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Coins offer a “numismatic window” into the world of the New Testament (Oster 1982: 218). At the end of the First Century AD, the power-hungry Roman emperor minted coins as political propaganda in order to influence his culture. This article peers through that window and examines the imperial coins from the reign of Emperor Domitian. The article also examines how Domitian’s regime attacked some unchanging truths of the Word of God, how the Book of Revelation constructs a subtle polemic against Emperor Domitian, and how the Roman provincial coins can illustrate the messages to the seven churches.

The classic example of the Flavian Dynasty using coins for propaganda purposes is the “Judea Capta” coins. These coins were minted by Emperors Vespasian, Titus and Domitian and depict a Roman soldier standing guard next to a palm tree with a weeping Judea seated under the tree. On the edge is the words “Judea Capta” translated “Judea is captured.” This coin commemorates the end of the First Jewish Revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. There were Jewish people throughout the Roman world and the propaganda message of these coins was clear: “Don’t you, or anybody else, think about revolting again. We will defeat you just as we defeated the Judeans!” For a good discussion of these coins, see Hendin 2001: 303-343.

The Book of Revelation only mentions one coin by name: the denarius in the third seal judgment (Rev. 6: 5, 6; Franz 2000:9-11). However, monetary exchange is also mentioned in Revelation 13:17, 18: “and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.” How these transactions will be carried out, either by cash, credit card, microchip or some other technology, I will leave that for the prophetic sensationalists and speculators to figure out! For a First Century AD understanding, see Kraybill 1996.

2coinsrevelation franzDenarius coin with the image of Emperor Domitian (AD 81-96).

Two coins illustrate the abuse of numismatics in contemporary sensationalist prophetic studies. The first is a coin issued by the Vatican in 1995 with Pope John Paul II on the obverse and the depiction of the woman and child of Revelation 11 on the reverse. Some of the sensationalist prophecy teachers were not so much interested in the reverse side of the coin as they were the bottoms of the obverse side. Underneath the portrait of the pope were three six-pointed stars. These prophecy teachers were quick to make the association with the number 6-6-6!

1coinsrevelation franzPortrait of the late John Paul II, 1995. Note the three-pointed stars at the bottom of the coin.

The second coin is the 2-euro coin from Greece. On the reverse of this coin is a “woman riding a beast!” Greek mythology says that this woman is Europa, a Phoenician princess, being carried away to the island of Crete by Zeus / Jupiter disguised as a bull (Jones 1990: 110). These coin types are known from ancient times and are also on the coins from modern Cyprus too. They have nothing to do with the woman riding the beast in Rev. 17:3, 7.

3coinsrevelation franzGreek two-Euro coin showing Europa riding a bull, 2002

5coinsrevelation franzGreek coin from Amphipolis in Macedonia portraying Artemis Tauropolos (Greek Europa), riding a bull, reign of Claudius (AD 51-54).

Coins are a neglected area of study for New Testament scholars, yet they are important for Biblical studies. One person points out that “numismatic evidence can … help shed light on important historical events which had a bearing on the lives of the New Testament writers and their audience” (Kreitzer 1996: 28).

A good coin to illustrate the importance of numismatics for Biblical studies is a coin minted by Antiochus IV with the inscription “theos epiphanies” (“god manifest”) on the reverse. Some have called this the Hanukkah coin because when Antiochus desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem he also claimed deity. Several years later, the Antiochus IV and his Seleucid army were defeated and the temple in Jerusalem rededicated. The festival of Hanukkah commemorates this event. The Lord Jesus goes to the Temple for Hanukkah in John 10, He makes the statement, “I and my Father are one” (10:30), an outright declaration of His deity. This declaration should be seen in the context of Antiochus’ blasphemous claim to being “god manifest” (Franz 1998).

4coinsrevelation franzCoin of Antiochus IV (175-164) depicting Zeus on a throne holding Nike. The inscription on the left reads “theos epiphanous”, god manifest.

There is a helpful book that illustrates the coins that were encountered by the Apostle Paul and his companions on their travels through the Roman world. It is entitled, The Pocket Guide to Saint Paul by Peter Lewis and Ron Bolden (2002). The book contains some interesting theological views that some would disagree with, but the numismatic material is very good.

The Date of the Book of Revelation

The date for the Book of Revelation is a much debated topic. The two prevailing views are the early date during the reign of Emperor Nero, ca. AD 65. Some advocates of the early date tend to see the Book of Revelation as being fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. I do not share these views and see a number of historical inconsistencies with this understanding (Franz 2003).

The second view is the late date for the Book of Revelation set during the reign of Emperor Domitian, ca. A.D. 95. A good case can be made for this date (Hitchcock 2003; 2005).

The Coins of Emperor Domitian

Self-deified Emperor

Emperor Domitian had a definite ego problem! In Imperial Rome the senate would deify an emperor upon death (Kreitzer 1990:210-217). However, Domitian, like Gaius Caligula, could not wait until death, so he deified himself while he was alive. This is well attested by the ancient writers (Franz 1999).

Suetonius (AD 75 – ca. 140), in his book Lives of the Caesars, wrote, “With no less arrogance he began as follows in issuing a circular letter in the name of his procurators, ‘Our Master and our God bids that this be done.'” [“Dominus et deus noster hoe fieri iubet.”] (Domitian 13:2; LCL 2:367). He also delighted in the adulation of the people in the amphitheater when they shouted, “Good Fortune attends our Lord and Mistress” [Domino et dominae feliciter!”] (Domitian 13:1; LCL 2:367) a reference to himself and his wife.

Pliny the Younger (born AD 61 or 62 – died before 113), wrote in his Panegyricus, a tribute to Emperor Trajan, “He (Domitian) was a madman, blind to the true meaning of his position, who used the arena for collecting charges of high treason, who felt himself slighted and scorned if we failed to pay homage to his gladiators, taking any criticism of them to himself and seeing insults to his own godhead and divinity; who deemed himself the equal of the gods yet raised his gladiators to his equal” (33:4; LCL 2: 395).

Dio Cassius, in his Roman History, wrote, “For he even insisted upon being regarded as a god [theos] and took vast pride in being called ‘master’ [despotus] and “god” [theos]. These titles were used not merely in speech but also in written documents” (Epitome of Book 67:5:7; LCL 8:329). Elsewhere he wrote, “One Juventius Celsus, … [conspired] … against Domitian … When he was on the point of being condemned, he begged that he might speak to the emperor in private, and thereupon did obeisance before him and after repeatedly calling him ‘master’ [despoton] and ‘god’ [theon] (terms that were already being applied to him by others)” (Epitome of Book 67:3:4; LCL 8:349). Later writers repeat the same claim and then go on to embellish it. However, Statius claims Domitian rejected these titles (Silvae 1:6:83-84; LCL 1: 69, 71).

There seems to be other contemporary evidence that backs up Domitian’s claim to deity. Unfortunately, no monumental inscriptions have been discovered with these titles on them. Dio Cassius again adds an important detail, when he wrote, “After Domitian, the Romans appointed Nerva Cocceius emperor. Because of the hatred felt for Domitian, his images, many of which were of silver and many of gold, were melted down; and from this source large amounts of money were obtained. The arches, too, of which a very great number were being erected to this one man, were torn down” (Epitome of Book 68:1:1; LCL 8:361). Upon his death, the Roman Senate was, “… overjoyed … [assailed] the dead emperor with the most insulting and stinging kind of outcries. … Finally they passed a decree that his inscriptions should everywhere be erased, and all record of him obliterated” (Suetonius, Domitian 23:1; LCL 2:385). This decree, the damnatio memoriae, destroyed all the statues and epigraphical inscriptions of Domitian. Evidence of this can be seen in the arch at Hierapolis, built by Domitian, as well as the dedicatory inscriptions for the Temple of the Sabastoi in Ephesus (Friesen 1993:34).

The only evidence not destroyed was the set of coins minted by Domitian as it was impossible to recall all of them. Numismatics is able to provide some evidence of Domitian’s boast of deity.

three coins in a row coinsrevelation franz

The Numismatic Evidence

Dr. Ernest Janzen, of the University of Toronto, in an article entitled, “The Jesus of the Apocalypse Wears the Emperor’s Clothes” (1994, see also 1993) provides for two lines of evidence from numismatics for Domitian’s claim to deity. The first are coins minted in AD 83 called the DIVI CAESAR (“divine Caesar”) coins (Vagi 2:329, coins 1160, 1161, 1162). These coins, minted in gold and silver, had the bust of Domitia, the wife of Domitian, on the obverse with the inscription, “DIVI CAESAR MATRI” and “DIVI CAESARIS MATER”, the mother of the divine Caesar! (Vagi 2:327, coins 1149, 1150, 1151; RIC 2:179, coin 209A; 2:180, coin 213). On the reverse was their infant son who was born in the second consulship of Domitian in AD 73 and died in the second year after he became emperor in AD 82 (Suetonius, Domitian 3:1; LCL 2:345). He is depicted as naked and seated on a zoned globe with his arms stretched out surrounded by seven stars! ( RIC 2:209; coins 440, 441) The inscription surrounding it said “DIVUS CAESAR IMP DOMITIANIF”; translated it means, “the divine Caesar, son of the emperor Domitian.” The infant is depicted as baby Jupiter (Jupiter being the head of the Roman pantheon). “The globe represents world dominion and power, while stars typically bespoke the divine nature of those accompanied. … the infant depicted on the globe was the son of (a) god and that the infant was conqueror of the world” (Janzen 1994:645-647). It goes without saying that if he is the son of a god, then his father, Domitian, must be god! I cannot help but use my sanctified imagination and wonder if John did not have this coin in front of him when he penned, “and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to His feet … He had in His right hand seven stars” (Rev. 1:13,16). He refers back to this vision in the letter to the church at Thyatira when the Lord Jesus identifies Himself as the “Son of God” (Rev. 2:18).

9coinsrevelationn franzReplica of a coin illustrating the deified son of Emperor Domitian reaching for seven stars.

The second bit of numismatic evidence comes from the coins with the fulmen (“thunderbolt”) on them. The fulmen is the divine attribute of Jupiter. Janzen says, “In 84 Domitian struck reverse type Jupiter holding thunderbolt and spear. The first issue of 85 continued this type but the second issue witnessed the fulmen in Domitian’s hand. He and Jupiter would ‘share’ the fulmen for the years 85-6 after which Jupiter remained as a regular type, only without fulmen. From 87-96 Domitian alone held the fulmen, persuasive evidence of a developing megalomania which place the fulmen in Domitian’s hand and are clearly patterned after the Jupiter with fulmen type” (Janzen 1994:648, footnote 55; RIC 2:185, coins 247,248; 186, coin 253; 189, coin 279; 192, coin 300; 194, coins 313,314; 196, coin 334; 197, coin 342; 203, coin 288). One numismatic expert says that this type “clearly suggests a parallel between himself and ‘Jupiter tonaus’ (the thunderer) or the father of the gods” (Mattingly, cited in Janzen 1994:648, footnote 55).

Martial, the first century satirist of Rome, confirms this idea in his writings. One of his epigrams, written in AD 94, describing the Gens Flavia says, “This piece of ground, that lies open and is being covered with marble and gold, knew our Lord (domini) in infancy. … Here stood the venerable house that gave the world what Rhodes and pious Crete gave the starry sky [Helios, the sun god, was born on Rhodes according to some traditions, and Zeus, the chief god, was born on Crete- GF]. … But you the Father of the High One did protect, and for you, Caesar, thunderbolt (fulmen) and aegis took the place of spear and buckler” (Epigrams 9:20; LCL 2: 249). Sometimes Martial even calls Domitian the “Thunderer” (7:99:1; LCL 2: 157), a title that usually belongs to Jupiter (Zeus) (Epigrams 9:91; LCL 2: 311)! Domitian is putting himself on the same level as Jupiter.

Elsewhere in Martial’s writings he calls Domitian “lord” (Epigrams 7:2; 8:82; 9:20, 28, 66; LCL 2: 75, 231, 249, 257, 291) and “lord and god” (Epigrams 5:8; LCL 1: 361; 7:34; 8:2; LCL 2: 105, 161). Interestingly, after the death of Domitian, Martial repudiates these titles attributed to Domitian (Epigrams 10:72; LCL 2: 391). However, I think he was reflecting the sentiments of the day while Domitian was alive. Though he may not have believed it, that is what Domitian wanted, that is what he got.

Another interesting sidelight is that on some of Domitian’s coins, the initials “PM” appears on the inscriptions. Some of the coins have Domition praying or offering sacrifices (RIC 2:201, coins 377,378; 202, coins 381,383,385). These initials stand for “pontifex maximus,” the high priest as head of the Roman religion. Biblically, this title belongs only to the Lord Jesus (Heb. 4:14). Yet in Revelation, the “things which you [John] have seen” (Rev. 1:19) is the vision of the glorified Son of Man who is also the High Priest (Thomas 1965: 241-247).

10coinsrevelation franzCoin depicting emperor Domitian (right) burning incense on an altar as pontificus maximus (high priest), AD 85.

It appears that something triggered Domitian to openly claim deity in AD 85/86. The triggering event is not known, but the response in Asia Minor was a temple dedicated to the Sabastoi (emperors). This temple appears on several coins minted in Ephesus (Ramsay 1994: 168).

In the year AD 91/2 coins were minted in Alexandria, Egypt which had on the obverse a portrait of Domitian encircled by an inscription that identified Domitian as the “son of God” (RPC 2:323,328,333-337). One coin in particular had on its reverse, four pygmies surrounding Hercules. In his left hand he is holding a fifth and in his right is his club. The inscription calls Domitian the “son of God” (Mowat 1901: 72-74; RPC 2:337, coin 2709).

Coins from the Seven Churches

Let us turn our attention to the Roman provincial coins of Asia Minor. The Book of Revelation was addressed to the churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea (Rev. 1:11; 2-3). Each city minted coins during the reign of Emperor Domitian. The study of the local coins is important because of the light they shed on the city at the time. Colin Hemer points out, “Coinage is often in fact the most illustrating key to local religion and so to the formative ideas of the society” (2001:25). A British numismatic expert has observed, “The real value of the types of coins from the Greek East is the insights into the local city life which they reveal. Topography, architecture, literature and mythology, religious beliefs and practices, entertainments and celebrations were all considered suitable subjects for illustrations because the coinage provided citizens with a vehicle on which to express their civic pride” (I. Carradice, cited in Kreitzer 1996: 28).

temple coinsrevelation franzRemains of the Temple of Domitian in Ephesus.


The first letter from the Lord Jesus went to the church at Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7). This city was famous because it housed one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of Artemis / Diana. In this open-air temple there was a garden with deer roaming in front of a sacred tree and the cult statue of Artemis. This garden was called the “paradise of Artemis” (Hemer 2001:50-52).

Many coins from Ephesus have a bee on one side, symbolizing the priestesses that ministered in the temple as well as a palm tree and stag on the reverse (Rakicic 1994:6-12). The palm tree was a “sacred tree” and was considered the “tree of life” (Hemer 2001: 41-47).

11coinsrevelation franzCoin from Ephesus with a deer in front of a palm tree, the "tree of life".

John writes that the “overcomers” (those who have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and are living a victorious Christian life) will “eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7).

What John is saying is this: the temple of Artemis is a false imitation of the real thing, i.e. the Biblical Tree of Life and the Paradise of God. Believers in the Lord Jesus have something infinitely superior than the Artemisian to look forward to. If they are faithful to the Lord, His Word, and to each other they will be “overcomers.” Those who overcome will receive the privilege of eating from the Tree of Life (Rev. 22:12-14) and abiding in the Paradise of God.

Temple of Artemis coinsrevelation franzArtist's reconstruction of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.


The second letter is addressed to the church of Smyrna (Rev. 2: 8-11). The city was established on Old Smyrna (Bayraki) and destroyed about 700 BC. It was reestablished as a polis in 290 BC. This is an example of a city that “died” but came “back to life.”

The story is told that Alexander the Great was hunting on Mt. Pagos when he fell asleep under a plane tree in front of the Temple of the two Nemeses. The two goddesses appeared to him in a dream and told him to rebuild the city of Smyrna on Mt. Pagos. The Smyraeans sent envoys to the Temple of Apollo at Klaros to inquire if they should rebuild. The response from the priest was, “Thrice, yes, four times blest will those men be who shall dwell in Pagus beyond the sacred Meles” (Pausanias, Description of Greece 5:1-3; LCL 3:193).

A Roman coin minted during the reign of Philippus Arab (AD 244-249) depicts Alexander the Great sleeping under a plane tree with the two Nemeses on Mt. Pagos (Akurgal 1993: pl. 46a). The two Nemeses appear on one coin minted during the reign of Domitian (RPC 2:158, coin 1012).


The third letter is addressed to the believers living in Pergamum (Rev. 2:12-17). Twice in the letter Jesus acknowledges that Pergamum is where “Satan’s throne is” and where “Satan dwells” (Rev. 2:13). Commentators have had a field day trying to figure out these statements.

12coinsrevelation franzCoin with the head of Asklepios, god of healing, from Pergamum.

The numismatic evidence can support three of these ideas. The first is that Satan’s throne was located at Pergamun because there was a large temple to Asklepius, the god of healing. One of the characteristics of coins on Asklepius is that there is a snake coiled around a stick in his hands. Satan is called “that old serpent the Devil and Satan” (Rev. 12:9; RPC 2:144,145; coins 921,924).

13coinsrevelation franzCoin from Pergamum illustrating a coiled serpent. Snakes are associated with the healing shrine of Asklepios.

The second possibility is the Temple of Zeus, the chief deity of the Greek pantheon that overlooked the lower city of Pergamun. This temple is now in the Berlin Museum. There are a number of coins minted with the bust of Zeus on it.

Zeus coinsrevelation franzThe trees mark the spot where the altar of Zeus was originally located. It was removed and is now exhibited in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin.

Trajan coinsrevelation franzTemple of Emperor Trajan (AD 98-117) at Pergamum where emperor worship took place.

The third possibility is the Temple of Augustus and the emperor worship associated with the place. One coin was minted during the reign of Domitian depicting a temple with four columns and a statue of Augustus (RPC 2:144, coin 918). This temple is also depicted in the reigns of Tiberius (RPC 1:403, coin 2369), Claudius (RPC 1:403, coin 2370) and Nero (RPC 1:403, coin 2372).


The fourth letter is addressed to the church meeting in the city of Thyatira (Rev. 2:18-29). Colin Hemer states: “The longest and most difficult of the seven letters is addressed to the least known, least important and least remarkable of the cities. The letter was not, I think, obscure to the church in Thyatira, the problem lies in our remoteness from the contemporary facts” (2001: 106).

Coins might help to shed some light on the letter. In this letter Jesus is described as “the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass” (Rev. 2:18). This is the only time in the Book of Revelation that Jesus is referred to as the “Son of God”. It is implied in Rev. 1:6; 2:27; 3:5, 21; 14:1.

The coins of Thyatira point to Apollo Tyrimnaeus as the patron deity of the city. Apollo was the “son of Zeus.” Jesus is described as having “eyes as flames of fire and feet of gleaning bronze.” The reader would immediately go back to the vision of the glorified Son of Man in Rev. 1:13-16. Colin Hemer points out that the fine bronze is “an alloy of copper with metallic zinc [that] was made in Thyatira, the zinc was obtained by distillation. This was a finer and purer brass than the rough and variable coinage-alloy” (2001:116). He goes on to suggest that there might have been a statue in town of the patron deity, Apollo Tyrimnaeus. Coins have been discovered of him grasping the hands of the Roman emperor (Ramsay 1994:235). While this coin is much later than the time of Domitian, there were coins with implements associated with Apollo (tripod, lyre) and his reign (RPC 2:147).

The phrase “son of God” would also call to mind the coins of Domitian’s deified infant son seated on the globe reaching for the seven stars.


The fifth letter is addressed to the church meeting in the city of Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6). There seems to be no coins that illustrate the letter to the church at Sardis.


The sixth letter was written to the church in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13). This was a small church to which Jesus has nothing negative to say. In fact, He commends them for keeping His Word and not denying His Name in spite of the fact that they had little strength (3:8).

There have been very few excavations in Philadelphia. In the Manisa Museum in Turkey there are statues of various deities that have been discovered by the locals while putting in foundations for their houses or plowing fields. Some of the deities represented are Dionysis, the god of wine and merrymaking; Demeter, the goddess of agriculture; Helios, the sun god. The coins add a few more deities. Philadelphia was a city that had a pluralistic society, but also had an exclusive element in the population that thought they had a corner on the market of truth, i.e. the synagogue. Yet the believers in the Lord Jesus were faithful to Him in spite of the societal pressures.

The promise to the overcomers was that he would be made a “pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. And I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on Him my new name” (3:12).

After the devastating earthquake of AD 17, the Roman government financially assisted the cities of Asia Minor that were affected by this quake. The city showed its gratitude to the emperor by changing the name of the city to “Neocaesarea”, the New Caesarea! There were coins minted in Philadelphia with this name on them ( RPC 1:492,493, coin 3017; 494, coins 3032-3040).

14coinsrevelation franzCoin of Emperor Caligula (AD 37-41) with the words "Neo-Caesarea" on it. Philadelphia was called the "New Caesarea" after imperial aid helped rebuild the city.


The final letter was written to the church in Laodicea, located in the Lycos Valley (Rev. 3:14-22). In this letter, Jesus had nothing good to say about this church. In fact, He describes their arrogance by saying, “You say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (3:17).

The church was imitating the society around it. It was a very affluent society and quite self-sufficient. After the earthquake of A.D. 17, the Roman imperial government provided aid to the cities of Asia Minor, including Laodicia. Yet when Laodicia was hit with another earthquake in A.D. 60 (or 64) they declined the offer of imperial aid. Tacitus said, “Laodicea, one of the famous Asiatic cities, was laid in ruins by an earthquake, but recovered by its own resources, without assistance from ourselves” (Annals 14:27; LCL 5: 151).

In A.D. 22-23, Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14-37) issued a coin commemorating his generosity to the cities of Asia Minor. On the reverse was Tiberius seated on a throne with his feet resting on a footstool. The inscription surrounding him states that he personally financed the restoration of the cities (Vagi 2:243, coin 442).

15coinsrevelation franzCoin representing Emperor Tiberius (AD 14-37) on a throne. It was minted to commemorate the imperial government's financial support to rebuild earthquake-ravished Asia Minor.

Word pictures from Revelation

Altars and Thunderbolt

In the first two years of his reign, Domitian minted coins with thunderbolts on a throne (RIC 2:154, coin 1; 155, coins 13, 16; 156, coin 24). These two objects are associated together in the Throne Room of Heaven recorded in Revelation 4. The description given is that the Lord Jesus is sitting on the throne with the 24 elders surrounding Him. John writes, “And from the throne preceded lightnings, thunders and voices” (4:5).

Statue of Domitian Riding a Horse

Emperor Domitian erected a large bronze statue of himself riding a horse in the Forum of Rome in A.D. 91, the famous Equus Maximus Domitiani (Platner 1929: 201-202). This statue commemorated his campaigns against the Germans and his attempt to bring peace to the Roman Empire. Statius, one of the Roman poets, describes this statue in detail in the first poem in his book, Silvae (LCL 1: 7-15). Domitian minted a coin with a detailed representation of this statue on it (Carradice 1982: 376,377; 1993: Plate 30:36).

In contrast, the Book of Revelation, chapter 19, records the return of the Lord Jesus to earth on a white horse with His saints following Him. Domitian took the title “Lord and God”. When the Lord Jesus returns, He will have on His robe and thighs a name written, “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (19:16). Domitian thought he could bring peace to the Roman Empire, but only the Lord Jesus, the Prince of Peace (Isa, 9:6, 7) will bring world peace when He rules and reigns from Jerusalem.

Apollo and Ravens Predicting Prophecy

Emperor Domitian, the self-proclaimed “Lord and God” and ruthless dictator, reigned from AD 81 to 96. During the last few years of his life, Domitian became very superstitious. In fact, on the day before he was murdered, he consulted an astrologer (Domitian 14:3; LCL 2:373). Domitian himself proclaimed his own death based on an astrological reading by declaring, “that on the following day the moon would be stained with blood in Aquarius” (Domitian 16:1; LCL 2:375). It has been demonstrated that this was based on Domitian’s astrological readings (Molnar 1995:6-12).

During this time Domitian also consulted Apollo, the god of music and poetry, and who was also the god of light, truth and prophecy! To commemorate his superstition, the emperor minted coins depicting Apollo on one side and a raven, a bird associated with prophecy, on the reverse side (Jones 1990:266; RIC 2:188, coin 275; 204, coins 398, 399; 205, coin 410; 206, coin 414; 207, coin 424B). It was believed one could tell the future by watching this bird’s flight (Kanitz 1973-74:47), so Domitian looked to it to foretell his immediate future. Ironically, Suetonius, a Roman historian and senator, records, “A few months before he [Domitian] was killed, a raven perched on the Capitalium and cried, ‘All will be well,’ an omen which some interpreted as follows: ‘… a raven … could not say, “It is well,” only declared “It will be well.”‘” ( Domitian 23:2; LCL 2:385). Emperor Domitian died soon after and all was well!

The Apostle John, exiled on the island of Patmos about AD 95, received a more sure word of prophecy. Not from a raven, nor Apollo, but from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The Book of Revelation begins, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants – things which must shortly take place” (Rev. 1:1). He goes on to say, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near” (Rev. 1:3). Might we read the book, be blessed and also be encouraged.

four coins in a row coinsrevelation franz


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This paper was first read at the Eastern Regional Evangelical Theological Society meeting at Baptist Bible Seminary in Clark Summit, PA on March 26, 2004. It was published in Bible and Spade, Vol. 19, no. 3 (Summer 2006), pages 73-87.

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