WHEN DOES CHRIST RETURN? PART FOUR
THE COMING OF ELIJAH:
We have shown that the historical events of the first century correlate well with the Olivet prophecy. In Malachi 4:5 it is stated that the prophet Elijah would be sent before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. The context of the fourth chapter of Malachi shows this to be a time of spiritual renewal and a time of judgment.
Malachi 4:1-6: Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,” says the LORD Almighty. “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse."
Malachi is speaking prophetically to show that a time of great judgment was coming against those who failed to revere God’s name and respond to His will. Prior to this judgment occurring, Elijah would bring a message of spiritual renewal. When was this going to take place?
In Luke’s gospel we find the angel Gabriel speaking to Zacharias and telling him the following about his son, John the Baptist.
Luke 1:14-17: He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
Here we find the words of Malachi being applied to John the Baptist. We also see that the man Elijah was not going to be resurrected and literally appear. Malachi was speaking of someone coming in the spirit and power of Elijah. This person would do what Elijah had done. A review of the ministry of Elijah in the Old Testament reveals that he brought ancient Israel to a realization of who God is. John the Baptist would bring first-century Israel back to a realization of who God is. Jesus identified John the Baptist as the Elijah that was to come.
Matthew 11:13-14: For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.
Matthew 17:10-13: The disciples asked him, ‘Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?’ Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.
When did John the Baptist appear? John appeared two-thousand years ago. What was to follow that appearance? Malachi said the great and dreadful day of the Lord would follow. Are we still waiting two-thousand years later for this “day of the Lord” to occur? It appears from a reading of the entire book of Malachi that Elijah would come as a messenger to proclaim coming judgment upon Israel for her violation and misapplication of the Old Covenant and her rejection of God. John, as the Elijah to come, came to draw Israel back to God in preparation for the coming of the anointed of God, the promised savior to Israel. The name Jesus means savior and Christ means anointed one. The ministry of the Christ would provide an opportunity for Israel to repent and receive salvation. Some did accept Christ and His message, and consequently did escape the coming wrath. Many, however, rejected Christ and the covenantal change He was bringing. These were destroyed in the judgment upon Jerusalem that came during the A.D. 66 to 73 war.
John asks the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Matthew 3:7). What wrath is John referring to? The apostle Paul reflected on how the Thessalonian brethren were waiting for Christ to appear to deliver them from the coming wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Is this the same “coming wrath” that John is speaking about? Are the Thessalonians still waiting for Christ to deliver them from the coming wrath? John speaks of Christ being ready to harvest the wheat and burn the chaff. John said, “The ax is already at the root of the trees” (Matthew 3:10-12). In Matthew 13:36-50, as shown earlier, a similar picture is drawn of the time of the end. In Matthew 23:29-36, Christ reveals what would come upon the generation he was addressing at the time. Now let’s look at what Peter said. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, associates the manifestation of the Holy Spirit with the prophecy of Joel and said.
Acts 2:16-21: This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel. ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And anyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Here Peter identifies the manifestation of the Spirit with what was to take place in the last days. In so doing, Peter is identifying his time as the last days. He also shows this to be a time of judgment and the coming of the Lord. In quoting Joel, Peter uses the same apocalyptic language that Christ used in the Olivet prophecy where Jesus said, “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light” (Matthew 24:29). Jesus, like Peter, identifies these events with the generation He was addressing at the time when He says, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24:34).
In Acts 2:40, it’s recorded that Peter, with many other words, warned them and pleaded with them to save themselves from the corrupt generation they were living in. Acts 2:37 states that the people were, “cut to the heart,” when they heard these things from Peter, and three thousand were added to their number that day.
It’s apparent that with the manifestation of the Spirit, and this being tied to the coming judgment upon Israel, many realized the plight they were in and chose to accept the gospel message and escape the coming prophesied destruction upon the land of Israel. While Peter was preaching a message of repentance and forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), he was also preaching a message of physical salvation from the coming judgment against Jerusalem. Peter was giving the same warning John the Baptist was giving when he spoke to the Pharisees and Sadducees about the wrath to come (Matthew 3:7). This is the same warning Jesus was giving in Matthew 23:33-38, and in the Olivet Prophecy.
The ministry of John the Baptist was a fulfillment of what Malachi had prophesied. Malachi shows this ministry preceding the coming of the Lord in judgment. Malachi associates a burning by fire with this judgment. John the Baptist associates fire with the coming judgment upon Israel. John the Baptist shows this judgment already beginning at the time of His ministry.
Matthew 3:1-12: In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, `Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. ‘I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’
This passage of Scripture shows John the Baptist addressing members of the Pharisee and Sadducee religious sects of his day. He is telling them what is happening and what is about to happen. This message was being directed to first-century Israel in anticipation of the appearing of the Christ. The appearing of Jesus would involve his ministry, death and resurrection, and his return in judgment. All this takes place within the generation that John the Baptist was addressing.
SOME STANDING BEFORE JESUS WOULD BE ALIVE AT HIS RETURN:
In Matthew 16, Christ addresses His disciples about the sacrifices they must make to follow Him and tells them their reward would be according to what they do. Jesus is then quoted as saying some standing before him will not die before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. Mark and Luke record something similar. In Mark’s account, it is shown that Jesus was speaking to a crowd of people in addition to His disciples.
Matthew 16:27-28: For the Son of man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some standing here will not taste of death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.
Mark 8:34: Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’
Mark 9:1, And he said to them, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power."
Luke 9:26-27: If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."
Here we see Christ dating his return. If the coming of Jesus and the Kingdom are still future, then there are some 2,000 plus year-old people still living and waiting to experience that coming.
Some say that the transfiguration six to eight days later fulfills Christ’s statement about some of that generation seeing Him coming in power and in His Kingdom (Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-9, Luke 9:28-36). Does this square with the facts? Jesus said some of them would not taste of death before He came in His Kingdom. By saying some will not taste death before He returns implies that most of those He was addressing would be dead when He returned. Jesus was addressing a crowd of people when He said some would not die. Therefore, there is every reason to believe a rather large number of those He was addressing would die before He returned. The transfiguration occurred six to eight days later. The idea that any of those who Christ had addressed just a few days earlier had died, let alone a large number having died before the transfiguration occurred, just isn't probable. We know none of the Twelve died during that time frame.
In the transfiguration narrative, we find that while Christ was praying, “the appearance of His face changed and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lighting.” Moses and Elijah appeared in “glorious splendor, talking with Jesus” (Luke 9:29-31). A bright cloud enveloped Peter, James and John and they heard a voice come from the cloud saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5).
The context of Matthew 16:27-28, is Christ’s coming in glory to reward his followers for what they have done. The transfiguration account does not deal with rewards. Both Matthew’s and Luke’s (Luke 9:26-27) account of Christ coming in glory show angels are involved. There are no angels involved in the transfiguration. There is no mention of the Kingdom in the transfiguration account. The transfiguration appears to have occurred to give evidence to Christ being the Son of God and has nothing directly to do with His return.
The presence of Moses and Elijah at the point Jesus is identified as the Son of God gives evidence to He being greater than Moses and Elijah. It is to Jesus the disciples are told to listen (Matthew 17:5, Luke 9:35). Since Moses and Elijah represented the Old Covenant system and Christ came to introduce the New Covenant system, the events of the transfiguration appear to signify the transition that was in the process of taking place.
Some have used Peter’s reference to the transfiguration in 2nd Peter chapter one as evidence that this event pictured the return of Christ and thus fulfilled the requirements of what Christ said in reference to some not tasting death before seeing Christ come in his Kingdom. Is it the return of Christ that Peter sees in the transfiguration?
2 Peter 1:16-18: We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying,” ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ “We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
Peter did not say the event they experienced was representative of the return of Christ. Peter said they did not invent a story about the power and coming of Christ and that the evidence for this was their personal witnessing of the majesty of Christ. Peter was saying that because they had witnessed the majesty of Christ on the sacred mountain, they were able to affirmatively speak of the power and coming of Christ. Peter was here showing how God had affirmed Jesus as the promised messiah and therefore his readers could rest assured that what was said about the power and coming of Christ was the truth.
Christ said that some would not die before they see the Kingdom of God come with power. The transfiguration does not show the coming of the Kingdom. In the vision called the transfiguration, we find Moses and Elijah speaking to Christ about his departure, not His coming.
Luke 9:30-31:Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.
Luke records the Father saying: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” I submit that the transfiguration was for the purpose of impressing upon the disciples that Jesus was truly the promised savior to Israel and that He would soon be departing this world because of the soon to occur events in Jerusalem that would result in His death (Luke 9:31).
We have another interesting narrative related to the return of Christ recorded in the gospel of John:
John 21:20-23: Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is going to betray you?’) When Peter saw him, he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’ Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?’
While this passage does not say the disciple whom Jesus loved would be alive at Christ’s return, the very fact that Christ indicated it was a possibility, shows the first-century context of His return. It would make no sense for Jesus to make such a statement if His return was to be 2000 thousands years in the future and counting. Jesus wasn’t suggesting this disciple could live physically for thousands of years. The context is the return of Christ. The rumor among the brothers was that this disciple would not die. The context shows that the rumor was that this disciple would be alive at the return of Christ. There is no reason to believe that the brothers were thinking in terms of this disciple living for thousands of years. It is reasonable to conclude that the brothers were anticipating a return of Christ within a normal lifetime.
The Scriptural passages we have covered so far provide strong Scriptural evidence for a first-century coming of Christ in judgment and to establish His everlasting Kingdom. The Scriptural evidence strongly indicates that it was the generation that was living during the time of Christ’s ministry that lived to experience the events Christ prophesied. A spiritual return of Christ as God's agent to facilitate judgment, through the vehicle of human armies, is not out of line with other similar events in Scriptural history. The Old Testament is full of accounts of God coming in various ways to bring judgment upon nations. Did God physically appear in these events? No, He didn’t. Instead, He appeared through human armies and other natural phenomena to accomplish His purpose. Now Jesus, as the glorified Son of God, is sent by God to facilitate judgment in much the same manner.
Every disciple whose writings make up the New Testament addressed their audiences from the perspective that Christ would return during their lifetime. They believed and taught this because of what Christ taught them. The written record of Christ’s teachings strongly point to a first-century return and establishment of the Kingdom. This return was not a physical return. It was a spiritual return whereby God through Christ facilitated His purpose through the Roman armies. That purpose was to bring judgment upon those who had violated the terms and requirements of the Old Covenant and had refused to accept Jesus as Messiah and the New Covenant system that He came to establish.
THE EVIDENCE FROM THE REVELATION:
Let’s return to the book of Revelation and see how what is recorded there corresponds to what we have thus far identified as a first-century fulfillment of the return of Christ and all accompanying events. We already noted earlier, in discussing the letters to the seven churches, that the emphasis was on soon to occur events.
The basic focus of the Revelation is set forth at the beginning of this prophecy as seen in verse seven of the first chapter. “Look, he is coming with clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the people of the earth will mourn because of him.” The phrase, “even those who pierced him,” further identifies the time period as the first century. It was in the first century that Christ was crucified and was physically pierced by a Roman soldier and spiritually pierced by His enemies (See Acts 2:23,36; 3:15; 5:30; 7:52; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15).
This passage in the Revelation corresponds very closely with what Christ said in Matthew 24:30. “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.” Christ then said in Matthew 24:34, “This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Here Christ dates the fulfilling of the Olivet Prophecy to the generation He is addressing in the first century. Since the statement in Revelation 1:7 about coming in the clouds and the nations mourning is essentially the same as in the Olivet prophecy, it is apparent that the same event is being discussed.
In both these passages Jesus speaks of the people of the earth mourning. The Greek word translated people and nations respectively in these two passages, is phule. This word is translated as tribes throughout most of the New Testament and is shown to have tribes as its basic meaning in Greek lexicons. (See The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament and The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.) It also appears that this statement by Christ is taken from Zechariah 12:10-14, where the prophet speaks of there being a great weeping in Jerusalem over the “one they have pierced,” and the tribes of Israel mourning. Since this coming of Christ was a coming in judgment against the tribes of Israel, these statements would make perfect sense.
The statements dealing with the sealing of the 144,000 as found in Revelation the ninth chapter; provide another time/place indicator. “Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel” (Revelation 7:4). The tribes are then listed, showing that we are dealing here with actual physical descendants of the tribes of Israel and not “spiritual Israelites.” Then in Revelation 14:1-4 we see the 144,000 identified as the firstfruits to God and the Lamb.
Who are the firstfruits in Scripture? In the Old Testament, firstfruits designated the first gatherings of the crops (See Exodus 23:19; Leviticus 2:14; Nehemiah 10:35). James, in his letter addressed to the “twelve tribes scattered among the nations,” says in verse 18, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (James 1:1, 18). James is addressing his contemporaries as the firstfruits. A reading of the New Testament Scriptures clearly shows that the first converts to Christianity were from the tribes of Israel.
The 144,000, who are Israelites, are called the firstfruits in the Revelation. Since the concept of firstfruits appears to be identified with those Israelites who became Christians in the first century, it would place the 144,000 in the first century. This would provide another time/place indicator as to when the events that John wrote about were to take place. If the 144,000 are to first make their appearance in our future, they could hardly be considered the “firstfruits.” There have been many descendants of the tribes of Israel converted to Christianity in the nearly 2,000 years since the first century, far exceeding anything close to 144,000. If the 144,000 were to appear at a “time of the end” that is yet in our future, the 144,000 could more appropriately be labeled the last fruits.
Some would define “firstfruits” as all those who convert to Christianity from the first century to the time of Christ’s return sometime yet in our future. Therefore, the firstfruits are defined as spiritual Israelites. If the number of 144,000 is considered as a literal representation of these converts, such a notion would be ludicrous as there have been millions of Christian converts since the first century. If this number is considered figurative, it still doesn’t square with the common usage of firstfruits. To define firstfruits as being gathered over a period of 2,000 years and counting, runs contrary to any sensible understanding of the meaning of firstfruits. In the Old Testament, firstfruits are associated with the first pickings of the harvest. Scripture associates this usage with events connected with conversion to Christianity. The initial converts to Christianity were the firstfruits of the greater harvest that was to come.
THE BEAST OF REVELATION 13:
Let us now examine the “beast” of Revelation 13. Revelation 13:1-10 introduces the “beast,” and verse 18 asks the reader to calculate the number of his name, which is 666. Since all the foregoing time/place statements point to a first-century context for the events described in the Revelation, it would be prudent to consider identifying the “beast” within that context as well, rather than trying to place his appearance in our future. Many historians and theologians identify the Roman Emperor Nero with the beast of Revelation 13:1-10. History reveals that this man fit very well the description offered in “code” by John in the Revelation.
John writes that the beast was given authority for forty-two months and given power to make war against the saints (Revelation 13: 5-7). It is interesting to note that the Neronic persecution against the Christians began in November of A.D. 64, and continued until June of A.D. 68. It was in June of A.D. 68 when Nero committed suicide. The period of November A.D. 64 to June 68 is a period of forty-two months.
Nero (Emperor from A.D. 54 to 68) was the sixth Caesar to govern the developing Roman Empire and the first to bring massive persecution upon the Christians. Clement of Rome (A.D. 30-100) speaks of Nero’s persecution claiming vast numbers of the elect through tortures and indignities. Clement wrote that Nero’s behavior was evil beyond description and could rightly be attributed to that of a beast. Nero murdered his parents, wife, brother, aunt and many others. Using poison and elaborately rigged “accidents” were his favorite methods of murder.
The historian Suetonius (A.D. 70-160) tells how Nero would disguise himself and prowl the streets and attack men, stabbing them to death and dropping them down sewers. Suetonius described him as “insolent, lustful, extravagant, greedy and cruel.” He had his travel paths lined with temporary brothels staffed with married women. Suetonius speaks of Nero as a torturer, a homosexual rapist and sodomist.
The Roman historian Tacitus (A.D. 55-117) tells of how Nero initiated the persecutions against the Christians with horrible tortures, crucifixions, beheadings, burning them alive and using them as human torches. Pliny the elder (A.D. 23-79) describes Nero as “the destroyer of the human race,” and “the poison of the world.” The writer Thana (4 B.C. - A.D. 96) actually called Nero a beast, comparing him with wild beasts of the field. The writer Lactantius, speaks of Nero as “an execrable and pernicious tyrant” and a “noxous wild beast.” Suetonius, in writing about Nero, said,
“He so prostituted his own chastity that after defiling almost every part of his body, he at last devised a kind of game, in which, covered with the skin of some wild animal, he was let loose from a cage and attacked the private parts of men and women, who were bound to stakes, and when he had satiated his mad lust, was dispatched by his freeman Doryphorus.”
It is Nero who initiated the war against the Jewish nation that led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
The number 666 has been tied to various individuals and entities throughout the centuries. If indeed Nero is the beast of Revelation 13, the number 666 would have to relate to his name as the Scripture demands in Revelation 13:18.
In Latin, Greek, Hebrew and other older languages, letters were used to represent numbers. John wrote in code to hide the meaning from the enemies of first-century Christians. John was a Jew and understood Hebrew and yet wrote the Revelation in Greek. To identify the beast numerically in Greek would have been too easy to recognize by the enemies of the Christians. What John apparently did was to identify Nero in Hebrew letters, which he translated into Greek. The reader would have to know the Hebrew equivalents to the Greek letters in order to arrive at the proper meaning, the same way we have to know English equivalents to the Greek letters in order to understand the meaning. That is why John writes in Revelation 13:18, “This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast.”
Nero’s full title name as Roman Emperor was Nero Caesar. In Hebrew, translated into Greek, Nero Caesar is rendered (in English characters) as: NRWN QSR. The numbers associated with these letters are N=50, R=200, W=6, N=50, Q=100, S=60, R=200. Total, 666. What gives greater evidence to Nero being the beast of Revelation 13 is that in several very early copies of the Greek New Testament, the number 616 is given which is the Latin numerical equivalent of the name Nero Caesar. What this tells us is that the copiers knew that 666 in the Greek represented Nero and were simply using the Latin numerical designation that they were well aware of.
It is also interesting to note that in Revelation 17:9-10, seven kings are spoken of with five having fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. In actual history, five Roman emperors had come and gone (Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Tiberius Caesar, Caligula, and Claudius Caesar) with Nero being the sixth. If the “one is” statement of John is to be applied to the Roman emperor who was on the throne at the time that John wrote the Revelation, then Nero is again identified as the beast, seeing how John refers to the king that “now is” as the beast.
It should be noted that when Nero killed himself, it ended the bloodline of Caesars that had ruled over the Roman Empire beginning with Julius Caesar around 48 B.C. In Revelation, 13:3, John speaks of the beast having a deadly wound that was healed. With the death of Nero the empire was thrown into civil war and great calamity. The historians of the time, such as Tacitus, Suetonius, and Josephus all wrote of the imminent collapse of the Empire as three would-be successors to Nero failed and died within the space of eleven months during A.D. 69. The Empire appeared to be coming to an end when General Vespasian, at the insistence of his army, took control of the government and became the seventh emperor. Vespasian was not a member of the line of ruling Caesars, but did bring the empire back from oblivion. That is why John speaks of “The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction” (Revelation 17:11). Vespasian was figuratively of the seven heads of John’s vision but also separate as he was not part of the ruling family of Caesars.
THE TEMPLE WAS STILL STANDING:
Another strong indicator as to the time frame involved in the events described in Revelation is the fact that John speaks of the temple as still standing as part of his description (Revelation 11:1-2). We know the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70. Therefore, it would be logical to conclude that the events being prophesied by John were within the time frame that included the temple that was still physically standing in Jerusalem. The only other explanation would be to postulate a yet future rebuilding of the temple with the events of Revelation 11 and much of the rest of this prophecy relating to future events. Such a futuristic interpretation, however, would fly in the face of all the above evidence for a first-century application of this prophecy.
There simply is no Scriptural evidence to support a rebuilt temple. A rebuilt temple would imply a reestablishment of sacrifices and other Old Covenant ordinances. Christ came to forever set aside Old Covenant requirements. A rebuilt temple would have no significance relative to salvation or the purposes of God. A future rebuilt temple is not the temple of record in the Revelation.
As part of the prophecy relating to measuring the temple, John is instructed not to measure the outer court because it has been given to the gentiles and it is said, “they will trample on the holy city for 42 months” (Revelation 11:2). In the Olivet Prophecy it is stated, “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). It is interesting to note that from the time that Vespasian and his Roman armies entered Palestine in the spring of A.D. 67 until Jerusalem was destroyed in the late summer of A.D. 70, was a period of 42 months.
The Revelation was written with a great deal of symbolism. It appears that this narrative was largely written in code in order to conceal the meaning from the enemies of Christianity. At the same time, this narrative provided a warning to the Christians as to what was about to take place. This allowed the Christian community to properly prepare themselves and gain faith from knowing what the outcome would be. The outcome would involve the return of Christ to facilitate judgment and resurrection, and establish His everlasting Kingdom.
In the final chapter of the Revelation, John is told, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near” (Revelation 22:10). This is in stark contrast to what Daniel was told relative to his prophecy regarding end time events. “But seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future” (Daniel 8:26). “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end” (Daniel 12:9).
Daniel wrote in the 6th century B.C. Those portions of Daniel’s prophecy concerning end-time events were sealed and didn’t materialize until nearly 500 years later in the first century A.D. John was told not to seal up his prophecy because the time was near. It should be clear that the events described in the Revelation were to take place soon after John was given this prophecy and not thousands of years into the future.
In part five of this series, we will identify who Babylon is in the Revelation given to John and begin to look at the book of Daniel as it pertains to our discussion in these essays.