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The Last Days Duncan Heaster  
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DIGRESSION 4: The Relevance of Revelation to AD70

A great theme of Revelation is that "the time is near"- these things were about to happen. This is a major theme (1:1,3; 2:16; 3:10,11; 22:6,7,10,12,20). The relationship between the letters and the rest of Revelation cannot be overlooked; what was to happen to them in judgment was bound up with what was to come upon the land of Palestine in AD70. Mt. 21:40 parallels the coming of the Lord with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. This is exactly the sequence of events we expect in the last days, according to Zech. 14. There are many links between the trumpets, seals and the Olivet prophecy; and also many links with Josephus' descriptions of what came upon Palestine in AD66-70- e.g. 9:5 "inwardly tormented" Gk. ebasanizonto is used in Josephus (Wars 5.1.5).


The Olivet Prophecy


Mt. 24v14


Mt. 24v35


Mt. v6,7


Lk. 23v30


Mt. v7


Lk. 21v36


Mt. v7


Mt. 24v31


Mt. v12


Lk. 21v18,28


Mt. v14


Mt. 24v19,21


Mt. v7


Lk. 21v36


Mt. v32


Mt. 24v27

It is clear enough that the Olivet Prophecy has application both to the "last days" of AD70 and also to our last days. Revelation is the Lord's expansion upon His words on Olivet- and therefore we should use this as a framework for interpreting the book. It applies to both AD70 and also our last days. The following notes trace some leading features of the AD70 interpretation. The most powerful proof is in private reading of Josephus' Wars Of The Jews- it reads like a running commentary on the seal and trumpet judgments upon Israel.

5:1 Note parallels with Ezekiel- the 4 living creatures, a throne scene, a scroll- with judgments against Israel on it, to be fulfilled in a Babylonian invasion. This similarity with Ezekiel would explain the correspondence between the cherubim vision of Ez. 1:22-28 and that of Rev. 4:2-6.

6:2,3 The rider on the white horse "bent on conquest"- the victorious Roman march towards Jerusalem in Spring 67. The rider takes peace from the earth (cp. Mt. 24:6,7)- the disruption of the pax Romana. "Caesar has obtained for us a profound peace. There are neither wars nor battles" (Epictetus, Discoruses 3:13:9).

The riders on the black and pale horses = famine and death resulting from the Jewish war.

6:9-11 the martyrs crying for vengeance cp. Lk. 18:6-8.

6:14 every mountain removed = Roman legions flattening the approach roads: "[Vespasian] sent both footmen and horsemen to level the road, which was mountainous and rocky" (Wars 3.7.3). Having outlined the mountainous setting of Jotapata, Josephus says that Vespasian decided "to raise a bank against that part of the wall which was practicable" (Wars 3.7.8).

6:15,16 hiding in caves, wishing the rocks to fall on them - the Jews hid underground in the 67-70 war. "On the following days [the Romans] searched the hiding places, and fell upon those that were underground and in the caverns" (Wars 3.7.36). The Lord had told the women who watched His death that they would ask the mountains and hills to fall upon them to cover them (Lk. 23:29,30 cp. Mt. 24:1,2,19,34).

9:5 Gk. ebasanizonto, used also by Josephus to describe the 'inward torment' of the suffering Jews (Wars 5.1.5).

11:2 The holy city [Jerusalem] to be trampled for 42 months = Lk. 21:24 "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled". The "times of the Gentiles" are therefore the 42 months. "From Spring of 67 to August of 70, the time of formal imperial engagement against Jerusalem is a period of 42 months".

John "measures" the inner temple, altar and worshippers - for protection (Ez. 22:26; Zech. 2:1-5). Thus the external temple perishes but the spiritual reality- the true worshippers, the new Israel- are preserved. This is what happened in AD70.

11:8 The city called Sodom and Egypt = Jerusalem, in line with OT imagery. Note too how Israel's judgments in Rev. 8 are based on the plagues that came upon Egypt.

13:5-7 The beast wars with the saints for 42 months- Nero's persecution (Nov. 64 - June 68).

14:20 Trampled in the winepress "outside the city", i.e. where Jesus was crucified (Jn. 19:20; Heb. 13;11-13)- as if to show that these judgments on Israel came because of what they had done to Jesus. 1600 stadia is the length of the land. The Itenerarum of Antonius of Piacenza says the length of Palestine was 1664 stadia.

16:19 the great city [Jerusalem] divided into 3 parts - an OT image of Jerusalem's judgment. Jerusalem divided into three opposing camps by internal strife- John, Simon and Eleazar (Wars 5.1.1,4).

17:7 The seven heads are seven kings, 5 have been, one is, one is yet to come for a short space: The first seven Caesars of Rome: Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius already dead. The sixth, Nero, was alive when John was given the Revelation; and the seventh was Galba who reigned only 7 months (June 68 - Jan 69). This order of the Caesars is that taken from standard works: Suetonius (Lives of the twelve Caesars); Dio Cassius (Roman History 5); Josephus (Antiquities 19.1.11 cp. 18.2.2; 18.6.10). The beast's war with the saints for 42 months (13:5-7) = the Neronian persecution. Note how 13:12,14 interchanges the head with the whole beast. Mosheim confirms this: "The dreadful persecution which took place by order of this tyrant, commenced at Rome about the middle of November in the year of our Lord 64…this dreadful persecution ceased but with the death of Nero…in the year 68 [June], when he put an end to his own life" L. von Mosheim, Historical Commentaries vol. 1, tr. Robert Vidal (NY: Converse, 1854) pp 138,139.

In the same way as the 1st century believers could not have accurately predicted how all this would come about, but would have been wonderfully encouraged as they saw it all happening, and perceived then the interpretation- so we will see the Revelation come true, rather that be able to predict its precise fulfillment, in our final "last days".

A case can even be made that the compilation of Luke’s Gospel record of the Olivet prophecy, as well as sections of Revelation, were released throughout the period of Titus’ encirclement of Jerusalem in the lead up to AD70. The encouragement to flee Jerusalem whilst it was still possible (Lk. 21:20,21) would have been urgent commands to be fulfilled immediately upon receipt. And then Rev. 11:1 could imply that by the time of the prophecy’s release, the Roman attack on the outer court of the temple had already begun. A lot of work remains to be done in working out how this mass of Scripture could have been received by the faithful within Jerusalem in AD67-70, and read as directly relevant to them, requiring immediate response.

There are so many links between the opening letters to the ecclesias, and the rest of Revelation. The wording is so similar- the themes of persecution, faithfulness, and the promised blessing of the faithful. The letters aren't just 'tacked on' to the prophecy. The dramas which the ecclesias were experiencing on earth are explained by the rest of the book, in its first century, relevant-to-its-hearers level of interpretation. Jerusalem was surrounded by her enemies, the temple was about to be destroyed. They were being persecuted by Jewish and Roman powers, and we see in the rest of the book how this looked from Heaven's perspective- the way the Angels were orchestrating and yet also resisting all this, how God perceived the Jewish and Roman authorities as dragons, whores etc., and how the traumas of AD66-70 were in fact all in His plan and part of a larger picture. It's like the book of Daniel. The book isn't just a life of Daniel with a few prophecies thrown in. It's a life of Daniel, in captivity, awaiting revival, longing for Messiah. And the prophecies give us Heaven's perspective on it.

However, Revelation has more relevance than to just the first century hearers. Just as the events of AD66-70 are typical of the last days, so Revelation likewise has its ultimate fulfilment [regardless of any others it may have had over history] in the crisis of the last days, in the final showdown between Babylon and Jerusalem, between the true Christ and the anti-Christ. The book will speak to us in the final tribulation as no other book can- because it's all about the last days, in its ultimate 'denouement', to use a word beloved of John Thomas.