Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Preterism, Revelation and A.D. 70

About three weeks ago (~ish) I said that I would give the internal and external evidence for a pre-70 date of Revelation as found in Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope by Keith Mathison. Well, today is your lucky day. For starters, nobody really knows for sure when Revelation was written. "So what", you may be saying. Well, it turns out that the date of Revelation is very important when it comes to how we interpret the book as a whole. The book of Revelation depicts God's judgment on unrighteous Israel, and in A.D. 70 Jerusalem (including the Jewish Temple) was completely destroyed by the Roman army. Now, if Revelation was written after A.D. 70 then the book is either depicting some future event (Futurism), it is symbolic of a continuous theme, viz., the pursecution of the Church by Satan and the victory of Christ (Idealism), or it is a chronological history of the Church (Historicism). However, if Revelation was written before A.D. 70, then it is a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem (and its Temple) in A.D. 70 (Preterism). So how can we know what to do with the book of Revelation? How are we supposed to interpret it? What is the evidence that points toward a pre-70 date? I'm glad you asked. Mathison gives what I think is pretty compelling evidence that Revelation was in fact written before the destruction of Jerusalem. First the external (non-Biblical) evidence:

1. Mathison points out that the most important evidence for people that support a post-70 date of Revelation is found in a quotation by an early church father named Irenaeus (130-202) in his book Against Heresies.

"We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian's reign."

Now, Mathison says that there are several reasons why this statement is inconclusive, but lists the major two:
1. When Irenaeus says, "For that was seen no very long time since,..." the greek word for "that was seen" (heorathe) could either mean "that was seen" or "he was seen". This means that Irenaeus could either be talking about the vision or John.
2. Irenaeus was not known for his historical accuracy. For example, he believed that Jesus' ministry lasted approximately fifteen years and that he lived to be almost fifty (Against Heresies, 2.22.5).

Mathison says that the remainder of witnesses are divided on the issue; some supported a pre-70 date and some a post-70 date. The conclusion is that there is no external evidence that can inconclusively prove the date of the book of Revelation. We must then search the internal evidence.

The internal evidence: (Mathison here quotes from Kenneth Gentry's Before Jerusalem Fell)
1. The Theme of Revelation. The theme of the book is one of coming judgment upon the Jews (Rev. 1:7; 2:5, 16, 25; 3:3, 11; 16:15; 22:7, 12, 20). This is the coming judgment that Jesus said would come upon the generation of Jews to whom he spoke (Mt. 24:34; Mk. 13:30; Lk. 21:32).
2. The Nearness of the Coming. John repeated states that this prophecy will be fulfilled very soon (see. 1:1, 3, 19; 2:16; 3:10-11; 22:6-7, 10, 12, 20). The coming of Christ predicted was not his physical second coming, but a coming of judgment in the form of the Roman army.
3. The Sixth King. Revelation 17:9-10 comes close to indicating the date when the book was written. It tells of "seven kings": "five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while." These kings are associated with "seven mountains" (v. 9), which surely refers to Rome, the city built on seven hills. The "kings" would therefore be the line of Roman emperors. If we begin with Julius Ceasar (as many contemoraries of John did), we have the following list:
1. Julius Caesar (49-44 B.C.)
2. Augustus (27 B.C.- A.D. 14)
3. Tiberius (14-37)
4. Gaius (37-41)
5. Claudius (41-54)
6. Nero (54-68)
7. Galba (68-69)
8. Otho (69)
9. Vitellius (69)
10. Vespasian (69-79)
The sixth king, the one who "is" when John is writing, would then be Nero. He was preceded by five kings who "have fallen," and was followed by a king who reigned only a very short time. By no calculation can the sixth king possibly refer to the emperor Domitian.
4. The Existence of the Temple. Revelation 11:1-2 describes John measuring the temple. While this language could conceivably refer to a symbolic temple, the statement that this temple will be tread upon by the nations for forty-two months seems to indicate that the Jewish temple is in view and that it had not yet been destroyed at the time of writing.
5. The Symbolic Descriptions of Nero. There seems to be a reference to Nero in Revelation 13:18, which speaks of a man whose number is 666. A strong case can be made that this number is a symbolic designation of Nero. While all of the evidence for and against this theory cannot be explained here, suffice it to say that the ancient Hebrew spelling of Nero Caesar has the numerical value of 666.
6. The Strong Presence of Jewish Christianity. The book of Revelation gives evidence that it was written during a time when there remained a strong Jewish and even Judaizing element in the church (2:9; 3:9; 7:4-8; 14:1; 21:12). The Jewish influence and threat dwindled rapidly after A.D. 70, and was hardly a factor in the late first century.
7. The Impending Jewish War. There are a number of passages in the book that seem to point to the catastrophe that was about to befall Jerusalem. Several references to time, for example, fit the actual course of events in the Jewish War:
a. Revelation 9:1-12. John sees a vision in which all those without the seal of God are tormented for five months. Significantly, the actual siege of Jerusalem by Titus lasted five months.
b. Revelation 11:2. The temple is given to the nations for forty-two months. Similarly, the time between the declaration of war by Rome until the fall of Jerusalem was almost exactly forty-two months.
c. Revelation 13:5-7. In John's vision of the beast, he is told that the beast makes war with the saints for forty-two months. Nero's persecution of Christians begain late in 64 and lasted until his death in June 68, a period again of almost exactly forty-two months.

"When all of the evidence is examined and weighed carefully, it points to an early date. We conclude, therefore, that the book of Revelation was written sometime during the Neronic persecution (64-68)."

Whew. Let me know what you think. peace.


Unknown said...

Man, that's a lot of weight. You should check out Beale's beast of a commentary and read that section. Is Mathison waiting on a 2nd Coming? I assume he is with Sproul but most preterists criticize them for not going far enough. Does he see Jesus referring to the 2nd coming in Matt. 24 or is all 70 ad?

chance n said...

Mathison is waiting for the second "physical" coming of Christ. He interprets all of the Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24, Mk. 13 and Lk. 21) as being fulfilled in A.D. 70. The "cosmic signs" language is extremely similar to the language used by the O.T. prophets when depicting the fall of a ruler or empire. I do need to real Beale's work... it would definately be helpful. All I have to say is that Christmas is coming soon and that would make a great present. peace.

chance n said...

sorry... I should add that Mathison interprets Mt. 24 as a "coming of judgment" by Christ in the form of the Roman army. Just like the Lord used the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem in the O.T. So, in a sense, it was the Roman army that destroyed Jerusalem, but it was ultimately the Lord using them for His purposes. That is why he is still waithing on a second "physical" coming of Christ.

Unknown said...

It seems hard to take Matt 24 (all of it) as being fulfilled, yet waiting for the 2nd Coming. I haven't looked at it in a while though. It is also hard to base your theology on the hotly debated dating of a book. I see its importance though. I kind of with Jerusalem would have been ransacked in like 250 or so to make things easier for us.

chance n said...

that would have been great! oh well. if it's any consolation, I just have a couple of pages left in Mathison's book and I am still amill. peace.

NewCreation said...

I just started a anti-Preterist site that you may be interested in. I am sure you might get a few good laughs from all the craziness and bad theology as a result of the Preterism systems. Hope you enjoy.

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