Scepticism and the cities of Rev. 11
The sceptical Westminster Review for Oct. 1861 included a “secular exposition” of the Apocalypse, based on the work of various critics.
The author or authors of the essay took some pains to promote the notion that the Apocalypse was written before 70 A.D. Attempts at dating the writing of the Apocalypse before 70 A.D. are founded upon the idea that the cities mentioned in Rev. 11, the ‘holy city’ of vs. 2, and the ‘great city,’ called ‘Sodom and Egypt’ in vs. 8, are the same. This they insisted upon, while defending the opposite view of the temple of God mentioned in vs. 1 and vs. 19. These temples of God, they claimed, are different; the temple of God in Rev. 11:1 is located in the earthly Jerusalem, that (in their opinion) was not yet destroyed; John had to descend from heaven to measure it; but the one in vs. 19 is the temple in heaven.
The authors denied that the apostle John was the author of the Apocalypse. They wrote: [p. 244]
In our judgment, it can only be affirmed with certainty that, the Apocalypse was written by a Jew-Christian, whose name was John, but who is apparently not one of the “holy Apostles” (xviii. 20), and not the writer of the fourth Gospel, a work which it is difficult to regard as emanating from the eagle pen of the young and ambitious disciple of the Son of Mary.
On p. 245 they stated:
There is, perhaps, no book in the New Testament, the date of which can be more satisfactorily or more precisely determined. For the present, postponing all explanation, we shall content ourselves with referring to ch. xi. for proof that it was composed before the destruction of Jerusalem, and to ch. xvii. to show that it was written after the death of Nero, the malæ bestiæ of Lactantius, and during the seven months’ reign of Galba, the sixth Emperor of Rome, i. e., A.D. 69.
The authors interpreted the three years and a half in Rev. 11:2, 3 literally. In their discussion of ch. 10-11 they cited the views of critical scholars such as W. M. L. de Wette (1780-1849). They wrote: [p. 254]
An angel clothed with a cloud, with a rainbow on his head, with his face like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire, descends from heaven, holding in his hand a little book. Standing with his right foot on the sea and his left on the earth, he swears by the eternal Creator (not, that time shall be no longer, as in the English Version.), but that there shall be no further postponement of the Divine purposes, and that when the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, the mystery of God shall be finished. St. John is now directed to take the little book,—that part of the original Book of Fate which is still to be revealed, from the hand of the angel. Obeying the command, he leaves heaven, receives the volume, and like an earlier Hebrew prophet, devours it. The first taste is sweet, the after-taste bitter, for the satisfaction which the knowledge of the future brings with it, is not unalloyed with sadness at the prospect of the sorrow and shame that must precede the joy and the triumph. Our prophet thus receives, like Ezekiel of old, a peculiar consecration, and in virtue of this special commission reappears in a new celestial scene (c. xii.). Previously, however, to the representation of the development of this second series of events a very remarkable vision is interposed. Reinvigorated by a solemn dedication for the prophetic duties which still await him, St. John continues his sublime revelations. The Little Book is now read off, as it were, not into words, but into pictures. In order to receive this miniature volume from the angel, St. John has to leave heaven and descend to earth, a very significant fact. A rod is given him (c. xi.) to measure the temple and the altar and the faithful few who worship there, probably the 144,000 Jewish-Christian converts. The external buildings and the city itself are not included in the measurement; they are temporarily abandoned (for three years and a half) to pagan profanation. This is the period known in Christian eschatology as the time of the Gentiles (Luke xxi. 24). What now are we to conclude from the various representations in this chapter? It is perfectly evident that Jerusalem was not destroyed when the Apocalypse was written, and as evident that its author never anticipated its destruction. That the temple and the holy city here mentioned are not an allegorical temple and city may be shown almost to demonstration. The city during the period of its desecration is described as a second Sodom or Egypt, as the great city, no longer the holy city in which Christ was crucified. Afterwards we find it contrasted with Babylon, i.e., Rome, and chosen as the metropolis of the millennial saints. To measure this city, again, the prophet has to leave heaven and descend to earth; and as if to make the conclusion irresistible, “the temple of God in heaven,” v. 19, seems purposely contrasted with his temple on earth. Thus we have here a valuable chronological determination. For as the literal Jerusalem was not destroyed till the year A.D. 70, and as the literal Jerusalem is still standing in the Apocalypse, it is clear that the book must have been written before that year.
A word may here be said of the celestial topography of the Apocalypse. The scenical and architectural phenomena of the heavenly world have, as De Wette remarks, no regular plan, sequence, or position. Temple, altar, ark, and throne appear and disappear as the baseless fabrics of a dream. This imitation or reproduction of terrestrial objects,—a council, a Mount Sion,—is intelligible on the principle that these objects are copies of things in heaven, or to reverse the order, as in the “Ascension of Isaiah,” “As it is above so it is below, because a similitude of that which is in the firmament exists also on earth.” Certain it is that in other instances, if not in this, St. John shared largely in the traditionary faith and popular expectations of his time. One illustration of this occurs in the passage now before us, c. xi. The two witnesses, whose identification has so perplexed our Protestant commentators, are purely fictitious personages, who never did and never will exist, but whom St. John, in common, we suppose, with most of his countrymen, regarded as the necessary precursors and associates of the Messias. [John i. 25; Matt. xvii. 3] Attributing to these ideal men the wonder-working powers of Moses and Elijah, the founder and reformer of the Jewish theocracy, he assigned to them a determinate and characteristic function, in the imagined occupation of Jerusalem by the Gentiles, during the Danielic period of three and a half years. The most striking instance, however, of this sympathy with prevailing belief, is the acceptance of the wild saga of Nero’s posthumous existence, and anticipated return.
They depicted the Apocalypse as a wild poem, and a failed prophecy. They wrote:
An equally convincing proof of the unreality of the vision is the absolute failure of its principal prediction. It would not be easy to find language which should convey, as briefly, simply, and naturally, as that of the Apocalypse, the author’s expectation of the almost immediate arrival of the crucified Jesus to be the conqueror of the Pagan Empire of Rome, and the founder of the millennial kingdom. St. John, in common, we suppose, with all the Apostles, confidently anticipated the approaching advent of the Messiah. The non-fulfilment of the prediction shows the futility of the hope and demonstrates the fallibility of the prophet.
The authors asserted that the temple and cities mentioned in Rev. 11 are “not an allegorical temple and city,” and they described the two witnesses as “purely fictitious personages who never did and never will exist.” Their statement that the mention of the temple in heaven in vs. 19 makes the conclusion irresistible that the one in the first verse of the chapter was the one on the earth seems unfounded; the opposite makes more sense.
This Westminster Review article may well be a fulfilment of the prophecy in Rev. 11:10, “And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.”
The authors present an impious caricature of the Apocalypse. Their works, and many of a similar nature, are now distributed freely over the Internet, which I suggest, may be an example of the fulfilment of John’s prophecy about men sending “gifts” to one another.