REVELATION’S DATE: INTERNAL EVIDENCE (3)

PMW 2020-107 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

The final evidence from Revelation’s self-witness that I will mention focuses on the relationship of the Jew to Christianity in Revelation. And although there are several aspects of this evidence, I will just briefly introduce it. We may illustratively refer to two important passages and their implications regarding:

Christianity and Israel

First, when John writes Revelation, by all appearances Christianity is in its early, formative, “Jewish” stage. Initially Christians tended to mingle with the Jews (since most of them were Jewish), considering themselves members of the true Israel, the “continuing Israel,” as it were.

The Jews trusted in and boasted of descending from Abraham [1] and circumcision was the distinguishing covenantal mark of the Jews. [2] Yet early Christianity applied to itself terms historically associated with Israel and her privileges. Paul wrote that Christians are “the seed of Abraham” ( Rom. 2:28-29; Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11) and “the circumcision” (Rom. 2:28-29; Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11), and the “temple of God.”

In fact, Paul rebukes the racial Jew not committed to Jesus Christ: “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh” (Rom. 2:28). Peter follows Paul’s practice; he designates Christians as “stones” being built into a “spiritual house” (1 Pet. 2:5) and applies Old Testament designations of Israel to the Church. Christians are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9-10; Exo. 19:5-6; Deut. 7:6; 14:2; 26:18). Both Peter and Paul call Christians “a people for God’s possession” (Eph. 1:14; Titus 2:14; 1Pet. 2:10), a familiar Old Testament designation for Israel (Rom. 4:13-17; Gal. 3:6-9, 29; cp. Exo. 19:5; 34:9; Deut. 4:20; 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Psa. 135:4.).

After the destruction of the temple (A.D. 70), however, the tendency for Christians to inter-mingle with the Jews ceased. In fact, this tendency was beginning to break down altogether by the time of the writing of Hebrews in the mid-60s. There we hear warnings of Christian judgments upon the Jews who apostatize back into Judaism (Heb. 2:1-6; 6:1-4; 10: 26-36). Shortly after the Jewish War Gamaliel II in A.D. 80 inserted in the Jewish daily prayer (Shemone Esre) a curse on the Christians: “Let the Nazarene [sc. Christian] and the Menim perish utterly.”

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Interestingly, the Christian writer Barnabas in the A.D. 80s makes a radical “us/them” division between Israel and the Church (Barnabas 13:1).

Now what does this have to do with Revelation? In Revelation 2:9 John is still applying Jewish terms to Christians: There we read of Jesus’ word to the churches of the day: “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” In the early Christian’s minds, the non-Christian Jews merely called themselves “Jews”; they were not true Jews. This suggests a date prior to the final separation of Israel and Christianity. This separation was beginning in its earliest stages with the Neronic persecution (when Rome began to recognize a distinction between Judaism and Christianity); it was finalized with the temple’s destruction (when the Christians turned their backs on the temple).

Jews and Christians

Second, at the time John writes, Jewish/Christian relations are at the beginning of a fundamental change. Revelation 3:9 reads: “Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews, and are not, but lie — behold, I will make them to come and bow down at your feet, and to know that I have loved you.”

John here points to the approaching humiliation of the Jews, noting that God will — in the near future, cp. 1 Thess. 2:14-16; Heb. 8:13 — vindicate his Church against them. In effect, he would make the Jews to lie down at the Christian’s feet. This refers to nothing other than the destruction of Israel and the temple, which Christ prophesied earlier (Matt. 23:35 — 24:2). After that horrible event, Christians began using the temple’s destruction as an apologetic for and vindication of Christianity. Justin Martyr’s First Apology 32 is an excellent illustration:

And the prophecy, “He shall be the expectation of the nations,” signified that there would be some of all nations who should look for Him to come again. And this indeed you can see for yourselves, and be convinced of by fact. For of all races of men there are some who look for Him who was crucified in Judea, and after whose crucifixion the land was straightway surrendered to you as spoil of war. And the prophecy, “binding His foal to the vine, and washing His robe in the blood of the grape,” was a significant symbol of the things that were to happen to Christ, and of what He was to do. For the foal of an ass stood bound to a vine at the entrance of a village, and He ordered His acquaintances to bring it to Him then; and when it was brought, He mounted and sat upon it, and entered Jerusalem, where was the vast temple of the Jews which was afterwards destroyed by you.

Although there are other arguments regarding the Jewish character of Revelation (its Hebraic grammar, Jewish symbols, numerous Old Testament allusions, reference to the twelve tribes, allusions to the priesthood, and so forth), the point is clear enough: When John writes Revelation, Christianity is not yet wholly separated from Israel. After A.D. 70 the separation is full and permanent. This is strong socio-cultural evidence for a pre-A.D. 70 composition.


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Conclusion to Three-part Argument

Thus, we see from the architectural evidence of the standing temple (Rev. 11:1-2), the political evidence regarding the seven kings (Rev. 17:9-10), and the socio-cultural evidence of the Israel/Church relations (Rev. 2:9; 3:9) that John must have composed Revelation prior to the destruction of the temple in August, A.D. 70, and even the death of Nero Caesar in June of A.D. 68.

Interestingly, such evidences from the text have led liberals to formulate a patchwork, higher critical view of the text of Revelation. They see certain of these (and other) elements as originating in earlier documents, but then being incorporated later and even anachronistically in Revelation. For those who hold to a conservative view of inspiration, the unity and integrity of the text of Revelation forbids such a treatment of the text — and demands a pre-A.D. 70 composition.


Notes
1. We read often of “the God of Abraham” (Gen. 28:13; 31:42, 53; Exo. 3:6, 15-16; 4:5; 1 Kgs. 18:36; 1 Chr. 29:18; 2 Chr. 30:6; Psa. 47:9; Matt. 22:32; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:37; Acts 3:13; 7:32). The Jews expected blessings in terms of their Abrahamic descent (Matt. 3:9; 8:11; Luke 3:8; Luke 13:16, 28; Luke 16:23-30; 19:9; John 8:39, 53; Rom. 11:1; 2 Cor. 11:22).
2. Circumcision is the special sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and Israel (Gen. 17:10, 13). Circumcision is mentioned 86 times in the Scriptures; the uncircumcised are mentioned 61 times.

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7 thoughts on “REVELATION’S DATE: INTERNAL EVIDENCE (3)

  1. Anthony Rich December 15, 2020 at 11:13 am

    Thanks Mr Gentry!

  2. Jason Elliott December 17, 2020 at 7:06 am

    Great information here, Dr. Gentry! You may have addressed this elsewhere, but what are your thoughts on the 6th seal, 7th trumpet, and 7th vial speaking of the same event and if so, what is this culminating event? They would of course have to be simultaneous if they are taken literally as a parallel of 2Peter 3:10-13 because of the language about what happens. Because the verses in 2Peter are speaking of time after the 1000 years these verses in Revelation would be describing the events of Satan’s little season in Rev 20. If not, are these verses using apocalyptic language about the final destruction of OT Jerusalem, and consequently there are no parallel verses within Revelation describing the events of Satan’s little season? Thank you for your insights!

  3. Alvin Plummer December 17, 2020 at 1:32 pm

    The great separation – when the Christians and the Jews split apart – stems from before the fall of the Second Temple. But the end of the Temple cemented the division. As the Revelation reflects a time when most Christians were still Jewish Christians, it dates the writing to the pre-AD 70 era, while the Temple still stood.

  4. Kenneth Gentry December 17, 2020 at 2:15 pm

    I don’t believe these look to the end of the millennium. I believe they are resumptive images of Israel judgment that occurs in AD 70. Be careful of thinking similar language must mean identical events. There are many “day of the Lord” episodes in the OT, though they refer to different peoples and circumstances. Likewise, to read Jesus’ cleansing of the temple in John 2 as if it were the same occasion as that in Matthew 21 would cause serious chronological problems. One was stated to be at the beginning of his ministry; the others is in Passion Week at the end of his ministry.

  5. Jason Elliott December 17, 2020 at 4:02 pm

    Dr. Gentry, thank you for your clarification. Regarding 2Peter 3:10-13, do you believe this is the 2nd coming/end of the millennium? I understand your assertion of the internal consistency of Revelation regarding 70ad. Thank you, as always, for your insights.

  6. Jason Elliott December 18, 2020 at 8:09 am

    Thank you for the additional information!

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