Towards Understanding Revelation


Good morning! I’ve got a fair amount of material from the 18th century, I’ll be looking to pare it down a bit, but it’s still going to take more than one post. 

Let’s start with Matthew Henry. Probably you know his big Bible commentary, but he wrote more on Revelation than is in my copy of MATTHEW HENRY’S COMMENTARY. Here’s the intro:

The Book of the Revelation of St. John consists of two principal divisions. 1. Relates to ‘the things which are,’ that is, the then present state of the church, and contains the epistle of John to the seven churches, and his account of the appearance of the Lord Jesus, and his direction to the apostle to write what he beheld, ch. 1:9–20. Also the addresses or epistles to seven churches of Asia. These, doubtless, had reference to the state of the respective churches, as they then existed, but contain excellent precepts and exhortations, commendations and reproofs, promises and threatenings, suitable to instruct the Christian church at all times. 2. Contains a prophecy of “the things which shall be hereafter,” and describes the future state of the church, from the time when the apostle beheld the visions here recorded. It is intended for our spiritual improvement; to warn the careless sinner, point out the way of salvation to the awakened inquirer, build up the weak believer, comfort the afflicted and tempted Christian, and, we may especially add, to strengthen the martyr of Christ, under the cruel persecutions and sufferings inflicted by Satan and his followers.” 

This is probably the best overview we’ve seen: it’s simple, straightforward, and about as generalized as you can get. In my copy of MATTHEW HENRY’S COMMENTARY he has another short intro:

“It ought to be no prejudice to the credit and authority of this book that it has been rejected by men of corrupt minds. The church of God has generally received it, and found good counsel and great comfort in it. Christ himself prophesied of the destruction of Jerusalem; and, about the time in which that was accomplished, he entrusted the apostle John with this book of revelation for the support of the faith of his people and the direction of their hope.”

First of all, I think I’ve stated before that I believe that John received the revelation about 25 years after the destruction of Jerusalem rather than “about the time” of it…and we’ll be getting into that in more depth later on. Secondly, “men of corrupt minds” who used to reject Revelation, are now using it to their advantage. Many Christians are not real clear on what Revelation says, they may just have a general idea. These “men of corrupt minds” today use bits and pieces of Revelation, mixed in with their own nefarious ideas, when addressing Christians and non-Christians alike, trying to move them away from Biblical or even Western morals and ideas. Once you get into the weeds in Revelation you can pick up on how this is being done.

And lastly, “he entrusted the apostle John with this book of revelation for the support of the faith of his people and the direction of their hope” is very true, even in Henry’s day. There are aspects of Revelation that can lift you up and give you hope even if you don’t understand the bigger picture.

Next we will look at a book in two volumes published in 1720 called A PERPETUAL COMMENTARY ON THE REVELATION OF ST. JOHN, by Charles Daubuz. The start of the book is a long outline of Revelation. I will just hit a few of the points to give you an idea of what this looks like. I’m sure we’ll look at more of this in the verse to verse.

“The First Great Part, or, Vision; Containing, 

  1. “An Introduction to the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia. Verse 9. to the End of the Chap.
  2. “The Epistles to the said Churches; the said Epistles relating chiefly to the Present State of the Church at the Time of the Vision. Ch. II. V 1 to the End of Ch. III

“The Second Great Part, or Vision, treating of the whole Constitution and Fates of the Christian Church from the very Beginning thereof to its Consummation in Glory, and consisting of the following Parts;

“First, an Introduction to the Events from the Beginning of the Christian Dispensation to the End of the World. Ch. IV. and Ch. V.

“Secondly, the Events belonging to the first General Period of the Church; taking in the System of the Seven Seals of a Book sealed, by the opening whereof, the several Steps and Effects of the Propagation of the Gospel in the Roman Empire are set forth.

“The first Seal begins at our Savior’s Ascension. Ch. VI. Verses 1,2.

“The second Seal begins about A.D. 66, and ends about A.D. 135. Ch. VI. Verses 3,4…

“…The sixth Seal begins about A.D. 312 and effects the Fall of the Roman Pagan Empire in the West and East. Verses 12-17…

“…Thirdly, the Events belonging to the second General Period of the Church, taking in, the System of the seven Trumpets, by the Sounding whereof, the several external Judgments upon the Pagans, and the corrupted Christians in the Roman Empire, after that Christianity became the Ruling Religion therein, are set forth.

“The first Trumpet effected by Alarick’s taking Rome, and by his and Ataulphus’ plundering of the said City and its Treasures, and beginning A.D. 410…”

I think we’ll leave it there. It goes on, setting up a whole list of how each piece of Revelation is really talking about events in the Church all the way up to near the author’s time, and then moving into the future of the “Resurrection of the Martyrs”, the “Thousand Year Reign of the Saints on Earth”, and the “New Jerusalem, the Metropolis of the Triumphant Kingdom of Christ.” This is a form of preterism…in other words, almost everything in Revelation has happened already in his view. Again, we’ll talk more about this later.

Now we’ll look at another writer the preterists claim, but in some places I’ve seen him proclaimed as an historicist.  Historicism involves understanding Scripture by looking at the past and assigning symbology to it, and this guy did a lot of that. The gentleman of which I am speaking is Sir Isaac Newton. I’m afraid I will have to call Newton a heretic as well. He appears to have spent a lot of time trying to disprove the divinity of Christ and the Trinity, as well as trying to rewrite John’s writings to say what he wanted it to say. His beliefs were more in line with the Free Masons than with the Church; he was very into the Occult and spent his last years doing alchemy. Most of his surviving papers on alchemy were considered “not fit to print”.

This is from the Intro of his book OBSERVATIONS UPON THE PROPHECIES OF DANIEL, AND THE APOCALYPSE OF ST JOHN, published posthumously in 1733, we will, of course, read him with care:

“Irenaeus introduced an opinion that the Apocalypse was written in the time of Domitian; but then he also postponed the writing of some others of the sacred books, and was to place the Apocalypse after them: he might perhaps have heard from his master Polycarp that he had received this book from John about the time of Domitian’s death; or indeed John might himself at that time have made a new publication of it, from whence Irenaeus might imagine it was then but newly written…”

This is a very poor argument and not worthy of the author’s genius. First of all, books/scrolls were not “published” in those days. John did not receive a new box of books from his publisher that he then shared with his friends. These were hand copied and it was a big deal that Polycarp received a copy from John…and as a student of John, Polycarp would have received a copy much closer to the time of its being written than most other people.

We’ll continue on:

“…Eusebius in his CHRONICLE and ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY follows Irenaeus; but afterwards in his EVANGELICAL DEMONSTRATIONS, he conjoins the banishment of John into Patmos, with the deaths of Peter and Paul: and so do Tertullian and Pseudo-Prochorus, as well as the first author, whoever he was, of that very ancient fable, that John was put by Nero into a vessel of hot oil, and coming out unhurt, was banished by him into Patmos. Though this story be no more than a fiction yet was it founded on a tradition of the first churches, that John was banished into Patmos in the days of Nero. Epiphanius represents the Gospel of John as written in the time of Domitian, and the Apocalypse even before that of Nero. ”

Ok, so I found a transcribed copy of Eusebius’ EVANGELICAL DEMONSTRATIONS online and downloaded it. Originally there were 20 books in the series, but only the first 10 of them (and a scrap of vol. 15) survive. In scanning this, there was nothing I could find about Revelation or John in any of the 10 books. It’s basically a very interesting series that goes through all the OT prophecies and compares them to different aspects of Jesus’ life. It’s possible that what Newton reports was tucked in somewhere and I missed it, and if it is and I find it later, I will correct this post with an addendum. The scrap from Vol. 15 appears to be getting into the weeds about Daniel, so it’s possible that one of the missing books said what Newton reports. I’m seriously doubting, though, that Newton had access to these missing books in the 18th century. It’s possible he found a source reporting this information though. 

The preterist website lists EVANGELICAL DEMONSTRATIONS as a resource…but even they don’t highlight any part of the book as proving their point. I suspect that they chose this book because of what Newton said about it. The futurists (opposite of preterist) claim Eusebius as a source, perhaps based on his earlier works, but perhaps based on his whole body of work. 

I also looked through a book of Tertullian’s that the preterist’s website had up, and again, there was nothing about Revelation or John/Peter/Paul that I could find.

Here would be a good place to provide a list I found of which Church Fathers believed what:


DOMITIANIC DATE (AD 95) (futurists)

NERONIC DATE (AD 65) (preterists)

Tacitus (c.56-c.120)

Suetonius (c.68-c.122
Cassius Dio (c.155-c.235)
Irenaeus (c.180)
Tertullian (c.200)
Victorinus (c.300)
Eusebius (c.300)
Jerome (c.400)
Sulpicius Serverus (c.400)Syriac inscription (c.508)
Primasius (c.540)
Isidore of Seville (c.600)Syriac inscription (c.616)
Orosius (c.600)
Andreas (c.600)
Prochorus (The Acts of John, c.650)
Venerable Bede (c.700)
Arethas (c.900)
Theophlact (died 1107)
(Johann Jakob Wettstein reportedly
“reinterpreted” Eusebius in 1752 to say
that Revelation was written in Nero’s time)

I trust this puts things in perspective. The source this is from is:, and Mr Scott is the senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake Washington. He also lists five well-known, accepted arguments for the futurist’s date. I’ll review them briefly here:

  1. That John was banished to Patmos. Peter and Paul were executed during Nero’s reign for being Christian, why would Nero simply banish John? Secondly, according to history Nero didn’t banish people nearly as often as Domitian did; Nero generally killed them, while Domitian is historically known for banishing Christians. More than that, while Nero may have banished a few people here and there, there is no historical record of Nero banishing Christians…it seems he always killed them.
  2. The state of the Asian Churches in Revelation 2-3. First of all, if John was on Patmos around 65 AD, then it would mean that he had been working in Asia at the same time as Paul (who died ~68 AD). John’s letters to the churches don’t mention Paul, and Paul’s letters to Timothy, which name a number of co-workers, don’t mention John. The Book of Acts, written by Luke, took place during the time of Paul’s ministries in Asia; despite that, John is only mentioned once, early on, and while he was still in Jerusalem with Peter. Regarding the Church at Ephesus: Paul started it from AD 53 to 56; his first letter to Timothy was in AD 64-65, and the second around AD 67-68. John’s letter to this church implies a period of time had passed, not that it was a fairly new church. The Church at Smyrna: This church didn’t even exist during Paul’s ministry, so it wouldn’t have been there in AD 65. The Churches at Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis: It’s obvious that these churches are in a very different state than when Luke described them in the 50’s and 60’s. The Church at Laodicea: John’s letter describes this church as terrible, with nothing good to say about it at all; whereas Paul describes them as a very actively Christian group in AD 61-62. More than that, Laodicea experienced a very bad earthquake in AD 60 or 61. John describes an economically rich and well-to-do culture in Laodicea, this seems unlikely only 4 or 5 years after a major earthquake in the first century.
  3. The arrival of New Jerusalem. When John describes the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven, he seems to be implying that the Old Jerusalem was already destroyed. This destruction didn’t happen until AD 70.
  4. Oppression of Asian Christians.  John was ministering to the Asian Churches at the time of his banishment. Nero, who persecuted a lot of Christians, truly only persecuted them in Rome; he was not known for extending the persecution beyond Rome. Domitian, on the other hand, was very well known for carrying the persecution throughout the empire.

This source also lists 4 main arguments for the preterist’s case:

  1. Revelation 1:7 says: “Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven. And everyone will see him — even those who pierced him. And all the nations of the world will mourn for him. Yes! Amen!” Preterists say that this verse means that Jesus came to judge first-century Israel, so it had to have happened before AD 70 when the judgment took place…which means that the events of Revelation have all happened already (unless you’re a partial-preterist, meaning that the last bit of Revelation hasn’t happened yet).
  2. The preterists say that John could not possibly have written such a long book without mentioning the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, because it was such an overwhelming event. I can’t argue against it being an overwhelming event; certainly it was. But, if Revelation was written in AD 95, and with John being involved in Asia and then being banished to Patmos, he may not have been thinking about the destruction of Jerusalem all the time. But, I think, more importantly, Revelation was dictated to John. He did not write this out of his imagination or add his own thoughts to it. The fact that someone would use this argument says to me that they don’t fully accept that Revelation is the revelation of Jesus Christ and not of John.
  3. The preterists point out that in Revelation 11:1-2 the Temple is still standing, that the outer courtyard will be turned over to the nations, and that the nations will trample the holy city for 42 months. Revelation does not say that the Temple was still standing. John is told to take a measuring stick and measure the Temple of God, etc. This was happening in a vision on Patmos…not in Jerusalem where the Temple was until AD 70, so John wasn’t actually going to the Temple to measure it. The Temple referred to in the vision could be the Temple in Heaven, or, more likely, it’s referring to a later, end-time Temple. There is currently a group in Israel who are ready to build and outfit a new Temple in Jerusalem as soon as they are given permission to do it….and Revelation implies that the Antichrist may be the one who gives them that permission. This group claims they can have it built and ready to go in less than 6 months.
  4. The preterists interpret the sixth/last king in Revelation 17:9-11 as being Nero, who ruled from 54 to 68 AD. I’m not sure how they see this helping their argument for a 65 AD Revelation, but certainly Nero was not the last king of the Roman Empire.

This is long enough for today. Next time we will start by returning to Sir Isaac Newton’s book, and move on from there. Take care and I’ll be praying for you.

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