Part Three

Apocalyse and Implications


CHAPTER SEVEN

Revelation – Selected Relevant Passages

In the previous sections, we have examined certain passages in the Book of Revelation as they came up during cross–referencing. An exhaustive commentary on this great book is beyond the scope of this study, but certain portions of the Revelation are examined here for their particular pertinence to the issue of past fulfillment of prophecy, and to serve as an entry point for further study.

This chapter will be a study of selected passages that show how Revelation fits into human time and examines the interpretation of the symbols within the framework of the Jewish – Roman war of A.D. 67-70, and the spiritual coming of Christ within that physical event to judge the old Jewish nation.

First, let us examine some external issues regarding the book that have a bearing on our study of it.

AUTHORSHIP

We shall not spend much time examining this issue, for others have well established the authenticity of authorship by John the Apostle. Some have tried to cast doubt on this for various reasons, but none have succeeded in showing that John was not who he claimed to be, and there can be no doubt that any other “John” who presented such an apocalyptic vision to the churches would have been either well known (and therefore known to us) or completely suspicious to them, in which case we would not have this book handed down to us today.

The very fact that he does not find it necessary to identify himself beyond the first name shows that this John is so well-known that there can be no doubt to the first readers or to us today that this is the apostle John – the one Jesus loved, and the author of the gospel of John and the letters.

DATE OF AUTHORSHIP

This issue is very important to examine in some depth, for the correct answer has a direct bearing on the interpretation one may give to the book of Revelation.

The view accepted without much question by many Christians is that the Revelation was written in or around A.D. 96, during the reign of the Caesar Domitian. This date of authorship would, of course, completely prevent the book from referring to the events of the Jewish War. Many who hold to the A.D. 96 date do not know how this date was defined or how it seems to have been fixed as orthodox. Most have never researched the matter, simply taking for granted that this issue has been settled by scholars. When such a crucial business as the proper interpretation of Biblical prophecy is at stake, however, we must not rely on anyone else to tell us what to believe without studying and researching the issue for ourselves. With this purpose in mind, let us look at how the “late date” of A.D. 96 was determined and why it has become traditional to so many.

Simply put, the case for a late Domitian date hangs by a very slender thread. It is determined from a single statement by the Bishop of Lyons, named Irenacus, who lived from AD. 130 to A.D. 202. We only have Latin translations of his entire work containing the statement, but the passage in question is preserved in its original Greek in a quotation of it by Eusebius Pamphilus, Bishop of Cesarea, in his Ecclesiastical (Church) History, written about A.D. 325. Here is the statement from Irenacus, as quoted by Eusebius:

“In this persecution [of Christians under Domitian], it is handed down by tradition, that the apostle and evangelist John, who was yet living, in consequence of his testimony to the divine word, was condemned to dwell on the island of Patmos. Irenaeus, indeed, in his fifth book against the heresies, …speaks in the following manner respecting him: ‘If, however, it were necessary to proclaim [the name of the Anti-Christ],…it would have been declared by him who saw the revelation, for it is not long since it was seen, but almost in our own generation, at the close of Domitian‘s reign.’”

This statement is not an eyewitness testimony from Irenaeus, but is his recollection of what was said by an even earlier man, Polycarp3, who is supposed to have known John personally.

There are two things about the text that we should note. First, the key statement that “it is not long since it was seen” is ambiguous in the original Greek text. The word “it” can refer either to the visions John saw, the book he produced, or to John himself. The writer could have intended to say, “John, who saw the revelation was seen,” or he could have meant, “John experienced the visions,” or thirdly, that “the revelation document that John wrote was seen.”

There has been a great deal of argument back and forth on this issue, but no matter which way one wishes to look at it, the statement is still ambiguous. If it means that the book of Revelation was itself seen at that time, it does not necessarily place the date of authorship then. If it refers to John, we know that he did live to the time of Domitian, although he was by then an aged and frail man.

In any case, this particular line of support for the late date of authorship is very precarious and suspect. Look at it again: Eusebius quotes Irenaeus. Irenaeus refers to Polycarp, who is said to have seen either John or the Apocalypse sometime in the last part of Domitian’s reign in about AD. 96. We do not know if he meant that he saw the book or the man and we do not know if he meant to imply that the book was written then or not. Moreover, it comes to us through three people separated by three centuries. This is simply hearsay evidence, and it is not much evidence at that!

The student who is just beginning to study these things will be honestly amazed to realize that this statement by Eusebius is essentially the sole evidence used in support
of the “late” Domitian date for the writing of the book of Revelation. This statement has been blithely accepted by generations of brethren without really questioning or examining it in light of the context of the book. The late date has been passed into our general knowledge in the same way that Eusebius states the things he talked about were passed to him:

“…it is handed down by tradition….”

Tradition is not a sufficient basis for scriptural interpretation when our understanding of the basic nature of the church and our relationship to God is at stake! Where, then, can we turn to find reliable and authoritative evidence for the date of this important book?

The most valuable evidence we can hope to find is within the book itself. This is called internal evidence, and it is, especially in view of the lack of any reliable extemal evidence for the late date, the most authoritative and conclusive information we have that tells us about the date of authorship (and thus sheds light on the proper interpretation of the book).

James M. MacDonald (quoted by Foy Wallace) put it quite well when he wrote:

“It is obvious that if the book itself throws any distinct light on this subject, this internal evidence, especially in the absence of reliable historical testimony, ought to be decisive. Instead of appealing to tradition or to some doubtful passage in an ancient father, we interrogate the book itself.... It will be found that no book of the New Testament more abounds in passages which clearly have respect to the time when it was written.”

Before we take a look at the internal evidence, however, we might note several external evidences that actually support the early date, during the reign of Nero in about AD. 65.

First, in examining the Latin translations of the works of Irenacus (the Bishop of Lyons, quoted by Eusebius), we find that he refers to ancient copies” of the Revelation as being in existence at the time he was writing. This would make the statement quoted above non-sensical if he meant that the Revelation was not written until the reign of Domitian, for there would not have been time for copies to have been made and circulated, much less for them to have become “ancient.” Only if John had written it in the “early” years prior to the destruction of Jerusalem could it have gained enough age and such a reputation that Irenacus could have so referred to these copies as ancient.

Works from Tertullian, Jerome, and Eusebius indicate that John was banished to the island of Patmos during the reign of Nero at the same time that Paul and Peter were martyred, not 30 years later under Domitian.

The sixth and seventh century versions of the Syriac New Testaments contain as the title to the book of Revelation: “written in Patmos, whither John was sent by Nero Caesar.”

The sixth century writer Arethas speaks of a pre-A.D. 70 writing and meaning for Revelation. His opinion is shared by many other writers and teachers reaching back into the dim years of the first centuries after the Bible. Arethas stated:

“When the Evangelist received these oracles, the destruction in which the Jews were involved was not yet inflicted by the Romans.”

Now, as we begin to examine specific passages in Revelation, let us turn to the internal evidences that specifically deal with the dating issue and show how the symbols so naturally and easily apply to the events of the Jewish war.

HE IS COMING WITH CLOUDS

As its very first verse makes plain, this great book is not the revelation of John, but rather the revelation (things revealed) of Christ, given to John to give to the other believers. In the seventh verse, we read what many people consider to be the theme of the book of Revelation –

“Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.” (Re 1:7)

This “coming in clouds” is the main “event” of the prophecies contained in Revelation. It is Christ who was to come, of course, but it is important to determine the identity of the people who were to receive or experience this coming.

The clue that is most plain is the phrase “all the kindreds of the earth.” A more accurate translation would be “all the tribes of the earth.” The word “kindreds” (KJV) or “peoples” (NIV) comes from the Greek word “phulai” which means tribes and is used specifically, for example, in chapter 7:4-8 to refer to the twelve tribes of Israel (in reference to the spiritual Israel or the Church). This is the same word used here in verse 7, and it is used in the same way to mean the Jewish people of Palestine. The literal “twelve tribes of Israel,” the unbelieving Jews, were to be the subjects and recipients of the coming in judgment that Christ would soon accomplish.

Similar to other passages previously discussed, these people are symbolized as the tribes of the “earth,” which was the place of the people involved in the prophecy – that is, Palestine.

The very concept of the Christians having to be separated out from the Jews in order to escape the coming judgment is a straightforward indication that Revelation was written before the events of A.D. 70. After 70, the old twelve tribes would no longer exist as a nation.

The phrase “those who pierced him” is a second reference to the Jewish nation. Although it was a Roman soldier who literally pierced Jesus as he hung on the cross, it should be understood that the unbelieving Jews were the true murderers of Christ. This is made very plain in several New Testament passages, including Acts 2:22-23, 36 –

“Men of Israel…this man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross…Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
[NIV]

and Acts 7:52 –

“…and now you have betrayed and murdered him -”
[NIV]

It is very clear that the Jews were the subject of this event when we read the Old Testament prophecy of it in Zechariah 12:10-13 –

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn…On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be great…The land will mourn….”
[NIV]

The Jews would mourn the loss of their nation, city, religion, and culture. They would also mourn the loss of their ancient and special connection with God.

SEVEN CHURCHES IN ASIA

The next point to consider is that the Revelation is addressed to a specific group ofcongregations, as we read in verse 4:

“John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia….”
[NIV]

It is remarkable that this point has escaped so many commentators on Revelation. There was only one small window of time in which there were only seven congregations in the area of the Roman province of Asia (modern day Turkey). Paul had established nine congregations in that land (in nine cities), but the churches at Colosse and Hierapolis are not mentioned in the address and letters of Revelation.

The reason for this is that these two cities, along with Laodicea, were subjected to a great earthquake in approximately A.D. 61, and all three were destroyed. Philip Schaff states that Laodicea was rebuilt soon after the earthquake, but Colosse and Hierapolis were not rebuilt. Because these towns were quite close together, we can presume that the surviving believers from these two places consolidated with the congregation in Laodicea at that time. This left seven churches in Asia Minor during the five years just prior to the beginning of the war, the most likely time for the writing of the Revelation and the letters of John (where he states “we know it is the last hour” – 1 John 2:18).

After the war, Christianity spread much more rapidly and widely due to the removal of the Jewish persecutors (although pagan Roman persecution was still prevalent for many years to come). Many new congregations would have certainly been established by the time of A.D. 95 or 96, the time of the “late date” theory of authorship.

In another rationalization, it has been asserted by some that the number “seven” here is only symbolic, with the various congregations’ conditions typifying all such possible church conditions. Revelation is certainly a book of symbols, as we have been exploring, however, there are times within the book where literal speech is evident, such as this opening preamble. This is the “address” of the letter, and states specifically that it is sent to “the seven assemblies which are in Asia” (literal rendering). Note the phrasing: “the seven, not just “seven” or “a seven,” and the specific location: “which are in Asia.” If the intent was to speak of a symbolic seven churches here, John would have said something like: “John, to Seven Churches.”

More specifically, we know that these seven churches are not symbols because they themselves are symbolized later in verse 12 and then interpreted in verse 20 by Christ himself:

“…I saw seven golden lampstands.”
“…seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”
[NIV]

Symbols are only one layer deep, or they become meaningless. In the Bible, symbols are not themselves symbolized by other symbols. These churches were literal and real congregations and John addresses the book to the (only) seven churches that were in existence in that region at that very precise time of the beginning of the
war in A.D. 67!

JUDAIZERS AND FALSE APOSTLES

Another important evidence for the early date and the Jewish war subject matter of the book is found in some of the letters to the seven churches where condemnation is pronounced on those who were “Judaizers.” These were either Christians, formerly Jews, who were trying to bring some or many of their old Jewish (Mosaic) laws and customs into the Christian church, or they were Jewish infiltrators trying to lure the new Christian believers back into the fold of Jewish orthodoxy. For instance, in chapter 2:9, in the letter to the church at Smyrna, Christ says:

“…I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”
[NIV]

Even the upstanding congregation in Philadelphia had some run– ins with these men, as we read in chapter 3:9 –

“I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars – I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.”
[NIV]

The Christians were now the true spiritual Jews. The old Mosaic Jews were “claiming to be Jews,” but were no longer sanctioned by and justified to God. Christ would soon bring these persecuting and deceiving Jews to their doom and place them at the spiritual feet of the Christian believers.

Another important passage is found in chapter 2:2, in the letter to Ephesus:

“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.”
[NIV]

Apparently, some men had come to the church at Ephesus and claimed to be one or more of the Apostles. In the ancient world, of course, no photographs or other such means of positive identification were available to people and such deceptions could be effective. The congregation there, however, was cautious and tested these men or brought them to a trial to see if they were who they claimed to be, and found them to be iminterlopersors. These were obviously more of the same Judaizing interlopers of whom Christ was warning the other churches.

The importance of this episode is that after the war in A.D. 70, such a ruse would not have been attempted and if it had, it would have seemed ridiculous. The Apostles, except for John himself, had all been martyred by the end of the war. Men coming into a congregation after the war and claiming that they were Apostles would have been so obviously false that they would have simply been laughed at.

After the war, the Jews who had been actively infiltrating and deceiving the Christians, as well as persecuting them, were either destroyed or taken into captivity. They were certainly not in a position to be engaged in such provocative activities after the destruction of their nation. The existence of this kind of activity in the book of Revelation is a strong evidence that it was written before the war and during the time when such ruses were perpetrated and were in fact dangerous to the fledgling Christian communities.

ONGOING JEWISH PERSECUTIONS

This leads us directly to consider that the Jewish persecutions of the Christian churches were still in progress at the time of the writing of Revelation. This, too, is a strong evidence that the writing took place before the war. In chapter 2:9-11, we can see the broader context in which
the Judaizers were working:

“I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not…Do not he afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life…He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.”
[NIV]

The persecution was caused by those who “say they are Jews” – that is, the unbelieving Jewish persecutors. They “are not” Jews, however, for the Christians were now the true Jews. Such oppression was ongoing before the war, when the old Jews were still actively fighting the “Nazarene cult,” the Christians. After the war, this situation was not so, and such a warning to the Christian congregations would be confusing and misleading. They were the ones who, if true to God, would overcome the persecutions and receive eternal spiritual life (not hurt by the second death). If they were to be the ones persecuted, this promise of relief would have to be to them, or it would be meaningless.

The major indication of ongoing tribulations and as yet unfulfilled repayment for that persecution is the passage in chapter 6:10 that shows the martyrs under the altar of God, pleading for their avenging:

“And they cried with a loud voice saying, how long, 0 Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?”

This cry could only be made prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Jewish nation.

THE TIME EXPECTATIONS

It is a true feat of the process known as rationalization that so many people have made the time statements in Revelation (and other New Testament prophecies) null and void of their original, reasonable, and plain meaning. Revelation is branded on both ends and inside with specific and varied statements that indicate the extremely short time span that would pass before the fulfillment of the things in the book.

Let us review these statements again as we find them in order:

In the introduction:

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass.”
[1:1]

“Blessed is he that readeth and…hear the Words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein:for the time is at hand.”
[1:3]

In the letters:

“…Repent and do the first works, or else I will come unto thee quickly….”
[2:5]

“Repent, or else I will come [literally: I am
coming] unto thee quickly…”
[2:16]

“Behold, I come quickly; hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”
[3:11]

In the conclusion:

“…These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to show unto his servants the things which must shortly be done.”
[22:6]

“Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.”
[22:7]

“And he saith unto me, seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.”
[22:10]

“And, behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”
[22:12]

“He which testifieth these things saith, surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus.”
[22:20]

The words “quickly,” “shortly,” and “at hand,” either mean what they say or they lose all meaning and relevance whatsoever. These events depicted in the prophecy were to occur just after this great vision was written, within a year or two at the most. It was truly “at hand” – just at the door and waiting to occur.

Some, in a further attempt to rationalize these statements into our future, use the statement Paul gives in 2 Peter 3:8, that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” At first glance, this seems to make sense, for perhaps God does perceive and denote time in a very different manner than human men and women.

As we mentioned in chapter 5, this is not the meaning of Paul’s statement even in 2 Peter 3. He made this statement in regard to God keeping his promises. He states in verse 4:

The Lord is not slack [literally: does not delay] concerning his promise, as some men count slackness….”

The point here is that God is punctual in keeping his promises. He delivers when he says he will, whether the time for the fulfillment of the promise is a single day or a thousand years. Long periods of time do not deter or sidetrack God from keeping his promises.

To state that when God says the events prophesied in Revelation are to take place “shortly,” he could mean in one day from the time of the Prophecy or, perhaps, in a thousand years, is a great distortion a reversal, actually – of the true nature of God’s promise–keeping. To rationalize these statements away by saying they could mean any length of time at all, they become truly meaningless and useless to anyone at all. God is not so capricious as to promise his faithful flock a reprieve from persecution and vengeance against their enemies and murderers, and promise it shortly, quickly, and say it is right at hand, Only to secretly mean that the things he promised would not happen for thousands and thousands of years. Such “help” would be of little use to the martyrs and other persecuted believers of the first generation of the Kingdom.

One other “rationalization” should be mentioned here, as some have used it to explain away these time statements. Some have asserted that the terms “quickly,” “shortly,” etc., do not refer to the span of time between prophecy and fulfillment, but instead to the speed in which these events occur whenever they occur (which supposedly could be thousands of years after the prophet spoke). That is whenever the events occur, they would “happen fast,” as it were. In light of what we just discussed concerning the martyrs and persecuted Christian believers, this reveals itself to be a truly poor attempt to explain away these terms of nearness. It would be of no help at all to these righteous people to say that when their relief and avenging comes it will happen speedily, but “you’ll have to wait at least 2,000 years first”!

No, the Christians who were being persecuted had to have relief right then or the church itself might not have been able to survive in face of the overwhelming numbers of Jewish and pagan persecutors. The events promised in the Revelation had to occur shortly in order to remove their greatest foe and allow them to continue to exist and to grow in the light of victory. This is what God promised them, and this is what they received – just as promised and just as quickly as promised, for “God does not delay in his promises”!

Because many men and women have been expecting and looking for a physical return of Christ and a cataclysm of the cosmos, they have rationalized these time statements to mean any length of time and have presumed to change “extremely short” into “very, very long.” Because they are looking for the wrong thing, they have failed to see the simple truth, and have stretched and warped the words of Christ himself to fit their own mistaken expectations, making Christ into a liar and an uncaring deceiver. It really does matter what we understand and what we believe.

JOHN TO PROPHECY AGAIN

In chapter 10:11, after John has taken the “little scroll” and eaten it, symbolizing the inspired receiving of God’s words, the angel tells John:

“…thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.”

As we mentioned in chapter Six, this prophecy concerning John himself is another indicator that this book was written in John’s earlier, younger years. He could not have fulfilled this role, which Christ (the angel) had given him, if he were a frail and aged man of at least 90 years as he would have been in Domitian’s reign in A.D. 96. It is plain that John received his vision when the war was imminent, and as the sole survivor of the Apostles, he would play an important role in securing the new churches after that war and giving them information concerning what had taken place spiritually. We know that he spent many postwar years in Ephesus, one of the congregations to whom the Revelation was addressed.

This little verse is reminiscent of another prophecy of himself that John wrote down. This is in the Gospel of John in chapter 21:20-24, where Peter asks Jesus about the fate of John. Jesus tells him:

“…If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?….”
[NIV]

In the next verse, John makes special effort to put to rest the rumor that Jesus said John would never die. It is another indication of the accuracy of the timing of the prophecies that John was the only Apostle to live physically to see the great Day of the Lord, when Christ returned to vent his wrath on the enemies of his Church – the same event John was to prophesy about in the Book of Revelation. More pieces of the puzzle begin to fit into their rightful and logical places.

JERUSALEM AND THE TEMPLE INTACT

One of the primary internal evidences for the early date and therefore the preterist interpretation for Revelation are the several indicators within the book that the city of Jerusalem and the Temple of herod were still standing and were, in fact, to be a part of the destructions depicted. In chapter 11:1-3, John says:

“I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, ‘Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months.”’
[NIV]

Rather than a representation of a symbolic Temple (of the future, perhaps), this passage gives us symbolic imagery of a very specifically described physical Temple – one possessing the exact nature of the stone Temple of Herod. This real Temple is measured with a symbolic measuring stick, that is, it is measured for its spiritual state or condition. It is found wanting, and all the worshipers there (all the unbelieving Jews) were to receive God’s wrath. This was to be accomplished by allowing the “Gentiles” to overrun the old Temple and the holy city of Jerusalem. Christ tells John this “trampling” would last for 42 months, and this is exactly the length of the war of Rome against Judea – 42 months, or 3 1/2 years.

In verses 8-11, the “two prophets” are killed by the “beast,” and John says:

“Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days men…will refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate...because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth. But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them.”
[NIV]

Earlier, it was stated that symbols are not ever themselves symbolized by other symbols. Here we see the “great city” symbolized with the names “Sodom” and “Egypt.” These obvious references to evil cities or nations of the past, are symbols or figures applied to the literal subject which is the “great city.” To make certain no one misunderstood that these symbolic names referred to the real and literal Jerusalem, John states plainly, “where also their Lord was crucified.” For some 200 years after the war’s end in A.D. 70, there was no Jerusalem. This is a plain reference to the city prior to the war and, again, to the Roman attack.

The inhabitants of the city (the Jews) would gloat over the Christian “prophets whom they had killed (representing the ongoing persecutions) and they would figuratively celebrate the seeming defeat of Christianity. Christ’s claims against the unbelieving Jews tormented them spiritually, for this claim was that God had abandoned them entirely.

The “prophets” would remain in this condition for “three and a half days” – the same symbolic time frame, representing the 3 1/2 years of the war. After the “three and a half days,” God would revive the “prophets” – he would claim victory over his enemies and the Christian believers would stand triumphant in renewed life. This would spiritually fill the Jews with terror to see that God was truly not with them, but with the ones whom they had so terribly persecuted.

WHO WAS THE SIXTH KING?

One of the main reasons the Book of Revelation is written in symbols is because of the danger to the Christian brethren if they were to speak out openly and plainly, accusing by name the Roman emperors and the Jewish persecutors of the things that were happening and were to shortly take place. Such candor would have brought unbearable retribution upon them. The book was essentially, then, written in code to protect themselves from the wrath of their enemies and yet be able to spread the “news” of what was taking place and so prepare themselves for these great events.

John, however, seems to try over and over again to give as many clues as possible and make it as plain as he can just what or who the subjects of the symbols are. One of the most important places where he did this is in chapter 17:9-12, where the angel tells John:

“[There are] seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.”
[NIV]

As one writer put it, “if there is any chronologically precise statement in the book, Revelation 17:10 should certainly be it.” If, from this passage, we can determine which historical king was reigning, we will have an absolute answer to the question of when the Revelation was written.

This passage is prefaced by the angel telling John, “and here is the mind that has wisdom…,” which indicates that the following information is an important explanation or “clue” to consider. It will give the reader “wisdom” or knowledge concerning the meanings of some of the symbols, just as in the previous verses, the angel had explained the meaning of the “woman” to John.

These verses contain the vision of the “woman” who was a prostitute and was named “Babylon the Great.” As we have seen, this was the obvious reference to the apostate city of Jerusalem, which had committed spiritual adultery against God.

The next statement is that there are “seven kings.” These kings are not a part of the symbolic “seven heads” of verse 9, but are the true kings of the known world, that is, the Roman Emperors themselves. When we examine the line of Roman Caesars and compare them to the listing of the kings in verse 10, we find a remarkable and accurate parallel. John tells us that “five have fallen,” meaning that five Caesars have come and gone already. Then, “one is” – that is, one Caesar is on the throne as John is writing. Finally, “the other has not yet come.” The seventh king would not be on the throne yet. If we simply examine the list of Roman Emperors, we should be able to determine the one who was on the throne at the time of the writing of Revelation!

We begin the list with the obvious and logical person: Julius Caesar himself:

1. Julius (49 - 44 B.C.)

2. Augustus (31 B.C. - A.D. 14)

3. Tiberius (AD. 14 - 37)

4. Gaius (Caligula) (A.D. 37 - 41)

5. Claudius (A.D. 41- 54)and the sixth king was:

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

Here we find him, the terrible pagan persecutor of Christians who God used as a vehicle for the destruction of the Jews – the “Beast” who did such unspeakable things throughout his vile reign. He was the “one who is” – the king who was alive and reigning at the time John wrote down the visions of Revelation.

Interestingly, the rest of the list fits perfectly as well. The seventh king was:

“…not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while.” (Re 17:10)
[Verse 10, NIV]

[“must continue a short space” – KJV]

Immediately after the death (probable suicide) of Nero, the longstanding “Pax Romana” or Roman Peace broke down into the Roman Civil War. The scramble for the throne resulted in the accession of a man named Galba (the “seventh king”) who was replaced by Otho after only a very little while – about seven months!

Also interesting is the next reference in verse 11.

“The beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is one of the seven, and goeth into perdition.”

This is a remarkable reference to the actions and perceptions of the people involved in this prophecy. When the seventh Caesar Galba was killed, the next man, Otho, as well as his successor Vitellius, both tried to make themselves out to be “another Nero,” even to the point of using his name, setting up statues of Nero, and offering sacrifices to Nero’s spirit. This fed directly into a powerful myth that had developed that Nero was not really dead, but would be coming back to life to rule again and to take revenge on his enemies.

Such a myth was a dangerous and frightening thing to the Christians who had been suffering under his tortures. This is why Christ has John put it into this “wisdom” section of the prophecy, so that no one would become disheartened or lose faith because of the rumors.

The way we can read the verse is:

“The beast that was,” [Nero was the“beast”],“and is not,” [and afterwards he would be gone – that is, dead], “even he is the eighth, and is one of the seven,” [even though he was one of the first seven kings, he appears again in the eighth king – Galba – because of the myth and the way Galba tries to emulate him and use his name].

The close of the verse shows that this was written before Nero was dead:

“and goeth into perdition.”

or as NIV states it:

“and is going to his destruction.”

The “beast” had not yet gone to his destruction as John was writing this prophecy. He was Nero Caesar and he was on the throne in about AD. 65, preparing to wage war against the land of Judea, and perpetrating unspeakable horrors upon those who called themselves Christians.

Who WAS 666?

The passage in chapter 13:18 of Revelation has caused intense interest for centuries. It has been examined for so long and interpreted in so many different ways, that it has even become fixed in the popular press and is familiar to the most uninterested of persons. Books in bookstores proclaim this or that person, of that or this regime, to be the rightful owner of the infamous code name “666.” People and entities as diverse as the Roman Catholic church, Hitler, various medieval Popes, and even Soviet leaders have been “identified” as the owner of the number “666.”

Why is this one verse in Revelation perhaps more well known than any other? Most likely it is because the verse is a rich clue – a tantalizingly direct clue – to the identity of the infamous “Beast” or, as many people believe, the “Anti-Christ” Such positive identification has been an aspiration of many sincere people throughout the ages, for based on a futurist interpretation, any such identification would reveal that the “end of the world” events would be approaching.

If we understand that the Revelation describes the fulfillment of the prophecies in the events of AD. 70, however, we should be able to look back into the history of that time and find not only a plausible and possible person for this symbolic name of “666” but someone who fits perfectly and obviously into all the roles of the “Beast” and also fits the code name itself with complete precision. Such a person exists and is easily identified.

First, let us review the passage in question. In chapter 13, verses 11-17 describe the “Beast” (obviously a symbol used to represent a person of evil deeds) and detail how this character would kill anyone who did not revere and worship himself. He would insist that everyone (symbolically) have his “mark” placed on his hand or forehead, representing his legal or political power over them. Without his approval and their complete subjection to him, no one could do business or operate normal lives in the land of the Beast. Verse 17:

“…so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.”
[NIV]

This tells us that the symbolic “mark”is actually the name of the dbeast. It also says that the “mark is the “number of his name.” This is an odd phrase to us. Its meaning is not plain or obvious. The next verse contains the code puzzle that tells us the “number of his name”

“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six [that is: 666].”

We quote the KJV here rather than NIV, because the later translation wrongly states: “This calls for wisdom,” suggesting that one should bring their own knowledge and insight to the puzzle. John is telling us, however, that the next thing he states IS special knowledge and insight – “Here is wisdom.” It is addressed to the person “who has understanding.” Any such person can look at the next phrase and be able to determine the actual name of the Beast!

That next phrase states that the “number of the beast is the number of a man.” This tells us that the beast is, in fact, a human man. It then states that his “number” is “666.” What does this mean?

As scholars of the ancient world know, this number code represents a common type of puzzle form during those times. It seems strange and mysterious to us now, for we do not make or play games with people’s names in this fashion. This puzzle would have been as familiar to the readers of Revelation, though, as a crossword puzzle would be to us. It is as if John has said. “Here is what you need to know. The name of the beast is Across (clues…) and Down (more clues…).”

The type of puzzle John actually used is known as a “gematria” (from the same word that gives us “geometry,” that is: a mathematical form or puzzle). The reason we do not play this particular game is that we have separate numerals for our language – the elegant Hindu – Arabic numerals “1,” “2,” ‘‘3,’’ etc. In Latin, Greek, and other old languages, there were no separate numerals! Letters of the alphabet were used to represent certain number amounts. This is still apparent in our lives today, for we sometimes still use “Roman numerals,” which are, of course, letters of the Latin alphabet (“X,” “I,” “M,” etc.). The Romans and the others did not have a “1, 2,3”!

Because of this matching up of letters and numbers, people’s names could be represented with number amounts, that is: a person’s name, according to the value of the letters contained in their name, represented a single total value of some amount. This could serve not only as a “game” (for instance, “try to figure out which of our friends has the name value of XXVIII”), but also as a way to speak of someone in code, so that you don’t have to say or write the person’s name directly. This is how John is using this puzzle form in Revelation. obviously, John is not engaged here in playing games for fun. He uses this form to indicate important information without saying it outright.

Knowing about this puzzle form, we realize that this number 666 is a total amount. Whoever the person is, his name’s letters will total up to be 666.

There is only one person in the history of the times we have been considering who fits the description of “Beast,” and fits perfectly the gematria code name 666. There is no reason to look any further than that old Roman beast who first persecuted the Christians and who acted as the pagan power God used to destroy Judea. His name was Nero Caesar.

Let us examine the puzzle code first to see how his name comes to total 666. In Hebrew, translated into Greek, Nero’s name would be rendered (in English characters) as: “NRWN QSR.” The numbers associated with those letters are:

N = 50

R = 200

W = 6

N = 50

Q = 100

S = 60

R = 200

Total = 666

Note, that although John was writing in Greek, he used the Hebrew form of Nero’s name in the puzzle. This fits with the nature of the Revelation as essentially a Hebrew prophecy, using Hebrew symbols and Hebrew forms throughout. John’s own background was completely Hebrew, of course. This particular spelling of Nero is Well documented in the era in question, as well. His name has even been found with this spelling in documents from a Qumran community (the same sect from which we obtained the Dead Sea Scrolls).

A further proof of the 666 identity belonging to Nero comes to us in an unexpected twist in the story. In some of the earliest documents we have of the Bible, a few of the parchments have a different number for the code name. This “variant” reading lists the number of the man not as 666, but as 616! This might seem to pose a real problem in identification, but it is actually a help, for it shows that the Latin copyist who copied that portion of the Revelation knew that Nero was the correct interpretation of the number code! This is apparent when we realize that if we translate the name Nero Caesar into Hebrew (as John did) not from Greek, but from the Latin form of his name, as the copyist would have naturally done, we do in fact obtain 616.

Why Nero? Many names have been shown to calculate into the required 666 number total. It is not difficult to find a way to make almost any “suspect” from any era fit the code in some rationalized manner. Certainly, to arrive at a name that makes sense for the prophecy, we need someone whose name fits the puzzle code, and it must be “a man.” Also, however, proper interpretation requires someone who is appropriate to the situation of the prophecy and who can and does fit all the other attributes of the symbolic name “beast” used in the prophecy. In other words, we need to find the one person who is not only contemporary with the prophecy and fits the description, but who is also relevant.

That Nero fitted the description of “beast” is obvious and easy to confirm. His actions were so much more evil and degraded than those of the general population and of the Caesars who had preceded him, that the term “beast” was one that would (and did) come naturally to mind, even by his contemporaries and by Roman historians.

Nero murdered his parents, his wife (by kicking her while she was pregnant), brother, aunt, and many others, often on a whim. Poisons and elaborately rigged “accidents” were favorite methods for him. Suetonius tells us he would often disguise himself, prowl the streets and attack men on their way home from dinner, stab them to death and drop their bodies down the sewers. He would break into shops, burglarize the merchandise, then set up to personally auction off the goods in the marketplace, finally squandering the money. Increasingly paranoid from his youth, Suetonius described him as, “insolent, lustful, extravagant, greedy, and cruel.” He had his travel paths lined with temporary brothels staffed with married women.

He was a torturer, a homosexual rapist, and a sodomist (he actually married at least two young boys, parading them around as his wife).17 When he died at last, there was widespread rejoicing throughout the empire. Nero was truly bestial in his character, depravity, and his actions.

Nero is relevant to the prophecy in Revelation, of course, because he also is the one who instituted pagan persecutions of the Christians, and he was the “king” who was in power and who initiated the war actions against the old Jewish nation in Judea. The kinds of persecutions he caused against the believers was consistent with his other actions and abuses. The Christians were subjected to truly horrible tortures and murders because of him, including crucifixions, beheadings, and being burnt alive and used as torches to light his gardens.

When viewed alongside all the other evidences and indications of the preterist view and interpretation of the Bible, it becomes completely unnecessary to look any further for the subject of the symbols “Beast” and “666” than the evil ruler of the “known world,” Nero Caesar himself. Any candidate from after the events of A.D. 70, even if their name were made to fit the “code,” would simply not be contemporary or relevant to the prophecy and they must be rejected as inappropriate for the role.

The issue of the identity of “666” may be debatable, but the proper and reasonable answer for the symbol is obvious once we understand the way such name puzzles worked and we are aware of the circumstances of the churches, the Jewish nation, and the role of Nero in the events of the times. We come away from this examination with an “oh, of course” kind of reaction, for no one else comes close to the proper fulfillment of the “666” than that old Beast of Rome, Nero Caesar!

SYMBOL PICTURES OF THE WAR EVENTS

If it is, then, possible to positively identify the sixth king and the owner of the symbolic names “beast” and “666,” can we look at the rest of the symbols in the visions of Revelation and find equally compelling parallels with the Roman–Jewish war events? The symbolic visions seem so wild and swirl with so much fantastic imagery that we are tempted to simply dismiss attempts to “figure it all out.”

Let us examine several passages that help to make it clear that these symbols are quite straightforward and can be “decoded” with only some historical research and a measure of determination on our part. First, we read in chapter 16:21 –

“And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, for the plague thereof was exceeding great.”

As with all symbolic passages, this was not a literal hailstorm. It is a figure of something else – something that fits and is relevant to the subject of the prophecy. When we read the history of the Jewish War in the works of Josephus, we find some amazing parallels with the prophetic words recorded by John – which were secret Christian words that a Jew like Josephus was quite unfamiliar with. In one passage, he tells us about the early stages of the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, the Roman general. Here, he is describing the great catapults (“engines”) that the Romans used against the walls of the city:

“The engines [catapults] that all the legions had ready prepared for them, were admirably contrived… Now, the stones that were cast, were of the weight of a talent, and were carried two furlongs and further. The blow they gave was no way to be sustained.... As for the Jews, they at first watched the coming of the stone, for it was of a white colour, and could therefore not only be perceived by the great noise it made, but could be seen also before it came, by its brightness.”

This “hailstorm” had nothing to do with the weather. Obviously and fittingly, this was a symbol of the Roman attack using the catapults, comparing the white stones raining down upon the Jews to a great storm of hail. These “hail stones were, like their symbolic versions, bringers of destruction when they pounded down upon men’s heads. The Roman stones weighed about a “talent,” which is something like one hundred pounds each.

The Zealot Jews inside the city “blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail.” They thought God was on their side against the Romans. They did not understand that he had abandoned them utterly. Their prideful claim of God’s blessing on their rebellious actions was actually a blasphemy against God.

No more literal fulfillment of a Revelation symbol can be imagined than the hailstorm of chapter 16.

In chapter 6:5-6, another interesting symbol is found in the “black horse” and the “scales”:

“I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice…saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine.’”
[NIV]

The subject of this symbol is the terrible famine that took place within the city of Jerusalem during the five months of the siege. These prophetic words are reflected almost perfectly by Josephus:

“Many there were indeed who sold what they had for one measure [of grain]; it was of wheat if they were of the richer sort; but of barley if they were poorer,”

A day’s wages for such an amount of food was, of course, an extremely high price to pay, Even so, only the richer citizens could afford the more expensive wheat to make their bread. The symbolic “black horse” represented the despair of famine, and his “scales” were there to measure out the remaining supplies. In other words, the symbol indicates that the food supplies would be subject to severe and careful measuring due to the famine.

The last phrase: “do not damage the oil and the wine,” also fits perfectly with the situation and the prophecy. The oil and wine were part of the ritual burnt offering made to God at the Temple from the times of the Exodus wanderings. In Exodus 29:40-42 (also in Numbers 28:1-8), the Israelites are instructed:

“With the first lamb offer…a quarter of a hin [about a quart of oil from pressed olives, and a quarter of a hin of wine as a drink offering…For the generations to come this burnt offering is to be made regularly at the entrance to the tent of meeting….”
[NIV]

The Tent became the Temple, of course, and the offerings were made regularly (daily) until they ceased forever in A.D. 70. In the Revelation passage, the voice of God says, “do not damage the oil and the wine.” During the terrible months of the siege, the Temple and its rituals continued on – the oil and wine representing those traditional functions. They continued until there was simply no one left at the Temple of Herod to perform them. Josephus relates how one of the Jewish Zealot leaders pillaged the “inner court of the temple,” where he:

“…emptied the vessels of of that sacred wine and oil which the priests kept to be poured on the burnt-offerings…”

Here, as well, the Revelation prophecy accurately portrayed what would soon happen. The famine would come upon the city, causing those inside to severely ration their dwindling resources of food, but the religious sacrifices and offerings would continue, along with the Temple building itself, until the very end of the war.

Another example of literal fulfillment of a particular Revelation symbol or passage is that of chapter 14:19-20, which reads:

“The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.”
[NIV]

The references to blood are obvious in connection with this terrible war. The winepress of the time was a great masonry bowl where grapes were trampled by many human feet, the wine running out of it like rivers of blood – an obvious thing to use as a symbol for the bloodshed and destruction caused by the many feet of the Roman army. It was, of course, God’s great winepress. God was the cause and author of this destruction. If we need historical proof of this bloodshed, we need look no further than Josephus’ report of the war, where the Romans had finally fought their way into the besieged city:

“But when they went in numbers into the lanes of the city with their swords drawn, they slew those whom they overtook without mercy... and when they were come to the houses to plunder them, they found in them entire families of dead men, and the upper rooms full of dead corpses, that is of such as died by the famine; they then stood in a horror at this sight, and went out without touching any thing…for those that were still alive,…they ran every one through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men’s blood.”

Here is the literal fulfillment of the symbolic winepress of blood. It is interesting to note that the verse states the Jews were trampled in the winepress from “outside the city.” Normally, wine is extracted by treading on the grapes from inside the winepress, but this symbolic use of the image accurately reflects that the Romans attacked and besieged the city from outside, thus provoking the deaths and the blood inside that terrible trap.

The last statement of the verse, that the blood would run as “high as the horses” bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia,” is another reference to the setting of the war. The “horses’ bridles” refers to the great Roman army that had swept through the entire land of Judea and was now gathered to surround Jerusalem. It was the horses and their riders who would cause the blood to flow. The blood running out to cover a distance of 1,600 stadia, simply shows that the place involved in this prophecy was the Jewish homeland, for this distance (about 160-180 miles) is just sufficient to cover and contain the literal physical province of Judea, from Dan to Beersheba.

WHO WAS THE WOMAN?

There are two symbolic women in Revelation. One is called a prostitute and is given the name “Babylon the Great” (ch. 17). We have already seen how this applied to the spiritually fallen city of Jerusalem. It had committed spiritual adultery to God and would now pay the price.

The other woman symbol is found in chapter 12, where it symbolizes the collective body of believers, specifically those caught up in the war activities in Jerusalem. In contrast to the spiritually betraying woman, “Babylon,” this chaste woman was the Church itself. In verse 14 of chapter 12, we read of this woman:

“The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times, and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach.”
[NIV]

When we understand that this symbol of a woman refers to the church in Jerusalem, we are reminded of the warning Jesus gave to them some 35 years earlier.
In Mark 13:14, he said:

“But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not,…then let them that be in Judea flee to the mountains”

and in Luke’s account in chapter 21:20-22, he said:

“And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.”

In the Revelation passage, we see the church following Christ’s warning to flee the scene of the war. The destruction of Jerusalem was about to occur, for it was surrounded by armies. The symbolic representation of the believer’s escape from the war zone was the picture of the woman flying to a place of protection on the wings of a great eagle. She would go to a place in the desert where she would be kept safe for “a time, times, and half a time.

This phrase should, by now, ring a bell for us. This was the time of the war itself three and one half years. Symbolically stated, they would be protected for a time (one year), times (two years), and half a time (half a year), which was the actual length of time from the Roman
invasion to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Symbolically also, in the words of Jesus and John, the woman, or church, would flee to the “mountains” or “desert.” These are not literal descriptions of the geography of the place the church went, but instead, symbolic indications that this site would be somewhere outside or beyond the place of the nations involved in the prophecy – that is, away from Judea, the scene of the dangerous war actions.

Did the church in Jerusalem follow Christ’s warnings and flee the scene to someplace outside the war zone and remain there for the duration of the war? Yes, they did! We have a historical record of this in the works of Eusebius. Let us look at the section of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical
History where this is related:

“…after the ascension of our Saviour, the Jews, in addition to their wickedness against him, were now incessantly plotting mischief against his apostles…But the rest of the apostles who were harassed in innumerable ways, with a view to destroying them, and driven from the land of Judea, had gone forth to preach the gospel to all nations…The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella. Here, those that believed in Christ, having removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had entirely abandoned the royal city itself, and the whole land of Judea”

Eusebius goes on to describe the calamities and destructions that overwhelmed the whole nation” of Judea and to those who took to Jerusalem “as to a place of perfect security.” Then he states that:

“…finally, the abomination of desolation, according to the prophetic declaration, stood in the very temple of God, so celebrated of old, but which now was approaching its total downfall and final destruction by fire.”

Here we see the entire prophecy (both from the Gospels and from Revelation) fulfilled accurately and completely in the events of the war. The Christian church in Jerusalem, knowing of all the prophecies and now receiving a divine revelation of warning (almost certainly John’s book) decided to take the appropriate actions. During an unexplained lull in the war, they fled away, not only from Jerusalem itself, but from the entire country where the war was being conducted. They went to Pella, in the region of Decapolis, outside the boundary of Judea itself. This removed them from the battle zones and allowed them to survive the war. The Jews, on the other hand, who had not believed these prophecies, retreated to what seemed to them their greatest protection – the fortress city of Jerusalem. There they were trapped and destroyed by the Romans under Titus.

There, also, the Romans placed their tall standards topped with the eagle symbols on the very walls of the Temple (thus abominating the “desolation” – the empty Holy of Holies that was the heart of the Temple and which God had now deserted). This fulfilled the prophecy and signified the time for the Christian believers to flee or else be caught up in that trap.

WHAT IS A MILLENNIUM?

Now, let us examine one of the most persistent and misunderstood “problem passages” of Revelation, the idea of a “millennium” or “thousand years” that, for centuries, so many have discussed, interpreted, and fought over. Entire denominations have developed over the way this passage is interpreted, causing great animosity and division in the body of believers. The passage is in Revelation 20:1-6:

“…and [the angel] laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season…And I saw…the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast…and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years….”

These verses, like all the others, can be easily fitted into the context of the Jewish/Roman war and the spiritual Kingdom of God. In doing so, we find a common sense understanding of this problem passage that puts to rest all of the divisive teachings of those who think these things are still in the future.

It is disconcerting to see the “pre-millennialists” and the “postmillennialists” engaging in a rootless argument about the arrangement of a literal thousand year reign of Christ on the earth. Even the “a-millennialists,” most of whom understand the nonliteral character of the passage, miss the point when they place the subject of the “thousand years” out into our future.

This passage is no different in its form and format than all the other symbolic passages in Revelation. It is peculiar how commentators will interpret symbol after symbol as symbols in the visions of Revelation, only to come to this symbol and assume or insist that it speaks of a literal thousand year span. This passage fits perfectly with all the others when we understand one basic thing – the term “thousand years” is a symbol like all the others.

In this context, the symbol THOUSAND YEARS did not stand for a literal length of time, but for perfect completion. More specifically here, it represented the perfecting of the Church, which was accomplished in two things. First, all the prophecies had to be fulfilled, and second, the Church had to be redeemed from all the earthly enemies and persecutors who could have annihilated all Christians. This redemption was, of course, the subject of those prophecies.

Wallace stated the correct interpretation of THOUSAND YEARS when he said:

“Thousand years – the vision of victory, complete victory. It stood for infinity; it was not a cycle of time nor a period of time, and had no reference to time…. The term denoted completeness, perfection, infinity. Their victory was complete, their triumph full, and their reign infinite.”

How do we know that “thousand years” can be used in this manner? As before, we look for previous uses of the symbol. This particular symbol usage is not unique to our passage in Revelation. In Deuteronomy 7:9, it is said conceming the nature of God:

“Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations.”

This passage does not mean that God’s covenant with man is kept by him for a literal thousand generations, and then he no longer remembers it! God remembers his covenant forever. This is made plain in Psalms 105:8 –

“He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations.”

The term “thousand generations” is used to represent or symbolize an unlimited amount of time. The word “thousand” is used because it is a very large, round, perfect number, but it is not used in a mathematical, literal sense.

Let us see how this symbol is used in the text of Revelation 20. In verses 1-2, we read:

“And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years.”

The angel is Jesus Christ, for he holds the key to the pit or Abyss. In Revelation 1:18, Christ possesses the keys to Death and Hades because he was the first to be spiritually resurrected from that realm. Here, he has a great chain to bind his enemy. This enemy is called by symbolic names: DRAGON, SERPENT, DEVIL, SATAN. Who was this enemy? We can also read of the enemy in Ephesians 6:11-12 –

“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places [literally: the heavenlies].”

This enemy was not an individual, but were the “rulers of this world” – the persecuting authorities (both Jewish and pagan) who were against God and his people (and therefore represented “darkness”). They were guilty of “spiritual wickedness” for they did not believe in or accept God’s Messiah. They were in “high places or “heavenlies” because of their position as the ruling officials of the world, such as the Sanhedrin.

Now, Christ and his Church had won over the powers of darkness and those powers would be bound up with symbolic chains and cast into the symbolic “bottomless pit” or “Abyss.” God’s Kingdom was now supreme. From the time of the cross, it had been the only system sanctioned by God. Now, the people who made up that Kingdom were saved from their enemies, and those enemies were made powerless.

Christ says that the enemy would be bound for “a thousand years. This simply means that the enemies of the Church would be bound perfectly, and forever by God’s power and his sanctioning of the Church. Religiously or spiritually, these people can never threaten the Church, for the Church’s power is the power of God Almighty.

In Revelation 20:2, Christ casts the enemy into the pit or Abyss, shuts the “door” and seals it up. He does this so that:

“…he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.”

Again, we must be cautious to interpret these as symbolic statements, not literal ones. Although God had made all other religious authorities and systems powerless through the advent of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross, these unbelievers were still walking around on the earth, causing tribulations and troubles for the Christian believers.

We can interpret this verse as saying that the persecuting Jewish authorities would be cut down and would cease to “deceive the nations” by their claim that they were the true way to God. They would be thus constrained by the events of A,D. 70. These events were the fulfilling of the thousand years. The Christian religion was established perfectly and completely, thus superceeding all other religions. Now, after that perfection and completion, or symbolically: “after the thousand years are fulfilled,” something else must come to pass.

Once the main threat to the existence of the Church was removed, the powers of heathenism, which were still out in the world, were going to be a problem for the believers for some time, This is portrayed in verses 7-9:

“And when the thousand years are completed,26 Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.”

Here is a symbolic picture of the events of the next number of years (a short season), where Christians, although now out of danger of extermination, would still be persecuted by the heathen and pagan powers of the Roman empire. This is the meaning of the terms “Gog and Magog,” which represented the powers of heathenism.27 They would figuratively come and surround the “camp of the saints, the beloved city” – the Church – and finally, they would be destroyed. It was not their bodies and nations that were destroyed, but their heathenism itself. God would destroy their unbelief with “fire,” which we understand is the symbol for the words of God (Hebrews 12:29; Jeremiah 23:29). They would succumb to the Gospel of Christ.

What, then, can we say about the “thousand year reign” in verses 4-6’? Let us read again this part of the passage:

“…and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”

The subject of this passage is the group of people who were martyred for their belief in and profession of Jesus Christ as the Messiah. They are the ones who are pictured as reigning with Christ for a “thousand years.” They are, in the same phrase, pictured as “living” with Christ for the thousand years. Once again, the “thousand years” is not a literal length of time. It symbolizes forever. If it were a literal thousand years, then the martyrs would have to quit reigning and quit living at the end of that thousand literal years! This is obviously not the intent of this passage. The martyrs would spiritually remain alive and be reigning in God’s Kingdom “for ever, even for ever and ever” (ch. 22:5; Daniel 7:18).

This living and reigning is pictured as the “first resurrection.” As we discussed in the last chapter, this was not a resurrection from death (either physical or spiritual) to life, but a “resurrection” from humility and seeming defeat to glorious victory over the persecutors of the believers. The martyrs who gave their physical lives would be the ones who would be given first honors in this regard – theirs was the resurrection of first importance. We must remember that the word “resurrection” is a symbol, just as are the “thousand years,” and all other like phrases. To the martyrs, the “second death has no power” – that is, they were not subject to spiritual death or separation from God. They were alive in him and would remain alive forever.

The first part of verse 5 says that the “rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.” This refers to the righteous souls who were waiting in the spiritual realm of Paradise for all the prophesied events to happen (“rest” implies righteous people other than the martyrs, and “dead” must mean physical death in this context, for physically alive Christians were never spiritually dead). They would not “live again” until the “thousand years were finished”– that is, until the Kingdom of God had been perfectly completed and redeemed and all the prophecies had been fulfilled. Once the “perfect” had come, they would live in glorious victory with God forever.

So many people have taught a literal concept of this great passage in Revelation 20, that it is difficult to overcome these misconceptions. Many still think that these verses deal with the Christian believers reigning along with Christ here on earth for a literal 1,000 years, on a physical throne in the land of Israel. These ideas are simply not found in the passage. Wallace put it well when he stated concerning Revelation 20:

“It does not mention the second coming of Christ, a bodily resurrection, a reign on the earth, or a literal throne in Jerusalem or elsewhere. It does not mention us, and it does not mention Christ on earth. Revelation 20 mentions none of those things, and a curse was pronounced on the one who adds to the words of the book.”

A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH

The approach we have been using to interpret these portions of the book of Revelation can be used with the remaining passages, interpreting all of the symbols and imagery with consistency and relevancy. This level of consistency cannot be approached by any futurist or mystic interpretation of the book. In fact, most futurist commentators on the Revelation readily admit to their lack of complete understanding of it. They assert that where their interpretation falls short of a consistent explanation, those parts they could not decipher must be beyond our ability to know! They close up and seal what Jesus Christ has opened up and revealed, because they have placed the symbols in the wrong time frame of history.

Placing something out of place in time is called anachronism, and, as Wallace put it, “the theory that switches the events of Revelation to the future is the greatest anachronism of all time.”

The imagery of the final two chapters of Revelation are particularly misunderstood by a majority of believers and Christian teachers today. The traditional image of heaven that most modern Christians have grown up with and accept without question, has its source here in the last pages of the Apocalypse. If, however, the symbols and the theme of the book relate completely to the events of A.D. 70, how do we interpret these heavenly images of gates of pearl, streets of gold, no night, and no tears?

Once we come to understand the spiritual nature of the coming of Christ against his enemies, and the spiritual nature of the Kingdom of God which was established on Pentecost, we can understand at last what Jesus tried to tell his Jewish brethren almost 2,000 years ago.

He told them:

“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
[John 4:24]

and he told Pilate,

“My kingdom is not of this world…Now is my kingdom not from hence.
[John 18:36]

He told the disciples in John 12:26 –

“If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be….”

If we follow Jesus Christ today, then we are where he is. We are in that spiritual realm or kingdom where God makes his true abode. This is not a physical realm on the planet Earth, but a universal spiritual realm whose only physical attributes are the human bodies of the people who are members of that spiritual realm of God. Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 6:19, and 2 Corinthians 6:16 –

“What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?”

“…For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Knowing these things, we can look with fresh eyes of understanding at the beautiful images of the last two chapters of the Bible. In the first verse of chapter 21, John says:

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”

Now, the first heaven and earth – the religious system and authorities (high priest, Sanhedrin, etc.), and the place where it existed (the country of Judea) – were “passed away” by the events of the war. They were literally wiped out and taken away from that land. John sees the true nature of this event. The old nation and the old law were finished and the new nation and new law were taking its place. The new heaven” was the spiritual Kingdom of God which had been redeemed from its mortal enemies and was now ready to grow and spread throughout the world of men. The “new earth” was the place and the people of that kingdom – that is, it was the very flesh and blood of those people. God’s kingdom is not a physical land like Judea was, but a spiritual kingdom that exists within the hearts and minds of believing men and women. Jesus told the Jews:

“Behold, the kingdom is within you.”
[Luke 17:21]

John saw the New Heaven and Earth taking precedence over the old ones, and then says “there was no more sea.” As we discovered in chapter 6, the symbol SEA refers to a large group of people, usually a nation. This time it refers to the Jewish nation, which had been utterly destroyed and removed from their land. There was no more “sea” of Jewish peoples in the old “earth” of Palestine.

Now, in verses 2-3, we read:

“And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.”

We know that this is not some future event, for we are a part of the New Jerusalem. It is the same thing as the Kingdom of God, or the Church. Hebrews 12:22-23 makes this plain:

“But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant….”
[NIV]

This New Jerusalem was coming down out of God’s heavenly realm, signifying that it was a spiritual city. Now, the people of God would dwell in assurance, peace, and victory over the persecuting enemies. This is the true meaning of the next verse in Revelation 21, verse 4:

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

The great tribulation was finally ended. Although pagan persecutions would continue for many years, the Church would never again be threatened with total annihilation. To be understood, this passage must be placed in the context of the victory over the Jewish persecutions. This is made plain by the phrase, “for the old order of things has passed away.” It was the passing of the old Jewish order, and those who were erroneously following the old Law of Moses, that brought such relief to the Christians. There would be no more persecutions from them – no more death, crying, or pain – because they had been removed out of the way.

Now, in verses 5-7, God speaks of this new order of things:

“And he that sat upon the throne said, behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, it is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will he his God, and he shall be my son.”

God had taken the old order out of the way by using the Roman army to destroy his former people. Now, he had made “all things new – the new spiritual realm of Christ had been established and redeemed. Now, God said, “It is done”! If it is not yet done, then we must still live in the old order of things, and God is not our God and we are not his children.

Here, God has stated that the “fountain of the water of life” is freely given for anyone that asks for it. In chapter 22:17, John restates this in an invitation:

“And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”

We should consider carefully that if God has not completed these things that are envisioned in the Book of Revelation, then this offer cannot yet be extended to humankind. We would not be able to freely take of eternal life with God, for these things would not be “done” until some future time! God, however, has made this abundantly clear – this offer of life is available now to whosoever will. This is the essence of Christian evangelism and the good news which is the Gospel! These visions and this offer are tied together in time. If the visions are yet future, then so is the offer.

In chapter 21:9 through the end of the symbolic visions in chapter 22:5, we see a vision or picture of the Kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem, the Church of Christ. This is the imagery that most people ascribe to a future Heaven, but this cannot be so. Instead, it is a description of the present Kingdom, found not in the land of Palestine, made not with walls of literal stone, but found in the hearts and minds of righteous men and women who believe and accept Jesus Christ. Once we enter into this great spiritual city, we have retraced our steps back into the true Eden, for God is there and we are his friends.

All of the wonderful attributes of the City as described to John are symbols of the perfection of the spiritual realm of God. The New Jerusalem has “twelve foundations,” which are explained to us as representing the twelve apostles, upon whose work and sacrifice the church was built (v. 14). The City has “twelve gates with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel” (v. 12), which signifies the continuance of God’s promise to Abraham. The Christian believers were the spiritual descendants of the holy twelve tribes of literal Israel.

The City is laid out like a square, actually like a cube, with walls whose length, breadth, and height all equal the same amount. This is a reflection of the shape of the original altar that God commanded the Israelites to build. It, too, was “foursquare,” its symmetry symbolizing the perfection of God. The New Jerusalem is also “foursquare,” for it is the perfect and beautiful spiritual City of God.

In verse 18, the City is described with terms like “jasper,” “gold,” and “clear glass” (like crystal). These are symbolic of the pure and beautiful nature and form of the spiritual Kingdom. Similar terms continue in the next verse where John describes the foundations of the City wall as precious gems: jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, camelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, and amethyst. We should remember that there were twelve foundations, representing the twelve apostles. These precious stones represent the transfer of God’s approval and authorization from the old priesthood of the Jews to the new spiritual priesthood that began with the foundation of the apostles. There is an interesting reference in Josephus, where he describes the garments worn by the High Priest when he officiated at the special Jewish ceremonies. In describing the ephod, a vest–like cloth that draped over his shoulders, he says:

“There were upon it two golden buttons…[in which] were enclosed two very large and very excellent sardonyxes, having the names of the tribes of that nation engraved upon them: on the other part were hung twelve stones,…a sardius, a topaz, and an emerald: a carbuncle, a jasper, and a sapphire; and agate, an amethyst, and a ligure; an onyx, a beryl, and a chrysolite; upon every one of which was again engraved one of the forementioned names of the tribes.”

It is an obvious reference for John to make. In describing the foundations of this Christian City that replaced the old Jerusalem city, he used symbols that, although generally pleasing and beautiful to us today, would be immediately recognized by any Jew as having special significance. It was a part of their culture to see the High Priest dressed in the exquisite gown that God himself demanded (Exodus 39:8-14), displaying these precious stones that represented their own tribes. How stinging and hurtful John’s use of the gems would have been to the unbelieving Jew! How uplifting and glorious that same usage would be to the persecuted Christian! It was the very blessing of God upon the new Kingdom and his great curse upon the unbelievers still hanging on to the old way.

In verse 21, John continues to describe the great City in terms of symbolic gems:

“And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.”

The commonly distorted picture of a literal heaven with its “pearly gates pales into a feeble shadow of the glorious reality of the present spiritual Kingdom – perfect and shining like something made of gold or crystal or perfect pearls. As we read in the next few verses, these things shine, not in the rays of the literal sun, but in the spiritual light of God himself. Verses 22-24:

“And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it.”(Re 21:22)

The people who walk these streets of gold are the “nations of them which are saved.” If we are saved today, then we walk those streets of gold today. If we do not, then we are outside the “great and high wall” (v. 12) of the City and are none of God’s. The “kings of the earth” here are, again, those who are the religious leaders or persons of importance in the land of the people involved in the prophecy. In this case, the KINGS were the apostles and the EARTH is the Church. The righteous apostles were glorious in their victory over the persecutors and were honored because of the sacrifice of their lives.

In verse 25, John continues:

“And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there.”

This spiritual Kingdom of God would be forever open to “whosoever will.” It has no literal night or day, for this is a spiritual realm, not a physical one. God is the light of this realm, and since he is always present, there is no “night” or lack of God’s presence.
Verses 26-27:

“The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
[NIV]

The reference to the “nations” means that this new Jerusalem would be open to all men and women, no matter if they are Jew or Gentile. Only those who believe and obey Christ, who are pure in heart, can enter into the Kingdom. They receive the promised gift of eternal life. In the next section, we will discuss in more detail the important implications of purity or sinlessness in the Church.

In the first several verses of chapter 22, John continues the picture of eternal life in the New Jerusalem where the “river of the water of life” flows out of the throne of God and the “tree of life” grows and bears fruit of healing for the nations of mankind. In verses 3-5, the visions of Revelation end with this:

“And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: and they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.”

What curse has come to an end with the advent of the Kingdom? It was the curse of Adam and Eve, the curse of sin and of separation from God. From the time of the Garden of Eden, mankind had no direct spiritual access to God. God had promised that he would make it possible for human beings to be reconciled to him through a Savior. Christ fulfilled this promise and broke the curse. If the visions of Revelation are not fulfilled, then we all still live under the curse! Thank God that instead, we who believe are reconciled through grace to live in the presence of God, wearing his name, and serving him now and forever.

The very last phrase of the vision portion of Revelation is the fulfillment of Daniel’s vision (in Daniel 7:18) of the same event some five hundred years earlier:

“But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.”

For Daniel, this great event was far in the future and the angel told him to “go your way,” for, “the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end.” Now, however, for John and the other believing Christians, it was the time of the end, and this great taking of the redeemed Kingdom would happen shortly. This time, the vision was not sealed up, for this was the true and present Revelation of Jesus Christ.

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