waters” refer to people (Revelation 17:1).

Attila the Hun did not attack the City of Rome but his devastations contributed towards the overthrow of the Empire. He compelled Rome to pay a large indemnity. His fierce hordes invaded, occupied and desolated the entire breadth of Europe from the Volga to the Danube.  

These pagans painted their faces to scare their opponents by adding terror in their appearance. Each warrior rode 1 horse and led 3 others. Attila called himself “The Scourge of God” as he proceeded like a blazing meteor, boasting that the grass would never grow where his horse’s feet had trod!

In AD 451, his warriors crossed the Rhine and were stopped by the combined forces of Rome and  German troops at Chalôns in Northern Gaul; but after a period of rampage in Italy, Attila died in AD 453; and the Huns disappeared from history.

v. 12 4th Trumpet – The End of the Western Pagan Empire of Rome

By the time when the 4th Trumpet sounded, various puppet emperors had passed along the thrones of the Empire. The last of those puppet emperors was Romulus Augustus; but in AD 476, Odoacer, the chief of a barbarian remnant of Attila the Hun, declared that the name and office of the Western Roman Emperor should be abolished! The Senate submitted and Romulus Augustus was dethroned – thus, the “sun” of the Empire had set!

The “sun”, “moon” and  “stars” represent the great luminaries of the Western Roman Government – i.e. its emperors, consuls and senators. The extinction of Western Rome began with the removal of the last emperor, but the “moon” and  “stars” – i.e. consuls and  senators lingered a short while, but in less than half a century, they were also extinguished: AD 476 – Emperor – “sun” – abolished and  dethroned; AD 541 – Consulship – “moon” abolished; AD 563 – Senate – “stars” – dissolved.

Barbarian warfare was horrendous culminating in the overthrow of the Western Roman Empire. The Empire declined in the same way it had arisen – by conquest; but whereas it had formerly been the conqueror, it now became the conquered! This resulted in it becoming vacant night, which historians have called ‘The Dark Ages’.

It was around this period that the Bishop of Rome took the throne and became pope over Europe as the papacy set about building the Holy Roman Empire.

v. 13 The Three Woes

“Angel” or “eagle” (textual evidence favours the reading of “an eagle”). The eagle can be symbolic of doom, which resonates with the three woes that ensue – c.f. Deuteronomy 28:49; Hosea 8:1; Habakkuk 1:8; Matthew 24:28. On the other hand, the “eagle” could refer to the seraphim as witnessed by John in the throne-room of Heaven: Revelation 4:6-8, c.f. Isaiah 6:2. Either way, the symbolism is indicative of a three-fold warning from Heaven. “The midst of heaven” – a term signifying for everyone to hear (c.f. Revelation 14:6).

“The inhabitants of the earth” – i.e. the unrepentant. The significance of the 7th Seal being opened in relationship to the Sealing of God’s people (Revelation 8:1; 7:1-3) and attention to the 7 Trumpets that were about to sound (Revelation 8:6) is that Christ’s High Priestly ministry of intercession before the Mercy Seat is available to everyone. So, warnings of coming judgements offer the opportunity to repent. The Three Woes emphasize the warning to the unrepentant of what will be the eventual outcome of the course they have chosen (c.f. Revelation 9:20,21).

The “woe” is repeated three times because of the three judgements that were to come at the sounding of the three remaining trumpets:

– Before the 5th Trumpet: Revelation 8:13.

– Before the 6th Trumpet: Revelation 9:12.

– Before the 7th Trumpet: Revelation 11:14 – NB. “is coming soon” or “is coming quickly” signifies what is soon to be the most severe event in human history!

The full video presentation is available below:

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