Read Revelation 6 at Bible Gateway.
Previously: revelation 6, the sixth seal: the great earthquake
We postulated last time that the symbolism of the sun and moon represented the Roman emperor Diocletian and his dual emperor system. The sixth seal declares them to be in total eclipse, meaning, their light dimmed, their power gone. Did that happen?
After issuing the edict requiring conformity of religion, which resulted in the extreme persecution of the Christians under Diocletian, the emperor became afflicted with a severe illness, which prompted him to abdicate his throne in 305 ad. He forced his co- emperor to do the same, thus the two Caesars were elevated to Augustus.
Now Galerius was the Caesar under Diocletian, and was Diocletian’s son- in- law. Diocletian favored this man above the other Caesar, who was Constantius. Galerius was given three- fourths of the Empire, not merely the East as Diocletian had originally arranged.
Galerius, Augustus of three- fourths of the Empire, increased the persecution of the Christians after his father- in- law stepped down. Only in the extreme West of the Empire, in the little sliver ruled by Constantius did Christians escape censure, for Constantius protected them. But he died in York, in Britain, in 306 ad.
His legions immediately proclaimed Constantine, his son, the successor to the throne, which went against the reforms Diocletian had implemented. However, Galerius raised his own Caesar, Severus, to Augustus to take Constantius’ place, and accepted Constantine as Severus’ Caesar, to appease the army.
But Maxentius, the son of Maximian (Diocletian’s co-emperor whom Diocletian had forced to retire with him), chose this time to revolt. He assumed the imperial accoutrements from Rome, and declared himself emperor in place of Severus or Galerius. His father, coming out of his forced retirement, joined him. Severus tried to crush the revolt, but failed, being abandoned by his troops, and captured by those of Maximian. Severus was compelled to commit suicide.
Constantine aligned himself with Maximian and Maxentius in a sort of new triumvirate, ruling the West. Galerius tried to restore his will from his central and eastern provinces, but was forced to retreat before he could accomplish anything. He proclaimed a new emperor to take Severus’ place, but this man remained in the East with Galerius, unable to take his position in the West due to the revolt. So there was established a new triumvirate in the East as well; with Galerius, his Caesar, Maximin, and the new powerless Augustus of the West, Licinius.
As with the first triumvirates, these were doomed to fail, for one or two of the rulers invariably begins plotting against the others, led on by the lust of sole power. Maximian was not happy being merely one ruler of three, having held the imperial rule before, and he quarreled with his son in Rome, and then fled to Constantine. But then he plotted against Constantine as well, so Constantine had him put to death. While these intrigues were going on, Galerius had died a miserable death (as was so often the fate of those who pursued persecutions against the Christians). In the West, war broke out between Maxentius and Constantine in 312 ad, and in the East between Licinius and Maximin.
On his way to Rome and battle with Maxentius, the legend goes, Constantine saw the vision of the brilliant cross appearing in the sky, surrounded by the words, “In hoc sidno vinces,” which means, “By this sign conquer.” Now Constantine’s army numbered 20,000 men, while Maxentius’ numbered 100,000. But Constantine was so moved by this vision that he vowed to become a Christian if he won the day. Constantine did indeed defeat Maxentius the next day at the battle of Milvian Bridge (313 ad); in gratitude for the Lord’s deliverance, he ended Christian persecutions by issuing the Edict of Milan, which established freedom of worship in the West. Constantine also ended crucifixions, stating that as Jesus Christ had sanctified the cross, they were to no more be used as a form of execution. He also ended gladiatorial combats.
Now Constantine met with Licinius at Milan. Licinius agreed to enforce the Edict of Milan in the East as well, if Constantine would support him in his battle against Maximin. Constantine agreed, and secured the truce by marrying his sister to Licinius.
“[Maximin], a bigoted pagan and a cruel tyrant, who persecuted the Christians even after Galerius’ death, was now defeated by Licinius, whose soldiers, by his orders, had invoked the God of the Christians on the battlefield (30 April, 313). Maximin, in his turn, implored the God of the Christians, but died of a painful disease in the following autumn.”
— Constantine, The Catholic Encyclopedia
Now of Diocletian’s dual emperor system only Licinius was left; Constantine, of course, had never been a part of it, not being chosen by either Diocletian or one of Diocletian’s successors. Licinius broke the treaty between himself and Constantine, and proceeded to plot against Constantine, and war resulted. Three major battles were fought, in which Constantine prevailed. Licinius then shut himself into Byzantium, and was beseiged there, but escaped on the verge of defeat. He was pursued to Chrysopolis in Bithynia, and was defeated a final time. Licinius was put to death in 324 ad, and Constantine became sole emperor over the entire Empire.
Thus Diocletian’s dual emperor system was completely discarded, and his chosen successors completely defeated in battle by the “Christian” champion. The sun and the moon, we see, are indeed in total eclipse.