Jewish Roots Evidence for a Futurist Interpretation of the Book of Revelation

Introduction

I am a believer in the concept of biblical patterns and double or even multiple fulfillments of prophecy. The destruction of the Temple on the 9th of Av, 586 BC and again on the 9th of Av, AD 70 evidence the pattern-like nature of God’s dealings.

Still, prophecies usually have one “more literal” fulfillment (e.g., Isaiah 7:14). So it is possible to examine a verse, see how it was fulfilled somewhat near to the prophecy, but then see a fuller fulfillment in the future. Thus the Book of Revelation can have several fulfillments, one that is past, one that is ideological and not tied to particular dates, and one that is somewhat more literal, sequential, and tied to the End Times. Thus the “Futurist” approach to Revelation is not necessarily mutually exclusive, but is, I believe, primary.

Does Jewish literature leave us an example, a clue for interpreting Revelation 4-19 in particular? Although many of us tie this period to Daniel’s 70th seven (Daniel 9:25ff), others see it otherwise. So what evidence is there—outside of the Bible proper—that suggests understanding Revelation 4-19 as an expansion and detailed account of the coming seven-year world tribulation? Glad you asked.

2 Baruch is part of the pseudepigrapha, meaning it is a “falsely named” Jewish religious work; it was probably written shortly before Jesus was born. The authorship is ascribed to Jeremiah’s secretary, Baruch, which is why the document is falsely named. It was certainly not written by Baurch, but over five centuries after his time.

This passage—while not a source of doctrine—demonstrates what some Pharisees believed about the End Times shortly before Jesus’ first coming. Although Jewish imagination is involved in this equation, we must remember that the initial ideas (a time of tribulation, for example) are grounded in Old Testament texts. These verses—and the idea that information about the Tribulation and Earthly Kingdom needed to be expanded upon—may prefigure Revelation, which does just that. The difference, of course, is that Revelation is inspired and dependable. Still, Revelation’s teachings are continuations of Old Testament themes; this is to be expected, for the same God is Lord of both Testaments.

Note these similarities to Revelation: a terrible tribulation with all sorts of disasters, the ideal Millennial Kingdom, and then judgment day (Great White Throne). Also note a well-defined viewpoint on perdition (in Revelation, expanded to include the Lake of Fire). The text follows.

The text from 2 Baruch

(2 Baruch 26:1-30:5)

26:1 And I answered and said: “Will that tribulation which is to be continue a long time, and will that necessity embrace many years?”

27:1 And He answered and said unto me: “Into twelve parts is that time divided, and each one of them is reserved for that which is appointed for it. 2 In the first part there shall be the beginning of commotions. 3 And in the second part (there shall be) slayings of the great ones. 4 And in the third part the fall of many by death. 5 And in the fourth part the sending of the sword. 6 And in the fifth part famine and the withholding of rain. 7 And in the sixth part earthquakes and terrors. 8 [Wanting.] 9 And in the eighth part a multitude of specters and attacks of the Shedim [demons]. 10 And in the ninth part the fall of fire. 11 And in the tenth part rapine [violent seizures of property] and much oppression. 12 And in the eleventh part wickedness and unchastity. 13 And in the twelfth part confusion from the mingling together of all those things aforesaid. 14 For these parts of that time are reserved, and shall be mingled one with another and minister one to another. 15 For some shall leave out some of their own, and receive (in its stead) from others, and some complete their own and that of others, so that those may not understand who are upon the earth in those days that this is the consummation of the times.

28:1 Nevertheless, whoever understands shall then be wise. 2 For the measure and reckoning of that time are two parts a week of seven weeks.” 3 And I answered and said: “It is good for a man to come and behold, but it is better that he should not come lest he fall. 4 [But I will say this also: 5 Will he who is incorruptible despise those things which are corruptible, and whatever befalls in the case of those things which are corruptible, so that he might look only to those things which are not corruptible?] 6 But if; O Lord, those things shall assuredly come to pass which you have foretold to me, so do you show this also unto me if indeed I have found grace in Your sight. 7 Is it in one place or in one of the parts of the earth that those things are come to pass, or will the whole earth experience (them) ?”

29:1 And He answered and said unto me: “Whatever will then befall (will befall) the whole earth; therefore all who live will experience (them). 2 For at that time I will protect only those who are found in those self-same days in this land. 3 And it shall come to pass when all is accomplished that was to come to pass in those parts, that the Messiah shall then begin to be revealed. 4 And Behemoth shall be revealed from his place and Leviathan shall ascend from the sea, those two great monsters which I created on the fifth day of creation, and shall have kept until that time; and then they shall be for food for all that are left. 5 The earth also shall yield its fruit ten-thousand-fold and on each (?) vine there shall be a thousand branches, and each branch shall produce a thousand clusters, and each cluster produce a thousand grapes, and each grape produce a cor of wine. 6 And those who have hungered shall rejoice: moreover, also, they shall behold marvels every day. 7 For winds shall go forth from before Me to bring every morning the fragrance of aromatic fruits, and at the close of the day clouds distilling the dew of health. 8 And it shall come to pass at that self-same time that the treasury of manna shall again descend from on high, and they will eat of it in those years, because these are they who have come to the consummation of time.

30:1 And it shall come to pass after these things, when the time of the advent of the Messiah is fulfilled, that He shall return in glory. 2 Then all who have fallen asleep in hope of Him shall rise again. And it shall come to pass at that time that the treasuries will be opened in which is preserved the number of the souls of the righteous, and they shall come forth, and a multitude of souls shall be seen together in one assemblage of one thought, and the first shall rejoice and the last shall not be grieved. 3 For they know that the time has come of which it is said, that it is the consummation of the times. 4 But the souls of the wicked, when they behold all these things, shall then waste away the more. 5 For they shall know that their torment has come and their perdition has arrived.” [Source: http://www.pseudepigrapha.com]

Conclusion

The Jewish culture is the background for the New Testament, and writings like 2 Baruch could easily have primed the early Messianic community to understand Revelation in the Futurist sense, with Revelation 4-19 being a more detailed prophetic account of that period. Such an idea is not merely a New Testament innovation.

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Bob Hayton's picture

The quote from Baruch leads to other thoughts. I'm not sure exactly how it necessarily predisposes people to futurism, since even the preterist view of Revelation was futurist at one point in time.

I think the quotation is a good illustration of apocalyptic genre, so the world of the Israel of John's time, with the apocalyptic genre firmly entrenched, should influence our understanding of Revelation. The passage quoted is highly symbolic in many respects, although it is clearly talking about a judgment and a time of peace and resurrection and of course retribution.

Also, I see no reference to a thousand year reign, just a period of Messianic peace.

 

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

James K's picture

Bob, let me remind you that in Rev 20, the 1000 years refers to the duration of Satan's imprisonment.  John also tells us that during this time Christ is reigning.  The kingdom of Christ is not limited to 1000 years.

Apocalyptic genre of jewish thought should not influence us.  John pulls from the prophets if one takes the time to study it out.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Bob, by Futurist, I mean the idea that the 70th Week of Daniel (or the time immediately preceding Jesus' return to reign) is expanded upon.  I am using the term "Futurist" as we now live and breathe.

I agree that the Old Testament nowhere  suggests the earthly Kingdom lasts 1,000 years.  That is a New Testament addition.  The Rabbis often debated how long the Kingdom on earth would last; some did indeed believe in 1,000 years; others had other periods of time (even 2,000).  My point is that there is a context to make what we call the Futurist Interpretation a natural one.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Ed Vasicek's picture

James K wrote:

Bob, let me remind you that in Rev 20, the 1000 years refers to the duration of Satan's imprisonment.  John also tells us that during this time Christ is reigning.  The kingdom of Christ is not limited to 1000 years.

Apocalyptic genre of jewish thought should not influence us.  John pulls from the prophets if one takes the time to study it out.

 

The two truths (1,000 years and  not limited) are NOT mutually exclusive.  God has always been sovereign over the universe, but his rule is expressed in different ways in different times.

 

As far as Jewish thought at the time of Jesus, it is not an infallible guide by any means. But it sets a context.  It is more reasonable, when interpreting Scripture, to look at the context when Scripture was written as  a consideration. Context is king, and increasing the context can be helpful.

"The Midrash Detective"

James K's picture

While there is some truth to that Ed, too many today are ever seeking the true context of the situation and trying to make that interpret Scripture.  It is strange really.  Sola Scriptura actually has been substituted for Sola Scripture and Cultura.  See Bob's preterism.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Bob Hayton's picture

James K,

I am not saying I'm a preterist. I'm not necessarily one.  I'm just saying that Ed's quote doesn't really prove anything about futurism, since even taking a preterist view would have been a "future" standpoint for the author of Baruch (written before Christ).  The messages Baruch speaks of related to the future (from his vantage point), are couched in apocalyptic terms - the same we find in Revelation. The jury is out on whether this apocalyptic, end-of-the-world type language (which is sometimes used in Hebrew prophecy for situations that are not end-of-the-world as we think of it) refers to the end of all things or is apocalyptic language for judgment.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

James K's picture

Bob, John drew extensively upon the prophets.  Depending on who you believe, you will find at least 200 and as many as 1100 illusions to the OT and even prior NT passages.  The Jewish apocalyptic literature were fanciful modifications of the prophets.  There is no reason to believe John pulled anything from those people.  Further, that style of literature should not influence ones understanding of Revelation.

It is bizarre.  You reformed types usually try to argue that all the OT is types and shadows with the NT being the fullness.  Though true in one sense, wouldn't that mean that the language of the OT insufficiently described judgment?  I mean, you guys actually go backward on that.  Your ilk would have people believe that the language of cataclysmic disaster in the OT is more severe than NT reality.  So no, your claims are baseless with regards to apocalyptic literature.  It is simply an excuse to be lazy and not do the hard work of exegesis regarding the prophetic events.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Bob Hayton's picture

James,

This will be my last post here. You non-reformed types love to just resort to name-calling and insinuation.

  It is simply an excuse to be lazy and not do the hard work of exegesis regarding the prophetic events.

Really? Come on, you can do better than that.

Read G.K. Beale's work on Revelation and tell me who's lazy and not doing the hard work of exegesis. It is precisely the OT background to Revelation that influences me to view it more symbolically.

For more on this, see my recent post: On Approaching Revelation Literally.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

James K's picture

So funny you mention him.  I was thinking of Beale when I wrote it.  I recently taught through Revelation and looked at his work the entire step of the way.  He is committed to covenantism up front and therefore has to of necessity turn Revelation into this hyper reductionistic ideal of good over evil.  All the time frames just refer to the church age.  42 months; time, times, and half a time; 1260 days; and 1000 years.  Nothing is more convincing than an argument that says 3.5 years = 1000 years.

"It is precisely the OT background to Revelation that influences me to view it more symbolically."

Surely you can do better.  Again, you guys can't keep it straight.  The OT would lead to a literal view so you have to argue the NT somehow gives the deeper meaning.  You are trying to say that the OT now would lead to symbolism? Well I suppose you conclude that based on the pattern of NT prophetic fulfillment.  Let me see.

1. Virgin born Messiah = symbolic for... no that was literal.

2. Born in Bethlehem = symbolic for... no that was literal.

3. Born in the line of David = symbolic for... no that was literal.

Yep.  I understand now.

By the way, no one name called unless you take "reformed" as pejorative.

 

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

James K's picture

One more point regarding your take on symbolism in Revelation.  Tell me one person, even some whack, that doesn't recognize Revelation as containing and using symbolism to communicate truth.  The difference is in what you do with those symbols.  Do they really represent something or are they just more general language that ultimately doesn't say anything and John wrote to confuse?

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Guys, I appreciate the intensity of your beliefs.  You are both intelligent men and men of integrity.

My point early on is that Revelation MAY have more than one meaning, just as many prophecies do (a near at hand less literal, more distant more literal).  It is possible to interpret Revelation as both applying to the early church, to the struggle between kingdoms of darkness and light over the centuries, and a somewhat more literal interpretation for the end times

Seems to me a lot of either/or interpreting approaches out there, when the pattern tends to be both/and.  The literal tabernacle and its spiritual applications are BOTH true.  Prophecy is just a mirror image. The less literal (spiritual) comes first, the more literal later.

Anyhow, let me say when I say "futurist," I know all of Revelation of future from Baruch's time.  The term "futurist" refers to interpreting Rev. 4-19 as events that occur immediately before the time of Jesus' return to earth.  Don't get stuck on the word.  Otherwise you are in trouble with terms like firstborn (which doesn't always mean born first) or elder (which does not always mean elderly).

 

"The Midrash Detective"

AndrewSuttles's picture

...nothing gets the blood pressure up like a discussion about eschatology.  :>

 

James, you have some good points, but you need to temper those with Christian charity and love.  I don't think any conscientious scholar would think Gregory Beale to be lazy.  

 

Regarding years and prophetic days, do you interpret the 70 weeks in Daniel 9 to be literal?

 

Daniel 9:24 - "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy."

 

I don't know much about Beale, but I don't think the folks you are opposing (Amils, etc) advocate the kind of idealism you accuse them of.

Shaynus's picture

Ed, 

Thanks for this post. My own (and Ron Bean) church's men's group is going through Daniel and we just hit chapter 7. The debates have raged whether the final of the four kingdoms was the Roman empire or something later. I'm thinking both. This whole double fulfillment thing seems pretty common throughout prophetic history. If you have time, I'd love to hear any insights on Daniel in future posts.

 

Thanks,

 

Shayne

Bob Hayton's picture

Ed,

I do want to thank you for your gracious spirit. I'm with you on the double fulfillment possibility, definitely.

I'm going to bow out of the discussion at this point.

Thanks again,

Bob

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Thank you Bob.  Feel free to jump back if you so desire.

Andrew and Shaynus,  thanks for your questions.  Here are a few thoughts based upon my observations as I have tried to note the patterns in Scripture.

The Bible is written in Hebrew logic which is different from our (Greek/Western) logic.  The more we can comprehend this and break free from the constraints of Greek logic, the better.  Our faith is a middle eastern faith, not a European faith (even though Europe was Christianity's stronghold for centuries).  Wish we could grapple with that more.

In Hebrew logic, for example, you can have two opposing ideas; godly wisdom determines which to apply to a given situation.  Proverbs 26:4-5 are the classic example:

Answer not a fool according to his folly,lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.

Then you have gaps -- putting a prophecy on hold -- followed by resuming the prophecy, as per Daniel 9 with Daniel's 70 weeks.  This can be expected, however, with a God who is not bound by time and in no hurry. We see the same thing in Isaiah 9:6-7 and Isaiah 61:1-3 which is partly quoted by Jesus in the synagogue, the first part of which refers to his second coming (Luke 4:16-20).  Interestingly, he "closed the book" at that point (Luke 4:20), perhaps reminding us of Daniel 12;4

But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.

The idea of such a sealing is that the words are not at hand, in contrast to Revelation 22:10.

Daniel 2 and 7--and the last kingdom, is an example of such a gap.  The idea of iron legs and feet that are iron and mixed with clay could (and I believe is) be such a case.  Note that this is the kingdom immediately present before Jesus returns.  The incorporation of all these animal beasts of Daniel 7 in Revelation 13 & 17 as "the beast" might suggest that the antichrist's empire includes not only Europe, but the combination of all these empires under one ruler.

The Servant Songs of Isaiah (chapters 42-53) are probably an ideal example of switches in identity.  Is the servant Cyrus, Israel, or the Messiah?  The answer, very often, is "yes!"  Messiah is presented as a servant who suffers for Israel and distinct from the nation, but the nation is also the servant. A number of NT passages are probably midrashim of the Servant Songs. Isaiah 53 is obviously the clearest example.  We see the same concept in Revelation, where the beast is both the individual we call the antichrist and the empire, both, just as Jesus is the Messiah and Israel both in the Servant Songs (Isaiah 44:1-2, Isaiah 45:1, Isaiah 53:11).

For my paper on double fulfillment, follow this link please. 

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Richard Pajak's picture

Greetings James,

I don't quite understand what you mean when you say John drew extensively from the prophets.

As I understand it John wrote down the visions given to him. The fact that they may have similarities I  don't understand to mean that he literally drew upon his knowledge of what the prophets had written in order to write Revelation.

I have this same tussle with our house group leader. 

You seem to be implying that John purposely looked up what the prophets said in order to write the book of Revelation.

Do I understand correctly? Apologies if I have misunderstood.

Richard Pajak

Ed Vasicek's picture

I am answering your question raised to James with my opinion.  Hope you don't mind me butting in.

I would say that God himself drew on the Old Testament prophets in Revelation, not that he needed direction.  You are right to assert that John wrote down what he saw and heard. The point is that even God uses Midrash, a fascinating thought if correct. A pre-planned Midrash, I might add.

If God inspires Paul to use Midrash, for example, God would logically do the same.  Neither Paul nor God had to use to Midrash, but it appears they (and others)  did.

 

By the way, I would suggest that Midrash and Progressive Revelation are friends.  Sometimes progressive revelation begins with a text or teaching that is referred to and then expanded upon or added to.  This is very close to the idea of Midrash.  So Revelaiton's expansions about Zechariah or Daniel, for example, would, in a sense, be Midrash, IMO, if it takes us back to the earlier texts.

"The Midrash Detective"

James K's picture

Richard, there is no question that John would have been much more familiar with the Old Testament than most of us are today.  What we lack at times in the prophets is the order of events and explanation of the visions.  John gave us the order of events and explanation of the visions.

For example, you have the 4 horsemen, the beast made up of the same 4 empires of Daniel 7, the time, times, and half a time, the day of the Lord, the defeat of the beast by the Messiah's coming, just to name a few all taken directly from the prophets.  This also allows us to go back to the prophets and sort out their visions with a definite timeline and understanding.

John didn't make it up if that is what you are thinking I meant.  God moved John to write it.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

James K's picture

By the way, two more points regarding Revelation:

1. I do not think those like Beale are lazy in the sense that they don't work hard.  They do.  In fact, I firmly believe they work harder than premills like me do.  I have to work hard to explain what the Bible says.  Beale and his ilk have to work hard to explain away what the Bible says and then replace it with fantasy.

2. The faithless, the nonpremills, have opted for a plan B theology.  God wasn't able to actually keep His word, so He has to try with a new people.  Well, that is what they say.  More fantasy.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

DrJamesAch's picture

James K wrote:

Richard, there is no question that John would have been much more familiar with the Old Testament than most of us are today.  What we lack at times in the prophets is the order of events and explanation of the visions.  John gave us the order of events and explanation of the visions.

For example, you have the 4 horsemen, the beast made up of the same 4 empires of Daniel 7, the time, times, and half a time, the day of the Lord, the defeat of the beast by the Messiah's coming, just to name a few all taken directly from the prophets.  This also allows us to go back to the prophets and sort out their visions with a definite timeline and understanding.

John didn't make it up if that is what you are thinking I meant.  God moved John to write it.

Although you said in response to another thread we discussed about the Pope, that you are not a preterist, you do seem to hold to the same idea that partial preterists have in that you appear to claim that Revelation is merely a recapitulation of Daniel. But then again, there's a lack of cohesiveness in your writing and your explanations are not very clear as to what your position is (as others have even noticed and asked for clarifications).

The major problem with your theory of recapitulation is that John was told to write the things he sees, the things which ARE and the things that shall be HEREAFTER, not write the things which WERE (Rev 1:19). It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, not the revelation of Daniel. Rev 1:1

For John to merely have borrowed from all of the OT prophets instead of the Revelation having prophecies that are expounding on an OT concept, and being new revelation, but which were not made known in the OT, would be to disobey the command to write of what was future.

Without even offering several reasons why your comparisons are faulty with regard to the 4 horsemen, times times and a half time [there are TWO divisions of 3.5 years in Revelation], the simple fact that Daniel 9:25 mentions the decree of Ezra which was a known historical event proves that the prophecies in Daniel are not merely restated by John in Revelation.

But, you don't make clear whether you think John draws exclusively from the prophets, or extensively from the prophets as you have made the argument for both. And then your arguments become convoluted by adding non sequitur issues, creating your own caricature of what others believe and then criticizing that caricature. (For example, the "Now I see it" moment you gave above with three examples of what you assumed someone believed, and then criticized them for believing it.)

And it doesn't help that you attempt to mix up prophecies that have been mostly fulfilled (Daniels description of the 4 empires) with those that have not (The 4 Horsemen, of which the first in Rev 6:2 is definitely not the first empire in Daniels vision). You incorporate several different conflicting theological positions in your comments which is likely why so many have a difficult time trying to understand just exactly where you are coming from.

 

 

Dr James Ach

What Kills You Makes You Stronger Rom 8:13; 7:24-25

Do Right Christians, and Calvinisms Other Side

James K's picture

DrJames, your post is so confusing about what you think I am saying, that I will try to just sum up to help you out.

1. I am a futurist.  The overwhelming majority of content in Revelation is still future.

2. There is nothing I am saying that is even remotely close to preterism of any kind.

3. Much of Revelation is the order of events of prophecies previously given, but not yet fulfilled.  I gave examples.  4 horsemen are in Zechariah, the beast of Rev 13 is made up of the beasts of Daniel 7 (your own misinterpretation causes you to miss this fact), the day of the Lord is not unique to Rev.

4. None of this hurts the command for John to write what he sees.

5. You do not take the time to actually want to understand, you appear to simply disagree because I don't write within your category of thinking.  This causes you to think that I am going back and forth.  I remember when I had the same categories as you.  Frankly, I am glad those days are over.  I don't have to gloss over contradictions.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Ed Vasicek's picture

James K wrote:

DrJames, your post is so confusing about what you think I am saying, that I will try to just sum up to help you out.

1. I am a futurist.  The overwhelming majority of content in Revelation is still future.

2. There is nothing I am saying that is even remotely close to preterism of any kind.

3. Much of Revelation is the order of events of prophecies previously given, but not yet fulfilled.  I gave examples.  4 horsemen are in Zechariah, the beast of Rev 13 is made up of the beasts of Daniel 7 (your own misinterpretation causes you to miss this fact), the day of the Lord is not unique to Rev.

4. None of this hurts the command for John to write what he sees.

5. You do not take the time to actually want to understand, you appear to simply disagree because I don't write within your category of thinking.  This causes you to think that I am going back and forth.  I remember when I had the same categories as you.  Frankly, I am glad those days are over.  I don't have to gloss over contradictions.

 

James, I obviously agree with you and your viewpoints on this matter.  I would add that it is GOD who is brining back the truths and imagery of Zechariah and Daniel, not John.  John is more passive in writing Revelation than any other author in the New Testament.

"The Midrash Detective"

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