POPULARLY KNOWN AS the 'eternal city', Rome was home to the Caesars. Today the Pope, from inside Vatican City, presides over the universal Catholic Church. The city centre, which is only two miles across, is like an open museum. Tourists walking through the streets of the Forum are able to admire the many well-preserved buildings, once part of the nerve centre of the political and judicial life of ancient Rome. Close by stands the Coliseum, where Christians died rather than renounce their faith.
ROME AND CHRISTIANITY
The beginnings of Christianity in Palestine are rooted in the wider Roman world. The circumstances of the birth of Jesus came about because, ‘In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.’ (Luke 2.1 NIV) Later Jesus stood trial before a Roman governor named Pontius Pilate.
The extent of the Roman Empire 14 AD
By this time Rome was approaching the zenith of her imperial greatness. From small beginnings as a city-state in central Italy, her dominions came to include much of Northwest Europe including Britain and Spain, North Africa, Arabia and the Black Sea. Covering an area of over one and a quarter million square miles, the Empire ruled over one hundred million people. Historians know the period BC 30 to 180 AD as the Pax Romana or Roman Peace. Provided provinces stayed on peaceful terms with Rome, they were allowed self-government and to keep their own language and religion.
The rapid spread of Christianity owed much to the infrastructure of military roads and open borders maintained by the large standing army, which enabled freedom of travel throughout the Empire. With Latin and Greek widely used and a common legal administrative structure, the scope for preaching the Gospel was vast. But with time Christianity was corrupted by paganism to become itself a political force. The two chief cities of the empire, Rome in the West and Constantinople (now Istanbul) in the East, developed into the headquarters of the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches respectively.
The decline and fall of the Roman Empire is well documented by the historian Gibbon in his book of that name. By 476 AD the city of Rome had been overthrown by Odoacer a Germanic warrior who became the first barbarian king of Italy (476-493 AD). The Holy Roman Empire eventually replaced the rule of the barbarians in the West. In this dual system involving secular and ecclesiastical powers working together, the Roman Catholic Church effectively ruled Europe for over one thousand years. In his book entitled Mediaeval Europe, Thorndyke writes of Pope Innocent III as follows:
‘In many ways, indeed, the Church was comparable to the Roman Empire of old, whose territorial and administrative organisation it had taken over, and whose official language, Latin, it still maintained in its services, records and literature. Both were international in character. Everyone recognised the Pope as everyone had worshipped the Emperor ... At the head and centre of it all, watching over the whole world, interfering in everything, exercising temporal as well as spiritual power sat Innocent III, with an authority quite comparable with that of a Trajan or a Diocletian.’
The symmetry of St Peter's Square seen from the steps of the cathedral
The Pope may have lost his temporal power in 1870 AD, but his spiritual powers are as great now as when the Papacy held sway over Europe in the Middle Ages. Today Rome is still closely linked with Christianity, through the Roman Catholic Church.
THE CHALLENGE OF PROPHECY
The complex history of Rome stretches over two thousand years or more and involves many lands and peoples. A period of great political and religious change, no man could have forecast these developments. Prophecy is important for establishing the authority of the Bible and the ability of God to control human history, as we read in the prophecy of Isaiah:
‘Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:’ (Isaiah 46.9,10)
The book of the prophet Daniel contains many very specific prophecies. In the context of Rome the visions of the great image in chapter two and the four beasts in chapter seven are important. They give an outline of the sweep of world history.
The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had a dream one night, which troubled him. He saw a great image, made up of various metals, brought crashing to the ground by a stone that struck the feet. We are not left in any doubt about how to interpret the dream. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, ‘Thou art this head of gold.’ (Daniel 2.38) Using this key we are able to identify four world empires of which the Babylonian Empire was the first.
Head Of Gold
Breast and Arms of Silver
Medes and Persians
Belly and Thighs of Bronze
Legs of Iron
The two legs of iron answer to the two divisions of the Empire in the East and the West established by Diocletian in 287 AD. The Eastern Empire finally came to an end in 1453 AD, when Constantinople was captured by the Turks. The chief characteristic of this section of world history as defined in the image, was to be the iron strength of Rome.
‘…the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise.’ (Daniel 2.40)
The book of Daniel chapter seven also tells us about a vision of four beasts seen by the prophet Daniel which is very closely linked with Nebuchadnezzar’s image. (see chart in November/December 2001 issue page 4)
THE FOURTH BEAST
Daniel's vision of the four beasts also highlights the iron strength of the fourth beast. The prophet wanted to know its meaning for it was ‘diverse from all the others, exceeding dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, and his nails of brass; which devoured, brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet;’ (Daniel 7.19)
The explanation was given to Daniel:
‘…The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces.’ (Daniel 7.23)
With ruthless efficiency the Roman legions marched under the banner of the eagle to conquer and repel rebellion. The nation of Israel were warned early in their history of the curses that would befall them if they disobeyed God:
‘The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young...They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down…’ (Deuteronomy 28.49-52 NIV)
This prophecy was fulfilled when the Roman emperor Titus and his armies crushed Jewish rebellion. After a horrific siege, Jerusalem including Herod's temple was destroyed in 70 AD. Jesus also foretold this event and the subsequent dispersion of the Jews throughout the world. This is part of the Mount Olivet prophecy found in the Gospel of Luke:
‘And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh... For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled... And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.’ (Luke 21.20-24)
Arch of Titus relief: taking the spoils from Herod's Temple, Jerusalem
NO FIFTH WORLD EMPIRE
A feature of the visions in Daniel is that they do not go on to describe a world empire to take over from Rome. The Arabs and Turks came close, whilst the ambitions of Napoleon and Hitler were both thwarted.
The final phase of Nebuchadnezzar’s image - the feet and toes part iron and part clay suggests a collection of smaller kingdoms, some weak and others strong.
And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided ... And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken … but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.’ (Daniel 2.41-43)
When we read of the fourth beast in chapter seven, we see it had ten horns instead of ten toes. In the vision Daniel saw another little horn come to prominence.
‘…in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things...whose look was more stout than his fellows. I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them… And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them...diverse from the first...he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws…’ (Daniel 7.8,20,21,24,25)
ROME IN REVELATION
The Arch of Titus - Rome
The last book of the Bible is concerned with events to take place after the Revelation of Jesus Christ was made known to John around the end of the first century AD. (Revelation 1.1) It is a book of signs and symbols and the key to its interpretation lies in a careful comparison of the symbology of the book with similar symbology found in other parts of the Scriptures. Similar symbology to that found in Daniel chapter seven concerning the fourth beast, is employed to describe the continuing importance of Rome in the unfolding of God's plan. Her role is depicted by four beasts, three of which have ten horns like Daniel's fourth beast. All four beasts are seen persecuting the saints, or the true Christians.
The visions of Daniel and Revelation consistently define the persecuting role of the Catholic Church that developed out of the Roman Empire. History bears witness to the brutality of the methods used for stamping out opposition to the power of the Papacy.
BLASPHEMER AGAINST GOD
The Apostle Paul foresaw a development that would take place before the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
‘Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come, until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God.’ (2 Thessalonians 2. 3,4 NIV)
The blasphemous words spoken against God by Daniel's fourth beast also feature in Revelation. For example the Beast of the Sea had ‘…upon his heads the name of blasphemy...And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies.’ (Revelation 13.1,5)
The woman sitting on the scarlet coloured beast was ‘full of names of blasphemy.’ (Revelation 17.3)
Note the significant point of identification: ‘The woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.’ (Revelation 17.18)
THE FUTURE OF ROME
All the prophecies we have briefly considered have a time limit set on them to bring to an end all human rule. Daniel interpreted the meaning of his dream to Nebuchadnezzar:
‘You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue...In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure for ever.’ (Daniel 2.31,44 NIV)
When the stone strikes the feet of iron and clay, the metallic image is standing erect on its two legs, the symbols of the Eastern and Western divisions of the old Roman Empire – now the nations of Western Europe. A similar limit is set on the war waged by the little horn that came to the fore in Daniel’s fourth beast:
‘Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom...But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’ (Daniel 7.22, 26,27)
Jesus set a limit on how long the Jews would be dispersed, ‘until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.’ (Luke 21.24)
In the symbology of Revelation the scarlet coloured beast gathers support for the final confrontation:
‘And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast...These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings…’ (Revelation 17.12,14)
The European community of states are being drawn closer together both politically and economically, structured on the Treaty of Rome. The ageing Pope John Paul continues with his exhausting schedule of overseas trips to promote the growing influence of Catholicism. However, the concept of ‘the eternal city’ is a delusion.
Rome, the great city, is also described in Revelation as ‘Babylon the great.’ (Revelation 18.2) It is not difficult to see the connection with Babylon of old, the head of the image, whose overthrow was foretold by Jeremiah in great detail (see Jeremiah chapters 50 and 51). In the same way the final destruction of Rome ‘that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth’ is graphically described in the symbology of Revelation chapters 17 and 18.
‘And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.’ (Revelation 18.21)