In a message dated 10/13/2006 3:10:33 AM Eastern Standard Time,
> "I have a brief paper on 1:7 from this perspective that I could post
> on revelation-list if anyone would like for me to."
> I would very much like you to post this paper. Thanks!
"EVEN THOSE WHO PIERCED HIM"
Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D.
Revelation is the most difficult book to interpret in all of Scripture.
And it becomes even more difficult when would-be exegetes overlook its stated
theme. Anytime we endeavor to understand a work, we must seek to do so on the
basis of the original author's theme. This is especially true when the author
states his theme — as the Apostle John does in Revelation.
As with the temporal indicators provided in Revelation 1:1 and 3, John
places his thematic statement early in his prophecy. In fact, it appears in his
seventh verse (in our modern versions):
"Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even
those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.
Even so. Amen" (Rev. 1:7).
The initial impression this verse leaves on us today is the conviction
that John is speaking of the Second Advent. It certainly does involve language
quite applicable to the future, glorious, history-ending Second Coming of
Christ. The Scriptures speak often of his Second Coming, and even with this sort of
cloud-coming judgment language (cp. Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thess. 4:16-17; 2 Thess.
1:7-10). And the historic, universal Christian Church has always affirmed that
Yet looks are deceiving. Despite this reasonable first impression, strong
evidence compels us to interpret Revelation 1:7 differently. I believe this
verse presents us with a judgment prophecy against first century Jerusalem,
whose destruction occurs in AD 70. John's theme looks to the approaching
devastation of the Temple and Jerusalem under the Roman generals Vespasian and Titus.
In that this interpretation of John's theme is not immediately obvious and is
quite unfamiliar to most modern Christians, I will need to defend it in some
Several compelling reasons move us away from a Second Advent
interpretation to an AD 70 one. I will prsent eight lines of evidence supporting a first
The Preceding Context of the Theme
Perhaps the leading interpretive principle for understanding any document
can be summarized in three words: "Context. Context. Context." Before we
arrive at Revelation 1:7 upon opening John's book, we must pass through verses 1
and 3. These two verses emphatically declare that the events expected in
Revelation "must shortly take place" (Rev. 1:1) because "the time is near" (Rev.
We must carefully note that not only does John declare the events of his
book near, but in those nearness declarations he relates his purpose, applying
it to his first century audience. Revelation 1:1 informs the original
recipients that he is writing about "the things which must shortly take place" (Rev.
1:1). One would think that if he is writing about "the things which must
shortly take place" this would involve his very theme. It would be strikingly odd
if John were to declare temporal nearness for the very purpose of his writing,
then give a theme which reached thousands of years beyond his day. After all,
does not he declare the nearness of "the time" as reason why his first century
readers must read, hear, and "heed the things which are written in it" (Rev.
1:3)? Why would he urge their heeding the things written, if his thematic
purpose lies untold centuries in the future?
So then, just four verses before John states the theme of Revelation, he
declares the events near and applies them to us original audience.
The Following Context of the Theme
Not only does John introduce his theme in a way demanding its fast
approaching fulfillment, but just two verses after stating it he applies it to the
grueling circumstances of his original readers: "I, John, your brother and
fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in
Jesus, was on the island called Patmos, because of the word of God and the
testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 1:9).
John is ministering to a persecuted minority: God's concern with those
suffering for the faith in the first century is a major, recurring theme running
throughout Revelation (Rev. 2:9-10; 3:9-10; 6:9-12; 13:5-7; 14:13; 20:4).
Surely he is not telling these persecuted saints that the time is near, that they
must heed that which he is writing, that God is concerned with theirr
persecution — but he will avenge his people thousands of years in the future?
Revelation 1:7 must apply to the first century circumstances.
The Apocalyptic Language in the Prophecy
John frames his thematic statement in apocalyptic imagery by speaking of
Christ "coming with the clouds" (Rev. 1:7). And though this sounds like the
Second Advent, and though that glorious event will be literally "with the
clouds," we find this type of language can be used symbolically of divine historical
judgments other than the Second Coming. Anyone reading Revelation quickly
recognizes that he is in a work with strange imagery. And that imagery must often
be understood symbolically. I believe such is true here in our theme verse as
well. Let us note just two examples of apocalyptic imagery used of historical
In Isaiah 19 we find a warning to Old Testament Egypt. In that prophecy
God threatens judgment upon that ancient nation, a judgment which transpires
when the Assyrian king Esarhaddon conquered Egypt in 671 B.C. Yet notice the
language Isaiah employs: "The oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the Lord is riding
on a swift cloud, and is about to come to Egypt; the idols of Egypt will
tremble at His presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them"
(Isa. 19:1). Clearly the prophecy applies to Egypt. And just as clearly it claims
the Lord "is about to come" to Egypt. Yet no interpreter believes the
Egyptians saw God Almighty sitting on a cloud and descending among them in judgment.
In Matthew 26 the Lord Jesus himself uses this language in speaking of
his judgment against Israel in AD 70:
"And the high priest stood up and said to Him, 'Do You make no
answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?' But Jesus kept
silent. And the high priest said to Him, 'I adjure You by the living God, that You
tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.' Jesus said to him, 'You
have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son
of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of
Verse 64 is similar to Revelation 1:7: "you shall see the Son of Man sitting
at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." And note that
he is speaking to the high priest and those gathered around him: "you shall
see." This must refer to the AD 70 judgment, which is prophesied in several
places by Christ (see particularly Matt. 21:33-34; 22:1-7; 24:1-34), and which
would be witnessed by many of those who stood against Christ on that day.
So then, Revelation 1:7 can be applied to the historical judgment
befalling Israel in AD 70. Nothing in Scripture prohibits such an apocalyptic
rendering. As the evidence mounts, we will be driven to that very conclusion.
The Lord's Prior Teaching on the Subject
In the preceding evidence I mentioned as an aside that Christ himself
employs apocalyptic judgment-coming language when referring to the approaching
destruction of the Temple. Let us look a little more closely at this phenomenon
as we unpack the meaning of Revelation 1:7.
In Matthew 21:33-48 Jesus presents the Parable of the Vineyard Owner. In
that parable we have a picture of God's loving blessings upon Israel over the
centuries (21:33-34). But God's providential care of Israel is portrayed
against the backdrop of her stubborn disobedience leading her to kill the prophets
whom God sent to her (21:35-36). Finally God sends his very son, only to have
Israel kill him (21:37-40). Based on this parable Jesus asks the religious
leaders of Israel: "Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he
do to those vine-growers?" (21:40).
Israel's leaders unwittingly respond to his query: "They said to Him, 'He
will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard
to other vine-growers, who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons'"
(21:41). He shocks them by catching them in their own words: "Therefore I say to
you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation
producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to
pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust" (21:43-44).
They then understand his point: "And when the chief priests and the Pharisees
heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them" (21:45).
This parable and its consequent discussion look to the AD 70 destruction
of the Temple, speaking of the AD 70 judgment as a "coming" of the Lord: "when
the owner of the vineyard comes" (21:40). In the following context another
parable speaks more literally: "But the king was enraged and sent his armies,
and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire" (Matt. 22:7).
Clearly then, Revelation 1:7 can at least theoretically be applied to AD
70. And given its contextual setting (and other matters I will rehearse
below), this is the preferred understanding of John's theme.
The Specific Cause of the Judgment
Having established the context and the possibilities, we must now focus
on the express wording of Revelation 1:7. John applies the prophecy
particularly against "those who pierced him": "Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and
every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the
earth will mourn over Him. Even so. Amen" (Rev. 1:7). This provides a clue for
the proper interpretation of the theme which is as overlooked as the clues
regarding John's temporal expectations.
We are all aware that the Roman soldiers were the direct, physical
instruments of Christ's crucifixion. The Bible, however, strongly and repeatedly
emphasizes Israel's covenantal responsibility for the whole terrible event. I
will list several verses that point directly to Israel as the cause of Christ's
crucifixion (in a later chapter we will see how relevant this is to the message
"And all the people answered and said, 'His blood be on us and on our
children!'" (Matt. 27:25).
"They therefore cried out, 'Away with Him, away with Him, crucify
Him!' Pilate said to them, 'Shall I crucify your King?' The chief priests
answered, 'We have no king but Caesar'" (John 19:15).
"This Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge
of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death"
"The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by
hanging Him on a cross" (Acts 5:30).
See also: Acts 7:52; 10:39; 13:13-15; 1 Thess. 2:14-16.
The unrelenting testimony of the New Testament blames Israel for Christ's
death. She is covenantally responsible; she should have known better (Matt.
23:37; John 1:11). So then, Revelation 1:7 promises judgment upon "those who
pierced him," which demands that that judgment fall in the first century while
"those who pierced him" were still alive — especially given the near-term
temporal indicators in the very context of this statement (Rev. 1, 3). The events
of AD 70 present us with a most perfect, relevant, and compelling fit.
The Ultimate Focus of the Judgment
But there is more! Revelation 1:7 also states that: "all the tribes of
the earth will mourn over him." Who are these "tribes of the earth"? And why do
The reader must understand that the Greek word translated "earth" (ge)
can also be translated "land." In fact, it often refers to "the land of Israel,"
i.e., "the Promised Land." In a number of places in the New Testament this
word speaks either of the Promised Land as a whole, or some portion of it. In
those places we find it in such phrases as "the land of Judah" (Matt. 2:6), "the
land of Judea" (John 3:22), "the land of Israel" (Matt. 2:20, 21), "the land
of Zebulun" (Matt. 4:15), "the land of Naphtali" (Matt. 4:15), and "the land
of the Jews" (Acts 10:39). Thus, upon purely lexical considerations, the term
can be understood as designating the Promised Land.
When we note that this "land" contains "tribes," we move even closer to
the proper interpretation. The Greek word for "tribe" is phule, which in
Scripture most frequently refers to the Jewish tribes. The New Testament often names
particular "tribes" of Israel: Asher (Luke 2:36); Benjamin (Act 13:21; Rom
11:1; Phil 3:5); Judah (Rev. 5:5; Heb 7:14). The "tribes" found their home in
Palestine; these are "the tribes of the land" Revelation 1:7 mentions. John's
reference to the "tribe of Judah" in Revelation 5:5 clearly points to the
tribal division among racial Jews. The term "tribe" obviously has that racial
import in Revelation 7:4-8 (where it is used of each of the specifically named
Twelve Tribes) and in Revelation 21:12 (where John refers to "the twelve tribes of
the children of Israel").
As a matter or fact, literal translations of the Scripture lean in this
"Lo, he doth come with the clouds, and see him shall every eye, even
those who did pierce him, and wail because of him shall all the tribes of the
land. Yes! Amen!"
"Behold he comes with the clouds, and will see him every eye and
[those] who him pierced, and will wail over him all the tribes of the land. Yes,
This not only fits nicely with the near-term temporal indicators, but
also Jesus' warnings of impending judgment upon Israel. Notice three examples
from Luke (in addition to the parables mentioned previously in Matthew):
"And when He approached, He saw the city and wept over it, saying,
'If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But
now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you when
your enemies will throw up a bank before you, and surround you, and hem you in
on every side, and will level you to the ground and your children within you,
and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not
recognize the time of your visitation'" (Luke 19:41-44).
See also: Luke 21:20-22 and 23:28-31.
The evidence for an AD 70 meaning of Revelation 1:7 is becoming
insurmountable. John's theme in Revelation is Israel's judgment for rejecting the Lord
The Particular Parallel in the Gospels
Interestingly, Revelation 1:7 finds a remarkable parallel in the Lord's
teaching in the Olivet Discourse. Observe the similarities between Revelation
1:7 and Matthew 24:30, noting particularly the italicized words:
"Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all
the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming
on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory." (Matt. 24:30)
"Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him,
even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.
Even so. Amen." (Rev. 1:7)
Both of these verses are unique in Scripture in merging portions of
Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10. John draws the "coming on the clouds" imagery from
Daniel, and the "mourning of the tribes" from Zechariah. No other passage in
Scripture merges these two verses.
Furthermore, both of the prophetic discourses in which we find these
verses speak of "the great tribulation" (Matt. 24:21 and Rev. 7:14). And most
commentators note the parallel between Matthew 24:6-11 and the first four seals in
Revelation 6:1-8. And both prophecies are associated somehow with the Temple
of God (Matt. 24:1-3, 15 and Rev. 11:1-2). In fact, we should note that Luke's
version of the Lord's teaching appears to be the source of John's language in
Revelation 11 (note especially the italicized portions):
"They will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive
into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles
until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." (Luke 21:24)
"And leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not
measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot
the holy city for forty-two months." (Rev. 11:2)
Interestingly, John's Gospel lacks the Olivet Discourse which is found in the
other three Gospels — perhaps because John covers the same material in
another work, Revelation.
Now remarkably for our purposes, both prophecies also expressly focus on
near-term events. I show above that John insists his Revelation prophecies
"must shortly come to pass" (Rev. 1:1; 22:6) "for the time is near" (Rev. 1:3;
22:10). In Matthew, the Olivet Discourse opens with Christ's denouncing the
Temple (Matt. 23:38) and the disciples pointing out the current Temple's beauty
(Matt. 24:1). Jesus responds to their wonder by stating: "Do you not see all
these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another,
which will not be torn down" (Matt. 24:2), to which the disciples reply: "Tell
us, when will these things be?" (Matt. 24:3). After providing them with
precursory signs, he finally answers their question: "Truly I say to you, this
generation will not pass away until all these things take place" (Matt. 24:34),
which happens to match very nicely with John's assertion that these things "must
shortly take place." And we know from history that that very Temple was
destroyed in AD 70, just forty years after Jesus spoke.
Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.M., Th.D.
"Serious Studies for Serious Christians"
Revelation Commentary Project
If you would like to give toward funding my research on
Revelation please go to <A HREF="www.KennethGentry.Com">KennethGentry.Com</A> then click
on "Revelation Commentary Project."
Gentry, Covenantal Theonomy: A Response to T. David
Gordon and Klinean Covenantalism (241 pp; paperback)
Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology
(reprint of Second Edition) (600+ pp; paperback)
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