The Temple that the Apostle John Mentions in Revelation Leaves Preterists Grasping At Straws

This post is based on a discussion I had with someone who finds the preterist approach to eschatology to be very intriguing.

What is Preterism?

Eschatology (from ἔσχατος meaning “last” and -logy meaning “study of”) is a part of theology concerned with what are believed to be the final events of history commonly referred to as the end of the world.

Christian eschatology is a major branch of study within Christian theology. Eschatology, from two Greek words meaning last (ἔσχατος, last) and study (λογία, lit. discourse), is the study of the end of things, whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, or the end of the world.  Broadly speaking, Christian eschatology is the study of the destiny of man as it is revealed in the Bible, which is the primary source for all Christian eschatology studies.

Preterism (from the Latin praeteritus, meaning “gone by”) is an approach which sees prophecy as being fulfilled in the past, especially (in the case of the Book of Revelation) during the first century. All prophecies, therefore, have already been fulfilled. Revelation, for example, is seen as referring to the struggle of Christianity to survive the persecutions of the Roman Empire.

It is important that I let my typical readers know right off the bat, that the terms “eschatology” and “preterism” are merely labels made up by Christendom, more or less. The four main approaches to eschatology within Christendom are preterism, historicism, futurism, and idealism – but there are many more. Much like how each denomination in Christendom, while not having the truth, teaches at least one thing that is right, likewise each of these models of eschatology probably get one thing right but miss the big picture overall. Of course, as Jehovah’s people, we have our own “eschatology”, as it were.

Preterism Denies the Traditional Dating of Revelation

Preterists believe that the book of Revelation was written just a few short years before 70 C.E., as opposed to the traditional dating of 96 C.E. While the debate on the date of it’s authorship has been going on for a long time, I maintain that ultimately does not matter whether John wrote Revelation in 68 C.E., or if he wrote it in 98 C.E.

The person sharing these preterist views with me provided a comment in a discussion forum that was more or less based on wording from the website, Models of Eschatology

“One of the Preterists main arguments [for an early date] is that the Temple was still standing at the time it [Revelation] was written, which would mean it had to be before 70 AD.

Nothing in the book of Revelation actually says the temple has already been destroyed [something John wouldn’t likely have left out] nor does anything say it will be rebuilt a third [future] time. Revelation simply refers to the temple as if it is still standing.

When John says in 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.”

It would make no sense to the first century readers unless the temple is still standing.

John A.T. Robinson has pointed out that the single most climactic event of this period of Jewish history is the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple and end of institutional Judaism. Based on the fact that the Temple [or its destruction] is never mentioned in any book of the New Testament, and therefore it [the temple] appears all of the N.T., this must have been written prior to that event.

For being such a main argument for the preterists, it is not a very strong one at all. Saying that “Nothing in the book of Revelation actually says the temple has already been destroyed” is a supposition, and assumes that God would have wanted to mention it. But would he really? After all, Jesus said that Jehovah God had abandoned the temple way back in 33 C.E., and the entire New Testament bears witness that the former system of worship had been replaced, and God was now dealing exclusively with the Christians.

Also, saying that the destruction of the temple is “something John wouldn’t likely have left out” is likewise merely hypothetical. If the temple were destroyed 25 years earlier, why would John have to mention it? The event would have been old news. Considering again that Jehovah had abandoned that old Judaic form of worship in 33 C.E. (Read Matthew 23:37, 38; Colossians 2:14) and replaced it with a new one, why speak of the what he turned his back on decades earlier instead of the new arrangement, his new people, and things to come for them? To speak of old things would not be much of a “revelation”, would it?

 

Christians Approach Jehovah at a Temple Even Greater than that in Jerusalem

Christians worshiped at a different temple now. Paul goes to great lengths in describing the new spiritual temple/tabernacle that now existed for Christians, which had been forshadowed by the earthly temple/tabernacle. Let’s first take a look at Paul’s description of this spiritual temple, and then afterwards take a look at John’s words to see if he is really talking about Herod’s temple in Jerusalem city, or if he is describing the same temple that Paul is here.

1) Hebrews 8:1,2 – There exists a heavenly temple arrangement.

“Now as to the things being discussed this is the main point: We have such a high priest as this, and he has sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a public servant of the holy place and of the true tent, which Jehovah put up, and not man.” (Hebrews 8:1, 2)

2) Hebrews 8:5 – The physical temple was a representation of the heavenly one.

“If, now, [Jesus] were upon earth, he would not be a priest {{because he was of the tribe of Judah, not Levi}}, there being men who offer the gifts according to the Law, but which men are rendering sacred service in a typical representation and a shadow of the heavenly things.” – Hebrews 8:4, 5

3) Hebrews 8:13 – The physical temple is about to vanish away.

“In his saying “a new covenant” he has made the former one obsolete. Now that which is made obsolete and growing old is near to vanishing away.” – Hebrews 8:13

4) Hebrews 9:9 – This heavenly temple is what concerns us now.

“Thus the holy spirit makes it plain that the way into the holy place had not yet been made manifest while the first tent was standing. This very tent is an illustration for the appointed time that is now here” – Hebrews 9:8,9

5) Hebrews 9:11 – Christ is our High Priest in this greater temple.

“However, when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come to pass, through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation,  he entered, no, not with the blood of goats and of young bulls, but with his own blood, once for all time into the holy place and obtained an everlasting deliverance for us.” – Hebrews 9:11,12

6) Hebrews 9:24 – Christ enters into the Most Holy in the heavens, and appears before Jehovah himself to present the value of his sacrifice.

For Christ entered, not into a holy place made with hands, which is a copy of the reality, but into heaven itself, now to appear before the person of God for us.” – Hebrews 9:24

7) Hebrews 10:1-3 – Literal sacrifices at the literal temple have been stopped as far as Christians are concerned.

“For since the Law has a shadow of the good things to come, but not the very substance of the things, men can never with the same sacrifices from year to year which they offer continually make those who approach perfect. Otherwise, would the sacrifices not have stopped being offered, because those rendering sacred service who had been cleansed once for all time would have no consciousness of sins anymore? To the contrary, by these sacrifices there is a reminding of sins from year to year, for it is not possible for the blood of bulls and of goats to take sins away.” – Hebrews 10:1-4 (compare this with point 5 above)

8 ) Hebrews 10:19-22 – Christians now worship at this heavenly temple exclusively. The house of God is no longer the temple in Jerusalem.

“Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness for the way of entry into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, which he inaugurated for us as a new and living way through the curtain, that is, his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with true hearts in the full assurance of faith.” – Hebrews 10:19-22

Hebrews was specifically written to Christians still living in Jerusalem at the time, many of whom no doubt still had a fondness for the physical temple (after all, they still had a fondness for circumcision, and other old things that they needed to give up). This was written to remind them that Jehovah had abandoned and replaced all that. This was going to be important to know and understand especially since the time for it’s destruction was drawing near.

 

The Temple that John Saw in Revelation? Which Temple Was It Really?

“John! Come on up here!” – Revelation 4:1

Now let’s forward to the book of Revelation. The common preterist argument is that “Revelation simply refers to the temple as if it is still standing, and it would make no sense to the first century readers unless the temple is still standing.”

What the preterist fails to understand is that the book of Revelation is not intended for a general readership. Rather, it is intended for Christians who know that the physical temple would be (or had been) destroyed, as Jesus already mentioned in Matthew 24, and the heavenly temple arrangement had taken it’s place (all those above references from the book of Hebrews we just went over) and this heavenly temple arrangement was now how Christians would approach Jehovah God – and not through the Judaic arrangement anymore.

But the real key to understanding is to actually examine the context, and not get hung up on the word “temple”. When we do, the revelation John saw opens up to us as well, and we might glean some of the following details:

John isn’t asked to measure the literal temple. He cannot, because he is on Patmos…

Revelation 1:9 “I John, your brother and a sharer with you in the tribulation and kingdom and endurance in company with Jesus, came to be in the isle that is called Pat′mos for speaking about God and bearing witness to Jesus.”

He says he is taken into the future and given visions (Rev. 1:1,10).

Revelation 1:1-10 “And he sent forth his angel and presented [it] in signs through him to his slave John… By inspiration I came to be in the Lord’s day”

Also, he is taken to heaven to see it (Rev. 4:1).

Revelation 4:1-11 “After these things I saw, and, look! an opened door in heaven, and the first voice that I heard was as of a trumpet, speaking with me, saying: “Come on up here, and I shall show you the things that must take place.” After these things I immediately came to be in [the power of the] spirit: and, look! a throne was in its position in heaven, and there is one seated upon the throne… [they] fall down before the One seated upon the throne and worship the One that lives forever and ever, …saying: “You are worthy, Jehovah, even our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power, because you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created.””

The details of what John sees is very very significant. He is taken up to heaven, and sees Jehovah sitting on his throne! Where is John then? Is he in Jerusalem’s temple? No! John is in the spiritual temple that Paul described in the book of Hebrews. Paul said that Jesus himself appeared here before Jehovah after returning to heaven, and that this spiritual temple is the reality, and that the physical temple had only been a mere copy of this grand arrangement.

Hebrews 9:24 “For Christ entered, not into a holy place made with hands, which is a copy of the reality, but into heaven itself, now to appear before the person of God for us.”

Corresponding to Paul’s words here, John next sees Christ next to Jehovah’s throne in this vision in chapter 5 – See Revelation 5:6-10

This also corresponds to the vision Stephen had just before he died.

Acts 7:55, 56 “But he, being full of holy spirit, gazed into heaven and caught sight of God’s glory and of Jesus standing at God’s right hand, and he said: “Look! I behold the heavens opened up and the Son of man standing at God’s right hand.””

So then, what can we confidently conclude? We can be certain that the temple that John is asked to measures is in heaven, not in Jerusalem. John himself actually makes this very clear when he mentions the “temple” in chapter 11. In fact, this is the verse that the preterists get hung up on and use to insist that John must have wrote the book of Revelation before the destruction of Herod’s temple in 70 C.E. But LOOK closer at what it actually says

Revelation 11:1 “And a reed like a rod was given me as he said: “Get up and measure the temple sanctuary of God and the altar and those worshiping in it.”

Where are we? Are we in Herod’s temple? No, we are still in the spiritual temple in the heavens. We know this because the altar mentioned here is before God and surrounded by angels…

Revelation 8:2, 3 “And I saw the seven angels that stand before God, and seven trumpets were given them. And another angel arrived and stood at the altar, having a golden incense vessel; and a large quantity of incense was given him to offer it with the prayers of all the holy ones upon the golden altar that was before the throne.”

But it is not like we have to piece together these clues as if we were putting together some puzzle, for John clearly states in the same chapter…

Revelation 11:19 “And the temple sanctuary of God that is in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen in his temple sanctuary.”

The point is, the context is very clear that this is not the temple physically located in Jerusalem. Much of this corresponds to what Paul wrote in Hebrews, that they had a greater High Priest (Jesus), and a greater temple (in heaven). This is the arrangement of true worship that Christians stream to since the former arrangement of worship and approach to God had been done away with – nearly 40 years before the temple in Jerusalem, the mere copy of the reality, would be destroyed.

“For Christ entered, not into a holy place made with hands, which is a copy of the reality, but into heaven itself, now to appear before the person of God for us.” – Hebrews 9:24

While I am completely open to an early date for the writing of Revelation and find the controversy surrounding the date of it’s authorship very intriguing, I ultimately think it does not matter at all. More importantly, the preterist position often mentioned concerning a “temple” being mentioned by John in his Revelation doesn’t hold much water, and in fact demonstrates that they are grasping at straws.

 

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2 Comments

  1. You could also have mentioned that the ark of the covenant had disappeared from the most holy of the temple in Jerusalem hundreds of years ago Jeremiah3:16,but point taken.

  2. Brother, very nice balanced presentation of the identification of the Temple in Revelation. One commentary work explains this point that you made. I conciser the study of the Temple and Tabernacle to be my favorite to research the implicated association with Jehovah’s eternal purpose and heavenly arrangement.

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