Islam in Bible Prophecy (Part 2): The Ottoman Turks and the Fall of Constantinople

This article is an extract from “Daniel and the Revelation” by Uriah Smith, a pioneer of the Seventh Day Adventist movement and, with Part 2 on the Ottomans, the two parts are the complete chapter from Mr. Smith’s exposition, which takes the Historicist position and has made extensive use of orthodox Protestant commentators in his own exposition.  For the record I am not Seventh Day Adventist.

Smith continues:

Thus far, Keith has furnished us with illustrations of the sounding of the first five trumpets.  But we must now take leave of him, and proceed to the application of the new feature of the prophecy here introduced; namely, the prophetic periods.

Their Power Was to Hurt Men Five Months – 1.  The question arises, What men were they to hurt five months? – Undoubtedly the same they were afterward to slay (see verse 15), “the third part of men”, or third of the Roman empire – the Greek division of it.

2.  When were they to begin their work of torment?  The 11th verse answers the question. 

(a) “They had a king over them”.  From the death of Mohammed until near the close of the thirteenth century, the Mohammedans were divided into various factions under several leaders, with no general civil government extending over them all.  Near the close of the thirteenth century, Othman [Turkish: Osman] founded a government which has since been known as the Ottoman Government, or empire, extending over all the principal Mohammedan tribes, consolidating them into one grand monarchy.

(b) The character of the king.  “Which is the angel of the bottomless pit”.  An angel signifies a messenger, or minister, either good or bad, and not always a spiritual being.  “The angel of the bottomless pit”, or chief minister of the religion which came from thence when it was opened.   That religion is Mohammedanism [Islam], and the Sultan is also Supreme Caliph or high priest, thus uniting in his person the highest spiritual dignity with the supreme secular authority.

(c)  His name.  In Hebrew, “Abaddon”, the destroyer; in Greek, “Apollyon”, one that exterminates or destroys.  Having two different names in two languages, it is evident that the character, rather than the name of the power, is intended to be represented.  If so, as expressed in both languages, he is a destroyer. Such has always been the character of the Ottoman Government.

But when did Othman make his first assault on the Greek empire? – According to Gibbon, “Decline and Fall” etc., “Othman first entered the territory of Nicomedia on the 27th day of July, 1299”.

The calculations of some writers have gone upon the supposition that the period should begin with the foundation of the Ottoman Empire; but this is evidently an error; for they were not only to have a king over them, but were to torment men five months.  But the period of torment could not begin before the first attack of the tormentors which was, as above stated, 27 July, 1299.

The calculation which follows, founded on this starting point, was made and published in a work entitled, Christ’s Second Coming, etc. by J. Litch, in 1838.

“And their power was to hurt men five months”.  Thus far their commission extended to torment by constant depredations, but not politically to kill them.  “Five months”, thirty days to a month, give us one hundred and fifty days; and these days, being symbolic, signify one hundred and fifty years.  Commencing 27July, 1299, the one hundred and fifty years reach to 1449.  During that whole period the Turks were engaged in an almost perpetual warfare with the Greek empire, but yet without conquering it.  They seized upon and held several of the Greek provinces, but still Greek independence was maintained in Constantinople.  But in 1449, the termination of the one hundred and fifty years, a change came, the history of which will be found under the succeeding trumpet.

VERSE 12.  One woe is past; and, behold, there come two more woes here after.  13.  And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, 14, Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.  15.  And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.

The first woe was to continue from the rise of Mohammedanism until the end of the five months. Then the first woe was to end, and the second to begin.  And when the sixth angel sounded, it was commanded to take off the restraints which had been imposed on the nation, by which they were restricted to the work of tormenting men, and their commission was enlarged so as to permit them to slay the third part of men.  This command came from the four horns of the golden altar.

The Four Angels – These were the four principal sultanies of which the Ottoman Empire was composed, located in the country watered by the great river Euphrates.  These sultanies were situated at Aleppo, Iconium, Damascus, and Baghdad.  Previously they had been restrained; but God commanded, and they were loosed. 

In the year 1448, John Palaeologus, the Greek emperor, died, leaving no children to inherit his throne, and Constantine, his brother, succeeded to it.  But he did not venture to exercise sovereignty without the consent of Amurath, the Turkish Sultan.  He therefore sent ambassadors to solicit the favour of the Sultan, and did not venture to assert himself as sovereign until this was promised.  Supposing, as is only reasonable, that the consent of Amurath (Murad I) was not granted immediately, it would be some time in the year 1449 before Constantine was recognized as emperor by the grace of Amurath.

“On the death of John Palaeologus, in 1448, his successor, Constantine XIII dared not take up the sceptre without first obtaining permission of Amurath; and on that account he has sometimes been excluded from the list of Greek emperors, as not being in truth an independent sovereign at all” – Cassell’s History of the Russo-Turkish War, p. 234.

When, in 1452, the Greek emperor insisted that a certain fort that Mohammed was building on the European side of the Bosphorus should be abandoned, “Mohammed was incensed at what he considered the insolence of a vassal” – Ibid p. 135.

“The fate of the Eastern empire had been decided by the fact of requesting Mohammed’s assistance.  “Having been invited as allies, they remained as conquerors” – Ibid p. 224.

Let this historical fact be carefully examined in connection with the prediction given above.  This was not a violent assault made on the Greeks, by which their empire was overthrown and their independence taken away, but simply a voluntary surrender of that independence into the hands of the Turks.  The authority and supremacy of the Turkish power was acknowledged when Constantine virtually said: “I cannot reign unless you permit”.

The four angels were loosed for an hour, a day, a month, and a year, to slay the third part of men.  This period amounts to three hundred and ninety-one years and fifteen days, during which Ottoman supremacy was to exist in Constantinople.  Thus: A prophetic year is three hundred and sixty prophetic days, or tree hundred and sixty literal years; a prophetic month, thirty prophetic days, is thirty literal years; one prophetic day is one literal year: and an hour, of the twenty-fourth part of a prophetic day, would be a twenty-fourth part of a literal year, or fifteen days; the whole amounting to three hundred and ninety-one years and fifteen days.

But although the four angels were thus loosed by the voluntary submission of the Greeks, yet another doom awaited the seat of empire.  Amurath, the Sultan to whom the submission of Constantine XIII was made, and by whose permission he reigned in Constantinople, soon after died, and was succeeded in the empire, in 1451, by Mohammed II, who set his heart on securing Constantinople as the seat of his empire.

He accordingly made preparations for besieging and taking the city.  The siege commenced on the 6th of April, 1453, and ended in the capture of the city, and the death of the last of the Constantines, on the 6th day of May following.  And the eastern city of the Caesars became the seat of the Ottoman Empire.

The arms and mode of warfare which were used in the siege in which Constantinople was to be overthrown and held in subjection were, as we shall see, distinctly noticed by the revelator.

VERSE 16.  And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.

Innumerable hordes of horses, and them that sat on them!  Gibbon this describes the first invasion of the Roman territories by the Turks: “The myriads of Turkish horse overspread a frontier of six hundred miles, from Taurus to Erzeroum; and the blood of 130,000 Christians was a grateful sacrifice to the Arabian Prophet”.  Whether the language of the prophecy is designed to convey the idea of any definite number or not, the reader must judge.  Some suppose that 200,000 twice told is meant, and, following some historian, they find that number of Turkish warriors in the siege of Constantinople.  Some think 200,000 to mean all the Turkish warriors during the three hundred and ninety-one years and fifteen days of their triumphs over the Greeks.

VERSE 17.  And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.

The first part of this description may have reference to the appearance of these horsemen.  Fire, representing a colour, stands for red, “as red as fire” being a frequent form of expression; jacinth, or hyacinth, for blue; and brimstone for yellow.  And these colours greatly predominated in the dress of these warriors; so that the description, according to this view, would be accurately met in the Turkish uniform, which was composed largely of red, or scarlet, blue and yellow.  The heads of the horses were in appearance as the heads of lions, to denote their strength, courage, and fierceness; while the last part of the verse undoubtedly has reference to the use of gunpowder and fire-arms for purposes of war, which were then recently introduced.  As the Turks discharged their fire-arms on horseback, it would appear to the distant beholder that the fire, smoke, and brimstone issued out of the horses’ mouths…..

Quite an agreement exists among commentators in applying the prophecy concerning the fire, smoke, and brimstone to the use of gunpowder by the Turks in their warfare against the Eastern empire (See Clarke, Barnes, Elliott, etc.).  But they generally allude simply to the very heavy ordnance, the large cannon, employed by that power, whereas the prophecy mentions especially the ‘horses’, and the fire ‘issuing from their mouths’, as though smaller arms were used, and used on horseback.  Barnes thinks this was the case; and a statement from Gibbon confirms this view.  He says: ‘The incessant volleys of lances and arrows were accompanied with the smoke, the sound, and the fire of their musketry and cannon’ (Book IV p. 343).  Here is good historical evidence that muskets were used by the Turks; and secondly, they fought principally on horseback.  The inference is therefore well supported that they used fire-arms on horseback, accurately fulfilling the prophecy, according to the illustration [of a Turkish soldier on horseback firing a musket] above referred to.

Respecting the use of fire-arms by the Turks in their campaign against Constantinople, Elliott (Horae Apocalypticae), Vol I, pp. 482-484) thus speaks:

It was to ‘the fire and the smoke and the sulphur’, to the artillery and fire-arms of Mohammed, that the killing of the third part of men, i.e. the capture of Constantinople, and by consequence the destruction of the Geek empire, was owing.  Eleven hundred years and more had now elapsed since her foundation by Constantine.  In the course of them, Goths, Huns, Avars, Persians, Bulgarians, Saracens, Russians, and indeed the Ottoman Turks themselves, had made their hostile assaults, or had laid siege against it.  But the fortifications were impregnable by them.  Constantinople survived, and with it the Greek empire.  Hence the anxiety of the Sultan Mohammed to find that which would remove the obstacle.  ‘Canst thou cast a cannon’, was his question to the founder of cannon that deserted to him, ‘of size sufficient to batter down the wall of Constantinople?’  Then the foundry was established at Adrianople, the cannon cast, the artillery prepared, and the siege began.

It well deserves remark how Gibbon, always the unconscious commentator on the Apocalyptic prophecy, puts this new instrumentality of war into the foreground of his picture in his eloquent and striking narrative of the final catastrophe of the Greek empire.  In preparation for it, he gives the history of the great invention of gunpowder, ‘that mixture of saltpetre, sulphur, and charcoal’; tells of its earlier use by the Sultan Amurath, and also, as before said, of Mohammed’s foundry of the larger cannon at Adrianople; then, in the progress of the siege itself, describes how ‘the volleys of lances and arrows were accompanied with the smoke, the sound, and the fire of the musketry and cannon’; how the long order of Turkish artillery was pointed against the walls, fourteen batteries thundering at once on the most accessible places’; how ‘the fortifications which had stood for ages against hostile violence were dismantled on all sides by the Ottoman cannon, many breaches opened, and near the gate of St. Romanus, four towers levelled with the ground’; how, as ‘from the lines, the gallies [galleys?], and the bridge, the Ottoman artillery thundered on all sides, the camp and city, the Greeks and the Turks, were involved in a cloud of smoke, which could only be dispelled by the final deliverance or destruction of the Roman empire’; how ‘the double walls were reduced by the cannon to a heap of ruins’; and how the Turks at length ‘rushing through the breaches’, ‘Constantinople was subdued, her empire subverted, and her religion trampled in the dust by Moslem conquerors’.  I say it well deserves observation how markedly and strikingly Gibbon attributes the capture of the city, and so the destruction of the empire, to the Ottoman artillery.  For what is it but a comment on the words of our prophecy?  ‘By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the sulphur, which issued out if their mouths’”.

VERSE 18.  By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the sulphur, which issued out of their mouths.  19. For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt.

These verses express the deadly effect of the new mode of warfare introduced.  It was by means of these three agents – gunpowder, fire-arms, and cannon – that Constantinople was finally overcome, and given into the hands of the Turks. 

In addition to the fire, smoke, and brimstone, which apparently issued out of their mouths, it is said that their power was also in their tails.  It is a remarkable fact that the horse’s tail is a well-known Turkish standard, a symbol of office and authority.  The meaning of the expression appears to be that their tails were their symbol, or emblem, of their authority.  The image before the mind of John would seem to have been that he saw the horses belching out fire and smoke, and, what was equally strange, he saw that their power of spreading desolation was connected with the tails of their horses.  Anyone looking on a body of cavalry with such banners or ensigns, would be struck with this unusual or remarkable appearance, and would speak of their banners as concentrating and directing their power. 

This supremacy of the Mohammedans over the Greeks was to continue, as already noticed, three hundred and ninety-one years and fifteen days.  Commencing when the one hundred and fifty years ended, 27 July 1449, the period would end 11 Aug 1840.  Judging from the manner of the commencement of the Ottoman supremacy that it was by a voluntary acknowledgment on the part of the Greek emperor that he reigned only by permission of the Turkish Sultan, we should naturally conclude that the fall or departure of the Ottoman independence would be brought about in the same way; that at the end of the specified period, that is, on the 11th of August 1849, the Sultan would voluntarily surrender his independence into the hands of Christian powers, just as he had, three hundred and ninety-one years and fifteen days before, received it from the hands of the Christian emperor, Constantine XIII.

This conclusion was reached, and this application of the prophecy was made, by Josiah Litch in 1838, two years before the predicted event was to occur.  It was then purely a matter of calculation on the prophetic periods of Scripture.  Now, however, the time had passed by, and it is proper to enquire what the result has been – whether such events did transpire according to the previous calculation.  The matter sums itself up in the following enquiry: When Did Mohammedan Independence in Constantinople Depart?  For several years previous to 1840, the Sultan had been embroiled in war with Mehemet Ali, pasha of Egypt.  In 1838 the trouble between the Sultan and his Egyptian vassal was for the time being restrained by the influence of the foreign ambassadors. In 1839, however, hostilities were again commenced, and were prosecuted until, in a general battle between the armies of the Sultan and Mehemet, the Sultan’s army was entirely cut up and destroyed, and his fleet taken by Mehemet and carried to Egypt.  .  So completely had the Sultan’s fleet been reduced that, when the war again commenced in August, he had only two first-rates and three frigates as the sad remains of the once powerful Turkish fleet.  This fleet Mehemet positively refused to give up and return to the Sultan, and declared that if the Powers attempted to take it from him he would burn it.  In this posture affairs stood when, in 1840, England, Russia, Austria, and Prussia interposed, and determined on a settlement of the difficulty; for it was evident that, if left alone, Mehemet would soon become master of the Sultan’s throne. 

The Sultan accepted this intervention of the Great Powers, and thus made a voluntary surrender of the question into their hands. A conference of these Powers was held in London, the Sheik Effendi Bey Likgis being present as Ottoman plenipotentiary.  An ultimatum was drawn up to be presented to the pasha of Egypt, whereby the Sultan was to offer him the hereditary government of Egypt, and all that part of Syria extending from the Gulf of Suez to the Lake of Tiberias, together with the province of Acre, for life; he on his part to evacuate all other parts of the Sultan’s dominions then occupied by him, and to return the Ottoman fleet.  In case he refused this offer from the Sultan, the four Powers were to take the matter into their own hands, and use such other means to bring him to terms as they should see fit.

It is apparent that just as soon as this ultimatum should be put by the Sultan into the hands of Mehemet Ali the matter would be forever beyond the control of the former, and the disposal of his affairs would, from that moment, be in the hands of foreign powers.  The Sultan dispatched Rifat Bey on a government streamer to Alexandria, to communicate the ultimatum to the pasha.  It was put into his hands, and by him taken in charge, on the eleventh day of August 1840!  On the same day a note was addressed by the Sultan to the ambassadors of the four Powers, inquiring what plan was to be adopted in case the pasha should refuse to comply with the terms of the ultimatum, to which they made answer that provision had been made, and there was no necessity of his alarming himself about any contingency that might arise.  This day the period of three hundred and ninety-one years and fifteen days allotted to the continuance of the Ottoman power ended; and where was the Sultan’s independence? – GONE!  Who had the supremacy of the Ottoman empire in their hands?  The four Great Powers; and that empire has existed ever since only by the sufferance of these Christian powers.  Thus was the prophecy fulfilled to the very letter.

From the first publication of the calculation of this matter in 1838, before referred to, the time set for the fulfilment of the prophecy – 11 Aug 1840 – was watched by thousands with intense interest.  And the exact accomplishment of the event predicted, showing, as it did, the right application of the prophecy, gave a mighty impetus to the great Advent movement then beginning to attract the attention of the world.

VERSE 20.  And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: 21.  Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts. 

God designs that men shall make a note of His judgements, and receive the lessons He thereby designs to convey.  But how slow are they to learn! and how blind to the indications of Providence! The events that took place under the sixth trumpet constituted the second woe; yet these judgments led to no improvement in the manners and morals of men.  Those who escaped them learned nothing by their manifestation in the earth.  The worship of devils (demons, dead men deified), and of the idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, may find a fulfilment in the saint-worship of the Roman Catholic Church; while of murders, sorceries (pretended miracles through the agency of departed saints), fornications, and thefts, in countries where the Roman religion has prevailed, there has been no lack. 

The hordes of Saracens and Turks were let loose as a scourge and punishment upon apostate Christendom.  Men suffered the punishment, but learned therefrom no lesson.


“Daniel and The Revelation” by Uriah Smith, undated (circa 1899), p. 442-454, published by The Stanborough Press, Watford, Herts