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The interpretive turn of Revelation depends strongly upon its date, so much so that the date of the book has implications as serious within Christianity as the date of the Gospels has outside of Christianity. Having looked closely at the dates of the Gospels we have already laid some groundwork in terms of what is to be considered.
Let's draw some guidelines, somewhat modified (since we are not here defending the other central pole of authorship, but assuming John to have been Revelation's author) from that previous work, in which we used Tacitus' Annals as a point of comparison, beginning with external testimony.
External corroborative evidence. If others attribute a work to Tacitus at a certain date, then this is clear testimony that he wrote the document in question at a given date. On the other hand, if some writer at some point (the closer to the time of Tacitus, the "better") either denies that Tacitus wrote a given work at the time specified, or else offers a different date, we may have reason to suspect the date of authorship.
At the same time, if the works of Tacitus are found referred to in other documents, this may be taken as evidence for the date of Tacitus' works, in accordance with the dates of the works quoted. (Absence of such quotes would not necessarily prove a later date, but it would add suspicions if other reasons to be suspicious were present.)
The latter factor, reference by other writers, is of no issue here, for all would agree that Revelation was written prior to the earliest patristic quotes of it. The turning issue is, how much earlier?
A range of suggestions have been made (even one as early as Claudius, 40 AD) but most favor one of two dates: In or near the reign of Nero (54-68) or that of Domitian (81-96). The answer to this question makes or breaks an interpretation of Revelation for preterist purposes. If written in Nero's reign, we are able to at least have some basis to begin an understanding that Revelation was mostly or to some extent fulfilled in the 70 destruction of Jerusalem (as the Olivet Discourse was). If written in Domitian's reign, then Revelation offers nothing for the preterist at all.
After due consideration of the leading work proposing a pre-70 date for Revelation (Gentry's Before Jerusalem Fell, 45-107) I have been surprised to find so far that the external evidence points slightly to a pre-70 date; but there is nevertheless a great deal of conflicting evidence. Let's have a look at the people who mention Revelation first and tell us more about when it was written.
Irenaeus (180-90 AD). We encountered Irenaeus last in our consideration of the date and authorship of Luke. Irey also had something to say about Revelation, but it was not as clear as what he said about Luke:
We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of the 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 apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian's reign.(Against Heresies 5:30:3)
This quote, preserved for us by Eusebius, offers a puzzle: Who, or what, was "seen" almost in Irenaeus' day? Is it "him" who saw the vision? Or was it the vision itself? Domitianists (as we will call late-daters) naturally say it was the vision, but Ireneaus presents some ambiguities.
- Ireneaus usually uses "for" when referring back to the main idea in the previous sentence -- and here, the main idea is the "him" not the vision.
- Ireneaus likes to use the word "seen" with reference to persons, but not for things (like visions). The use of "that (was seen)" rather than "he (was seen)" is countered by two points: a) the translation is in a very poor Latin; b) it is only a small textual corruption from one to the other (visus est versus visum est).
- If the referent is the "him" then the passage makes sense: If giving the name was needed, John would have done so; and he also lived after the time of the book and had plenty of chances to explain himself, and the explanation would have been preserved for us had he given it. If the referent is the vision itself, Irenaeus' comments are senseless.
- Eusebius also cites Irenaeus as saying that "...this number is found in all the approved and ancient copies, and those who saw John face to face confirm it..." The emphasis on personal knowledge of John corresponds better with the referent being back to John in the main quote, rather than to his vision. Indeed, "saw" here is the same verb.
- Elsewhere Irenaeus says that John "continued with the Elders until the time of Trajan." It is argued that this means that Irenaeus would not refer to John as being seen until the time of Domitian; hence the referent in question must be the vision.
This is countered by the point that Irenaeus only says that John was seen until Domitian's reign, not that he died at the time. What Irenaeus seems to be indicating is that John was still making public appearances until the time of Domitian, but withdrew from public discourse (due to his advanced age, no doubt) and then lived until sometime in Trajan's reign.
At the very least Irenaeus's evidence is ambiguous and open to interpretation. But we have in some ways a more clear and compelling statement from Clement of Alexandria (189-215), writing just after Irenaeus. Referring to John he states:
When after the death of the tyrant he removed from the island of Patmos to Ephesus, he used to journey by request to the neighboring districts of Gentiles, in some places to appoint bishops, in others to regulate whole churches...
The argument here turns on what seems an ambiguous descriptor -- "the tyrant." One side says this is Nero; the other says it is Domitian.
Who earns the title better? Without doubt, it is Nero -- in fact, we have clear evidence that he was called by this name:
- Apollonius of Tyana directly says of Nero, that he was "commonly called a Tyrant" (and he also refers to him as a "beast"!)
- Nero fit the definition of "tyrannical" of a certainty: He "put to death so many innocent men" (Tacitus); "the destroyer of the human race", "the poison of the world" (Pliny the Elder); "cruel nature" (Tacitus); "cruelty of disposition" (Suetonius); "cruel and bloody tyranny" (Juvenal). He committed acts of perversion and atrocity so nasty that we won't be printing them here. Nero was heavily mocked and hated in later works as a cruel and vindictive leader, and was widely recognized as the first Emperor to persecute Christians.
"Well, wasn't Domitian a tyrant also? Didn't he also persecute Christians?" On the latter, it's not so clear that Domitian was out for Christians as he was out for anyone who bothered him, which sometimes happened to be Christians near him -- there is no evidence of a general persecution across the board. Significantly, later Christian writers speak of Domitian in terms of Nero -- not vice versa.
As for being a tyrant, let Suetonius (The Twelve Caesars) tell the story. Domitian was not a nice fellow, to be sure, but to call him a "tyrant" would be to waste the word needlessly when there is someone else who deserved it better.
- Nero found hobbies in all manner of perversions and persecuted and killed many innocents. Domitian's favorite activities were recreational sex, throwing dice, taking walks, and stabbing flies with a pen (which he spent hours doing at the beginning of his reign). One of his later projects, as he grew bald, was a book on caring for one's hair.
- Late in his reign Domitian did a few irrational things of relevance -- executing a boy because he looked and performed like an actor Domitian disliked; had an author executed, and his secretarial slaves crucified, for putting some allusions into a literary work; put Senators to death for conspiracy; put another person to death for wanting to celebrate a previous Emperor's birthday.
Later Domitian invented a new form of torture. His various irrationalities made him hated and feared everywhere. But he never reached the level of cruelty and irrationality that Nero did.
- How did the general public react to the respective deaths? With Nero there was "widespread general rejoicing" as "citizens ran through the streets wearing caps of liberty." A few oddballs still supported Nero, but not many. On the other hand, at Domitian's death, the general public "greeted the news...with indifference...", though the military was upset, and the senators of Rome were delighted.
Obviously one could justifiably call either Nero or Domitian a tyrant. But I agree with the patristic writers who described Domitian in terms of Nero. By comparison Domitian was a "tyrant wannabe" and Clement's references make much more sense applied to Nero (especially as the actual word "tyrant" was used of him in literature).
By the same token, the activities Clement ascribes to John -- running all over Asia, riding a horse chasing after an apostate church leader -- make more sense attributed to a man in his 50s or 60s than they do to a man in his 90s or 100s.
Finally, elsewhere Clement states that the teaching of the Apostles was completed at the time of Nero.
Gentry offers other external evidence, some of it equivocal. Of what remains the most compelling and relevant points are:
- Origen (185-254) refers to John as condemned to Patmos by the "king of the Romans." The Julian emperors, of which Nero was the last before generals took over the title of Caesar, was the last to be hailed by this title.
- One of the few clear advocates of a Domitianist date is Victorinus (304 AD) who refers to John being sentenced to go to Patmos, to work in the mines, by Domitian. Gentry points out that it would be odd for John, at the age of 90-100, to survive the journey to be tried, the public scourging, and the lash in the mines, and then go on to do more work in Asia. John would have had to be fitter than Jack LaLanne!
- The Acts of John reports that John was indeed exiled under Domitian, but the reason given for the exile was that Domitian heard of John's influence, and of his teaching that he spread around that Rome would be rooted up and overthrown. Because of this John was sent to Patmos.
Gentry notes that  the teaching described matches what is found in Revelation and suggests that John may have been exiled more than once, the first time under Nero.
- Eusebius is one of the strongest Domitianist witnesses, as he notes that John was condemned to Patmos, though he does not directly state that this is the time that John wrote Revelation (for in fact, he does not think John wrote Revelation at all!), and he does clearly depend on Irenaeus.
Eusebius also offers contradictory data: in one place he speaks of John's exile under Domitian, but elsewhere "speaks of the execution of Peter and Paul in the same sentence with the banishment of John,"  which suggests a Neronian date. (A double exile would solve the matter, though at the affordable expense of dulling Ockham's Razor!)
- Epiphanius (315-403) places John's banishment under Claudius and says that this is when he wrote Revelation. Some suggest that he is confusing Claudius with Nero, for one of Nero's secondary names was Claudius.
- Jerome (340-420) directly states that John wrote Revelation while under exile in the time of Domitian.
- The Syriac History of John directly states that John was exiled under Nero, and the two Syriac versions of Revelation (600s AD) in their title say John was banished by Nero.
- Andreas of Cappadocia (6th century) clearly stands for a Domitianist date, but acknowledges in a commentary on Revelation that there are several commentators in his time who disagreed and preferred a Neronic date. One of these was Arethas, a contemporary.
At the very least, the external evidence for the date of Rev is equivocal. But the detail-weight of the earliest clear witnesses throws the verdict slightly to an earlier date.
With that we now turn to interior corroborative evidence. Again we lift our walking papers from the previous work on the Gospels: If a work of Tacitus tells us that Nero opened a refrigerator, took out a burrito, and stuck it in the microwave oven, we have some cause to doubt a second-century author like Tacitus was responsible for that material! On the other hand, one would also expect that Tacitus would write about things prior to or during his time.
Gauging the internal evidence of Revelation inevitably means taking a stand upon the exegesis of passages. In other words, we now get into the nitty-gritty of deciding whether Revelation makes sense within a pre-70 paradigm.
We begin with a summary and evaluation of several general early-date arguments :
- "The peculiar idiom of Revelation indicates a younger John, before his mastery of the Greek language, a mastery evidenced in his more polished Gospel from a later period." Westcott is quoted as adding  that Revelation is "less developed both in thought and style" compared to the Gospel.
On the other hand, it is argued that the differences may be due to subject matter, an argument which does hold some weight in dealing with other NT works, or some have argued (as Beale) to the use of a Hebrew background.
Another possible point is that John's Gospel and letters were written with help from a scribe; while Revelation, written in exile (alone), was not.
- Only seven churches in Asia Minor indicates a date before later Christian expansion. There is nothing that says that these are then the only seven churches in Asia Minor, though it may be that they were the major churches at the time, and Gentry notes that the number may be symbolic.
- Judaizing heretical activity (Rev. 2-3) should be "less conspicuous" after a broader circulation of Paul's anti-Judaizing letters. This is a point with a stronger aspect: after 70, Judaizing activity would have hardly had the impetus it would have had before 70. Likewise with this point:
- Jewish persecution of Christianity (Rev. 6, 11) indicates "the relative safety and confidence of the Jews in their land." However, it is a mistake to assume that all elements of the heretics or persecutors would simply throw up their hands and leave; Christianity was a subversive movement that would always be persecuted when not in power (see here).
Furthermore, bear in mind that the 60s (Nero's time) was also the time of the Zealots, who would have had strong objections to the evangelism of Gentiles.
- The Temple is said to still exist (Rev. 11). This is one of J. A. T. Robinson's strongest points for dating the Gospels before 70, and it should hardly be bypassed here!
- The reign of the 6th emperor (Rev. 17) indicates a 60s date. We'll explore this more below, as this one:
- It is easy to apply the prophecies of Rev to the Jewish War of 70. We'll have a look at this in detail below.
- The matter of Emperor worship. One of the leading evidences for a Domitianist date is the assumption that Emperor worship, which Revelation seems to allude to, did not start until Domitian. But even proponents of this view admit that Julius Caesar was worshipped, and that there is some evidence of an emperor cult under Augustus and Nero. [See Gentry, 263ff, for a roundup of evidence of emperors being accorded worship from Julius through Nero.]
With this matter of date established, we turn now to matters of interpretation.
Rev. 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John...(cf. 1:3, 19; 3:10, 22:6-7, 12, 20)
"It's been two thousand years," the skeptics say. "So where's this Jesus who was to come 'shortly'?" In previous times I have noted that the word for "shortly" also carries the meaning of "with absolute certainty." Of course either meaning can also carry if Rev was mostly fulfilled in the first century. But can we find an acceptable first century fulfillment?
Rev 1:7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.
Haven't we seen something like this before? Yes, we have, but the KJV may make it a little confusing:
Matthew 24:30 And then 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 the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Mark 13:26)
Despite the difference in English, "kindreds" and "earth" in John are the same words in Greek as "tribes" and "earth" in Matthew (phule [also used in Rev. 5:5 of the "tribe" of Judah, and in 21:12 of the "tribes" of Israel] and ge) -- and yes, "pierced" is the same word used in John 19:37 of the centurion's poke with the spear. We have a definite clue here that John is about to talk about the same thing that the Olivet Discourse did (as well as having something that points to John knowing the Synoptic traditions!). Let us remind the reader what we wrote of that Matthean-Markan passage:
Jesus' retort to Caiaphas, in light of the primary charge that Jesus threatened the Temple, is of great significance in this context. "As a prophet, Jesus staked his reputation on his prediction of the Temple's fall within a generation; if and when it fell, he would thereby be vindicated." Jesus also promoted himself as the new Temple which would replace the old one, with his predictions that he would raise a new one -- his body -- in three days. If the Temple did NOT fall, he would be proven a charlatan. But if the Temple did indeed fall, he would be vindicated -- just like Daniel's "Son of Man" which he claimed to be.
In saying he will ride the clouds, Jesus is not saying, as Wright wryly notes, that Caiaphas would one day walk by a window, look outside, and see Jesus popping a wheelie on a cumulus. Rather Jesus is saying, "You will see me vindicated; you will see my predictions come true."
The "coming" -- as noted, using the word erchomai, which specifies neither destination nor direction -- alludes to the "going" of the Daniel 7 Son of Man from earth to heaven to be enthroned. Caipahas (or more likely, the collective assembled for the trial; as well as the "tribes of the earth" -- Matthew uses "tribes" elsewhere only of Israel [19:28] and "earth" is ge, or land, can mean a limited area or the entire globe; in context, and in the light of the use of "tribes," it most likely means Judaea only) will see the rise of the Christian movement ("from now on" or "hereafter" in the KJV), followed by the destruction of Jerusalem just as Jesus predicted -- this proving that he was and is the true Messiah, "the one in and through whom the covenant god is acting to set up his kingdom."
John has given us a tremendous clue here. He has clearly alluded to the Olivet Discourse -- thus giving us the double bonus of proof of Johnannine knowledge of the Synoptic tradition and and interpretive key for what follows. If Olivet was fulfilled in 70, then clearly, this allusion suggests that Revelation was done to some extent in 70 as well.
From Revelation 2 to 5, there are descriptions and events which might easily be fitted into any paradigm. But the descriptions of the churches bring forth some Domitianist arguments.
- Laodecia's wealth (3:17) is said to be countered by the destruction of that city on 60-1 by an earthquake. But it is clear that John here refers to spiritual riches that would be of no relevance to an earthquake and material prosperity (cf. 1 Cor. 4:8, Hos. 12:8), and even if the riches were material, Tacitus indicates that the city was so well off that it did not need an imperial subsidy to rebuild .
- It is said that the church in Smyrna (2:8-11) did not exist until after Paul's death. This is based upon the letter of Polycarp to the Philippian church which says that his church did not "yet" know Paul, and so it is concluded that Smyrna's church had not yet been founded. But others have noted that the time reference is to when the Philippian church was founded, which was much earlier than the 60s. Smyrna was likely evangelized before the year 60, but after Philippi.
- Some note the spiritual decline in three of the churches as a late date indication, assuming it takes time for such a decline, but if the Corinthians and Galatians (especially) could so soon come up with odd ideas, why would it be odd for one of these churches to decline so quickly? (The social pressures to change would have been tremendous; see here.)
With Revelation 6 we enter into some more specific territory.
The four horses of 6:2-8 -- conquest, war, famine, and death -- are attributed by dispensationalists to the Tribulation. They of course fit perfectly conditions in Judaea in 70 as described by Josephus (and the word "earth" in 6:4, 10, and 17 is that word ge that we have seen also means a smaller land). The souls of the martyrs, often taken as Tribulation saints, is easily read as the martyrs persecuted in Jerusalem, like Stephen and James the Just. The acts of judgment listed in 6:7-8 (famine, wild animals, sword, pestilence) match the four "sore acts of judgment" referenced in Ezekiel, which are in turn derived from the punishments laid out in Deuteronomy against the covenant people. These might be fitted into either paradigm as well. However, it is noteworthy that these warnings and themes also match those found in the Olivet Discourse: war and strife, famine, pestilence (death), and persecution.
Rev. 6:2 And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
The usual dispensational view regards the rider of the white horse as an antichrist figure. To see the rider as an enemy would perhaps be amenable under a preterist view -- but some clues tell us that this rider is actually our friend:
- Rev. 19:11ff has another rider on a white horse who goes out to war -- and that rider is Jesus. The crown he wears here in 6:2 is one given to victors, which is incongruous with an antichrist figure or with one associated with Satan.
- The "bow" being carried hearkens back to Habakkuk 3:9-11: "Thy bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word. Selah. Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers. The mountains saw thee, and they trembled: the overflowing of the water passed by: the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high. The sun and moon stood still in their habitation: at the light of thine arrows they went, and at the shining of thy glittering spear."
This is a picture of Yahweh as a warrior king (see also Ps. 45:3-5). One may also see an allusion in Gen. 9:13-17 and the setting of the "bow" (the same word used for an archer's bow, here used for a rainbow) in the heavens to symbolize God's respite from judgment, now picked up again.
- And as in Rev. 19, the rider has a crown (though this one of a king).
- The Greek word for "conquering" is the same word used to describe Christ's actions in 3:21 and 5:5.
The "oil and the wine" (which I have seen applied to modern Middle Eastern oil!) ties in with oil and wine kept in a special place in the Temple by the priests. Josephus describes the plunder of the temple in the time of Titus by one of the Zealots who distributed it to his fellows. Josephus goes on to suggest that this act of sacrilege warranted the destruction of Jerusalem! There may also be a link to Titus' order to his soldiers not to harm the olive groves or the vineyards.
Rev. 6:10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
The cry to avenge upon those that "dwell on the earth", and the places where this phrase is used, is often interpreted in light of a future worldwide government and nation, but the first century provides enough of a key. Ford  cites a parallel in the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QH 8:19-36) where "dwellers on earth" is used to describe those opposed to the army of the holy ones. In essence, it needs only be read as "the enemy" and not in reference to a worldwide consortium.
Note as well a pattern:
- White horse/white robes
- Red horse/moon like (red) blood
- Black horse/sun black as sackcloth
- Pale (chloros) horse/Green (chloros) grass
6:12-14 And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.
Is the language familiar? Yes:
Matthew 24:29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken...(Mark 13:24-5)
Is. 34:3-5 Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.
The language here is the same used for the fall of Jerusalem in Isaiah's time and in 70.
6:15-17 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
Familiar? It should be:
Luke 23:30 Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.
It is arguable that Luke and John are calling upon oral variants of the same saying made by Jesus concerning Jerusalem's coming fall in 70 (which also calls on Hos. 10:8, prophesying destruction on the Northern Kingdom). Gentry  adds the point that 6:4 refers to the loss of "peace" from the earth. The decade of the 60s is recognized as a significant time when the pax romana (the peace of Rome) was interrupted by the Roman civil wars and by the war in Judaea.
At Rev. 7 we encounter our next interpretive puzzle. All agree that the holding back of the winds upon the "earth" (the word is again ge and could mean a limited space) represents a holding back of divine judgment until the 144,000 witnesses are sealed.
Who are these folks? Jehovah's Witnesses? If we find that this fits the time of 70 then that puts a major stake through the heart of JW doctrine. And as it happens, we have something that fits.
It is likely that the number 144,000 is a symbolic figure indicating wholeness; in any event we have a large number. Under the preterist scheme these 144K (or whatever the exact number may be) from the various tribes of Israel represent the Jews who convert from within the Roman Empire prior to 70. The total number of Diaspora Jews was several million; conversion of even 144,000 by AD 70 would not be out of the question, or could just as well reflect conversions of persons alive before 70 but converted beyond that time. (Note as well that these are "first fruits" -- not the only ones to get to heaven, contrary to JW impressions.)
Corresponding to this view is the reference to the 144,000 learning a "new song" (14:3). As Duane Christensen has shown in Song of Power, Power of Song, the book of Deuteronomy -- the contract offering the original covenant -- was itself designed to be remembered as a song. The new song fits well as understood as the new covenant. Interestingly the 144,000 are described as having no "guile" in their mouths (14:5) -- the same word used to praise Nathanial, who went on to acknowledge that Jesus was the Son of God and the King of Israel (John 1:47).
There are some relevant words from Ezekiel 9:4-6:
And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof. And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house.
Note well that the judgment yet again is on Jerusalem. The regular recurrence of such parallels makes it difficult to justify a "worldwide" action (other than by expansion to typological action, which is allowable).
Under any understanding the great multitude in 7:9-17 would represent a broader range of converts, including Gentiles. But what of that they came out of a "great tribulation" in 7:14? Dispensational thought applies this to a specific 7-year period, but we should not be so quick to identity it as such. This very word is used to refer to "tribulation" that arises because of preaching of the word in the normal course of life (Matt. 13:21, John 16:33, Rom. 8:35), in the Olivet Discourse concerning what believers will experience, as we show, prior to 70 (Matt. 24:9), but most significantly, in John, of the experience of a time of birth (John 16:21).
We would suggest that the "great tribulation" here refers to the "birth" of the messianic age in 70 and represents all of those saved and to be saved in the messianic age. These are said to have "come out" of the tribulation; the word here has a great variety of applications, including come, go, grow, and appear. Surely we can say that the conversions out of the multitude may be in a real sense understood as the product ("coming out of") the birth of the messianic age.
Chapter 8 begins with an ominous silence -- perhaps an indicator of judgment in the offing. But upon whom, and when? We all know the standard dispensational interpretation which seeks to apply the trumpet judgments to things like nuclear war or comets. Creative, but is it necessary?
Rev. 8:7-12 The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up. And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed. And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter. And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.
Dispensationalists strive to figure how some of these might be fulfilled literally; I once noted an interpreter, in the service of finding nuclear war here, who stated that "Wormwood" was an acceptable English translation of "Chernobyl"! Whether that is true or not I cannot say (a reader recently passed a letter from someone in the area who said it meant "forgetfulness"), but it is clear that this passage offers some typical judgment language. Hail, fire and blood hearken back to the plagues upon Egypt, and judgment against Gog in Ezekiel 38.
The "third", which many take literally, is understood more simply as a portion of unspecified amount (cf. Ezek. 5:12-17). The "sun and moon" hearken to the Olivet Discourse. "Wormwood" hearkens back to Jeremiah 9:12-15 and a promise of judgment:
Who is the wise man, that may understand this? and who is he to whom the mouth of the LORD hath spoken, that he may declare it, for what the land perisheth and is burned up like a wilderness, that none passeth through? And the LORD saith, Because they have forsaken my law which I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice, neither walked therein; But have walked after the imagination of their own heart, and after Baalim, which their fathers taught them: Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will feed them, even this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink.
In short, there is no need to interpret these judgments as nuclear devices setting off or as meteors plunging into the sea. They are metaphors of divine judgment brought out of OT motifs, and hyperbolic language known even later in Judaism (as Ford reports  a rabbi told of his excommunication replied, "The world was then smitten: a third of the olive crop, a third of the wheat and a third of the barley crop.")
And yet we also note a certain amount of literal fulfillment in even 70 AD. Destruction of trees and greenery was in line with the Roman "scorched earth" policy as recounted by Josephus (War 6.1.1):
The countryside, like the city, was a pitiful sight, for where once there had been a multitude of trees and parks, there was now an utter wilderness stripped bare of timber...
According to Telford (The Barren Temple and the Withered Tree, 119)the Temple Mount was referred to as "the mountain" -- making some sense of the "burning mountain" cast into the sea. We have noted in our analysis of the Olivet Discourse the meaning of astronomical objects in terms of earthly leadership.
Rev. 9:5 And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man.
The creatures described in Rev. 9 have been reckoned to be anything from demons to helicopters. But before we take the origin of these creatures from the "bottomless pit" too literally, let's remember this warning:
Ezekiel 26:19-20 For thus saith the Lord GOD; When I shall make thee a desolate city, like the cities that are not inhabited; when I shall bring up the deep upon thee, and great waters shall cover thee; When I shall bring thee down with them that descend into the pit, with the people of old time, and shall set thee in the low parts of the earth, in places desolate of old, with them that go down to the pit, that thou be not inhabited; and I shall set glory in the land of the living;
I have defended the validity of the Tyre prophecy for many years, but have yet to meet a skeptic, even, who thinks this flood of water literally came from Hades. But we also have an interesting correlation to two five-months period, either of which may fit the bill: the first, a time from May of 66 when the Roman procurator Gessius Florus terrorized the Jews in an effort to incite rebellion; or, a period of five months from April of 70 until September, in Titus' siege of Jerusalem.
During this five month period the city saw some of the most barbarous conduct of the war within its walls: Josephus speaks of that time as one when evil was so great within the city that he expected a judgment like unto the Flood or the fire of Sodom. The former period seems more likely.
The locusts (9:7-10) bespeaks an army of great military strength. We need not look beyond the forces of Rome for an acceptable preterist interpretation. The binding of the Euphrates (v. 14), so often seen as letting the way in for the armies of China, represents no more than a barrier to Israel's classical enemies (Babylon, Assyria, Persia) which is now also lifted, symbolically, to admit another invader.
The "heads [which] were as it were crowns like gold" matches with the burnished gold helmets of Rome's military, and so match also the iron breastplates; "faces as the faces of men" notes their humanity. "Hair as the hair of women" (think of Samson and his strength) and "teeth were as the teeth of lions" both indicate strength. "Tails like unto scorpions" corresponds with known pagan imagery of man-scorpion combinations and would suit a description of a pagan army.
Literalists may insist that we still need an army of 200 million coming over the Euphrates. Given the nightmarish descriptions above, it is hard to see why, but for their satisfaction, here is an interesting note. Jerusalem was originally attacked in the Jewish War by 4 military sections of Cestius, composed of strong cavalry, that came from near the Euphrates to invade Palestine [Ford, 154]. Those who wonder whether Cestius had 200 million with him once again need to read this portion in light of the OT:
Ps. 68:17 The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place.
The expression here is intended to do no more than indicate an incalculable, indefinite number -- and is also intended, in Revelation, to allude to the army of God coming in judgment (though perhaps in this case, as more of an evil parody -- which Revelation does in other ways as well; see below.) Much of the imagery here is also borrowed from the description of Leviathan (Job 41:18-21). It is out of line to read into these passages descriptions of shoulder-launched nuclear missiles and helicopters and tanks. The ancient world provides all the antecedent language that we need.
Rev. 10 offers nothing that specially favors any paradigm. We move to Rev. 11:
Rev. 11:1-2 And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.
Forty two months, or three and a half years. As with Daniel, many see this as the second half of a 7 year "Tribulation" of our modern Jerusalem and a rebuilt Temple. But as we have noted regarding Daniel, this matches just as easily to the period after 70 -- when, in the second half of the seven-year Jewish war, from 70-73, Rome trampled the city underfoot.
Gentry refers to the dispensational view of this as a future rebuilt Temple (when the destruction of the 70 one remains unmentioned!) as a "suppressed premise" -- and he is right. (The lack of the mention, under this rubric, of the 70 destruction was one of Robinson's primary reasons for dating Revelation before 70.)
These two witnesses are given a description reminiscent of Moses and Elijah (with the ability to call down fire and plague). Literalist interpretation will insist that the actual figures of Moses and Elijah will return and revive their old powers. But once again, one may consider instead the OT background:
Deut. 17:6 At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.
The implication? It is not that there needed to be two literal persons acting as witnesses, but that there was given a certain, undeniable witness. And what of bringing down fire?
Jer. 5:14 Wherefore thus saith the LORD God of hosts, Because ye speak this word, behold, I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.
The method of literalists has ever been to make these "unreal" images into "real" scenarios. Let us note here with clarity that in the genre of an apocaylptic vision, this is an unwise approach, and the same sort of premise that causes Mormons to take Ezekiel 1 as giving God a physical human body.
The mistake is the same in both cases. Apocalyptic literature (such as Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation, and the Enochian literature) brings reality "through the looking glass" and makes the real into unreal. In such cases, allusion tells us more than just literal history.
Rev. 11:7-10 And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.
In light of the quote from Severus (see here) showing that part of Titus' attempt was to destroy Christianity, this is able to be understood as the beast (the Roman Empire -- see more below) overcoming the Christian witness in Jerusalem (the great city where "our Lord" was crucified -- note as well that it is called spiritually Sodom and Egypt, which suggests that the plagues of Egypt, as noted above, are also "spiritually" applied rather than literally) -- or, we may see here (perhaps more likely) a hint of the Neronian persecution which was the first attempt to destroy the Christian faith (with those in Jerusalem being the Jerusalem church, and men like James the brother of Jesus, being persecuted and martyred).
In either case, the Romans probably thought this was a killing blow for the Christian witness, and for a short period (symbolically represented by the 3 1/2 days) thought the mission a success. The idea of not burying the bodies corresponds with the great shame of not being buried; so it is that Rome undoubtedly thought they had put the Christian opposition to shame through defeat. They were wrong:
Rev. 11:11-12 And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them.
The resurrection of our witnesses signifies the vindication of God. The Christian movement would not die off with either Nero or Jerusalem, but would be vindicated by its own survival.
Rev. 11:13 And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.
If we take this chapter, as is more likely, to represent the first "killing attempt" of the Neronian persecution, the "tenth" of the city that falls alludes to God taking a "tithe" of Jerusalem as a warning of what is to come. Those who take the 7000 killed literally may consider the symbolism of the number in terms of the 7000 who were faithful remnants in Elijah's day -- in this case, we have a reversal where the 7000 are killed and the remainder respond with fear.
In this we are perhaps approaching the initial stages of the Roman war against Judea, just after the Neronian persecution which failed to destroy Christianity.
Rev. 12 offers a picture of the birth and life of Christ which can be interpreted favorably under any paradigm. We move to Rev. 13:
Rev. 13:3 And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.(cf. 13:14, 17:8, 11)
In these passages Domitianists may employ a "secret weapon" the elements of which we have alluded to in our work on Tacitus: that of the myth of a "revived Nero" in the time after that Emperor's death. Revelation is seen as employing this myth, and hence, is seen as giving an indication of a post-70 date.
Gentry notes that not all dispensational commentators consider this argument worth the effort [304ff], and that some early-daters, including J. A. T. Robinson, have no problem with the allusion even at an early date! The reason they do not see it as a problem is that the "revived Nero" myth had its roots the prediction of soothsayers early in his reign that he would rule the East and that his fortunes would be restored. Once he went mad, such predictions would have easily evolved into an idea of a "revived" Nero.
Indeed Suetonius records that the few who mourned his death "continued to circulate his edicts, pretending he was still alive and would soon return to confound his enemies," and one of Tacitus' "false Neros" appeared just a year after his death.
That said, it is more probable that this beastie offers a double representation -- that of the Roman Empire itself, which was, at the time John wrote, headed by Nero. Hence we may expect to see something of a dual allusion. The beast will always represent Rome, but Nero was only the head of Rome for a short period.
The description of the beast makes it a combo figure of Daniel's various beasts, showing Rome to be an aggregate representation of all of the empires which preceded it. What is the wound in the head? There are a couple of good ideas, and perhaps the truth is a mix of both:
Acts 17:6 And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also...
"World" here is that word oikoumene which was used of the Roman Empire. The wound in the head may be the subversive "war" of the apostolic church against Rome: the values and beliefs of the church subtly undermined Roman values. Alternatively (or in complimentary fashion) we may have here an indication of the Roman civil wars. I consider the former more likely, in light of an allusion to Gen. 3:15 (referring to the wound in the head of the serpent by the woman's seed, Christ) and in light of Rev. 13:5-8:
And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
Forty-two months, as it happens, corresponds with the period of Neronian persecution from November 64 to June 68 -- and the remainder corresponds with the premise of the Empire paying homage to Nero as Emperor. (The word for "worship" means to fawn, crouch, or do homage to and does not necessarily imply religious devotion, although it can mean that, and here might in terms of Emperor worship.) 13:9-10, tellingly, alludes to Jer. 15:2, a reference (again!) to Jerusalem, but in Jeremiah's time a premonition of the Babylonian Exile.
Rev. 13:11-12 And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.
Dispensational commentators link this passage with a Jewish "false prophet" who will speak on behalf of the Antichrist figure. They are not far off. A preterist view understands the horned lamb in terms of the Jewish leadership prior to 70 which joined with the Roman beast to persecute the church (with notable attention here to James the Just, the martyr par excellence who was slain at the discretion of the high priest and an assembled sanhedrin of judges.
One may perhaps also see here allusions to false prophets warned of by Jesus (and whose existence is verified by Josephus) or to Judaizers within the church; in any event there are ample correspondences in the first century, rendering any connection to a modern figure superfluous.
Rev. 13:13-14 And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.
The bringing of fire from heaven and doing miracles here represents, using apocalyptic "neverland" imagery the ability to persuade of one's prophetic ability. The accusation here, at any rate, is made against the leadership in Jerusalem which aligns itself with Rome against the church.
Rev. 13:15-17 And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
No passage in Revelation has encouraged more speculation than this one. The infamous "mark of the beast" has been rendered in terms of everything from tattoos to implanted computer chips. Perhaps someday we will see such a thing, but in the meantime, the first century already has a correlation.
Let us keep in mind the meaning of "image" (eikon) as we learned from a study of the use of that word, with respect to Mormonism. An "image" is merely a contact point through which the authority of some deity is expressed. We are God's "image" because we exercise his authority on earth.
The charge here is that the leadership of the Jewish nation gave Rome a place of authority to persecute the church. How? Let it be kept in mind that the Jews were given immunity from Emperor worship. By disassociating the church from themselves, the Jews essentially caused the church's protection from the "Jewish exception rule" to be withdrawn.
The "mark" here is no literal mark -- it is a reverse parody of the "seal of God" on the foreheads of the 144,000, and of the allegiance marker specified in Deut. 6:8, "And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes." The Jewish disassociation of Christian believers with Judaism removed, in effect, the ability of believers to be protected from Emperor worship, and that (as is amply attested by works like The Christians as the Romans Saw Them) led, in a collectivist society in which deviant behavior was punished with sanctions, to more official sanctions which would include an inability to do the most basic things -- like buy or sell (an economic boycott).
To see computer chips in this premonition is simply unnecessary. (There is also an allusion here to Ezekiel 9:4-6 and the "mark of destruction" placed upon the disloyal -- in Jerusalem!)
Rev. 13:18 Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.
Does anyone need wisdom? The linking of this triple 6 has been done to Prince Charles, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Ronald (6) Wilson (6) Reagan (6) in my time; there are various plays upon this number using every conceivable language. But if we stick closest to the context we will do just as well as any, if not better.
By now everyone has figured that the triple 6 is an exercise in gematria, or numbers that express a numerical equality. We do know the Romans played this game; a piece of graffiti in Pompeii says, "I love her whose number if 545." This could have been one of many Greek feminine names, but the beloved at least could figure it out. Seutonius reports a Greek lampoon, "A calculation new. Nero his mother slew." In Greek the numerical value of Nero's name was 1005, the same as the words "the slayer of one's mother." It didn't start with Michael Drosnin and probably won't end there.
By now you may guess, if you have been through the rounds, that the preterist equates 666 with Nero. This can be done easily, and there is a bit of confirmatory evidence that this was what was intended [Gentry, 136ff]. Some mss. variants of Rev give the number as 616. Why? The Hebrew spelling of "Nero Caesar" -- as found in rabbinic writings and in one Qumranic document -- renders a 666. But when written out in Latin, we have a value of 616.
Objections against this are sparse; even dispensationalists will often admit that Nero is in mind here. The only objection that seems to have any weight is that John's readers would not "get" the Hebrew connection; but there were plenty of Jews in Asia Minor who could have done the job of interpreting.
The first part of Rev. 14 speaks again of the 144K witnesses. Note that their descriptions as "virgins" corresponds not necessarily with physical sexual purity, but with the OT conception of those who worship false gods and commit "harlotry" against the God of Israel.
Preterism sees in the remainder of this chapter an allusion to the war against Judaea and the fall of Jerusalem (14:8), the home city of a people that was intended to be witnesses to God's truth before the Gentile nations, but misled the nations by failing to accept their true Messiah.
Rev. 14:20 And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.
Dispensationalists comment upon the distance indicated and note that it matches the present state of Israel. But it also matches the ancient lands of Judaea up though Galilee, and fits well the aftermath of the Jewish War of 70. Gentry  quotes Josephus on several points concerning the graphic and bloody deeds accomplished in Judaea, with corpses everywhere clogging the waters and the streets, and blood to the extent that, it is said, it quenched "the fire of many houses."
Rev. 15 depicts the preparation in heaven of further judgments and is easily fit into any paradigm. Rev. 16 offers yet more parallels to the Egyptian plagues -- a parody of the judgments of Israel's enemies being placed now in Israel, who has (with respect to the church) become the enemy. The method whereby this was communicated is not unparalleled. Beale  notes that the Pesqita de Rab Kahana 7.11, a later rabbinic work, "affirms that the same ten plagues God sent against Egypt will be sent against Rome and Gog." B. Hil. 92a states that all nations will drink same cup as Egypt; in other Jewish works, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, it is claimed that the Exodus plagues will be enacted against the world at end of history.
The Egypt plagues were understood as typologies of later plagues to come upon humanity later on. John is making use of this conception here: the Egypt plagues are used as types of what would come. (The exception is the plague of scorching heat; however, the Palestinian Targum on Exodus 13 says that Israel was covered by the cloud of Yahweh as a protection from hail, rain, and heat; this plague represents a withdrawal of the protecting cloud -- Ford, 272 -- and alludes to Ps. 121:5-6, "The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.")
We have already discussed the first century parallels to the forces coming from the Euphrates region (though it is of note that Titus also called further reinforcements from that area). There is also a historical parallel to the judgment of 16:4. Josephus reports of the aftermath of the battle upon the Sea of Galilee:
One could see the whole lake red with blood and covered with corpses, for not a man escaped. During the following days the district reeked with a dreadful stench and presented a spectacle equally horrible. The beaches were strewn with wrecks and swollen carcasses: these corpses, scorched and clammy in decay, so polluted the atmosphere that the catastrophe which plunged the Jews in mourning inspired even its authors with disgust.
Literalists see a worldwide battle in the offing further, but is this intended?
Rev. 16:14 For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.
We would note here that "world" is once again oikoumene -- the Roman Empire.
Rev. 16:16 And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
Today your average ten-cent tour of Israel will be sure and take you by the plain of Megiddo so you can catch a glance at where the world will end. It makes for profitable tours, and perhaps someday we will see something drastic happen there, but the first century and the OT tells us quite enough. The plain of Megiddo is Israel's "Waterloo" -- a symbol of where it has suffered great defeat, notably in the OT the loss of Josiah, the last good king before Judah was taken into captivity. There is not even a need to suppose a battle at this plain, though it did make for a good place for the Romans to assemble their forces. The battle here is around Jerusalem, the Jewish "Waterloo" -- not the actual plain of Megiddo.
Rev. 16:19 And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.
History tells us (Josephus' War 5.1-4) that the besieged Jerusalem divided into three factions that fought it out within the walls as Titus was besieging from without. Once again the apocalyptic "looking glass" language is not fully literal, but is language signifying the judgment of God. The cities of the nations (Gentiles) do not necessarily fall militarily themselves, but fall in light of the new covenant and the subversive order of the Kingdom of God, which proleptically causes the old order to pass away.
However, this may as well correspond with the civil wars which racked the Roman Empire from the time of Nero's death in June of 68. Rome itself saw the destruction of its own "temple" -- that of Jupiter -- in December of 69, and Tacitus describes brutal mob violence and street wars, not so serious as what happened in Jerusalem, but startling enough in the capital of the supposed Pax Romana.
And yet, as with all apocalyptic (and as even dispensational interpreters will say), now and then pockets of literal fulfillment peek through:
16:21 And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.
Dispensational commentators expect a literal plague of meteorological hail. And perhaps there will be one. But 70 saw this fulfilled already: Josephus makes record of catapults used to batter Jerusalem during the siege of 67-70. The stones thrown by these catapults were of the same weight -- one talent -- and were white like hailstones.
Rev. 17:9-11 And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.
Commentators from all schools have no significant disagreement about what John means when he refers to "seven mountains." The seven hills of the city of Rome are undoubtedly in view. Some say we have a view here of the Roman Catholic church. More commonly it is said that Rome will be the HQ for a coming anti-guy.
But who is the harlot? Some say that is Roman Catholicism, but in light of what we have seen so far, the woman who rides the beast is a parody of the pure bride of Christ, and represents the rejected and apostate Jerusalem which did not recognize its Messiah, riding upon Rome in order to take advantage of its protection and authority and persecuting the church (17:6). The many images of apostate Israel as a harlot in the OT (Is. 1:21, Jer. 2:20-3:13, Hosea 9:1, Ezekiel 16) support this view.
And the seven to eight kings? Well, that's a crux to behold. Dispensationalists see the number as symbolic. Some see it as representing successive kingdoms. Obviously a preterist view sees these as the Caesars, the list of which we saw in our study of Daniel:
- Julius Caesar, 49-44 BC
- Triumverate: Marc Anthony/Octavian (Augustus)/Lepidus 44-31 BC
- Augustus, 31 BC-14 AD
- Tiberius, 14-37
- Caligula, 37-41
- Claudius, 41-54
- Nero, 54-68
- Galba, 68-69
- Otho, 69
- Vitellius, 69
- Vespasian, 69-79
- Titus, 79-81
- Domitian, 81-96
A count works out from Daniel, as we saw, but what about here? Some count first with Augustus (as the first "official" emperor); some knock out the three quick-draw emperors of 69. Gentry  starts it with Julius, on the grounds that it is with he whom, overwhelmingly, the contemporary lists begin, and that despite his refusal of the title of king, Julius did take the title of Imperator or Caesar.
But there is something of a difference from the time of Daniel and that of John. By this time, the triumvarate was viewed as something of a hiccup, and Augustus was viewed as #2 on the list. In other similar lists (Epistle of Barnabas 4:4, the Sibylline Oracles) the three "quick draw" emperors are also counted.
- Julius Caesar, 49-44 BC
- Augustus, 31 BC-14 AD
- Tiberius, 14-37
- Caligula, 37-41
- Claudius, 41-54
- Nero, 54-68
- Galba, 68-69
- Otho, 69
- Vitellius, 69
- Vespasian, 69-79
- Titus, 79-81
- Domitian, 81-96
Five are fallen -- from Julius to Claudius. One is -- Nero. One is yet to come, and must continue a short space -- Galba, the first of the quick draws. But what then of number eight? There are a couple of views. According to Gentry, that's Otho, but how can he be "the beast that was, and is not," that goes into perdition?
We should note first of all that the "was, and is not" phrase is yet another parody -- that of the divine "was, and is, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8). Literalists who propose some sort of ruler who seesaws in and out of power are missing the point entirely.
How does Gentry work the Otho equation? He reports a most peculiar event from the work of Suetonius that hauntingly fits this description. Otho upon returning to the palace at Rome, in the midst of adulations of the crowd, "was hailed by the common herd as Nero" and "made no sign of dissent" and "even made use of that surname in his commissions and his first letters to some of the governors of the provinces." Tacitus also reports that Otho celebrated Nero's memory hoping to gain further favor, and was acclaimed as "Nero Otho." He even recalled Nero's procurators.
Ford , however, provides a more convincing view. Noting the the three "hiccup" emperors never had power over Judaea, she skips over them and makes Vespasian number 7, and Titus number 8. This has the eerie advantage of a more clear explanation of the eighth "belonging to" the seventh -- Titus, of course, was Vespasian's son. The "was, and is not" parody is especially appropriate when we consider that Josephus tried to apply Jewish Messianic prophecies to Vespasian!
What then of the ten kings (17:12)? I have seen this applied to anything from the European Economic Community (which passed 10 members long ago) to the former Soviet Union's 10 subsidiary powers (with Gorbachev as anti-guy). In the preterist view, some see this as the 10 governors of Palestine on Rome's behalf. Others [DeMar, 272] suggest Rome's 10 provinces in the first century (Italy, Achaia, Asia, Syria, Egypt, Africa, Spain, Gaul, Britain, Germany). Some generalize the number 10 and see it as a reference to all client kings and nations under Rome's power.
In any of these cases we do have powers that receive power in the short term with the Roman beast ("one hour") and do not have their own kingdom as yet, and do "have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast." I consider the ten provinces the most likely, given the warring upon or persecution of the church, and the turning back of these powers upon the Jewish population (17:16) which continued to be persecuted throughout Rome before and after the Jewish war.
Rev. 18:3 For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.
First century Jerusalem, of course, was a center of trade. The land bridge at the center of three continents -- Europe, Asia, and Africa -- was, and still is, a center for commerce, and the riches brought through that area are well known: Ford  notes that "foreign trade had a great influence on the holy city, and the temple drew the largest share." Merchants and kings could not help be upset by her fall in spite of all else (18:9) -- the interruption of trade would affect pockets as surely as Sept. 11 did.
Rev. 19:13-15 And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
Now, in the preterist view, a new "war" began, and is still going -- this time with the "Word of God" as the weapon, subverting the nations with its message of salvation. "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." (Heb. 4:12) Literalists see a final battle of military nature. Preterists see a war of the heart, and I think they are right to do so.
Rev. 20:1-3 And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
What now of the millennium? Literalists see an actual thousand year reign; those who know OT imagery see merely "a very long time" indicated by a round number. Ps. 50:10, "For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills." The cattle on the 1001st hill belong to God also; this only means that all cattle are His. So how long is the 1000 years? It cannot be said. Jewish thought estimated the Messianic reign to last anywhere between 60 and 7000 years. The point is that we have a long epoch, at the end of which (20:7ff-22) will be judgment and resurrection.
Some may respond that a preterist interpretation of Revelation requires too much stretching. I disagree -- and respond that the exegetical flights are far less fancy than those that see Middle Eastern oil (6:6) or tanks and helicopters. As with the Olivet Discourse, we may indeed see a "repeat performance" in the future of some sort, but the language of Revelation that speaks of Christ coming quickly (22:20) suggests that a first-century fulfillment is also necessary.