PP6: Internal Evidence for an Early Date (Revelation)-Part 3


This is now the sixth part in our series on “A Partial-Preterist Perspective on the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.” This is the same title as a term paper I recently submitted to Northwestern College. The first segment included the Title Page, Outline, Introduction, and a brief introduction to Partial-Preterism. The second segment consisted of the References page, and the third segment was a discussion of the external evidence for an early date for the writing of the book of Revelation. These segments can be found here:

[1] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/brief-explanation-of-partial-preterism/
[2] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/pp2-references/
[3] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/pp3-external-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation/

We then turned to a discussion of the internal evidence for an early date. In Part 1 we discussed the inclusion of Jerusalem, the temple, Babylon the Great, and a great city in the book of Revelation. Part 2 dealt with the seven kings mentioned in Revelation 17:9-10 and the identity of the beast of the book of Revelation. These posts can be found here, and it is recommended that they be read first:

[4] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp4-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-1/
[5] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp5-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-2/

Part 3 will address Nero’s campaign of persecution against the saints, as well as his prophesied demise.

Adam Maarschalk

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II. Internal Evidence for an Early Date (Part 3)

In what sense might Jerusalem have sat on the beast with seven heads (mountains), the beast that would ultimately turn on her and destroy her (Rev. 17:3, 9, 16-18)? Israel had enjoyed a good relationship with Rome until the Jewish revolt began in 66 AD, and Judaism was recognized as a valid religion within the Roman Empire. Josephus wrote of this relationship, “It seems to me to be necessary here to give an account of all the honors that the Romans and their emperors paid to our nation [Israel], and of the leagues of mutual assistance they have made with it” (Antiquities, 14.10.1-2). The Jews frequently took advantage of this relationship to induce persecution against Jesus and His followers (Luke 23:2; John 18:28-31, 19:15; Acts 4:27, 16:20, 17:7, 18:12, 21:11, 24:1-9, 25:1-2).[1]

Prior to Nero’s persecution, writes Kenneth Gentry (2002), persecution against Christians had come largely from the Jews. Christianity was considered a sect of Judaism, which was a “legal religion.” Gentry notes, “Earlier Paul had safely appealed to Nero Caesar (Acts 25:11-12; 28:19) and in A.D. 62 had been acquitted and released.” Herbert Workman, in his 1906 work, Persecution in the Early Church, said that Rome didn’t make a clear distinction between Christianity and Judaism until 64 AD (pp. 62-63).

Kenneth Gentry takes note of the testimonies of early historians regarding Nero’s campaign of persecution against Christians (pp. 54-55, 64-66). Clement of Rome (30-100 AD) said that it targeted “a vast multitude of the elect…through many indignities and tortures.” Eusebius (260-340 AD) pointed out that Nero was “the first of the emperors who showed himself an enemy of the divine religion,” and Lactantius (240-320 AD) agrees by saying of Nero, “He it was who first persecuted the saints of God.” Sulpicius Severus (360-420 AD) said that he was “the basest of all men, and even of wild beasts, [showing himself] in every way most abominable and cruel…he first attempted to abolish the name of Christian.” Sulpicius devoted two chapters to Nero’s reign of terror in his Sacred History, but only three sentences for Domitian. In 1854 church historian John Laurence von Mosheim added these thoughts:

Foremost in the rank of those emperors, on whom the church looks back with horror as her persecutors, stands Nero, a prince whose conduct towards the Christians admits of no palliation [minimizing], but was to the last degree unprincipled and inhuman. The dreadful persecution which took Diace by order of this tyrant, commenced at Rome about the middle of November,[2] in the year of our Lord 64. This dreadful state of persecution ceased with the death of Nero. The empire, it is well known, was not delivered from the tyranny of this monster until A.D. 68, when he put an end to his own life.[3]

Tacitus, the Roman historian who lived from 56-117 AD, wrote in detail of Nero’s move to persecute the saints soon after the fire that raged through Rome, destroying 10 out of 14 city divisions:

But by no human contrivance, whether lavish contributions of money or of offerings to appease the gods, could Nero rid himself of the ugly rumor that the fire was due to his orders. So to dispel the report, he substituted as the guilty persons and inflicted unheard-of punishments on those who, detested for their abominable crimes, were vulgarly called Christians…wrapped in the hides of wild beasts, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or fastened to crosses to be set on fire, that when the darkness fell they might be burned to illuminate the night (Tacitus, Annals 15:44).

The most remarkable detail about Nero’s campaign of persecution is that it lasted just over 42 months, which Revelation 13:5-8 records is the length of time that would be given to the beast to war against and conquer the saints. The persecution ended when Nero died on June 9, 68 AD. In this context, Revelation 13:10 was a comfort to the saints. Not only were they already told that the beast would only be allowed to persecute them for 3.5 years, but they were also told how their persecutor would be removed: “…he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and faith of the saints.” Nero ended his life by thrusting his sword through his own throat, with the help of his personal secretary, Epaphroditus, when he realized that his popularity had waned and that a coup was in the making.

Upon Nero’s demise, the Roman Empire immediately fell into chaos and civil war, and rooting out Christians became less of a priority for Rome. What followed was the “Year of the Four Emperors,” the reigns of Galba (six months), Otho (four months), Vitellius (eight months), and Vespasian (beginning in December 69 AD). When the empire stabilized more than a year later under Vespasian, Nero’s successors did not carry on his campaign of religious persecution. As The Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary notes, “There is no solid evidence that Christians suffered persecution by the Roman state under Vespasian and his two sons, Titus and Domitian” (p. 67).

Nero’s death by the sword is the type of mortal wound that John said the beast would receive (Revelation 13:10, 12, 14). Richard Anthony (2009) and Kenneth Gentry (1998) postulate that the healing of this wound can perhaps be seen in what took place in the Roman Empire immediately following Nero’s death. Upon his death, the Roman Empire’s founding family suddenly had no representative. “The blood line that had given birth to, extended, stabilized, brought prosperity to, and had received worship from the Roman Empire was cut off forever” (Gentry, p. 311). The “Julio-Claudian House” became extinct. The empire was plunged “into civil wars of horrible ferocity and dramatic proportions” and Rome appeared ready to topple.

The general Vespasian pulled back from the wars he was committed to, including the siege on Jerusalem, because of the turmoil on his own home front.  Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius all recorded that Rome at this time was brought near to utter ruin, with Josephus saying that “every part of the habitable earth under them [the Romans] was in an unsettled and tottering condition” (Wars 7.4.2). It wasn’t until Vespasian took the throne in December 69 AD, initiating the Flavian Dynasty, that stability was restored. He was the one who oversaw the destruction of Jerusalem the following year. Perhaps in this sense the beast’s “mortal wound was healed,” i.e. the beast as corporately considered.

Herbert W. Benario (2006) and others show how this question might also be viewed from an additional angle. Benario writes, “Nero’s popularity among the lower classes remained even after his death. His close friend, and successor to Galba, Otho paid him all public honors.” The historians Tacitus, Suetonius, and Zonaras affirm that after Nero’s death proclamations continued to be published in his name as if he was still alive, and that his image was frequently placed upon the rostra (large speaker’s platforms in Rome) “dressed in robes of state.” Even Jewish and Christian writers began to foretell that Nero was back from death as the dreaded Beliar demon. Paul Kroll (1999) adds the following details:

Nero committed suicide in June of AD 68. However, a rumor arose and persisted that he had not died but had fled across the Euphrates river to Rome’s arch-enemy, Parthia. It was said that one day Nero would return at the head of Parthian armies to destroy Rome. This became the so-called “Nero redivivus” myth. In fact, during the decades following Nero’s death, several pretenders did come forth claiming to be Nero (Tacitus, Histories 1.78; 2.8; Suetonius, Nero 57). By the turn of the first century a further twist was added to the Nero legend. It was said he would actually rise from the dead, return to Rome and seize the empire… This myth of Nero’s return so captured the popular fancy that it found its way into Jewish and Christian apocalyptic writings. Here the triumphant Nero was sometimes even pictured as the antichrist (Ascension of Isaiah 4:1-14; Sibylline Oracles 4:119-124; 5:137-154, 361-374)…

With these details, we can begin to see how Nero could have fulfilled what was written of the beast in Revelation 17:11. This text states: “As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction.” Kenneth Gentry (1998) notes the following about Otho, the eighth emperor of Rome:

Upon presenting himself to the Senate and returning to the palace, it is said of Otho: “When in the midst of the other adulations of those who congratulated and flattered him, he was hailed by the common herd as Nero, he made no sign of dissent; on the contrary, according to some writers, he even made use of that surname in his commissions and his first letters to some of the governors of the provinces” [Suetonius, Otho 7]. Tacitus, too, speaks of Otho’s predilection for Nero: “It was believed that he also brought up the question of celebrating Nero’s memory with the hope of winning over the Roman people; and in fact some set up statues of Nero; moreover on certain days the people and soldiers, as if adding thereby to Otho’s nobility and distinction, acclaimed him as Nero Otho.” Dio Cassius mentions the same idea: “But men did not fail to realize that his rule was sure to be even more licentious and harsh than Nero’s. Indeed, he immediately added Nero’s name to his own” (pp. 308-309).

Gentry adds that Otho reinstated Nero’s procurators and freedman to the offices they had vacated during Galba’s 6-month reign, and a court historian claims that Otho even used Nero’s title and name in official dispatches to Spain. So Otho, in many ways, took on the persona of Nero, and perhaps in this way Nero was “an eighth” king who also belonged to the seven kings (Revelation 17:10-11). Gentry, though, leans even more to the idea that the revived Roman Empire, under the new dynasty initiated by Vespasian, could be what is meant by the beast that “is an eighth” but also belongs to the seven.


[1] W.H.C. Frend even writes that “the promptings of orthodox Jews in the capitol had something to do with” Nero’s decision to begin persecuting Christians in 64 AD (The Rise of Christianity [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984], 109; quoted in Kenneth Gentry, 2002, p. 63).

[2] Moses Stuart (1845), a historian contemporary to von Mosheim, wrote that this persecution began at the end of November.

[3] I Clement 6:1; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2:25:2-3; Lactantius, On the Death of the Persecutors 2:2; Severus, Sacred History 2:29; John L. von Mosheim, History of Christianity in the First Three Centuries (New York: Converse, 1854) 1:138-139.

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