Every time American Vision posts an article on eschatology or sends out an email promoting a prophecy product, we get quite a few emails from people who get upset with us, actually with me. The email advertisement promoting John Bray’s Matthew 24 Fulfilled was no exception. I got the usual rants:
“You’re ignorant when it comes to the topic of Bible prophecy . . . God’s timing is not our timing . . . There are multiple fulfillments . . . You must be an idiot to claim that prophecy is not being fulfilled right before our eyes . . . ‘This generation’ does not mean the generation of Jesus’ day; in fact it means anything but that.”
I’m used to it. I’m only bothered by these types of comments because the emailers generally can only see things one way as if their way has been the only way for thousands of years. Too much is riding on their prophetic theology for them to consider any other view, even if it has been thoroughly studied, analyzed, and debated “over, under, sideways, down, backwards, forwards, square and round.”(1) Many Christians are so focused on just a few elements of the Bible that they can’t see anything else. Consider this brainteaser to help illustrate the point:
I’ll wager that I can come to your house or apartment, remove every piece of furniture from a room of your choosing, place a book on the floor, and you won’t be able to jump over it.
Most people can’t figure out how this would be possible because they are focused on the book and the floor. But a room is made up of more things than a floor. There are walls, and there are corners to the walls. If I put the book on the floor up against the wall in a corner of the room, you won’t be able to jump over it unless you’re the size of Tom Thumb. There is more to Bible prophecy than “signs.” Context and time indicators must also be taken into account. But so many Christians have been focusing on signs (floors) that they have missed the structure that gives true meaning to the signs, context, audience, and time indicators (walls and corners).
Then there’s the “you’ve heard it said” problem. Over the years, we accumulate information on a topic without ever checking out to see if the information is accurate. One emailer challenged me on when Revelation was written. Typically, he argued for an A.D. 95 date, that Revelation was written during the reign of Titus Flavius Domitianus, commonly known as Domitian, who served as Roman Emperor from AD 81 to 96. I pointed out that this was impossible since John was told to measure the temple (Rev. 11:1–2). Since the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, there wouldn’t have been a temple to measure in A.D. 95. He wrote back that Ezekiel had been told to measure a future temple that to this day has not been built. So if Ezekiel could measure a future temple, then John could as well. As we’ll see below, Ezekiel did not measure the visionary temple in Ezekiel 40. He also claimed that the dating issue had been settled by second-century apologist Irenaeus. I won’t spend time going over extra-biblical evidence for the dating of Revelation. There is more than enough information available on the subject (see Kenneth L. Gentry’s Before Jerusalem Fell. Ken will be discussing this issue at American Vision’s National Prophecy Conference, June 1-4, 2011.) You might want to take a look at my chapter “Irenaeus and the Dating of Revelation” in my book (co-authored with Frank Gumerlock) The Early Church and the End of the World.
The most significant problem that modern-day prophetic speculators have is that there is no temple in Jerusalem, something Matthew 24:2 requires for any part of the Olivet Discourse and the book of Revelation to be fulfilled. In addition, according to dispensationalism, no prophecies this side of the “rapture” can be taking place. I realize that dispensational writers don’t pay attention to these built-in restrictions. If they did, they couldn’t sell very many prophecy books. I’ve discussed this problem at length in my book 10 Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered.
Let’s take a look at the claim that the Bible teaches that a temple must be built again in Jerusalem. Third-temple advocates try to muster support for their position by referencing Revelation 11:1–2. They begin by assuming that Revelation was written nearly three decades after the temple was destroyed.(2) From this unproven assumption, they conclude that John must be measuring a rebuilt temple that still hasn’t been built. The passage says nothing about a rebuilt temple. The words “shortly” and “near” (Rev. 1:1, 3; 22:10) are used to describe the time when the events outlined in Revelation were to take place.
The fact that John is told to “rise and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and those who are worshipping in it” (11:1), is prima facie evidence that the temple was still standing when John received the revelation. “Worshipping” is in the present tense; it’s what the people were doing as John measured the temple. How could John have measured a temple that did not exist in his day? Ice and Price insist the temple that John is told to measure is the literal temple, not a “spiritual temple.” “For example, in Matthew 24 Jesus is speaking about a literal Temple, since in the context of the passage he is standing and looking directly at the second Temple.”(3) Following Ice and Price’s argument, how could the temple John was told to measure be a literal temple if it hadn’t been built yet? On the contrary, John was told to measure the literal Temple that still had worshipers in it, the same temple that Jesus stood in and Titus destroyed in A.D. 70. There is no indication that Revelation 11 is describing a future rebuilt temple. Here’s how Ice tries to explain away what Revelation 11:1–2 clearly states about the temple:
[I]t must be remembered that in the Book of Revelation John is receiving a vision about future things. He is transported in some way to that future time in order to view events as they will unfold. The word “saw” is used 49 times in 46 verses in Revelation because John is witnessing future events through a vision. It does not matter at all whether the Temple is thought to be standing in Jerusalem at the time that John sees the vision since that would not have any bearing upon a vision. John is told by an angel to “measure the temple” (Rev. 11:1). Measure what Temple? He is to measure the Temple in the vision. Even if there were a temple still standing in Jerusalem, John was on the Island of Patmos and would not have been allowed to go and measure that Temple. Ezekiel, during a similar vision of a Temple (Ezek. 40–43) was told to measure that Temple. When Ezekiel saw and was told to measure a Temple there was not one standing in Jerusalem (Preterists agree). Thus, there is no compulsion whatsoever to conclude that just because a temple is referenced in Revelation 11 that it implies that there had to be a physical Temple standing in Jerusalem at the same time.(4)
Let’s deal with the obvious mistake in Ice’s analysis. Ezekiel was not told to measure the temple. Ezekiel saw “a man whose appearance was like the appearance of bronze . . . who measured the thickness of the wall” (Ezek. 40:3, 5). Ezekiel sees this man doing the measuring. Ezekiel is a bystander. Being a visionary temple, Ezekiel did not have access to it because it existed only in a vision, and there is no indication that it was ever designed to be built.(5)
Mark Hitchcock makes the same mistake when he writes, “Ezekiel, like John, is told to measure the Temple he sees in his vision. The words ‘measure’ and ‘measured’ occur 44 times in Ezekiel 40–48. Ezekiel is measuring a temple that must be future to his day because no temple is standing on earth in Jerusalem for him to measure.”(6) Like Ice, Hitchcock fails to note who is really doing the measuring. So then, since John is doing the measuring in Revelation 11, unlike Ezekiel who was with a man who measured the temple “in the visions of God” (Ezek. 40:2), we can only conclude that the temple was still standing in Jerusalem when John was given the Revelation by Jesus.
The temple John is told to measure is a functioning temple with worshippers and an altar (Rev. 11:1). John saw the temple in a vision, but it was a vision of the temple that was still standing in Jerusalem in his day. The historical circumstances fit a pre-A.D. 70 Jerusalem that still would have been described as “the great city” (11:8), the place where “their Lord was crucified” (11:8), and was occupied by a foreign power (Rome) at the time (11:2). Henry Cowles (1803–1881), in his commentary on Revelation, offers the following argument:
[H]ere is one of the landmarks of our prophetic interpretation. We know that the temple, altar and holy city were standing at the time of this vision; we know they were on the very eve of their desolation; we know therefore that this desolation—so “shortly” after these visions were seen and recorded—can not possibly be any other than that effected by the Roman armies in A. D. 70.(7))
E. Earle Ellis writes that “the present existence of the Jerusalem temple (11:1) and its future desolation (11:2) are fairly strong indicators of a pre-AD 70 date for Revelation.”(8) In order for a post-A.D. 70 composition and futurist interpretation of Revelation to work, a rebuilt temple must be assumed, but it cannot be proved by anyone who claims to interpret the Bible in a literal fashion. There is not a single verse in the New Testament that says anything about a rebuilt temple, something that even dispensationalists acknowledge. Here’s what temple rebuilding advocates Tommy Ice and Randall Price admit: “There are no Bible verses that say, ‘There is going to be a third temple.’”(9)
So the next time you want to take issue with someone on a debatable matter, make sure you consider the walls and corners of room and not just the floor.Endnotes:
- From “Over Under Sideways Down” by the Yardbirds (1966).(↩)
- For a defense of a pre-A.D. 70 date of composition for Revelation, see Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation, 2nd ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1999); The Beast of Revelation (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision); Gary DeMar and Francis X. Gumerlock, The Early Church and the End of the World (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2006).(↩)
- Ice and Price, Ready to Rebuild, 200.(↩)
- Thomas Ice, “The Date of the Book of Revelation.” Some commentators believe the use of temple language in Revelation 11:1–2 “is a symbol of the true church that worships the triune God” (Simon J. Kistemaker, Revelation: New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001], 324). The geographical context is the city where Jesus was crucified (11:8). This is a significant clue that the physical temple is in view. Mark Wilson writes: “Historically, the only group eligible to worship at the temple in Jerusalem were Jewish believers, and these are numbered earlier as part of the 144,000 (Rev. 7:4–8).” (Mark W. Wilson, “Revelation,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Hebrews to Revelation, ed. Clinton E. Arnold, 4 vols. [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002], 4:311).(↩)
- Ezekiel is told that the altar will be built: “These are the statutes for the altar on the day it is built, to offer burnt offerings on it and to sprinkle blood on it” (Ezek. 43:18). We know that a new temple and altar were built, animals sacrificed, and Levitical priests attended to their priestly duties after the exile (Neh. 11:11).(↩)
- Mark Hitchcock, “The Stake in the Heart—The A.D. 95 Date of Revelation,” The End Times Controversy: The Second Coming Under Attack, eds. Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2003), 140.(↩)
- Henry Cowles, The Revelation of John (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1887.(↩)
- E. Earle Ellis, The Making of the New Testament Documents (Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, Inc., 2002), 214.(↩)
- Thomas Ice and Randall Price, Ready to Rebuild: The Imminent Plan to Rebuild the Last Days Temple (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1992), 197–198.(↩)