PMW 2020-106 Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

In Revelation 17:9-10 John records a vision of a seven-headed Beast. In this vision we discover clear evidence that Revelation was written before the death of Nero (June 8, A. D. 68), well before the temple’s destruction in August, A.D. 70:

Here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.

Perhaps no point is more obvious in Revelation than this: Rome is here symbolized by the seven mountains. After all, Rome is the one city in history that is recognized for its seven hills: the Palatine, Aventine, Caelian, Esquiline, Viminal, Quirinal, and Capitoline hills. The Roman writers Suetonius and Plutarch refer to the first century festival in Rome called Septimontium, i.e. the feast of “the seven hilled city.” The Coin of Vespasian (emperor A.D. 69-79) pictures the goddess Roma as a woman seated on seven hills. The famed seven hills of Rome are mentioned time and again by ancient pagan writers such as Ovid, Claudian, Statius, Pliny, Virgil, Horace, Propertius, Martial, and Cicero, as well as by Christian writers, such as Tertullian and Jerome. Indeed, “there is scarce a poet that speaks of Rome but observes it.”

John wrote to be understood (Rev. 1:3) and specifically points out here that the wise one will understand (17:9). The recipients of Revelation lived under the rule of Rome, which was universally distinguished by its seven hills. How could the recipients, living in the seven historical churches of Asia Minor and under Roman imperial rule, understand anything else but this geographical feature?

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Technical studies on Daniel’s Seventy Weeks, the great tribulation, Paul’s Man of Sin, and John’s Revelation.

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We learn further that the seven heads also represent a political situation in which five kings have fallen, the sixth is, and the seventh is yet to come and will remain but for a little while. It is surely no accident that Nero was the sixth emperor of Rome. Flavius Josephus, the Jewish contemporary of John, clearly points out that Julius Caesar was the first emperor of Rome and that he was followed in succession by Augustus, Tiberius, Caius, Claudius, and Nero (Antiquities 18; 19). We learn this also from other near contemporaries of John, including the Jewish 4 Ezra 11 and 12, and the Sibylline Oracles, books 5 and 8; the Christian Barnabas 4. The matter is confirmed just a little later from Roman historians Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, and Dio Cassius, Roman History 5. The text of Revelation says that of the seven kings “five have fallen.” These emperors are dead, when John writes.

But the verse goes on to say “one is.” That is, the sixth one is then reigning even as John wrote. That would be Nero Caesar, who assumed imperial power upon the death of Claudius in October, A.D. 54, and remained emperor until his death in A.D. 68.

John continues: “The other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.” As the Roman Civil Wars broke out in rebellion against Nero, Nero committed suicide on June 8, A.D. 68. When John writes, the seventh king/emperor was “not yet come.” That would be Galba, who assumed power in June, A.D. 68. But he was only to continue a “short space.” His reign lasted but seven months, until January 15, A.D. 69.

Now some evangelical commentators, such as John Walvoord, would attempt to circumvent this political evidence by pointing out that: (1) It is taken from a highly figurative vision and (2) it is introduced by a call for “the mind which has wisdom,” thereby indicating the difficulty of the interpretation. But this is twisting the text to say what it does not intend.

Upon seeing the symbolic vision itself, John was in fact perplexed: he “wondered with great wonder” (Rev. 17:1, 7a). But an interpretive angel appears with the promise that he would show John the proper understanding (Rev. 17:7): “Why do you wonder? I shall tell you the mystery.” Revelation 17:9 and 10 is the explication of the vision. It is not given to make the matter more difficult! The inherent difficulty requiring wisdom lay in the fact that the seven heads had a double referent: geographical and political. The angel functions here much like the angel in Revelation 7:13, 14 — to interpret the revelational data, not to confound the already perplexed apostle.

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Thus, we see that while John wrote, Nero was still alive and Galba was looming in the near future. Revelation could not have been written after June, A.D. 68, according to the internal political evidence.

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  1. Jason Elliott December 11, 2020 at 5:29 am

    Even though 2Thes2 is a difficult chapter, we can also possibly tie Claudius to the one preceding Nero in this letter written in the 50s. Claudius was hindering Nero from becoming emperor and was “taken out of the way” by being assassinated (poisoned, I think?). We see in the gospels this chain of emperors beginning with Augustus in Luke 2, Tiberius in Luke 3, Caligula not mentioned, and Claudius in Acts 11 and 18. Reading Revelation as parallel with much of the Olivet Discourse, Nero is really the only conclusion one can make within the time frame given in Matt 24:34 and Revelation 1:1-3 and 17:10. God put references of who was king at the time of the writings throughout the Old and New Testaments to show us when these things were happening in real time. In addition, Revelation had to mean something to those who received it at the time it was delivered to the churches. Many do not want to consider the time indicators because it actually demystifies Revelation and leads to much speculation and navel gazing. Today’s prophecy teachers are no longer needed and therefore cannot make their millions if Revelation becomes understandable!

  2. Mike December 11, 2020 at 5:31 am

    I accepted an early date of Revelation but I didn’t know these details. Thanks.

  3. Brandon December 11, 2020 at 2:21 pm

    This is excellent information, Dr. Ken Gentry. Well said, Jason Elliot.

  4. Bill Donohue December 15, 2020 at 1:00 pm

    Thank You, Mr. Gentry. The internal evidence is overwhelming as pointed out by this article. I suspect it would be widely accepted if not for the investment many Institutions have on a future date. Jason Elliot makes that point, “Today’s prophecy teachers are no longer needed and therefore cannot make their millions if Revelation becomes understandable! Within so many churches and universities where dispensationalism is the norm, to state otherwise is to cut the branch off that you’re sitting on. It’s like being a conservative in Hollywood. However, we should expect more from our brothers and sisters.

  5. Mike December 16, 2020 at 8:18 am

    I agree with your comment. I am curious about the irreconcilability of this issue and the affect on believers on both sides. Discovering the position of a fellow Christian on this matter causes either relief or momentary depression. With time, and experiencing this rather emotional encounter many times, it is only natural for some of us to withdraw. The two Biblical world views collide and the collision damages other things that could otherwise be strong and unifying.

    One example amongst many is evangelism – it is hard to evangelise along side brothers and sisters who are giving out tracts promoting end times, everything is bad, scary cartoons, etc. In my evangelistic experience, most people want to talk, they like it when someone is interested in them, they have so much pain and confusion, and no-one to discuss spiritual things with, but somehow evangelism focussed on end times stuff just turns people away, makes them more anxious, more confused and less likely to consider the gospel of grace.

    The collapse of protestantism into so many denominations and factions has revealed a tribalistic attitude in all of us. The visible unity of the invisible church remains unachievable, but the work of the gospel will continue. How to deal with this from the perspective of an early date for Revelation is a good question.

  6. Sandi Broyden November 11, 2022 at 11:20 pm

    I know I am a little late to the party but I have been a believer in a pretrib rapture for 30 years and have recently begun to question that position. In studying the posttrib rapture position I seem to have opened a few can of worms, one of which is the date of authorship for the Book of Revelation. I have always understood that John wrote the Revelation during the time he was banished to the Isle of Patmos (1:9) by Emperor Domitian which would place the writing therefore between 81 – 96 AD. If that is indeed true then how does that reconcile with a pre-68 AD authorship? Thank you.

  7. Kenneth Gentry November 14, 2022 at 8:33 am

    I believe this view is erroneous and based on a misinterpretation of Irenaeus. Check this out:

  8. Sandi Broyden November 14, 2022 at 6:50 pm

    Will do. Thanks!

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