The Roman Empire gave the church its throne and great power.

The dragon gave him (the beast) his power and his throne
and great authority
” (Rev 13:2).

Great Red DragonThe beast, in other words, received its throne from the dragon. “Power,” “throne,” and “authority” are understood to be synonyms. As discussed, the beast’s throne is Christian religious authority and the beast is the church of the middle ages.

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

To understand how the beast receives this authority, we need to know what the dragon is. The article that discusses the identity of the beasts with seven heads of the Book of Revelation concludes that the dragon represents Satan in the context of the war in heaven (Rev 12:7-9) but the Roman Empire in the context of the birth of the beast (Rev 13:1-2). The question then is, how did the church of the middle ages receive its Christian religious authority from the Roman Empire?

ARTICLE SERIES ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE TRINITY DOCTRINE

This website has a series of article on the development of the Trinity doctrine which also explains how the Roman Empire gave to the church of the Middle Ages its throne and power. That series starts with the church fathers of the first three centuries, such as Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus. This is followed by a series of articles on the development of the doctrine over the three centuries, including articles on the Council of Nicaea, the Nicene Creed, the period of about fifty years after Nicaea when Arianism dominated the church, the death of Arianism under emperor Theodosius in the year 380, the Fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century, which left the Arian Germanic tribes to dominate Europe, and the eastern emperor Justinian, who suppressed the Arian tribes and initiated a period of about 200 years, known as the Byzantine Papacy, during which the Byzantine (eastern Roman) Empire controlled affairs in the west through the church of Rome.

OVERVIEW OF THE DEVELOPMENT
OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH

As the reader might notice from this brief description, it is not possible to separate the development of the Trinity doctrine from the development of the church. For this reason, this article provides extracts from these articles to show how the Roman Empire gave the church of the middle ages “his power and his throne and great authority.

FIRST THREE CENTURIES

In the first three centuries, the Roman authorities suppressed the church. It always was a challenge to maintain the unity of the huge empire, consisting of so many different nations. One of the techniques the emperors used was unity of religion. New religions, such as Christianity, therefore threatened the unity of the empire.

But Christianity “went out conquering and to conquer” (Rev 6:2). It kept on growing until emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the year 313.

COUNCIL OF NICAEA (AD325)

After Christianity was legalized, the prestige of the church spiraled upwards but the church became part of the state and the emperor became the real head of the church. The emperor governed the church to ensure church unity.

For example, there developed a major controversy in the fourth century with respect to the nature of Christ. To enforce unity emperor Constantine had a huge role in the formulation of the Nicene Creed. He called the council, presided over it, actively guided the discussions, proposed the key word Homoousios, enforced the formula that his advisor had agreed on, exiled all bishops that were not prepared to sign the creed and ordered all copies of Arius’ book to be burned. In this way, Constantine played a huge role in the formulation and acceptance of the creed. This creed is still today regarded as a watershed decree in Christology.

FOURTH CENTURY ARIAN PERIOD

However, after the Council of Nicaea, the Arian controversy continued for there was no unanimity at Nicaea. The bishops went on teaching as they had before. Soon after Nicaea, while Constantine was still emperor, the consensus shifted away from the Homoousian view towards Arianism. The chief advocate for the Nicene Creed was banished and the bishops who were condemned and exiled at Nicaea were readmitted. During the next 50 years, the emperors Constantius and Valens enforced Arianism. They actively encouraged the church to reverse the Nicene Creed. Since religious freedom was not part of Roman culture, the emperors exiled bishops teaching the Nicene Creed, crushing the Nicene party.

WHAT DOES ARIANISM BELIEVE?

The Nicene Creed of 325 makes the Son equal to the Father. The modern word “God” is the proper name of the One who exists without a cause. In Arianism, the ancient Greek word theos, when describing Jesus, or any being other than the Father, is today translated as “god.” In Arianism, the Father is the only God, the Son is our god, but the Father is His god and the Holy Spirit is not a Person, but as a power; subject to the Son.

THEODOSIUS OUTLAWED ARIANISM.

When Theodosius I became emperor in the year 380, the imperial capital (Constantinople) was solidly Arian. Commentators often refer to the council of Constantinople of 381 as the turning point where Nicene Christology replaced Arianism, but that council was a mere formality. Already prior to the council, emperor Theodosius, being a zealous supporter of Nicene Christianity, made Nicene Christianity the State religion, outlawed Arianism, and exiled Arian bishops. Consequently, Arians were not allowed to attend the Council of 381. The 381 Council, therefore, was simply a formality. The real decisions were taken by the Roman Emperor.

Theodosius persecuted Arians so effectively that Arianism disappeared among the elite in the empire.

FALL OF THE WESTERN ROMAN EMPIRE

Theodosius was the last emperor to rule the entire Roman Empire; east and west. He died in 395. His death initiated a series of major events, including incompetent emperors and further migration of massive numbers of Germanic peoples into the Empire. Rome was sacked by barbarians in 410. This shows how weak the Empire has become in the only 15 years since Theodosius died. 

Already in the fourth century, Germanic people began to migrate into the Roman Empire in large numbers. The basis of the power of the Roman Empire was its military and these immigrants, due to their numbers and military skills, took control of the Imperial Forces and, therefore, became a dominant force in the Western Roman Empire. They controlled top positions in the Empire but tolerated figurehead emperors in the west until 476.

In that year an Arian Germanic chieftain deposed the last Western Roman Emperor and the Germanic peoples divided the territory of the western empire into various Germanic kingdoms.

THE WEST WAS ARIAN AGAIN!

During the fifty-year Arian period in the fourth century, the church converted many Germanic peoples to Arian Christianity. Even after Theodosius outlawed Arianism, the Germanic peoples (called ‘barbarians’ by the Romans) remained Arian. Since these Germanic tribes were Arians, after they took control in the fifth century, the Western Roman Empire was once again Arian dominated.

The Nicene Church of Rome remained behind but was now subject to the laws and customs of these Arian nations. Nevertheless, it survived throughout this turmoil. One reason is that the Germanic tribes wished to remain part of the Roman Empire. They tolerated the Roman Church because it was an official part of the Roman system of government. This allowed the emperor in the east (emperor of the Byzantine Empire) to exert a level of control over affairs in the west through his authority over the church of Rome. For that reason, the Roman Church actually grew in strength in spite of Arian domination.  (See Byzantine Papacy.)

JUSTINIAN LIBERATED THE CHURCH IN ROME FROM ARIAN DOMINATION.

In the sixth century, Justinian, emperor of the eastern (Byzantine) Roman Empire, as a keen supporter of the Nicene church in Rome, considered it his divine duty to liberate the church in Rome from Arian domination.

He significantly weakened the Arian kingdoms by sending troops to combat them. His troops dispersed the Vandals to the fringes of the empire, forced the Ostrogoths back north to South Austria, and barricaded the Visigoths with the new province of Spania

Justinian’s conquests commenced a period of about two centuries which is known as the Byzantine Papacy. The Nicene Church, with the protection and status it received from the Byzantine Empire, became a powerful social and political institution in Europe. The Germanic tribes, consequently, during the Byzantine papacy, abandoned Arianism in favor of Catholicism.

CONCLUSION

This overview shows that “the dragon (the Roman Empire) gave him (the church) his power and his throne and great authority” (Rev 13:2):

THE CHURCH BECAME SUBJECT TO THE EMPEROR.

Firstly, in the fourth century, the church became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Consequently, the church enjoyed the protection of the emperor but it also meant that the emperor used the church to maintain unity in the empire. Consequently, the church became part of the Roman system of government; subject to the emperor, who appointed the bishops. This remained to be the situation also during the Byzantine Papacy; from the sixth to the eighth century.

THE DECISIONS THAT RESULTED IN THE DOMINATION OF THE NICENE BRANCH OF THE CHURCH BELONG TO THE EMPERORS.

Secondly, in the first three centuries and also for 50 years after Nicaea, the church viewed Christ as subordinate to the Father. The decision to suppress the Arian branch of the church and to establish the Nicene Christology as the official doctrine of the church was taken by the emperors and enforced by the Imperial forces.

THEE CULTURE OF PERSECUTION

Thirdly, the culture of creating creeds and persecuting people that teach anything different was established by the Roman emperors in the fourth century and continues to this day in the church.

ARTICLES ON THE SEVEN LAST PLAGUES

Introduction – Revelation 15

The first four plagues
  Must not be interpreted individually
 – Target the earth, sea, waters and sun, but the people do not repent.

The Fifth Plague
The Throne of the Beast is Christian Religious Authority.

  The Light of the Mighty Angel of Rev 18 causes the darkness.
  The Roman Empire gave to the Church is throne and power.

The Sixth Plague
The Great River, the Euphrates, dries up.
The Kings from the East are Christ and His angels.

  Armageddon is not a literal place but the Day of the Lord.
  Does “coming like a thief” (rEV 16:15) support a secret rapture?
  Why the Euphrates has to dry up to prepare the way for the kings
  Summary of these articles & conclusions

The Seventh Plague culminates in the return of Christ.

Purpose of the Plagues
To show that God judges perfectly

  Why is it necessary to show that God judges perfectly?

Revelation 16 – The first four plagues target the earth, sea, waters and sun.

PREVIOUS ARTICLES

PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS WHO REFUSE THE MARK OF THE BEAST.

The seven plagues in Revelation 16 are actually part of the series of events that we refer to as the Return of Christ. The end-time Christian on Christian persecution (Rev 13:11-17), will precede the seven last plagues.

The persecuted Christians “have not been defiled with women” (Rev 14:4). That means that they will not be involved with Babylon’s daughters (Rev 17:5). In other words, they will be doctrinally pure. For that reason, they will refuse the mark of the beast.

But they will be persecuted by Christians who do accept the beast’s mark. The latter group will display Satan’s attitude of force and persecution. They will be orthodox Christians for they will accept the doctrines that have been developed over the centuries and classify and persecute other Christians as heretics.

The same doctrinal controversies which we see today in the church will form the basis for that persecution. The difference, compared to today, will be in how much power GOD ALLOWS Satan to persecute His true people.  (See Introduction to the Plagues of Revelation 16.)

FIRST FOUR PLAGUES ARE NON-SPECIFIC.

Revelation has seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowl plagues.  Some interpreters spend more time on the first four of a series than on the last three. This article proposes that the first four of each of these series of seven are general and should NOT BE INDIVIDUALLY INTERPRETED. But the last three in each series are specific and individually interpreted.

In each of the series of seven, we also find an interlude between the sixth and the seventh elements. These interludes provide essential background information that explains the entire series.  (See The First Four Plagues are non-specific.)

REVELATION 16:2

So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth;
and it became a loathsome and malignant sore
on the people who had the mark of the BEAST
and who worshiped his IMAGE.

In Revelation 13, the people of the earth, on demand of the false prophet, establish the IMAGE OF THE BEAST (Rev 13:14).  This image then attempts to compel all people to worship (obey) itself and to receive the MARK OF THE BEAST (Rev 13:15, 16).  The people “who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image” are therefore not two different groups of people, but one and the same group.

While God’s people are still being killed because they refuse to worship (obey) the image (Rev 13:15), the plagues start to fall, but ONLY on the worshipers of the beast (Rev 16:2, 10). God’s people do not suffer from the plagues. The worshipers of the beast must now realize that they are working against God. How do they respond? Will they repent? This is discussed below.

REVELATION 16:3

The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea,
and it became blood like that of a dead man;
and every living thing in the sea died.

Here, God destroys His creation.  That which God so lavishly created on the fifth day, He utterly destroys with the second plague. We can’t help but think of how pleased the Lord was when He made all the plethora of sea life for man’s pleasure and benefit:

“God created … every living thing …
with which the waters abounded, according to their kind
… And God saw that it was GOOD
“ (Gen 1:20-23)!

REVELATION 16:4

Then the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers
and the springs of waters; and they became blood.

REVELATION 16:5

And I heard the angel of the waters saying,
    “RIGHTEOUS ARE YOU,
who are and who were,
O Holy One,

     because You judged these things;

Revelation often describes God as “Him who IS and who WAS and who is TO COME” (Rev 1:4, 8; 4:8). This identifies God as eternal. But Rev 16:5 omits the “is to come”-part because, as concluded in a previous article, the plagues are part of the RETURN OF CHRIST. Fortunes are being reversed. When the plagues start, God’s people are persecuted, but when the plagues come to an end, the worshipers of the beast are dead, as explained below.   

The seventh trumpet (Rev 11:17) similarly omits the “is to come”-part, describing God only as He “who are and who were,” for at that point in time Christ has already come:

The kingdom of the world HAS BECOME
the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ
” (Rev 11:15). 

This is consistent with the principle that each of the main sections of Revelation end with the return of Christ. For a discussion of this, see Are the events in Revelation in a strict chronological sequence?

REVELATION 16:6

for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets,
and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.”

Later in Revelation, we will read about the harlot Babylon, the mother of harlots

She is “drunk with the BLOOD of the saints” (Rev 17:6).

In her was found the BLOOD of prophets and of the saints,
and of all who have been KILLED on the earth
” (Rev 18:24).

God’s enemies have shed the blood of saints and prophets throughout history (1 Kings 18:4; 19:4; 2 Kings 24:4; 2 Chron 24:21; Psa 79:1-4; Jer 2:30; 26:23; Lam 4:13).  Jesus mentioned this in His parables:

The vine-growers took his slaves and BEAT one,
and KILLED another, and STONES a third.

(Matt 21:35-36)

Since the rejection of Messiah Jesus, 2000 years ago, the toll of the shed blood of the saints has escalated dramatically.  Yet, the persecutions of history will pale in comparison with that which befalls the saints in the crisis when the beast (Rev 13:7, 10) and his image (Rev 13:15) slaughter the saints during SATAN’S FINAL ATTEMPT to overthrow God’s plan.

REVELATION 16:7

And I heard the altar saying,
‘Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty,
TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS are Your judgments.’

This is essentially a repeat of what the angel has said in the previous verse (Rev 16:5-6). Both the angel and the altar confirm that God’s decisions are “true and righteous.” This relates to the purpose of the plagues, which is to serve as “demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26).  This is discussed below.

ALTAR OF BURNT OFFERING

One does not normally expect altars to speak, but in apocalyptic literature, anything is possible. There were two altars in the Jewish temple area. Both are mentioned in Revelation:

Golden altar: The “golden” altar (Rev 8:3), from which rises “the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints” (Rev 8:4), is also called the altar of incense. It was INSIDE the Jewish temple.  In Revelation, this altar is “before the throne” (Rev 8:3) and therefore “in the temple” (Rev 16:17), which is IN HEAVEN (Rev 11:19).

Altar of burnt offerings: In Revelation 6, John saw “underneath THE ALTAR the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God” (Rev 6:9). This “altar” was symbolized by the Jewish altar of burnt offerings, which was OUTSIDE the temple. It represents the martyrdom of Christ and His people. This altar is ON EARTH because that is where God’s people are persecuted and killed.  

The altar in Rev 16:7 is probably the altar of burnt offering because it is not identified as “golden” and because it responds to the statement in the previous verse about the pouring out of “the blood of saints and prophets.” 

JUDGING AND AVENGING OUR BLOOD

In the fifth seal,

The souls of those who had been slain …
cried out  … How long, O Lord, holy and true,
will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood?

(Rev 6:9-10). 

The plagues are the answer to this request. In the plagues, the long delay in God’s judgment comes to an end, and the third plague-angel says,

They poured out the blood of saints and prophets,
and You have given them blood to drink.
They deserve it
” (Rev 16:6).

REVELATION 16:8

The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun,
and it was given to it to scorch men with fire.

Normally, the sun warms and cheers men, stimulates plant growth, and regulates climate and many other processes necessary to maintain life. But now it sends forth an excess of heat that torments men and destroys life.  But, somehow, God’s people will be protected from this scorching fire (Rev 16:2).

REVELATION 16:9

Men were scorched with fierce heat;
and they BLASPHEMED the name of God
who has the power over these plagues,
and they DID NOT REPENT so as to give Him glory.

The sins of the people that worship (obey) the image of the beast include that they persecute God’s people (Rev 13:15). Since they refuse to repent, it means that God’s people are still being persecuted.

PURPOSE OF THE PLAGUES

While the angel of the water and the altar praise God for His final judgments (Rev 16:5-7), the worshipers of the beast curse Him.

As discussed, the beast of Revelation is the mainstream church of Christendom. The people with the mark of the beast, therefore, are not atheists; the Christians, but equivalent to the Pharisees of Christ’s day. When the plagues start to fall, but only affect them (Rev 16:2), the people with the mark of the beast should be able to see that the despised heretics do not suffer because of the plagues. They must realize that they themselves are opposing God. But they have become hardened beyond repentance (Rev 16:9, 11, 21). Even in the face of the devastation around them, their hearts are set against God in such hatred that all they can do is to continue on their evil ways, and curse God. 

God knows that nothing will convince the people, who accepted the mark of the beast, to repent. God’s creatures, however, do not have His infinite knowledge.  The PURPOSE OF THE PLAGUES is to prove to all intelligent beings in the universe whom God condemned to the second death have passed an invisible point of no return, and are unable to repent from their hatred, even under the most severe circumstance. 

The plagues will, therefore, show that God is right when He destroys them, which He will do in the last plague. 

MARK OF THE BEAST

That is actually the meaning of the MARK OF THE BEAST.  Rephrased, a person who has become unable to repent is said to have received the mark of the beast. Because Revelation says that they refuse to repent (Rev 16:9, 11), we must assume that the opportunity to repent still exists; even at this late hour.  God’s hand of mercy is still being extended, but these multitudes will have none of it.  It is not that God does not want to forgive.  It is that these people have become unable to change.

SUMMARY

God is identified as He “who are and who were” because the plagues are part of the RETURN OF CHRIST.  These are the LAST plagues.  When they end, all the people with the mark of the beast are dead.

The first four bowls target the earth, sea, waters, and the sun, but God’s people are protected from the plagues.  The people with the mark of the beast can see this, but they have become so entrenched in their ways that they are UNABLE TO REPENT.  Even in the face of the devastation around them, their hearts are set against God in such hatred that all they can do is to continue on their evil ways, and curse God. 

Both the third angel and the altar—a symbol of the martyrdom of God’s people—confirm that God’s decisions are “true and righteous.”  This is the PURPOSE OF THE PLAGUES, namely to demonstrate that God is just, namely to prove to all the universe that the worshipers of the beast are unable to repent from their hatred, even under the most severe circumstance. The plagues will, therefore, show that God is right when He destroys them, which He will do in the last plague. 

That is actually the meaning of the MARK OF THE BEAST.  God is always willing to save, but a person who has become unable to repent is said to have received the mark of the beast. 

Next: Fifth Plague

For further reading on Revelation, I recommend Jon Paulien’s commentary. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the excellent Pineknoll website.