This article introduces key topics that are critical to understanding the book of Revelation.
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According to Eusebius, Jerome, and Victorinus of Petau, the apostle John was banished to the island of Patmos during the reign of Emperor Domitian who ruled the Roman Empire from 81–96 A.D. and he wrote the book of Revelation at that time. Irenaeus knew of John because he was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John.
This date of the writing of the book of Revelation places the book several decades after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. This is significant for two reasons:
Intense persecution of Christians (atheists) by the Romans as a result of the cult of Emperor Worship began with Nero (64 A.D. until his death in 68 A.D.); intensified with the final "black years" of Domitian's reign (93-96 A.D.) when he demanded to be worshiped as Lord and God; and greatly intensified until the time of Constantine.
One line of evidence that the book of Revelation was written after the temple was destroyed is the use of the image of Rome as the destroyer of Jerusalem. This image appeared in Jewish literature after 70 A.D.
The destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by the Romans provides the backdrop for the book of Revelation and is significant for these reasons:
Based on a date of the book of Revelation during the time of Domitian, and a rejection of the futuristic model, we have the following key interpretation points:
When was Revelation written?
Verses which shed light on the issue:
If written in 68 A.D. this passage refers to:
If written in 96 A.D. this passage refers to:
|The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. (Revelation 1:1)||70 A.D. destruction of temple.||Persecution of Christians, Fall of Roman Empire.|
|Blessed are those who hear [the words of this prophecy] . . . because the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)||70 A.D. destruction of temple.||Persecution of Christians, Fall of Roman Empire.|
|Only hold on to what you have until I come. (Revelation 2:25)||70 A.D. destruction of temple.||Second Coming.|
|I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. (Revelation 3:10)||70 A.D. destruction of temple. Christians fled to safety.||Increased persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire.|
|The Lord . . . sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place. (Revelation 22:6)||70 A.D. destruction of temple.||Persecution of Christians, Fall of Roman Empire.|
|Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book. (Revelation 22:7)||70 A.D. destruction of temple.||Second Coming.|
|Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. (Revelation 22:10)||70 A.D. destruction of temple.||Persecution of Christians, Fall of Roman Empire.|
|Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. (Revelation 22:12)||70 A.D. destruction of temple.||Second Coming.|
|He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20)||70 A.D. destruction of temple.||Second Coming.|
|Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God. (Revelation 7:3)||70 A.D. destruction of temple.||Christians are martyred; finally the Roman Empire falls.|
The first readers were undergoing persecution and martyrdom and the book of Revelation was written to give them hope and encouragement. When people are giving their lives for something they want to know that:
(1) It is for a sufficiently good cause, and
(2) Those persecuting them will be judged for their evil deeds.
Revelation emphasizes these themes:
Keys to interpreting the book of Revelation:
There are passages in the book of Revelation with a clear meaning, which we can use as a framework for interpretation. These are:
The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. (Revelation 17:9)
This is an unmistakable reference to Rome. Therefore, chapter 17 is all about the Roman empire and its emperors.
(Some say that this refers to the seven hills of Jerusalem, such as Mt. Zion, Mt. Moriah, and five others. I have not seriously considered this view).
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. (Revelation 21:1)
Chapters 21 and 22 are concerned with the eternal state. Therefore all the images of end-time prophecy mentioned in these chapters refer to the eternal state. These include: (1) no sea, (2) the Holy City, New Jerusalem, (3) no more crying, (4) the bride of Christ, (5) references to the 12 tribes of Israel, (6) no temple, (7) river of the water of life, and (8) tree of life and its monthly crops for healing.
Some Preterists claim that the New Heavens and New Earth refer to the church age which began around 30 A.D. I reject this view based on the following verse in which it is still future:
But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13)
The book of Revelation is not a chronological narrative — rather, it deals with a variety of topics that would be of concern to a church that is beginning to be persecuted and that will endure intense persecution into the next several centuries.
The trumpet and bowl judgments are parallel accounts, as can be clearly seen by comparing them. Therefore they concern the same events.
Usage of the phrase "a third" in the trumpet judgments — There are three relevant passages:
"In the whole land," declares the LORD, "two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are my people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is our God.'" (Zechariah 13:8-9)
Note that two-thirds are destroyed, but one-third are tested by fire and refined. Afterwards, they acknowledge God.
A third of your people will die of the plague or perish by famine inside you; a third will fall by the sword outside your walls; and a third I will scatter to the winds and pursue with drawn sword. (Ezekiel 5:12).
There are different judgments for different people as represented by the word "one-third."
His [the red dragon's] tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. (Revelation 12:4)
The "one-third" refers to the fallen angels who followed Lucifer in his rebellion.
The common themes in these three passages are:
From Revelation 17:9 we know that "Babylonthe Great" refers to the Roman Empire. Therefore, the Romans who persecuted the Christians because of the cult of emperor worship would be judged and destroyed. This is a prophecy of the ultimate demise of the Roman Empire centuries later.
My system of interpretation is not allegorical;which takes passages as symbolic, and in which the symbols for particular images are chosen based on some overarching principle. A common example of the allegorical method is to first assume that all Old Testament prophecy speaks of Christ. Then all passages are considered to be symbols that in some way relate to Christ.
The steps I use to interpret a passage...
The book of Revelation was written:
The references to the temple in the book of Revelation refer to:
(1) God's presence in heaven — emphasizing God's power, and the believer's restored relationship with God, or
(2) The physical temple in Jerusalem which was destroyed in 70 A.D. as a confirmation that "the Church = Israel."
(1) References to the temple in heaven signify the presence of God in heaven, and that: (1) God is all-powerful, and (2) each redeemed believer has as restored relationship with God. Some verses:
Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, "Go, pour out the seven bowls of God's wrath on the earth." (Revelation 16:1)
Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. (Revelation 3:12)
Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm. (Revelation 11:19)
Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. (Revelation 7:15)
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. (Revelation 21:22)
(2) References to the temple in Jerusalem (before 70 A.D.) signify the physical temple which was destroyed in 70 A.D. as a confirmation that "the Church = Israel."
I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, "Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months." (Revelation 11:1-2)
42 months — The entire church age. Jerusalem and the temple are no longer the focal point of the worship of God. The temple of God is the church, and the unbelievers (Gentiles) will persecute them for the entire church age.
The time period of 3–1/2 years appears several times in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. This time period appears in several forms:
This image refers to the church in the entire church age which:
Here are the six occurrences in chronological sequence with an analysis of each:
Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. (James 5:17)
I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. (Luke 4:25)
Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word." (1 Kings 17:1)
The purpose of the famine was to judge Israel for rejecting God. Elijah, himself, was affected by the famine and God had to supernaturally take care of him:
You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there. (1 Kings 17:4)
For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah. (1 Kings 17:16)
During this time there was persecution of God's servants and they were in hiding.
While Jezebel was killing off the Lord's prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.) (1 Kings 18:4)
Near the end of the famine God put on a mighty display to demonstrate that he is God. The godless leaders were destroyed.
At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again." Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The LORD — he is God! The LORD — he is God!" (1 Kings 18:36-39)
This was prophesied in Chapter 8 of the book of Daniel. During Antiochus Epiphanes' last few years he tried to destroy the Jews. But exactly 3 years (1,095 days) later in 165 B.C. Judas Maccabees recaptured Jerusalem and rededicated the temple to the Lord. But this time period was three years, (1,095 days) not three and one half years.
Christ's ministry before his death was three years or so.
The cult of Emperor Worship began with Nero (64 A.D. until his death in 68 A.D.) when he persecuted Christians in Rome for about 4 years.
The Jewish War lasted about 3–1/2 to 4 years from the time Nero declared war until Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in August of 70 A.D.
Nero declared war on the Jews between Nov 66 A.D. and the spring of 67 A.D. Assuming Nero declared war on Feb 67 A.D. (I selected this date out of thin air; I have no historical evidence at hand), it was 1,260 days later to the destruction of the temple in August 70 A.D.
The persecution under Domitian lasted about 3–1/2 years in the final "black years" of Domitian's reign (93-96 A.D.) when he demanded to be worshiped as Lord and God.
The image of 3–1/2 years in all its various forms is based on Elijah's famine, which has the following elements:
The image of 3–1/2 years applies to the persecution of the Church in the first few centuries, specifically from the time of Domitian until the time of Constantine.
The passages in the Bible using the image of 3–1/2 years:
He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time. (Daniel 7:25)
This passage refers to Domitian who began the persecution against the Church and who was Emperor when the book of Revelation was written. His persecution represents the persecution until the time of Constantine.
The man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, lifted his right hand and his left hand toward heaven, and I heard him swear by him who lives forever, saying, "It will be for a time, times and half a time. When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed." (Daniel 12:7)
This passage concerns The Jewish War (67-70 A.D.) It was Nero who declared war on the Jews which, led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. Based on the Nero Redivivus myth, Nero escaped alive and would return to retake the Empire. John, the writer of the book of Revelation, uses this theme to represent Domitian as the incarnation of Nero. Both emperors persecuted Christians, and later emperors until the time of Constantine persecuted Christians even worse than those two .
The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent's reach. (Revelation 12:14)
The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. (Revelation 12:6)
But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. (Revelation 11:2,3)
For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth. But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. (Revelation 11:9-11)
The two witnesses already occurred during the Jewish War of 66–70 A.D.