WHAT IS REVELATION’S THEME? (1)

PMT 2013-035 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

John ApostleTo understand a book, particularly a difficult one such as Revelation, it is important to discern its theme, its driving purpose. Fortunately, John states his theme in the opening of Revelation. In Rev 1:7 we read his theme:

“Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.”

At first glance it seems that John is speaking of the Second Advent. It certainly does involve language which is quite applicable to the future, glorious, history-ending Second Coming of Christ.

However, first appearances can be deceiving. And such appears to be the case here. As I will show this theme verse actually speaks of Jerusalem’s judgment in the first century. In that this interpretation is unfamiliar to most modern Christians, I will defend it in some detail. Several compelling reasons move us away from a second advent interpretation to an AD 70 one. I will explain seven evidences in this and my next two articles. Though we do expect a future, history-ending second advent, this text does not speak of that great event. At least not directly.

Let’s begin by noting:

First, the Opening Context

Rev 1:7 appears in a specific and important context. As John opens his great work, he presents us with two verses that must be understood in order to get John’s meaning for his prophecy. I often encourage people who say they would like to understand Revelation: “Read the first three verses and think carefully about them.” In a previous article, I highlighted Rev 1 and 3 which are so important (“Temporal Expectation in Revelation,” PMT 2013-034). But now I would note that these two verses cast a flood of interpretive light on John’s theme.

Rev 1:1 informs John’s original audience that he is writing about “the things which must shortly take place.” One would think that if he is writing about “the things which must shortly take place” this would involve his very theme. And surely it does, especially since it appears in the context so close to the theme statement. Does not John declare the nearness of “the time” as reason why his first-century readers must read, hear, and “heed the things which are written in it” (Rev. 1:3)? Why would he urge their heeding the things written, if his thematic purpose lies untold centuries in the future (i.e., at the second advent)?

Thus, a mere four verses before John states his theme, he resolutely declares the events near at hand, and applies them to his original audience. This pulls his theme into their near-term, historical future.


Book of Revelation Made Easy
by Ken Gentry
Helpful introduction to Revelation presenting keys for interpreting it’s main themes.


Second, the Following Context

Just two verses after John states his them, he applies it to the specific and troublesome circumstances of his original readers: “I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 1:9).

John is writing to a persecuted minority, a minority threatened with extinction by means of oppression. He is relating God’s concern regarding their very real suffering for his name. He is surely not telling these oppressed Christians that the time is near, that you must listen carefully to what I am writing, and declaring that God is concerned with your sorrows only to inform them that he will avenge them several thousands years later at the second advent! Rev 1:7 must apply to the first century circumstances. And as we will see, this fits well with the coming AD 70 holocaust upon Jerusalem.

Third, the Symbolic Language

John casts his theme verse in symbolic language when speaking of Christ “coming with the clouds” (Rev 1:7). We find this type of language can be used symbolically of divine judgments in history, judgments which, as a matter of fact, anticipate the second advent as distant adumbrations of that final event. Though John’s language could well apply to the second advent as a literal, historical event, we must remember its overall setting. Any reading of Revelation leads us to recognize an abundance of strange imagery, such as a conqueror who looks like a lamb, a seven headed beast, a woman standing on the moon, locusts with heads of lions, and so forth. Surely this is not to be understood literally. I believe such symbolism appears in John’s theme verse as well.

I will cite two clear examples of this language being employed symbolically, one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament.

First, in Isaiah 19 we find a warning to historical, OT Egypt. In that prophecy God threatens judgment upon that ancient nation. As commentators note, this judgment transpires when the Assyrian king Esarhaddon conquered Egypt in 671 BC.

Yet notice Isaiah’s language: “The oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud, and is about to come to Egypt; the idols of Egypt will tremble at His presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them” (Isa. 19:1). Clearly the prophecy applies to Egypt. And just as clearly it claims the Lord “is about to come” to Egypt. Yet no interpreter believes the Egyptians saw God Almighty sitting on a cloud and descending among them in judgment. This must be symbolic language: It uses the imagery of a storm cloud (tornado?) destroying the Egyptians as God’s divine judgment against them.

Second, in Matthew 26 the Lord Jesus himself uses this language in speaking of his judgment against Israel in AD 70:

“And the high priest stood up and said to Him, ‘Do You make no answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?’ But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, ‘I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” (Matt.26:62-64)

Verse 64 is very similar to Rev 1:7: “you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” But we must note that Jesus is speaking directly to the high priest and those gathered around him (the Jewish Sanhedrin). He declares: “you shall see.” This must be a reference to the AD 70 judgment, which is prophesied in several places by Christ (see particularly Matt. 21:33-43; 22:1-7; 24:1-34), and which would be witnessed by many of those who stood against Christ on that day.

Consequently, Rev 1:7 can be applied to the AD 70 judgment that overwhelming Israel, destroying her holy city and permanently removing her holy temple from history.. Nothing in Scripture prohibits such a symbolic interpretation. The evidence is mounting toward an AD 70 interpretation. But there is more. And I will present additional evidences in my next blog article. Stay tuned for this is shortly to come to pass.


Before Jerusalem Fell
by Ken Gentry
My doctoral dissertation defending a pre-AD 70 date for Revelation’s writing


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