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Winds of Change

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By Duncan - Posted on 18 March 2006

by Duncan McKenzie
I just wanted to share a couple of things that I think represent winds of change in the scholarly community concerning preterism. Actually they are probably more like breezes than winds, but at least they are in the right direction. I just wanted to share a couple of things that I think represent winds of change in the scholarly community concerning preterism. Actually they are probably more like breezes than winds, but at least they are in the right direction. I just purchased the new Revised Expositors Bible Commentary (# 13: Hebrews-Revelation (Zondervan 2006). Alan Johnson wrote the commentary on Revelation in it. He is not a preterist by any means. In fact on the subject of preterism he wrote, “I believe that the preterist’s view, and to a lesser extent the preterist –futurist view is mislead” ( pg. 587) (The preterist-futurist view would be someone like Mounce or Ladd; one who sees a first century fulfillment and an endtime fulfillment).

Anyway, I don’t think anyone needs to run out and get this commentary but I wanted to share some of what Johnson wrote on the preterist approach. To me it is evidence that we are showing up more on the scholarly radar screen (although he seems a little irritated by us). Johnson wrote the following on preterism (I have edited parts of it).


According to this view, Revelation describes what was happening in the time of the author; it is a contemporary and imminent historical document dealing with the evil Roman Empire. So the main contents of chs. 4-22 are viewed as describing events wholly limited to John’s own time. This approach identifies the book with the Jewish apocalyptic method of producing “tracts for the times” to encourage faithfulness during intense persecution. One version of this view sees the fall of Babylon the Great as God’s judgment on an apostate Israel in the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Yet the same interpreters see the beast of chs. 13 and 17 as the pagan nation of Rome (so K.L. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, 1989)…

A second type of preterist interpretation sees the fall of Babylon the Great as the fall of the Roman Empire. The two beasts of ch. 13 are identified respectively as imperial Rome and the imperial priesthood…

A new spate of conservative books, influence by James Stuart Russell’s The Parousia (1987; repr. Bradford , Pa.: International Preterist Association) and emphasizing the preterist interpretation, has recently appeared. There is a hard view and a soft view among these interpreters. The hard view, or full preterist, sees everything in the book as having been fulfilled during John’s day in the destruction of the temple, including the second coming of Jesus, the resurrection, and the judgment of the world (so Don K. Preston, Who Is This Babylon, self published 1999); the soft, or partial preterist, view is held by those who cannot bring themselves to accept that the second coming and the resurrection have already occurred (so R.C. Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000).

Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Bible Expositors Commentary, Revised Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006) 585-586.

I had to look up the definition of the word “spate;” I could gather from the context it meant “a lot of.” Webster’s gives the following definition of spate: 1. a.) flash flood b.) a sudden, heavy rain. 2. an unusually large outpouring , as of words.
A new spate of conservative books kind of sounds like an annoying storm or weeds popping up. For that matter, a hard view and a soft view sounds a bit like pornography (hard core preterism and soft core preterism). At least we are acknowledged as theologically conservative (i.e. we have a high regard for the trustworthiness of Scripture). Again, Johnson seems a little irritated by us (maybe we are raining on his parade) but at least we are mentioned. To be honest however, our mention is probably more due to the fact that we are getting too big to ignore.

Let me share another quote from a recent commentary on Revelation (Stephen S. Smalley, The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005). Smalley is also not a preterist but I find the following statement by him regarding the current reevaluation by scholars of the assumption that Revelation was written under Domitian to be encouraging.

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

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

I don’t think one needs to run out and buy this commentary either, but I find Smalley’s statement all the more encouraging because he is not a preterist. Smalley calls himself a “modified idealist” (“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 judgment (sic) and salvation, even if that finality is not depicted in terms which are precisely chronological”). Smalley, 15-16

Personally, I see Revelation as being written more like five years before AD 70 (c. AD 65). It was written shortly before the last half of Daniel’s seventieth week, a period of three and a half years, AD 67-70 (a.k.a. forty-two months; a.k.a. a time, times and half a time; cf. Rev. 13:1-7) that ends with the destruction of Jerusalem (Dan. 9:26-27; cf. Dan. 12:1,7) and the Second Coming (cf. Dan. 7:21-25).

Allow me to digress on the question of the date of Revelation. The position that the book was written under Domitian never did fit what Revelation says about its date of writing. Revelation 17:9-10 says,

“here is the mind which has wisdom: the seven heads [of the beast] are seven mountains on which the woman sits. There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is…

In figuring who the sixth ruler is, there are two factors to consider. 1. Whether to start the count with Julius or Augustus. 2. Whether to include the three short live Caesars of AD 68-69 (Galba, Otho, and Vitellius). Here are the first twelve Caesars:

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 (around AD 65) 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 then doesn’t count the short lived emperors (Galba, Otho and Vitellius) this would make the five that had fallen, 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 AD 70’s. This is approximately two decades short of the proposed time of AD 95 that the late date advocates maintain.

If Revelation was 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 the count 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…”[ George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 229.]

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 kings (Julius-Domitian) and three heads, which are the last three of the twelve kings (Esdras 11:1-9). The three heads represent the Flavian dynasty, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian, (2 Esdras 12:10-30).

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. One can not legitimately make him the 6th ruler (as Rev. 17:10 requires).

It is fun to be part of a move of God. Preterism is slowly becoming more of a deluge. I don’t see a spate of historicist or idealist work on eschatology coming out. Dispensationalists are on the defensive, reacting more to us instead of providing anything that inspires (or course their only inspiration anyway was that of escape). Could it be that God is up to something? A sovereign move on His part? Naaaah.

With a few exceptions (e.g. Ken Gentry), it would seem that preterism is trickling up from the rank and file to the scholars more than trickling down from them. Ezekiel 47 comes to mind, where the water flowing from the Temple (symbolic of the life giving properties of the Holy Spirit, cf. John 7:38-39; Rev. 22:1) keeps getting deeper and deeper. Let the rain continue; let it become more of a spate! Let the naysayers try to stop the water’s flow! Blessing and honor and glory and power to Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, forever and ever! (Rev. 5:13). Viva la preterist revelucion!


ThomasS's picture


Previously you have used an argument against an identification of "Babylon" = Rome based on the need for "wisdom" expressed in Rev 17:9f.

First, granted that there was an "official list" of emperors (which I seriously doubt), would John's audience have needed "wisdom" in order to know that the first king was Julius?

Second, it is interesting that you make a reference to 4 Ezra as support for beginning the list with Julius. But as far as the identity of "Babylon the great" goes, you do not seem to follow 4 Ezra after all... right?

Furthermore, according to Robinson ("Redating the NT), Nero was the 5th king. If this is the case, the list might have started with Augustus. But I wonder if there really is any evidence for this in "official" records or contemporary literature? (Thus, perhaps John has a list of his own, which really demanded "wisdom").

It seems to me that Aune and others still are correct: It's difficult to know for sure which "kings" John had in mind... But the subject is very interesting! Thank's for your input.


Th. S.

Islamaphobe's picture


Thanks for the encouraging words about preterism. In response to your question, "Could it be that God is up to something?", I believe that the answer is emphatically yes! That worries me a little bit since similar sentiments have been expressed by the likes of Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, and Pat Robertson! For what it's worth, however, I believe that preterism is now in a geometric progression, by which I mean that a rapid expansion is occurring that has started from a small base and will soon become increasingly evident to the world of religious scholarship. I'm not sure I'd call it a "trickling up," but I sure agree that it is a grass roots movement that will lead to an overhaul of the dominant paradigms in religious scholarship.

On another matter, I feel quite certain that at the time Revelation was written (ca. AD 65) and during the remaining history of the Roman Empire, it was customary to enumerate the early emperors as you have done. It would, therefore, have been quite natural for John to enumerate the first six emperors as you have done. Notice, however, that there is a gap between 44 BC and 31 BC that was filled by the Second Triumvirate, in which Octavian (Augustus) and Antony were the dominant figures.

A question that concerns me, and I'm sure that it concerns you as well, is how did the prophet Daniel enumerate the eleven kings symbolized by the horns of the fourth beast in Daniel 7? It seems reasonable to me to believe that Daniel's enumeration would have started with the "king" who brought Judea into the Empire. That was Pompey in 63 BC. After all, Pompey laid claim to being the effective ruler of the Empire and was widely acknowledged as such before Julius Caesar brought him down. How do you stand on this idea, or do you prefer to wait until your book is ready to go to the printer before taking a definite position?

John S. Evans

ThomasS's picture

Another possibility, of course, is that the fourth kingdom in Dan is not the same as the beast with seven heads (mentioned in in Rev 13 and 17).

Best wishes

Th. S.

Duncan's picture

Hi John,

I would be glad to share a few thoughts, few people read these things anyway (I find it disappointing to put a lot of work into an article and then only have about 300 people read it).

As you know I believe that we are being shown more than just Rome and its emperors in Revelation (and Daniel). Having said that (and I think you know enough of my position to know what I am talking about) I find that starting with Julius works consistently in both Daniel and Revelation. Even though there was a gap between Julius and the time when Augustus became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire, there was no gap in terms of his rule over the city of Rome. If you look at the Apocrypha book of 2 Esdras, the author starts his count of the Caesars with Julius. The 12 wings of the eagle are the twelve Caesars, Julius-Domitian (see 2 Esdras 11-12). We are told that the second ruler would rule for a long time (2 Esdras 11:13). We are told that no ruler of this empire would rule for as long as this second ruler, not even half as long (11:16-17). This is clearly Augustus, the longest reigning of the first 12 Caesars. That makes Julius the first ruler. Now if you do the math on the statement that no other ruler in the first 12 would rule for even half as long as this second ruler, it only works if you figure his reign as starting right after that of Julius. If you figure Augustus' reign as starting some 13 years after Julius', the math of 2 Esd. 11:16 doesn't work. That tells me 2 things. 1. The writer of 2 Esdras was starting his count of the Caesars with Julius and 2. he saw Augustus' reign as starting right after the death of Julius.

I think one can start with either Julius or Augustus. I find that starting with Julius works consistently (in my system) in both Daniel and Revelation. The eleven rulers of Dan. 7 lose 3 rulers (making 8 rulers, Dan. 7:7-8) these are the 8 rulers of the corporate beast (Rev. 17:10-11). (Boy do I love the new spell check!)


psychohmike's picture

Amen to alllllllll these comments. I'm just glad that I'm here now. God is good. He is sitting on the throne. And the Bible makes sense. There's not much better than these things.

8) Mike

Virgil's picture

Very interesting Duncan. I am always encouraged whenever I hear off the wall references to Preterism. A year or so ago, I found an obscure reference to Preterism in a Romanian study was a perfect definition of Preterism. What is more amazing is that this Bible was printed about 14 years ago.

God is making inroads, that's for sure. I am getting calls and e-mail from Romanians both here in the U.S. and from Romanian interested greatly in James S. Russell's book, The Parousia. We are living in a very exciting time.

ThomasS's picture

The problem is that many confuse "preterism" with "historical-critical".

Th. S.

paul's picture

Duncan, I appreciate this so much! Thanks. I'll forward this to my pastor and others. This is extremely helpful. paul richard strange sr

Duncan's picture

Thanks Paul,

That is about as high a complement as one can get. I don't know if you know it but if you scroll down and to the left (under columnists) and click on my name it will bring up other articles. I think the ones on Babylon would make some sense to somebody just being introduced to conservative preterism.


ThomasS's picture

..."conservative preterism"? I guess you mean "radical preterism". Historically, "conservative preterism" identifies "Babylon the great" with Rome, not Jerusalem.

Your information on Alan Johnsen, Stephen S. Smalley was interesting. Unfortunately, it's impossible to read all that is published on the Book of Revelation. Thus, your information is appreshiated.


Th. S.

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