PMW 2021-046 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
This is the second in a two-part study of the debated phrase in Rev. 11:18b, which reads: “and the time came for the dead to be judged.” In my last article I argued that it refers to the vindication of the first-century saints who were being severely persecuted by Israel and Rome alike. In this article I will respond to objections to the interpretation presented by the leading evangelical commentator on Revelation today, G. K. Beale.
Regarding kirthēnai which I translate “vindicated,” Beale (617–18) presents an extended argument against the preterist view which, he believes, “stumbles” here. He argues that “without doubt . . . this passage is a description of the last judgment” (615). I will summarize his argument first, then reply to it point-by-point.
Beale argues: (1) BAGD does not offer this “vindication” option for krinō (618n). (2) Rev 6:17 presents “heightened descriptions of the consummated kingdom and judgment” (617). (3) The other eight examples of krinō in Rev “all refer to judgment of the ungodly” (618). (4) Had John intended to speak of vindication, he could have used ekdikeō “which explicitly has that meaning and is used in that way in 6:10 and 19:2″ (618). (5) Rev 20 appears to parallel this passage, but it speaks of the judgment against the wicked (618). (6) Ps 2 is the backdrop for 19:15-21 and probably so here (618).
I would offer this seriatim response:
First, Beale admits that “vindicate” is “theoretically possible” (618n). What is theoretically possible cannot be dismissed out-of-hand and may well be the case. In fact, when explaining the “reward” (misthon, 6:18c) for God’s people, Beale notes that it “includes vindication” (615). Significantly, he also says that the action in this text seems to answer the cry of the saints in 6:9–11 (Beale 616; cp. Smalley 292). I would note here (as I will do in my forthcoming commentary at 6:9–11), though, that the martyrs are promised 2000 years ago that they should wait only a “little while longer [chronon mikron]” (6:11). And this near-term expectation is reiterated in the oath scene immediately preceding the temple-judgment episode: “there shall be delay no longer” (10:6). In 6:10 the martyrs plea for God to no longer “refrain from judging and avenging our blood.” Note that “our blood” is not only “judged,” but “avenged.”
The Beast of Revelation (246pp); Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (409pp); Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues (211pp).
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Furthermore, BAGD (568) offers several options allowing the preterist interpretation of krinō. It mentions Dt 32:36 (LXX) “where the judgment of God is spoken of, resulting in the vindication of the innocent.” This fits perfectly with the preterist interpretation. It also can mean “to engage in a judicial process, judge, decide, hale before a court” as a technical term “in a forensic sense” (BAGD 568). If krinō can be a “judicial process,” then 11:18 could speak of the martyrs receiving their “day in court,” as it were. After all, it is “the time” when they are given “their reward [misthon]” (11:18c). Misthon speaks of reward or wages for work accomplished, it is “based on what a person has earned or deserves” (Aune 644; e.g., Jas 5:4). John uses the term in this sense in 22:12: “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (cp. 2:23).
In the final analysis, Beale seems to overlook the sixth meaning in BAGD (569): “to ensure justice for someone, see to it that justice is done.” Here BAGD references Isa 1:17 where Israel is directed to “seek justice” for the orphan and the widow, not to judge and punish them. David calls for God to “judge” (krniō) him, i.e., vindicate him (Ps 43:1; cp. Ps 10:18; 26:1; 54:1). Thus, with the collapse of the temple, the Jewish-Christian martyrs will see justice done, they will be vindicated.
Second, Beale’s statement that 6:17 involves “heightened descriptions of the consummated kingdom and judgment” is not necessarily so. In the hyperbolic tendency of apocalyptic drama, the destruction of the temple (which brings to a final conclusion of the whole old covenant world) can warrant just such an “heightened,” earth-shaking description. Should we not expect such elevated expressions since the kingdom of Christ comes in the first century (Mk 1:15; 9:1; Mt 12:28)? In the apocalyptically-framed OT prophecies, various historical judgments against ancient peoples are described as a the collapsing stellar universe (Isa 13:10 [cp. v 1]; Eze 32:7 [cp. v 2]; Joel 2:10 [cp. v 1]; 3:15 [cp. v 4]).
Four Views on the Book of Revelation
(ed. by Marvin Pate)
Helpful presentation of four approaches to Revelation. Ken Gentry writes the chapter on the preterist approach to Revelation, which provides a 50 page survey of Revelation .
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Third, regarding the eight other examples of krinō in Rev I would make two observations:
(1) Rare uses of terms (such as I am suggesting in this case) do occur. We surely cannot say a rare usage can never be warranted: that would render them non-existent, not “rare.” Perhaps this is the one use which breaks the pattern in Rev.
(2) Beale is mistaken when he claims all other uses of krinō in Rev “refer to judgment of the ungodly” (618). One of the passages he himself lists contradicts his statement when he explains its later: “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds” (20:12). Notice that two books are opened, one being the “book of life.” Note also that the dead were judged from the things written in the “books” plural. Only the righteous are listed in the book of life (3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15) for it is “the Lamb’s book of life (20:15; 21:27).
Rev has a strong reward theme regarding the deeds of the righteous (2:26; 14:5, 13; 19:8; 22:11, 12) — before the very same throne of God (14:3-5; 19:4-8) where Israel is judged. Beale even recognizes that this krinō judgment in Rev 20 includes both “the unrighteous and the righteous” (Beale 1032), involving “an all-inconclusive [sic, it should read “all-inclusive”] reference to both believers and unbelievers” (Beale 1033). He (1034) admits that “it is possible that the believing dead are included among those ‘judged according to their works.’”
Fourth, Beale notes that John chooses not to use the clearer word for “vindication”: ekdikeō. I have already shown that krinō can serve that function, so it becomes simply a matter of word choice. But perhaps John prefers the term that more strongly indicates judgment in that “the time” comes not only for the vindication of the saints by “reward,” but also “to destroy those who destroy the earth” (11:18d). Thus, krinō contains within it both results (Stuart 2:243).
Fifth, does Rev 20 parallel our passage, so that it must refer to the judgment against the wicked? We should note, first, that earthly, temporal judgments are pointers to the final eternal judgment; they are sign-posts along the way. Both types of judgment are judicially related, though the historical forerunners are on a smaller scale. I believe the AD 70 judgment is a reflection of the distant, greater final judgment. As Beale (978) argues elsewhere on another passage, AD 70 is one of the recurring “inaugurated fulfillments continuing over extended periods of time and followed by consummative fulfillment” (Beale 978). This judgment in 11:18 appears in the context of the first-century destruction of the temple and Jerusalem (11:2 a, b), is immediately relevant to John’s audience (1:9, 11), and is near (as per 10:6d), occurring at the end of a forty-two month period (11:2, 3). However, the final judgment occurs in the distant future after the “thousand years” (20:2–6).
Sixth, Ps 2 is the backdrop for 19:15–21 and probably so here (618). But this no more proves the final judgment than does the use of Ps 2 in Ac 4:25-26. There the apostles apply it to the first-century crucifixion of Christ by the gathering of Herod and Pontius Pilate against him (cf. Beale and Carson 2007: 553). Contrary to Beale’s expectations regarding 1:7 (196), John can use Zec 12:10 also of the crucifixion (Jn 19:37). After all, “there is unanimous consensus that John uses the OT with a high degree of liberty and creativity” (Beale 81) so that “we may viably speak of changes of application” (85).
Thus, I believe a strong case may be made and defended for the preterist view of this tricky phrase in Rev. 11:18.
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