Sunday, November 8, 2009

Revelation 11:1-2, The Tribulation of Jerusalem

"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 [or Gentiles], and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months."

These two verses are key both to the time of the composition of the Revelation and for the meaning of the forty-two months.

The command to measure the Temple, altar, and worshipers necessarily requires that the Temple still be standing, and the Temple ceremonies still be celebrated. That places the writing of the Revelation before 70AD, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, and the ceremonies ceased, even to our modern day.

The "forty-two months" refer John's readers back to the prophecies of Daniel, such as 7:25, which told of the attack on Jerusalem and the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes, the Seleucid emperor of Syria, in 168BC. That desecration lasted three and a half years, 1260 days, forty-two months, until the success of the Maccabean revolt in 164 (these events are described in the first four chapters of the apocryphal Book of First Maccabees). Not that John was saying that the Roman attack would be limited to the same time frame, but rather that he was creating a parallel between the two events. As his prophecy continued, he also created a contrast: while the Jews drove out Antiochus Epiphanes and his Greeks, they would not overcome the conquest by the Romans.

John uses numbers in this way, such as his frequent uses of sevens, twelves, twenty-fours, and thousands. He mentions forty-two months here; "time, times, and half a time," i.e., three and a half years, in 12:14; and the equivalent 1260 days in 12:6. Our Gentile culture is disconnected from the Maccabean history, but the predominantly-Jewish Christians of the First Century would be well-aware of what happened only 200 years earlier, and which were (and are) celebrated each year in the Hanukkah holiday.

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