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The things that must soon take place

I don’t like to be so captious, but with all due respect to an excellent scholar, I really can’t believe Ben Witherington means this. I’m in and out of his book Revelation and the End Times at the moment, trying to write a serious review of it for the Evangelical Quarterly. In his chapter on the parousia he is keen to show that there are “no errant predictions in the New Testament saying that Christ would return during the lifetime of those Christians who lived in the first century A.D.“ (27-28). He’s very selective in the texts that he considers, but what really surprises me is his argument that the adverbial phrase en tachei in Revelation 1:1 means not “soon” but “quickly”. The ESV, for example, reads: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.” Witherington thinks it should be translated “what must happen in a hurry, or with dispatch, or quickly”.

The phrase occurs again at the end of Revelation, when the angel says to John, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must en tachei take place” (Rev. 20:6). We also have the assurance that the Lord Jesus is coming tachu (20:12, 20). Are we really to suppose that what is being said here is that the catalogue of apocalyptic events that we find in Revelation will all happen in a hurry? Or that Jesus, when he eventually comes, will come in great haste—even though it may be millennia after Revelation was written?

No exegetical evidence for the view is provided. The phrase certainly should at times be translated “quickly” or “speedily”. Peter in prison is struck on the side by an angel, who tells him to “Get up quickly” (Acts 12:7). “Soon” wouldn’t make sense here. But “quickly” still has the sense of “straightaway”. Don’t hang around. The situation is urgent. Similarly, Paul is told by Jesus in a vision to “get out of Jerusalem en tachei“—meaning “straightaway”, “as quickly as possible”, because his life is in danger (Acts 22:18). When Festus says that he intends to go to Caesarea en tachei, he does not mean simply that whenever he gets round to making the journey, he will travel at great speed. He means that he will go there “shortly” (ESV), in the near future. Paul writes to Timothy that he hopes to come to him en tachei (1 Tim. 3:14). He means “soon”, not “Oh, whenever… but you can be sure I’ll turn up short of breath.” The same connotation of urgency can be illustrated from the use of the phrase in the LXX.

The simple adverbial form tachu is found only once in the New Testament outside Revelation. Jesus teaches his disciples to “Come to terms tachu with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison” (Matt. 5:25). He means urgently. Don’t leave it too late.

So the book of Revelation is framed by the assertion that the events it describes will happen “soon”, as a matter of urgency—if not expressly within the lifetime of its readers, at least within a historically relevant timeframe.

And if the exegetical evidence is not enough, we need only to keep reading through to 1:3, where John writes that those who keep the words of this prophecy are blessed “for the time is near”. Oddly, this verse escaped Witherington’s notice.

Is it, therefore, an “errant prediction”? No, of course not. The apocalyptic events described in Revelation up to the inauguration of the thousand year period have reference to the early historical horizons of the church—the destruction of Jerusalem and the overthrow of Roman pagan imperialism. The symbolic “coming soon” of Jesus is part of that realistic scenario—a coming to judge and a coming to deliver his people from persecution.

Comments

I was with you until you said: “Is it, therefore, an “errant prediction”? No, of course not.”

Of course it was an errant prediction. Read everything about the kingdom in context and it is hard to come to any other rational conclusion.

It was a time of great tumult. Many Jews were gripped with apocalyptic fervor. The prophecies of Isaiah and Daniel were coming true in their lifetime! (Sound familiar?)

John the Baptizer preached holiness, not for individual salvation, but because a nation of holy Israelites would prompt God to intervene in the here and now. Jesus followed by announcing his ministry in the context of the healing of the sick and freeing the captives.

He wasn’t setting up a new religion with an existential message for the next few milenniums. The crowds, the healings the excitement weren’t about a new philosophy of salvation to be enacted in the distant future. He was ushering in nothing less than a new world order that would come when god intervened pretty darned soon.

He even said as much, if you believe Matthew’s Jesus. He gave them instructions for what to do when the end came. It would have been bizarre to say that to people if you expected the end in 2000 years. When he died, his disciples asked, “is now the time?” They didn’t have questions about the what, only the when. And they had signed up for action.

Paul was so convinced time was up he told people not to get married. Peter apparently said the end is near. It’s not just a snappet taken out of context. It is the context, which is something you are pretty good at.

So in the end the overwhelming probability is that Jesus was errant. Paul was errant. Peter was errant.

The question is what do we do with that. We can say, “well if all isn’t true none of it is.” That leads to agnosticism or hunkering down like Witherington (who BTW isn’t even close to being a fundamentalist, which is much much worse) and denying that the obvious truth is staring you in the face.

Or we can accept that the facts are what they are and develop a more humble faith based on the idea that there are many mysteries and limitations on what we can know, including in the bible. 

To be honest, Paul, that strikes me now as a rather outmoded analysis of apocalyptic language, motivated by the desire to discredit the New Testament’s vision of the future. I don’t see anything in what you say that precludes the view that the language is meant to redescribe intrinsically historical events as acts or signs of divine intervention. In fact, I don’t get the impression that you’ve even taken that possibility into account. In your view, what is the objection to thinking that the visions of wrath, judgment, deliverance, and vindication that make up New Testament apocalyptic applied to historical events in a realistic future?

Because that isn’t how people operate. As you rightly emphasize, the writings have a specific audience in mind with a specific narrative. They weren’t written as theological texts with an intended shelf life of forever.

So if you say to your friend “the end is near” or “evacuate your house before the flood,” the chances are pretty good that you are giving them instructions on something you think is going to happen to them in their lifetime. If someone finds that letter a hundred years later, the odds are a billion-to-one that you didn’t intend to give instructions to them.

All the facts fit the idea that the people first century thought their world was about to change radically. Whether that discredits the NT is up to individuals to decide. It certainly discredits an incorrect historical analysis, IMO.

Ben Witherington and N.T. Wright are wrong.

“The Lowdown On God’s Showdown” demonstrates that predictions of a soon coming final judgment are found throughout the New Testament, starting with the words from Revelation that you cited in your blog post:

http://secweb.infidels.org/article86.html

Biblical scholars as diverse as James D. G. Dunn and Bart Ehrman (as well as Craig Hill, author of “In God’s Time”), agree that OT prophecy changed to apocalyptic and Jesus made predictions of more than just a theological or political this-worldly transformative nature.

Dale Allison has been engaging non-apocalpytists for decades, including a critique of Wright’s views.

Edward Adams produced a massive work that took Wright to task for misinterpreting or ignoring data concerning end times predictions in the first century. Here’s a scholarly review of Adams’ work published in The Society of Biblical Literature:

http://www.bookreviews.org/pdf/6312_6793.pdf

Thom Stark summed up the case against Wright’s preteristic like view in a chapter in The Human Faces of God.

Robert M. Price has an excellent chapter contra preterism and also mentions apocalyptic in his book, The Paperback Apocalypse.

John Loftus (atheist), citing Dale Allison and some others, summed up the apocalyptic Jesus case in a chapter in The Christian Delusion.

Ed, I read your article. I agree that the New Testament speaks unequivocally of impending or approaching judgment. I do not agree, however, that it understands this approaching judgment to be the end-of-the-world:

  • Daniel 12:2 does not refer to a final resurrection and judgment of “all men” as you put it in your article. It refers to a limited resurrection of Jews in conjunction with a historical crisis. That historical context needs to be taken into account.
  • What the author of Revelation thought must shortly take place was not the end-of-the-world but—this, at least, is my contention in The Coming of the Son of Man—judgment on Israel, followed eventually by judgment on Rome, in accordance with regular Old Testament patterns.
  • James, writing to the “twelve tribes in the dispersion”, is speaking of the judgment that was about to come on Israel. The coming of the Lord in judgment here and elsewhere is no more “literal” than the “coming” of YHWH in judgment in Old Testament texts (eg., 1 Chron. 16:33). Likewise for Hebrews.
  • The harvest of the end of the age in the parable is the coming judgment on Israel, the end of the age of second temple Judaism.
  • Paul similarly speaks in appropriate apocalyptic language about future events that would see the ending of persecution and the vindication of the communities of believers in the eyes of the nations.
  • The symbolic language of Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven alludes to Daniel 7, which is a prophecy of the vindication of the suffering righteous when God overthrows the enemy of his people.
  • Paul urged the Roman Christians to wake from sleep and put on armour because a day of battle—that is, a day of persecution—was fast approaching. In fact, it was eight years before Nero turned viciously against the Christians in Rome. Paul assures them that God will defeat the satanic power behind such extreme hostility.

So in my view, the New Testament uses the language of prophecy and apocalyptic (for the most part) not to predict the end-of-the-world—that assumption may be going out of fashion amongst scholars. Rather it is used to give shape to a vision of a historical future that will include the revolt against Rome, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the confession of Jesus as Lord amongst the nations, the ending of persecution, and the vindication of those who remained faithful to their Lord even in the face of death.

Beyond that, it seems to me, there is the thought that justice will finally be done, that the creator will have a final victory over death and evil, that there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 20-21). But that is pushed into a distant future, after a symbolic thousand years, and should not be confused with the much more pressing historical expectations.

The most compelling presentation of the time statements that I’ve read is one in which the statements are placed on a timeline.  In Acts, about 30AD, Peter mentions that God will send Jesus back but with no particular timeliness.  By about 55AD, Paul is saying to the 1st Corinthians that the “time is short”.  In the prison Epistles from the early 60’s AD Paul is saying that “The Lord is at hand.”  By 1st John, presuming a dating in the late 60’s AD, John is saying that they are in the “last hour”.  In “Christianity’s Great Dilemma” Glenn Hill plots 34 examples of this increasing immediacy, the trajectory of which is aimed straight at 70AD.  You don’t have to buy into any particular brand of preterism to see accept the power of these statements

“Soon” (whether imminently or hurriedly) is associated with different kinds of “coming” of Jesus in Revelation. Jesus warns of a personal “coming soon” of judgement to the church at Ephesus if it does not repent - 2:5  (no hint of AD 70 or a ‘second coming’ here); likewise against the Nicolaitans and those who host them at Pergamon - 2:16; an indeterminate “coming soon” at Philadelphia - 3:11 (against the ‘synagogue of Satan’?).

In the light of these imminent, yet non-AD 70  ”coming soon” promises, the “what must soon take place” of 1:1 and the “coming soon” of 22:7, 12 and 20 have to be assessed. I don’t think it is always to possible to say that they always refer to AD 70, or judgement on Rome,  or that they always refer to Christ’s future return.

That Revelation is not entirely about what must take place “soon” in relation to the 1st century is clear from Chapters 20b -22, the historical indeterminacy of 17 - 20a, and frequent suggestions of future events not fulfilled in the 1st century.

Perhaps rather than seeking definitive answers to questions about history in Revelation, a better approach might be to see it as raising questions and provoking discussion without supplying all the clear answers that we would like.

Good point about the references to Jesus coming (soon) in the letters to the churches. They underline the idea of a “coming” that is a matter of judgment—in this case on the household of God. But what Jesus says to the church in Philadephia is particularly important:

Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. (Rev. 3:10-11)

They will be kept from the hour of trial that is clearly understood to be imminent; they are to hold fast to what they have because Jesus is “coming soon”, to vindicate his faithful followers and to enact judgment on their enemies—here presumably Jews. This coming soon of Jesus cannot be separated from the historical experience of the community that is addressed. Notice too that the hour of judgment is coming upon the whole oikoumenē—effectively the Greek-Roman world.

I did make the point in the post that the events that were coming soon ended with the resurrection of the martyrs.

“Soon” in Revelation in relation to the 1st century isn’t the whole story though, is it? “Coming” in relation to a Jerusalem/Rome judgement also isn’t. Anyone really wanting to do their heads in should visit this subsection of Armageddon books, the preterist section, http://www.armageddonbooks.com/post.html. Then visit the main site with ‘hundreds of books’ on dodgy interpretations of Bible prophecy. Ben Witherington would be a voice of sanity in comparison.

I don’t really get your point, but the fact that there is an exotic preterist subculture out there should not disqualify what seems to me an entirely reasonable historical argument, that John used the apocalyptic genre to address political-religious matters of considerable urgency that impacted the church as he knew it. Preterism would be much less of a problem if it wasn’t stuck in such an old fashioned idiom and aesthetic.

Actually, some of the preterist arguments are also entirely reasonable and as worth giving attention to as your own, Andrew. It just happened that I had followed up the name of an author mentioned by someone in another contribution, and was directed to the website. But then, I was being entirely mischievous, which in retrospect, was very wrong of me.

My serious suggestion was that just as “coming” means a variety of different things in Revelation, so also does “soon”. It not only has a range of meanings in Greek as in English, such as imminently - quickly - urgently - hurriedly etc, but also sits oddly with unfulfilled events which have now become distant future to the 1st century writer and readers of Revelation - as in chapters 20b-22 (and arguably 17-20a, and elsewhere in the book). In the final chapter, where the setting is, now, distant future (to the 1st century writer/readers/hearers of Revelation), the writer brings the words of Jesus: “I am coming soon!” - 22:7, 12 & 20. Wouldn’t it be semantic juggling to suggest that Jesus did actually “come” in AD 70 (or whenever), but the rest of what was suggested by his “coming” in chapter 22 hasn’t happened yet?

As for me, ‘aramageddon’ out of here!

 

Hi Peter and Andrew,

I am just finishing volume II of my book (The Antichrist and the Second Coming: A Preterist Examination).  Volume II looks exclusively at the book of Revelation.  Granted I am one of those “exotic” preterists (very diplomatic phrasing Andrew ;-) but I think there is some method to my madness.  Here is something from the book on the narrative(s) of Revelation.

The Subject of Revelation

Revelation is a very cryptic work; it is quite easy to lose sight of the forest because of the trees. It is thus useful to step back and get an overview of the book. What is the subject of Revelation? Is there a unifying narrative?

A Tale of Two Cities

Beasley Murray notes the following on the subject of Revelation: “Revelation as a whole may be characterized as A Tale of Two Cities, with the sub-title, The Harlot and the Bride.” [G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation, The New Century Bible Commentary, ed. Ronald Clements and Matthew Black (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 315.] 

Murray is absolutely right; the basic subject of Revelation is that of two “cities” (Babylon and New Jerusalem) who are also two wives (the harlot is a widowed wife who is about to be destroyed, Rev. 18:7-8; the bride is about to become married, Rev. 19:7-9). As I show below, the two women/cities of Revelation represent the two covenants (the old and the new) and those who were part of those covenants (cf. Gal. 4:21-31).

Johnson writes the following on how Revelation uses the image of a city as a symbol for a community of people: “John’s use of the word ‘city’ from its first occurrence in 3:12 is symbolic … A city may be [used as] a metaphor for the total life of a community of people (Heb. 11:10, 12:22; 13:14).” [Alan F. Johnson, Revelation, Bible Study Commentary, ed. Ed van der Maas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 112.] Harlot Babylon represents those of the old covenant community who rejected Jesus in favor of the temple system. She is destroyed and replaced by the new covenant community, the New Jerusalem bride (cf. Matt. 21:33-45; Luke 2:34).

The picture of the harlot is a common Old Testament (hereafter known as OT) image of unfaithful Israel going after the gods and ways of the Gentiles (Lev. 17:7; 20:5-6; Num. 14:33; 15:39; Deut. 31:16; Judg. 2:17; 8:27; 1 Chron. 5:25; 2 Chron. 21:11; Ps 73:27; Hos. 1:2; 2:4; 4:15; 9:1; Jer. 2:20; 3:2, 9, 13: 5:7, 11; 13:27; Ezek. 6:9; 16; 23; 43:7, 9). Of all the OT references to the harlot, Ezekiel 16 is the most germane to the harlot of Revelation. Ezekiel 16 shows harlot Jerusalem being stripped and burned by her lovers (Ezek. 16:37-41), which is what happens to harlot Babylon (Rev. 17:16).

The harlot of Revelation claims to be still a queen, but in reality she is a widow (Rev. 18:7). She became a widow when she had her husband (Jesus) killed. She is finally about to experience the mourning expected of a woman who had lost her spouse (Rev. 18:8). The bride (New Jerusalem, Rev. 21:9-10) represents those who are part of the new covenant community. The harlot is destroyed by the Antichrist (the beast from the abyss working through Titus) and then the bride becomes married (Rev. 19:1-9).

Two Women/Cities Representing the Two Covenants

Revelation often presents concepts that are found elsewhere in Scripture. What is different is that Revelation presents these concepts in more of a picture form. For example, Jesus is referred to in the Gospel of John as the Lamb of God (John 1:29). In Revelation we are not just told of this Lamb (e.g., 6:16; 19:7), we are shown him (Rev. 5:6). Paying close attention to the allusions Revelation makes to other parts of Scripture is a great help in understanding the complex symbols in the book. For example, the central theme of Revelation (the contrast of two women who are two cities) is not something new in the NT; this topic was introduced in Galatians. In Galatians 4 this theme is used as a means of contrasting the two covenants:

 

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband.” Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” Now we brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.

Galatians 4:21-31 (underlined emphasis mine)

 

In Galatians the new covenant is represented by the Jerusalem from above, the heavenly Jerusalem. This is the exact equivalent of the New Jerusalem, the new covenant bride that comes down from heaven in Revelation 21:2. In Galatians the old covenant community is represented by earthly Jerusalem. This is the exact equivalent of harlot Babylon in Revelation, the great city (Rev. 17:18; 18:21). Earlier in Revelation we were told that “the great city” was where Jesus was crucified (i.e., Jerusalem, Rev. 11:8). As in Galatians (4:29), the one woman persecutes the other woman (the harlot was persecuting the bride, Rev. 19:2). As in Galatians (4:30) the one woman is cast out (the harlot, Rev. 18:21) at the time that the other woman receives her inheritance (the bride becomes married, Rev. 19:1-9).

Galatians 4:21-31 provides a simple narrative for the book of Revelation. Revelation is a book about two women/cites who represent the two covenants. The one woman is destroyed and then the other becomes married. Despite all the complexities of Revelation—and there are many— this storyline of two women/cities who represent the two covenants is relatively straightforward.

The Destruction of God’s Unfaithful Old Covenant People at the Establishment of His New Covenant People

Revelation’s theme of the destruction of God’s unfaithful old covenant people (the harlot) and the establishment of his new covenant people (the bride) is found in Matthew in the parable of the wicked vinedressers:

 

Here is another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.” So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers? They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them … “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.”

Matthew 21:41-43

This is a clear reference to the coming of God at the AD 70 destruction of Israel (cf. Isa. 5). This is what Revelation shows. In Revelation 19 the Word of God comes at AD 70 right after the beast has destroyed harlot Israel (Rev. 17-18). Notice that like the wicked vinedressers, the harlot is guilty of the blood of the prophets (Rev. 18:24). The destruction of Israel using the vineyard motif (i.e., the vine of the land) is shown in Revelation 14:17-20.

The same contrast of two groups of people is found in the parable of a wedding for a king’s son in Matthew 22. Those who rejected the invitation to the son’s wedding are destroyed, and then the wedding goes forward with a new people.

And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.’ But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

Matthew 22:1-10 (underlined emphasis mine)

This is the exact scenario shown in Revelation 17-19: the city of God’s unfaithful old covenant people (harlot Babylon) is burned (Rev. 18:8) and then a wedding happens as the new covenant bride becomes married (Rev. 19:1-9). Note that these parables do not show a first-century postponement of the kingdom of God (dispensationalists incorrectly teach that the kingdom was postponed in the first century). At the AD 70 shattering of the Jewish nation the kingdom was taken from the Jews and given to God’s new covenant people (Matt. 21:40-43; cf. Dan. 7:21-27; 12:7; Matt. 8:10-13; Acts 28:17-31; Rev. 11:15-18).

The Destruction of Rebellious Israel and Then

a New Heaven and New Earth

This same theme of the destruction of one people and the establishment of another is found in Isaiah 65-66. In Isaiah 65 God said he would destroy his rebellious old covenant people (“I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people … ” v. 2) and would then bless his faithful servants (those who did not seek him, Isa. 65:1-2, 11-16). In Romans Paul quotes Isaiah 65:1-2 and informs us that the two peoples contrasted are ultimately new covenant believers and Israel:

 

But Isaiah is very bold and says: “I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me.” But to Israel he says: “All day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

 

 Romans 10:20-21

 

Isaiah tells us that at this time of the destruction of Israel, God would call his servants by a new name and create a new heaven and new earth (metaphorically speaking) with a renewed Jerusalem (i.e., the New Jerusalem bride, Rev. 21:1-2, 9-10).

 

But you [rebellious Israel cf. v. 2] are those who forsake the Lord, who forget My holy mountain, who prepare a table for Gad, and who furnish a drink offering for Meni. Therefore I will number you for the sword, and you shall all bow down to the slaughter; because when I called you did not answer; when I spoke, you did not hear, but did evil before My eyes, and chose that in which I do not delight … You shall leave your name as a curse to My chosen; for the Lord God will slay you, and call His servants by another name … For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing and her people a joy.

Isaiah 65:11-12, 15, 17-18

 

Earlier in Isaiah the picture of the creation of the original heaven and earth is used metaphorically to symbolize the creation of the old covenant:

 

But I am the Lord your God, who divided the sea whose waves roared—The Lord of hosts is His name. I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, that I may plant the heavens, lay the foundation of the earth, and say to Zion, “You are My people.”

Isaiah 51:15-16

 

The establishment of the new covenant using the symbol of a new heaven and earth with a New Jerusalem is used in Revelation 21-22 to show the full establishment of God’s kingdom. Notice that the new heaven and earth in Revelation is not heaven; there are still sinners in it (i.e., those who are not part of the new covenant bride, Rev. 21:9-10; 22:14-15; cf. Isa. 65:17-20). The new heaven and earth is symbolic of the AD 70 full establishment of the new covenant order, the full establishment of the kingdom of God. I will go into some detail on this in my chapter on the millennium and the new heavens and earth.

Duncan - I felt your extended comment deserved a reply from me, out of courtesy. I can see how you reach your conclusions - about Israel as Babylon in Revelation 17-18, and the ‘new heavens/new earth’ being the establishment of the new covenant. I think they deserve to be taken seriously. It would take some reflection for me to process your interpretation, but obviously, from your viewpoint, it makes some sense of features of 21-22 which don’t seem to harmonise with a ‘sinless’ new creation.

There are some aspects of 17-18 which don’t seem to me to fit your interpretation. ‘The beast’ is a generic OT image for inhuman paganism (leopard, bear, lion, ‘beast’ - Revelation 13:2/Daniel 7:4-7), so it’s odd to think that a woman who, according to you, represents Israel, rides on the back of a pagan symbol. (But I can already feel your response to this being prepared).

I think that the prostitute represents more than Israel, and even ancient Rome. The prostitute sits among “peoples, multitudes, nations and languages”. This suggests a worldwide positioning, which isn’t really descriptive of Israel. Taken in conjunction with the judgement of 19, which also feels worldwide in its range and significance, I think that we are looking at the destruction of an underlying world system of all ages, not just the 1st century.

But I’m not dogmatic about it. I still think that part of the purpose of apocalyptic as used in Revelation, is to assure us of the great outlines of God’s victory over the enemies of the people of God, but to keep us enquiring about details like the timeframe and precise meaning of some of the key symbols - such as the harlot, ‘Babylon’, and the beast. I’m quite sure these were applicable and appropriate for the 1st century. I’m less convinced that their significance was exhausted by the 1st century application. Not least because what significance would these events have, other than to give us a history lesson without relevance for today? 

Peter,

 

Thank you for your response.  I have always enjoyed your wit and respected your insight.  Sorry for the length of my responses.  I have been working on Revelation for the last couple years and have written a little over 500 pages.  My problem is that I have too much to say.  By the way, your position sounds similar to Beale’s transtemporal approach.

 

The OT motif of the harlot speaks of unfaithful Israel going after the ways and gods of pagans–the gentiles (Ezek. 16:23-32 lists some of these pagan nations, I have bolded these vv. below).  So the harlot sitting on (whoring with) a pagan beast fits quite well.  This motif of God’s unfaithful old covenant people as harlot is shown in Ezekiel 16 (cf. Ezek. 23).

Ezekiel 16

The LORD’s Faithless Bride

1Again the word of the LORD came to me: 2(A) “Son of man,(B) make known to Jerusalem her abominations, 3and say, Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an(C) Amorite and your mother a(D) Hittite. 4And as for your birth,(E) on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. 5No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you,(F) but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred,(G) on the day that you were born.

6”And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing(H) in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ 7(I) I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall(J) and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet(K) you were naked and bare.

8”When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and(L) I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you(M) and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD,(N) and you became mine. 9Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and(O) anointed you with oil. 10(P) I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk.[a] 11(Q) And I adorned you with ornaments and(R) put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. 12And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. 13Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth.(S) You ate fine flour and honey and oil.(T) You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. 14And(U) your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord GOD.

15(V) “But you trusted in your beauty(W) and played the whore[b] because of your renown(X) and lavished your whorings[c] on any passerby; your beauty[d] became his. 16You took some of your garments and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore. The like has never been, nor ever shall be.[e] 17You also took(Y) your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and(Z) made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore. 18And you took your embroidered garments to cover them,(AA) and set my oil and my incense before them. 19(AB) Also my bread that I gave you—(AC) I fed you with fine flour and oil and honey—you set before them for(AD) a pleasing aroma; and so it was, declares the Lord GOD. 20(AE) And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and(AF) these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your whorings so small a matter 21that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them? 22And in all your abominations and your whorings you did not remember(AG) the days of your youth,(AH) when you were naked and bare, wallowing in your blood.

23”And after all your wickedness (woe, woe to you! declares the Lord GOD), 24you built yourself(AI) a vaulted chamber and made yourself a lofty place in every square. 25At the head of every street(AJ) you built your lofty place and made(AK) your beauty an abomination,(AL) offering yourself[f] to any passerby and multiplying your whoring. 26(AM) You also played the whore(AN) with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors,(AO) multiplying your whoring,(AP) to provoke me to anger. 27Behold, therefore, I stretched out my hand against you(AQ) and diminished your allotted portion(AR) and delivered you to the greed of your enemies,(AS) the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. 28(AT) You played the whore also(AU) with the Assyrians, because you were not satisfied; yes, you played the whore with them, and still you were not satisfied. 29You multiplied your whoring also with the trading land(AV) of Chaldea, and even with this you were not satisfied.

30”How sick is your heart,[g] declares the Lord GOD, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute, 31building your vaulted chamber at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square. Yet you were not like a prostitute,(AW) because you scorned payment. 32Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! 33Men give gifts to all prostitutes,(AX) but you gave your gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from every side with your whorings. 34So you were different from other women in your whorings. No one solicited you to play the whore, and(AY) you gave payment, while no payment was given to you; therefore you were different.

35”Therefore, O prostitute, hear the word of the LORD: 36Thus says the Lord GOD, Because your lust was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your whorings with your lovers, and with all your abominable idols,(AZ) and because of the blood of your children that you gave to them, 37therefore, behold,(BA) I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and(BB) all those you hated.(BC) I will gather them against you from every side(BD) and will uncover your nakedness to them, that(BE) they may see all your nakedness. 38(BF) And I will judge you(BG) as women who commit adultery and(BH) shed blood are judged, and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy. 39And I will give you into their hands, and they shall throw down your(BI) vaulted chamber and break down(BJ) your lofty places.(BK) They shall strip you of your clothes and take(BL) your beautiful jewels and leave you(BM) naked and bare. 40(BN) They shall bring up a crowd against you,(BO) and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. 41(BP) And they shall(BQ) burn your houses and(BR) execute judgments upon you in the sight of many women.(BS) I will make you stop playing the whore, and(BT) you shall also give payment no more. 42(BU) So will I satisfy my wrath on you, and my jealousy shall depart from you. I will be calm and will no more be angry. 43Because you have not remembered(BV) the days of your youth, but have enraged me with all these things, therefore, behold,(BW) I have returned your deeds upon your head, declares the Lord GOD. Have you not(BX) committed lewdness in addition to all your abominations?

44”Behold, everyone(BY) who uses proverbs will use this proverb about you: ‘Like mother, like daughter.’ 45You are the daughter of your mother, who loathed her husband and her children; and you are the sister of(BZ) your sisters, who loathed their husbands and their children.(CA) Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite. 46And(CB) your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and(CC) your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. 47(CD) Not only did you walk in their ways and do according to their abominations; within a very little time(CE) you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. 48(CF) As I live, declares the Lord GOD, your sister(CG) Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride,(CH) excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50They were haughty and(CI) did an abomination before me. So(CJ) I removed them, when I saw it. 51(CK) Samaria has not committed half your sins. You have committed more abominations than they, and(CL) have made your sisters appear righteous by all the abominations that you have committed. 52(CM) Bear your disgrace, you also, for you have intervened on behalf of your sisters. Because of your sins in which you acted more abominably than they, they are more in the right than you. So be ashamed, you also, and bear your disgrace, for you have made your sisters appear righteous.

53(CN) “I will restore their fortunes, both the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters, and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters, and I will restore your own fortunes in their midst, 54that you may bear your disgrace(CO) and be ashamed of all that you have done,(CP) becoming a consolation to them. 55As for your sisters, Sodom and her daughters shall return to their former state,(CQ) and Samaria and her daughters shall return(CR) to their former state, and you and your daughters shall return to your former state. 56Was not your sister Sodom a byword in your mouth(CS) in the day of your pride, 57before your wickedness was uncovered? Now you have become(CT) an object of reproach for the daughters of Syria[h] and all those around her, and for(CU) the daughters of the Philistines,(CV) those all around who despise you. 58(CW) You bear the penalty of your lewdness and your abominations, declares the LORD.

The LORD’s Everlasting Covenant

59”For thus says the Lord GOD: I will deal with you as you have done, you(CX) who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant, 60yet(CY) I will remember my covenant with you(CZ) in the days of your youth,(DA) and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant. 61(DB) Then you will remember your ways(DC) and be ashamed when you take(DD) your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and I give them to you(DE) as daughters, but not on account of[i] the covenant with you. 62I will establish my covenant with you,(DF) and you shall know that I am the LORD, 63that you may remember and be confounded, and(DG) never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord GOD.”

 

The gentile nation Israel was whoring with when John wrote was Rome.  This relationship would not last, however, as Rome would throw off the harlot and burn her with fire (note, the plagues of the harlot are what happened to Jerusalem in AD 70, Rev. 18:8).

 

As for what all this means for us today.  I see the culmination of Revelation as being the AD 70 full establishment of the kingdom of God (Rev. 11:15-18).  I believe the millennium began at that time and that we are (or at least should be reigning with our Lord today).  Consider the parable of the minas.

The Parable of the Ten Minas

Luke 19:11

As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because(L) they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12He said therefore, (M) “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13Calling(N) ten of his servants,[a] he gave them ten minas,[b] and said to them, ‘Engage in business(O) until I come.’ 14But(P) his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. 16The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant![c] Because you have been(Q) faithful in a very little,(R) you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in(S) a handkerchief; 21for I was afraid of you, because you are(T) a severe man. You take(U) what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22He said to him,(V) ‘I will condemn you with your own words,(W) you wicked servant! You knew that I was(X) a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ 24And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ 26’I tell you that(Y) to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 27But(Z) as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and(AA) slaughter them before me.’”

 

I see this as speaking of the AD 70 Second Coming.  Jesus returns and kills the subjects that did not want him to rule over them (the Jews) and fully establishes his kingdom.  Notice how active the kingdom reign is for the servants of the nobleman (“have authority over ten cities”).  I believe we should be exercising that authority today (mostly through  prayer and sharing God’s word and his love).

 

 

Duncan, most of us have Bibles. You really don’t need to quote scripture at such inordinate length—it makes the place look untidy. It’s much more helpful if you just make the main points with references and the occasional quotation.

Sorry Andrew,

I am always concerned that people don’t bother to look up the references.

I would edit it if I could but I do not think there is an edit button.  Is it possbile for you to edit out most of the Ezek. 16 stuff and just leave the bolded parts?

You’re probably right, but if people can’t be bothered to read the Bible, that’s their look-out. Short judiciously chosen quotations would be fine. It’s about keeping things simple and intelligible. Not that I’m one to talk.

My road into preterism really began on the third or fourth trip through the Bible using an audio Bible.  I was pretty comfortable with my interpretation of Revelation (Pre-wrath rapture, premillennial, Dispensational) until I kept tripping over the last few chapters.  There was no way that I could accommodate actively sinful people and an invitation for those people to enter the gates of the New Jerusalem after the creation of the New Heavens and New Earth.  In other words, if the universe had been dissolved to the atomic level in order to be rebuilt with no curse or sin, how in the world can we have sinful people and a remedy for that sin in the eternal state?  As powerful as I think that the time statements are, this dilemma was even more troubling.  A while later I ran into Chilton, J. S. Russell, Duncan, Don Preston, Andrew, and others within the general preterist community who took this issue seriously.  If you haven’t considered the implications of the last few chapters of Revelation and Isaiah (which describes the New Heaven and New Earth, not the Millennium) I suggest you meditate on it for a while.

Aaagh! I am not a preterist or part of the preterist community. Please take note. And don’t ask me to explain.

By preterist, I only meant that to mean that you basically see the Olivet Discourse and major portions of Revelation to be in the past for us.  I was not trying to associate you with Full Preterism.  Sorry for any confusion.

 

The nearness of the events of Revelation permeate the book.  The time was at hand for the prophecies of the book (Rev. 22:10).  For example,

The Coming of the Beast was Near

Notice the nearness of the coming of the individual beast (the eighth king) in verses 8-11.

The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction.  And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come.  Here is the mind which has wisdom.  The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while.  The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction.

Revelation 17:8-11 NASB (underlined emphasis mine)

 

This is not a vague statement that the beast could come soon; it is a clear declaration that he was about to come (Gr. mellei).  John has already told his first century audience that the one with the required knowledge would be able to calculate the number of the individual beast (Rev. 13:18).  This is consistent with what Scripture says elsewhere.  John wrote that it was the “last hour (1 John 2:18) and that the spirit of Antichrist was “already in the world” (1 John 4:3).  If the individual beast was about to come, then the Second Coming (when his is defeated) was about to happen (Rev. 19:11-22).53  There was only the short reign of one ruler (the seventh king) between the ruling king when John wrote and the individual beast (Rev. 17:10-11). 

The problem that those who say the Second Coming did not happen in the first century have is that they have to put thousands of years in between the existing king when John wrote (the sixth king) and the eighth king (the individual beast that is destroyed by the Second Coming).  Unfortunately for them, even saying that the kings here are kingdoms does not work.  The seventh king’s/kingdom’s rule was to be short (Rev. 17:10); one can not extend it into thousands of years.  If eight kingdoms were in view here, the sixth would be Rome, but what would the short-lived seventh kingdom after Rome be?  That would put the coming of Antichrist and the Second Advent shortly after the fifth-century fall of Rome (as there would only be a short-lived kingdom between the fall of Rome and the coming of Antichrist). 

William Hendriksen vainly tries to escape this problem with what has to be one of the worst interpretations of a Bible passage ever given by a serious interpreter.  He says the seventh king is really a kingdom and represents “all antichristian governments between the fall of Rome and the final empire of antichrist.”54  To try and make the short reign of the seventh king into the very long reign of a number of kingdoms shows the desperate extremes some will go to escape the timeframe that Revelation clearly gives.

As Revelation repeatedly tells us, the time for the fulfillment of its prophecies was at hand when John wrote (Rev. 1:1, 3; 22:10, 12).  One needs to be intellectually honest; either Revelation is correctly saying that the individual beast was about to come (and hence the Second Coming was about to happen) or the book is wrong.