Saturday, December 24, 2005

Before Jerusalem Fell

How are we to date the book of Revelation? Is it important? What difference does it make? Will it affect our view of eschatology? Will it give us some clarity to those things, which in our modern time, have caused us to be curious, wild-eyed, and even anxious? I think the answers to these questions are clearly laid out in a book I have been reading by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. titled BEFORE JERUSALEM FELL. I believe Dr. Gentry has laid out the most convincing and strongest argument from the text itself as to its dating. Dr. Gentry has used the method of sola scriptura. He has also taken on the various other views of both futurists and dispensationalists and put them to the test. I must confess that I had previously saw good points to the futurist (historicist) argument, but I now think Dr. Gentry’s dealing with the clear things (that being its flow and main characters)of the book of Revelation to be the most consistent with Scripture and the most fulfilling of biblical prophecy. With that said, I am not about to go out on a limb and claim I am omniscient concerning all things eschatological. However, I think I have gained ground in understanding other portions of the Word through earlier studies and through the insights gained from reading Dr. Gentry’s book. I am over half way through it and wanted to post some of the things that have been pointed out. I hope it will be beneficial to those who may read my posts and possibly invoke some response.

First of all, as a reseller of books and video, as well as, audio I come across a wide variety of what claims to be Christian. However, there are certain men that I realize are godly men and who truly desire to honor Christ and His gospel. Among those are some of the great men of the past such as Edwards, Spurgeon, Gurnall, Calvin, Gill, Owen, Luther and other men who might even be unknown to the vast majority of Christendom today along with those who presently serve the church like Sproul, Mohler, MacArthur and others. I had not heard of Dr. Gentry, though he is a resident of the same state I live in and pastored a church about 1 ½ hours from my house. I came across a video of his via one of the men I purchase some of my products through with the Apologetics Group. The DVD was titled, “The Beast of Revelation Identified”. I had begun to move in a direction, that up until that time I did not fully realize existed. Much like my coming to the doctrines of grace, which I didn’t know existed either and was definitely not part of my tradition of indoctrination with the church I attended, the teaching known widely as preterism I was utterly unfamiliar with. Over the past months I have understood more clearly why preterists believe what they believe. I struggle with a full preterist view, because there are still huge questions in my mind as to how it is consistent with other passages. I haven’t run across anyone yet that has convinced me to buy into that line of thinking.

Clearly the first hurdle that Dr. Gentry has to overcome is the history of what the majority of the church has held historically. He makes an excellent case for the words of Ireneaus, whose comments are not clear concerning John and the book of Revelation. The following is the particular quote of Irenaeus from which most of the fathers and church historians reference as the definitive external evidence to the late date of the book of Revelation.

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.

At best it is understandable that Irenaeus refers not to the Apocalypse, but to John himself. This seems to be best understood since this comes in the midst of comments he is making regarding the number 666 and the identity of the beast. His point is this: if John was around at this time and it was important that they understand who this Antichrist was, he would have made it clear to them. In simplest terms: John would have made it clear who the man identified by the number 666 was if it was imperative for those living at that time. Since Irenaeus declares this time to be about the time of the end of Domitian’s reign, then the things of the Apocalypse, primarily speaking, the identity of this man would have already been understood by the audience for which it was addressed and who lived in that time.

This seems to be the strongest evidence externally that exists for those who propose a late date for the book of Revelation, since they would afford the fact that Domitian’s reign ended in 96 AD. However, Dr. Gentry takes many pages to take into account the reasons for understanding Irenaeus’ comments as referring to John and not the Apocalypse. Again, this is what most of the fathers rely on for a late date of Revelation and this is simply external evidence.

I think some of the most convincing evidence is the audience relevance, identity of the beast, the harlot, and the New Jerusalem.

I will see if I can be brief on some of these comments and maybe sometime in the future elaborate on them further, unless discussion gets stirred up. First, there is the issue of audience relevance. Again, though I faced some words of leaning towards liberal hermeneutics, there are some even among conservative scholars and bible teachers who say that the seven churches that John writes to are really to be understood as churches throughout history or that this is a picture of how the church will progress through history (ie. from Ephesus to Laodicea). Is this not to miss the point? Did John write to the church in the various regions of Asia Minor or not? What is the purpose of him writing to those churches warning them that the time was at hand and that the things he wrote about were to shortly come to pass? The only explanation is that he was writing so that they, not people thousands of years in the future, would be ready and understand what was about to happen.

This seems to be missing from most futurist type views of the book of Revelation. All of a sudden audience relevance seems to go “out the window”. However, this is how we tend to do exegesis in other books of the Bible. We find out the history behind the text. We understand the geography and the events and/or teachings that led up to the reason for the writing of the book.

Some other things concerning the audience relevance and the timing I mentioned in the previous posts such as the time frames mentioned in chapters 1 and 22 along with verse 7 of chapter 1 in which is stated that those who pierced Christ would see Him coming in judgment. This coupled together with Christ’s own words from Matthew 24 tend to lead us towards the fact that the coming referenced in the Revelation is Christ’s coming in judgment upon Jerusalem and the Temple.

Second is the identity of the beast. While many have for centuries went on and on with wild speculation about who the beast of Revelation is, they have not taken into account the time frame involved. I would say that the time frame is laid out not only in Revelation, but also in Daniel and Matthew 24. It is within the generation that Jesus spoke to which also must be within the time of the Roman Empire. Any interpretation regarding the identity of the beast that falls outside the time frame must therefore be seen to be inconclusive.

Revelation 13:18 is well known, even among those outside of Christianity. The verse reads as follows:

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 six hundred and sixty-six.

Notice first that the calculating of the number is given as wisdom. In other words the reason for the number being given is to clearly identify the man who is synonymous with the beast. It is not for vain speculation, nor for symbolism, but for wisdom. This number is 666. It is not three sixes, but is defined as six hundred and sixty-six.

The Hebrew equivalent to Nero Caesar or Neron Kaisar is Nrwn Qsr. Using Hebrew letters as numbers (for the Hebrews used a numbering system based upon their letters, similar to the Romans) we find that a Hebrew spelling of Nero Caesar equals 666.

However, we will also note that a textual variant is also rendered in which the number is not 666, but 616. Most scholars who accept Nero as the beast, including John A. T. Robertson understand that the variant can be explained by pointing to the fact that as Latin became the known language and tongue used in the day, a scribe inserted the Latin calculation of Nero Caesar so that the readers might more easily identify who is being spoken of. When we use the spelling in Latin it comes up to 616. This should be no mere coincidence that such a thing should exist. Rather it should lend weight to the conclusion that is drawn.

Another conclusion is drawn from Revelation 17 as to the identity of Nero. Revelation 17:9-10 is as follows:

"Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time.”

The angel interprets the vision John has concerning the beast and the harlot. There the angel is clearly there to help him understand, not leave him in confusion. As with the number 666, we find here that the angel gives wisdom. The angel describes that seven heads. They are seven hills on which the woman sits. All throughout ancient history till the present Rome has been known as the city on seven hills.

Also, the angel affirms that the seven heads represent seven kings. He says that five have fallen, one is, and another is to come, but will only reign for a short time. The Caesars of Rome were known as kings, though they took the title of Emperors. The important thing to note is the time frame. Notice that five have fallen. This would be the reference to the first 5 Caesars. They are as follows:
1. Julius Caesar (49-44 B. C.)
2. Augustus (31 B. C.-A.D. 14)
3. Tiberius (A.D. 14-37)
4. Gaius, also known as Caligula (A.D. 37-41)
5. Claudius (A.D. 41-54)

Then the angel says that one is. This king exists at the time of the writing of Revelation and obviously during the lifetime of John, since he is the writer.

6. Nero (A.D. 54-68)

Then we are told that another is to come, but when he comes he will only continue for a short time. We were told in Revelation 13 that one of the beast’s heads received a mortal wound, but the beast itself did not die. Instead what happened was the Nero committed suicide by thrusting a sword through his own throat. It was then that the Roman Empire began to convulse in what appeared to be a death throw. Yet it wasn’t until Vespasian came to power that there was stability. However, we will note that John in his vision only sees 7. This is curious in understanding the time frame we are dealing with as well, since the internal evidence leads us up till the time of the destruction of Jerusalem.
7. Galba (A.D. 68-69)

Galba only reigned from June 68 till January of 69 during a time known as the year of the four emperors. During this time there were four emperors who reigned that year. The last emperor during that year was Vespasian who was able to hold the empire together and get some semblance of control.

There is much that could be said in regards to these things. I have given you the crux of the argument. For a more in depth argument for this point, let me suggest reading BEFORE JERUSALEM FELL. With this said, I am not sure that I would agree with his firm stand on postmillenialism, which is called theonomic postmillenialism. I really don't know where I fit in with that. However, as I have said before, I can see where that conclusion could be drawn.

I will comment on the final two evidences in a later post (ie. The harlot and the New Jerusalem), as well as, the time involved in the destruction of Jerusalem.

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