By Gordon Franz
The First Trumpet (Rev. 8:7)
John describes the first trumpet judgment as, “The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth; and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up” (8:7).
Chilton interprets this passage by saying, “St. John sees hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were thrown onto the Land. The blood of the slain witnesses [I assume the martyrs of the fifth seal, Rev. 6:9-11] is mixed with the fire from the altar, bringing wrath down upon the persecutors. The result of the curse … is the burning of a third of the Land and a third of the trees, and all the green grass (i.e., all the grass on a third of the Land; cf. 9:4). If the trees and grass represent the elect remnant (as they seem to in 7:3 and 9:4), this indicates that they are not exempt from physical suffering and death as God’s wrath is visited upon the wicked” (1987:236).
Several observations should be made at this point. First, Chilton does not indicate if the hail is literal or not. If it is not literal, he does not identify what the hail represents. Later in his book he identifies the hail as something other than hailstones (1987: 417,418). Second, Chilton makes a qualifying statement, “if the trees and grass represents the elect remnant” and then refers to two passages elsewhere in the book of Revelation. Do the trees and grass represent the elect remnant? Rev. 7:3 makes a distinction between the earth, sea and trees and the “servants of our God.” The Apostle John uses the word “and” to distinguish the trees from the servants. In Rev. 9:4 the demonic “locusts” were commanded not to harm the grass and trees but “only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” In an actual locust plague, the locusts would eat vegetation (i.e. grass or leaves of trees) not attack human beings. In the case of the demonic “locusts” they were not to attack vegetation but human beings and in particular, those who did not have the seal of God. In either case the grass and trees do not represent the elect remnant.
Chilton tries to find a literal fulfillment during the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70. He says, “Literally, the vegetation of Judea, and especially of Jerusalem, would be destroyed in the Roman scorched-earth methods of warfare” (1987:237). He then quotes a passage from Wars 6:6-8 describing the desolation of Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside caused by the war. What Chilton does not say is why the Romans cut down the trees. The passage before the one quoted by Chilton says, “The Romans, meanwhile, though sorely harassed in the collection of timbers, had completed their earthworks in one and twenty days, having, already stated, cleared the whole district around the town to a distance of ninety furlongs” (Wars 6:5: LCL 3:379). Elsewhere Josephus says “the trees were felled and the suburbs rapidly stripped; but while the timber was being collected for the earthworks and the whole army busily engaged in the work, the Jews on their side were not inactive” (Wars 5:263,264; LCL 3:283). Later on, Josephus writes, “though timber was now procured with difficulty [for the erection of earth-works]; for, all the trees round the city having been felled for the previous works, the troops had to collect fresh material from a distance of ninety furlong” (Wars 5:522,523; LCL 3:363). The Romans cut down the wood in order to use it to build earthworks for its siege of Jerusalem, not to burn as a “scorched earth” policy.
This conclusion is in marked contrast with the prediction by John of the first trumpet judgment, “a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up” as a result of hail and fire, mixed with blood thrown to earth (apparently from heaven). The first trumpet was not literally fulfilled in AD 70.
The Second Trumpet (Rev. 8:8,9)
In the second trumpet judgment, John sees a great mountain burning with fire thrown into the sea and a third of the sea became blood and a third of the sea creatures died. Also a third of the ships were destroyed.
Chilton identifies the mountain as the nation of Israel because they are “the mountain of God’s inheritance” (Ex. 15:17) (1987:238). A careful reading of Ex. 15:17 shows that Israel is separate from the mountain. “You [the LORD] will bring them [Your people = Israel, of verse 16] in and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which You have made for Your own dwelling. The sanctuary, O LORD, which Your hands have established.” The mountain, in the context, is Mt. Zion in Jerusalem where God would eventually dwell (Ps. 48).
Chilton does not interpret the sea becoming blood or the sea creatures dying, or the ships being destroyed. It would be better to see this “burning mountain” as a volcano somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea during the Tribulation period. The descriptions that follow, the sea turning to blood, sea creatures dying and the ships destroyed, are known phenomenona connected with volcanic activity (Bent 1888:817).
The Sixth Trumpet (Rev. 9:13-21)
The sixth trumpet judgment begins with the sixth angel releasing four angels that are bound at the Euphrates River. Their job was to kill one third of mankind. The army lead by the angels had “myriads of myriads” horsemen. The NASB and the NKJV give the number as “two hundred million” horsemen. Chilton argues that the number “simply means many thousands, and indicates a vast host that is to be thought of in connection with the Lord’s angelic army of thousands upon thousands of chariots” (1987:251). Yet he goes on to say, “as it actually worked out in history, the Jewish rebellion in reaction to the ‘locust plague’ of Gessius Florus during the summer of 66 provoked Cestius’ invasion of Palestine in the fall, with large numbers of mounted troops from the regions near the Euphrates (although the main point of St. John’s reference is the symbolic significance of the river in Biblical history and prophecy)” (1987:252). He cites Josephus, Wars ii.xviii.9-xix.7 (2:499-545, LCL 2:517-535) and J. M. Ford’s Anchor Bible Commentary on Revelation (page 154). She in turn cites a French work by S. Giet. Is this the case? I do not think so.
For a good overview of the Cestius Gallus campaign against Judea, see Gichon 1981. Josephus records Cestius’ preparation in Antioch (Pliny the Elder places the Euphrates River 175 Roman miles from Antioch. Natural History 5:67; 6:126; LCL 2:269,433) for the “invasion of Palestine” (Chilton’s words). [For the use of the word “Palestine” before AD 135 see, Jacobson 1999:65-74] “He accordingly left Antioch, taking with him the twelfth legion in full strength (5,400 infantry and 120 cavalry), two thousand picked men from each of the other legions (6,000 more men from the 3rd, 6th, and 10th Legions) and in addition six cohorts of infantry (500 soldiers in a cohort, so another 3,000 men), and four squadrons of cavalry (I am not able to determine how many four squadrons are); beside these he had the auxiliary contingents furnished by the kings, of which Antiochus supplied two thousand horse (2,000) and three thousand foot (3,000), all archers, Agrippa an equal number of foot (3,000) and rather less than two thousand horse (-2,000), Soaemus following with four thousand, of which one-third were cavalry (1,333) and the majority archers (2,666). … Further auxiliaries in very large numbers were collected from the towns” (Wars 2:500-502, LCL 2:517,519). The organized army had just over 23,000+ infantry and about 5,500 cavalry. The 5,500 does not come close to the 200 million in the text, but then again, that is why Chilton interprets it as “many thousands”!
The horsemen were instructed to kill one third of all “mankind” (9:15) and were successful in this task (9:18). Chilton ignores this number and attributes no fulfillment to it. If he were consistent with his position, the Roman army under Cestius, would have had to kill one third of “Israel” in their attack against Jerusalem. Is this the case? I do not believe so. Of the Jews, he records, “Their (the Jews) own losses had been quite inconsiderable” (Wars 2:555, LCL 2:537). At one point he records 22 being killed in a skirmish with the Romans (Wars 2:519, LCL 2:525). The irony is that the Romans and their allies lost “five thousand three hundred infantry and four hundred and eighty of the cavalry” (Wars 2:555, LCL 2:537). That was one fifth of the Roman forces! But one third of mankind or Israel were not killed.
Chilton realizes this problem and makes a creative excuse for the Jews. “The retreat of Cestius was of course taken to mean that Christ’s prophecies of Jerusalem’s destruction were false: The armies from the Euphrates had come and surrounded Jerusalem (cf. Luke 21:20), but the threatened ‘desolation’ had not come to pass. … The Jews recklessly plunged ahead into greater acts of rebellion, unaware that even greater forces beyond the Euphrates were being readied for battle” (1987:258). The problem with this interpretation is that the text does not say what he tries to make it say!
Earthquakes in the Book of Revelation
The word “earthquake” is used seven times in the Book of Revelation to describe five different earthquakes (Rev. 6:12; 8:5; 11:13 [twice], 19; 16:18 [twice]).
The first earthquake occurs during the sixth seal (Rev. 6:12). It is called a “great earthquake” and is connected with other cosmic disturbances (6:12-17). Chilton calls this seal judgement a “de-creation”, or “God ripping apart and dissolving the fabric of creation” (1987:196). The pattern of this judgment is based on the order of creation (i.e. earth, sun, moon, stars, firmament, land and man). The first judgment is the earthquake, and its imagery is the destabilization (of earth?). A number of Scriptures are quoted but Chilton does not say if this earthquake actually occurred. Another preterist says that earthquakes are “the symbol of revolution, the shaking up of the nations in their various places. It is the figure of the agitations, upheavals, resulting in the revolutions and wars of Matthew 24:29. It is the symbol of divine judgment on the nations persecuting the cause of the Lamb” (Wallace 1997:153).
The second earthquake occurs during the seventh seal judgment (Rev. 8:1-6). “Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake” (8:5). Again, Chilton does not say if this is a literal earthquake or not (1987:231-235).
The third earthquake occurs in conjunction with the martyrdom and resurrection of the two witnesses in Jerusalem (Rev. 11:13). “In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and the tenth of the city fell. In the earthquake seven thousand men were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.” Chilton understands this to mean the defeat of the Lord’s enemies, but does not take this as a literal earthquake (1987:285).
The fourth earthquake is mentioned at the end of chapter 11. “Then the Temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His Temple. And there was lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail” (11:19).
The fifth and final earthquake in Revelation is after the gathering of the armies of the nations at Armageddon (Rev. 16:16). This occurs during the seventh bowl judgment (Rev. 16:17-21). “Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the Temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings, and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth” (Rev. 16:17,18). This earthquake, John writes, is like none that occurred since men were on the earth. If the Preterist position is true, this earthquake was the most devastating earthquake to hit the earth and Jerusalem in particular (vs. 19, “the great city” = Jerusalem). Yet the Preterist do not take this as a literal earthquake. Chilton says, “Seven times in Revelation St. John mentions an earthquake (6:12; 8:5; 11:13 [twice]; 11:19; 16:18 [twice]), emphasizing its covenantal dimensions. Christ came to bring the definitive earthquake, the great cosmic earthquake of the New Covenant” (1987:413). Another Preterist comments, “These [the voices, thunder, lightnings, and earthquakes] are symbolic of the great energies of God’s throne being loosed in accomplishment of His purpose. The great earthquake symbolizes the great change in the earth that took place when Israel as a nation under God was destroyed” (Ogden 1985:320,321). The Preterist does not take this prophecy literally, but rather symbolically. Why? The reason is because they have no historical fulfillment from Josephus or any Roman historian to show for this prophecy. Remember that Josephus was sitting in Jerusalem as an eyewitness to the siege of the city by Titus Caesar. If any earthquake had occurred, for sure he would have mentioned it, especially one the size that John predicted.
There were only three recorded earthquakes in Jerusalem during the First century AD. One occurred in AD 30, in connection with the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 27:51-54; 28:2). Another in AD 33, where there was slight damage to the Temple and finally another one in AD 48 that caused slight damage (Amiran, Arieh and Turcotte 1994: 265). Since there was no earthquake, much less the most devastating one to hit the city, the Preterist have to make the earthquake symbolic!
The Preterist dates the book of Revelation to before AD 70. If they took this prophecy as a literal earthquake, Pliny the Elder would have put the lie to John’s statement “such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth.” Pliny was a Roman of equestrian rank and a prolific researcher and writer. His best known work is the 37 books of his Natural History. Ironically, Pliny died while investigating the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79. Writing in AD 77, Pliny described the earthquake that destroyed a portion of Asia Minor (now western Turkey) in AD 17 as “the greatest earthquake in human memory occurred when Tiberius Caesar was emperor, twelve Asiatic cities being overthrown in one night” (2:86:200; LCL 2:331, viii).
Tacitus, in his Annals, described this earthquake as well. “In the same year, twelve important cities of Asia collapsed in an earthquake, the time being night, so that the havoc was the less foreseen and the more devastating. Even the usual resource in these catastrophes, a rush to open ground, was unavailing, as the fugitives were swallowed up in yawning chasms. Accounts are given of huge mountains sinking, of former plains seen heaved aloft, of fires flashing out amid the ruin. As the disaster fell heaviest on the Sardians, it brought them the largest measure of sympathy, the Caesar promising ten million sesterces, and remitting for five years their payments to the national and imperial exchequers” (2:47: LCL 2: 459).
Pliny wrote this statement in AD 77, after John penned the Book of Revelation (according to the Preterist) and he said the AD 17 earthquake was the greatest in human memory. If there had been an earthquake in Jerusalem right before AD 70, Pliny would have mentioned it as the greatest. Pliny’s statement would fit better in the context of the book of Revelation having been written during the reign of Emperor Domitian.
Earthquakes create a big problem for the preterist position because none occurred during the time of the Jewish revolt. Thus, they have to make it symbolic, and not literal.
Hailstones (Rev. 16:19-21)
After the greatest earthquake ever recorded in the history of humanity (Rev. 16:16), the great city (Jerusalem) was divided into three parts. Chilton, quoting Carrington, attributes this historically to the three rival Jewish leaders within Jerusalem during the siege by Titus (1987:416; cf. Wars 5:184-221; LCL 3:255-267). The “great Babylon” (Jerusalem) was remembered before God and He poured out His wrath (16:19). “Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (16:20). Rather than seeing this as some seismic activity resulting from the greatest earthquake to hit the face of the earth (cf. 16:16), Chilton sees this symbolically as the disappearance of false refuge for the wicked to hide (1987:417).
Then, “great hail from heaven fell upon men, every hailstone about the weight of a talent. And men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great” (16:21). Chilton correctly sees the connection between this judgment and the 7th plague during the Exodus from Egypt (Ex. 9:18-26), and the hailstones that fell on the Canaanite at Beth Horon (Josh. 10:11). In both cases these were literal hailstones and in modern day military parlance, they would be “air-to-surface” projectiles.
Yet how does Chilton and other preterists, understand these hailstones? “Hailstones” = stone missiles (ballista stones) shot from Roman catapults against the Jewish defenders of Jerusalem! (Chilton 1987:417,418; Gentry 1998:245,246; Russell 1996:480,481; Ogden 1996:322,323). Josephus describes the Roman “artillery engines” (or “stone projectors”) as “wonderfully constructed” and “the rocks which they hurled weighed a talent and had a range of two furlongs or more” (Wars 5:269,270; LCL 3:285). Elsewhere Josephus mentions the 160 artillery engines that the three Roman legions employed against Jerusalem and ballista stones that weighted one talent (Wars 3:166-168; LCL 2:627). In modern military jargon these would be “surface-to-surface” projectiles.
The differences between hailstones and ballista stones are drastic. One is made of ice and the other is made of stone, and in Jerusalem, limestone. One is “air-to-surface” and divinely poured out, while the other, is “surface-to-surface” man made artillery shot by the Romans. The only similarities between the hailstones of Rev. 16 and the ballista stones of the Roman siege are that they both weighed one talent. According to Chilton, a talent is equal to 100 pounds. Others dispute this claim and say, “no precise weight is intended by the talent-sized hailstones poured out of the bowl of the seventh angel in Rev. 16:21, but they would have been formidable, weighing, even by the late Jewish definition of the talent, at least 20.4 kg” (Powell 1992:6:907b). If one converted this weight, 20.4 kg would equal 49.982 pounds, half what Chilton states.
A good example of ballista stones found in an archaeological context in Jerusalem can be seen in the area of the Citadel Museum at Jaffa Gate. However, these stones are not from the First Jewish Revolt, but most likely from “the siege of Jerusalem by Antiochus VII Sidetes during the reign of John Hyrcanus (133-132 B.C.E.)” (Sivan and Solar 1994:174; a photograph of the ballista stones can be seen on page 173).
In June of 2000, I gave a field trip to the Herodian, south of Bethlehem. In Herod the Great’s bedroom there was a pile of ballista stones. As I sat on top of them, I read Rev. 16:21 to the group of seminarians from The Master’s Seminary. I pointed to the stones and said, tongue-in-cheek, “Folks, these are the hailstones mentioned in this passage!” The students, all good Pre-Tribbers, looked at me in bewilderment until someone in the back asked, “Why haven’t them melted?!” I responded, “Good question, next time you talk to a Preterist, ask him.”
Rev. 16:17-21 illustrates a glaring problem in the preterist position. When is the text to be taken literally and when is it to be taken symbolically? The earthquake in verse 18 is symbolic and the “hailstones” (which, according to the Preterist, are really ballista stones) are taken “literally” and historically fulfilled in AD 70. Consistent hermeneutics would prove helpful to the preterist in determining literal meaning from symbolic meanings.
“The Man of Sin”
James Russell, in his book The Parousia, gives 12 criteria for identifying the “Man of Sin” in II Thess. 2:1-12 (1996:181-182). They are
(1) He will be an individual.
(2) He is a public person.
(3) He holds the highest rank in the State.
(4) He is a Gentile, not Jewish.
(5) He claims divinity.
(6) He pretends to exercise miraculous power.
(7) His character is wickedness.
(8) He is a lawless ruler.
(9) When the epistle was written, he had not come to power.
(10) He was “hindered” by someone known to the Thessalonians.
(11) He was doomed to destruction.
(12) His “manifestation” was prior to the Parousia.
Russell goes on to identify the “Man of Sin” as Nero and his step-father, Claudius, as the “restrainer”.
The biggest problem with this view is that the list of criteria leaves out a very important point. Paul writes that the “Man of Sin” would sit “as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (II Thess. 2:4). While Nero claimed divinity, he never sat in the Temple of God in Jerusalem and declared himself God.
John Noe, following a booklet written by John Bray (1999), has recently suggested that the “Man of Sin” was John of Gischala, one of the commanders of the Zealot forces defending Jerusalem during the Jewish Revolt and the Temple Mount in particular. The “restrainer” was the Jewish priesthood lead by Ananus, the high priest. They were removed when John of Gischala had them all murdered (2000:206-212).
The shortcoming of this view is that John of Gischala never declared himself to be God. If he did, Josephus would have picked up on it and accused him of blasphemy. There was no love loss between the two. In fact, they hated one other.
Both views have partial fulfillment, but not complete fulfillment. Nero proclaimed himself to be divine, but never sat in the Temple of Jerusalem. John of Gischala, on the other hand, was in the Temple in Jerusalem, but never declared himself to be God. Thus both fail to fulfill the prophecy of Paul in II Thess. 2. We are still waiting a future fulfillment in a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem.
John Noe should be commended for showing the comparison between Matthew 24 and II Thessalonians 2 (2000:296, footnote 2). But it makes more sense to see the two as future rather that fulfilled in AD 70.
The biggest problem with the preterist position is the lack of consistent hermeneutics. They grope to find historical fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. When historical fulfillment fails the passage or event becomes “symbolic”. It would be helpful if someone in the preterist camp would write a hermeneutics for his or her position. What are the criteria for taking something literally? When does something become symbolic?
In some cases, they do not give a complete interpretation of a passage. For example, in the second trumpet judgment, Chilton fails to identify or interpret all the things in the passage. He makes no mention of the blood, the sea life that died or the 1/3 of the ships that were destroyed (8:8,9).
They are also selective in their use of the material they use to prove their point. For example, The Acts of John.
Sometimes they use the historical data incorrectly as demonstrated by the coins with the seven stars.
Finally, the “historical fulfillments” are not really fulfillments at all.
Are the Fulfillments Historically Accurate?
This chapter began by asking the question, “Are the fulfillments of the preterist view of Jerusalem historically accurate?” The question must be answered three ways, (1) Biblically, (2) Historically, and (3) Prophetically. Biblically, is Jerusalem to be identified with Babylon? Prophetically, were the prophecies fulfilled in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem? Historically, does the historical record fit the fulfillments?
Biblically, the preterists have properly identified, in my opinion, “that great city” (Babylon) with Jerusalem. Historically, their evidence for a fulfillment by an AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. Prophetically, they have misidentified the timing of the event. I believe “that great city” (Babylon) of Revelation 11-18 is a still future city of Jerusalem where the Antichrist will set up his throne in a rebuilt temple. This city, trodden under foot by the Gentiles for the last 42 months of the Tribulation, will be destroyed at the end of the Great Tribulation period.
Babylon is identified as “that great city” nine times in the Book of Revelation. Seven of which are clearly connected with “Babylon”. The first mention of the phrase “that great city” is in Rev. 11 where it is clearly identified as Jerusalem, “where our Lord was crucified” (Rev. 11:8). It is also called “spiritually” (we would say metaphorically) “Sodom and Egypt”. The city is not Sodom or Egypt, but is called that. It is identified as the place where our Lord was crucified. Where was that? It was not outside of Rome, nor Babylon, nor in Egypt, but Jerusalem. This first mention of “that great city” clearly identifies the rest of the usage of the phrase. John uses “Sodom” and “Egypt” in a spiritual (metaphorical) sense for Jerusalem, why could he not use “Babylon” in the same way?
I believe there are three reasons most Premillennialists have not taken a serious look at this view. First, they have their preconceived ideas as to the identity of Babylon. It is either Rome or Babylon in Iraq. Needless to say, both of these ideas have serious Biblical flaws. Second, they do not want to admit the Preterist might have correctly identified the city. Third, they do not want to be accused of anti-Semitism. Of course, nobody would accuse Isaiah of anti-Semitism after he called the leaders of Jerusalem, “rulers of Sodom” and the people of Jerusalem, “people of Gomorrah” (Isa. 1:10) and “a harlot” (1:21). Jeremiah calls the prophets of Jerusalem “like Sodom” and the people of Jerusalem “like Gomorrah” (Jer. 23:14). Ezekiel calls Judah “Sodom and her daughters” (16:46). This is strong language but it is not anti-Semitic.
For Further Study
One area of comparison that I have not been able to pursue is the chronology of the Great Tribulation as set forth by the Preterist with the chronology of the First Jewish Revolt and the history of the Roman Empire during the 60’s of the First century. Lord willing, and the saints aren’t Raptured first, I will write an article on “The Preterist View of the Great Tribulation and the First Jewish Revolt: Is It Chronologically Accurate?”
One would have to make a time line of the Jewish Revolt (fortunately Josephus left us meticulous dates for most events) and the Roman Empire in the decade of the 60’s. Then compare the timeline with the Preterist’s interpretation of the “time span” passages in the book of Revelation (i.e. “five months,” “three and a half years,” “forty-two months,” and “1,260 days”).
Another area to pursue would be the “fulfillment” of the “Abomination of Desolation” in Matt. 24:15. The Preterists have suggested several different interpretations to show how this was “fulfilled” during the First Jewish Revolt.
Still further study should be on their identification of the “Man of Sin”. Does John of Gischala fit the criteria of II Thess. 2?
A Final Word
The Apostle Paul wrote the second epistle to the church at Thessalonika to correct some prophetic errors. He concludes his epistle by admonishing the believers, “And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (3:14,15).
We should be very careful not to stoop to the level of name-calling when we talk with those who hold to the Preterist position. They are not our enemies, nor are they heretics, but they are our brothers. They fully believe in the inspiration and inerrency of the Scriptures. They love the Lord Jesus and His church. We just do not agree with them on certain points of theology. When we do disagree, we can kindly say, “I’m sorry brother, I love you but have to respectfully disagree with you.” After all, it is NOT the end of the world!
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A variation of this paper was presented at the 1999 Pre-Trib Study Group on Monday, December 13, 1999.