This is now the seventh 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:
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. Part 3 addressed Nero’s persecution of the saints and his prophesied demise. These posts can be found here, and it is recommended that they be read first:
Part 4 will speak of the worship of Nero and the worship of his image even after his death. We will also see that the language used by John strongly indicates the relevance of the entire book of Revelation to the first-century Christians who were alive when he wrote this book.
II. Internal Evidence for an Early Date (Part 4)
Interestingly, Vitellius, the ninth emperor, was even more devoted [than the Roman Emperor Otho--see previous post] in his worship of Nero. It is said that he “greatly pleased the public by offering sacrifices to Nero’s spirit in the Campus Martius [Latin for Field of Mars, a 2 sq km public square in Rome], making all the priests and people attend.” These were his “funerary offerings to Nero” and this left “no doubt in anyone’s mind what model he chose for the government of the State” (Suetonius, Vitellius 11:2). The actions of Vitellius appear to fulfill what was written in Revelation 13:11-12 of a second beast, referred to later as the false prophet. This text states: “Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence [or on its behalf], and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed.” Vitellius had such a rabid fascination with Nero that Vespasian had to “make a determined effort to check the growth of the Nero cult when he came to power.”
Paul Kroll (1999) writes the following about the prospect of Vitellius, or someone like him, fulfilling the role of the false prophet in Nero’s time:
The false prophet sends out a universal order to “set up an image in honor of the beast” (verse 14)… Strangely enough, the false prophet gives the inanimate image breath so that it can speak. Thus, the second beast has power to animate the image of the first beast. In the time Revelation was written, this was not an alien idea. The ancients believed that statues spoke and performed miracles. It was thought that the gods and demons used statues as conduits to communicate with humans and work miracles. For example, the heretic Simon Magus is said to have brought statues to life (Clementine Recognitions 3.47; Justin, Apologia 1.26; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.23). In ancient times, that was precisely the point of having idols. People thought that the life of the person or being was actually in the idol.
In their book, Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World (1999), the authors (Brown, Bowersock, Grabar) write about the common sight of images of Roman emperors in the third and fourth centuries. These images took prominent places throughout the empire and were literally worshipped. This was ordinary in the first century as well:
Those who beheld Constantine in his golden raiment were said by Eusebius to be “stunned and amazed by the sight—like children who have seen a frightening apparition.” But away from court and capital, emperors rarely appeared in person. In the provinces, their presence was represented by statues and other images. Municipal squares were dominated by imperial statues; the portraits of emperors hung in official buildings, shops, theaters, and public porticoes… In their range and variety, imperial images made emperors omnipresent…the crowd applauded not only the emperor but also his image as it was paraded around them, surrounded—like the emperor himself—by the imperial bodyguard… These mirror images of majesty not only made permanent the transitory messages of imperial ceremonial, but were designed to blur the distinction between emperors and their representations… [There was] a rigid insistence on the performance of the same rituals and ceremonies before imperial images as before the emperor himself. Those approaching an emperor’s statue were required to prostrate themselves “not as though they were looking at a picture, but upon the very face of the emperor.” A proper atmosphere of sanctity was to be maintained at all times (pp. 173-174).
As expected then, statues of Nero’s likeness already existed in the Roman Empire during his lifetime, even from early in his reign. In 55 AD, the second year of his reign, the Roman senate erected a statue of Nero in the Temple of Mars that stood between 110 and 120 feet high. “The emperor’s brow was crowned with rays, suggesting a comparison or identification with the Sun-god” (Kenneth Gentry, 2002). His portrait appeared on coins at the time as Apollo playing the lyre. “He appears with his head radiating the light of the sun on copper coins struck in Rome and at Lugdunum.” Even his mother, Agrippina, was hailed by provincial coins “as goddess and the parent of a god.” Inscriptions found in Ephesus called Nero “Almighty God” and “Savior,” and inscriptions found in Cyprus called him “God and Savior” (pp. 80-81). The behavior of the highly-revered Augustus Caesar (27 BC-14 AD) was very modest compared to the worship Nero demanded for himself. Dio Cassius writes of an incident in which a regional king was compelled to worship both Nero and his image. This occurred in 66 AD when Tiridates, King of Armenia, paid Nero a visit:
Indeed, the proceedings of the conference were not limited to mere conversations, but a lofty platform had been erected on which were set images of Nero, and in the presence of the Armenians, Parthians, and Romans Tiridates approached and paid them reverence; then, after sacrificing to them and calling them by laudatory names, he took off the diadem from his head and set it upon them…Tiridates publicly fell before Nero seated upon the rostra in the Forum: “Master, I am the descendant of Arsaces, brother of the kings Vologaesus and Pacorus, and thy slave. And I have come to thee, my god, to worship thee as I do Mithras. The destiny thou spinnest for me shall be mine; for thou art my Fortune and my Fate” (Gentry, p. 82).
“By this action this king actually worshiped ‘the image of the Beast’ (Rev. 13:15),” says Gentry. One senator, though, failed to worship Nero and his “Divine Voice,” and Dio Cassius records that he was executed: “Thrasaea was executed because he failed to appear regularly in the senate…and because he never would listen to the emperor’s singing and lyre-playing, nor sacrifice to Nero’s Divine Voice as did the rest.” Nero was even deified in Greece, where he spent a significant amount of time in 67 AD as a musician and actor in the Grecian festivals. There he was proclaimed as “Zeus, Our Liberator,” and his statue was set up in the temple of Apollo where he was called “The new Sun, illuminating the Hellenes.” When he returned to Rome in early 68 AD, the entire population was made to come out and greet him with these words: “Hail, Olympian Victor! Hail, Pythian Victor! Augustus! Augustus! Hail to Nero, our Hercules! Hail to Hero, our Apollo! The only Victor of the Grand Tour, the only one from the beginning of time! Augustus! Augustus! O, Divine Voice! Blessed are they that hear thee” (Gentry, p. 83). Richard Anthony (2009) speaks further of the allegiance required by Nero during his lifetime:
All those under the jurisdiction of Rome were required by law to publicly proclaim their allegiance to Caesar by burning a pinch of incense and declaring, “Caesar is Lord”. Upon compliance with this law, the people were given a papyrus document called a “libellus”, which they were required to present when either stopped by the Roman police or attempting to engage in commerce in the Roman marketplace, increasing the difficulty of “buying or selling” without this mark (emphasis added).
If Vitellius was indeed the second beast who compelled the Roman world to be marked with the name or number of the first beast (Revelation 13:16-18), then the practice described by Anthony above would have continued during his 8-month reign. Scripture seems to indicate that it would have been taken to an even more oppressive level. No doubt he also would have carried on Nero’s practice of putting to death those who would not worship the images of Nero, which in Nero’s day were considered to be divine.
John revealed the identity of the beast to his readers in a coded manner, Richard Anthony (2009) says, using the system of Gematria which assigned numerical values to the alphabet: “John used this puzzle to reveal Nero without actually writing down his name. Remember, the early churches were being persecuted during this time—not only from the Jews, but also from the Romans.” The following chart shows the Hebrew letters in ‘Nero Caesar’ (NRWN QSR):
John wrote to seven historical churches in Asia Minor (Rev. 1:4, 11) which were going through a time of great trouble and tribulation, just as he was (Rev. 1:9, 2:3, 2:9-10, 2:13, 3:10). What better candidate was there for such an intense time of trouble than the first and greatest imperial persecution of Christianity initiated by Nero from late November 64 AD until his death in early June 68 AD? Kenneth Gentry (2002) poses this question for those who hold to the Futurist position: “Put yourself in first century sandals: Would you think John might be speaking of events occurring untold centuries after the collapse of the Empire which was presently persecuting you? Would you surmise that he was not really relating a message about Imperial Rome?”
John wrote the book of Revelation in such a way that the subject matter of the entire book, not just his letters to the churches, was urgent for and relevant for those churches. At the end of the book, Jesus said, “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (Revelation 22:7). God, speaking in terms that man would understand, spoke through John saying, “The Revelation of Jesus, which God gave him to show his servants the things that must soon take place…Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:1-4). We see that the seven churches who received this writing were encouraged to read the entire book aloud in their assemblies, and to keep what was written in it. We can also note that the Greek word used for “soon” here is the same one Jesus used when He said His time to be crucified was “at hand” (Matthew 26:18), and when John said “the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand” (John 7:2), events that no doubt were literally near. Four times Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming quickly” (Revelation 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20). In some translations, “soon” is used instead of “quickly.”
It’s noteworthy that Daniel was told that the prophecies he received referred “to many days from now” (Daniel 8:26), and were for the time of the end and thus they were to be “shut up and sealed” (Daniel 12:4, 9). Yet John in his time, as pointed out by both Kenneth Gentry (2002) and David Lowman (2009 ), was told not to seal up the prophecies he received because the time of their fulfillment was near (Revelation 22:10). If their fulfillment has still not come in our day, how do we account for these different instructions, when one set of prophecies was given about 2550 years ago and the other set about 1950 years ago?
Dispensationalism assumes that when Daniel mentioned “the time of the end,” he was referring to the end of the world. However, the context itself contains other constraints, and it should be noted that the phrase “the end of time” is never used in these prophecies. Daniel had already been told that his visions concerned his people (e.g. 11:14). Again he was told that “at the time of the end” (11:40) Michael, “the great prince who has charge of your people,” would arise. There would be a time of trouble, “such as never has been since there was a nation till that time [cf. Matthew 24:21]. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book” (Daniel 12:1).
Whose “time of the end” was God referring to? From the language used, it’s evident that these things directly concerned the nation of Israel rather than mankind in general. Daniel asked for a more specific time marker (12:6), and he was given one: “…it would be for a time, times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be finished” (12:7). The utter destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, and more than a million Jews in 70 AD did accomplish this. Daniel’s writings will be examined in more detail later.
Another intriguing detail in the book of Revelation is that twice in the letters to the seven churches (Revelation 2:9 and 3:9), Jesus spoke of Judaizers who were persecuting the churches, saying they were “of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not.” After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD this type of persecution faded, but it was certainly a significant factor in the Church prior to that event. Therefore, it would make far more sense for this remark to have been written while Jerusalem and the temple still stood.
Other examples of internal evidence for an early date will be shown, whether explicit or implicit, in the section on actual historical events during the Roman/Jewish War.
 John’s participation in this persecution means that it was imperial, coming from Rome, as only Rome had the authority to banish individuals to Patmos, its own prison island. If the early date is true for Revelation’s authorship, John then wrote no earlier than November 64 AD because this is when the first imperial persecution began.