One hundred years ago the empire of the Ottoman Turk was dismantled. Today, occupying a much-reduced territory, is the Republic of Turkey. The region is rich in history and has been described as the “cradle of civilisation”. It was in this region that Noah emerged from the ark on the mountains of Ararat. Abraham lived there, in the city of Haran. The headwaters of the River Euphrates, referred to in the book of Genesis, have their origins in the eastern region of Turkey. However, the historical significance of the region of modern Turkey in latter day prophecy begins in the times of the Roman Empire.
In this article, we will be covering a period of 1600 years, which, of necessity, will only allow us to consider the material in broad detail. Hopefully, however, this will provide a suitable foundation for examining Turkey’s latter-day role.
In a most remarkable way, the history of this region has been visually recorded in the book of Revelation. Asia Minor, located in the south-western region of modern Turkey, was a Roman province. When the seven ecclesias received the Apocalypse, their interest would be particularly stimulated because they were living in the period of the fourth empire of Nebuchadnezzar’s image – the legs of iron (Dan 2:33). They were living during the time of “the fourth beast, dreadful and terrible” of Daniel 7:7. When, therefore, all the characteristics of the various Apocalyptic beasts were considered, our first century brethren would have little difficulty recognizing them as the power of Rome. The brethren would be familiar with dragon of Revelation 12; it was a fitting symbol of Rome. In the Roman cavalry, the draconarius, or standard bearer, carried a standard displaying the draco (meaning dragon or serpent). The brethren would recognise the seven hills upon which Rome was built, and this would provide further confirmation of the dragon’s identity, with its seven heads (Rev 12:3; 17:9).
The symbology of the dragon is rooted in the Old Testament. Egypt is consistently portrayed as a dragon (Ezek 29:3, see also Isa 51:9; 27:1). A comparison of the two powers illustrates why Rome was described in the same manner as Egypt. Both had their pantheon of pagan gods; both persecuted God’s people. The dragon was distinctly representative of the Eastern Empire. This is evident when we consider the vision of Revelation 12. We read of the dragon, with its seven heads and ten horns, standing “before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born” (v4). In a most graphic manner the brethren of the seven ecclesias were witnessing the future development of the Jezebel influence in the ecclesia. The unfaithful woman would give birth to a man-child, who would be challenged by the dragon. The victory over the dragon would bring about the ascension of the man-child who would rise to power in both political and ecclesiastical spheres of influence. This graphic imagery finds its counterpart in the historical events surrounding Constantine the Great (AD 306-337).
In the third century, Rome had extended its boundaries from Europe into North Africa and eastward into sections of Asia. In order to administer the empire more efficiently, the Emperor Diocletian (AD 284-305) divided it into two regions; Diocletian supervised the eastern half of the empire out of the city of Nicomedia and appointed Maximian (AD 286-305) to rule over the western empire from Italy. This was the beginning of the Eastern Roman Empire. Following a series of civil wars, the leadership of Rome settled into the hands of two men. Constantine ruled the western empire, whilst Licinius, Constatine’s brother in-law, ruled the eastern empire. Initially there was cooperation between the two emperors and, in AD 313, they signed The Edict of Milan, a proclamation establishing religious toleration for Christians. Later, Licinius reversed his support for Christianity. By so doing, he heightened the tensions already existing between himself and Constantine. The two emperors finally met at the battle of Adrianople at Chrysopolis in AD 324, where Licinius was defeated. Constantine became the sole emperor of the Roman Empire.
The Western Empire, following Constantine’s victory over Licinius, would continue for a little over one hundred and fifty years, finally being eclipsed in the year AD 476. Out of the west developed the ecclesiastical centre of the Empire, in the form of the Holy Roman Empire. On the other hand, the Eastern Empire was to continue for another one thousand years, until AD 1453.
The City of Byzantium
The Western Empire was experiencing increasing pressure from the barbarian tribes to its north. Constantine moved quickly to address this concern. Gibbon states: “the increasing aggression of Barbarian forces and perhaps Constantine’s own ambition of founding a city which might perpetuate the glory of his own name, caused his sights to choose Byzantium on the Bosphorus, renaming it Constantinople”. The city was strategically placed for responding to hostile advances, but, with the adoption of Christianity as the state religion, it also afforded Constantine the opportunity to revitalize the empire with, as Gibbon records, “a new capital, a new policy, a new religion”.
Byzantium was chosen because Constantine considered Rome to be no longer a practical location for the capital of the Empire. Nicomedia was not considered because that had been Diocletian’s capital. Byzantium was well suited to the needs of Constantine. It was strategically located on the European side of the Strait of Bosphorus. It could control any movement to and from the Black Sea. It was not too far from Asia Minor, which housed a vital part of Rome’s wealth and manpower. The new city became the Emperor’s focus. The New Rome would be four times the size of the original Byzantium, with a population of 500,000. Like the old Rome, it was built on seven hills. The city provided an excellent harbour and was situated with easy access to the Danube River region and the Euphrates frontier. Though initially the name of a city, Byzantium was to become the name of the Eastern Roman Empire – the Byzantine Empire.
Following the death of Constantine, the Roman Empire was divided into a western and an eastern region. This became known as the Latin West and the Greek East. The Greek East could be subdivided into the Hellenic East (those who were truly Greek) and the Hellenised East (those that had come under Greek influence). Thus, a threefold division developed in the Empire.
The Challenge of Islam
The division of the Empire and the events leading up to the demise of both the western and eastern parts is detailed in Revelation chapters 8 and 9. The opening of the seventh seal introduces us to the seven trumpets. These are divided into two groups: the first four trumpets, in chapter 8, concern a third part of the earth, the sea, the rivers and the heavenly bodies. The emphasis upon a one third in the first four trumpets are in complete harmony with the events that overtook the Latin West of the Roman Empire, until its final overthrow in AD 476. The last three trumpets were to be more dreadful: we read, “Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound” (Rev 8:13). In the fifth and sixth trumpet, we are presented with a shift in geography. The fifth trumpet is concerned with what is called “the bottomless pit”, and the sixth trumpet describes events which begin to take place in the region of the Euphrates River.
The Revised Version translation renders the phrase “bottomless pit”, in this instance, as “the pit of the abyss”. Rotherham translates it as “the shaft of the abyss”. In other words, the focus of the fifth trumpet is not the abyss itself, rather the pit or shaft leading to the abyss. Locusts are seen emerging from the pit (Rev 9:3). In Scripture, locusts relate to the east. For example, an east wind brought locusts upon Egypt (Exod 10:13); the Midianites, Amalekites, and “the children of the east” that destroyed the land in the days of Gideon are likened to “grasshoppers (RV – locusts) for multitude” ( Jud 7:12). The Euphrates also lies in the east, leading us to the conclusion that the two woes refer to the Eastern portion of the Roman Empire.
The links with the east help us to make the historical connection with the Arabians, who emerged as a powerful, destroying force out of “the shaft of the abyss” – Arabia. The stirrings of the Arab people began when the prophet Muhammad was born around AD 570. His political influence was not felt until after his death in AD 632, when the Arabian tribes affirmed their authority by military action. The 7th century witnessed an overwhelming assault on the Byzantine Empire by the Muslim armies; they swarmed like locusts, causing territorial loss for the Empire, which changed the face of the east. The whole of Arabia, the Sasanian Empire, the Syrian and Egyptian provinces of Byzantine were conquered. Twice in twenty five years Constantinople was attacked, unsuccessfully. This was the message of the fifth trumpet. The Hellenised East was eroding.
The River Euphrates
The sounding of the sixth trumpet (Rev 9:13-21) looks further into the future of the Eastern Empire and focuses attention around the River Euphrates. The river provides a fitting symbol for the powers that exist on the territory it flows through. In the Old Testament, the Assyrians are equated with the Euphrates (Isa 7:20; 8:7), but by the time John received the Apocalypse the Assyrian power had disappeared and another power is described as occupying that region. Several details help to identify the period concerned. The impact of the second woe was to be felt by “the third part of men” (v15). The armies involved were innumerable (verse 16); they would be ferocious to look at, with heads of lions and tails of serpents (v17, 19). Out of their mouths spewed “fire and smoke and brimstone” (v17).
Islam had established itself as a force to be reckoned with. By the eleventh century, the Byzantine Empire was under pressure from the Islamic world. The Seljuks dominated the political scene under the leadership of a man called Tughril Beg (AD 1016- 1063). His empire controlled an area stretching from the mountain range near the Afghan-Pakistan border to eastern Turkey, which had been conquered from Byzantine. By the early thirteenth century, the Seljuk power was in a decline, mainly due to a heavy price, resulting from the Crusades and Mongolian invasions. When the Seljuk empire eventually dissolved, there were several small Turkish principalities left, known as Anatolian Beyliks. One of these Beyliks was the Ottoman dynasty, led by the tribal leader, Osman. His territory was located in the northwest region of Anatolia, adjacent to the Byzantine Empire. The Ottomans further expanded after the death of Osman, and his son was successful in capturing the northwestern city of Bursa, which became the new capital of the Ottoman Empire. With this victory, the Byzantines lost control over northwestern Turkey. Further expansion took the Ottomans into eastern Turkey, Central Europe, north into the Caucasus region and parts of Africa.
The crown jewel of the Ottoman victories came by the hand of Mehmed the Conqueror in AD 1453, when Constantinople was overthrown. This brought to an end the Eastern Roman Empire. The reference in the Apocalypse to “fire and smoke and brimstone” is appropriate in view of the weaponry used by the Ottomans. Gunpowder was newly introduced into the armies of the Ottomans and effectively used with the development of the “bronze bombards”. These were enormous canons, which discharged ammunition weighing 400 kg, one meter in diameter.
Following the overthrow of Constantinople, the city was renamed Istanbul. Thus, the final one third of the Empire was brought to an end.
The Sick Man of Europe
Activity in the region of the River Euphrates began when the sixth trumpet was blown. However, God, who rules in the Kingdom of Men, had determined that the Euphrates power would continue for a limited time. This is evident from a consideration of the sixth vial in Revelation 16. Once again, the Euphrates is at the centre of historical events, only this time the power occupying that region was about to dry up (v12). The historical events which led to the demise of the Euphrates power are reflected in the political circumstances of the Ottoman Turks.
The activity which unleashed the Ottoman Turk in that region lasted upwards of 450 years, during which time it expanded its influence. At the zenith of its power, under Suleiman the Magnificent (AD 1520-66), the Ottoman Empire had spread its influence as far as the Balkans, Hungary and Vienna in the west and parts of Arabia in the east, as well as the coastal strips of North Africa. But the Ottoman influence didn’t last and as it began to lose momentum, it entered a slow decline. Some time around mid-eighteen hundred, Tsar Nicholas of Russia is reputed to have said in reference to the Ottoman Empire: “We have on our hands a sick man, a very sick man…”, hence the phrase, “the sick man of Europe” was coined. The Crimean war, between Turkey and Russia, in AD 1853, severely weakened the Turks. Several countries declared their independence towards the close of the nineteenth century, such as Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and others.
The final straw came when Turkey entered the First World War. On July 30, 1914, the Tsar of Russia mobilized the Russian army in response to Germany’s own preparations for war. Turkey responded by mobilizing its army in support of Germany. Adding to the Ottoman weakness was the rise of Arab nationalism. Britain exploited this and liaised with the Arab leadership. It was during this period that the British and the French secretly devised what became known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement, a secret deal to divide the Ottoman Empire’s Middle Eastern territories into their own zones of influence after the war. In pursuit of this, the British commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, General Allenby, advanced swiftly through the region of Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. An armistice was declared on October 31, 1918, bringing an end to the Ottoman Empire. The “sick man of Europe” was subsequently dismantled. The Euphrates had dried up.
Two thousand years of history has not only vindicated the veracity of God’s Word, but demonstrated the intense angelic involvement needed to bring about the conditions in preparation for Turkey’s role in the latter days.
Turkey in Bible Prophecy – Part 2
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