The greatest weekend in salvation history was predicted by King David the prophet in Psalm 16 almost a thousand years before it happened. In Gethsemane we see His trust (Psalm 16:1-6); up to Gabbatha, we see him unmovable (16:7-8); at Golgotha, we see His joy (16:9a); in the “Garden Tomb,” we see Him risen (16:9b-10); and in the Glory, we see Him rejoicing (19:11)!
Prophecy Comments Off on HAROLD CAMPING AND THE RETURN OF THE LORD JESUS
by Gordon Franz
Harold Camping, the founder and president of Family Radio in Oakland, CA, is batting 0 for 2 in his predictions for the return of Christ and judgment day. In 1992 he published a book entitled 1994 (Vantage Press), in which he predicted that the Lord Jesus would return in October of 1994. That, of course, with 20-20 hindsight, did not happen. However, in the book he had an escape clause that predicted, if Jesus did not return in 1994, He would come back in 2011 (pages 494-495).
Harold Camping set the date of May 21, 2011 at 6 PM in whatever time zone you were in (I guess it would have been a “rolling rapture”!) as the day and the hour of Christ’s return. Again, with 20-20 hindsight, that day and hour came and went and nothing happened.
On Monday night, May 23rd, Camping discussed the non-event on his radio program. He commented: “On May 21, this last weekend, this is where the spiritual aspect of it really comes through. God again brought judgment on the world. We didn’t see any difference but God brought Judgment Day to bear upon the whole world. The whole world is under Judgment Day and it will continue right up until October 21, 2011 and by that time the whole world will be destroyed.” In his evasive non-answer he reaffirmed his prediction of the final Day of Judgment as October 21, 2011.
Mr. Camping can be very thankful he lives in America during the Biblical Age of Grace and not in a theocratic ancient Israel under the Mosaic Law. If he was living in ancient Israel today, he would be under a pile of rocks! He would have been stoned to death; not only for being a false prophet (Deut. 13:1-11; 18:20-22), but also for blasphemy (Lev. 24:10-16, 23). The Lord Jesus said: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matt. 24:36, emphasis mine). In his arrogance, Mr. Camping predicted the day and hour of Christ’s return, something only the Father knows. Thus, Camping equates himself with the Father! Why would the Father reveal the date and time to Mr. Camping when He did not even tell His Son while He was in the flesh (Mark 13:32)?!
Fortunately for Mr. Camping, he still lives in the Age of Grace and still has time, at least until he dies, to admit the errors of his ways. He should confess his sins of arrogance and blasphemy before the Lord (1 John 1:9). Then he should apologize to his followers for leading them astray and also make restitution to those who gave money to his organization because of his false calculations. Finally, he should apologize to the Body of Christ for all the harm his false prophecies have caused because the unsaved world mocks the precious doctrine of the Blessed Hope of the return of the Lord Jesus (Tit. 2:13-14). But that should not surprise believers in the Lord Jesus because the Apostle Peter said that scoffers would mock this doctrine in the last days (2 Pet. 3:1-9).
Yet the Apostle Peter also holds out hope for all unsaved, including the scoffers, when he wrote: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (3:9). In this Age of Grace, an unsaved sinner can still put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, God manifest in human flesh, as the One who died on the cross to pay for all sin and who bodily rose from the dead to prove that sin had been paid for, Satan defeated, and death conquered.
When people place their trust in the Lord Jesus, and Him alone and not their good works or their own righteousness; God forgives all their sins, declares them righteous before Holy God, clothes them with His righteousness, and gives them a home in Heaven. The offer of salvation is freely given to any and all who would put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their own personal Savior (John 3:16; 6:47; Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 3:9; Tit. 3:4-7; 1 Pet. 1:3-5; 1 John 5:13).
The Lord Jesus, at the Last Supper, reassured His disciples that He would return to earth one day. He stated: “’Let not your heart be troubled; you believe God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s houses are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.’ Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?’ Jesus said to Him, ‘I AM the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:1-6).
Even so, come Lord Jesus!
Prophecy Comments Off on BABYLON REVISITED: Isaiah 21 – Future or Fulfillment?
by Gordon Franz
During the First Gulf War – Operation Desert Storm – Saddam Hussein was brought to the forefront of world events. Students of Bible prophecy asked, “What, if anything, does he or Iraq have to do with prophetic events?” Passages concerning Babylon were studied to see where Saddam Hussein, or Iraq for that matter, might fit into a particular prophetic scheme. One passage which deals with the fall of Babylon is Isaiah 21. Verse 9 states, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen! And all the carved images of her gods He has broken to the ground.” I would like to re-examine this passage of Scripture and ask the question, “Was this passage fulfilled, or even partially fulfilled during Operation Desert Storm?” (as some prophecy teachers suggest), or, “Was the passage actually fulfilled in Isaiah’s day?”
One of the best-selling books on the place of Babylon in prophecy during the First Gulf War was The Rise of Babylon by Dr. Charles Dyer. It is interesting that Dr. Dyer never addressed this passage in the book, nor does he address it in his follow-up book, World News and Bible Prophecy.
Noah Hutching, the radio pastor for Southwest Radio Church in Oklahoma quoted Isaiah 21:9 in his book The Persian Gulf Crisis and the Final Fall of Babylon (1990: 27). Yet surprisingly, in the chapter entitled “Isaiah Against Babylon” (chapter 9), he only discusses Isaiah 13 and ignores completely chapter 21.
Other popular prophecy teachers did address this chapter. J. R. Church, in his prophetic magazine Prophecy in the News, states: “While researching the prophets for their perspective on the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, we came across Isaiah’s prediction of doom upon the ‘desert of the sea’ (Isaiah 21). The description fits the Persian Gulf nations perfectly” (1990: 1). He goes on to identify the “lion” in verse 8 with Great Britain because the British Petroleum Company was given half of the oil rights in Kuwait (1990: 1). At the end of the article he predicted (prior to Operation Desert Storm) that “during the upcoming war with Iraq, Israel will become involved and occupy Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. When Israel destroys Damascus, Russia will retaliate. The U.S.S.R. has a 20-year defense treaty with Syria, promising to come to Syria’s aid in case of attack. The eventual Israeli invasion of Syria will precipitate Russian involvement. Ezekiel called this the Battle of Gog and Magog” (1990: 4). Apparently Rev. Church has not consulted Dr. Edwin Yamauchi’s excellent work (1982) on the proper identification of Gog and Magog! And, with 20-20 hindsight, his predictions were not fulfilled.
Another popular prophecy teacher, Dr. Robert Lindsted, in his book Certainty of Bible Prophecy had a little more to say about this chapter. In his chapter entitled “Saddam Hussein, The Persian Gulf, and the End Times” written just prior to Operation Desert Storm, he speculated that the “chariot of men” in verse 9 are the Israeli manufactured “Merkavah” tanks, the word meaning chariot (1990: 21-22). He goes on to quote a bit more of the verse “Babylon is fallen, is fallen” and suggested “again again, two fallings, one an ancient one under the Medes and Persians, and another which could be just around the corner” (1991: 22). Interestingly, he does not quote or comment on the last part of the verse which deals with the smashing of idols.
Students of Bible prophecy have generally overlooked an important tool for understanding this chapter; mainly, the archaeologist’s spade. Archaeology has a direct bearing on this passage from two different angles. First, there are ancient inscriptions that give first hand accounts, or historical reflections, of the fall of Babylon in 689 BC. Second, there is confirmation of this destruction by the German excavation at the beginning of the 20th century. With this, let us turn our attention to Isaiah 21.
The Context of Isaiah 21
This chapter falls within the “Burden against the nations” section of the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 13-23). It was pronounced by Isaiah around 713 BC, just prior to the “14th year of the reign of King Hezekiah” (713/12 BC), in an attempt to influence Judean foreign policy. It seemed that a group within the “State Department” of Judah, led by Prime Minister Shebna (the royal steward), wanted to join an anti-Assyrian coalition of surrounding nations, lead by Merodah-baladan of Babylon. Isaiah tried to point out the futility of trusting in these foreign powers. He predicted that they would all soon be destroyed. He encouraged Hezekiah to trust only in the LORD for deliverance (Franz 1987: 28-30).
Possibilities for Historical Fulfillment
There are several candidates for the fulfillment of this passage in the history of ancient Babylon. The older commentaries stated that this was fulfilled when Cyrus captured Babylon in 539 BC. In fact, the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, translates verse 2 as, “Against me are the Elamites, and the princes of the Persians are coming against me.” The “banquet” in verse 5 was seen as Belshazzar’s feast the night of the fall of Babylon. However, when Cyrus entered Babylon he did not treat the carved images the way it was described in verse 9. In fact, “on the contrary, we are expressly assured that his entrance, save for the attack on the palace in which Belshazzar was slain, was a peaceful one, and that there was no cessation whatever of the temple worship” (Bautflower 1930: 148-149).
Another possibility is Sargon II’s campaign against Merodah-baladan in 710 BC. This possibility was first suggested by the Assyriologist George Smith and expanded on by Kleinert. George Adam Smith follows this idea in his commentary on Isaiah (nd: 1:201-204). More recently, John Hayes and Stuart Irvine, in their commentary on Isaiah, likewise adapted this view (1987: 271-276). This view, however, also has problems. The entrance of Sargon II into Babylon to assume the throne in 709 BC is described in the Assyrian sources as quite peaceful. Joan Oates in her book on Babylon states: “The cities of northern Babylonia are alleged to have welcomed the Assyrian king, throwing open their gates ‘with great rejoicing’” (1991: 116). Sargon II boastfully inscribed on the wall of his palace in Khorsabad: “Into Babylon, the city of the lord of the gods, joyfully I entered, in gladness of heart, and with a beaming countenance. I grasped the hand(s) of the great lord Marduk, and made pilgrimage (lit., completed the march) to the ‘House of the New Year’s Feast’” (ARAB 2:35). Hardly the way Isaiah described it!
The best candidate is Sennacherib’s conquest of the city in 689 BC. When Sargon II died in battle in 705 BC, his son Sennacherib ascended to the throne. In so doing, he assumed the kingship of Babylon as well. In 703 BC, Marduk-zakir-shumi II seized the throne of Babylon. Soon after, Merodah-baladan made a bid for the throne as well. Sennacherib turned his attention on him and he fled to the marshes. A Babylonian puppet, Bel-ibni, was installed as king. He lasted several years until he was replaced by Sennacherib’s son, Assur-nadin-shumi, who ruled in relative peace for about six years (699-694 BC). In 694 BC, Sennacherib launched a daring campaign against the Chaldeans on the western frontier of Elam. While Sennacherib’s forces were engaged near the Persian Gulf, some Elamites made a bold “end-run” and captured Sennacherib’s son at Sippar. The son was never heard from again, so it is assumed he was murdered by the Elamites. An Elamite puppet, Nergal-ushezib, was placed on the throne of Babylon (694 BC). The Assyrians removed him on their way back to Nineveh several months later. A certain Mushezib-Marduk seized the throne with Aramaean support. This support prompted the new king and his Elamite alliance, paid for with silver, gold, and precious stones from the treasuries of the temples in Babylon, to attack Assyria. A major battle ensued at Halule on the Tigris River. The outcome of the battle depends on whose account you believe. Sennacherib boasted a victory with 150,000 of the enemy dead. The Babylonian Chronicles said the Assyrians retreated. The fact that Sennacherib did not continue the attack suggests that he suffered a reversal so he had to regroup. In 690 BC, he returned to lay siege against Babylon (Oates 1991: 116-119).
The Bivian Inscription described the fall of Babylon in 689 BC in these terms. “In a second campaign of mine I advanced swiftly against Babylon, upon whose conquest I had determined. Like the on-coming of a storm I broke loose, and overwhelmed it like a hurricane. I completely invested that city, with mines and engines my hands [took the city]. The plunder …… his powerful ….. whether small or great, I left none. With their corpses I filled the city squares (wide places). Shuzubu, king of Babylonia, together with his family and his [nobles], I carried off alive into my land. The wealth of that city, – silver, gold, precious stones, property and goods, I doled out (counted into the hands of) to my people and they made it their own. The gods dwelling therein, – the hands of my people took them, and they smashed them. Their property and goods they seized” (ARAB 2:151-152). That is exactly what Isaiah “saw” in verse 9. In fact, A. A. Macintosh points out, “the Assyrian word used for ‘broke them in pieces’ (ushabbiruma) is ‘radically identical to the shbr of verse 9’” (1980: 72). It was as if Isaiah “saw” (prophetically) an advance copy of the “Nineveh News” with the headlines blaring “Babylonian Gods Smashed, Assyrian Army Victorious Over Babylonia” and he lifted the words right off the page and placed them in his book. You’ll pardon the pun, but this prophecy was literally fulfilled to the letter!
Sennacherib goes on to describe the total destruction of Babylon in these terms: “The city and (its) houses, from the foundation to its top, I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire. The wall and outer wall, temples and gods, temple towers of bricks and earth, as many as there were, I razed and dumped them into the Arahtu Canal. Through the midst of that city I dug canals, I flooded its site (lit., ground) with water, and the very foundations thereof (lit., the structure of its foundation) I destroyed. I made its destruction more complete than that by a flood. That in days to come the site of that city, and (its) temples and gods, might not be remembered, I completely blotted it out with (floods) of water and made it like a meadow” (ARAB 2:152).
Is it any wonder that Isaiah predicted the destruction of Babylon in similar words? “And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It will never be inhabited, nor will it be settled from generation to generation …” (13: 19-20a). He later wrote, “’for I will rise up against them,’ says the LORD of Hosts, ‘and cut off from Babylon the name and remnant, and offspring and posterity,’ says the LORD. ‘I will also make it a possession for porcupine, and marshes of muddy water; I will sweep it with the broom of destruction,’ says the LORD of Host” (14: 22-23). That is exactly what happened in 689 BC!
Esarhaddon, after building a new city of Babylon eight years later, reflected on what happened during his father’s reign. He comments that the Arahtu overflowed and turned the city into ruins, and became a wasteland. Reeds and poplars grew in the abandoned city, while birds and fish lived there. The gods and goddesses of Babylon left their shrines and went up to heaven and the people fled for unknown lands (Brinkman 1983: 39). However, nowhere does he mention the devastating deeds of his father. Brinkman concludes that the purpose of this is that, “within a narrative structured around divine involvement in human affairs, the former debasement of the city and its abandonment by god and man acted as a perfect literary foil for its glorious resurrection under Esarhaddon and the restoration of its exiled deities and citizens” (1983: 42).
Nabonidus, the king of Babylon from 555-539 BC, reflected on Sennacherib’s deeds in these words. “[Against Akkad] he (i.e. Sennacherib) had evil intentions, he thought out crimes [agai]nst the country (Babylon), [he had] no mercy for the inhabitants of the co[untry]. With evil intentions against Babylon he let its sanctuaries fall in disrepair, disturbed the(ir) foundation outlines and let the cultic rites fall into oblivion. He (even) led the princely Marduk away and brought (him) into Ashur” (ANET 309). In the footnote on “disturbed their foundation outline”, the meaning is “Lit.: ‘to blot out; (suhhu). This seems to have been done to make it impossible to retrace the outlines of the original foundation-walls and therefore to rebuild the sanctuary.” Is this what the excavations show?
The German Excavation of Babylon
Morris Jastrow wrote in his monumental work, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, in 1915, “The result of fourteen years of steady and uninterrupted excavations has been to reveal … in the case of Babylon the excavations have shown that King Sennacherib of Assyria, did not exaggerate when, in his inscriptions, he told us that weary of the frequent uprisings in the south against Assyrian control, he decided to set an example by completely destroying the city of Babylon — razing its large structures to the ground and placing the city under water in order to make the work of destruction complete. This happened in the year 689 B.C. While some remains of the older Babylon have come to light (chiefly through the discovery of clay tablets belonging to earlier periods), the city unearthed by the German Oriental Society is the new city, the creation chiefly of Nebopolassar (625-604 B.C.), the founder of the neo-Babylonian dynasty, and of his famous son, the great Nebuchnezzar II (604-561 B.C.)” (1915: 55).
An example of the earlier city is found in the Southern Citadel. Koldewey described the area thus: “North-west of the palace of Nabopolassar, the deep below the three fortification walls which here lie in front of the southern Citadel, there are remains of four ancient walls, the discovery of which has been of great importance for the topography of Babylon. … The wall of Sargon (S on the diagram) is the thickest, but with its crown its only attains a height of .27 metres below zero, where it is covered over with a thick layer of asphalt” (1914: 137). In the section of the Southern Citadel, one can clearly see the wall of Sargon is below the level of the Arachtu (or some would say, the Euphrates River). This demonstrates the fulfillment of the words of Isaiah 13:19-20; 14:22-23; 21:9.
Some students of Bible prophecy might question whether this destruction was a literal fulfillment of the words of Isaiah. He said God would overthrow Babylon like Sodom and Gomorrah and it would never be inhabited again. After all, Esarhaddon rebuilt the city only eight years later. I think an archaeologist would understand this better than most. We know that when a city is destroyed by a military campaign or natural calamities it falls into ruins. When someone comes back to rebuild the city, they either fix up the previous buildings, if there is anything left, or reuse the stones that may be scattered on the surface to build an entirely new city. When Esarhaddon surveyed what used to be Babylon he found an uninhabited marshy area with some ruins of houses and palaces inhabited by wildlife. The city that he built was a completely new city on top of the previous one. So Isaiah, in truth, could say, “Babylon … will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It will never be inhabited, nor will it be settled from generation to generation.” And, “I will also make it a possession for the porcupine, and marshes of muddy water.” The city that Sennacherib destroyed was completely covered over when Esarhaddon rebuilt it so that level was never inhabited again. Esarhaddon built a completely new city on top of the marshy ruins of the old one. The words of Isaiah were literally fulfilled. I do not believe there is any need to speculate whether Saddam Hussein is in any of these passages. They were already fulfilled in Isaiah’s day.
The Elamites and Medians – Isaiah 21:1
A. A. Macintosh has seen the phrase in verse 2, “Go up, Elam! Besiege, O Media! All its sighing I have made to cease” as a depiction of the attitude of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They were relying on Babylon and its king (cf. Isa, 39:1) to defeat the Assyrians. In reality, this was the Judeans cheering for the Elamite/Medians/Babylonian coalition. Yet Isaiah’s message from the Lord is “that Babylon will fall to the Assyrians and reliance upon her is as foolish as reliance upon any other foreign power” (1980: 112).
The Conclusion of the Matter
I think it is safe to say that the words of Isaiah were literally fulfilled by the destruction of Sennacherib in 689 BC. There is no need to look for a fulfillment in Operation Desert Storm, or say that we are at “half-time” now and the second half will resume soon.¹
The purpose of Bible prophecy is to bring people to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior and to encourage believers in the Lord Jesus to live lives pleasing to Him so we will not be ashamed at His coming (1 John 2:28-3:3). The purpose is not to make fancy charts, try to identify who the big toe is in Daniel’s image, or play “pin-the-tail-on-the-Antichrist”!
Interestingly, the prophet Jeremiah used similar language to warn Nebuchadnezzar of the coming destruction of Babylon (Jer. 50-51). It was written in a letter and sent to the courts of Babylon (Jer. 51:59-64) to be a reminder and warning to Nebuchadnezzar that God had acted in the past and fulfilled His Word and He could be counted on to act again in the near future. I believe that the Spirit of God used Jeremiah’s inspired words, as well as the humbling process that God put Nebuchadnezzar through (Dan. 4), and the prayers of the Judean believers in Babylonia (Jer. 29:7; cf. Dan. 6:10), to bring him to faith in the God of Heaven. In so doing, Nebuchadnezzar averted the judgment of God on Babylon for the time being (Jer. 18:6-12; cf. 26:17-19; Jonah 3:10; 4:2). Jeremiah 50 and 51 were not literally fulfilled, nor does it have to be because it fulfilled the purpose of Bible prophecy which was to bring Nebuchadnezzar to faith. After all, isn’t that what Bible prophecy is all about? To bring men and women to faith and change the way we live. Even so, come Lord Jesus!
1930 The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39 in Light of the Assyrian Monuments. London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge.
1983 Through the Glass Darkly, Esarhaddon’s Retrospects on the Downfall of Babylon. Journal of the American Oriental Society 103: 35-42.
Church, J. R.
1990 Britain Owns Half of the Oil in Kuwait. Prophecy in the News 10/10: 1, 4.
1991 The Rise of Babylon. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale.
1993 World News and Bible Prophecy. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale.
1987 The Hezekiah/Sennacherib Chronology Problem Reconsidered. Unpublished MA thesis, Columbia Biblical Seminary. Columbia, SC.
Hayes, John; and Irvine, Stuart
1987 Isaiah, the Eighth-Century Prophet: His Times and His Preaching. Nashville, TN: Abingdon.
1990 The Persian Gulf Crisis and the Final Fall of Babylon. Oklahoma City, OK: Hearthstone.
1915 The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria. Philadelphia and London: J. B. Lippincott.
Kaiser, Walter, Jr.
1989 Back Toward the Future. Hints for Interpreting Biblical Prophecy. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
1914 The Excavations at Babylon. London: Macmillan.
1991 Certainty of Bible Prophecy. Oklahoma City, OK: Hearthstone.
Luckenbill, Daniel David
1989 Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylon. 2 vols. London: Histories and Mysteries of Man (Abbreviated ARAB).
1980 Isaiah 21, A Palimpset. Cambridge: Cambridge University.
1991 Babylon. London: Thames and Hudson.
Pritchard, James, ed.
1969 Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Third edition with supplement. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University (Abbreviated as ANET).
Smith, George Adam
nd The Book of Isaiah. Vol. 1, chapters 1-39. New York, NY: George H. Doran.
1982 Foes From the Northern Frontier. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
This paper was first read at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting on November 18, 1993 in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia.
 When this essay was written in 1993, the Second Gulf War had not started.
Prophecy Comments Off on WAS “BABYLON” DESTROYED WHEN JERUSALEM FELL IN AD 70? – part 1
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).
Prophecy Comments Off on WAS “BABYLON” DESTROYED WHEN JERUSALEM FELL IN AD 70? – part 2
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.