Among the American churches of the Restoration Movement has appeared of late an interpretation of fulfilled Bible prophecy commonly known as the "A.D. 70 Doctrine". Its adherents teach that: 1) the "second coming" of Christ, 2) the resurrection of the dead, 3) the judgment day, 4) the end of the world, and 5) the coming of Christ's kingdom all were fulfilled in the events pertaining to the Roman Empire's destruction of Jerusalem in the summer of 70 A.D.
Adherents generally object to anyone calling their views the "A.D. 70 doctrine". However, the terms which they employ to distinguish their peculiar views of prophetical fulfillment are otherwise vague and not to the point. The term "preterist," favored by writers in the bi-monthly, Kingdom Counsel, is imprecise in that such use does not distinguish itself from the many other forms of preterism.
Preterism allows for no double fulfillment of prophecies, no twin references or passages such as the alternating of the apocalyptic concepts of Matthew 24 between past and future fulfillments. In his Commentary on Revelation, Homer Harley sees only a past fulfillment (that is, before 475 A.D.) of every section of Revelation up to chapter 20. He would certainly be a left wing preterist, as would be this author who in If Thou Hadst Known isolates 115 Biblical texts which find complete fulfillment in Jerusalem's fall in 70 A.D.
The ambiguous terms "realized eschatology" and "fulfilled eschatology", favored by many A.D. 70 advocates are essentially meaningless. Jeff Kessel states it simply: "Of course, 'eschatology' means the study of 'last things,' so 'fulfilled eschatology' means that all last things have been fulfilled. "Not necessarily so. Realized eschatology frequently applies to something remote from prophecy, such as the assurance of salvation now for faithful believers. Scholars in various Biblical journals never use these terms in the way the A.D. 70 proponents apply them.
To describe this same doctrinal system, Max King, in the monthly Living Presence, recently coined the term "covenant eschatology," two words never Biblically joined together. Nor do they convey a concept actually expressed in the text of any Bible book. Assuredly, the speculative A.D. 70 fulfillment view of the time of the end is not covenantal in nature, and serious Bible students must rightly strenuously object to this misuse of the perfectly wonderful word "covenant". Instead, it is associated with man making peace with God in a gracious, saving agreement underscored by mercy and forgiveness.
Therefore, the "A.D. 70 doctrine" is an appropriate phrase to describe this revisionist view of prophesy. Though only recently revived, the A.D. 70 position originated in the 17th century with Luis de Alcazar, a Jesuit friar who taught that the book of Revelation related exclusively to first century events. Though this view appeared in religious literature in the late 1960's, the first clear indications came with the publishing of Max King's The Spirit of Prophecy in 1971 and in the periodicals Search the Scriptures and Studies in Bible Prophecy. These are two current journals espousing the A.D. 70 Position.
An essential part of the A.D. 70 doctrine is the pre-70 A.D. origin of all New Testament writings, especially those which refer to a coming of Christ, the end of the world judgment, the resurrection, etc. If any New Testament author wrote about these things after 70 A.D., then the entire A.D. 70 theory instantly collapses, for then the Year 70 would not be synchronymous with the fulfillment of all Bible prophecy. Therefore, these theorists vigorously assert that all 27 New Testament books were written between about 45 A.D. and the year 68 or 69, though most religious scholars date all five of John's writings in the mid-90's. Some find other books, for example II Peter, Jude and Matthew, as published after 70 A.D.
Spokesman Ed Stevens wrote, "Until you can show adequate linguistic, stylistic, internal and historical evidence to the contrary, I feel very conservative [i.e. secure] in my position that the entire New Testament was written before the fall of Jerusalem." In using this criteria conservative scholars are indeed correct in assigning John's book of Revelation and his other writings to the time of the Roman emperor Domitian, in about 96 A.D.
For more than thirty years after the Pentecost of Acts 2, God's People had a grace-faith covenantal focus, as evident in Paul's writings. Long-standing Old Testament Jews were becoming Messianic Jews, and by the middle of the first century Gentiles were rapidly becoming a part of Christ's body, the ecclesia.
After about 75 A.D. and Gentile dominance, brethren developed anti-Jewish attitudes, and orthodox Jews grew to hate the sect of Christ which appeared to them contrary to Moses. John and other late first century writers show a detached attitude toward "the Jews" and their law. By century's end most Christians were becoming institutionalized, especially with the head-elder, or bishop-rule coming into play. The brethren had adopted a distinct legal focus, along with an increased concern for fighting false teachers and disputations about doctrines.
Such events as Nero's persecution of Christians in Rome during 64 A.D., the destruction of Jerusalem in 70, Domitian's lesser persecution and banishings in 96, and even more intense Rome-inflicted tribulation later all have a bearing on dating New Testament books. Nero expressly did not demand emperor worship, while Domitian did. The Laodicean earthquake in 62 A.D. helps decide when the Book of Revelation was written.
John's writing of the Book of Revelation from Patmos to the seven churches of Asia has always been assigned either an early date (64 A.D.) or a popular later date (96 A.D.). Scholars historically have virtually dismissed any other dating. Both external and internal evidence help determine which is correct.
The unanimous testimony of the early church fathers up to 400 A.D. is for the late date under the reign of Domitian. These witnesses begin with the dean of these church leaders, Irenaeus, who in about 180 A.D. wrote concerning the identification of "666": "... if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that [vision] was seen not very long since, but almost in our day, toward the end of Domitian's reign" (Against Heresies 30:3}. By the rule of antecedents, the “that” has to refer to the last word of the previous sentence, "vision”.
A recent book, Kenneth Gentry's Before Jerusalem Fell, attacks this quote (and its author's credibility as well), restructuring its words to leave the impression that Irenaeus was saying, "John was not seen not very long since...” Ed Stevens calls Irenaeus' reference "obscure," "mistranslated," and rejects him as a reliable source. Gentry's revisionism renders the text useless as a proof for dating either way.
But early religious authorities close to the scene – Clement of Alexandria, Origin, the renowned historian Eusebius, Jerome, and others into the fifth and sixth centuries – all have relied on Irenaeus by accepting the 96 date for Revelation. There is no justification to set aside this strong, consistent early testimony.
The A.D. 70 advocates must neutralize Irenaeus' statement, for if it should stand, their belief that all Bible prophecy had been fulfilled by 70 A.D. suffers a significant blow. Thus, they obviously have a strong motivation for rejecting Irenaeus' positive, forthright statement. The natural antecedental reference in the disputed quote is to "vision" and not to "him" (John). If the early pre-70 A.D. dating for Revelation was right, what would be the significance of mentioning that John himself was seen in Domitian's day? It is unfair to reduce to an absurdity an otherwise natural, harmless piece of information, namely, that visions were seen toward the end of Domitian's rule.
The historical background of Revelation favors later dating as well. In the 50's and 60's Rome's attitude toward Christians was essentially friendly. Throughout Acts 16-25 Paul and other disciples took advantage of helpful Roman officials on many occasions. The apostle commanded all to submit to this amicable authority (Rom. 13: 1-6). But throughout Revelation there is a completely different attitude toward the Roman Empire. No longer could persecuted saints find refuge in the tribunals of Roman magistrates. There was only blazing hatred for the oppressive state, drunk with the blood of saints and martyrs (Rev. 17:5-6). By 96 A.D. Caesar worship was the one empire-wide religion; Christians in Asia Minor and other localities were persecuted, killed or exiled for refusing to conform to the emperor's demand.
Puzzling indeed is the A.D. 70 advocates' assertion that there was at best only the mildest and briefest of Christian persecutions during the time of Domitian. Though they correctly contend that a far more intense tribulation occurred in 64 A.D. when Nero was emperor, they offer no proof that it extended eastward into Asia Minor on the occasion of the writing of Revelation. Major historians, both ancient and contemporary, see the evidence of Nero's persecutions as limited to Rome with no proof existing of state-inflicted sufferings in any other locality.
The highly regarded Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, even considered as inspired by some early church fathers, offers strong proof for the existence of persecution during Domitian's reign. It opens ominously: "Owing, dear brethren, to the sudden and successive calamitous events which have happened to ourselves ...." This could not be the Neronian persecution because Clement devotes chapter five to that era when he said that the righteous pillars, Peter and Paul, had suffered martyrdom "in our own generation." The next chapter adds significantly: "To these men ... a great multitude ... furnished us with a most excellent example [of holiness]." Now in about 96 A.D. Clement writes to a sister church as an exhortation to faithfulness and unity amid new sufferings.
The world of Clement late in the first century is far removed from the simple faith of the 60's era of Peter and Paul. As bishop of Rome, Clement wishes to maintain the integrity of the office, for, after all, he and others claimed to be successors to the apostles themselves and their appointees. Moreover, the brotherhood at Corinth is called “ancient" in Clement 47:6, inasmuch as many of their number "have lived among us without blame from Youth to old age" (63:3, Leob Classic Library, Ed.). The writer exhorted his readers to abide in the “long-developing glorious and venerable rule of our tradition" (7:2). Since it is impossible to cram all of these ideas into the decade of 60 A.D., the calamities Clement mentions were brought about by Domitian a generation later.
The A.D. 70 prophecy fulfillment advocates see as strong support for early (64 A.D.) publication of Revelation the temple vision of 11:1-2, arguing that the physical temple in Jerusalem had to be still standing at the time of writing. "It would not make much sense otherwise," quips Ed Stevens.
But in respect to the nature of the temple, Homer Halley's Commentary on Revelation reminds us that "it must be kept in mind that this is a vision, and that in a vision an object can be seen, whether or not it actually exists. The Greek word here for temple is the sanctuary (naos) and not the temple (hieron) with its buildings, courts and porches (cf. John 2: 14)." Thus, a vision's lasting significance is the concept portrayed and not the objects employed to carry out the image and its message. Focusing on the temple instead of the dynamics of the vision itself is surely a case of "shooting for fish and missing the river" (J. Early Arcenaeux).
A voice out of the vision commands John to "rise and measure the temple...." Such a task examines the people of God, their inner spiritual life, just as the Revelation letters of chapter 2 and 3 are addressed to the heart of each of the seven churches/assemblies. Through the measuring God would spiritually seal His people during the time of persecution and trial, preserving them for future service.
Therefore, this temple (more properly the sanctuary) coincides with the people of God, the church (I Cor. 3:16-17, Eph. 2:21, II Cor. 6:16) which is made up of living stones (I Pet. 2:5), true worshippers who glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:3). In view of this spiritual application for the sanctuary, what interest would John have in a physical stone edifice 1500 miles to the east in a small Roman province?
John's temple vision is obviously patterned after Ezekiel's vision of a spiritual temple (40:1ff) which God similarly measured (40:3, 42:20). Since Ezekiel's nonphysical temple consists of restored people (43:7, etc.), then John's temple should similarly be equated with saints to be measured. In neither case is there significance attached to a physical Jewish temple. Therefore, the tabernacle which John had to measure was not in Judea but the one in a vision on Patmos Island.
The envisioned temple is similar to the tabernacle of Hebrews 8-9 which consists of redeemed, protected people who live according to God's standard. Anything not measured is unacceptable, not sanctified, and is common or profane. Thus, the measuring of the temple was not for its destruction by the Romans in 70 A.D. Instead, the vision seen by John focuses upon the idealized relationship between God and His spiritual building, and is forcefully conveyed by the author of Hebrews' sanctuary. There is no Point in interpreting John's temple in Revelation as the one in Jerusalem, disregarding the vision's spiritualness, unless adherents of the A.D. 70 doctrine need "proof" to establish the early date for the book of Revelation.
Revelation 3:14-22 describes the church at Laodicea amid wealth (v. 17), coinciding with Pliny's "most distinguished city" status and its reputation as a great clothing manufacturing, medical, banking and financial center. Early date advocates explain this wealth away as "spiritual riches" (see Gentry, op.cit. pp. 320-321).
In 61 A.D. an earthquake visited this splendorous city but its own riches covered the cost of its rebuilding. Tacitus wrote in his famous Annals , "Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake in this Year [61 A.D.] and rebuilt from its resources without any subvention from Rome" (14.27.1). The Sibylline Oracles 5:289-291. adds, "Woe, Laodicea, beautiful city, how You will perish, destroyed by earthquakes,, and .changed to dust ..." That the earthquake was city-wide, and not confined merely to part of it as Gentry surmises, is commented upon in an after-the-fact, edited statement generally dated about 80 A.D.: "Wretched Laodicea, at some time an earthquake will throw you headlong and spread you fiat, but you will be founded again as a city, and stand" Sibylline Oracles 4: 107-108.
The destruction was thus extensive, even as was the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Reconstruction after a catastrophe took much time and labor and building materials, even as it would today with modem machinery. It would be remarkable indeed if independent-minded Laodicea were rebuilt to the extent of being "wealthy" (Rev. 3:17) in only three Years, by 64 A.D. It is far more reasonable to conclude that much more time was spent in its recovery, just as it took decades for it to reach a prosperous state in the first place.
Paul's Colossian letter, usually dated 60-62 A.D., describes the Laodicean church as an active group (3: 16), yet the Lord in Revelation 3:14-22 could not compliment it once. Are the A.D. 70 advocates willing to conclude that by the year 64 A.D. so deep an apostasy had swiftly occurred? Realistically, a much longer time span probably occurred between these two references, pointing to the late date of 96 for the composition of Revelation.
Editor's Note: Beside Laodicea, the author has researched the historical background of the other seven churches of Asia. This evidence, along with the usage of such words as "near", "coming" and John's banishment on Patmos in Chapter One, all point to a late (96 A.D.) dating of Revelation. Also available is linguistic, internal and historical evidence for later dating of John's gospel and his epistles.
The martyrs of the fifth seal of Revelation 6:9-11 are described as in the past (the souls who had been slain), present (those crying out for judgment of the oppressor) and future (other fellow servants who would be killed). If the present suffering was occurring during the Neronian persecution of 64 A.D., future martyrs are assured, but there would be no way to account for any significant number of past martyrs. Thus, a 64 A.D. date for the Book of Revelation is hard to justify from a political background.
On the other hand, the sequence of these persecutions fits well the later Domitian (96 A.D.) dating. The souls crying for vengeance would then be those killed by Nero at Rome in 64 A.D. Now new sufferings are evident, prompting John to write Revelation. The present persecution would be the empire-wide distress upon everyone who would not confess emperor Domitian as "our Lord God." And more persecutions of Christians would come during the reign of Trajan in about 115A. D., Maximin, Decius and Valerian during 235-260 A.D., and by Diocletian in about 300 A.D. John wrote Revelation to strengthen Asia Minor Christians for both the current and future struggles. The assurance found in Revelation 7:13-14 of ultimate victory over the pagan persecutors would comfort all saints who would be experiencing tribulation.
Revelation 14:8 portentously introduces "Babylon the Great," which is further identified in 17:5 as "a mystery, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth." It is a "great city" which sits upon seven mountains (17:9), reigning over earthly kings (17:18) and "peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues" (17: 15). It is a universal commercial giant (18:11-16) with whom the world's merchants had traded their wares and received gain. Seamen and shipmasters were made rich from “Babylon" (18:17-20).
This city is no mere provincial capitol, such as landlocked, remote Jerusalem, where no distant traders on ships could ever come. Yet the A.D. 70 advocates identify this "great city", introduced at 11:8, as literal Jerusalem "where was found the blood of prophets and of the saints...” (18:18-24; see also Luke 13:34). It was where the Lord was crucified (11:8). Therefore they conclude that the great city is Jerusalem of Judea.
But Jerusalem, a feudal tenant of the Roman Empire, never bad the economic and political power of “Babylon" and the "great city”. The one locality that satisfies the demands of Revelation 17-18 is Rome, which in turn symbolizes collective worldwide evil, conquest, lust and oppression. In Revelation 11:8 the great city was called "Egypt" because cruel Rome was a distinct aggravator of the faithful. It was also called "Sodom" because the foul, immoral empire which governed from Rome was worldly and exceedingly sinful. It was also “Jerusalem" because Rome's idolatry and emperor worship was a vile, perverted religion. It was Rome which issued the death sentence against Jesus, for Pilate and other kings of the earth had gathered against the Lord (Acts 4:25, Psa. 2:2).
The "great city" is a world city, just as the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21-22 is not limited to one place. When the two witnesses of Chapter 11 are killed (v.7), there was a universal holiday on the earth (v. 10) in the streets of the "great city". Therefore, it must extend throughout the earth. This conclusion corresponds nicely with Isaiah's "world city", a waste city of desolation brought low, as described in chapters 24-26. Coincidentally, God's covenant people lived in a universal "strong city" with impregnable walls and bulwarks (26:1).
The A.D. 70 advocates play down the importance of historical background such as Jewish writings contemporary with the writing of Revelation. In them with one accord “Babylon" is the hated, despised Rome, the enemy of the Jews. "What do intertestimentary writings have to do with dating Revelation?" respond the A.D. 70 spokesmen. But how soon would they enlist evidence for John's "Babylon" as Jerusalem if such literature indeed did so!
Only years before Christ's birth, a Jewish scribe wrote a commentary on Habakkuk. He reinterpreted the Chaldeans (Babylonians) of 1:6 and applied it to Rome, a "trampler of the earth coming from afar" (v. 8). Late in the first century at least three other Jewish teachers employed Babylon as a cipher for Rome and no other city.
In the Sibylline Oracles , Book 5, generally dated about 80 A.D. a reincarnation of Nero was rumored, now known as the "Nero Redivivus myth". The tyrant was thought not to have really died but instead he had escaped to remote Parthia, where he would amass a large army in anticipation of returning to Rome. Line 144 relates that "He [Nero] will flee from Babylon." Line 150 describes the destruction of Jerusalem and the seizing of the divinely built temple (see also lines 397-400). In line 155 the writer foretells of a great star burning Babylon and the "land of Italy" because so many holy faithful Hebrews had perished on account of the Policies of the “unclean city of Latin land" (line 168). An oracle in lines 434-435 mentions that Babylon was for many years the sole ruling kingdom over the world. Fourth Ezra, composed in about 100 A.D. because of its opening sentence, "in the 30th year after the destruction of our city," relates that Asia has become like Rome. He significantly called Rome both Babylon and a harlot! "And you, 0 Asia who share in the glamour of Babylon ... You have made yourself like her, you have decked out your daughters in harlotry... You have imitated the hateful harlot..." (15:46-48). See also 16: 1, where a similar idea is conveyed.
Second Baruch, composed about the same time as Fourth Ezra, comments upon both Rome and Jerusalem in Chapter 11: 1: "Moreover, I, Baruch, say this against thee, Babylon: If thou hadst prospered, and Zion had dwelt in her glory. Yet the grief to us had been great, that thou shouldst be equal to Zion." The grief is in part because the sons of the "desolate mother [Jerusalem]" had been led into captivity (10:16). Chapter 32:2-4 presupposed two destructions of Zion, necessitating that the author wrote after 70 A.D.
Other Jewish intertestimentary writings further show hatred for Rome, "the sinner Who broke down the strong walls [of Jerusalem] with a battering ram..." (Psalms of Solomon 2: 1). This "Babylon" was antagonistic toward Judea throughout the first century. Thus, when religious Jews and even Christians such as Peter heard about "Babylon" (I Pet. 5: 13) they would identify it with Rome. Historically, and by analogy, Israel's two historical archenemies carried the same name. Babylon of Mesopotamia conquered Jerusalem in 596 B.C. and dismantled the temple of God. In 70 A.D. the city and the second temple fell to "Babylon," Rome codified.
Now late in the first century John promised in Revelation that the fall of this mystical all-powerful “Babylon" would ultimately be as complete as the end of mighty ancient Babylon, the world power of 700 years previous. Truly, the Babylon of Revelation 17 is no "mystery" to all Christians who seriously respect the vital importance of the historical background of New Testament books in order to determine the intended meaning of difficult Bible texts. John's "Babylon" is Rome!
Essentially, the A.D. 70 theory is as materialistic as its foe, popular evangelical Premillennialism. A latter theorist sees a modem fulfillment of Revelation 16:12 in Turkey's recent construction of 22 dams on the upper Tigris and Euphrates rivers, thus possibly causing their waters to dry up downstream "to make way for the kings of the east." In similar fashion, A.D. 70 spokesmen declare the talent-weight hailstones falling upon the city (16:21) as being fulfilled when the Roman legions catapulted stones against besieged Jerusalem in the summer of 70 A.D. See also Josephus, Wars 5:6:3.
As with Premillennialism, the A.D. 70 advocates see literal fulfillment of nearly every important concept throughout Revelation: the 3-1/2 Years of 11:8 as the time frame of February 67 to August 70; the controversial 666 personality as Nero; the great city "Babylon" as Jerusalem: the seven kings of 17:10f; the temple of 11:2; etc. Neither theory spiritually views Revelation conceptually as a book of hope and comfort nor of ultimate victory for God's covenant people, battered and killed by an all-powerful persecutor. Each seeks specific fulfillments in history for Revelation's events as a way to buttress its theory.
It is reasonably asked if the A.D. 70 view were true, why did not early Christians say something about it? Kenneth Davies replies that perhaps many writings have been destroyed, and the tribulation of that day may have discouraged writing down anything. Davies confesses that he does not know of any Christian writers who say specifically that the judgment which fell upon Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was the second advent of Christ, and then proceeds to quote Eusebius and other church fathers who comment on Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 as being fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem. However, such citations serve other preterists just as well, so Davies comes up empty, finding no evidence for his theory of prophecy fulfillment among documents issued in the first four centuries after Pentecost. Mainline preterists agree that these early writings do speak of a return of Jesus in 70 A.D. but none say that it was the final return of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom.
Critics of the A.D. 70 fulfillment of all prophecy legitimately ask, if such a doctrine is true, then why is it just now being understood? Their spokesmen reply by arguing from silence. "I feel confident that Biblical archaeologists have not found all the documents ... and will find some important documents from that early period," states Ed Stevens. He thinks that problems also exist because available letters and histories are not read and studied, and further shows that the major roots of the A.D. 70 position reach only to the 1600's in Germany and Britain. Therefore, his view is rather new. The A.D. 70 theorists appear to be looking for a ship that will never come in - a classic case of wishful thinking.
The A.D. 70 advocates find immense value in assigning the fulfillment of all Bible prophecy by the year 70. They say that their view is the only one of redemptive history which can reconcile problems advanced by liberal theologians. One spokesman declared that his view of fulfilled prophecy is very conservative in its effects on the liberal arguments against the reliability of the New Testament. “It makes Revelation easier to understand," wrote still another.
Instead, the A.D. 70 position brings on more problems than it tries to solve. This speculative system of Biblical and historical interpretation tiptoes around long-accepted facts of history and New Testament backgrounds, arbitrarily employing historical evidence uniquely to its own advantage.
To reinforce a particular point of belief, these theorists often compile extravagant lists of friendly authorities, which, along with elaborate footnoting in lengthy magazine articles and the discriminating appeal to and finding uniformity in "the Greek", impresses the unwary. To survive, the A.D. 70 position feeds upon the silence of Christianity's early years and must be ceded every disputable historical interpretation and allowed to prevail on every ambiguous point. If even a minor point is shown to be conjecture, the theory falls. Therefore, the entire belief structure of A.D. 70 prophecy fulfillment is a house of cards. Professional biblical scholars in various journals do not take it seriously.
The A.D. 70 Position on prophecy has virtually no value concerning doctrines that matter most. Believing in it does not make one a better person, nor do these theorists add one thing to the foundation of faith or develop in others hope and strength for all time. The treatment of the Jews and their influence is blind, for Jerusalem was small and insignificant when compared with Rome and its worldwide spiritual and political corruption as portrayed in the imagery throughout Revelation. If "Babylon" means confusion, then that word aptly sums up the entire system of history and prophetical interpretation known as the A.D. 70 fulfillment of eschatology.