THE BOOK OF REVELATION
I believe that the Bible is as relevant for this generation as it has ever been for those before us. Perhaps even more so when you take into account the prophecies written in red ink in your Bibles. The events of May 1948 established the most profoundly significant event for Jews and Christians alike. The rebirth of a nation - a fig tree blossoming. Now either there are prophecies yet to unfold and the Bible holds these within its pages or it doesn't. It would seem that 1948 established this fact. But there are many, many more that are unfolding in our days today and it's important for the church to be aware. To be awake. The following thesis by Mark Hitchcock is the clearest and best factual argument to establishing the dating of the book of Revelation. Why is this important? If we accept the premise that much of Revelation is in the past and that prophecy is metaphorical we open a slippery slope of negating what the Word of God has to say to us today. To us, a generation on the edge of time.
I had never heard of Preterism or Partial-preterism before entering bible school, although I considered myself a historian of the biblical record and of ancient cultures. So when I was being taught that much of Revelation had already taken place during the fall of Israel in 70AD and that our generation was already living in the millennium, well it was a bit of a shock. So I had to do my homework. Now my professor was a super nice guy who genuinely was filled with beautiful grace towards his students, but I could not believe in what he taught simply because he said it was so. I had to seek out what it was that the early church believed, what Christ taught us, His bride and what would be relevant to us, to me, today.
Augustine (345-430AD) is celebrated as one of the greatest writers and theologians of the early church. It's important that we never elevate someone so high as to take all that they say or do as correct. Examine all things. Test all things. We can learn this very well by recalling the failings and errors of some of the greatest men and women of God over just the past 100 years.
Alexander Dowie had a marvelous healing ministry in the late 1800s and early 1900s, yet in his later years believed himself to be Elijah the prophet. William Branham too had a healing ministry but ventured into teaching the Word in error. Teaching which was not his calling and his ministry was cut short. During the time of Branham in the 50's and 60's the Christian culture saw the rise in popularity of the 'teachers' of the Word, and thousands would flock to sit under great teachers. The temptation to conform to the popular trend can be overwhelming.
So it was likewise in the days of Augustine. To make a name for yourself and receive the recognition and notoriety that can establish you, one would want to teach what would be accepted by the power structure of the day. That power structure was the Roman Church. This church would say that it is the earthly Kingdom of God. This kingdom exercised its power over the people of the earth, often in the most horrific ways, keeping the Word in Latin only, and enslaving the believers in new legal bondage that would take centuries to be broken.
Imagine if Noah thought God was speaking metaphorically
The book of Revelation, with its picturesque images and ominous forecasts had to be reconciled within this new power structure. Hence, the influence of the Gnostics with their metaphorical interpretation of the prophetic. This view of prophecy removed the literal meaning to scripture and replaced it with a metaphorical one. Therefore it could be taught that the church was, in fact, the kingdom of God on earth and the Pope was the head of this kingdom. Augustine's book, "The city of God" - solidifying him into preeminence in the circles of power. This book and its view of the kingdom of God became the standard that the church came to believe and teach. Forgotten was the understanding of the early disciples who looked to Jesus to return to establish His Kingdom and a literal 1000 years, called the millennium. The 'church' during the centuries that followed Augustine, taught that 'the church was the kingdom and that their mandate was to conquer the world for Christ. Augustine had previously believed in Pre-Millennialism but rejected this view later to accommodate this new teaching.
Many pastors would avoid the job of challenging this view with the powerful influence that the church exerted over its ministers and even kings. Even after the reformation, when many came to understand that in fact, the scriptures did not support much of the doctrines being taught by the church, many ministers would not dive into the deep prophetic waters of Revelation, choosing rather maintain the teaching of A-millennialism. The Catholic churches teaching that there was no future millennium. But finally, after hundreds of years, some began to delve once again into its pages. John Calvin was a famous a-millennialist who subscribed to Augustine's eschatological point of view. Not to take away from the great writings of Calvin, but once again we must understand that these historical figures were merely men. Flawed. Calvin moves his disciples to Geneva, whereby force, he takes over the city to establish his version of 'the city of God'. Many of the Protestant reformers, after coming out of their Catholic background, embraced the liberty in the Protestant teachings but held onto the Catholic doctrine with regards to Revelation, because there was no alternative voice of interpretation.
Post-millennialism did not develop until the mid-seventeenth century, long after the Reformation. The Reformation had little impact on prophetic views because the Reformation leaders had their attention riveted on the questions of Biblical authority and justification by faith. The postmillennial view was a product of the rationalistic revolution in thinking. It was developed in the mid-1600s by a Unitarian minister named Daniel Whitby. It was immediately dubbed “postmillennialism” because it envisioned a return of Jesus after (post) a literal thousand-year reign of the Church over all the earth. This view is illustrated below.
Postmillennialism spread quickly within the Protestant world, probably for two reasons. First, it gave Protestants an opportunity to differ from the Catholic position. More importantly, it was a theological expression of the prevailing rationalistic philosophy of the age, a philosophy that boldly proclaimed the ability of mankind to build the kingdom of heaven on earth.
The postmillennial view holds that the Church Age will gradually evolve into a “golden age” when the Church will rule over all the world. This will be accomplished through the Christianization of the nations. To its credit, it can be said that this viewpoint served as a mighty stimulus to missionary efforts during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Missionaries were seized with the vision of speeding up the return of the Lord by preaching the gospel to all the world.
By 1900 nearly all segments of Protestant Christianity had adopted the postmillennial viewpoint. But the view was to be quickly dropped.
Postmillennialism died almost overnight with the outbreak of the First World War. The reason, of course, is that this great war undermined one of the fundamental assumptions of the postmillennial viewpoint the assumption of the inevitability of progress. This had always been a fatal flaw in the postmillennial concept, due mainly to its birth in rationalistic humanism. Its visions of the perfectibility of man and the redemption of society were destroyed by the atrocities of the war.
Another fatal flaw of the postmillennial viewpoint was its lack of a consistent Biblical base. To expound the view, it was necessary to literalize some prophecies (those concerning the Millennium) while at the same time spiritualizing other prophecies (the personal presence of the Lord during the Millennium). Also, it was necessary to ignore or explain away the many prophecies in the Bible that clearly state that society is going to get worse rather than better as the time approaches for the Lord’s return (Matthew 24:4-24 and 2 Timothy 3:1-5).
The sudden death of postmillennialism left a prophetic vacuum among Protestant groups. Since the postmillennial view was based to a large extent upon a spiritualizing approach to Scripture, most Protestant groups returned to the spiritualized Amillennialism viewpoint they had abandoned in the 1700s.
The oldest viewpoint is called historic premillennialism. It is termed “historic” for two reasons: to differentiate it from modern premillennialism and to indicate that it was the historic position of the early Church. It is called “premillennial” because it envisions a return of Jesus to earth before (pre) the beginning of the Millennium. The word, millennium, is a combination of two Latin words mille annum which simply means one thousand years. The thought that came centuries later - Amillennialism is a rejection of this literal millennium, hence the 'A' in front of it, which comes from the Greek for 'No'.
A diagram of this viewpoint is presented above. It divides the future of the world into four periods: 1) the current Church Age; 2) a seven-year period called the Tribulation; 3) a reign of Christ on earth lasting one thousand years (the Millennium); and 4) the Eternal State when the redeemed will dwell forever with God on a new earth. Now there is a discussion among Christians on the timing of the Rapture but the basis of the concept of the Historic Millennium is agreed to.
This view is based on a literal interpretation of what the Bible says will happen in the end times. One of its distinctive features is that it places the Rapture of the Church at the end of the Tribulation. According to this view, the Church will remain on earth during the Tribulation. At the end of that period, Jesus will appear in the heavens and the Church will be caught up to meet Him in the sky. The saints will be instantly glorified, and then they will immediately return to the earth to reign with Jesus for a thousand years.
An interesting note is that there are nearly four hundred prophecies of the birth and life of Christ in the old testament and these all came to past literally and their literal fulfillment is agreed to by all. Yet when it comes to new testament prophecies there is a metaphorical approach adopted by those who dismiss the literal understanding of Revelation.
"Two main dates for Revelation are commonly held: the early or Neronic date (A.D. 64-68) and the late
or Domitianic date (A.D. 95-96). This dissertation is a defense of the A.D. 95 date for the composition of
Revelation. The dissertation interacts extensively with Kenneth Gentry's work Before Jerusalem Fell:
Dating the Book of Revelation, since this work is the primary defense of the Neronic date. Gentry dates
Revelation in A.D. 65-66.
When the plain sense makes sense,
any other sense is nonsense.
Mark Hitchcock is the author of nearly 30 books related to end-time Bible prophecy, including Middle East Burning and 101 Answers to Questions About the Book of Revelation . He earned a ThM and PhD from Dallas Theological Seminary and is the senior pastor of Faith Bible Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. He also serves as Associate Professor of Bible Exposition at DTS.
Click on the book here to download the entire dissertation.
The introduction establishes the need, importance, purpose, method, and assumptions for the dissertation.
The dissertation is needed primarily because of the rise of preterist interpretation, which requires a Neronic date for Revelation.
The main body of the dissertation examines the pertinent external and internal evidence for the date of Revelation. Chapter two focuses on the testimony of Hegesippus and Irenaeus, the two earliest witnesses for the date of Revelation. The dissertation finds that the testimony of Hegesippus and Irenaeus supports the Domitianic date. Chapter three presents the relevant, external evidence from twenty additional ancient witnesses from the early third century to the twelfth century. A brief historical overview of the dating of the Apocalypse in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is also included in chapter three. The dissertation concludes that, when examined in its entirety, the external evidence points strongly in the direction of the traditional A.D. 95 date."
"As the final book in the biblical canon and a book filled with vivid images and symbols, Revelation is a book of mystery and majesty. From its beginning, the Apocalypse, perhaps more than any other New Testament book, enjoyed wide distribution and early acknowledgment and recognition. The immediate gravitation toward the Apocalypse can be observed in part by the attention it received from scholars. Numerous commentaries on the Apocalypse were written in the early church and throughout the early and later Middle Ages by scholars from various backgrounds and widespread geographical locations: Melito of Sardis, Hippolytus, Oecumenius, Victorinus, Primasius, Tyconius, Andreas, Arethas, Venerable Bede, Alcuin, and Anselm of Laon."
"With the advent of the twenty-first-century interest in the Apocalypse and biblical eschatology shows no signs of waning. On the contrary, world events in the last sixty years have caused a powerful resurgence in interest in end-times prophecy and thus in the Book of Revelation. One indication of this revival in interest, especially among biblical scholars, is the release of several substantial commentaries on Revelation just since 1997.3 Many intriguing questions surround the background and interpretation of the Apocalypse. One issue that has drawn renewed interest and investigation is its date of composition. The issue of the date of Revelation is a critical factor in establishing the historical Sitz im Leben. The date of Revelation can dramatically affect one's view of the audience, purpose, and message of the book. Although the date of Revelation has always been an issue in the study of New Testament introduction, the discussion has been reopened in recent years primarily by preterist interpreters who assign a Neronic date to Revelation."
At the conclusion of the detailed dissertation, Mark wraps up his thoughts on preterism.
"Since this dissertation has interacted heavily with the works of Kenneth Gentry, a final word about preterism is in order. As stated in the introduction, the entire preterist system is built on the early date of Revelation. An examination of the evidence, however, supports the late date at least by a preponderance of the evidence and probably beyond a reasonable doubt. While contemporary preterism has other weaknesses, the Achilles' heel of this view is the date of Revelation. The external evidence for the late date of Revelation is strong and convincing, if not overwhelming. The internal evidence for the late date is also sound. It seems unwise to build one's entire eschatological framework on the foundation of the early date of Revelation, which at best is strongly disputed. Certainly, the date of Revelation can continue to be debated, but preterists are urged to re-think their position and adopt an approach to eschatology in general and Revelation in particular that is not totally dependent upon the sandy foundation of a Neronic date for Revelation."