Preface to the Annotations upon Revelation

Although some particular heretics, such as Cerdon and Marcyon, have doubted the Divine authority of this mysterious piece of holy writ, and some better men in the primitive times doubted of it, the manuscript copy of it having been at first reserved in few hands, and (as some think) in the fewer because of the affairs and fate of the Roman empire revealed in it; yet, besides its general reception as such by the church in all late ages, there is in it such a harmony, both with Daniel’s prophecy in the Old Testament, and with the types made use of by the holy prophets; such manifest allusions to the whole order and economy of the Jewish church; such an agreement of the doctrine contained in it with the doctrine of the Old and New Testament, concerning God and Christ, the resurrection from the dead, and the day of judgment; and of the promises and threatenings contained in it, with the promises and threatenings in other parts of holy writ; that none who hath not a vanity to question the whole canon of Scripture, can reasonably dispute the Divine authority of this part of it.

It appeareth from Revelation 1:1, that John was the penman of it; and that this John was the beloved disciple, he that was the penman of one of the Gospels, hath been doubted by very few, and with very little reason, as will appear to him that will but wisely consider the terms and phrases used in it almost peculiar to this apostle, and hardly to be found in Scripture any where but in this book and the Gospel of John, such as calling Christ the Word, of which he bare record, etc. Nor is their objection of any validity, who object, that in the Gospel he ordinarily concealeth his name, which this author doth not; considering that in that he wrote a relation or history of things past, to be proved by many eye and ear-witnesses; but here a Revelation or prophecy of things to come, to which his name was necessary, that men might judge by what authority he thus wrote.

For the time of his writing it, himself tells us, Revelation 1:9, that he received this Revelation from God, while he was in Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ; this was (if we may believe history, and we have nothing else to inform us) in the time of Domitian the Roman emperor, about the ninety-fourth or ninety-fifth year after the nativity of Christ; so as this book pleads a prescription of near sixteen hundred years, in which very few ever questioned its Divine authority.

For the scope of it, it is plainly told us, Revelation 1:1, δεῖξαι τοῖς δούλοις αὐτοῦ, δεῖ γενέσθαι ἐν τάχει, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass. The like we have repeated, Revelation 22:6: upon which account it is called a Revelation and a prophecy, neither of which terms agree to a narration or history, the object of which is some thing or things that are already past.

I will not undertake to give the certain and infallible sense of the several passages of this mysterious prophecy: In magnis voluisse sat est, in great things it is sufficient to have willed. But I have proceeded upon these few postulata:

1.  That the whole of this book is no historical relation of things that were past before the year 95 or 96, or at least not long before, but of things to come; which hath made me wholly reject the notions of Grotius and Dr. Hammond, so far as they concerned the siege or destruction of Jerusalem, which was past twenty-six or twenty-seven years before John heard of this Revelation. I cannot understand how this can agree with Revelation 1:1, or Revelation 22:6.

2.  That it contains a prophecy of the most remarkable things that happened either to the Roman empire, or to the church (all which was within the latitude of that in St. John’s time) during the whole time of that; or which should happen after the decay of that, throughout the church, to the end of the world.

3.  That this time is reasonably divided into three periods; the first determining with the Roman empire’s, continuing pagan, 310 or 325 years after Christ: the second with the total ruin of antichrist; when that shall be I cannot tell: the third with Christ’s coming to the last judgment. The first is by some called Regnum draconis ethnicum, the pagan Kingdom of the dragon; the second, Vicariatus draconis antichristianus, the antichristian curacy of the dragon; the third, Regnum Christi, the Kingdom of Christ, or, Status ecclesiæ tranquillus, settled state of the church.

4.  I see no reason to dissent from those eminent men, who think that part of the Revelation which relates to the first period, and is predictive of what happened to the church of God until the time of Constantine the Great, 310 or 325 years after Christ, beginneth with Revelation 4 and endeth with Revelation 7; and that the silence in heaven for half an hour, mentioned Revelation 8:1, relateth to the rest which the church had from Constantine’s time till the end of Theodosius’s reign, about seventy or seventy-five years.

5.  Where to fix the epoch, or beginning, of the one thousand two hundred and sixty years, or forty-two months, I cannot tell. That the mystery of iniquity begun to work in the apostles’ time, is evident from 2 Thessalonians 2:7; and reason will tell us, that Rome, as it now stands, or as it was in the year 606, was not built up in a day, the great corruptions then in it came in and grew up by degrees; but I cannot tell how to count antichrist’s reign, but from the time Phocas humoured the pope with the title and style of “supreme” or “universal bishop;”[1] from which time I should rather reckon the one thousand two hundred and sixty years, than from any time before.

6.  I do agree with those who think the first eleven chapters contain the sum of whatsoever is prophesied concerning the two first periods, though many things falling within them are more particularly and fully opened, Revelation 12-19. Revelation 12 gives us a particular account of the church during the first two periods. Revelation 13 gives us a more particular account of antichrist, both in the secular power and in his ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Revelation 15, 16 more fully open to us what should be done under the sixth trumpet. In Revelation 17 we have a more full description of the beast with two horns, mentioned Revelation 13:11, which signified antichrist as sitting in the temple of God. Revelation 18 more fully describes his fall, summarily before mentioned, Revelation 14. Revelation 19, so far as it concerneth the praise given to God for this, relates to that great dispensation of providence.

7.  I take the third state of the church (to which I cannot conceive we are yet come, which I called its serene and quiet state) to be foretold and described, Revelation 20; after which shall be the battle with all the wicked of the earth, which shall end in Christ’s coming to judge the world, and the general resurrection in order to it.

8.  I take the last two chapters to describe a state of the church agreeing to none but the church triumphant, and have accordingly interpreted them.

If any differ from me in any of these things, it will be no wonder if he disagreeth with me in the explication of the chapters and verses relating to them.

I dare not be positive as to the sense I have given, but shall only say it is what appeareth to me most probable. There have been found some in the tents of Protestants, that have taken much pains to free the papacy from the imputation of antichrist. This I conceive was Grotius’s design, in his interpretation of this book, as if it had been a history rather than a prophecy, and if a prophecy, fulfilled in less than two hundred and fifty years after it was published. As to the papacy being antichrist, I think that great person spake well, who would not be peremptory in the case, but said, it had so many of his marks, that upon a hue and cry for antichrist, he should apprehend him. I shall add, that if he were so apprehended and tried, he could never acquit himself either at the bar of Scripture or reason.

[1] Phocas was the Byzantine Emperor from 602 to 610; in 606/7 he decreed that Pope Boniface III should assume the title of “Universal Bishop”.

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