Zerstörung Jerusalems durch Titus (Titus Destroying Jerusalem), Wilhelm von Kaulbach (1846)
I am currently teaching the Book of Revelation in the college class at our congregation. In our introductory lesson I summarized the major approaches to the book and then explained what my own view is. In short, I lean toward the pre-AD 70 date for the book, and I believe a good case can be made that in addition to depicting the judgment on imperial Rome, Revelation also describes the judgment on Jerusalem in AD 70. I don’t think that everything in the book was fulfilled then, of course. In my view, we are in the thousand year period described in Revelation 20:1-6, living and reigning with Christ (this is sometimes called the amillennial view). And we look forward to the new heaven and earth of Revelation 21-22.
Whether the particular historical referent for certain passages is imperial Rome or apostate Israel, the ultimate meaning of the book – the triumph of Christ over all enemies – remains the same. Nevertheless, I do believe there are some good reasons to take the pre-AD 70 view of the book, especially in connection with the Jewish revolt that lasted from AD 66-73 and culminated with the destruction of the temple in AD 70. This is a minority view to be sure (although it may be making a comeback – take a look at Peter Leithart’s excellent posts on Revelation at First Things). Most commentators date Revelation in the mid-90’s in the time of Emperor Domitian, after the fall of Jerusalem. But here are a few points that merit giving the earlier date under the reign of Nero and before the fall of Jerusalem a second look:
1. The thematic verse in Revelation 1:7.
Revelation 1:7 says, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.”
The “coming with the clouds” phraseology traces back to Daniel 7:13-14, where the Son of Man is pictured coming on the clouds to the Ancient of Days. What is often overlook is the direction of this coming. This is not a coming down to earth but a coming up to God for enthronement. It is not a reference to the Second Coming but rather to the ascension and coronation of Jesus.
In Matthew 24:30, Jesus says that the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple will be a vivid sign that he indeed reigns as Israel’s true King. Notice the similarity of the language here to that in Revelation 1:7-
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30).
Since Jesus defines the time frame of this sign of judgment as the generation of his contemporaries (Matthew 24:34), this helps us to understand that the “coming” in view here is not the end of history, but the judgment on Jerusalem in history. And the close correlation between this language and the statement in Revelation 1:7 suggests that a similar context is in view.
2. The references to Jewish and Roman persecution in the letters to the seven churches (Revelation 2-3).
Christians were persecuted before and after the events of AD 70. However, even those who date Revelation later in the time of Domitian must concede that “persecution under Domitian is possible but is supported by documentary evidence only in writers subsequent to his reign” (G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, p. 12). No one questions that imperial Rome shifted strongly against Christians in the time of Nero. And the Book of Acts gives ample evidence of Jewish animosity toward Christians. This data is consistent with (though certainly does not clinch) an earlier date for the book.
3. The parallels with the Olivet Discourse in Revelation Six.
Revelation Six reveals a series of judgments in the form of a vision of seven seals. These judgments are very similar to those in Jesus’ discourse about the judgment on the temple delivered in the Mount of Olives. Notice how closely the content (and even the order) compares: