Joseph Ben Matthias (A.K.A. Flavius Josephus)
Punishment, Conquest, Victory, and Catastrophic Defeat of
the Fierce and Mortal Opponents of the Earliest Christians
A Quick Overview of the Events Stretching from Revelation Chapters 9 to Revelation 19
(Parts One & Two)
ATAVIST THIRTY-FOURTH ANNIVERSARY ARTICLE
by Mark Mountjoy
Logic and continuity or illogic and incongruity may govern a given interpretation; how, when looking at the plethora of signs and symbols, images and allusions, does one separate facts from figures of speech? These have been real concerns of interpreters and exegetes on all sides of the question of what Revelation means and what makes one interpretation stand out? Who can say which one is "better"? In the final analysis a look at the supposed history the Book of Revelation is allegedly posited to explain can help both judge and jury decide that question. Troubling events in Revelation 9 (that seems to have no parallel in any known history) and events in Revelation 11, 13 and 19 (which have good support) provide us with some food for thought.
What Does the Book of Revelation Explain?
To what does Revelation refer? That depends on who you ask. For some Futurists, Revelation describes events which were "thought" to be "soon" at the time of John's writing the warnings in the late 90s of the first century. For those who accept this proposal the Book of Revelation describes events which are going to happen in OUR very near future. How do they know this? They surmise that it "must" be near because of the advent of the founding of the modern Israeli State. According to them, Matthew 24:34 assures that "this generation" (our generation today) will not pass away until all things associated with the fig tree (i.e., Israel becoming a nation again— the "budding") comes true.
For Preterists, Revelation describes events which were "believed" to be "soon" at the time of John's writing the warnings in the early 60s of the first century. For those who accept this proposal the Book of Revelation descibes events which were about to happen in the first Christians' very near future. How do they know this? They surmise that it "had" to be near because of the nearness of the fall of the city of Jerusalem. According to them, Matthew 24:34 assures that "this generation" (their generation then) would not pass away until all things associate with the fig tree (i.e., the signs and wonders surrounding the abomination of the Second Temple) came true.
The typical Preterist explanation of these events starts off under the strongly defensible premise that the events describe the judgment of the Jews, the dissolution of the Old Testament, priesthood, Temple and holy city. This defense also puts up a strong case that Revelation is better understood under Jewish hyperbole, idioms and figures of speech (rather than wooden literalism or purely modern assumptions). Old assumptions linger, however, and (somehow) the Romans get blended into the explanation about who got punished and who went down. In this regard, Revelation chapter 9, 11, 13 and 19 offer a litmus test to see if a Judæo-Romano eschaton (one where the Jews AND the Romans fell in the first century) actually stands up to any known history. We will see, below, that such a combined history does not stand up to actual evidence. . .
Revelation 9 and History
The events in Revelation 9 cover events associated with the fifth and sixth trumpets (see, e.g., Revelation 9:1 and 9:13-14, respectively). Futurist interpretations that consider the chapters as a testimony of past events (e.g., Amillennialism and Postmillennialism) do not address where or when or how these incidents happened. In the Preterist world the five months of torment are sometimes inferred to be the five month Roman seige of Jerusalem (which took place in the year 70 of our common era). Two things about this claim prove to be problematic:
(1) The five month Roman seige only began upon the stoning of Jerusalem with one hundred pound boulders in around Passover of A.D.70, and (2) What is happening in Revelation 9 transpires before the Jews kick off their suicidal efforts to secede from the Roman Empire. An overlap, such as this, is imperative in the recapitulationist Amillennial model, but the narrative, itself, is seriously injured and muddled by such a uneccessary conflation of time and circumstance. In any case, Josephus DOES NOT mention anything resembling these woes, but it is interesting that the events of chapters 11, 13 and 16, 17, 18 and 19 DO neatly fall into place as recognizeable events in his report of the developments surrounding the Jewish war—and its aftermath.
So what can we make of the silence of history surrounding the events of chapter 9? There are three stategies that come to mind:
(1) Because chapter 9 cannot be spoken for in any known history, it NEVER happened. And since it never happened we must think of it as a plus for Futurists who suppose it still will happen. Fair enough!
(2) The events in Revelation 9 DID happen, but the spiritual nature of the events and entities (two hundred million demons from UNDER the Euphrates River; locusts (again—spiritual entities—from the bottomless pit) means John wrote about beings, which by their very nature and scope, would not have been either seen or reported under any circumstances. In other words, by the very nature of the source of these Divine torments, they could not be reported. After this, the fact that chapters 11, 13 and 19 easily can be accounted for in Josephus ADDS to the credibility of this explanation and thereby strengthens it. But there is more!
Revelation 9:4 harks back to events in Revelation 7 (which ties in very nicely with an oncoming JEWISH destruction, see Revelation 7:1-8 cf. Ezekiel 9:4-6).
Also, within chapter 9 itself there are clues that almost demand that we take seriously that those events happened when they were supposed to happen. The verses we have in mind are Revelation 9:14-15. These two verses forbid that the events can be made to operate as "moving targets." If they are "fixed" then the notices throughout Revelation (e.g., Revelation 1:1, 3, 7; 2:24-26; 3:10-11, etc, etc.) call for the events to find satisfaction near the lifetime of Christians living in religio-politically troubled first century Asia Minor. An oncoming destruction that would effect a confident Jewry (see Revelation 2:9 and 3:9) was something close by. But there is even more!
At the end of Revelation 9 we are told that the punishments did NOT affect repentence (see verses 20-21).
"And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts."
The narrative of the judgments inflicted depict the recalcitrance of a resolute people in love with their riches—their houses and affects, their money and holdings, murderous vengeance, occult practices, adulterous and unnatural affairs and robberies. The desire for gain (and the willingness to kill for it and die for it) are large themes in Josephus' wars account. And it is in light of the FAILURE of Revelation 9's horrific torments to convince the people of Judæa to change their ways that the events leading to open war and initial victory and success (as evinced in Revelation 11 and 13) make the best historical sense. What comes next is absolutely amazing in light of what we know from Josephus and other Rabbinic sources.
In our last post we talked about two strategies for understanding the implications of Revelation 9 (how it has no historical parallels that we know of). The first strategy says it did not happen in the past, so it must happen in the future. The second strategy says it DID happen in the past, but by its very nature it could not be reported. But the third strategy is the strategy of the Eastern (or Greek) Orthodox Church: Denial of any possibility of understanding Revelation as a book with any historical parallels. It would be assumed that, not only did it not happen, but it will never happen--DON'T READ IT AND DO NOT WORRY ABOUT IT. Whoever takes this option, how high can their view of Biblical inspiration be? But to us the strength of chapters 11, 13, and 19 almost guarantee that the events in 9 took place.
Jewish Success in Revelation Chapter 11
Now, Revelation chapter 11:1-2 is a set of verses that is typically gotten wrong in commentaries; it is usually assumed that the Romans trampled Jerusalem for forty-two months but (if we follow Josephus' account) that is not the case at all! While it is true that the Romans defeated the Jews after a siege, that siege only lasted the last five months of an almost four year Jewish civil war. In fact the Jewish civil war lasted forty-two months and witnessed the Jews degrading their own heritage with their own hands and feet and words and actions. Martin Hengel describes the initiation of a Vehmic Court: a judge and jury system to try and execute the Jerusalem Aristocracy, Jerusalemites and any Jewish citizens of crimes and treason against the Law, the state or the cause of the war. Capital punishment against any crime (large or small) was immediately enacted. Burial of those so killed was FORBIDDEN (even though burial of the dead was intrinsic to the Law of Moses). In Revelation 11 we see two prophets of God immediately fall under the jurisdiction of the "beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit." As Christians their obvious sins would have been the preaching of Christ crucified, dead, buried and raised. The preaching to the Gentiles and placing them on equal footing with the Jews would have been extremely objectionable. And, to say it all in a word, almost any theme in the New Testament (including ideas about the coming end of the Jewish system of things) would have been extremely objectionable and tormenting for the people to hear.
The Timing of Chapter 11
The timing of events in Revelation 11 and the building involved (presumably and most logically the Second Temple) and duration of the incidents give us a clue about many things. For one, the ministry of the two prophets lasts for 1, 260 and ends with their martyrdom by the beast. The beast's tenure also lasts 42 months before it is terminated (Revelation 13:5). The total figure for both the prophet's and the beast's tenure along with the termination of the rule, authority and power of the sedition covers roughly seven years. But with an ending of the beast's rule with the fall of the city in A.D.70 we must calculate the beginning of the two prophet's ministry would be somewhere around mid November of A.D.62 (at the very least). The chapter also depicts a major earthquake happening in a city having no more than 70,000 inhabitants in it. Why is this important? It is important because we know Rome had a population far exceeding that at the time. Jerusalem was a fairly large metropolis, but did not have a million inhabitants in the first century. Revelation 11 claims a tenth of the city's population was killed by an earthquake and this gives us a number far below what we could ascribe to Rome and closer to what Jerusalem would have been. Some say Jerusalem had forty thousand at the time of Christ, others say one hundred thousand. If it was at the lower end, what could explain the extra thirty thousand people? A minor festival, say, for example Trumpets or Booths. It would NOT be a major festival because those drew millions to the metropolis.
The Jews' taking complete control of their Temple in Revelation 11:1-2 dovetails into the events culminating the second series of judgments: the Seven Trumpets (Revelation 11:15-18). This final trumpet announces the arrival of that kingdom of God that was anticipated in the Olivet Discourse (Luke 21:33). But note that coming of the kingdom is not without the occasion of judgment and the resurrection, too (vss. 16-18). The coming of the kingdom with the judgment, time of the dead and disbursement of rewards to God's servants the prophets adds controversy, tension and grief to those Christian authorities who desire to speak of the Destruction of Jerusalem as a civil and architectural and military debacle ONLY. But as we can see from the text, the Bible makes much more of it.
Jewish Success in Revelation Chapter 13
When we come to Revelation 13 a new scene emerges. The very first verse envisions a monstrous entity assuming rule, authority and power by apparent brute force and occult measures. A league with Satan and an immediate show of STRONG dislike for God and all things above are made manifest at the very moment of its successful debut. Again, conventional commentaries quickly assume the Romans played such a role, and yet that role is assumed to have been exercised in a wider window—one far exceeding a mere forty-two months. The fact that nowhere does Josephus ascribe sinister speech, actions or motives to Titus, Vespasian or any of the Romans calls into question the claim that here John has Romans in mind at all. The very contrary is true of Josephus: in almost every other instance in his account he ascribes wicked motives and sinister aims to his own seditious countrymen and to Jewish tyrant chiefs who subdued Jerusalem and made it into a frightening hotbed of blood and terror, death and misery. The success of the beast in Revelation 13 also leads to the incitement of a false prophet to the people that they should be given a sign from heaven (which sign is also NOT reported in any history we know of).
This, of course, is very problematic! We DO have the Jewish victory; we DO have the seditious defiling the Temple and trampling, spoiling and destroying all things considered good and holy; we DO have them killing the guiltless and engaging in gratuitous mayhem; we even have a false prophet promising the people a sign from God within and upon the doomed Temple property. The idea portrayed in conventional wisdom is far, far from any incidents happening in Jerusalem, let alone in Judaea. The rule seems to be that what John is describing points directly to Roman injustices along religious lines. What is wrong with this picture when everything else (relating directly to the Jews and their chaotic affairs) fell into place!?
2 Thessalonians 2 Has the Answer!
The answer to these important questions, once again, can be found elsewhere in the New Testament. The Olivet Discourse (in all fairness) is pretty clear that a Jewish context around the Jewish Temple and disturbances around the Jewish nation within the generation of the original Jewish Apostles was to be soon expected. But Jesus, in the Olivet Discourse does mention that deceitful signs would seek to misled, if possible, the Elect. The Apostle Paul's comments, too, in 2 Thessalonians goes in the very same direction. Note what he says there:
"Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:1-13).
These thirteen verses contain the solution to the verses in question and why Josephus (nor any Rabbinic sources) mention any "fire coming down" as described in Revelation 13:13. Revelation 13:13, in other words, was an event that was a LYING WONDER. What is a 'lying' wonder, but a false wonder; a wonder that was not real? A lying wonder IS an event that the people who were tricked SAW, but it is NOT an event that anyone could have reported as a "fact". Again (as we explained about the nature of the events in Revelation 9) the demons and tormenters could not be seen. So here, a lying wonder could have been seen by the deceived but, by definitation "it never really happened in real life"—thus it forms no part of any real history. The very fact that Josephus does report that the people were bidden to come to the Temple to witness a miracle is strong and powerful corroberation that Revelation 13 is tied to the events in the city at that time.
The Fall of the City and the Jewish Debacle and Failure at Masada
As we follow the narrative from Revelation 13 on through 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18 we discover that the city (the center of the Beast's sphere of operation) is taken, stoned, burned and destroyed (Revelation 16:21; 17:16; 19:1-4). In the end, what had begun as a triumphant success--"Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?" Is driven to dispair and oblivion--"And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh." (Revelation 19:20-21).
Just a glance at the contrast between success and stength and defeat and oblivion give us something quite definite to look for in the history of the time. For those Preterists who insist that the Romans suffered an equal measure of defeat in the aftermath of the Destruction of Jerusalem, the specter of being proved wrong by a succinct examination of the relevant history or Futurist scrutiny and repudiation should cause caution and reconsideration of these ideas. Remember: that which proves too much proves nothing at all. If we maintain that Roman foes fell in A.D.70 (and history shows that that is definitely not the case) we risk destroying the main point that we started out with in the first place:
Remember we said, "For Preterists, Revelation describes events which were "believed" to be "soon" at the time of John's writing the warnings in the early 60s of the first century. For those who accept this proposal the Book of Revelation descibes events which were about to happen in the first Christians' very near future. How do they know this? They surmise that it "had" to be near because of the nearness of the fall of the city of Jerusalem. According to them, Matthew 24:34 assures that "this generation" (their generation then) would not pass away until all things associate with the fig tree (i.e., the signs and wonders surrounding the abomination of the Second Temple) came true."?
Remember we said, "The typical Preterist explanation of these events starts off under the strongly defensible premise that the events describe the judgment of the Jews, the dissolution of the Old Testament, priesthood, Temple and holy city. This defense also puts up a strong case that Revelation is better understood under Jewish hyperbole, idioms and figures of speech (rather than wooden literalism or purely modern assumptions."?
We have seen three ways the subject of Revelation has been dealt with: It will happen; had to already happen and will never happen. Only a personal investigation into the wider and deeper claims of the New Testament can tell one which one of these is the truth and, in regard to the belief that it had to happen, there is a difference of opinion about whether or not the Romans were ever intended to be the subject of judgment or of perdition. What makes the Preterist view different (and more problematic) than the Atavist view is the INCLUSION of the judgment of Rome and the Romans in the incidents, losses and fatalities. If we strip the Roman supposition away and stay with the idea that some of the events (in Revelation 9 and Revelation 13) could not be reported because of their nature (the former being spiritual beings, and the latter being lying wonders) and the success of the Jews (as described in Revelation 11 and 13), then the downfall of the Jews in Revelation 19:18-21 makes perfect sense in light of what we know about the Jewish war and its outcome.
The question that faces us today is: At what level of importance should these historic understandings be placed (should this be the very first thing we tell people when we meet them, or should we find out where they stand with God and the state of their soul and salvation?) and what common efforts should we make to join hands and close ranks and organize to insure the survival of our beliefs, our way of life and our cause?
Study the Desolation and fall of the Zealot's once great metropolis here. A sketch of the historical trajectory of Christians after the Destruction to the eve of Simon Bar Kokhba, and the sudden disappearance of the ancient Jewish State, can be seen here.
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