Book Reviews

Don’t let the title put you off, we’re about to go on a mad journey through the annuls of history and the Roman Empire, contrasting what John saw in his vision with what has already played out on the “world’s stage” and what we possibly have to look forward to!

First though, let’s look at a little history concerning the book itself before delving into its contents. Why do this? For a couple of reasons really: one, Revelation has some dispute over the year in which it was written, which can impact on the interpretation. Two, at various points in early church history, the book was held in suspicion of being spurious and almost didn’t make it into the Canon of Scripture. We should always endeavour to understand the history and context of a book of Scripture in order to fully understand its intended meaning, and thus, “rightly divide” (2 Tim 2:15) and interpret the Bible properly.

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Two Dating Views

There are two main views on the dating of Revelation: the “early date” and the “late date”.

The early date places John writing Revelation around 64-68 AD, shortly before the fall of Jerusalem and just as the Jewish War was getting underway during the reign of Nero.

The late date puts the writing towards the end of the reign of Domitian around 95-96 AD.

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From John’s own testimony, we know that he was suffering persecution at the time of writing:

Revelation 1:9

I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

 

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Both of these Roman Emperors persecuted the Christians, though none quite so severely as Nero did.

There’s varying accounts of when Revelation was penned by John. I won’t spend too much time on this as many, many others have wrote books on the topic of dating, so I’ll just give a brief overview of both sides of the argument.

 

One of the earliest accounts mentioning a possible early date for Revelation is from the “Muratorian Fragment which dates back to the around 170-190 AD. This fragment is one of the earliest lists we have of the accepted Canon of Scripture (or books which were approved to be read in the Churches), and in it there is a curious sentence about Paul “following the rule of his predecessor John, [writing] to no more than seven churches by name.” This is interesting because Paul’s letters are widely accepted to be amongst some of the earliest New Testament books we have, as well as historical tradition and writings saying that Paul was martyred under Nero’s reign around 67 or 68 AD, which means if he followed “his predecessor” John, Revelation must have been written before 70 AD!

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There’s also one other reference which offers some insight (though is quite hard to find many sources on), in which the Syriac Vulgate Bible from the sixth century has an opening title to Revelation as follows: "The Apocalypse of St. John, written in Patmos, whither John was sent by Nero Caesar."

 

The late date theory is mainly due to a single quote by Irenaeus (plus a couple of other historical references about John which indirectly impact the early date), where he somewhat cryptically mentions John and/or his vision as possibly being seen during Domitian’s reign:

“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 Revelation. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian's reign." — Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.30:3

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What exactly Irenaeus was referring to being seen “almost in [his] day” has been questioned over time due to the cryptic nature of the sentence, and because just a few paragraphs before this statement, he refers to “ancient copies [of the Apocalypse]” implying the actual text is older than his time.

Eusebius, in mentioning this in his Church History (III, ch. 18), phrases this as: “almost in our own generation”. This potentially changes the way in which you could read Irenaeus’ statement, as it could be understood as saying: ‘almost in our day (the generation towards the end of Domitian’s reign), the revelation was seen.’

The part about Domitian’s reign could just be a way to further clarify the time Irenaeus was living in, rather than specifying the time when John saw the revelation, which was only seen “almost in [their] day” – but not quite in their time! This would then reconcile better with Irenaeus also referring to “ancient copies” of John’s Revelation.

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Robert Young (of Young's Concise Critical Bible Commentary) also challenges this late date: 

"It was written in Patmos about A.D.68, whither John had been banished by Domitius Nero, as stated in the title of the Syriac version of the Book; and with this concurs the express statement of Irenaeus (A.D.175), who says it happened in the reign of Domitianou, ie., Domitius (Nero). Sulpicius Severus, Orosius, &c., stupidly mistaking Domitianou for Domitianikos, supposed Irenaeus to refer to Domitian, A.D. 95, and most succeeding writers have fallen into the same blunder. The internal testimony is wholly in favor of the earlier date."

Concise Critical Comments on the Holy Bible, by Robert Young. Published by Pickering and Inglis, London and Glasgow, (no date), Page 179 of the "New Covenant" section. See also: Young's Concise Critical Bible Commentary, Baker Book House, March 1977, ISBN: 0-8010-9914-5, pg 178.

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There is another theory on the conflicting dating by a David E. Aune, which states that John wrote his apocalypse in two parts. The first during Nero’s tyrannical reign and persecution of the Christian Church around 68-70 AD, and the second “edition” towards the end of the first century. He suggests this, not only based on the themes of persecution in the book, but also because there is a lack of external historical evidence for such dramatic persecution near the end of the first century. The other reason for this dual-dating is the the way in which John writes about Jesus. According to Aune, John later gives “titles and attributes normally reserved for God in Judaism … to the exalted Christ.” (Reclaiming the Book of Revelation, W. E. Glabach, p.36)

The details of who persecuted John and exiled him as a result, seems to predominantly point to Domitian, although there are still varying references in early writings which also point to it being Claudia, Nero or Trajan (Patmos in the Reception History of the Apocalypse, By Ian Boxall, p.31)!

 

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Personally, with the external evidences, it makes me want to lean a little towards the late date, (although the alternate reading of Irenaeus’ quote I proposed earlier causes me to be less certain of a late date), but then the internal evidence of what Revelation contains and describes would appear to fit better with events of an early date pre-70 AD.

If the late date be true, maybe John was recapping earlier events through a spiritual lens, and then following on with the persecution that happened under Domitian’s rule and the eventual demise of the Roman Empire? I won’t be too dogmatic about it either way.

 

Four Interpretation Views

As well as there being two different views on the dating of Revelation, there are as well, four different views of interpretation! These are: the Futurist View, the Historicist View, the Past Fulfilled View, and the Idealist View.

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In brief, these four different views generally say this:

“The idealist approach believes that apocalyptic literature like Revelation should be interpreted allegorically. The preterist and historicist views are similar in some ways to the allegorical method, but it is more accurate to say preterists and historicists view Revelation as symbolic history. The preterist views Revelation as a symbolic presentation of events that occurred in AD 70, while the historicist school views the events as symbolic of all Western church history. The futurist school believes Revelation should be interpreted literally. In other words, the events of Revelation are to occur at a future time.”

Patrick Zukeran, probe.org

 

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While all of this is interesting and possibly challenging for us reading Revelation today, it was unlikely to be so obscure and strange to the early church and those in the seven churches of Asia addressed in the beginning chapters. An “apocalypse” – as in, the genre of writing style that Revelation employs, was fairly well known and accepted within Jewish culture and religion, as it lends heavily from Old Testament prophetic writings. Not only that, but the believer’s it was addressed to were expected to understand this letter just by it being read to them in their churches, as we can see from Rev 1:3 –

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.

 

And so, we must try to interpret it in the same manner that the original audience would have understood it, with all of the historical circumstances and context that they were living in and through. It might also be worth noting here, more for informations sake than anything, that Revelation was, at one time, counted among the disputed books, though accepted by others to be genuine. So while it has become almost a staple within modern Evangelical doctrine of the “End Times”, it wasn’t always so (cf. Eusebius, Church History, Ch. 3:2; Ch. 25:4).

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In terms of the Jewish War and the siege and eventual destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, Eusebius (along with other early writers, such as Tertullian and others) quite happily regard all of this as the fulfillment of all that Jesus prophesied, as recorded in Matt 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, and also as the completion of the 70 Weeks of Daniel’s prophecy.

“It is fitting to add to these accounts the true prediction of our Saviour in which he foretold these very events … If any one compares the words of our Saviour with the other accounts of the historian concerning the whole war, how can one fail to wonder, and to admit that the foreknowledge and the prophecy of our Saviour were truly divine and marvellously strange.”

Eusebius, Church History, Ch. 7:1, 7

“Vespasian, in the first year of his empire, subdues the Jews in war; and there are made lii (52) years, vi (6) months. For he reigned xi (11) years. And thus, in the day of their storming, the Jews fulfilled the lxx hebdomads (70 sevens) predicted in Daniel.”

Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews, Ch. VIII, 160

1260 yrs
1260 yrs in the various interpretive models

Key Points

While initially I was beginning to wonder if Revelation had anything to do with the fall of Jerusalem or was about the later persecutions in Christianity, after studying this a lot more it would seem to be that John was speaking about the impending doom of Jerusalem as well as later persecutions and the fall of the Roman Empire which was, in nonspecific terms, “the beast” and specifically, individual Roman Emperors.

Revelation six especially appears to directly correlate with Matthew 24 with the predicted signs and woes which were to come. Matthew lays it out in “real world” terms, whereas Rev 6 speaks of the same things happening, but from the heavenly viewpoint of Jesus opening the seals on a scroll.

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Let’s break it down a little:

Matthew 24

Revelation 6

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Seal/Meaning

vv.4-5: Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray.

v.2: I looked, and there was a white horse! Its rider had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering and to conquer.

The first seal is a white horse with the rider in a crown. The symbolism of purity and honour is then eclipsed by the fact this horseman intends to conquer those he goes to. The wider comparison here is that of the White Horse of Rev 19:11 in which Jesus is the rider, showing more so this first horse is an imposter of truth.

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vv.6-7a: And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom...

v.4: And out came another horse, bright red; its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another; and he was given a great sword.

The second seal/horseman is the red horse which brings with it war and removes peace.

v.7b: …and there will be famines…

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vv.5-6: ...and there was a black horse! Its rider held a pair of scales in his hand, and I heard ... a voice … saying, “A quart of wheat for a day’s pay, and three quarts of barley for a day’s pay, but do not damage the olive oil and the wine!”

The third horseman is generally understood to represent famine due to his imbalanced scales which he holds. The value of basic food is disproportionately high, and thus would cause famine – especially among the lower class and poorer citizens.

v.7c: …and earthquakes in various places…

In Luke’s version, Jesus also mentions there will be “famines and plagues” (Lk 21:11).

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v.8: I looked and there was a pale green horse! Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth.

The fourth seal also emcompasses famines, along with death in general by various other means. It’s possible that the preceding horseman is what sets things in place for Death to ride through, by affecting the economy enough to result in famine, which would lead to death along with much disease.

v.9: Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name.

v.9: When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given

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The fifth seal is one which affects even God’s own people. This is the seal of martyrdom.

vv.14-16ff: And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.

vv.12-13:  When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and there came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree drops its winter fruit when shaken by a gale.

v.17: …for the great day of [God’s] wrath has come…

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This seal matches the same language and imagery as the prophecy in Joel 2, which Peter also quotes on Pentecost as being fulfilled in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit before the Day of the Lord fully arrived in the War against Jerusalem.



You’ve then got the “beast” of Revelation which seems to have dual symmetry: one of representing specific Roman Emperors, and then again as representing the Roman Empire as a whole. Revelation 17 references the beast as having “seven heads” which are the “seven mountains” on which it belongs. These are also “seven kings”, five of whom have been and gone at this point. Rome is known to have been the city built on seven hills, so this appears to be what John is alluding to in his vision, which many scholars also agree on, along with the veiled reference to Rome being “Babylon”.


In this section about the seven kings, there is also mention of “ten horns” which you may recognise from Daniel’s vision in Dan 7 which predicted the main future kingdoms of the Earth’s history (Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome, which was the majority opinion of the Early Church, and can be see in Jerome’s commentary on Daniel
). These also would correlate with John’s revelation about the seven kings as being the line of Roman Emperors. 

Rome on seven hills
Rome on seven hills
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But how does ten horns and seven kings match up, you ask?

Daniel 7 gives us a clue here as this vision adds a little detail which Revelation omits, but which history can fill in the gaps. Daniel 7:7 is about one of the beasts (a kingdom) with ten horns which was to come. This is now here in John’s day in the form of the Roman Empire. This is also why we can equate the “beast” of Revelation with a kingdom too, as this is how Daniel’s vision portrays ruling powers and the two books correlate closely with one another.

Then in the next verse we see that three of the horns are uprooted to make room for another, the “eighth king” which also “belongs to the seven” as Rev 17:10 tells us.

If we look at the line of Roman Emperors, starting with Augustus (the first official Emperor) we have:

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Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian.

Of all of these, Galba, Otho, Vitellius barely reigned. These three literally only lasted a few months each; none made even a single year in power due to being murdered and suicide.

So when you “uproot” these three, it leaves us with Emperors who had lengthier reigns and who made an impact on the Empire and on history in general (for better or worse!). So while Daniel makes note of the three being removed, John seems to skip by them and just focus on those in power that were important in the events being foretold.

When we view the references to the beast with this in mind, we can make some sense of it, as displayed below in the table:

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The Beast

Rev 17:8

“...was…”

“...and is not…”

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“...and is about to ascend from the bottomless pit …”

“...and go to destruction.”

The Seven Kings

Rev 17:10

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“...five have fallen…”

“...one is [reigning]…”

“...the other has not yet come, and when he comes, he must remain for a little while…”

“The beast that was and is not, is himself an eighth king, yet he belongs to the seven and is going to destruction.”

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The first Roman Emperors

Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero

Vespasian

Titus

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Domitian

 

The beast that “was” I believe to be Nero. It is his name which best fits the decryption of the numeric name of “666” (translated as “Cæsar Neron” using the Hebrew gematria) and also due to his relentless persecution of Christians and his evil nature in general. Under Nero, Christians “were clad in the hides of beast and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed” (Tacitus, Annals, 15.44).

Domitian did also meet destruction in the form of an assassination by court officials.Then we have Titus, who did only remain a little while, reigning for only two years as Emperor. His reign was blighted with misfortune, such as Mount Vesuvius erupting and destroying Pompeii and surrounding towns, to one of the worst plagues known spreading through the Empire. Some believed this was punishment from the gods for his terrible treatment towards the Jews in the Jewish War and for destroying the Jerusalem Temple!

Nero 666
Nero's name and title adding up to "666"
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Alternatively, if Domitian is the “one who is” (if John wrote under his reign, rather than Nero’s) then that would make Trajan the 8th king and Nerva the one who comes for a little while (and did only reign for a year). Trajan also brought persecutions against the Church, so it is plausible on the face of it.

But this doesn’t fit with the three horns being uprooted (Galba, Otho, Vitellius) to make room for the short reign (Titus). Whichever it is, it still would apply to Roman rulers and the persecution done by the Empire. It also would be strange to only count the previous five, not beginning with the first Emperor, if there had been others before. So with that it makes sense to count the fallen five as the first emperors, starting with Augustus who was the first official Emperor in a monarchy-like position.

 

Other Interpretations

It's also worth noting that the early Reformers believed that the beast and kings/horns were a reference to the dark ages of 1260 years when the Popes ruled via a corrupted Church system out of Rome/Babylon. They tied their theology of the seven kings to different Popes and believed the antichrist to be the Papacy.

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Another view, which relates back to the Roman Empire, comes from Jerome’s Commentary of Daniel in which he states that “[t]he fourth empire is the Roman Empire, which now occupies the entire world” but “when the Roman Empire is to be destroyed, there shall be ten kings who will partition the Roman world amongst themselves.”.

There is one other view worth mentioning, which is that John spoke of the kings as empires or kingdoms, rather than individual rulers. The five kings that "were" are those from Babylon to the Seleucids, the one that "is", was the (then current) Roman Empire, with a seventh that was still to come and an eighth which would arise from the seven.

Again, this also sounds a plausible interpretation. This could also be the wider application of Rev 17 and maybe there is also a longer reach to John’s vision other than just events local to him, as many Protestants and the Historicism doctrine teaches.

 

Historical Context

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While the other views and interpretations possibly have some plausibility, I don’t believe it completely fits the context of Rev 17 where it mentions the “seven heads” of the beast being the seven mountains on which it sits, ie. Rome.

Other than that, we can read of the persecutions from early accounts written by Christians during these times and how they related Domitian’s rule to be like that of Nero and how he “possessed a share of Nero's cruelty” and “who dyed his sword in Christian blood”, as Tertullian wrote (Apol. 5.17). By this point, Nero was long dead but his cruelty wasn’t forgotten. The Romans feared that Titus was going to be like Nero when he came to power, due to his ruthlessness in war, but it was in fact his brother Domitian who turned the Empire back to harsher times.

This is where I believe the link to the beast comes from in Revelation. Nero was an archetype, the beast/antichrist first personified. But he was the beast that “was, and is not”, the one who began persecutions against the Saints. Now, again the beast “is about to come” in form of Domitian when he took power after Titus’ sudden death. Tertullian even described Domitian as “a limb of this bloody Nero” (Apol. 5.17)!

Both Nero and Domitian considered themselves divine – Nero even building a statue of himself in the pose/form of the Roman sun god, Sol. Domitian took it one step further and required everyone to refer to him as “lord and godand also had money printed in this theme! This would be where Rev 13 fits in, I believe, with the mark of the beast and the image of the beast which was to be worshipped. Roman citizens had to pay homage to the Emperor, recognise his divinity and make sacrifices to him and the other gods of Rome on pain of death.

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Eusebius doesn’t miss this connection either when writing his Church History, as in Book 3.18 he writes about John’s apocalypse and how he “accurately indicated the time” of persecutions which were performed under Domitian’s harsh rule. Chapter 19 and 20 of Church History also relate how the Emperor had all the “descendants of David” (Jews) killed and then those who were “the descendants of Jude” (ie. related to Jesus’ earthly relatives) “on the ground that they were of the lineage of David and were related to Christ himself.”. Eusebius mentions that “even those writers who were far from our religion did not hesitate to mention in their histories the persecution and the martyrdoms which took place” (Church History, Book III).

 

There’s then the link back to Daniel 2:41 and interpretation of the statue from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, where Daniel say it will be “a divided kingdom” (due to the two legs of the statue). This is what later happened to the Roman Empire shortly before its fall; it was divided into an East and West empire, of which there was five countries or provinces in each.

The Western part: Britannia, Gallia, Hispania, Italia, Africa; and the Eastern part: Asia, Pannonia, Maoesia, Thracia, Asiana, Oriens.

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Two legs, ten toes? Divided kingdom, ten kings? Two heads, ten horns?

To Summarise

The date of writing is debated. Some argue for pre-70 AD authorship under Nero or just after him, while others argue for a late 90s date in the reign of Domitian. Church tradition and other early texts do seem wholly in favour of the later date, from what I can see, though there is definitely internal evidence within the text of Revelation which would appear to be speaking of events before the Jewish War. But as always, these things are open for interpretation – even the quotes which appear to favour a late date, since the language is often obscure and no one explicitly stamps a date on when John first saw or wrote this book, just allusions to certain times.

The early chapters and church letters seem to be writing pre-70 AD, sometime in the reign of Nero. Apart from the Jewish War with the Romans, there was no other persecution (especially against Christians) until Domitian and beyond.

Revelation 2:9 and Rev 3:9 appear to be talking about Jews who were persecuting the Church, but after the fall of Jerusalem, there is little to no evidence that the Jews went after the Christians anymore. This was mainly carried out by Rome after the war.

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Later chapters talk about the saints who die in the “great tribulation” (Rev 7:9, 14) and about the temple being no more as God now dwells with his people in the New Jerusalem. Though this could be a hindsight text, writing of the previous persecution under Nero and the War and the spiritual events behind it – especially since John was told to measure the temple prior to this, and that the “nations” would trample the Holy City (Rev 11:2) which is what Jesus predicted in the Olivet Discourse (Lk 21:24), and that event was pretty much unanimously agreed upon by the Early Church writers to have been fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

Revelation is also warning the Church that more is yet to come, and possibly is referring to yet another Jewish War: the revolt of Bar-Kokhba, which interestingly, also lasted just over 3 years too, along with the general persecutions against the faithful.

Chronology isn't a strong point in this book, it jumps around a lot. The last few closing chapters seem to be slightly sporadic, almost like isolated events disconnected from the previous narrative, which could be speaking of something future. Many of the Early Church Fathers believed and expected a literal millennial reign at some point in the far future, although opinion on this was divided, and Jerome refers to it as the “millennial fable” in his Commentary on Daniel, as he interprets the Church inheriting an eternal, spiritual kingdom – not an earthly one, along with Eusebius also considering such things as “figurative passages” when speaking against Papias’ literal understanding of it.

 

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There is, though, an extant extra-biblical saying of Jesus which Papias recorded, in which there is a description of life during this millennial reign:

“The Lord used to teach about those times and say: The days will come when vines will grow, each having ten thousand shoots, and on each shoot ten thousand branches, and on each branch ten thousand twigs, and on each twig ten thousand clusters, and in each cluster ten thousand grapes, and each grape when crushed will yield twenty-five measures of wine. And when one of the saints takes hold of a cluster, another cluster will cry out, I am better, take me, bless the Lord through me. Similarly a grain of wheat will produce ten thousand heads, and every head will have ten thousand grains, and every grain ten pounds of fine flour, white and clean. And the other fruits, seeds, and grass will produce in similar proportions, and all the animals feeding on these fruits produced by the soil will in turn become peaceful and harmonious toward one another, and fully subject to humankind.… These things are believable to those who believe. And when Judas the traitor did not believe and asked, How, then, will such growth be accomplished by the Lord?, the Lord said, Those who live until those times will see.”

As we saw in the previous part of this series, some of the earliest writings put the New Jerusalem and Church as being one and the same, coupled with us being the temple where God now dwells to live amongst his people, therefore leaving no room for a future, physical temple to be rebuilt.

Nero fits the 666 and even the “typo” copyist error of 616 (or the Latin variant of Nero’s name), which happened early on, as Irenaeus mentions it around 180 AD.

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While there was always an Emperor cult, beginning with Julius Caesar, which made the rulers act as though they had some divinity, Nero properly considered himself divine and Domitian decreed himself “lord and god” and had that printed on all the money. This is often what is thought to be meant by the “mark of the beast” which enables “buying and selling” (Rev 13:17). The Jews had special money minted because of this.

Much of the early church saw the millennium as literal, except some who interpreted it as metaphorical to symbolise completion or totality of God (eg. Like the psalms saying ‘God owns the cattle on 1000 hills’). The general interpretation is that God made the world in 6 days, and since 1 day is as 1000 years with God (2 Peter 3:8), it is fitting that creation lasts that long before Jesus comes back for the eternal Sabbath day. I’m not entirely sure where they got the idea from that Creation should only last that long, but there you go.

If this is accurate, though, and runs according to the Jewish calendar  (which counts from day one of creation), then we only have around another 224 years to go before we find out for sure, as we are now in the 5776th year – so that’ll be the year 2239 the world potentially ends, for anyone keeping track!

For a more detailed look at the resurrection and the New Jerusalem, I will do some short follow up articles on those, rather than make this one any longer (Edit: New Jerusalem article is here).

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To Conclude

Whichever way you slice it, Revelation seems to be predominantly about the persecutions that the Roman Empire did do, and would continue to do, against the first century Church and beyond (even if there are future applications after the Roman Empire), and that the believers who have to suffer through these times shouldn’t lose faith or hope in God.

But as shown in this article, there are a variety of interpretations and evidences showing various details of Revelation in accord with human history which leads me to caution anyone (myself included) about being overtly dogmatic on any aspect or doctrine derived from Revelation. Even back in Irenaeus’ day (around 180), he wrote in length cautioning believers from getting too caught up in trying to understand the number of the beast and all that it means! You can read more about word/numbers and Irenaeus’ caution here and here respectively.

One of the main themes of Revelation, is that of God’s abode; specifically, his throne. In Rev 4 it is located in Heaven, whereas later in Rev 21, God’s throne is now on Earth in the New Jerusalem where he dwells with his people. The thrust of the book is about holding fast to the Faith, trusting in God when all seems lost, because ultimately, he is coming down to dwell with his people where he will comfort them, bring joy and wipe away every tear (Reclaiming the Book of Revelation, W. E. Glabach, p.28).

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This is what it should mean for us today: hope in our God, not a reference guide to the end of the world matched against various news headlines and current events (all of which have undoubtedly failed).

 

Or to put it more bluntly, in the words of Augustine, who began to view eschatological things as referring to the struggle between good and evil in people:

"Obviously, then it is a waste of effort for us to attempt counting the precise number of years which this world has yet to go, since we know from the mouth of Truth that it is none of our business."

— Augustine of Hippo, City of God, 18:53

 

Trust God, abide in his love and know that ultimately, He is in control.

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The Problem of Suffering and How We Approach it

| 06th January 2018 | Christianity

The topic of human suffering is a subject many Christians struggle with, and is an issue many theologians have written about over the centuries — so it's definitely not something I can fully address in a single blog post! But there are some general principles we can find in Scripture that many Christians can/do accept, which should act as a starting point to addressing this subject, such as: We live in a fallen world due to sin (Gen 3), and so things aren’t perfect and neither are people, therefore suffering can happen from illness, nature, and human action (or inaction). Not all suffering is necessarily “bad”, from a Christian perspective. For example, if we are made to suffer due to our faith, we should rejoice to be counted as partakers in Christ’s suffering — 1 Peter 4:12-16 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name. And, Matthew 5:10-12 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Sometimes suffering can be used to test our faith to make us stronger, which we see an example of with Peter in the Gospels: Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” And also in James’ epistle: James 1:2-4 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. Lastly, sometimes bad things just happen for no good reason. This kind of relates to point one, but with a bit of a different explanation to point out that just because someone suffers, it doesn’t necessarily mean they were under any judgement or that they were any worse than another person — though there are certain times where God's judgement was on someone, but these things are explained in Scripture so we can expect them (see: Acts 12:22-23 and 1 Cor 11:28-32). We can infer consequential suffering from Jesus’ teaching when he speaks about a local tragedy of a tower collapsing and killing some people: Luke 13: 4-5 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No […] Can we do anything about it? Christianity isn't about trying to philosophise about why we suffer, but rather it's to do with how we respond to suffering. We accept that it's a reality of our lives and world, and then go about trying to make it better. James makes the point in his epistle when explaining that “pure religion” is “to care for orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). This is similar to what Isaiah declared about the type of worship that God is truly interested in: Isaiah 58:6-7Is not this the fast that I choose:to loose the bonds of injustice,to undo the thongs of the yoke,to let the oppressed go free,and to break every yoke?Is it not to share your br...

Jesus was a pagan copy, and other Christmas myths

| 24th December 2017 | Christmas

It's that time of year again when certain groups of people like to share memes and videos that apparently "prove" Jesus to be a carbon-copy of ancient Egyptian gods. This has been debunked so many times, yet it's still so pervasive on social media, mindlessly shared over and over again. This myth about Jesus being a copy of other pagan "dying-and-rising gods" doesn't have its roots in Egyptian legend, but rather in the claims of a film called Zeitgeist. A quick search online will bring up many websites which have gone through the claims of this film with a fine tooth comb, and debunked each one. Here's one such example, which lists out the major claims and gives a detailed response to each: Analysis and Response to Zeitgeist Video. To quote a pertinent part of the above website, Dr. Norman Geisler, a Christian systematic theologian and philosopher, gives a good response to the major claims against the resurrection: Dr. Norman Geisler, author or coauthor of more than 80 books, writes, “The first real parallel of a dying and rising god does not appear until A.D. 150, more than a hundred years after the origin of Christianity. So if there was any influence of one on the other, it was the influence of the historical event of the New Testament [resurrection] on mythology, not the reverse.  If you don't want to read a long essay of the subject though, this video by Inspiring Philosophy breaks it down nicely in just under 5 minutes: Other myths debunked If not Osiris, Jesus is often claimed to be copied from the Egyptian god Horus... or the Roman god Mithras. Apparently everyone just copied whoever came before them, and hoped no one would notice! All of these claims are equally as nonsensical as the others, and have "facts" which are completely fabricated to push an agenda of causing Christianity disrepute. But if you look into the actual myths of these ancient gods, you will see that none of them have any resemblance to Jesus or the New Testament. Here is another video which summarises these claims and counters them in a humorous way, this time by Lutheran Satire:    So let us go forward in the knowledge that Jesus was truly born, truly lived and truly rose again; and that he was unique and not a copy of other so-called gods. In the words of Leo the Great, let us celebrate "the birthday of Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity"! Merry Christmas everyone....

Why Read The Early Church Fathers?

| 08th December 2017 | Early Church

Why read the Early Church Fathers? Maybe for some of you reading this, the question might better be phrased as: who are the Church Fathers? No doubt you will be familiar with some of their names: Augustine, Jerome, Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr et al. You may have even read portions or quotes by some of these men. But that still doesn't really explain to you who they are and why you should care, much less actually read any of their works. My new book deals with a selection of some of the most influential Early Church Fathers, sometimes also referred to as the Apostolic Fathers (if they lived between AD 70-150), or collectively as the Ante Nicene Fathers for all of those in the period of time preceding the Council of Nicea (AD 325). It is these men who wrote doctrine and defences against heresy and helped to continue and shape the Church in its most formative years. Some of the earlier Christian leaders of the 2nd Century were discipled and taught by the Apostles themselves. Those include Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna. Still others in mid-2nd century were then taught by those who knew the men who were taught by some of the Apostles. One of the more well-known Bishops who was second generation to the Apostles was Irenaeus (best known for his extensive apologetic works, Against Heresies). From chapter 21 onward in my book, I look at a few writers from beyond this period (around 356) up until AD 449 where we can observe some distinctive changes in thought and practice. These people who came before us, those great men of faith, many of whom suffered persecution and martyrdom to preserve the Church and Christ's mission, bridge the gap between the Bible and the present day. They fill the void we sometimes wonder about when we get to the end of reading Acts or the Epistles and think, “what happened next?” or “what happened to the Ephesian church after Paul left?”. So Why Read What They Wrote? The Bible didn't just drop out of the sky, all leather bound and ready to read for us to pick up today. There was a lengthy process of selecting and preserving the apostles teachings which spanned nearly four centuries, and it was due to the Fathers and their faithfulness to the Scriptures that this was possible. Not only that, but due to their close links to the Apostles — some who were even taught directly by an apostle — we now have valuable resources and insights into aspects, teaching and issues within the very early Church which we can learn from and measure our doctrine and interpretation against. This isn't to say that everything the Church Fathers said, did or wrote is perfect; or that we should elevate their texts to the level of Scripture, but we can glean much from those who knew and were discipled by the Apostles (or those who knew them second hand). We can read what certain portions of Scripture meant to them, or see how they interpreted things in the years following the Apostles, and can compare that to how we might read those same Scriptures today. This is a highly valuable resource for us to still have available; to be able to check our beliefs and doctrines against accepted, historical orthodoxy, which was quite literally shaped through blood, sweat and tears. It's a wonderful thing to be able to look back millennia and know that what we believe and follow as Christians has been faithfully passed on and preserved for all this time. Many doctrines we now take for granted were actually developed and defended during this time; carefully worded and formed to ensure that the truth of God doesn't get lost, diluted or warped for selfish gain. We owe much to these men of God and can still learn a great deal from them, as they still speak to us today as part of that great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us (Heb 12:1). This is an excerpt from the introduction to my new book. You can read more from the Early Church Fathers in my new book, 40 Days with the Fathe...

Evidence of the Trinity in the Hebrew Scriptures

| 08th November 2017 | Trinity

Table of Contents Jewishness and the Trinity 1. God Is A Plurality The Name Elohim Plural Verbs used with Elohim The Name Eloah Plural Pronouns Plural Descriptions of God The Shema II. God Is At Least Two Elohim and YHVH Applied to Two Personalities III. God Is Three How Many Persons Are There? The Three Personalities in the Same Passage Conclusion New Testament Light I was recently in some discussions/debates online about the nature of God and whether the "Trinity" exists, or if God is purely singular and exists in different forms rather than different persons.   This idea that God has different "forms" or "modes" is what is known as Modalism (also sometimes called Sabellianism). This doctrine was condemned as heresy by Tertullian around 213 AD, and later by the bishop of Rome around 262 AD. A more modern sect of Christians, often called "Oneness Pentecostals", still hold to this heretical doctrine today. Now, to be clear: I do believe in the Trinity and accept that it is the orthodox position to hold. But that doesn't mean I've always fully grasped the concept. This is something Christians have struggled to define for centuries, hence the sometimes confusing and lengthy language of the creeds (see here, here, here and here for example). So after reading this debate online with some Oneness believers, I decided to look more into the Trinity to try and get my head around it as much as possible. On my searching and reading, I came across an article by Arnold Fruchtenbaum on the Jews for Jesus website. He had taken the time to really look into the Tri-unity of God from a Jewish/Hebrew perspective to bring some clarity to the issue. I found the article to be very helpful for my own understanding, and very illuminating to see the plurality of God in oneness hidden within the Hebrew language, something that is often lost in translation to our English bibles. I'm no Hebrew scholar, so rather than try (and probably fail) to explain the language nuances to you, I sought permission to post a copy of the original article here. I hope that the information provided is as helpful to you as it was for me. The original article begins below. Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Jewishness and the Trinity In a recent question-and-answer article, Rabbi Stanley Greenberg of Temple Sinai in Philadelphia wrote: Christians are, of course, entitled to believe in a trinitarian conception of God, but their effort to base this conception on the Hebrew Bible must fly in the face of the overwhelming story of that Bible. Hebrew Scriptures are clear and unequivocal on the oneness of God . . . The Hebrew Bible affirms the one God with unmistakable clarity. Monotheism, an uncompromising belief in one God, is the hallmark of the Hebrew Bible, the unwavering affirmation of Judaism and the unshakable faith of the Jew.” Whether Christians are accused of being polytheists or tritheists or whether it is admitted that the Christian concept of the Tri-unity is a form of monotheism, one element always appears: one cannot believe in the Trinity and be Jewish. Even if what Christians believe is monotheistic, it still does not seem to be monotheistic enough to qualify as true Jewishness. Rabbi Greenberg’s article tends to reflect that thinking. He went on to say, “…under no circumstances can a concept of a plurality of the Godhead or a trinity of the Godhead ever be based upon the Hebrew Bible.” It is perhaps best then to begin with the very source of Jewish theology and the only means of testing it: the Hebrew Scriptures. Since so much relies on Hebrew language usage, then to the Hebrew we should turn. 1. God Is A Plurality The Name Elohim It is generally agreed that Elohim is a plural noun having the masculine plural ending “im.” The very word Elohim used of the true God in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” is also used in Exodus ...