Error of Notion: The First Century Sounding of Seven Thunders

Fourth Edition

Blind Men

Max King-Gus Nichols 1973 Debate Notes to Locate and Isolate the Source of Problems Related to the Fulfillment of All Things in Jewish Salvation Antiquity

by Mark Mountjoy

Introductory Remarks

The contributions of Max R.King and of other Christians associated with a movement known as the 19th century Restoration Movement and whose congregations are known as churches of Christ cannot be overstated and we owe them a debt of gratitude, no matter in whatever other belief or policy differences we may have.1  

Generally speaking, these Christians are very rigorous in their efforts to understand the Bible and to do so in the context in which it was written, but when it comes to the Book of Revelation their work, over the past century or so, does not show a similar alacrity.

So, when it was completely unpopular, and even unthinkable, King bravely represented to a skeptical audience his belief that the promised Second Coming, so prominent in theMax R King New Testament and a favorite belief of the First Christians had, in fact, happened already and on time.  This was a revolutionary stand for anyone to take in 1973 and the consequences of King's intestinal fortitude and courage still reverberate till this day.

But the ultimate question for Christians, all around, is: What are we even dealing with?  Some of this material is completely unfamiliar to us simply because we live in a day and a time which is thoroughly alien to the environment, ethos and language in which the New Testament was written.  For this reason it is easy (all too easy) for us to assume things into the texts and narratives, but the greater danger is accidently conflating issues that have a broad, rather than narrow application.

The effort to articulate a Scriptural view of the exact processes that secure and insured the end of Biblical Judaism is one such example of debate, discussions and documentation which utilizes long-neglected claims, advocated frequently in the New Testament, and shoe-horning them into a single event whether it logically fits or not on contextual or historical terms. 

But when the Scriptures themselves hint at looming and no less important secondary developments, we are wise to pay close attention as the possibility of wrestling, twisting and suppressing Scriptures is entirely possible, even with the best of intentions.

The Point of Contention and the Danger of Conflation

is Most Possible at Revelation Chapters 19 and 20

Aside from the events in Revelation 12:9-13 (where Satan is cast down to the earth, but some interpreters confuse what happened there with same devil being captured on the earth and bound in Revelation 20:1-3), the incidents and the trajectory of the narrative from Revelation 19:1-21 through Revelation 20:1-15 form a proverbial tight-rope across which we must walk with care.  At no point on this journey should we feel free to take the slightest liberty to insert our own agenda and personal opinions.  We are seeking the truth.

To begin with, Revelation 19 is a discrete chapter from Revelation 18 in almost every way.  Similarly, but in complete contrast, Revelation 20 is utterly different from Revelation 19.  Let's examine all three chapters to get a sense of their similarities but, more importantly, how they are different.

In Revelation 18:9-23 Jerusalem is being destroyed.

In Revelation 19:1-4 Jerusalem is gone and the smoke of her torment ascends forever and ever.

In Revelation 20:1ff Satan is bound (but this is before the war of Revelation 20:7ff).  Contrast what happened in Revelation 20:1-3 with what happens in Revelation 20:7-15.

In Revelation 20 Satan is not bound before Jerusalem was destroyed, but afterward (Revelation 19:1-4 and 20:1-3).  We must not confuse Satan being cast into the bottomless pit with his being cast into the lake of fire!

Nowhere in Revelation chapter 19 does it say or hint that Satan was bound or cast into the lake of fire, while it does portray the Sea Beast fighting Christ to the last and being cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20).

In Revelation 18 Satan is free during the Destruction of Jerusalem as the city was the cage of every unclean and foul spirit (Revelation 18:2). 

It is not possible to switch these three chapters around to make them represent each other as “retellings” for the sake of emphasis without accidentally destroying something unique and essential in each.

Revelation 18 depicts the city being inhabited by every unclean spirit and being destroyed in present tense.  Merchants at or near the Port of Jerusalem bemoan and mourn the fall of the city they see at a distance, burning with fire.  They see a column of smoke, almost as if they were Abraham seeing the smoke of Sodom and Gomorrah, burning like a furnace, from afar.

Revelation 19, on the other hand, portrays Jerusalem as already destroyed as a past fact.  It envisions the saints reacting to this happy fact with exaltation and joy.  John also sees a great multitude in heaven and they are preparing themselves to celebrate the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, at which time matrimony between Christ and the Church is, at last, finalized.

Along with this, Christ descends to the Holy Land to execute judgment upon those servants of his who said, “We will not have this man reign over us” (Luke 19:14).  The gruesome remainder of the Sea Beast Stability Chartchapter shows the humiliating defeat of the armies of warriors who through error of judgment, interpretation and timing fought against the forces of heaven and, consequently, were cast out to be food for the fowls of the air and the beasts of the fields.  In Revelation 19:21 the career of the beast and the false prophet is brought to an abrupt and untimely end.

Revelation 20:1 assumes (very strongly) that Satan is being apprehended, not from the sky, but from upon the earth—the Holy Land (and this, after the Jewish failed civil war is over with) to be consigned and confined to the bottomless pit (not the lake of fire). See?

What this leaves ahead on the Bible prophecy calendar [of Revelation 20:4ff] are:

(1) the exaltation of the saints who had already overcome the beast (Revelation 20:4).  Note that we put this verse in red letters because, as per Revelation 19:21, the beast's career is already over.

(2) A thousand years and a little season (which cannot now be behind us in any way, shape or form in Revelation chapter 19:1-9.  If the entirety of Revelation 19 is saying the same thing as Revelation 20:1-15 it would mean the Sea Beast could not have been destroyed in verses 19:11 through 21, but only within the framework of the first 9 verses—which which same nine verses also speak of the already satisfied destruction of Jerusalem). 

(3) The end of Satan's imprisonment in the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:3 and 7).

(4) The beginning of Satan's “parole.” (Revelation 20:7)

(5) The beginning of a great war involving billions of people from the four corners of the earth (Revelation 20:8).

(6) These armies encircle the Camp of the Saints and the Holy City (Revelation 20:9).

(7) A spine-tingling catastrophe reminiscent of God's stern judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the Plain (Revelation 20:9 cf. Genesis 19:28).

(8) Satan's (new) eternal damnation in the lake of fire where the beast and the false prophet already are (Revelation 20:10).

(9) Great White Throne judgment where the people of this final war saw a beatific vision of Jesus, the Son of God, sitting on his holy and glorious throne (Revelation 20:11).

(10) No place was found for them - Revelation 20:11 cf. Daniel 2:35.  (i.e., they had no sacerdotal house).  They tried (in vain) to build one in this world, but they forfeited the one God built which exists in the world beyond (Hebrews  11:10, 16 cf. 2 Corinthians 5:1-4; Revelation 21 and 22).

(11) The great resurrection of the rest of the dead to be judged out of “the books” and the Book of Life, according to their works and by the things which were written in the books (Revelation 20:12).

(12) The sea, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them and they were judged, according to their works. And Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:13).

(13) Whoever was not found in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone (Revelation 20:15).

The litany of events, above, are not mentioned in this order in any other New Testament book besides the Book of Revelation, but that should not surprise us.  When we read Matthew and Mark and Luke we see very familiar and similar testimonies of the life, ministry, death, burial and resurrection of our Savior, but when we read the Gospel of John, we see what looks like an almost completely different testimony.  Not only does the Gospel of John greatly differ from the Synoptics, but it alone does not have a version of the Olivet Discourse in it.

May we suggest that the Book of Revelation is itself an extended explanation of the Olivet Discourse?  If we can allow these  additional, fundamental, but essential differences to modify our interpretation of what the end of the world means, then we can accept that the Holy Spirit is telling the churches that the Revelation of Jesus Christ is not an event containing the A.D.70 Destruction, alone, but also the entire termination of Temple and sacrifices and Jewish polity and Messianic zeal which took seventy more years beyond A.D. 70 to fulfill.

When Was Revelation Written and

When Was the Thousand Years Fulfilled?

Brother King was right when he described this issue of the end of Judaism as being a discussion about the “time of it and the events involved in it.”2

If the Book of Revelation was given to John only in the early to mid 60s of the first century, then what time frame is involved in the end of Judaism and whatMax R King End PNG events are related to it?  If we accept that the Book of Revelation was given nearly on the Eve of the Destruction of Jerusalem, that fact has to make us realize that events in Revelation 18 and 19 and 20 become critical and the 20th chapter, itself, can make or break the feasibility of an interpretation.

Does Revelation 18, 19 and 20 justify or corroborate the notion that the end of Judaism happened only in the First Revolt, but had nothing at all to do with second century Israel and the Second Revolt? 

Can we hold onto this view without mangling the Scriptures or ignoring the history of the ending of the Second Jewish Commonwealth to make evidence say what we want it to say?

This is where the crux of issues comes to a head; this is where the proverbial rubber meets the road and this is where interpretive efforts either pass or fail to make a cogent case for a seemless narrative of an apocalypse of the Lord Jesus spanning at least five insurrections, from A.D.66 to A.D.136, including one infamous mass suicide of 960 people on Passover of A.D.73.

We cannot offer or allow a view to go unchallenged that says Sicarii 666Jesus very definitely ended the Old System, once and for all, in A.D.70, when history suggests that he "kind-of-sort-of" did that, but more was very definitely to come.  The reality of the matter is this: What happened from A.D.66-70 was a preliminary stage to a larger event that has to be seen as a combination of episodes, not one event cancelling out the other.  

But it is not like the Bible disagrees with this!

The Bible itself said that Satan must be bound, but also that he must be loosed for a little season (Revelation 20:3).  The Bible (not the modern theory of fulfilled eschatology) accounts for renewed activity. God's Word makes the continuity of the situation essential to the narrative, just where modern notions of Bible prophecy lose steam and try to explain the text using ineffective, false and contradictory assumptions.

In the final analysis, no rearrangement of facts or recapitulation of circumstances can conceal the not-so-apparent weakness of the view that Revelation 20:7-15 describes the A.D.66-70 Destruction of Jerusalem.  The evidence of the Scriptures in Revelation 20:1-6, alone, discredits this notion when we reflect on the implications.  The history of the political entity of the Second Jewish Commonwealth, too, does not find itself non-existent so soon as Max King's statement of belief declares and attests:

“The Holy Scriptures teach that the second coming of Christ, including the establishment of the eternal kingdom, the day of judgment, the end of the world and the resurrection of the dead, occurred with the fall of Judaism in 70 A.D.”

The practice of Bible-days Judaism, even some kind of restoration of sacrifices under Bar Kokhba's uncle, Eleazar of Modi'n, and desperate fighting on behalf of the Commonwealth's hopes prevailed until A.D.136 when Hadrian, at last, won a difficult victory against what came breathtakingly close to a Jewish military overthrow of the Roman Empire itself.

Endnotes

1 See our comments about this Christian church here and here.

2 King-Nichols Debate, p 10.

The 1973 King-Nichols Debate, p. 30 chart on the fulfillment of all things is correct, but questionable where it includes (or assumes) the sound of the Seventh Thunder is the sound of the Seventh Trumpet.  Is it?

Gus Nichols' comments on pp. 34-45 express anxiety and confusion over the fulfillment of Revelation 20 by A.D.70.  He states:

“Brother King did not answer the argument I made on Revelation 20, how that before the coming of Jesus, and before the judgment following the resurrection of the dead, and the end of the world—that before all that, John tells us there will be a “thousand years,” plus “a season,” after the Book of Revelation was written.

It does not make any difference whether it was written in A.D.68 or 96; there is still a “thousand years” involved in what God said.  I am talking about what he said!  There is a “thousand years” involved.  My Opponent emphasized that John said certain things would “shortly” come to pass.  But a “thousand years” is not an indefinite statement, like the word “shortly.”  John says "a thousand years.”  This shows that some things could only “shortly” begin to come to pass.  According to brother King's doctrine, the “thousand years” was over in two years!  King-Nichols Debate pp. 34-35.

Questions and issues that contribute to the point of contention are manifold: Do “the Holy Scriptures teach that the second coming of Christ, including the establishment of the eternal kingdom, the day of judgment, the end of the world and the resurrection of the dead, occurred with the fall of Judaism in 70 A.D.”?

Three related questions must be addressed in connection with this;

When was the Book of Revelation written?

Does the Book of Revelation advocate a solitary judgment day capping the existence of Biblical Judaism, or does it evince a binary judgment scenario where some are judged sooner and others are judged later?  Did the history of the end of the Second Jewish Commonwealth produce more casualties of war seven decades later?

And, finally, what can we say about the sounding of the seventh angel in Revelation 10?  If the seven thunders were sealed just before the A.D.70 destruction of Jerusalem, what does that tell us about them and how nearly to the fall of the city they would  be used?  And, more: was the sound of the seventh angel to be the sound of a trumpet or was it to be the sound of thunder?

*The caption at the top of this essay suggests that Christians, from a variety of traditions, are struggling to adequately describe a subject with varying degrees of success or failure.  While we each see through a glass darkly, faith, hope and love, centered on the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth, can and must be our Source and Center.  In this we can claim a “unity in diversity” even as we strive to please God and teach his Word with integrity and skill and humility.