Why An Obsession with Eschatology is a Waste of Time, Part 14

Posted By on July 28, 2010

Nearing the end of this (have to check my list).

It’s time for “when was the book of Revelation written?” The two candidates are, of course, before or after 70 AD (the latter in the 90s). I think the most thorough recent discussion on this is by Greg Beale in his massive commentary on Revelation in the New International Greek Text Commentary.  I have attached his discussion here (19 pages). I’ve highlighted a few items under each side that I think are the most important arguments.

I think you’ll see that the question is a toss-up. Like everything else, each side needs to make a couple of assumptions along the way. I’m sure many of you heard in Sunday School (if anyone still does things like book studies in Sunday School) that the book was written in the 90s. Could be. But there’s a lot they don’t tell you in Sunday School.

My opinion is that the evidence for a late date (90s) seems to outweigh the pre-70 AD date. Beale thinks so as well. Note that he’s an “idealist amillennialist,” so don’t conclude that a 90 AD date adds up to a pre-mill argument (something else they may have told you in Sunday School).


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38 Responses to “Why An Obsession with Eschatology is a Waste of Time, Part 14”

  1. Robbie says:

    Mike: Is the Lord’s day in Revelation 1:10 the sabbath or is it the Day of the Lord? I think that it is the latter, given the bulk of the Apoclaypse’s references to Hebrew prophetic writings and traditions.

  2. Jonnathan Molina says:

    Wow, that was an awesome read. I learned a lot of new terms and got a great, balanced view on the dating of Revelation issue…thanks Dr.H! I was wondering, though, in page 9 where he says:

    “Such a major event (the establishment of provincial Domitian cult and colossal statute in Ephesus and ensuing societal pressure on the believers) may also explain why John himself alludes in chapter 13 to the narrative in Daniel 3 of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s refusal to bow down to a huge statue of Nebuchadnezzar (esp. according to the LXX of Dan. 3:12, 18; see the comments below on Rev. 13:7–8, 14–15, 18).”

    But for the life of me, I’ve re-read that chapter and see no real connection to Daniel save the part where the 2nd beast breathes life into the image (wonder how that correlates to the colossal statue?) and forces everyone to bow down or be killed (a la Daniel Ch 3). My question is why are the authors so sure that John of Patmos was alluding to Daniel and that it’s not just some coincidence (why should there be some special connection between these 2 statues being bowed down to in these scriptures since the entire pagan culture surrounding both these books were filled with hundreds of thousands of people bowing down to many idols daily?)

    • MSH says:

      I think Beale’s point would be that John wanted to motivate believers to not bow down to the Domitian cult like Daniel’s three friends refused.

      I follow your ??? about how Beale (and others) squeeze all of the NT details into “analogous fulfillments” – but that is their assumption (that it can be done and is sufficient in terms of interpretation).

  3. Jonnathan Molina says:

    *sorry “statue” not “statute” above*

  4. Jonnathan Molina says:

    To further clarify the question: I understand that the theme of both is similar (being forced to compromise under hostile kings, etc.) but Revelation 13 itself doesn’t seem to be focused only on this and the mention is so brief that I don’t see how John intended to bring the Daniel story to bear on the audience’s mind (when he covered so many other details in this chapter that are NOT connected to that story at all).

  5. Gary says:

    I haven’t had a chance to read the attachment yet, it’s going to take me a long time to digest. But I am rather simple-minded. If Revelation was not written before 70 AD, what “apocalypse” was John referring to happen “soon”, in Rev 1:1, that had even a minor impact on both Jews and Christians compared to the 70 AD event? I can’t accept that “must soon take place” is some secret code words for over 2000 years later. Simple questions need simple answers.

    • MSH says:

      agreed – “must soon take place” (for all those “let the plain sense be the sense” literalists out there) certainly doesn’t speak to 2000 years later. But that may not matter. For instance, perhaps both ideas are true. Perhaps John was speaking of 70 AD and God was thinking of that event and events yet future. This is sort of akin to the Historicist approach — that Revelation’s events are cyclical and repetitive because the same sets of circumstances will cycle and repeat. We know that what Antiochus did in Daniel 11 and what (to a Preterist) Titus did in 70 AD are viewed this way (i.e., Antiochus “prefigured” 70 AD). The assumption (there’s that word again) of someone who looks to 70 AD as the fulfillment of these events is that’s the end of the story. Perhaps there are future repetitions closer to the return of Jesus (at this point, anyone who thinks any of this happens on earth to any degree has to acknowledge repetition — one cannot coherently say it all ends in 70 AD and then ONLY the return of Jesus happens in the future when other events in Revelation are connected to the return — and those same events are part of earlier cycles in the book).

  6. Gary says:

    OK, I haven’t read much yet. But under “Questions facing any historical identification” highlighted….the 6th king, is rather key. The author seems to be assuming that John, in his revelation, is an accurate Roman historian. I might as well make a few conjectures… from the Jewish perspective, as a Jew sitting at Patmos, watching a Revelation about Israel, what would he view Galba, Otho, and Vitellius? All three lasted a total of less than a year combined, and are more “pro-tem” than a real king, more like just political in-fighting. From the Jewish perspective, Julius Caesar is the 1st king, and Nero the 6th king. The real 7th king is Vesparian, who, when he comes (to Israel), he must remain only a little while (because then he goes back to Rome to become the real 7th king). Jews, I am assuming, might view a king in Rome, but also a king in Israel, of the Romans, as in their General leading the war. The eight king, could be Titus, who belongs to the 7th (Vespasian’s son), who actually completes the destruction of Jerusalem. As far as the 7th king persecuting on a unprecedented scale…Vespasian as the 7th king, is the emperor when Jerusalem is actually destroyed when about a million Jews are killed (according to Josephus).
    So anyone can make conjectures that MIGHT make sense. The 10 horns? Beats me. Although there are 10 emperors from Julius to Vespasian, if you now count Galba, Otho, and Vitellius. Maybe 10 Jewish High Priests? I don’t know.
    My whole point? I would not hold John to a high level as a true Roman historian, in receiving a vision, and make his writings an accurate historical documentary. However, I DO INDEED believe a simple statement by a man/prophet, in Rev 1:1, “soon”
    There are so many immediate timeframe words, that I cannot list them all. One that occurs early, Rev 1:7, “every one who pierced him” will see him…what, after they are dead 2000 years later?
    Anyway – just conjecture on my part. I have a lot more reading to do.

  7. Gary says:

    OK, I’m sorry I have to be obsessive about this, but since I am currently reading Josephus, “The Wars of the Jews”, I just read about Titus, the first time he comes to observe Jerusalem after his father was made Emperor, his is temporarily seperated from his troops, 5.2.2 (58), “and to return back to his own men, he saw that it was also impossible, by reason of the multitude of the enemies that lay between them; many of whom did not so much as know that the king was in any danger, but supposed him still among them”. King being Titus, at least as far as Josephus reports it.

  8. Jonnathan Molina says:

    I’m chuckling with all good humor at your deep scrutiny, Gary. I kind of just read over the whole kings thing and moved on! Way too involved for me, but I think the point of the paper was that since there is no concensus we may never know who the kings are (the symbolic interpretation the author settles on seems to me the best conclusion in absence of stronger evidence). I would just say that simple questions don’t always necessitate simple answers (Why is the sky blue? for instance…you could just tell a child “God painted it” or launch into a diatribe about light particles and whatnot, which would be more accurate–if confusing to the child. Hmm, I think I just stepped into “God’s condescencion territory, so let me stop before we get all off-topic).

  9. Gary says:

    “would be more accurate”, based on whose interpretation? If you were Moses, and you were being told about creation, God painted it. I don’t think a child, or Moses, would grasp too much about quantum physics, or DNA.

  10. Jonnathan Molina says:

    I definitely see your point, Gary. I’m merely musing from our modern point of view; nowadays, I don’t think you’d satisfy many people with just a simple answer anymore due to the complexity of issues that surround us on a daily basis in this information age. I know, for me, I do not like easy answers…they seem very suspect because I’ve grown skeptical and realize many things aren’t as black and white as they might seem. Thankfully, there are still easy answers out there that keep things balanced (Jesus loves you comes to mind!) :)

  11. Gary says:

    Jonnathan…I think you boiled everything down to the basics, that might be the only thing we know for sure, “Jesus loves you comes to mind”.

    I have only two more comments on the paper, since the majority of it deals with post 70 AD material, that I don’t know at all.

    1. “Laodicean church is called “wealthy”, but they had an earthquake in 60-61 AD…took longer than 3-4 years to recover.”
    Except one point was missing, they were so wealthy that they refused help from Rome to rebuild. Whether they had rebuilt quick or slow, not needed help from Rome would make them wealthy by most standards, especially it would probably impressed John.

    2. Under “Babylon”, the author refers to pre-70 AD people thinking Babylon was apostate Jerusalem, but then does not talk about it. Only talks about Babylon in reference to Rome post-70 AD. I don’t get it. My conjecture, the beast is clearly Rome. However, the harlot riding the beast is the one called Babylon Rev 17:4-6. The harlot seems to be the apostate, corrupt, Jewish High Priesthood. An addition insult against it is calling it a woman/harlot. The woman wore the priesthood colors, purple, scarlet, and gold, jewels, and pearls. Had a golden cup, just like the priest. the woman was drunk with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus – the prime example, Stephen (who was not killed by the Romans). At first, the priesthood rides the beast, since Rome supports and approves the selection of the high priests, and get their power from Rome. Then in Rev 17:16, Rome hates the harlot, and burn her up in fire. Sure sounds like what happened in 70 AD. Anyway, as good conjecture as what the author puts out. And Titus, being the eight (beast, king, horn?), he is the one that really deserves perdition, since he actually carries out the judgement against Jerusalem/Israel/apostate priesthood etc. I can’t help but remember a comment written by Kenneth Gentry (I assume he is related to Peter Gentry, I don’t know). The Romans made the biggest religious reformation in history – they single-handedly changed the jewish religion from a temple/sacrifice based system to a rabbinical system in a period of about 1 year under Titus.

  12. Jason says:

    I think the more pertinent question, regardless of the pre-70 or post-70 dating issue, is the time passages in Rev. The ‘quick’, ‘soon’, and ‘near’ passages, those who pierced him will see him, the warning to the Church of Sardis that if they do not watch he will come upon THEM as a thief, ect. ect.

    If post 70 – when did anything close to the destruction and persecution of Jews and Christians take place SOON after that? Forget about all the ‘well maybe we can interpret this or that this way or that way.’ stuff The time indicators previously mentioned are way more relevent than the ambiguous verses being discussed.

    Furthermore, the conclusion bothers me – “To sum up, the earlier date may be right, but the internal evidence is not sufficient to outweigh the firm tradition stemming from Irenaeus.”

    So basically Irenesus’ ‘tradition’ takes precident over the ambiguous Revelation and any time idicators – that gives me great confidence not anly in John but God who is supposed to be inspirering him. : –

    Also, he basically says that the interpretaton is up for grabs and therefore, even though his intent was not to prove the post-70 date explicitly, implicityly fails to make his case – we all know he set out to ‘prove’ his view of post-70 everyone does – he is just honest or retreating to the nuetral position.

    As before, the best way to show if there is a future anything is to deal with the TIME indicators because this is the issue in the eschatological debates surrounding all the different positions. If the time indicatores cant be dealt with by furturists then the game is over and none of the things in the paper real matter. Everything has to retreat to some form of preterism – which brings upon itself all kinds of interpetive problems by subjecting the scriptures to vague spiritulizations to make its case.

    Anyway, the article did support MSH’s contention that it cannot be nailed down so forgett about getting all comfortable and obseesed with any one position. But that just begs the question – if confidence is removed in this area, an area which includes the return of the Lord, why is it even in the BIble? Why not just say hey people I’ll be back -chill till I come. Simple – you have faith or you don’t – but this just set itself up for ambiguity and falsification – neither of which engender faith.

    • MSH says:

      I’d say it isn’t clear since it isn’t central to redemption. Ideas (doctrines) in Scripture have levels of clarity and certainty. Those that are Christocentric and essential to the gospel are more clear than others.

      I think many pre-first century Jews would echo your complaint with respect to their own messianic hope. It only looks clear on the other side.

  13. Gary says:

    I must admit there was more info on the pre-70 AD leaning people’s view for Babylon, in the last couple of pages, which I didn’t read too carefully. However, if the harlot had the name of Babylon on her forehead, it still supports the harlot being the jewish priesthood or Israel, since the name implies Rome owned the harlot, so there is manipulation of the harlot by Rome, and the harlot, as rider of the beast, in-turn manipulates the beast (Rome). Either way, Rome as Babylon does not impact a pre or post 70 AD reading. And Babylon as Israel is not even an issue. Certainly, no one can say that Israel, or the preisthood, hasn’t been called a harlot many places in the bible – the most explicit example is Hosea. My last post – I promise. I think I am becoming obsessed.

  14. Travis Love says:

    @gary Why does it HAVE to be the Jewish Priesthood, why can’t it be the Roman Catholic priesthood, which is really a harlot version of the real priesthood anyway. bibleortraditions on youtube has a great deep study that uses the bible and history to prove or rather walk through revelations through history. Confirming a “soon” view of revelations.

  15. Gary says:

    My opinion only, but the Roman Catholic church didn’t exist in 70 AD. Per your comment, “Confirming a “soon” view of revelations”, maybe I didn’t make it clear on my posts. All the “soon” references in my posts had to do with “soon”, after the Olivet Discourse (when Jesus was still alive), and when Revelations was written (maybe 60+AD). “Soon”, after the Olivet Discourse, is within a generation, which is typically 40 years, ~30 AD + 40 = 70 AD. Although, as I said previously, I don’t have any problem with what other people want to believe. Everyone has to read the scriptures, and make up their own mind. However, please use your own thought process to develop your opinions. Don’t take anyone’s word for it, especially from the internet, this blog included.

  16. Janina says:

    How important really is the dating of the book of Revelation?

    This book is not like gospels for example, where different writers recorded what they have lived through with their particular perspective.

    Revelation is a record of a vision given to John by the Lord Himself (Alpha and Omega). This is not John’s interpretation of the vision, he does not make comments on it – he just relates the vision as it was shown to him.

    It is quite unfortunate that from the beginning there were so many secular attempts to interpret (or rather misinterpret) this book trying to somehow force it into history.

    Most of it is still future:
    – have we seen “two witnesses” on the world scene with supernatural powers?
    – have we seen one global government?
    – have we seen a religious figure with supernatural powers?
    – have we seen Christ return to rule over the nations? – to mention just a few

    Why so many insist that “the beast” is a revived Roman Empire?
    Why “the harlot” (Babylon the Great) riding the beast is assumed to be RC church?

    I personally believe that the answers are in the Bible – we just don’t see them yet – so for now it is a guess work.

    • MSH says:

      This is a wonderful comment that leads to my next (maybe last?) post on eschatology — the assumption that Revelation is to be read in LINEAR fashion – as though it gives a chronology. There is a lot of evidence that the events run in cycles and actually repeat, which means the book cannot be read in linear fashion, but “epochal” fashion with patterning (that would be outside the preterist model, that is).

      Making the book historical in the first century is also not the domain of secularists. True, that is the way they will go, but many believers (non-secularists) take that view as well, believing that John is describing something imminent (see the comments below about the “soon” language in the book). That would fit the first century — so Preterists would say they are just taking John at his literal word.

  17. Travis Love says:

    @Gary, thanks for that clarification. I understand your perspective alittle better. I myself don’t really have a set view, I know I am not a full-futurist, but I am also not full-preterist. I think it started around the time your speaking but we are still running to the end.

    @Janina I had read an interesting article in the past that used scripture only go through and show that the “two witnesses” were Israel and the lost wild branch of Judah. It goes through and shows verses were God explicitly calls them “my two witnesses”. So we have two places discussing two witnesses, and seem to be related in imagery. Jesus does say prophecy is interpreted by scripture alone…

  18. Janina says:

    @Travis. I wonder if you remember the title and author of the article. – wouldn’t mind reading it.
    I’ve heard Chuck Missler saying many times in his commentaries: “if you torture the data long enough it will confess to anything”.
    In Rev 11 the two witnesses are called “two olive trees” and “two candlesticks”
    – “olive trees” can refer to Israel
    – “candlesticks” can refer to the church
    So maybe we’re talking here about Messianic Jews? – (half joking)
    What about “two olive trees” in Zech 4?

    And there still is an issue of Elijah coming “before the great and dreadful day of the Lord” – Mal 4:5 – and yet Jesus said that “Elijah” has already come (maybe the next “Elijah”= two witnesses?)
    MSH is right in stating that there is more than one fulfillment of prophecies
    I am really enjoying this blog.

    • MSH says:

      The two olive trees in Zechariah are a possible connection to the two witnesses. For the Jews at Qumran, that passage was one of the reasons they held to two messiahs.

  19. blop2008 says:

    Mike, we do not know to whom you are responding, we are forced to do textual criticism to figure out to whom you are talking to. Please use the @ sign as you’ve done before or add a Word Press features that allows indentation of comments.

    Thanks :-)

    • MSH says:

      The @ sign? Don’t really know what you’re referring to here — but I follow on the comments comment! I’m not even sure what comment plugin I’m running – I’ll see and try another (any recommendations?).

  20. Skeptical says:

    “What? Again?” is not a very impressive response to fulfilled prophecy, I thought God gave prophecy for two reasons: 1) To prove that He is in control of future history and 2) For our warning, planning and comfort.

    Both of those factors are progressively diminished as prophecy is fulfilled over and over.

    The Revelation heavily obscures rapture confirmation and details. It also has those extremely difficult words like “soon” which are spoken by Christ. It’s better than “The Shepherd of Hermas” but it has some serious problems.

    • MSH says:

      “repetitive” fulfillment does appear to be the case in certain passages – or maybe it would better be called “echoed” in some passages (more than one fulfillment by analogy – Isaiah 7 comes to mind, as do passages of the re-establishment of the nation “fulfilled” at the return from exile and yet applied to the church as well in the NT). The point isn’t that all prophecies work this way, but some evidently do get “repurposed.” But it is merely an assumption that prophecy yet future would work that way — we’d have no way of knowing.

  21. blop2008 says:

    @Mike: No, that is how it looks to you, but not to us

  22. dayofwrath says:

    The book of revelation was written for one purpose:The second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.Before His coming the events would happen as described.For us we should be always ready,not like the satanic heresy of preterism.Any Christian in these days who is not waiting and looking for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ means that he did not experience yet what is love ,faith and hope.He is lost.The secret word to experience that is:REPENTANCE.As for the whore in revelation,I recommend you to read the book:The coin of the temple.In the last chapter the whore is identified.

  23. Jerome Smith says:

    This is a most interesting subject. I prefer the late date position based on internal evidence. I believe the condition of the Ephesian church in the letter to Ephesus in Revelation shows a decline from what Paul and Timothy testify to that simply could not have taken place in the very brief time between the date of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians (64 AD) and any early date possible to postulate for the book of Revelation prior to 70 AD. This was briefly noted in the article you linked. It is mentioned by Zahn in his three volume Introduction also.

    Another internal clue would be the kind of church structure seen in Revelation compared to the informal house churches mentioned in the epistles of Paul. Such a change as this also would take time, which would suggest a later date for the book of Revelation.

    I am an absolute stickler for heeding the self-contained announced literary structure of the book of Revelation specified in Revelation 1:19. Failure to heed this clue certainly leads to much misinterpretation and misunderstanding of the book, whether on the part of ordinary readers like me (a retired English teacher) or on the part of Bible scholars (who ought to know better).

    • MSH says:

      Have you read Beale’s lengthy discussion on the use of 1:19 as an interpretive key to the book?

      • Jerome Smith says:

        I do not have Beale’s work in my collection of works on the book of Revelation. If Beale’s work is more recent than about 1975, I’m sure I don’t have it. I stopped buying Christian reference works on the Bible in volume about then. Ten years prior I had counted 5000 reference works in my library about the Bible. Just now checking, I find it is not in my Logos 4 software library either.

        I’d be interested to learn in brief what his contention might be.

        But, considering the information in Revelation 1:19 as internal to the book, and that John did indeed follow that pattern in writing of the past, present, then what is yet future (for the latter see Re 4:1 of course), I think the content of Revelation 1:19 is surely more than just suggestive.

        No doubt there are other aspects to be discovered regarding the literary structure of the book of Revelation.

        John is intimately acquainted with the Old Testament Scriptures. He alludes, if I recall correctly, several hundred times to the Old Testament. I seem to recall that the Greek N.T. in two volumes by Wescott and Hort has quite a listing of the allusions at the back of one of those volumes. These surely must also be taken into account in any study of the book of Revelation.

        And beyond all this, it is my conviction, after long years of study, that the book of Revelation must be interpreted in the light of the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants.

        I found it interesting that the book of Revelation also quotes from the New Testament several times.

        The book of Revelation also is in some places quite correspondent to the Olivet Discourse.

        So there is a lot going on in the book of Revelation.

        Just now, in my new effort to expand the cross references available for Bible study, I’m only on Jeremiah 36 as of today, so I’ve got a long way to go before I get to the book of Revelation. I haven’t even reached Daniel yet!

        • MSH says:

          Send me an email with a reminder about Beale and I’ll send it to you. It’s the most thorough thing in print (book form anyway). His commentary basically requires a sound knowledge of Greek.

  24. Dean Fry says:

    “Soon” What does ‘soon’ mean? How long is ‘soon’? More importantly, what did Jesus mean by ‘soon’? Jesus fills all time in a single moment. That statement should not really make any sense since I am trying to express infinity in terms of time, which cannot be done. Hopefully, you somehow get what I mean.

  25. Richard Brown says:

    Well there are no 2013 posts so in the interest of futurists….

    I just came to the position [changing my view once again] that the Apostle John is not the primary author of the Apocalypse. I also just changed my view on dating [of what? more on that…] of “90’s” to “pre-70”. I know Michael will be pleased that one of his readers is not so chiseled in stone as to lose rationale.

    As to the author, though I agree with Ray Brown that the thinking in the work betrays influence of those who followed Apostle John, many of the passages to me suggest a Jewish [thoroughly] person who held Jesus to be the Messiah, but continued his Jewish practic, but who also held a “Heiserian” view of WHO exactly this “Christ” is. The Jesus that appears here is more akin to the “Manifested YHWH” [my term… sorry Mike] of Heiser’s lectures than to the Jesus “Son of Man” born of Mary. The writer [or seer/narrator] understands implicitly that the One who appeared to various persons at various times throughout human history [and, “no man has seen God” at any time], took on the “form of a man” and fulfilled God’s plan of salvation. But now that One has all the authority of “His Father” and “His God” and is in no mood to be trifled with. He WAS and He Now IS, and is to come.

    Michael knows this but its worth repeating for the two or three people that will ever see my memorial here: when we speak of a book or letter being “written in XYZ A.D. or B.C.”, what exactly are we meaning? that the thing was first loosed on the unsuspecting in that timeframe? published, as it were? That the scribe who helped perhaps an illiterate Seer [seems to be the case here with Apocalypse] finally got around to finishing the script in that timeframe after being chased from locale A to Z by Jews, Romans, and other persecutors? That the comments within the work itself clearly point to a 90’s or 70’s, and so the Seer Saw The Sight in AD69 or ???? ?
    These guys were not professional bloggers with iPad’s to hack away at on an airplane. Writing materials weren’t THAT common, and writing ability not that widespread.
    And remember [a lot of the 90’s date defenders conveniently forget this…] that Jerusalem was hammered AGAIN, afresh in the “second revolt” and it was ugly… very ugly but not quite as ugly as the 70 massacre [well over a million slaughtered without remorse]

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