Helpful Articles on Revelation by Peter Leithart

In the course of teaching Revelation this quarter one of the most helpful new resources I have found is the Peter Leithart blog at First Things. Leithart is a Reformed scholar who will soon publish a new commentary on Revelation. Since he takes the same view on the Jewish War as a key background of the book that I do, I think he is brilliant!

I have put together a list of links to some of my favorite posts of his on Revelation. Enjoy!

The Great City. Is “Babylon” Rome or Jerusalem?

Apocalyptic Porn. The harlot and her immorality.

Wine of Passion. What is the harlot’s “wine”?

City Depopulated and Repopulated. A look at Revelation 18 and the aftermath of the fall of Babylon.

Cities Ascending and Descending. The smoke of Babylon rises while the New Jerusalem comes down from above.

End of Music. The silence of the aftermath of the fall of Babylon.



Digging Deeper into Revelation’s Symbols

In preparing for a class on Revelation, one of the most helpful things I have read is the discussion of symbolism in G.K. Beale’s commentary. As Beale explains, symbolism has four levels of meaning:

  • The linguistic level – the actual words used to describe the symbol.
  • The visionary level – the actual visionary experience narrated by the author.
  • The referential level – the particular historical referent of the symbol.
  • The symbolic level – the truth that is conveyed by the symbol.

To illustrate these levels, imagine that you pulled up behind a truck with this sticker on the bumper- Continue reading

Reading Revelation: Symbols as “Stock Images”

Last night in my college Bible class on Revelation we studied the opening of the first six seals (Revelation 6). When the sixth seal is opened, John reports-

there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:12-17).

What are we to make of this language? Was John seeing a prediction of literal disasters on an epic scale? Continue reading

Seven Reasons to Consider the Jewish War as the Background of the Book of Revelation

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:

Continue reading