A review of Sir Isaac Newton’s Commentary Observations On Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John

From Horae Apocalypticae Vol IV

Fifth Edition
History of Apocalyptic Interpretation
AD 1610 to French Revolution
Pages 519-521

by EB Elloit

Read Rev. Elloit’s Commentary’s

Horae Apocalypticae Vol I

Newton Exhibits Careful and Original Thought

Sir I. Newtons brief Apocalyptic Comment, appended to his Treatise on Daniel, was not published, I believe, till the year 1733; six years after his death. It seem, however, to have been written some considerable time before; his thoughts having been seriously directed to these prophecies as early as 1691. Brief as is the comment, being of not much more than seventy pages, it yet contains much valuable matter, and exhibits much careful and original thought; so as might have been expected from such an author.

The Seven Seals – Roman Emperors

Alike on the Seals and Trumpets he expresses his general agreement with Mede. But certain differences occur. 1st, as regards the Seals, he expounds the rider in the first seal, as well as in the three next, not of Christ, but of Roman emperors: (I presume with reference to the triumphs of Vespasian and Titus, as I shall have to observe again presently:) also he makes the limits of the 4th Seal to range from Decius to Diocletians accession. He agrees with Mede in making the sealing of the 144,000 synchronize with the visions that followed on opening the 7th Seal. Again, in regard of Medes view of the seventh Seal, as comprehending the seven Trumpets, Sir Isaac adds, and also the half-hours previous stillness from the threatened four winds of heaven: (the same that were let loose afterwards under the four first Trumpets:) which stillness he explains historically of the respite during Theodosiuss reign, from 380 A.D. to 395: an important approximation, I conceive to the true meaning.

The First Four Trumpets and the Four Winds

Dissatisfied with Medes particular and somewhat fanciful distribution of the Gothic ravages over the four first Trumpets, he makes the distinction of the four winds the principle of distinction in them; 1st, as figuring Alarics ravages on the Greek provinces East of Rome; 2nd, as the Visigoths and Vandals on the Western Gallic and Spanish provinces; 3rd, as the desolations of Southern Africa by the Vandal wars, from Genseric down to Belisarius; 4th, as the Ostrogothic and Lombard wars in Northern Italy.

The Fifth and Sixth Trumpets – Saracens and Turks

In the 5th Trumpet he thinks the double mention of the locusts quinquemensal period of tormenting, in verses 5 and 10 of Apoc. ix., may be meant to signify two periods of 150 years each, as the times of the Saracens. – 4. The Turks hour, day, month, and year he calculates as 390 years; not 396, as Mede: viz. from Alp Arslans first conquering on the Euphrates, A.D. 1063, to the fall of Constantinople, in 1453.

The Twelfth and Thirteenth Chapters

In Apoc. xii. and xiii. Sir. I. Newton generally agrees with Mede; explaining Apoc. xii. of the times of Diocletian and Constantine, Apoc. xiii. of those of the Latin Papal empire: the first Beast being this Latin Papal decem-regal empire; its name and number; the second Beast however (a singular explanation!) the Greek Church.

The Seven Epistles and Seven Vials

And then he intimates peculiar structural views on the seven Epistles, seven Vials, and little Book. The Epistles he adjusts to the states and times of the Church indicated in the figurations of the Seals that followed: the particulars being as stated below. The Vials ought, he judges, to have been made synchronal with, and explanatory of, the Trumpets. The little Book he considers, like Mede, to be a new prophecy; the Angel-Vision of Apoc. x. being an introduction to it: but that, as being sweet when first tasted, and afterwards bitter, its commencement should be considered as agreeing with Apoc. xii., and the glorious prefiguration there given of the fall of Paganism in the Roman empire; the sequel of it being the bitter times of the Beasts 1260 years, and the Witnesses prophesying in sackcloth.

The Little Book and the Angel Vision

Besides all which, I wish to direct particular attention to two characteristic and important points in this Comment of Sir I. Newton; the one regarding the distant past, the other the then quickly coming future.

Apocalypse Dated at Nero, Not Domitian

He, first of Expositors, if I mistake not, instituted a careful and critical investigation into the evidence external and internal of the date of the Apocalypse; inferring it thence to be coincident with Neros persecution, not Domitians: incorrectly, however, as I think I have proved. Which being supposed, a Roman explanation was obvious of the 1st Seal, in harmony with Medes Roman explanation of the 2nd; this latter having reference to the wars of Trajan and Adrian.

Newton Predicted the French Revolution

He insists, with regard to the so far evident imperfection of the understanding of the Apocalypse and of some of Daniels prophecies, that it was itself a thing foreseen and predicted; Daniel having been directed to seal up his last prophecy till the time of the end. And he adds that this time of the end was Apocalyptically marked as that of the 7th Trumpet, at whose sounding the mystery of God should be finished: (the preaching of the everlasting Gospel to all nations being further marked, both in the Apocalypse and in Christs prophecy, as a preliminary sign accompanying it:) and that the measure of success, albeit imperfect, that had crowned the prophetic researches of the immediately preceding age, seemed to him an evidence that the last main revolution predicted, when all would be explained was near at hand.

I must add, not from his own published Comment, but from Whistons the further remarkable fact, that Sir Isaac expressed a strong persuasion, – with reference of course to the expected main revolution of the seventh Trumpet, wherein they were to be destroyed that destroyed or corrupted the earth, – that the antichristian or persecuting power of the Popedom, which had so long corrupted Christianity, must be put a stop to, and broken to pieces, by the prevalence of infidelity, for some time before primitive Christianity could be restored. High anticipation, fulfilled as it was soon after in the facts and character of the expected great Revolution, when it actually broke out, must surely be deemed not a little remarkable.