The Revelation: Apocalypse Now

lion-dove-lamb-yeshuaSo, in a weak moment, I agreed to teach a summer series at church on heaven, hell, and the afterlife. And I’ve covered heaven and hell several times here — so I thought preparation would be a cinch. Then I realized that someone might expect me to know something about the Revelation.

And I’ve never seriously studied the book — not in full. I’ve studied parts of it. But I’ve never actually worked my way through it. And, of course, people will have questions. And opinions. Lots of opinions. And so I figure I should work my way through the Apocalypse.

Now, I do know a few things about it. For example, it’s “Revelation” not “Revelations.” Singular. Every time.

And “apocalypse” doesn’t mean “the disaster that ends the world.” It means “revelation.” That is, it refers to something previously unknown being revealed. 

The Jews had a type of literature that we call “apocalyptic,” meaning something like “like the Revelation.” Daniel is particularly noteworthy for its vivid images, and clearly much of the Revelation is based on Daniel’s visions. So when we find a prophecy with vivid images of beasts that represent nations, we want to call it “apocalyptic,” even though all prophecy is revelatory.

And it’s become popular among theologians to describe a particular perspective on Paul, for example, as “apocalyptic,” even though the term often provides more confusion that revelation. I think the theologian is usually saying that Paul is writing from an eschatological perspective (although this is often less than clear).

Actually, I don’t much care for the term “eschatology,” meaning the theology of end times. It sounds too much like “scatology,” which means something else. And it’s one of those words preachers like to drop to show off their education. I try to avoid it, mainly because most people don’t use it or know what it means. But our topic for a little while is all eschatology. But I’ll usually just say “the end times.” Same thing.

So lately N. T. Wright and many other theologians have been teaching us that the NT is very often speaking from an end-times perspective, meaning we are to understand the present through the lens of the future. The future revealed in the Revelation (and many other places in the Bible) informs how we are to live now.

In fact, there’s a fancy term — “inaugurated eschatology” — which is a view of the Bible that is very helpful (although it’s, again, an unnecessarily obscure term). The idea is that the end times have already begun — just not in full. The fullness comes later. Until then, we have the first fruits. A down payment. But it’s all for the purpose of pointing us toward the Consummation — so we can point others the same way.

And this was actually a big deal in my own spiritual journey. For the longest time — even for the first few years of this blog — I didn’t see the point of studying the End Times. People argued, fussed, and split over the Rapture, the Millennium, and such, and who cares about how we get to heaven so long as we get to heaven? But now I know better. The End Times inform how we are to live today.

Oh, and also, I was in law school — maybe later — before I even knew what the “Rapture” is. We never discussed in the church I grew up in. Most of my friends while growing up were either Church of Christ or Baptist. And they didn’t talk about the Rapture. I well remember a law school class where many Christian students challenged the views of our Marxist professor. And they pushed hard for their Rapture theology like it was just as obvious and orthodox as the crucifixion. And so I thought I should look this stuff up. But I didn’t really get it until I reviewed Barbara Rossings’ The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. I caught some serious flack for that one in the comments, and the more people argued against her, the more I found her to make a whole lot of sense.

Studying the End Times tells us not just that bad boys go to hell and good boys go to heaven. Rather, it’s what the End Times tell us about why we’re here. You see, God is pushing history in a particular direction, and us along with it. We can either get on board and serve God or ignore it all. But if we are to be a part of God’s mission, it would really help know what that mission is. And how it all ends pretty much answers that question.

I mean, the behavior of the Allied forced in Europe makes no sense if you don’t know that they were intending to conquer Germany — and to gain control of Berlin especially. Know that, and then you know why the generals  fought the Battle of the Bulge despite the casualties they suffered. It was on the road to Berlin. Otherwise, it would have been pretty pointless. The end of the war explains why the war was fought as it was fought.

In other words, without a clear understanding of the End Times, we will often fight the wrong battles in the wrong places for the wrong reasons.

And we do far too much of that.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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9 Responses to The Revelation: Apocalypse Now

  1. Jeff Hennen says:

    I’ve studied this book since the first grade, and I’ve come to cringe a little bit when I hear it misrepresented as “unfulfilled prophecy” “end time prophecy” or stuff “we’re still waiting for.” I think the primary cause of so much misunderstanding is we simply do not do enough reading in the Old Testament. When a good Bible student has worked through Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Zechariah, the purpose and meaning of John’s visions in Revelation will be very familiar, instead of something new, unusual and confusing. To me, the book is about the church of John’s day at war with Rome. The visions John saw were “unfulfilled prophecy” at the time, but they are mostly history now. Oh sure, there are some eternal truths set forth in the book, but to explicitly affirm in both the opening and closing passages of the book that the things John is about to see/has seen will “shortly take place” “shortly come to pass” or, “the time is near/at hand” really makes all these modern claims of “unfulfilled end-time prophecy” ring hollow. My approach to the book is certainly not as exciting or glamorous as those who have cashed in on it, but I’m confident it is much less laden with error. Still, this is a book to be enjoyed.

  2. Ted says:

    I would hope that the first order of business would be to address the dating of the book. If you can date it in the 60’s, then it can describe the fall of Jerusalem in 70. But if you go with the traditional date in the 90’s you can eliminate the Preterist view altogether.
    In conclusion though…..Jesus Wins!!

  3. Andrew says:

    I’m excited to follow along and see what you have to say. Thanks for attempting such an endeavor.

  4. laymond says:

    scatology, I always heard it pronounced crapology or was it coprology.:)

  5. John F says:

    Did not see an earlier post recommending Revelation: Four Views by Steve Gregg. An unbiased side by side comparison of the four basic views. Worthwhile.

  6. Ray Downen says:

    To understand the apostolic approach to conversion, we do well to study the book of Acts. And that study is necessary if we are to explain why we believe as we do when so many “Christians” believe otherwise. Study of Revelation is not necessary to win lost people to Jesus as Lord. I wrote a simple study of Revelation some years ago, Revelation Unveiled. It deals with the book itself rather than the many varied ways some want us to understand “end times.” More recently i’m recommending Matt Proctor’s book VICTORIOUS, which also is simple and easy to understand. I would mail a copy of my book to anyone who requests it, furnishes the mailing address to mail it to, and gifts me two dollars to pay the postage. I simply urge readers to READ the book, with the possibility of each time learning a little more about what John saw and reports on seeing. Well, in addition to my pointers I pass on suggestions by SETH WILSON as to the meaning of various visions seen by John. My address is mopmailing@gmail.com. 1148 W 28th St, Apt 301, Joplin, MO 64804-1613

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Jeff H wrote,

    Oh sure, there are some eternal truths set forth in the book, but to explicitly affirm in both the opening and closing passages of the book that the things John is about to see/has seen will “shortly take place” “shortly come to pass” or, “the time is near/at hand” really makes all these modern claims of “unfulfilled end-time prophecy” ring hollow.

    Very good point. While I’m not a Preterist, I don’t think we should citing Rev as predicting the formation of the European Union or the founding of the state of Israel. But then again, neither is it a mere book of history. It’s a very serious theology — and deals with the confrontation of power with truth, something we deal with in our times daily.

  8. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Ted wrote,

    I would hope that the first order of business would be to address the dating of the book.

    That’s a fair question.

    As for the date of Revelation, most scholars situate it toward the end of the reign of the Emperor Domitian (ruled 81–96). A few would place it a little later, early in the reign of Trajan (ruled 98–117). Some have argued, however, that either the entire book or a briefer, earlier version of it originates in, or shortly after, the time of the Emperor Nero (ruled 54–68). The best guess, in my view, is the traditional dating to the time of Domitian, as stated by the church father Irenaeus of Lyon in the late second century. One chief reason many scholars hold to this date (rather than a date during or just after Nero’s reign) is that it appears that Jews, and thereafter Christians, began calling Rome “Babylon” only after the fall of Jerusalem in 70. Furthermore, the situation of the churches in Asia Minor during the time of Trajan was probably different from that reflected in Revelation, if the famous correspondence between Trajan and Pliny, governor of Bithynia, is any indication. Thus a date for Revelation toward the end of Domitian’s reign seems most likely.

    Gorman, Michael J. (2011-01-01). Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Kindle Locations 778-785). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

    That’s an extremely abbreviated argument, and at first I wondered at the lack of evidence. But then I realized that the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome would naturally lead Jews to refer to Rome as “Babylon.” Before then, well, Babylon was an existing, large city with a very active Jewish community where rabbis were active and trained. Later on, around 500 AD, the Talmud would be written down in Babylon. And so, pre-70 AD, Babylon was a place where Jews lived and prospered and studied Torah. But when the Romans defeated the first Jewish revolt by destroying the Temple, Rome became the Babylon of the OT — the place of Exile and separation from God. Everything changed.

    Here’s another short argument —

    Some scholars have dated Revelation in the late 60s, shortly after Nero’s death, as several emperors in a row quickly met violent deaths (cf. 17:10). In the book of Revelation, however, the emperor’s power seems to be stable, and this situation does not fit the 60s. Similarly, the imperial cult in Asia (western Turkey) appears to be gaining in power and directly threatens the readers of the book; this situation fits the period of the 90s better. The church also seems to be entrenched in the major cities of Asia; thus a date in Domitian’s reign in the 90s of the first century, reported in early church tradition and still preferred by most scholars, is most likely.

    Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 758.

    Here’s a thoughtful, lengthy discussion of the issues —

    There appear to be two dates only which can be supported by any considerable arguments: the time of the Emperor Domitian and the time (or just after the time) of Nero. The early tradition of the church strongly favours Domitian’s reign, i.e. c. 90–95.60
    The principal reason for dating the book during this reign is the fact that it seems to indicate that emperor-worship was practised, and this is thought to have become widespread in Domitian’s day. The most important passages are those in which the beast, who is held to represent the Roman emperor, demands that all worship him (13:4, 12, 15–16; 14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4). This seems reasonably clear. It is difficult to think that these passages do not refer to the demand for worship of the emperor.
    But dating this accurately is more difficult. Thus Julius Caesar had been worshipped as a god during his lifetime, and, while Augustus was more cautious, there were temples in his honour in some of the provinces. Tiberius actively discouraged the practice, but Caligula went to the other extreme with the demand that his statue be worshipped (though there is not much evidence of any real attempt to enforce this). In any case Claudius, his successor, completely reversed this policy. Nero persecuted the Christians, but this was because he wanted a scapegoat for the great fire in Rome, not because he claimed to be divine. Neither in his reign nor in that of his immediate successors was emperor-worship promoted. Galba, Otho and Vitellius reigned so briefly that the question cannot be said to have been a real one for them, while Vespasian and Titus were practical men who did not concern themselves with being worshipped. It is true that, from the time of Nero, the cult tended to grow in some areas and it is barely possible that the references in Revelation could be understood of some period under or after Nero.
    But all are agreed that the significant advance in emperor-worship took place in the reign of Domitian (AD 81–96). Whereas the earlier emperors had at best accepted emperor-worship, and at worst actively discouraged it, Domitian seems really to have regarded himself as a god.61 On the score of emperor-worship Domitian’s reign is the most probable by far. It was Domitian above all who demanded worship from his subjects. A difficulty is that we do not know what method he adopted to bring it about. Specifically there is no record of his having executed or imprisoned those who refused to worship him.62
    Next we should consider the indications that Revelation was written in a time of persecution. There are some indications that persecution had already begun, for Antipas had been killed (2:13), and John himself appears to have been exiled to Patmos (1:9). But there are more indications of approaching trouble, and the situation seems to be that what had already taken place was seen by John as the harbinger of worse to follow. The church at Smyrna was about to suffer and her sufferings would include some imprisonment (2:10), and the church at Philadelphia is warned of ‘the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth’ (3:10). The visions have references to ‘the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained’ (6:9), and to the woman ‘drunk with the blood of the saints’ (17:6; cf. 16:6; 18:24; 19:2; 20:4).
    We may take it, then, that there had been some persecution of Christians, and that the indications were that much worse was in store. This, it is said, does not fit the time of Nero, for his outburst against the Christians appears to have been local and brief, though fierce. It is said to accord much better with Domitian. But it is very difficult to find evidence that Domitian did in fact persecute people outside Rome. There is evidence of his having certain people executed there, such as Flavius Clemens and his wife Domitilla. The reason given was ‘atheism’, which suggests to most students Christianity (the Christian denial of the Roman gods was often seen as atheism, their belief in one God not being seen as sufficient). While later Christians sometimes speak of a persecution under Domitian63 the evidence is not easy to find. Of course, if it be held on other grounds that this writing is to be dated during Domitian’s reign, then it will itself be evidence of such persecution. But as far as establishing the date of the book goes, all that we can say from the evidence of persecution is that it accords with all that we know of Domitian that there should have been such persecution, and that there is no other period in the first century which fits nearly as well.
    Again, it is urged that Revelation shows evidence of knowledge of the Nero redivivus myth (e.g. 17:8, 11). After Nero’s death it was thought in some circles that he would return. At first this appears to have been a refusal to believe that he was actually dead.64 Later it took the form of a belief that he would come to life again. This took time to develop and Domitian’s reign is about as early as we can expect it.
    The churches of Revelation seem to have a period of development behind them. This would scarcely have been possible at the time of the Neronic persecution, the only serious alternative to the reign of Domitian. Thus we are told that the church in Laodicea could say ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing’ (3:17). As that city was destroyed by an earthquake in AD 60/61 this must have been considerably later.65 Again, the church at Smyrna does not seem to have been in existence in the time of Paul.66 All the churches in chapters 2 and 3 appear to have had a period of history. Especially is this the case with those of whom things could be said like ‘You have forsaken your first love’ (2:4), or ‘you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead’ (3:1). Some have drawn a similar conclusion from the mention of the Nicolaitans. That they are referred to simply by name and with no reference to what they taught or did seems to indicate that they were an established group, perhaps even a sect or heresy. This, too, would take time to develop.
    The argument for a date in the time of Nero assumes that the references to emperor-worship and to persecution will fit his reign. It also holds that the ‘number of the beast’ is to be understood by taking 666 as a reference to Nero (see the commentary on 13:18 for the reasons for this identification and also for the legitimate doubts that are raised). But the reference is by no means sure. Irenaeus, for example, discussed the passage, and put forward a number of views of what the 666 means, but he did not even include Nero among the possibilities, let alone see him as a likely candidate.67 Indeed, Zahn maintains that the view that Nero is in mind was not thought of by anyone until 1831 when Fritzsche put it forward.68 The number of the beast cannot be said to give strong support.
    Another passage which is said to support this dating is that which refers to seven kings of whom ‘Five have fallen, one is’ (17:10). Counting from Augustus, Nero was the fifth emperor, and the argument runs that Revelation dates from the end of Nero’s reign and the beginning of the following. This view runs into difficulties in determining who is the eighth king (17:11). If we omit Galba, Otho and Vitellius (none of whom was ever secure and whose reigns together occupied less than a year) we come to Domitian as the eighth. If we include them, it is Vitellius, but his reign was so short that it rules him out, for the eighth is called ‘the beast who once was, and now is not’ and is clearly cast for an important role.
    Either way there are difficulties. Hort was impressed by two things. The first is the way the book fits in with the last days of Nero and the impression Nero made on his contemporaries: ‘Nero affected the imagination of the world as Domitian, as far as we know, never did.’ The second is that the book ‘breathes the atmosphere of a time of wild commotion’.69 But there is evidence that the impression made by Nero was lasting. There is no reason for holding that it had faded away by the time of Domitian. And the second point is subjective. There is no valid reason for holding that it points to Nero rather than Domitian. The evidence for the Neronic date cannot be said to be conclusive.70
    A further consideration sometimes urged is that, if John the apostle wrote both the Fourth Gospel and Revelation, then, in view of the linguistic differences between the two writings, there must be a big difference in the dates. It is suggested accordingly that Revelation was written comparatively early, when the author’s knowledge of Greek was very imperfect, and the Gospel some years later, when he had had time to become master of his new language.
    But this view will scarcely stand. The date of the Gospel is far from certain and there are some grounds for holding that it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. But the decisive thing is that the language of Revelation is not that of a raw beginner in Greek. It is not that the writer does not know the rules of Greek grammar, but that he decides for himself which he will keep. This view also disregards the possibility of the use of an amanuensis for one of these writings. If this was done (and it seems to me the only way in which common authorship of the two writings can be defended) nothing can be concluded from the standard of Greek as to the dates of the two writings.71

    Some statements in the book are held to point to an early date. When, for example, the Seer is given a rod and told to measure the temple (11:1), it seems a reasonable inference that the temple was standing at the time, which would put the date before AD 70.72
    Sometimes other dates are suggested. A few people have thought, for example, of a date in the time of Vespasian.73 The principal reason is that Vespasian appears to be the emperor in mind in 17:10, which speaks of five kings as having fallen while ‘one is’. This certainly looks like Vespasian, but does not preclude us from thinking of a vision originally seen in the reign of that emperor and later incorporated into the book. But, while the evidence is far from being so conclusive that no other view is possible, on the whole it seems that a date in the time of Domitian, i.e. c. AD 90–95, best suits the facts.

    Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary (TNTC 20; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 38-43.

    These are highly regarded scholars and all prefer a Domitian date, that is, a date after 70 AD.

    Church tradition agrees, going back as early as Irenaeus, who wrote in the early Second Century, giving his testimony considerable weight.

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Steve Gregg’s book is Revelation: Four Views: A Parallel Commentary. He compiles arguments from proponents of all four views into a comparative grid — and takes no position himself. For those wishing for such a study, this is surely the best there is of the type.

    I personally have little interest in this approach as I don’t see all four views as equally likely. The futurist view — it happens some time in the future and not yet — makes much of the text of little comfort to the seven churches in Asia. The book itself repeatedly says these things will happen “soon.”

    The Preterist view is popular in some Church of Christ circles, but I really can’t see Rev 21-22 being about the Destruction of Jerusalem. And how is Satan defeated and in the lake of fire just because the Temple has been destroyed? How is the death of 1,000,000 or more Jews in AD 70 a cause for celebration. The destruction of Jerusalem 500 years earlier by Babylon produced Lamentations. Even God himself inspired his prophets to lament the death and destruction. Why would AD 70 be the end of mourning?

    I take particular offense at such language as —

    Do Chapters 20 and 21 describe a future hope for the church? The entire book of Revelation is not symbolic. There is language that is meant to be taken physically-literally, as well as language meant to be taken figuratively, apocalyptically and allegorically. Chapter 20 describes the transition from the Old System to the New, and 21 presents in figurative terms the spiritual nature of things we now have in Christ’s kingdom. I have often said that Josephus and Eusebius describe in physical terminology what the book of Revelation portrays apocalyptically. -Edward E. Stevens

    This is from the International Preterist Association web page: http://www.preterist.org/get-answers/q-a-topics/.

    I’ve read Josephus’ account of the destruction of Jerusalem. It was ugly. Blood flowing through the streets. Starvation. I don’t know how you can equate Rev 21-22 with Josephus’ account of the destruction of Jerusalem other than by taking a highly anti-Semitic perspective. The death of so many people is the wedding feast of the Lamb? I don’t think so.

    That leaves the historicist point of view, which is what I learned growing up from Foy Wallace, Jr.’s books and tracts. But I’m increasingly persuaded that the interpretations are forced and more anti-Catholic than pro-Christ. That is, I don’t think the state of Israel, WWII, or even the Protestant Reformation is predicted in the Revelation.

    So that leaves me with a very open — or empty — mind. I’m looking for something better — something that celebrates Jesus and doesn’t treat Judaism as a huge mistake. Therefore, all Dispensational views have to be suspect. That is, any interpretation has to honor God’s creation and his prior covenants, not treating them as rubbish. Rather, the covenant theology we studied last year has to be true of Revelation, too.

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