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Church-State Relations and the Book of Revelation
An Introduction to The Parousia: A Careful Look at the New Testament Doctrine of the Lord's Second Coming
by James Stuart Russell (1878) // Written by
Todd Dennis, Curator
 


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Apocalypse Then

By Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr

False Prophecies for Fun and Prophet | The "Transitional Verses" in Matthew 24 | Recent Developments in the Eschatological Debate | As Lightening Cometh From the East | The Spiritual Nature of the Kingdom | Book Review: Revelation: Four Views | A Brief Theological Analysis of Full Preterism

     According to a recent Associated Press news report, when the year 2000 arrives computers throughout the world may be thrown into confusion. Many big computers at such computer- dependent institutions as insurance companies and banks track the year by using only the last two digits, rather than all four. Consequently, these computers will read the last two digits of 2000 as if they represent the year 1900. The problem is serious enough that a technical computer newsletter, titled "Tick, Tick, Tick," has been established to deal with the potential problem.

     Judging from popular prophetic imagination that frequently points to computer technology as a tool of the Beast, and in light of increased cries of the end with the approach of the year 2000, this could become a hot prophecy topic. Such an unfortunate and embarrassing computer programming glitch could easily be transformed by the fertile apocalyptic mind into one of the "signs of the times" betokening the end of history.

     Apocalyptic populists have become increasingly bold of late. Edgar Whisnant's Eighty-eight Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988 and Harold Camping's 1994?, caused quite a furor among evangelicals in recent years (Christianity Today, June 20, 1994, pp. 46-47). And they are but two prominent examples of what is becoming increasingly common among evangelical prophecy enthusiasts.

     With the looming of the year 2000, many Christians have developed apocalyptic fever. Apocalyptic works are beginning to crowd the shelves of Christian bookstores with titles such as: Planet Earth-2000: Will Mankind Survive?, I Predict 2000, Prophecy 2000, Rushing to Armageddon, and The 90's: Decade of the Apocalypse.

     In Hal Lindsey's current best-seller, Planet Earth-2000, he mentions celebration for the year 2000 in plans for a "World Millennium Charity Ball" to be held at the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt, on December 31, 1999. Comments Lindsey: "Just for the record. I'm not planning to attend. In fact, looking at the state of the world today, I wouldn't make any long-term earthly plans."

     The Revival of Preterism

     Yet, there is a growing number of Christians who believe that the closer we get to the year 2000, the farther we get from the events of Revelation. This interpretive position is known as "preterism." According to the Webster's New 20th Century Unabridged Dictionary, "preterist" means: "in theology, one who believes that the prophecies of the Apocalypse have already been fulfilled." Evangelical preterists maintain that many of the apocalyptic prophecies of the New Testament, including the Book of Revelation, are related to the destruction of Jerusalem. They still hold, though, to a future Second Advent, bodily resurrection of the dead, and Final Judgment. This view initially sounds strange to most modern evangelical prophecy enthusiasts, who are so familiar with the futuristic approach to Revelation.

     Nevertheless, the preterist view of Revelation, which reached its zenith in the period spanning the 1600s through the 1800s, is experiencing a remarkable revival in our times. Many Christians are declaring "Apocalypse Then." Such evangelical scholars as R. C. Sproul of Ligonier Ministries and the late Greg L. Bahnsen hold this view. Evangelical journals frequently defending this position include the American journal American Vision, edited by Gary DeMar; the English journal Christianity & Society, edited by Stephen Perks; and the German journal Symbiotica, edited by Ruben Alvarado.

     Supplementing this renewed interest in preterism are reprints of books from the 1800s defending the position, two examples being J. Stuart Russell's The Parousia and Milton Terry's Biblical Apocalyptics. Books of more recent vintage are being produced, as well; included among these are J. Marcellus Kik's The Eschatology of Victory, DeMar's Last Days Madness, and my own The Beast of Revelation. In fact, Zondervan has also issued me a contract to write from this perspective as one of the contributors to a forthcoming book, titled Three Views of the End of History, under the editorship of Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary.

     Questions Galore

     But now, why would anyone believe that the events of Revelation have already transpired? Surely not just to avoid the embarrassment of recent failed predictions. And how could the earth-shaking prophecies in Revelation find fulfillment in A.D. 70? Among surprised laymen these and a whole host of related questions immediately spring to mind when the position is mentioned.

     Preterists are convinced that a strong and biblically relevant case may be made for the past fulfillment of the terrifying judgment scenes of Revelation. Their fulfillment came in the covenantally catastrophic events associated with the Jewish War with Rome, formally engaged by Rome in the Spring of A.D. 67. This war, made famous by the writings of Flavius Josephus, resulted in the destruction of the God's holy temple and the final cessation of the levitical system of worship three and one-half years later in August/September, A.D. 70 (cf. Rev. 11:2). Obviously, then, the consequences of the war were of tremendous redemptive historical moment.

     The preterist case begins in the first few verses of Revelation. In these verses it seems that John himself informed his original recipients that the events contained within were to occur in their generation. In the first chapter of Revelation we read: "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants; things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John....Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near" (vv. 1-3).

     And so that his readers not forget, John reminded them of the nearness of those dreaded events as he closes his work. "Then he said to me, 'These words are faithful and true. And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place....'And he said to me, 'Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand'" (22:6, 10)

     Consequently, both the opening and closing remarks of John in Revelation seem to predispose the reader to understand the events as chronologically near in his day. That being the case, it would be true that the closer we get to the year 2000, the farther we get from the events of Revelation. The preterist finds such a conclusion difficult to escape, especially since John was writing to historical churches (Rev. 1: 4, 11) during a time of "tribulation" that he was enduring with them (Rev. 1:9; 2:9-10,13; 3:10). The Christians to whom John wrote were weathering the furious storm of Roman persecution that threatened the very existence of the faith. Furthermore, they were about to witness the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, places of prominence even for Christians (Acts 6:7; 8:1; 15:2).

     In fact, elsewhere in related apocalyptic passages of the New Testament the preterist finds further encouragement for his interpretive position. Of the "great tribulation," which is a topic for both John (Rev. 7:14) and Jesus (Matt. 24:21), Jesus informs His listeners: "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away until all these things are fulfilled" (Matt. 24:34). This may explain Peter's concern that his Pentecostal hearers save themselves from their "perverse generation" (Acts 2:41), which was about to erupt in "blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke" (Acts 2:19). And Paul's discouragement of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:26-31, during the "present distress" while "the time is short." Other inspired writers seem to anticipate a looming judgment compatible with Revelation's (Heb. 10:25, 37; Jas. 5:8-9; 1 Pet. 4:5, 7; 1 Jn. 2:17, 18).

     But objections persist. Two common foundational objections to the preterist position, particularly from among biblical scholars, are: (1) John's time statements speak of time as God perceives it, not man; and (2) John did not write Revelation until after the events of Revelation, that is, in about A.D. 95-96, rather than sometime between A.D. 65-69.

     The preterist finds the "God's time" argument less than convincing. When Peter stated that "with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Pet. 3:8), he expressly declared that he was making a theological statement about God. John did not; in fact, he was writing to individuals about things they must "keep" (Rev. 1:3) and events and judgments coming upon them (Rev. 2-3). Unlike Daniel (Dan. 12:9), John was not to "seal" the words of his prophecy-for now "the time is at hand" (Rev. 22: 10). Besides, the preterist asks, what words could John have used had he intended to speak of the nearness of the events? He varied his terms and repeated them in such a way that seems to insure against misconstruction.

     Neither is the preterist swayed by the arguments for a late date for Revelation. There are suggestive evidences within the book to date it in the mid-to-late 60's of the first century. In fact, the evidence is persuasive enough that it convinced such notable scholars Moses Stuart, F. J. A. Hort, B. F. Westcott, and F. W. Farrar in the last century, and J. A. T. Robinson, R. A. Torrey, Albert A. Bell, and C. F. D. Moule in our own day.

     Two leading indicators of the early date are: (1) The "temple" in the "holy city" is still standing as John writes, though it is being threatened with devastation (Rev. 11: 1-2). We know as a matter of historical fact that the Jewish temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, and has never been rebuilt.

     (2) The sixth "king" is presently ruling from the "seven mountains" and will do so until a king comes who will reign a "short time" (Rev. 17:9-10). The preterist takes this to be a clear enough allusion to Nero Caesar. According to the enumeration found in Josephus' Antiquities (18:2:2,6,10) and Suetonius' Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Nero is Rome's sixth emperor, following Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, and Claudius. The next reigning emperor, Alba, reigned but six months, the shortest reigning emperor until that time.

     Interpretive Problems

     But then additional questions explode into the debate: Who was the Beast? And how did he die and live again (Rev. 13)? Where was the blood flowing to "the horses bridles" (Rev. 14:20)? What about the hailstones "weighing one talent [100 pounds] each" (Rev. 16:21)?

     Of course, these and a great many other perplexing detail questions are generated if one adopts the preterist approach that proclaims "Apocalypse Then." But the same is true for any interpretive approach. The preterist would surely be presumptuous to claim that he had all the answers to the many detail questions of Revelation. This marvelous book is known throughout Christian history for its extreme difficulty. The noted church father Jerome lamented that it contained "as many words as mysteries." The great reformer John Calvin left Revelation out of his New Testament commentaries.

     But with the recent revival of interest in Josephus' writings, the preterist finds suggestive historical references quite supportive of his interpretive approach. Josephus' Wars of the Jews contains invaluable source materials written by one who was not only an eye-witness to the Jewish War, but a combatant on both sides of that destructive war-after his defeat at Jotapata, Josephus befriended the Roman general Vespasian and went with him in an effort to convince the Jews to surrender, a service that has rendered him a "Benedict Arnold" to the Jews.

     Quick samples of the utility of Josephus' record to the preterist position are intriguing. Regarding the blood flowing to the "horses' bridles," Josephus' comments on the battle scenes during the Jewish War are enlightening. At one point a naval battle produced a "lake all bloody, and full of dead bodies" (Wars 3:10:9). Later he reported that "the whole of the country through which they had fled was filled with slaughter, and Jordan could not be passed over, by reason of the dead bodies that were in it, but because the lake Asphaltitis was also full of dead bodies" (Wars 4-7:6). Surely such carnage and bloodshed are suggested by John's imagery.

     The prophecy of the talent weight hailstones has found a similar fulfillment in the siege of Jerusalem, according to the preterist. Josephus states of the catapults of the Roman tenth legion: "the stones that were cast, were of the weight of a talent, and were carried two furlongs and further....As for the Jews, they at first watched the coming of the stone, for it was a white color" (Wars 5:6:3). These stones not only had the weight required by John, but were the same color as hail.

     But now what of the Beast, that most fearsome of Revelational images? Scholars as widely divergent as dispensationalist John Walvoord, anti-dispensationalist Philip Mauro, and critical scholar R. H. Charles agree that the Beast in Revelation has both a generic and a specific reference. Thus, he represents both a kingdom and an individual. That being the case, when we take into consideration the temporal indicators and the relevance factors, we may make a strong case for identifying him specifically as Nero (he is "a man," Rev. 13:18) and generically as Rome (he has "seven heads" which are "seven kings," Rev. 17:10).

     The Beast is associated with "seven mountains" (Rev. 17:9); Rome is known for its seven hills. He wages "war with the saints" (Rev. 13:7); Rome begins persecuting Christians in A.D. 64. But the Beast also has the "number of a man," which is 666 (Rev. 13:18); Nero's name, when spelled in first century Aramaic, adds up to this number. The Beast makes war with the saints for "forty-two months" (Rev. 13:5); Nero begins his persecution in November, A.D. 64, later executes Peter and Paul, then dies in June, A.D. 68, halting his persecution after forty-two months.

     But what of the death of the Beast followed by his remarkable resurrection (Rev. 13:3)? Here not only Josephus, but also Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius have provided helpful historical data. Each of these reported that Rome erupted into civil war during the course of the Jewish War. At the outset of Rome's civil war Nero committed suicide, which destabilized the empire so greatly that Tacitus reported: "Many believed the end of the empire was at hand" (Histories 4:5:4) and "this was the condition of the Roman state [in the year which] was to be for Galba his last and for the state almost the end" (Histories 1: 1). Yet, according to Suetonius, to the surprise of the world, "the empire which for a long time had been unsettled and, as it were, drifting through the usurpation and violent death of three emperors, was at last taken in and given stability by the Flavian family" (Vespasian 1: 1). As Josephus commented: "So upon this confirmation of Vespasian's entire government, which was now settled, and upon the unexpected deliverance of the public affairs of the Romans from ruin" (Wars 4-11:5). Thus, when the personal aspect of the Beast died in Nero, the generic Beast of the Roman Empire began collapsing to death. But the empire was finally revived before the destruction of Jerusalem was complete.

     Though a minority position among evangelicals today, preterism has a biblical force that cannot be easily denied. Although confident the biblical nature of the argument will eventually win the day, such is not presently the case. One thing is clear, though: preterists cannot be faulted with alarming evangelical Christianity with failed expectations of the end. Although they are concerned with the computer glitch associated with the year 2000.

What do YOU think ?

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Date:
05 Jun 2004
Time:
19:09:25

Comments

If the Tribulation took place in AD70 why didn't Christ return in AD70????? Matt.24:29-30 "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall....appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall SEE theSon of man coming in the clouds of heaven..." If ALL people saw it then there would have been abundant universal witness to it in secular literature but alas there is NONE!


Date:
25 Sep 2004
Time:
01:42:11

Comments

Not sure you are still checking this for any answer to your question, and I wil not provide a comprehensive on here. However, I would add a couple of things. The more you study this topic and scripture in general you will find a few things. First, if you read the passage you quoted very carefully, you will notice that it does not necessarily say what you think it says. What is said to appear is the "SIGN of the Son of Man in heaven." Next, it says that "all the tribes of the earth mourn." Finally, it says that "they all see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven." - You have captialized SEE and I understand why. Obviously someone is supposed to see something literally. We will get to this in a moment. First lets look at the first two statements. 1) It is the SIGN of the sSon of Man that will be seen. This does not mean that it will be Jesus in a physical body coming down to earth that is SEEN. It is a sign. If you look into Josephus and various accounts of the battles in ad70, there are some very interesting things that were seen in the sky around the temple, etc. I am not arguing dogmatically that one of these was the "sign of the Son of Man" but I would study them if I were you. More on this in number 3 below. 2) Next it says that all the tribes of the earth will mourn. I think once you study this passage and the language used a little more than you will find that tribes most likely refers to the 12 tribes of Israel - the very ones who were being judged for denying Jesus as Messiah, etc. - and therefore would be likely to mourn when Jesus is vindicated in the destruction of Jerusalem. Also, if you put this into the distant future, assuming that it refers to all the people on the planet earth, then it really does not make much sense. This seems to be the popular view lately, but think about it. If Jesus showed up tomorrow would you be in mourning? There would be many many people who would not be mourning at all but be joyous. After all, so much of the futurist view speaks of a future hope of a rapture! But you might say that it is not til after the rapture that these people would be in mourning at a "second" coming. But also according to futurism, some people will still come to Christ during the tribulation, so of course, those people would not be mourning. Bottom line, it doesn't make any sense to think of the tribes of the earth as every person alive on earth. And actually, the best case for a limited understanding of this verse is from the language itself. Grab your thayers or whatever you like and look up the words for earth and tribes. Check them out in other parts of scripture. Pretty safe bet it is referring to the 12 tribes and the "earth" should better be translated as the "land" as it often is translated properly. Unfortunately, many newer translations seem to select between earth and land based seemingly on their theological/eschatological beliefs. Thats not good.. just read the bible. : ) 3) Finally, the one that seems toughest to reconcile, that they would all see the son of man coming in the clouds of heaven. Well, this sounds straight forward enough. Especially with the popular futurist views all over the place that seem to condition us...I know I have been conditioned in many ways until I started reading the text afresh myself. Basically, remember that what they see in the first place is the SIGN of the son of man. Then they mourn, and then they see the son of man COMING IN CLOUDS. I suggest that you check out virtually all other uses of CLOUDS in scripture and you will find a theme. Cloud comings are most often judgement comings! They happened all the time in the OT and funny enough, no futurist seems to have a problem relegating them to the FULFILLED PROPHECY box back then. But when identical language is used here they must put it off in the future. Doesn't make sense. Check it out for yourself. Also, one other interesting cloud coming of Jesus was not down to earth but acutally UP to the throne of God in Daniel! But back to our passage. Think about it in light of what else we have talked about: Jews rejected the Messiah; Jesus prophecied judgement of the temple in Matthew 24; now it is ad70 and the Jews see something in the sky. It may have been an actual visible thing if you ask Josephus, but the passage does not demand that. It is judgement language and therefore, simply when the destruction of jerusalem was at hand, the tribes of the land may have recognized that things were happening just as Jesus said they would. They would see a sign, mourn and then see the judgement coming. This judgement may have been the roman army, it may have been chariots in the sky as some like josephus recount (very cool to read if nothing else). But seeing the son of man coming in clouds would be perfectly appropriate language to simply describe the judgement (providentially and sovereignly reckkoned by God-therefore using cloud language) on the city and temple by roman troops. I say all of this not to bore you or to proof that preterism is correct, but only to remind you that there is more to this debate than most people think at first. I would encourage you to really dig into the scriptures. Get a copy of E-sword (e-sword.net) if you don't have some good software and just start digging. Pray for wisdom and guidance and our awesome God will surely give it to you. Enjoy your pursuit of God and praise Him for the chance to pursue Him. Be slow to speak and quick to listen and think. This is an awesome study and I pray that you will always enjoy it. Come to Scripture afresh and new.


Date:
25 Sep 2004
Time:
01:48:42

Comments

I wrote that bit above and wanted to say, please forgiv eme for the mistakes, etc. I am not a huge fan of this method of posting - hehe - and it is way late for me. I think it should be fairly clear though. Also, I am just a human so for one, I may be wrong, and two I may not have spoken something as clearly as I should have. My only goal was to remind the reader that it is not so easy as claiming that no references speak of Jesus coming back. I am also not a authority on these things, but I have studied them for quite some time. And because I don't like the way some people just spout off garbage with complete anonymity, my name is Daniel M. and my email is solagratia@cox.net. God Bless.


Date:
04 Jan 2005
Time:
10:47:10

Comments

Ok, I've begun to listen and read about the preterist point of view as well as that of the "partial preterist". This article is my 1st basic introduction to the issue. I'm not sure what I hold to as yet but I guess the thing that strikes me is that I'm not so clear as to the preterist's answer to the world today and the devout christian's hope for their eternal future? Who are we (i.e. you and me) left here in the earth? Are we of all men hopeless since Jesus is not going to come for us? Is there any expection of eternal life and the resurrection of the dead? Do we continue to be accountable to God, since all things in scripture have come to pass, does God continue to care about the affairs of men? When I die, am I to even expect anything? As a Christian, am I to continue to look to scripture for my daily life, or is Peter Jennings right when he says that Paul and the other writers of the New Testatment had no intention for their writings to mean anything to anyone beyond the "generation" they wrote to? Is my whole "good fight" pointless? Please tell me what's the point of living for God and striving for Holiness? I have so many questions. I'm no scholar and I certainly do not have the bulging IQ of some folks I know so I'll need a lot of help to understand this issue. Some response would be nice. Thanks. Signed: Very Confused in Houston


Date: 12 Jul 2009
Time: 07:43:33

Your Comments:

The teaching by Christian leaders today that everything is SUPPOSED to go bad "in these last days" has PARALYZED Christ's body. We don't act. We don't react. We don't resist. We just accept what we're told that "the Bible says it HAS TO BE like this, so there's no point in fighting it."

 


 

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