Part 5 of 5: Full Preterism – Shades of Covenant Eschatology? On Dating the Book of Revelation: An Unbiased Approach

Posted By Thomas Perez. February 22, 2011 at 7:59pm. Copyright 2011.

Topic 4: Dating the Book of Revelation

A. Question: Rome conquered God’s people in A.D. 70. Wasn’t this a victory for the Beast? A victory that has not been reversed even to this day, thus proving that the book of Revelation was not fulfilled in A.D. 70?

Preterist Answer: Israel was under the dominion of the Roman Empire beginning in 63 B.C., when Pompey captured Jerusalem, forcefully entered into the Holy of Holies and took authority over Israel’s worship by installing her High Priest. But that dominion over God’s people ended in A.D. 30-70, when Israel entered into her “spiritual things.” (Rom. 15:27) The earthly holy of holies was fulfilled in the heavenly Holy of Holies; the earthly high priest was fulfilled in the heavenly High Priest; and the earthly Jerusalem was fulfilled in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Today, neither Rome nor any other power can possibly touch “the Israel of God.” (Gal. 6:16) Jerusalem is “free indeed” (Jn. 8:36; Gal. 4:26).

Yes, Rome conquered the land of Judea in 70, but that tract of real estate ceased to exist as the Land of the Kingdom of God. When Rome conquered the children of the flesh, (Rom. 9:8) she had merely conquered the “dross” that King Jesus had swept out of His Kingdom.

B. Question: It’s universally held that the Apostle John lived to a very old age. Why isn’t there anything from him through Polycarp or any other early Christians regarding the Second Coming?

Preterist Answer: Very few Christian writings from the decades following A.D. 70 have survived to this day. Even quotations of those writings in other writings are scarce. If John did write after A.D. 70, his writings of those years have been lost.

What we can see however from the scant surviving documents of those decades after the fall of Jerusalem, is that the post-apostolic Church adjusted, or “developed,” the original eschatology of John and the other Apostles.

As you may know, believers who lived in the Apostolic era believed that Jesus was going to return in their own lifetime. This expectation was in strict accordance with the Lord’s own Word:

Jesus said to His disciples, ‘…The Son of Man is about to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then recompense every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.'” (Matt. 16:24,27-28)

But after Jersualem fell in A.D. 70, and the Second Coming and the destruction of heaven and earth had not happened literally, sub-apostolic teachers then came up with the concept of the “Parousia delay.” We see this concept most notably in the Epistle of Barnabas (written shortly after the fall of Jerusalem) and in the Shepherd of Hermas. (c. A.D. 85-140)

In the Epistle of Barnabas, it was taught that because Jerusalem had recently fallen, believers could be sure that Jesus was about to come at any moment. And the Shepherd of Hermas was written to explain why there had been a delay in the Church’s original, Apostolic expectation.

The Second Coming of Christ and the fall of Jerusalem were gradually dichotomized in the years that followed A.D. 70. As the centuries rolled on, the two events eventually became unrelated in the mind of most.

The early abandonment of the eschatology of the Apostolic era was not a reflection on the teaching abilities of the Apostles, but it was a reflection on our slowness in comprehending some of the more difficult teachings of the Apostles. (II Peter 3:16) Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, (c. A.D. 150) was refreshingly humble and honest in this regard:

For neither am I, nor is any other like unto me, able to follow the wisdom of the blessed and glorious Paul…” (Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, 3:2).

Preterism is condemned by many futurists today as a damnable heresy. Yet there is little debate on the following point:

The first century, apostolic Church expected the Parousia to take place within the lifetime of the Apostles.

It necessarily follows from that admission that every doctrine today that teaches that the Parousia of Christ did not take place within the lifetime of the Apostles is a flat denial of the original eschatology of the Church.

Since preterism (the doctrine that the Parousia was to take place within the lifetime of the Apostles) was the original eschatology of the Apostolic Church, we can rest assured that it is infinitely more trustworthy and authoritative than all of the “eschatologies,” so called, that were “developed” subsequently.

The original and infallible eschatology that God revealed to the Apostolic Church, and which was believed and taught by the Church from A.D. 30-70, should be believed by us with all of our hearts and minds, that is, if we truly believe that the Apostles and prophets are the foundation of the eternal City of God. (Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14)

A momentous work of the modern Church in coming days will be its eschatological reformation, its submission to Apostolic / preterist eschatology. May certain Church leaders today emulate the humility of Polycarp, and cease in their virtually unqualified veneration of the Creeds, and at last confess the possibility that the historic Church has erred in its eschatology.

In thus humbling ourselves in the sight of the Lord, we will discover a more biblical worldview, and will bring glory to the Eternal Gospel. Amen.

(Note: A preterist author named Samuel M. Frost has recently written a book called Misplaced Hope that deals with this issue in detail. The book is sometimes difficult to read, but it has many strong arguments as to how and why the early Church abandoned Apostolic / preterist eschatology. The book was published by a liberal publisher, but the author himself is Reformed.

C. Question: Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, wrote in his work Against Heresies (c. 180-190) that the Apostle John saw the Revelation “toward the end of the reign of Domitian.” (Against Heresies 5:30:3) Domitian’s reign ended in A.D. 96. Thus Irenaeus dated the book of Revelation at about A.D. 95. My question is this: How do preterists get around this external evidence for the late date of Revelation, and what external evidence do preterists have that suggests that the book of Revelation was written before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70?

Preterist Answer: We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, toward the end of Domitian’s reign. Against Heresies5:30:3)

A number of scholars since the 1700’s have questioned the meaning of the last sentence of this statement. There is some question as to whether that which was “seen” was “the apocalyptic vision,” or “him who beheld the apocalyptic vision,” i.e., John. If Irenaeus was saying that “John” was seen “toward the end of Domitian’s reign,” (which makes sense in the context) then Irenaeus’ statement here has little or no bearing on the early or late date of Revelation, but has more to do with the longevity of John.

Ironically, a piece of external evidence that preterists claim for the “early date” of Revelation is in the very same book by Irenaeus, Against Heresies, two paragraphs earlier. In 5:30:1, Irenaeus makes reference to “all the most approved and ancient copies” of the book of Revelation: Such, then, being the state of the case, and this number [of the Beast] being found in all the most approved and ancient copies [of the book of Revelation], and those men who saw John face to face bearing their testimony to it….

Does it make sense that Irenaeus would refer to “all the most approved and ancient copies” of the book of Revelation, and then state that John saw the Revelation “no very long time since, but almost in our day?” I don’t think so. What does make sense is that the book of Revelation was “ancient,” and that John lived many years after he wrote it and was seen “almost in our day.”

Clement of Alexandria (head teacher at the Catechetical School at Alexandria) was a contemporary of Irenaeus. He wrote his Miscellanies (or Stromata) in c. A.D. 190-195. In 7:17, he condemns certain teachers who were writing counterfeit scriptures. Clement explained that those teachers and their scriptures were counterfeit because they had appeared after the close of the teaching of the Apostles. According to Clement, the close of the teaching of the Apostles (which includes the writing of the Scriptures) “ends with Nero.” Nero died in A.D. 68. Clement of Alexandria thus implied that the “New Testament,” including the book of Revelation, was written before A.D. 68.

The Muratorian Canon (c. A.D. 170-200) contains this statement:..the blessed Apostle Paul, following the rule of his predecessor John, writes to no more than seven churches by name.

The Canon teaches that John wrote to the seven churches in Asia Minor (Rev. 1:4) before Paul wrote to Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae and Thessalonica. Paul wrote these epistles from c. A.D. 50 to c. A.D. 65. The Canon therefore implies that John wrote the Revelation well before c. A.D. 65, and possibly as early the 50’s, A.D.

The apparent reference to Rev 21:14 in Heb 11:10 possibly indicates that the book of Revelation was written before the book of Hebrews (which was written in c. A.D. 64):

And the wall of the City had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Rev. 21:14) For he was looking for the City which has the foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Heb. 11:10) And the possible allusion to Rev 10:7 in I Cor 15:52 could even indicate that the book of Revelation was written before I Corinthians (which was written in c. A.D. 55 / 56)…but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound [the seventh and last trumpet (Rev. 8:6 – 9:13), then the mystery of God is finished, as He preached to His servants the prophets. (Rev 10:7)…in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. (I Cor. 15:52)

(For more evidence for the early date of the book of Revelation, see Ken Gentry’s book, Before Jerusalem Fell.)

D. Question: The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians is possibly the earliest uninspired, orthodox Christian work in existence. When was it written? And what is its eschatological message?

Preterist Answer: Assuming that I Clement is genuine and that it has survived substantially uncorrupted, it is safe to say that it was written between c. A.D. 67 and 70, and that its eschatological message is preterism.

For Clement, the Parousia, the Resurrection of the dead and the Judgment were all about to happen at the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem. We know that Clement’s epistle was written shortly after c. A.D. 67, because he says in chapter six that Paul and Peter were martyred “in our own generation,” and that they were “the most recent spiritual heroes.” (Chapter 5) Along with them, Clement adds, “a great multitude…endured many indignities and tortures…”(Chapter 6) The “indignities and tortures” of Paul, Peter and the “great multitude” were probably part of the Neronian persecution (or more precisely, the Jewish-Neronian persecution) that began in c. A.D. 64. According to tradition, Peter and Paul were martyred in that persecution in c. A.D. 67.

We can infer that Clement’s epistle was written before A.D. 70, because he speaks in four places of the Temple in Jerusalem: In chapter 32: “…For from him have sprung the priests and all the Levites who minister at the altar of God…”

In chapter 40: “…He has enjoined offerings and service to be performed at the appointed times and hours. …Those, therefore, who present their offerings at the appointed times, are accepted and blessed; for inasmuch as they follow the laws of the Lord. …For his own peculiar services are assigned to the high priest, and their own proper place is prescribed to the priests, and their own special ministrations devolve on the Levites…”

In chapter 41: “…Not in every place, brethren, are the daily sacrifices offered, or the peace-offerings, or the sin-offerings and the trespass-offerings, but in Jerusalem only. And even there they are not offered in any place, but only at the altar before the temple, that which is offered being first carefully examined by the high priest and the ministers…” In Chapter 23, Clement not only implies that the Temple is still standing, but he places the Resurrection of the dead in the day of its destruction.

Some at Corinth had doubts about the impending Resurrection, because so many years had passed by with no change. To impress upon the Corinthians the nearness of that Day, Clement told them to compare themselves to a vine. “In a little time,” he said, it sheds its leaves; it buds; it puts forth leaves; it flowers; it produces sour grapes, and then ripened and mature grapes. Even so, said Clement, “soon,” “suddenly” and “speedily” He would come and would “not tarry.” “The Holy One” would come “to His Temple.”

Thus before A.D. 70, Clement taught the Corinthians that when they reached maturity “in a little time,” the Judge would come to His Temple and raise the dead. (cf. Mal. 3:1-2)

Clement’s eschatology was pure, biblical preterism. In this light, compare these two pairs of verses from I Clement and the book of Acts:

I Clement, Chapter 24: “…The Lord continually proves to us that the resurrection which is about to come will be…”

Acts 24:15: “There is about to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.”

I Clement, Chapter 28: “…Through His mercy, we may be protected from the judgment about to come…”

Acts 24:25: “As he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment about to come…”

E. Question: The book of First John is dated around A.D. 85-95, yet it speaks of a future coming of Christ. Doesn’t this disprove preterism?

Preterist Answer: If John wrote First John in about 85-95, then he would have been one of the only, if not the only, surviving Apostle at the time. But I Jn 1:1-5 implies that when John wrote, the other apostles were still alive and laboring in the Gospel. Also, many or most scholars believe that John wrote his three epistles at about the same time that he wrote his Gospel. John 5:2 indicates that John wrote his Gospel before A.D. 70.

More important evidence though for a pre-70 date of First John is found in I Jn 2:18: “Even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour.” (I Jn. 2:18) The knowledge that John and his readers were living in “the last hour” was based on the promise of the Lord. Jesus prophesied on the Mount of Olives that just before the end (i.e., just before the destruction of the temple in their generation [Matt 24:1,2,34]), many false christ’s and false prophets would appear and perform great signs and wonders. (Matt 24:23-31; Mk 13:21-27)

When John wrote his epistle, “many antichrists” (false christ’s and false prophets) had appeared. “From this,” based on the word of the Lord, John and his readers knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were living in “the last hour” before the fall of the temple and the vanishing of the old covenant. (Heb 8:13) “The world is passing away.” (I Jn 2:17)When John wrote those words, he echoed what Paul wrote in I Cor 7:31:”The form of this world is passing away.” Paul wrote those words about fifteen years before the fall of the temple. He was anticipating the “passing away” and abolition of the old-covenant world. (II Cor 3:7-18) So was John. John and all the other apostles lived in the last days prior to “the end” of the Mosaic age. (Matt 24:3,6,14) The only difference is that John, when he wrote his epistles, was living in “the last hour” of those last days.

Alternative Answer:

Topic 5 is difficult to access or comprehend, since many of the church fathers quoted here also seem to indicate a latter date in reference to the completion of Revelation. For further studies on this particular topic, please see:

Part 1. The Two Opinions As To The Composition Of The Apocalypse: A Comparison of the Early Church fathers

Part 2. The Two Opinions As To The Composition Of The Apocalypse: Realized Eschatology

Did The Ante-Nicene Fathers Teach Full Preterism?

Ontology and Full Preterism

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