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The book of Revelation has long perplexed those who have genuinely sought to understand Scripture from beginning to end. This brief interpretation is the humble product of some personal understandings and study after years of preaching and teaching out of this fascinating book and its accompanying Scripture. For those who find my insights helpful, I hope you will continue your study of this wonderful text. For those not so agreeable with my offerings, my hope is that you will find the content challenging, if not convincing.

Upon graduating from seminary in 1986, I took on the role of pastor, almost immediately beset by numerous complaints from parishioners about a particular teacher. This man was leading a series of lessons from the book of Revelation. I was told about the man’s rather peculiar outlook and bizarre speculations regarding the book. So, I contacted the teacher and scheduled a meeting to discuss the matter over lunch. During the course of our meeting, he proudly informed me that his teaching method was very simple: “I just listen to God,” he said, “then when it’s time for Bible study, I repeat what God has told me.” I wasn’t sure what to think or say at that moment, but I told him I would begin attending his class to hear for myself.

Attending the man’s class for the first time, I recall sitting through what I thought was a reasonably biblical, if not a bit whimsical course of study. It really wasn’t all that peculiar and so, I thought maybe some of his students were just overstating things. Or even that some may not have liked him for other reasons. After all, he could be a bit pompous on occasion and little over the top in his self-reflections. As I continued to attend the class, I slowly discovered what they were complaining about. While I’m sure this teacher’s intentions were sincere enough. What I heard him say didn’t sound as though it came from Scripture at all, much less directly from God. What I heard was a lot of second-hand biblicized sensationalism, most of which had proven itself less than prophetically accurate. The lessons became increasingly odd and finally I scheduled another meeting with this teacher.

Now, mind you, the man was a deacon in the church and I was risking my own professional comfort by challenging him. But I sincerely felt compelled to discuss the issue, so we met again. I very kindly talked things over with him about the class and told him to let me know what he planned to teach in the future. My suggestion was that we might both work together on his lesson plans. It was all a little unnerving as recall, but I got through to the teacher and he tolerated my awkward pastoral leadership for some time to follow. The lesson I learned was that having the same pages doesn’t always mean you’re on the same page as those reading the Bible with you.

Revelation is a book that needs to be understood for what it actually says before its taught for what it might mean. It needs to be taught with enough overall biblical familiarity and understanding that the simple context isn’t lost to a lot of prophetic fantasy. My hope is that such is the case in the pages that follow. I genuinely believe that what I’m sharing with the reader is accurate, even though some of my criticisms may come across as being a bit harsh. I also know that my particular viewpoint, as humbly offered herein, is just my interpretation and I am good with that. I hope the reader will be good with that too. “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”

(Matthew 24:34 NIV)

In Eusebius’Ecclesiastical History he includes various details of Jerusalem’s tragic destruction in AD 70.[1]Understanding this epic event within the context of the biblical world in which it occurred is essential to grasping a proper glimpse of this literary enigma we call the book of Revelation. For far too long, the mention of the AD 70 events in Israel has been overlooked. And this, to the detriment of a proper interpretation of the Bible’s last book. I hope this text will in some way help remedy the matter for some.

After offering several lengthy citations from Josephus’ Wars of the Jews,Eusebius observes,”It is fitting to add to his accounts the true prediction of our Savior in which he foretold these very events.”[2]Of course, what he was talking about was Jesus’ prophecy from the Mount of Olives, as recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. Eusebius plainly refers to that sermon, quoting Matthew 24:19ff, where Jesus prophetically foresees a day that will be, “dreadful…for pregnant women and nursing mothers…”

This leads to yet another reference where Eusebius quotes Jesus in Luke 21:20ff where He says, “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.” Then the ancient historian concludes his remark by saying: “If any one compares the words of our Savior 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 Savior were truly divine and marvelously strange.”[3]In other words, Jesus got it right when he prophesied in His Olivet Sermon of Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70.[4]He absolutely knew what He was talking about. We can be sure that it wasn’t some vague far off event hundreds and even thousands of years into the future, even though it would include later events that might be delayed. Jesus’ prophecy to His disciples on the Mount of Olives was verifiably correct within a generation and represented the truth of His ministry as played out in the city of Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70.

Another document nearly as old, which applies Jesus’ words from His Olivet Sermon to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 is the Clementine Homilies: “Prophesying concerning the temple, [Jesus] said: ‘See ye these buildings? Verily I say to you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another which shall not be taken away’ Matt. 24:3; ‘and this generation shall not pass until the destruction begin Matt. 24:34…’ And in like manner He spoke in plain the things that were straightway to happen, which we can now see with our eyes, in order that the accomplishment might be among those to whom the word was spoken.”[5]Interestingly, Clement of Alexandria(AD 150-215) discussed Daniel’s prophecy of the seventieth week in the past tense of his day saying, “The half of the week Nero held sway, and in the holy city Jerusalem placed the abomination; and in the half of the week he was taken away, and Otho, and Galba, and Vitellius. And Vespasian rose to the supreme power, and destroyed Jerusalem, and desolated the holy place.”[6]So, in his view, the 70 weeks of Daniel were fulfilled in the days of Antiochus, not in the waiting years to come or some future millennium.

Tertullian (AD 160-225), says of the AD 70 event in Jerusalem: “And thus, in the day of their storming, the Jews fulfilled the seventy hebdomads predicted in Daniel.”[7]In his fifth century text, Interpretation of the Revelation,Andreas of Cappadocia noted in reference to Revelation 6:12, that “there are not wanting those who apply this passage to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Titus.” Then later he commented: “These things are referred by some to those sufferings which were inflicted by the Romans upon the Jews.”[8]

There’s more. According to noted church historian Henry Wace, Andreas’s commentary is “the earliest systematic exposition of the book of Revelation in the Greek church.”[9]Andreas informs us that he wrote it in order “to unfold the meaning of the Apocalypse, and to make the suitable application of its predictions to the times that followed it.”

Arethas of Cappadocia, a century later provides a commentary on Revelation which, according to Henry Wace, “professes to be a compilation” though “no mere reproduction of the work of his predecessor, although it incorporates a large portion of the contents of that work.” Like Andreas, Arethas specifically applies various passages in Revelation to Jesus’ sermon on the Mount of Olives as it applied to the destruction of the city and temple in AD 70.

By 1614 the Spanish Jesuit, Alcazaragreed in principle with this approach as well as Hugo Grotius(AD 1583-1645) and Jean Le Clerc(AD 1657-1736), who offered similar arguments with regards to Jesus Olivet Sermon and the Temple’s destruction in AD 70.

Skipping forward to the 17thcentury, John Lightfoot(1601-1675 AD), in his Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraicaoffered an exposition of Matthew 24 that included allusions to 2 Thessalonians two.[10]Of the Thessalonian passage, he argues that the “restrainer” therein “is to be understood of the emperorClaudius enraged at and curbing in the Jews.”[11]Lightfoot would adopt the view that Revelation 1:7 was speaking of “Christ’s taking vengeance onthat exceeding wicked nation” of Israel.[12]Thus, he interpreted Christ’s coming as judgment upon “all the tribes of the land literally (the Jews)who pierced Him.”Lightfoot was so convinced of this that he suggested Revelation’s overall theme was to be understood as Israel’s judgment for being complicit in Jesus’ death: “I may further add, that perhaps this observation might not a little help (if my eyes fail me not) in discovering the method of the author of the Book of the Revelation.”[13]Thus, he concluded that the “judiciary scene set up inRevelation four and five, and those thrones Rev. 20:1” speak of “the throne of glory” and “is to be understood of the judgment of Christ to be brought upon the treacherous, rebellious, wicked, Jewish people. We meet with very frequent mention of the coming of Christ in his glory in this sense.”[14]This is not to point to such thinking as anti-Semitic, but pro-biblical.

The point of all this being that Jesus’ Olivet Sermon, was talking specifically about the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. And yet in many of our seminaries and Sunday schools, any mention of Revelation in its historical context to Matthew 24 is rare. What’s more, any knowledge of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70 is nearly non-existent. The devil has played his hand well in keeping God’s people off balance regarding the great enigma that has become the book of Revelation, by simply baiting our interests and switching the plain truth for merchandise that urgently sells a lot of units.

About a hundred years ago, renowned hermeneutics scholar, Milton S. Terry (1840-1914) published his convictions in the journal of Biblical Hermeneutics,and in a separate work entitled Biblical Apocalyptics,that expressed the majority view of his day that saw the events—or at least, most of the events—in Revelation as having been fulfilled in and around AD 70. The renowned church historian Philip Schaff(1819-1893) published similar views of Revelation in his classic History of the Christian Church.[15]At the risk of sounding argumentative, it must be said that today’s insistent millennialists are irrelevant at best and divisive in their profoundly flawed approach to the book of Revelation as though Jesus had never prophesied of its coming about.

Conclusion

All this has been offered to the reader as if to say that from the very outset, any study of Revelation that is done or offered without the direct application of Jesus’ teaching, specifically His sermon on the Mount of Olives, is incomplete at best. The argument that God conclusively broadened His redemptive purpose beginning with the Jewish people then spread to all races, as promised in Matthew 28:19, rings true in Revelation when understood in the context of what Jesus taught. What’s more, the development of temple-based worship into a simpler spiritual-based worship as expected in John 4:21-24 is equally difficult to ignore from what appears to have been fulfilled in the prophecy of Revelation as predicted by Jesus in His Mount of Olives sermon.

The judgments of God in AD 70 are just too similar to the prophecies expected by Jesus in Matthew 24 to be ignored. Of course, this follows the argument that John’s writing of the book of Revelation would have to have been done well before AD 70. Which is admittedly a rather unpopular position in the modern context. So, while it will be argued that much, if not most, of Revelation’s prophecies were fulfilled in AD 70, as in the early Church’s “now,” there is yet more, that which is, “not yet,” or is “yet to come.”[16]The pivotal nature of the idea that Jesus’ Olivet Sermon was a direct prediction of what occurred in Israel in AD 70, is essential to understanding John’s Apocalypse with any sense of actual biblical history. Otherwise, Revelation is unhinged from history at best and its author unhinged from theological reality.

 

[1]Cf. González, Justo (1984), “14 – Official Theology: Eusebius of Caesarea”, The Story of Christianity, Prince Press, p. 129, He lived from (260-340 AD) and wrote his Ecclesiastical History around 324 AD.

[2]Cf., 3:7:1-2

[3]Cf., 3:7:7

[4]See the book, “Jesus was Right!” About the Temple and Jerusalemby Dr. N. Ogan, Providentia Books, 2015, available online at amazon.com.

[5]CH3:15

[6]Miscellanies1:21

[7]An Answer to the Jews, 8

[8]Interpretation of Revelation 6&7

[9]The Very Reverend Henry Wace(1836-1924), Principal of King’s College, London (1883-1897) and Dean of Canterbury (1903-1924).

[10]CNTTH, 2:308-321

[11]Ibid., 2:312

[12]Ibid., 2:319 and 422

[13]Ibid., 3:210

[14]Ibid., 2:266

[15]1:825-852

[16]“If we are going to pursue the internal evidence from persecution for a dating of Revelation, the question (weak though it be in deciding the issue with any confidence) will become this: which age, Nero’s or Domitian’s, witnessed a state-instigated persecution of Christians which would most likely have led John to pen such horrified words of the coming turmoil and which would most likely have influenced (if not condoned) similar oppression throughout the empire? That is, does the Neronian or the Domitian hypothesis for dating Revelation offer a more probable historical context out of which John would say what he did about the impending persecution of the church.”(1984) © Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938, The Historical Setting of the Writing of Revelation
By Dr. Greg Bahnsen.