By Gordon Franz
In the ongoing Rapture Debate, one of the points the Preterists love to attack the proponents of the Pre Trib Rapture is the identification of Babylon in Revelation 17 and 18 (DeMar 2001:115-130). The Preterist propose the Babylon was Jerusalem and they see the fulfillment of these passages in the destruction of the city in AD 70.
In 1999 I gave a paper at the annual meeting of the Pre-Trib Research Center entitled, “The Preterist View of Jerusalem: Are the “Fulfillments” Historically Accurate?” In the paper, I agreed with the Preterists on the identification of Babylon with Jerusalem. However, I strongly disagreed with their dating of the fulfillment. I sent John Noe, the president of the Prophecy Reformation Institute and a leading preterist, a copy of my paper. He found the paper interesting and commented, “I think you may be on your way to becoming a preterist.” (Personal letter to author, Feb. 11, 2000). I encouraged Mr. Noe to, “not hold your breath on me becoming a preterist. The more I read preterist literature, the more historical problems I see with the position!” (Personal letter to Mr. Noe, Feb. 24, 2000).
I believe we can agree with the Preterist on the identification of Babylon with Jerusalem, however, we must categorically reject their claims that the prophecies were fulfilled in AD 70. This chapter will demonstrate that there is no credible historical evidence to show that the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 fulfilled Bible prophecy the way the Preterist claim.
Dr. Toussaint gave a paper at the 1995 Pre Trib meeting entitled “A Critique of the Preterist View of the Olivet Discourse”. In the Q & A session, someone asked if there was a good book that refuted the preterist position from a historical perspective. The questioner observed that the Preterists were “historical revisionists” who took history and made it fit their viewpoint. When no book was mentioned, he went on to challenge one of the “history buffs [in the group] to dig into it.” Having worked on archaeological excavations, I like to dig, so I accepted the challenge. This chapter is the part of the fruit of that challenge.
The subject of Jerusalem is near and dear to my heart. I have lived, on and off, in the City of the Great King for over 20 years guiding field trips, working on excavations in and around Jerusalem, and ministering in one of the local assemblies. I am confident that I have a good working knowledge of the history and archaeology of that great city. So let’s “dig into the subject.”
Before we do, I need to make a few preliminary remarks. It has been my objective to read the Preterist material and let them speak for themselves. I do not want to know what we think they say; I want to know what they say!
The questioner on the tape referred to the preterists as “historical revisionists”, a remark I would give a hearty “Amen!” to. It has been my observation that the preterists have a very vivid imagination when it comes to taking historical facts and twisting them to fit the Biblical text.
I must also confess, at first I was very intimidated by their bitter sarcasm and name-calling. But the more of their material I read, the more I become convinced they are wrong. We “Pre-Trib-er’s” have no need to be intimidated by their position. If one sits down with an open Bible, a good translation of Josephus, and reads the Preterist material carefully (by checking the footnotes and comparing what the proponents say, with what the Bible and Josephus say), one will see that the Preterist view does not have any historical justification.
I talked with Edward Stevens and John Noe, two leading proponents of preterism, at the 1999 Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Boston. One of my questions was “What is the best Preterist commentary on the Book of Revelation?” In unison, both responded, “David Chilton’s Days of Vengeance.” In this paper, I would like to focus my attention on this commentary.
I would also like to make one comment about the Pre-Trib position. The biggest problem with the Pre-Trib position is NOT the exegesis of the text, but the eisegesis of the text (reading into the text, that which does not belong there) by the date setters and sensationalists! I was struck by the similarities between the eisegesis of the Preterist on the one hand and that of the sensationalists and date setters within the Pre-Trib position on the other.
The Preterist View
The Preterist view has been defined as that view which “holds that the book of Revelation was mostly fulfilled in the first century with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Thus, most of the aspects (such as the Beast, the Great Tribulation, the fall of Babylon, and Armageddon) have already occurred” (Balyeat 1991:226). Within the Preterist camp, there are two positions, the Full Preterist position and the Partial Preterist position. R. C. Sproul, a Partial Preterist, calls the Full Preterist position “radical preterism” because “all future prophecies in the NT have already been fulfilled” (1998:24). Chilton would call them “consistent preterists” (1987:264). Sproul would call himself a “moderate preterist” because “many future prophecies in the NT have already been fulfilled. Some crucial prophecies have not yet been fulfilled” (1998:24). R. C. Sproul, Kenneth Gentry, Gary De Mar, and others champion the partial preterist position. John Noe, Edward Stevens, David Chilton right before his death, espouses the Full Preterist view. When I talked with Stevens and Noe at the ETS meeting, they said that Sproul and DeMar are heading toward the Full Preterist position, but Gentry is not. The Full Preterist position is making inroads into the theological world and the Pre-Tribulation position is beginning to respond to the position.
One of the key tenets of the Preterist position is that the Babylon mentioned in the Book of Revelation is Jerusalem of AD 70. They would say that the judgment that was poured out on this Babylon was fulfilled with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem in AD 70. Kenneth Gentry summarizes the evidence for Jerusalem as being the Harlot Babylon in a footnote in his book, Before Jerusalem Fell. “(1) Both are called ‘the great city’ (Rev. 14:8; 11:8). (2) The Harlot is filled with the blood of the saints (cp. Rev. 16:6; 17:6; 18:21,24; with Matt. 23:34-38; Luke 13:33; Acts 7:51-52). (3) Jerusalem had previously been called by pagan names quite compatible with the designation ‘Babylon’ (cp. Rev. 14:8 and 17:5 with 11:8). (4) Rome could not fornicate against God, for only Jerusalem was God’s wife (Rev. 17:2-5, cp. Isa. 1:20; Jer. 31:31). (5) There is an obvious contrast between the Harlot and the chaste bride (cp. Rev. 17:2-5 with Rev. 21:1ff) that suggests a contrast with the Jerusalem below and the Jerusalem above (Rev. 21:2; cp. Gal. 4:24ff.; Heb. 12:18ff.). The fact that the Harlot is seated on the seven-headed Beast (obviously representative of Rome) indicates not identity with Rome, but alliance with Rome against Christianity (cp. Matt. 23:37ff.; John 19:6-16; Acts 17:7)” (1998:240,241, footnote 26). In the preface of the new edition he expands on these ideas (1998:liv-lxvi). There are other studies that elaborate on this subject (Ford 1975; Balyeat 1991; Preston 1999; Davies 2000; Holford 2001).
The Dating of Revelation
Another key tenet of Preterism is dating the Book of Revelation to before AD 70. The strongest defense for the pre-AD 70 date in recent years has been by Kenneth Gentry, Jr. entitled Before Jerusalem Fell, Dating the Book of Revelation (1998, Revised Edition). This book is a reworking of his doctoral dissertation from Whitefield Theological Seminary in Lakeland, Florida.
Most Preterists believe that the Olivet Discourse and the Book of Revelation predict the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. If this is the case, than the Book of Revelation has to be written before the destruction of the city. If, on the other hand, it was written during the reign of Emperor Domitian (AD 95) than their whole scenario of the destruction of Jerusalem falls apart. Gentry recognizes this when he reviewed Chilton’s commentary on Revelation. He says, “if it could be demonstrated that Revelation were written 25 years after the Fall of Jerusalem, Chilton’s entire labor would go up in smoke” (1987:11). In his own book he states, “If the book was written two and one-half decades after the destruction of the Temple, however, then the prophecies are necessarily open to an extrapolation into the distant future, and to the exclusion of the important events of AD 67-70. Hence, the whole bearing of Revelation on New Testament eschatology may well be altered by the determination of the matter before us” (Gentry 1998:21).
It is not the purpose of this paper to discuss the date of the book of Revelation. The reader is invited to read Mark Hitchcock’s chapter in this volume. I have not been convinced by Gentry’s arguments for the pre-AD 70 date of the book of Revelation, called the “early date”. I believe the best evidence points to the writing of the book during the reign of Emperor Domitian about AD 95, called the “late date” (Thomas 1994). I will, however, make a few observations about the “early date” for Revelation.
The Acts of John
Gentry comes up with an interesting scenario to get around the writer of the apocryphal The Acts of John clear statement that John wrote the book of Revelation on Patmos during Domitian’s reign. He acknowledges a Domitianic exile, but suggests that “the rationale for the exile is suggestive of a prior publication of Revelation. It could be that John was banished twice, once under Nero and later under Domitian (which would explain the two traditions of a Neronic and Domitianic exile)” (1998:100). He then gives selective quotes from The Acts of John to show that Revelation was written earlier. Let’s look at the account.
“And the fame of the teaching of John was spread abroad in Rome; and it came to the ears of Domitian that there was a certain Hebrew in Ephesus, John by name, who spread a report about the seat of empire of the Romans, saying that it would quickly be rooted out, and that the kingdom of the Romans would be given over to another.” It should be noted that there is no reference to the book of Revelation in this passage. The sayings could well have been from the oral teachings of John that made it to Rome. After all, Rome was at the other end of the Ephesus – Rome maritime trade route. The teachings of John would have been based on the Old Testament prophets and the parables and discourses of the Lord Jesus. Gentry proceeds to leave out a very important part of the passage. The text goes on to say when John arrives in Rome, Domitian asks him about his teachings. “Art thou John who said that my kingdom would speedily be uprooted, and that another king, Jesus, was going to reign instead of me? And John answered and said to him: Thou also shalt reign for many years given thee by God, and after thee very many others; and when the times of the things upon earth has been fulfilled, out of heaven shall come a King, eternal, true, Judge of living and dead, to whom every nation and tribe shall confess, through whom every earthly power and dominion shall be brought to nothing, and every mouth speaking great things shall be shut. This is the mighty Lord and King of everything that hath breath and flesh, the Word and Son of the living One, who is Jesus Christ.” It is obvious why Gentry does not quote this part. It sounds pretty futuristic to me! After John demonstrates his power by drinking deadly poison [cf. Mark 16:18], and raising a couple of people from the dead, Domitian banishes him to an island. The last part of Gentry’s quote is, “And Domitian, astonished at all the wonders, sent him away to an island, appointing for him a set time. And straightway John sailed to Patmos.” Unfortunately for Gentry, the sentence does not end there. It goes on to say, “where also he was deemed worthy to see the revelation of the end” (ANF 8:560-562). The Acts of John clearly support the “late date” for the writing of Revelation and a futuristic view of prophecy, not the fulfillment in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem. Yet Gentry seems to be selective in his quotes to prove his point.
The Seven Stars on the Coins of the Emperors
Chilton comments on the phrase “In His right hand He held seven stars” in Revelation 1:16. “The symbolic use of seven stars was quite well known in the first century, for the seven stars appeared regularly on the Emperor’s coins as a symbol of his supreme political sovereignty. At least some early readers of Revelation must have gasped in amazement at St. John’s audacity in stating that the seven stars were in Christ’s hand. The Roman emperors had appropriated to themselves a symbol of dominion that the Bible reserves for God alone – and, St. John is saying, Jesus Christ has come to take it back. The seven stars, and with them all things in creation, belong to Him. Dominion resides in the right hand of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1987:75.76).
Chilton is generally very good at documenting his statements with reliable sources. Most serious preterist works abound with footnotes. This is very helpful for readers to follow up on the writer’s statements. However, this statement is not footnoted at all. A few points should be clarified. First, the coins of emperors with seven stars on them did not appear regularly until the end of the first century and beginning of the second century AD. Second, the stars on coins generally symbolize the “idea of divinity or of mortals who have joined the stars, as it were, and become gods” (Jones 1990:297). The idea of sovereignty comes from a coin of Emperor Domitian’s deceased and deified son sitting on a globe (representative of the earth) reaching for the seven stars (Franz 1999:47-49; Janzen 1994:644-647). Third, Chilton also has a problem with the dating of the seven star coins. The first seven star coins that were minted during the Imperial period were struck on the island of Crete during the reigns of Caligula (AD 37-41) and Claudius (AD 41-54) and Nero (AD 54-68). For pictures, see Plates 54 and 55, coins 963 – 970, 974, 975; Burnett, Amandry and Ripolles 1992:1/2). A monumental work on Roman provincial coins states the seven stars “represent the Septentriones, the Great Bear; this constellation had a particular connection with Crete as the nurses of Zeus, Helice and Kynosoura, were placed in the heavens as the Great and Little Bear. Therefore the seven stars linked with the cult image of Augustus brought him into a close relationship with Zeus Cretagenes” (Burnett, Amandry and Ripolles 1992:1/1: 230). These coins, however, were for “local circulation” and were not widely circulated off the island of Crete (1992:1/1: 231). It is doubtful most people in the Roman world would have been aware of these coins.
A second coin was struck in Spain and Gaul during the Civil War (AD 68-70). According to Chilton, after the book of Revelation was written. This denarii coin, of the “Divvs Augustus” type, had a crescent and seven stars on the reverse side with Augustus on the obverse side (Sutherland 1984:211, no. 95). It was observed by Sutherland that “the stars and crescent of no. 95 … are borrowed from Republican times” (1984:200). What the meaning of the seven stars in the Republican period is unclear, but at that time, there were seven known planets and some have suggested that the stars represented the planets and the crescent the moon.
Most of the seven star coins come from the end of the first century AD. The coin of Domitian with his son sitting on the globe with his hand stretched out to the seven stars is unique (Mattingly and Sydenham 1926:179, no. 209A, Plate V: 86). Others coins with the seven stars and the crescent were struck during the reign of Trajan (Mattingly and Sydenham 1926:307, no. 785) as well as Hadrian in the year AD 119 (Mattingly and Sydenham 1926:362, no. 202; 381, no. 358; 434, no. 731). Mattingly and Sydenham, two numismatics experts, interpret the seven stars and crescent as “natural symbols of immortality in an age which sought immortality in the stars. It is probably the memory of Trajan that is here honoured. The seven stars of the second type may be purely conventional – a representation of the ‘Septenttiones’, the seven stars of the Great Bear” (1926:324). The argument of the seven stars better fits the “late date” for the Book of Revelation, not the Nero date.
Under the subtitle “The Ease of Application to the Jewish Wars”, Gentry notes that “much of Revelation’s vivid imagery lends itself admirably to the catastrophic events of the Jewish War” (1998:239). He ends the paragraph with the statement, “But, with a number of the distinctive elements, there are simply too many converging lines of evidence pointing to the Jewish Wars to allow for this argument’s hasty a priori dismissal” (1998:239). Is this really the case, or can we dismiss the “fulfillments” as historically inaccurate?
Before we look at the “historical fulfillments” we should consider Josephus and his writings. First, Josephus is a reliable witness to the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem. He was born into a priestly family on his father’s side and the royal Hasmonean family on his mother’s side (Life 1,2; LCL 1:3). He was raised in the city of Jerusalem. He knew the geography and buildings of the city well and it is reflected in his writings. After he pulled his “Benedict Arnold” routine at Yotapata in Galilee, he became the historian of the Flavian family, which included the soon-to-be emperor Vespasian and his son, Titus. Josephus was also an eyewitness to the fall of Jerusalem with a very good vantage-point, sitting in the tent of Titus Caesar! One should also acknowledge his bias. At certain points Josephus tries to justify his actions that might be seen by his Jewish readers in a negative light. Many Jews would ask why did he not commit suicide after convincing his fellow countrymen to do so after the fall of Yotapata? In addition, he was a beneficiary of the Flavian family (Emperor Vespasian and his sons Titus and Domitian). He also received Roman citizenship from Vespasian as well as compensation for his land in Jerusalem by Titus. He had a privileged position in Rome (Life 422, 423; LCL 1:155).
Second, the references to the book, chapter, section, paragraphs, and verses of Josephus’ works can sometimes be confusing. It is my observation that most Preterist (and most evangelicals for that matter) use the William Whiston edition of The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus. Within the scholarly community, however, most use the ten volumes, Greek and English, Loeb Classical Library edition (LCL). The numbering system between the two editions can be confusing. Fortunately for the user there is a very helpful tool for cross-referencing these works. In 1984, H. Douglas Buckwalter and Mary Keil compiled a Guide to the Reference Systems for the Works of Flavius Josephus for the Department of Theological Studies at the Wheaton Graduate School. It was recently published in the ETS monograph series (1995). In this paper, I will use the Loeb Classical Library reference numbers and translation.
The Third Seal (Rev. 6:5,6)
The Third Seal describes a man riding a black horse and holding a pair of scales in his hands. A voice says, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and wine.” The Preterist sees this as the famine that resulted from the siege of Jerusalem prior to its destruction. Several passages from Josephus are quoted in attempt to prove their point (Gentry 1999:243, footnote 35; Chilton 1987:189-191). This judgment does describe a famine, but what causes the famine? The answer lies in the phrase “do not harm the oil and wine.” M. Ford in the Anchor Bible commentary on Revelation as attributing the warning to an order from Titus not to disturb the olive groves and vineyards (1987:191, footnote 15; Ford 1975:107). Ford is actually quoting a French book but gives no primary source for the statement. Gentry suggests that the phrase “may even be that the reference to ‘the oil and the wine’ finds expression in the adulteration of the sacred oil and wine by the Jews themselves; Wars 5:13:6″ (1999:243, footnote 33).
I believe that the proper understanding of the phrase “spare the oil and wine” is found in an event recorded in I Sam. 12. Heavy rains during the wheat harvest would bring disaster for the wheat farmer. The context of I Sam 12 is the nation of Israel’s call for a king “like the other nations” and the rejection of the LORD as King. “Is today not the wheat harvest? I (Samuel) will call to the LORD, and He will send thunder and rain, that you may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking for a king for yourselves” (12:17). The people cried out, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die…” (12:19).
People do not die from thunder and rain! However, as Nogah Hareuveni of Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Gardens in Israel, has pointed out, “The ripe, heavy-eared wheat can suffer from a downpour not only through physical damage from the force of the wind-driven rain, but also by rotting from the sudden moisture combined with the high temperatures that prevail in Israel by Shavuot (in late May – early June). This interpretation explains why the Israelites cried out to Samuel to ‘pray … to save us from death’ (I Sam. 12:19) – from death by starvation that would follow the destruction of the grain crop” (1988:25). Mildew is one of the results of disobedience to the Word of God (Deut. 28:22; I Kings 8:28 // II Chron. 6:28; Amos 4:9; Hag. 2:17; Boronski 1987:158-160).
I experienced such a phenomenon in June of 1992. For two days, Israel was hit with heavy rains during the wheat harvest and the wheat was devastated by mildew. Ironically, it was right before the national elections when people were crying out “Itzhaq, melek Yisrael! Itzhaq, melek Yisrael” (Itzhaq, king of Israel) at their election rallies!
The third seal judgment is an untimely rainstorm during the wheat harvest that destroys a great portion of the crop in Israel and the rest of the Mediterranean world. The demand for wheat, plus the shortage in supply, will lead to higher prices for all. The olive trees and grapevines, the “oil and wine”, will not be affected by this rainstorm because they will have already been pollinated. In fact, the water might even help them. Thus giving oil and wine for all, rich and poor alike (Franz 2000: 9-11).