PMW 2022-052 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
Revelation 17:8–10 is an important passage that helps us determine the date in which John composed Revelation. That passage reads as follows:
[17:8] The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. [17:9] Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, [17:10] and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while.
Since there is a serious debate over the dating of Revelation, and since we are in one of the passages that offers us evidence for its date (Rev. 15–19), I thought I would introduce you to the debate.
Awareness of the debate is significant for a number of reasons. I believe that our recognition of the matter will help us understand an important issue. And that issues is: the writers of Scripture were real writers who wrote to real people in the real world. The Bible did not drop down from heaven as an other-worldly document. We must understand the historical significance of the books of Scripture so that we avoid mysticism and fanaticism. Christianity is an historical religion.
Before Jerusalem Fell
(by Ken Gentry)
Doctoral dissertation defending a pre-AD 70 date for Revelation’s writing. Thoroughly covers internal evidence from Revelation, external evidence from history, and objections to the early date by scholars.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
In the process of our study of Scripture we can detect evidence for the life-settings of the books. I believe that this helps the Bible to become more “alive” for us. The biblical books were not written as mystical experiences detached from the real world circumstances of the original audience.
Furthermore, understanding when an author wrote something can often throw additional light on its proper interpretation.
As we begin, we should note that the two leading time-frames that evangelical scholars offer for Revelation are:
1. The early date (prior to the destruction of the temple in AD 70);
2. The late date (toward the end of the reign of Caesar Domitian around AD 95–96).
The early date was the dominant view in the 1700s–1800s. Whereas in the early 1900s the tide shifted to adoption of the late date. However, the early date is beginning to make a resurgence among scholars.
In the perplexing vision found in Rev. 17:1–6, John is shown a harlot riding on a seven-headed beast. John is befuddled by the vision, for in Rev. 17:6b–7 we read:
[17:6] And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. When I saw her, I wondered greatly. [17:7] And the angel said to me, “Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.”
So as we begin our analysis, I will build the case for the early date that is argued from this passage.
This book presents a strong, contemporary case in support of the early dating of Revelation. He builds on Before Jerusalem Fell and brings additional arguments to bear.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
First, we should realize that this section does not contain further perplexing visionary information. Rather, it is expressly designed to explain to John the vision he has just seen: “I will tell you the mystery” (v. 7). Then as he begins to explain the vision, he adds: “Here is the mind which has wisdom” (v. 9). And in the process, the angel’s explanation helps us to look behind the scenes to discover when John wrote.
Second, we must note that all scholars hold that John was writing at sometime during the Roman empire and that he wrote in the first century of Rome’s history. This ties us to a general period that spans only 100 years. This is an advantage for Revelation commentators that Daniel commentators do not have. Arguments for Daniel’s date range from 600 BC to 160 BC. This is an extremely wide variation.
Third, we must note that the beast image itself gives us a clue as to what kings are in view. For we read of the beast with seven heads that the heads represent both mountains (or hills) and kings. Since John wrote in the first century during the days of the Roman empire, this provides us with an important clue. We are led to ask: what city is known as sitting on seven hills? That is easy to answer: Rome. The famous seven hills of Rome are the Palatine, Aventine, Caelian, Esquiline, Viminal, Quirinal, and Capitoline hills.
The Roman writers Suetonius and Plutarch make reference to the first century festival in Rome called Septimontium, i.e. the feast of “the seven hilled city.” Archaeologists have discovered the Coin of Vespasian (emperor A.D. 69–79) picturing the goddess Roma as a woman seated on seven hills. In the coin posted above, we see seven hills behind Roma, and she is sitting on the seventh:
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. The seven hills are mentioned by such Christian writers as Tertullian and Jerome.
Thus, this vision is linked to Rome of the first century. But we must go further.
Fourth, the angel teaches John something he would not naturally realize: the seven heads have a two-fold referent. They represent not only hills/mountains but also kings. So now we must look at first-century history for a line of seven kings that is associated with the city of Rome. This is where we find evidence for the early date prior to Jerusalem’s destruction.
Notice v. 10:
“They are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while.”
Thus, when John writes, five of the seven kings have already fallen; they are dead and in the past. But the sixth one is currently reigning, he “is” (“one is”). And the seventh one lies off in the future: “he has not yet come.” Who could these be? Let’s get one other piece of evidence before us.
Fifth, note that the seventh “has not yet come,” but “when he comes, he must remain a little while.” This distinguishes the seventh king from the preceding six kings, the sixth of whom is now reigning.
This fits perfectly with what we know of the opening line of Caesars:
1. Julius Caesar (49-44 B.C.)
2. Augustus Caesar (31 B.C.-A.D. 14)
3. Tiberius Caesar (A.D. 14-37)
4. Gaius Caesar, also called “Caligula” (A.D. 37-41)
5. Claudius Caesar (A.D. 41-54)
6. Nero Caesar (A.D. 54-A.D. 68)
7. Galba Caesar (June, A.D. 68 to January 15, A.D. 69)
We can find these first emperors in the Roman historian Suetonius’ The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. He lists that twelve emperors up to his time in the early second century.
Note that these seven Caesars are the first emperors of the Roman empire (and are thus significant). Prior to them, Rome was a Republic. Julius Caesar set in motion the empire. He was so important for the empire that his name became a title that effectively functioned to mean “emperor.” The emperors of Rome all took his name as their title.
Sixth, now we should note that the first five “have already fallen.” That is, as John writes the first five are already dead. But the current Caesar is Nero, the one who now “is.” But one more in the vision’s enumeration must come soon. That would be Galba Caesar. And he must reign only briefly, for the angel informs John: “and when he comes, he must remain a little while” (v. 10b).
When we compare Galba (the seventh emperor of Rome) to all the preceding ones, he is the only one who reigns less than a year. He reigns only a six months (June, A.D. 68 to January 15, A.D. 69). And interestingly, he is the first emperor not to be related somehow to Julius Caesar, the others being adopted into the line of Caesars by formal, legal action.
Thus, first-century Roman history fits the angelic explanation of the vision. Consequently, John wrote Revelation while Nero was on the throne. And he dies in AD 68 as the empire erupts into the devastating civil war that will result in the famed “Year of the Four Emperors.” When Nero dies, three emperors lay claim to the emperorship but last only a few months each: Galba, Otho, and Vitellius.
Other lines of “internal” evidence appear in Revelation. Especially important is the reference to the Jewish temple in Rev. 11:1–2. This material is obviously picked up from Jesus’ teaching in Luke 21:24. Notice how similar they are:
[11:1] Then there was given me a measuring rod like a staff; and someone said, “Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it. [11:2] Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months.”
[21:20: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near…. [21:24] And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
Jerusalem = the holy city
Gentiles (ethne) = nations (ethnesin)
trampled underfoot (patoumene) = tread under foot (patesousin)
I believe that these two pieces of evidence strongly anchor Revelation’s history in the sixties of the first century. The evidence from Rev. 17 is particularly instructive.