Despite many Christians, the Book of Revelation does not provide evidence that rebuts postmillennialism’s optimistic outlook on history. In other posts I have pointed out the importance of properly dating the Book of Revelation, which is so crucial for understanding the book. I believe it should be dated prior to the destruction of the temple in AD 70. One of the leading reasons I hold this conviction is due to the appearance of the Jewish temple in Revelation 11. Let me explain
In Revelation 11:1,2 John informs us:
There was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.
Here we find a temple standing in a city called “the holy city.” It seems indisputably clear that a Christian Jew, such as John, would have in mind historical Jerusalem, when he speaks of “the holy city.” This is so for two basic reasons: (1) Jerusalem is frequently called such in Scripture: Isaiah 48:2; 52:1; Nehemiah 11:1-18; Matthew 4:5; 27:53. (2) Verse 8 informs us that this is the city where “also our Lord was crucified.” The place of our Lord’s crucifixion was no other city than historical Jerusalem, according to the clear testimony of Scripture (Luke 9:22; 13:32; 17:11; 19:28).
Now what temple stood in Jerusalem? Obviously the Jewish Temple ordained of God, wherein the Jewish sacrifices were offered, the first century temple known as Herod’s Temple. This reference to the temple must be that historical structure for three reasons:
(1) It was located in Jerusalem, as the text clearly states. The audience could have thought of nothing else than that famous temple, which was noted for its magnificence in the writings even of Roman historian Tacitus: the Jewish temple “was famous beyond all other works of men,”a “temple of immense wealth.”1 Ancient accounts of the temple portray its imposing beauty, accounts such as those we find in Josephus and the Jewish Mishnah.2 The first century Jewish philosopher Philo (25 B.C.—A.D. 40) says its was “beautiful beyond all possible description,” and that “the buildings of it are of most exceeding beauty and magnificence, so as to be universal objects of admiration to all who behold them, and especially to all foreigners who travel to those parts, and who comparing them with their own public edifices, marvel both at the beauty and sumptuousness of this one.”3 The ancient Jewish rabbis exult in the temple: “He that never saw the Temple of Herod never saw a fine building” (Baba Bathra).
(2) John’s prophesies that the temple he has in mind will be under assault for a period of forty-two months. The “forty-two months” (v. 2) or “1260 days” (v. 3) happens to parallel the period of the Jewish War with Rome from its formal engagement until the Temple was destroyed. Nero commissioned his most capable general Flavius Vespasian to engage Israel in war in February, A.D. 67; Vespasian actually entered the Promised Land and engaged in battle that Spring: “When Vespasian arrived the following Spring [A.D. 67] to take charge of operations, he steadily reduced Galilee [and] Peraea. . . . Titus [Vespasian’s son] began the siege of Jerusalem in April, 70. . . . By the end of August the Temple area was occupied and the holy house burned down.” 4 From Spring A.D. 67 to August/September A.D. 70 is a period of forty-two months. The time-frame correspondence is tolerably precise.
(3) The structure of Revelation 11:1, 2 parallels Jesus’s statement in his Olivet Discourse as found in Luke 21:24. In Luke 21:5-7, the disciples specifically point to the temple to inquire of its future. Jesus tells them that it will soon be destroyed stone by stone. In Luke 21:24 he speaks in terms that seem clearly to form the foundation for Revelation 11:1,2.
Revelation 11:2: “The court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.”
Luke 21:24: “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.”
Revelation 11 incorporates the reference to the “nations” (or Gentiles), the trampling under foot, and the city of Jerusalem (“Jerusalem”/”holy city”). The two passages speak of the same event: the looming destruction of Jerusalem. And the Olivet Discourse ties the destruction of the temple to “this generation” to whom Christ spoke (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32).
We know as a matter of clear historical and archaeological record that the temple was destroyed in August, A.D. 70:
The recent excavations have provided striking evidence of Titus’s destruction. . . . In the destruction of these buildings, walls were razed, paving stones torn up, and the drain clogged with material firmly dated to the last part of the century by the pottery. In the drain were human skulls and other bones, washed down from the ruined city higher up the slope.
Even more dramatic were the finds in Site N, the area in which the fine street of Herod Agrippa was uncovered. Reference has already been made to the collapse of the staircase leading east from the street. The tumble of stones was remarkable even for Jerusalem where tumbles of stones are a phenomenon all too common in excavations. The magnitude of the disaster perhaps made a special impact owing to the excellence of the destroyed buildings as shown by the magnificently-dressed stones, and the period of the collapse was very precisely pin-pointed by the discovery at its base of a hoard of coins of the First Revolt, hidden by defenders who could not recover them before the city was overwhelmed by Titus. Even more indicative of the complete desolation of this area that had formed part of the city of Herod Agrippa was the state of the ruins. . . . It was two centuries or more before human activity began once more to make its mark in the whole area of ancient Jerusalem.5
And this was a major apologetic point driven home by early Christians, as we may discover in Barnabas 16 (ca. A.D. 75-100). In the Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 10 Ignatius wrote: “It is absurd to speak of Jesus Christ with the tongue, and to cherish in the mind a Judaism which has now come to an end.” Other church fathers follow suit: Justin Martyr, Apology 32 (A.D. 147); Melito of Sardis, Fragments (A.D. 160-180); and others.
But while John wrote, the temple was still standing, awaiting its fast approaching doom (Rev. 11:1-2). If John wrote this twenty-five years after the temple’s fall it would be horribly anachronous. Such requires a suppressed premise of an unmentioned rebuilding of the temple, despite John’s silence on the very recent catastrophic destruction of that famous temple he and all Jews knew. The reference to the temple is hard architectural evidence (no pun intended) that gets us back into an era pre-A.D. 70.
1.Tacitus, Fragments of the Histories 2; History 5:8.
2. Josephus, Antiquities 15:11:3, 5; Wars 5:5. Middoth 1:1-5:4 in Herbert Danby, transl., The Mishnah (New York: Oxford University Press, 1933), 589-597.
3. Philo, The Special Laws: I, 1:72, 73.
4. F. F. Bruce, New Testament History, (New York: Doubleday, 1969), 381-382. 5. Kathleen M. Kenyon, Jerusalem: Excavating 3000 Years of History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967), 185ff.