. Consistent Inconsistency in the Book of Revelation

Consistent Inconsistency in the Book of Revelation

Is the book of Revelation a linear chronology of distant future events? Or does the book describe the Roman persecution of Christians and Rome’s destruction of the temple—events that occurred in John’s lifetime? The first view opts for a mid-AD 90s authorship (long after the temple was destroyed), the second supports a pre-AD 70s authorship (when the temple was still standing). Each of these readings is complicated by Revelation 11:1–2:

Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months.”

Taken literally, these verses indicate the Jerusalem temple still stands—apparent proof that Revelation was written before ad 70. If so, the idea that John is describing the Roman persecution and invasion—empowered by Satan and his hatred for the Church—must be valid. However, while the defense of this view takes this passage literally, most people who prefer to see Revelation written before ad 70 read the rest of Revelation symbolically, matching John’s descriptions to some feature of the Roman Empire and its caesars.

Those who read Revelation in terms of distant future events often point to the mid-90s authorship. They prefer a symbolic reading of Revelation 11—a departure from their preference for taking the rest of Revelation quite literally (even to the point of describing futuristic military weaponry in John’s visions).

Who is the literalist now? It’s difficult to be consistent in the book of Revelation.

The Early Church Father Clement of Rome offers us clues for understanding how this passage might be understood. Clement wrote long after the Jerusalem temple had been destroyed, but he used the present tense when speaking of the temple (1 Clement 40–41). He does this to strike an analogy between the orderly worship of the temple in times past with a current concern about worship. The same may be true of Revelation 11:1–2. It’s not unusual for biblical writers to speak of a past event in language that sounds contemporary. In other words, the temple might be long gone, but references to it serve some other literary or theological purpose taking center stage in the writer’s mind. Nonetheless, this doesn’t exclude the possibility of interpreting Revelation in light of events in Rome. It just proves that neither approach can be fully accepted.

When reading a complicated book like Revelation, it’s helpful to address where views deviate in their interpretive approach. It might be more revealing than we ever expected.


why is the bible hard to understandDr. Michael S. Heiser is the author of The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible and has taught many Mobile Ed courses, including Problems in Biblical Interpretation: Difficult Passages I.

This article is excerpted from Dr. Heiser’s book I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible.

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Michael S. Heiser

Michael S. Heiser is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (M.A., Ancient History) and the University of Wisconsin- Madison (M.A., Ph.D., Hebrew Bible and Semitic Studies). He has a dozen years of classroom teaching experience on the college level and another ten in distance education. He is a former scholar-in-residence at Logos Bible Software.

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  • This subject is worthy of greater attention than just a brief statement like this. In our day, the A.D. 90 claim of authorship for Revelation is accepted almost blindly and argued for the same way. A very good reasoned presentation is Kenneth Gentry’s “Before Jerusalem Fell.” You don’t have to accept his position, but he forces one to open their mind to remember Paul’s challenge “study to show thyself approved unto God.” Sadly, way too many books are written by those who argue for a position without the academic discipline to learn that there are other positions, some of which are well-reasoned.

  • The Revelation would have done very little good if it were written after the fact since the purpose was to “show [God’s] servants what must soon come to pass”.

    I addressed this passage just last week, here:

    But when you say that the fact that the temple has to be still standing per Rev 11:1-2 means that one can’t “rule out” either view, I’m not sure what the other view is; Dispensationalism/Delayed 70th Week? Because it seems to me that the temple still standing is not a problem for the “preterist” view.

    Let’s consider what’s going on in Revelation. It is a Tale of Two Cities (or maybe 3). The natural Jews, the earthly temple and the earthly Jerusalem are being judged (per Matthew 24) and the “Israel of God”, the heavenly temple and the new Jerusalem, composed of God’s saints emerges to fulfill all of God’s promises to make Jerusalem a praise in the land, etc. Once you have that then rest is easy. Oh, except that you have to be careful because in Revelation, the main enemy is not Rome but the unbelieving Jews, and people get confused. For example, you are not supposed to cry but rather be thrilled that the earthly temple is destroyed, etc.:

    [Rev 11:8 KJV] (8) And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.

    IE: Earthly Jerusalem.

    All the way back in Deuteronomy God told Israel that he was “saving up” wrath:

    [Deu 32:34-36 NKJV] (34) ‘Is this not laid up in store with Me, Sealed up among My treasures? (35) Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; Their foot shall slip in due time; For the day of their calamity is at hand, And the things to come hasten upon them.’ (36) “For the LORD will judge His people And have compassion on His servants, When He sees that their power is gone, And there is no one remaining, bond or free.

    So it is incredibly significant when Jesus says that all that stored up wrath will fall on the current generation!:

    [Mat 23:32-38 NKJV] (32) “Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. (33) “Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? (34) “Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, (35) “that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. (36) “Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (37) “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (38) “See! Your house is left to you desolate;

    It is pretty much 40 years from when Jesus spoke those words until it all went down just as he said. And when he said: “Upon this generation”.

  • I understand it to mean that there will be a literal temple in Jerusalem during the Great Tribulation. That temple will be built prior or during that literal time period of days.

    • Since Jesus said that the earthly temple would be destroyed (and he would build the new temple out of people, building on the apostles and prophets, Jesus being the chief cornerstone) why not see it as what Jesus said would happen in Matthew 24 and what actually DID happen to that very generation? It defies Occam’s very excellent shaving device to do so!

      • The events described in the Book of Revelation are of a nature and magnitude that did not happen in AD 70, and have not happened since. If you remove an end times apocalyptic fulfillment to the events described and assign them events to AD 70 then you must designate those descriptive passages as being mere hyperbole.

  • Go back to the foundation the end is declared from the beginning. Nothing new under the sun. check to see how rev follows the festivals.

  • This is a very poor article and does not do justice to the futurist view. Yes, John is told to measure the temple; that is because he was shown the future temple that is yet to be built. John was told to measure THAT temple. The temple was destroyed in 70 C.E., John wrote the Revelation about 90 C.E. about a temple yet to be built in the future.

  • John was on the island of Patmos; logically, how could he measure the temple in Jerusalem even if the latter was still standing? Instead, Rev 4 already said John was transported to heaven. So the temple he was asked to measure was more likely the temple in heaven which is again mentioned in verse 19.

  • I fail to see how taking Revelation 11 as the description of a future temple entails a non-literal approach to the text? When Zechariah 9:9 was written, there was no donkey and no Messiah (yet), and contemporary readers of Zechariah could hardly be considered non-literal interpreters if they believed the donkey and Messiah would arrive at a date future to that of Zechariah.

    Whether a passage describes something presently existing or yet future (prophetic prediction) has no bearing on literal or non-literal interpretation. It involves temporal differences in fulfillment regarding literal events (either in the present or the future). In both cases, the descriptions can be equally literal.

Written by Michael S. Heiser