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Revelation Recontextualised

Not just because I get quoted on Dave Wainscott’s blog (Gustavo Martin pointed it out to me - in connection with his article on Register Analysis in Mark 13 ), but because there is also a great example of how the narrative/historical can be applied to contemporary belief and practice, I offer the following link to Rob Bell on Revelation, also on Dave Wainscott’s blog. 

Rob Bell’s historically detailed address does challenge my own growing conviction, reinforced by Kenneth L. Gentry’s ‘Before Jerusalem Fell’, that Revelation was written before the AD 70 fall of Jerusalem, in the time of Nero, and prefigures that fall. It also challenges the preterist belief that the imminent time-frame references within Revelation require a pre-AD 70 composition, that event, they contend, being of central significance in Revelation (unless, as Bell suggests, the apocalyptist had been carrying the letter around in his pocket for a long time).

So if you’ve got a spare 56 minutes or so, enjoy Rob Bell at his historicist finest, in full flow, without notes, in some stimulating (if unsubstantiated, and therefore dodgy?) history, half of the peroration being an exhortation to present day practice. Also, apologies that I didn’t post this on the OST ‘Good Vibrations’ section, which is where it strictly belongs.

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Re: Revelation Recontextualised

Hey Peter,

Bell is quite entertaining and I enjoyed watching the video, but he is pretty loose with the facts.  There are probably more, but here are a couple of things that stood out to me.  First the statue he shows used to be thought to be of Domitian but is now thought to be Titus.  Go here http://books.google.com/books?id=-pQGl-KsKkEC&pg=PA62&lpg=PA62&dq=friesen+statue+of+titus&source=bl&ots=Usv3Moj8Ha&sig=j_-9o_4tIwIqCwTvzInaR2HX3hY&hl=en&ei=mTQ-S7PNHZGGswP0ruyJAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CAoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=friesen%20statue%20of%20titus&f=false and scroll back to page 60 to see the statue.

As to making Domitian the sixth king (as Rev. 17:10 requires), that is smoke and mirrors.  Bell is counting only the Caesars who were deified at death to make this work.  Here is something from volume II of my book The Antichrist and the Second Coming (vol I is out http://www.amazon.com/Antichrist-Second-Coming-Preterist-Examination/dp/1615790373/ref=pd_rhf_p_t_1 but vol II is not out yet).


Domitian was the Twelfth Caesar

Here are the first twelve Caesars (Julius Caesar to Domitian) to show the likely possibilities of where “five have fallen, one is” puts the date of Revelation.


1.      Julius Caesar (49-44 BC)

2.      Augustus (31BC- AD 14)

3.      Tiberius (AD 14-37

4.      Gaius a.k.a. Caligula (AD 37-41)

5.      Claudius (AD 41-54)

6.      Nero (AD 54-68)

7.      Galba (AD 68-69)

8.      Otho (AD 69)

9.      Vitellius (AD 69)

10.  Vespasian (AD 69-79)

11.  Titus (AD 79-81)

12.  Domitian (AD 81-96)


With the solution that I (and most other conservative preterists) propose, that one starts with Julius Caesar, the five fallen are: Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius, the one reigning is Nero (AD 54-68).  This fits perfectly the preterist contention that the book of Revelation was written near the end of Nero’s reign right before the Jewish war of AD 66-70.  The latest one can legitimately make the “five have fallen one is” of Revelation 17:10 would be to start the count of the emperors with Augustus instead of Julius.  If one doesn’t count the short lived emperors (Galba, Otho and Vitellius) this would make the five that had fallen to be: Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius, Nero, the one reigning would be Vespasian (69-79).  Notice that even using this late date method of counting, one comes up with Revelation being written in the decade of the 70’s.  This is approximately two decades short of the proposed time of AD 95 that the late date advocates maintain.


How Revelation 17:10 Should read if Revelation were Written During Domitian’s Reign

If Revelation were written during Domitian’s reign then Revelation 17:10 should either read, eleven have fallen one is” (if one starts the count with Julius Caesar and includes the three short lived emperors in the list) or “ten have fallen one is” (if one starts with Augustus and includes the three short-lived emperors), or “eight have fallen one is” if one starts with Julius and excludes the three short lived emperors or “seven have fallen one is” (if one starts with Augustus and excludes the three short lived emperors).  Saying that Revelation was written during Domitian’s reign simply can not legitimately be made to fit Revelation’s text of “five have fallen one is.”  As Ladd noted, “no method of calculation satisfactorily leads to Domitian as the reigning emperor…”[1]

If one wants to see what a book written during the reign of Domitian looks like, one should look at 2 Esdras (a.k.a. IV Ezra).  In that book, the beast (an eagle, a symbol of Rome) has twelve wings, representing twelve emperors (Julius-Domitian) and three heads, which are the last three of the twelve emperors (Esdras 11:1-9).  The three heads represented the Flavian dynasty, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian, (2 Esdras 12:10-30).  The writer of 2 Esdras believed that Rome would fall in his day during the reign of Domitian, the twelfth Caesar.

To summarize: Depending on whether one starts with Julius or Augustus and includes or excludes Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, then Domitian is either the 8th, 9th, 11th, or 12th ruler of Rome.  There is no legitimate way to make him the 6th ruler (as Rev. 17:10 requires).

Some commentators attempt to make their theory of when Revelation was written fit by starting the count of the emperors with one of the Caesar’s that came after Augustus.[2]  These theories as illegitimate because their methods of counting the emperors have no historical precedent.  Robinson wrote the following on the “contortions” made by those who attempt to make Domitian the 6th ruler:


The contortions to which the commentators have been driven in the interpretation of ch. 17 are I am convinced self-imposed by the ‘discrepancy,’ as Beckwith calls it, between the clear statement that the sixth king is now living and what Torrey called their ‘stubborn conviction’ that the book cannot be earlier than the time of Domitian.  Drop this conviction and the evidence falls into place.”[3]


With the current rise of preterism, the early date for Revelation is regaining some of the acceptance it has had in the past.  Smalley wrote the following regarding the current reevaluation of the assumption that Revelation was written under Domitian:


It has been frequently assumed that the Apocalypse may be dated to the reign of the Emperor Domitian, the last representative of the Flavian house (AD 81-96), as a response to fierce persecution which took place during his reign.  But this view has recently been challenged seriously, both because encouragement in the face of persecution may not be regarded as the single motive behind the composition of Revelation, and also on account of the insecurity surrounding the evidence of imperial oppression during the time of Domitian.  The leaves the way open to revive the alternative view, common among nineteenth-century scholars, that Revelation was written between AD 64, as a result of the persecution under Nero, and AD 70, the fall of Jerusalem (see the summary of the research representing these two positions in Robinson, Redating [the New Testament, London: SCM Press, 1976] 224-26).  As it happens, I believe that it is perfectly possible to locate the writing of Revelation in the reign of Vespasian (AD 69-79); and I have argued that the book emerged just before the fall of Jerusalem to Titus, Vespasian’s son, in AD 70…I suggest that this conclusion fits the internal and external evidence for the dating of Revelation; it is also supported by the theological thrust of the drama itself.  For the members of John’s circle, the earthly Jerusalem and its Temple would have been a central holy place in which to encounter God, and also a spiritual centre of gravity.  If Jerusalem were about to be destroyed, the vision in Rev. 21-22 of a stunning and emphatically new holy city, where God’s people will dwell eternally in a close covenant relationship with him, would provided exactly, and at the right moment, all the spiritual encouragement they needed.”[4]


I find this quote interesting because Smalley is not a preterist but is what he terms  a “modified idealist” (i.e. he sees Revelation more as talking more about the timeless conflict between good and evil).[5]  We of course believe that Revelation was written approximately five years before AD 70 (c. AD 65).  It is talking about the last half of Daniel’s seventieth week, a period of three and a half years that ends with the destruction of Jerusalem by the prince to come (Dan. 9:26-27).  This was the soon coming forty-two month period (three and a half years) of AD 67-70 that Vespasian and Titus would spend destroying the Jewish nation, the dwellers on the Land, (Rev. 11:1-2; cf. Dan. 7:23-25; 12:7; Rev. 11:7-18).

For more on the topic of the book of Revelation, see my article on this site: What is the Narrative of Revelation?  http://www.opensourcetheology.net/node/1579 

[1] George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 229.

[2] For various methods of counting the kings see David Aune, Revelation 17-22, Word Bible Commentary, vol. 52 C, gen. eds. Bruce Metzger, David Hubbard and Glenn Barker, N.T. ed. Ralph Martin (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 945-950.  G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, eds. I. Howard Marshall and Donald Hagner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 868-878  J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, The Anchor Bible, vol. 38, eds. William F. Albright and David N. Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1975), 289-291.

[3] Robinson, 247-248.  Robinson starts the count of the kings with Augustus; he sees Revelation as being written in late AD 68 under Galba.

[4] Stephen S. Smalley, The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 2-3.

[5] Ibid, 15-16. Smalley wrote: “Revelation is a symbolic portrayal of the timeless conflict between the forces of good and evil, God and Satan.  But this involves a final consummation in judgement (sic) and salvation, even if that finality is not depicted in terms which are precisely chronological.”

Re: Revelation Recontextualised

Thanks, Peter, for the link.

Thanks also for the tip re:  Gentry’s  book, I found a free PDF of it here

I see he is working on a new Revelation commentary,

The Divorce of Israel: A Redemptive-Historical Interpretation.


Rob Bell (and Ray Van Der Laan) are wonderful, but also make you wonder about leaps they make..especially importing later sources and traditions..


Keep up the good work

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