I recently received emails from two individuals both wanting some explanation on related verses in Revelation. One was about the “mystery of God” and the “little scroll” and the other was about the destruction of the tenth of the “city” and the “seven thousands of people”.
The “little scroll” of Revelation 10:11 has long fascinated me. I enjoyed so much the light that Dr. Collins shed on the subject in his commentary The Final Prophecy of Jesus (see sidebar). I had read through E.B. Elliott’s comments on this verse in Horae Apocalypticae (a 19th century classic), but it was a bit difficult to get right down to the key point of what Elliott was saying in his rather extended argument. Collins was much more succinct and therefore helpful for getting my head around the idea.
So this week when I needed to reply to these two questions emailed to me about related verses in Revelation, I was able to draw on what I have learned from Colllins and then also go back to Elliott for further detail. The following is taken in part from those emails.
In a nutshell, the “little scroll” introduced in Revelation 10:2, 8-10, is an additional self-contained prophecy parallel to the structured vision of the rest of Revelation. This additional prophecy explains with more detail than ever before, how “the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets” (Rev 10:7).
The additional prophecy “about many peoples and nations and languages and kings” (verse 11) is going to explain the “mystery of God”: what follows Revelation 10:11, i.e., chapters 11-14, is this “additional prophecy” (see Rev 10:11) that will explain the old mysterious prophecy in Daniel 7:19-28 and that, when it is fulfilled in history, will be finally understood by God’s people. The prophecies of Rev 11-14 predict in great detail the persecution of God’s “saints” who remain, the “two witnesses” which are symbolic of the remaining few Christians after a period of persecution, but who continue to testify to the Gospel even though the enemy of the Church tries to stop them (chapter 11); the Satanic power at work trying to destroy the Gospel-preaching Church but through which God protects and preserves a remnant of His people (chapter 12), and the rise of the ultimate weapon of Satan, the Antichrist, who wages all-out warfare against Christians for “forty-two months”, who is temporarily allowed by God to have authority over “every tribe and people and language and nation” (Rev 13:7, c.f. Rev 10:11). In a nutshell, these prophecies were fulfilled as the secular Roman Empire (which was predicted by the “fourth beast” in Daniel 7, and lasted from about 168 BC to 476 AD), gave way to an alliance of 10 European kingdoms (the “ten horns”) that inherited the land of the western part of the Roman Empire after its collapse and had as their leader the Pope of Rome (the other horn in Dan 7:20-21; the “beast” in Rev 13:5, which we call “The Antichrist”) for about 1,260 YEARS (approximately 606 AD to 1866 AD), or “42 months” of years (each day in the prophecy is fulfilled as a year in history). That’s the low-down on the contents of the “little scroll” introduced in Rev 10:2ff.
This helps us understand how to interpret the results of the “great earthquake” in Revelation 11:13. Since “mysterious” vision in Daniel, explained in detail in the “little scroll” section of Revelation chapters 10-14, is about the Antichrist/Beast with ten horns who persecutes Christians, then we have two big clues to decipher verse 13 of chapter 11.
Revelation 11:13 13 And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
An “earthquake” in biblical symbolism generally refers to a great upheaval among people–usually some sort of political upheaval. The upheaval in this case refers to some great political disturbance among the people living in Antichrist’s revived, 10-fold, Roman Empire. As most of my readers should know by now, the “10-fold Roman Empire” refers to the “new and improved” Roman Empire under the rule of the Popes of Rome after the last of the Caesars, and the old pagan Roman Empire, had been conquered by Germanic tribes. This revived Roman Empire drew its power from the allegiance of 10 European kingdoms, pictured in the prophecy as ten horns on the head of the beast (the beast represents the Roman Empire and its head). So an earthquake among them is a political upheaval or uprising that shakes the 10 European kingdoms under the rule of the Pope. The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century fits this description.
This sheds some light on the meaning of the words, “and a tenth of the city fell.” 1/10th of the “city” (see Revelation 17:18) is one of the ten horns, or ten European kingdoms, which supported the Roman Catholic Church (the “city”). The obvious question to ask at this point is, “What was the first European kingdom to rebel against the Roman Catholic Church and fall away from the Pope’s rule like a ‘horn falling off a beast’s head’?” The answer is England. Under Edward VI, England officially turned Protestant in 1550. There were a couple of bumps in the road along the way to becoming a stable and permanent Protestant country and Elizabeth’s rule greatly helped English Protestants to throw off papal control for good. You can almost hear the sound of the horn cracking and falling off the head of the Roman Beast.
Finally, what about the “seven thousand people” killed in the earthquake? As I’ve said, the earthquake was the 15th century Protestant Reformation, and the fall of the 1/10th of the city was the breakaway of Protestant England. The “seven thousand people” must have something to do with those events as well. The normal way to express a number in Greek, like 7,000, would be to say “seven thousand” not “seven thousands” with the plural noun “thousands”. As is common in Revelation, the idea is borrowed from the Old Testament, where the word for “thousand” (elef) also means “tribes” or “tribal provinces” (as in the “tribes of Israel” Numbers 10:4). This seems to be because originally the division of the people of Israel was into groups of “thousands” (elef) which eventually grew into much bigger numbers and inherited fixed territories after the conquest of Canaan. So the old word for “thousands” eventually came to mean “provinces”. That’s how it should be understood in Revelation 11:13. Similar to the fall of one of the “ten kingdoms” of Europe, we see next a prediction of the fall of 7 provinces. The idea that seven provinces are “killed” is from the perspective of the Roman Beast–these provinces which were once part of the beast become dead to the beast by a violent tearing away. This happened in an incredible fulfillment of the detail of this prophecy in 1579 when the seven provinces of the Netherlands signed the “Union of Utrecht” and later formally declared independence from Catholic Spain in 1581, forming the Protestant Republic of the Seven United Netherlands.
What a great and Sovereign God we serve that He is able to show His servants what would happen centuries before, with incredible detail and proportion, and then bring it to fulfillment. God is truly deserving of all praise and glory.