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Amillennialist Simon Kistemaker -V- Full Preterist Michael Sullivan: Debating the Date of Revelation

House Divided Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology A Preterist Response to When Shall These Things Be?

Chapter 5 – Carrot and Stick Eschatology

Dating the Book of Revelation

Michael J. Sullivan

Copyright 2009 and 2013 – All rights reserved.  No part of this  book (or article) may be reproduced in any form without permission  in writing from the publisher or author of this chapter/article (Vision Publishing  or Michael J. Sullivan), except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical  articles or reviews.  

Dr. Simon Kistemaker’s chapter in WSTTB is entitled “Hyper-Preterism and Revelation.” Most of his chapter is dedicated to nullify-ing preterist proof texts and offering futurist proof texts in the book of Revelation. Many of his arguments are addressed elsewhere in this book, and in Kenneth Gentry’s books The Beast of Revelation and Before Jerusalem Fell. I will respond here primarily to the remainder of Kistemaker’s arguments.

On page 236, Kistemaker goes directly to the heart of his eschatology when he makes a statement that sounds startling—even blasphemous—when one first reads it.   He says that the “imminent” return of Jesus is a “repeated,” emphatic, and “solemn promise of Jesus. . . . But two millennia have passed since Jesus’ promise, and it has not yet been fulfilled” (cf. WSTTB, 246).

Does Kistemaker portray God as failing to fulfill His promise? No (at least not knowingly). Does he portray God as failing to fulfill His “predictions,” as per Dr. Pratt? No. Instead, Kistemaker mysticizes the eschatological time-statements of Scripture. He removes the New Testament concept of eschatological imminence from the realm of Christians and puts it up in heaven in the secret mind or perspective of God (248)—as though God gave His promises to Himself instead of to believers. This is the mechanism that Kistemaker and many other futurists employ to keep futurism from making Jesus, the Apostles, and the writers of the New Testament liars.

In Kistemaker’s scheme of interpretation, when God said repeatedly, emphatically, and solemnly, and in multiple books and in various contexts, that Christ’s Parousia was “near” and “at hand” and was “about to” take place “soon,” before all of Christ’s “generation” would “taste of death,” these and other expressions of imminence meant merely that the Parousia would take place sometime. That is to say, in Kistemaker’s scheme, the divine and “solemn promise” of the “imminent” return of Christ could theoretically remain unfulfilled even after a thousand googolplexes of aeons have come and gone. We could literally be waiting for a zillion, gazillion years for the “promised” “imminent” return of Christ.

To put it another way, in Kistemaker’s view, every expression of eschatological imminence in the New Testament is utterly and absolutely meaningless. If they were all replaced with the phrase “sometime before the twelfth of never,” they would, for all practical purposes, mean the exact same thing that Kistemaker makes them mean—which is nothing.

Kistemaker attempts to support his doctrine of non-imminent imminence using the word kairos (“time”). His argument is difficult to follow in terms of reason and Scripture. It is as follows:

When the word kairos is used in eschatological contexts (e.g., “the time [kairos] is near”), “its extent is not measured chronologically in terms of years or centuries, but rather is given as an ideal. . . ” (238). Kairos in eschatological contexts is to be interpreted “figuratively,” “symbolically,” and “in terms of principle” (238). Also, says Kistemaker, the word kairos “consistently develops the motif of God-ordained phases relating to the end of time” (237). According to Kistemaker, this use of kairos is to be applied to all eschatological statements of imminence— even to eschatological time-statements that do not have the word kairos in their context. Thus all eschatological expressions of imminence are not to be taken literally. They are instead somehow “ideals” that “point to the end of time.”

We need not spend much time refuting Kistemaker’s perplexing argument as to the meaning of the word kairos, as it is void of exegetical, lexical, and logical support. Even if we agree that kairos refers to a “special time” in symbolic/figurative terms of principle (237–239), how does that definition of kairos change the meaning of “shortly” in Revelation 1:1; 22:6? How does it indicate that “near” and “soon” and “at hand” refer to a time that will take place at “the end of time”? How does it change over a hundred expressions of eschatological imminence scattered throughout the New Testament?[1] The answer to all of these questions is: It doesn’t.

The word kairos simply means “time”—either a point of time or a period of time. That’s what the word means. It’s not complicated. Kistemaker himself inadvertently admits that this is the definition of kairos: “When John writes that the time for judgment has come, he is . . . referring to . . . the moment [point of time] that God has established for judging the wicked” (244). We need no mind-blowing profundities to translate the word kairos, or any of the eschatological terms of imminence in the New Testament. As Kistemaker’s editor writes:

John writes a number of times in Revelation that his prophecy will be fulfilled very soon: see 1:1, 3, 19; 2:16; 3:10–11; 22:6–7, 10, 12, 20. Nothing in these verses indicates that the coming of Christ referred to in 1:7 is to occur thousands of years later. Everything in them points to an impending “coming.”[2]

In contrast to the clarity of Mathison inPostmillennialism, Kistemaker says on page 237 that Jesus’ promise that the time was “near” points to “the end of time and thus alert[s] the hearers and readers of Revelation to prepare themselves for the consummation.” Aside from the fact that this statement is a non sequitur (A reference to the end of time alerts hearers in the first century to prepare themselves?), God gave no hint to His listeners and readers that the imminence in His repeated and solemn promises actually referred to “the end of time” thousands or millions of years later.

This is a cruel “hope deferred” that Kistemaker teaches (Prov. 13:12). He unwittingly portrays God as deceiving generation after generation of believers into believing that the end of the world is “imminent” and tricking them into preparing for it. Kistemaker has God using “bait and switch” to motivate His people. He has God using “carrot and stick” to keep them an inch away from their reward for thousands or even millions of years. Kistemaker’s theory of eschatological “time” is not only arbitrary and illogical, it is hurtful to the body and it must be rejected.

On pages 242–245, Kistemaker uses another baffling argument to defend his “end of time” doctrine. He says that because John used a “cyclical methodology” (i.e., a resumptive literary structure) to teach the doctrine of judgment throughout the book of Revelation, it therefore follows that the book of Revelation “points the reader to the end of time.” How this follows though remains a complete mystery.

On pages 247–248, Kistemaker augments his confounding reasoning when he says the following: David prophesied the coming of Christ in Psalms 22, 40, and 110; and Isaiah foretold His birth; and Micah predicted His birthplace; and Malachi closed the Old Testament canon with the announcement of His coming. “Yet more than four and a half centuries had to pass before Jesus began his ministry.” Kistemaker concludes: “Thus, the concept of ‘soon’ must be understood not from a human point of view, but from God’s perspective” (248). What does this mean? Since none of the prophecies cited suggest Messianic imminence, it is impossible to follow the logic of Kistemaker’s argument.

In contrast to Kistemaker’s arguments, the biblical reality is clear and reasonable. The terms “soon,” “near,” “at hand,” etc. say what they mean and they mean what they say, and nothing in their contexts tells us anything to the contrary. The only thing that changes their meaning is the interpretive controlling a priori that Kistemaker and others have imposed on the Scriptures.

Revelation 11

Kistemaker spends a substantial portion of his chapter interpreting Revelation 11:2:

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.

Kistemaker says that according to this verse, the new covenant church on Earth (“the holy city”) is destined by God to be trampled underfoot for the entire church age (“forty-two months”) while “Satan and his henchmen” “rule the world” and “have full sway on the face of this earth” until the end of time (238, 249).

One does not need to be a “hyper-preterist” to see a problem here. Kistemaker’s interpretation of Revelation 11:2 is what happens when we mysticize the time statements of the New Testament so that the imminence that saturates it is not really “imminence” at all. We take an obvious historic-prophetic reference to the trampling of Jerusalem that culminated in its destruction in AD 70 and turn it into a trans-historical “ideal” of defeat for the church (cf. Rev. 13:5–7) throughout the entirety of world history until the end of time. Again we see Kistemaker’s doctrine being cruel news for the people of God.

Let us compare Revelation 11:2b with Luke 21:24 (which was fulfilled in AD 70):

[A]nd they [“the nations”] will trample under foot the holy city for forty-two months. (Rev. 11:2b)

. . . Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the nations until the times of the nations [“forty-two months”] be fulfilled. (Lk. 21:24)

In both of these verses, the nations trample Jerusalem for a period of time. There is more than similarity of language here. Jesus and John prophesied the same event —an event that was “near” and that took place in Christ’s “generation” (Lk. 21:32; Rev. 1:3; 22:10). Therefore, “forty-two months” does not signify 2,000+ years. It signifies some months or years between AD 66 and 70, the years of the war that ended in the destruction of the city and the sanctuary. That was the same period of time that the angel called “a time, times, and half a time” in Daniel 12:7 and which was consummated when the power of the Old Testament “holy people” was shattered in AD 70.

Kistemaker moves on to Revelation 11:8. He says that “the great city” (“Babylon”) in that verse was “not the earthly city of Jerusalem,” even though the verse specifically states that “the great city” was “where also their Lord was crucified.”

One of the reasons Kistemaker rejects earthly Jerusalem as being “the great city” is that, according to Kistemaker, “God’s enemies inhabit the great city, which cannot be one particular place, but ‘the worldwide structure of unbelief and defiance against God’” (226). But this argument can be quickly dismissed, because there is no indication that all unbelievers lived in “the great city.” When the city fell in chapter eighteen, the kings of the earth who had committed adultery with her stood from afar and mourned over her (Rev. 18:9–10).

The historical referent is clear enough in that the “great city” is “where also their Lord was crucified” (Rev. 11:8). “It is Jerusalem that is guilty of the blood of the old covenant witnesses; she is, par excellence, the killer of prophets (Matt. 21:33–43; 23:34–38). In fact, Jesus said, ‘it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem’ (Luke 13:33).”[3] Compare Revelation 18:24 with Matthew 23:35.

Kistemaker also argues that “the holy city” in Revelation 11:2 cannot be Old Testament Jerusalem because that city was no longer holy after the veil was ripped in two in about AD 30. In this argument, Kistemaker is implying that the holy covenant that was established with terrible and blazing fire, an earthquake, darkness, gloom, fear, trembling, whirlwind, and the staggering blast of a trumpet (Heb. 12:18–21) came to a final end in God’s sight with the tearing of the veil (which was later sewn back together). And therefore earthly Jerusalem ceased to be holy at that time.

In contrast to this futurist myth, the author of Hebrews taught that the covenant that began with momentous signs was going to end with momentous signs in the near future:

And His voice shook the earth then [at Mount Sinai], but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” And this expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things [the old covenant world], in order that those things which cannot be shaken [the kingdom of Christ] may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:26–29)

The old covenant did not vanish when Christ died on the Cross (Heb. 8:13). Therefore Jerusalem was still holy after Christ died because it was still the covenant city of God, even though it was being “shaken” and was being nullified (2 Cor. 3:7, 11–12) through the age-changing power of the Cross. It was still the holy city of God even though it had become “Babylon,” “Sodom,” and “Egypt” because of its sins.

To the holy-yet-hardened Jewish nation belonged “the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises” (Rom. 3:2; 9:4). Those blessings were all still intact even after the Jews murdered the Lord and persecuted His church (1 Thess. 2:15). The unbelieving Jewish nation was still in the kingdom of God after the death and resurrection of Christ; but its days were numbered. It was soon to be cast out of the kingdom in the Parousia of Christ in the consummation of the ages (Matt. 8:12; 13:41; Gal. 4:21–31).

The tearing of the veil was a sign of the coming judgment upon that generation and its temple and world. The biblical record is clear that the old covenant law remained in force for the Jews, both believing and nonbelieving, even after the Cross, until “heaven and earth” passed away in AD 70 (Heb. 8:13; 2 Cor. 3:7–18; Matt. 5:17–19; Acts 21:20–26; 24:17).

Finally, Kistemaker feels he has a valid objection in the fact that “the great city” was called “Egypt” (Rev. 11:8), while old covenant Jerusalem/ Israel was never described in Scripture as “Egypt” (226–227). But as David Chilton eloquently observed, this is to miss the forest for the trees: Commentators are generally unable to find Bible references comparing Israel (or Jerusalem) to Egypt, but this is the old problem of not being able to see the forest for the trees. For the proof is contained in the whole message of the New Testament. Jesus is constantly regarded as the new Moses (Acts 3:20–23; Heb. 3–4), the new Israel (Matt. 2:15), the new Temple (John 1:14; 2:19–21), and in fact a living recapitulation / transcendence of the entire history of the Exodus (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1–4).[4]

The Seven Letters

Kistemaker argues that the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation reveal that they were written after AD 70. He first argues that because the letters mention “an abandonment of first love, practices of the Nicolaitans, persecution, martyrdom, the teachings of Balaam, toleration of sexual immorality, the learning of Satan’s deep secrets, and being rich in worldly wealth,” this shows that the people in the seven churches were “second-generation Christians” who had not merely recently heard the gospel (232).

These are tired arguments that have been lazily repeated by latedate advocates for many years. The implication is that the above conditions did not exist in those churches before AD 70. Yet we know that apostasy (Heb. 6:4–6), persecution (Gal. 4:29), martyrdom (Rom. 8:36), toleration of sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5:1–2), and unrighteously “wealthy” Christians (1 Cor. 4:8) all existed in the church before AD 70. There was also no shortage of heresies, as most of the New Testament epistles amply attest.

Kistemaker argues that “nothing in Acts or Paul’s epistles relates to the conditions prevalent in the church of Ephesus when John wrote the epistle that Jesus dictated. Backsliding and degenerating faith had set in at Ephesus . . . ” (232).

Kistemaker makes it appear in this argument that John’s letter in the book of Revelation depicted a church at Ephesus that was characterized by backsliding and degenerating faith, while Paul’s epistles depicted a church at Ephesus characterized by endurance and faithfulness.

In reality, in the book of Revelation, Jesus praised the church in Ephesus for its many strong attributes, such as its “deeds,” its “toil and perseverance,” its intolerance of “evil men,” its exposing of false apostles, its perseverance and tireless endurance, and its hatred of the deeds of the “Nicolaitans” (Rev. 2:2–3, 6). The Lord’s one rebuke of the church was that it had left its “first love” (Rev. 2:4–5). There is nothing in the New Testament that indicates that the church at Ephesus was not in the condition that Jesus described in Revelation 2:4 by the late 60’s.

Kistemaker’s next argument: Paul opposed Judaizers who had infiltrated the churches, but in the seven letters the enemies of the churches included the Nicolaitans, followers of Balaam, and followers of Jezebel. The atmosphere in the seven letters is different. “Not the narrowness of Judaism, but the wild immorality and worldliness of heathenism is now striving to gain the upper hand; and the Christian has to overcome, not Judaism, but the world in its widest sense” (232–233).

Kistemaker assumes that the Nicolaitans and the followers of “Balaam” and of “Jezebel” were non-Jewish heathens. There is no reason for this assumption. The Jewishness of the enemies in at least three of the seven churches is apparent. There were false “apostles” in Ephesus (Rev. 2:2), and in Smyrna and in Philadelphia there were false “Jews,” i.e., unbelieving Jews who blasphemed the church by insinuating that believers were not the true Jews (Rev. 2:9; 3:9).

Also, the whole church before AD 70 was overcoming not merely “the narrowness of Judaism,” but also “the world in its widest sense.” The gospel did go to the Pagan world, did it not? (Acts 17:16-31; 1 Cor. 1:18-31; 1 Jn. 2:16-17; 4:4; 5:4-5)

Kistemaker’s next argument: “The church at Philadelphia was given a new name (Rev. 3:12), which is an oblique reference to changing the name of Philadelphia to Flavia in honor of the Emperor Vespasian, who ruled from 69 to 79 . . . ” (233).

Kistemaker apparently did not read the text carefully. Jesus did not rename the church at Philadelphia. What Jesus said was, “He who overcomes, . . . I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name” (Rev. 3:12). This of course had nothing whatsoever to do with the name of the city of Philadelphia.

Kistemaker’s next argument: “The church at Sardis is described as having a reputation of being alive, but Jesus says they are dead (Rev. 3:1). Evidently, considerable time had elapsed for the Christians in Sardis to lose their reputation of being spiritually alive” (233).

Answer: As Kistemaker unwittingly admits in his own argument, the church at Sardis had not lost its reputation for being alive. Its reputation was intact. Jesus said that despite its reputation, it was actually dead. So there was no need for any time to elapse, because the Christians in Sardis still had their reputation for being alive.

Kistemaker’s next argument: “ . . . [A]ccording to the seven letters to the churches in Asia, John was well acquainted with the spiritual status of each one of them. This seems hardly possible if John was there but briefly” (233–234).

Answer: According to the seven letters to the churches in Asia, Jesus (not John) was well acquainted with the spiritual status of each one of them.

As Kistemaker himself said, “John wrote the epistle that Jesus dictated” (232).

Kistemaker’s last argument regarding the seven letters: “Polycarp informs us that when Paul composed his letter to the Philippians in 62, the knowledge of Christ had not yet come to Smyrna” (234). This would mean that the church at Smyrna would have been virtually brand new when the book of Revelation was written sometime in the 60’s. Here is what Polycarp actually said:

But I have not found any such [sin] in you [the church at Philippi], neither have heard thereof, among whom the blessed Paul labored, who were his letters [cf., 2 Cor. 3:2] in the beginning. For he boasteth of you [the church at Philippi] in all those churches which alone at that time knew God; for we [at Smyrna] knew Him not as yet. (Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, 11.3, Lightfoot translation)

All that can be inferred from Polycarp’s statement above is that the gospel reached Smyrna sometime after it reached Philippi. The gospel reached Philippi in about AD 50 (Acts 16). Then after that, Paul spread the word about the faith of the Philippians. Then after that, the gospel reached Smyrna. So the church at Smyrna could theoretically have been founded as early as about AD 52.

Additionally, Smyrna was (and is) a coastal city that was about a two-day walk from Ephesus. Paul brought the gospel to Ephesus in about AD 50. It is simply not believable that no one had come to Smyrna with the gospel before the year 62.

Irenaeus and Hegesippus

On page 236, Kistemaker quotes F. J. A. Hort as saying, “If external evidence alone could decide, there would be a clear preponderance for [a post-70 date of the book of Revelation].” However, as Kistemaker himself demonstrates, this is hardly a factual statement. Two pages earlier, Kistemaker admits that the external evidence “is found in only a few documents” (234). And as it turns out, even that statement is an exaggeration, because the only pieces of evidence that Kistemaker cites are one document and two alleged fragments of a lost document.

The document that Kistemaker cites is Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, in which Irenaeus says:

. . . [I]f it were necessary that [the Antichrist’s] name should be distinctly revealed in this present time [c. 180], it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our generation, towards the end of Domitian’s reign [c. AD 96].[5]

As Kistemaker concedes, it is not altogether clear from the context if Irenaeus was saying that “the apocalyptic vision” was seen in about AD 96, or if Irenaeus was saying that John (“him who beheld the apocalyptic vision”) was seen in about AD 96. Either interpretation is grammatically possible.

Kistemaker presents two arguments for interpreting Irenaeus as saying that “the apocalyptic vision” was seen in about AD 96. His first argument is that “the quoted passage comes toward the end of a lengthy discussion of the Apocalypse, not of its author, and that suggests that John’s vision ‘was seen’” (235).

This argument might have been significant if not for the fact that it is not factual. Irenaeus’ argument comes toward the end of a lengthy discussion of the future judgment, the errors of the Gnostics, and the Antichrist/Beast.[6] Irenaeus was not discussing the book of Revelation when he said “that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.” He was specifically discussing the non-necessity of knowing the Antichrist’s name.

Kistemaker’s second argument is that if it was John who was seen toward the end of Domitian’s reign, then we would expect Irenaeus “to explain why John had not been seen until the latter years of Domitian” (235). This argument seems to have been made with rhetorical effect in mind rather than reason. If Irenaeus was speaking of John being “seen,” there is no reason to interpret Irenaeus as saying that John had been unseen or hidden before that time. If he was speaking of John, then Irenaeus was simply reiterating what he said in 5.30.1, where he spoke of “those men who saw John face to face.” There is no awkwardness in interpreting Irenaeus as saying that John, at least as a public figure, was last seen toward the end of Domitian’s reign.

Additionally, in that same section (5:30:1), Irenaeus makes reference to “all the most approved and ancient copies” of the book of Revelation:

Such, then, being the state of the case, and this number [of the Beast] being found in all the most approved and ancient copies [of the book of Revelation], and those men who saw John face to face bearing their testimony to it . . . .

Does it make sense that Irenaeus would refer to “ancient copies” of the book of Revelation, and then state that John saw the vision “no very long time since, but almost in our day”? Note that Irenaeus does not merely say that the book of Revelation itself was “ancient” in his day. He says that the “copies” of the book of Revelation were ancient in his day. This implies that the copies were made before the end of Domitian’s reign, which Irenaeus says took place not long ago. Here is a paraphrase of what Irenaeus said:

John lived many years after he wrote the Apocalypse. It wasn’t long ago that he was last seen alive —almost in our own generation. John himself would have revealed the name of the Antichrist if it was necessary for us that it be revealed in our day.

The only other piece of external evidence that Kistemaker cites for the late date are two alleged quotes from Hegesippus (c. AD 170) in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (c. AD 324). These two alleged quotes relate how Domitian (AD 81–96) exiled John to the Island of Patmos (3.18.1 and 3.20.10–11).

Kistemaker did not mention that it is uncertain that the two sections from Eusebius he cited are truly quotes from Hegesippus. Kistemaker’s source for his claim is Hugh Jackson Lawlor’s book Eusebiana: Essays on the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea. Lawlor admits that it is a “disputed question” whether or not the two sections from Eusebius are really fragments from Hegesippus.   Lawlor also admits that the two sections “have not been generally recognized as [Hegesippus’] by modern scholars” (Eusebiana, 96).

Furthermore, Lawlor admits that another ancient fragment,[7] this one quoting Papias (c. AD 100), contains the statement that John (with his brother James) was martyred by Jews (Ibid., 96)—which implies that the martyrdom of John, and therefore the writing of the book of Revelation, took place before AD 70. Lawlor adds, “And the testimony of Papias has great weight” (96).

In contrast to Kistemaker’s shaky evidence for the late date of the book of Revelation, his co-author Kenneth Gentry has demonstrated that there is instead a firm and clear preponderance for the early date. He cites many and diverse pieces of ancient documentary evidence. Among them is Clement of Alexandria (AD 150–215), who said the teaching of the apostles (including John) “ends with Nero” (AD 54–68).[8] I welcome the reader to read Gentry’s book Before Jerusalem Fell for an effective refutation of Kistemaker’s theories regarding the late date of the book of Revelation.

Honey, I Shrunk the Angels

Kistemaker argues that Jesus’ physical resurrection body is eternal and that it now literally “sits on God’s throne” (240). Kistemaker attempts to prove this claim by using Revelation 1:13–16. He points out that in this passage Jesus is described as wearing a robe that reaches down to his feet, and as having a golden sash around his chest, and a head with white hair, and blazing eyes, and feet as bronze, and a mouth, and a human voice, and a right hand, and a face as radiant as the sun (240, 252).

Kistemaker interprets the book of Revelation in a highly symbolic manner, even more symbolically than “hyper-preterists” interpret it at times. Yet he is woodenly literal in the above passage. But more to the point, he neglects to mention that the above passage also says that Jesus was holding “the angels of the seven churches” (the “seven stars”) in his (supposedly literal) hand (Rev. 1:16, 20). Kistemaker does not explain why those seven angels were reduced in size so that they could fit in Jesus’ physical hand. (Nor does Kistemaker tell us how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.)

Kistemaker also does not mention that Jesus is depicted here as having a sharp two-edged sword coming out of His supposedly literal mouth (Rev. 2:16), and that in Revelation 19:11, He is depicted as riding on a horse in the sky, and that in Revelation 19:12 He has “many crowns” on His head, and that in Revelation 19:13 He is wearing a bloody robe.

To make matters worse, note the contradiction between Kistemaker in WSTTB, and Kistemaker in his New Testament Commentary on Revelation:

Kistemaker, WSTTB: “Jesus’ appearance to John at Patmos was not spiritual, but physical, for John saw his head, face, mouth, eyes, hair, chest, right hand, and feet ([Rev.] 1:13–16) (252)

Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: “[Rev. 1:16] lists three physical features [of Jesus]: his right hand, his mouth, and his face. These features ought to be understood not literally but symbolically. . . ”[9]

Kistemaker’s commentary was first printed in 2001, and was most recently reprinted in 2007. So we have Kistemaker saying that the description of Jesus in Revelation 1:16 was symbolic/spiritual in 2001, then saying it was physical/literal in 2004 (WSTTB), then back to saying it was symbolic/spiritual in 2007. As with Mathison, Kistemaker must temporarily change his preterist exegeses when he is attempting, in vain, to refute full preterism.

Kistemaker engages in more selective, wooden literalizing on page 247, where he notes that “a third of mankind” was killed in Revelation 9:18 and that “there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth” in Revelation 16:18. Though Kistemaker spiritualizes all other such signs in the book of Revelation, he assumes that these were literal events and that they therefore could not have been fulfilled because history did not record them.

But can Kistemaker really find no symbolic significance in “a third” or in an “earthquake” in the book of Revelation? Judgment in thirds, which is repeated throughout the book of Revelation, is taken from Ezekiel 5:1–2, 12, which, not coincidentally, speaks of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar:

As for you, son of man, take a sharp sword; take and use it as a barber’s razor on your head and beard. Then take scales for weighing and divide the hair. One third you shall burn in the fire at the center of the city, when the days of the siege are completed. Then you shall take one third and strike it with the sword all around the city, and one third you shall scatter to the wind; and I will unsheathe a sword behind them. . . . One third of you will die by plague or be consumed by famine among you, one third will fall by the sword around you, and one third I will scatter to every wind, and I will unsheathe a sword behind them.

The sign of the earthquake throughout the book of Revelation denotes the shaking and removal of the old covenant world. The earthquake at Mount Sinai was a type of the greater and final “shaking” of heaven and earth that was going to take place in Christ’s generation (Matt. 24:29, 34; Mk. 13:25, 30; Lk. 21:26, 32). This was not a literal shaking of the stars and planets. It was the “shaking” of the historic, Adamic system of Sin and Death in God’s kingdom (Hebrews 12:25–28).

The Lord’s Day

Kistemaker argues that by the late first century, Christians had begun calling the first day of the week “the Lord’s day.” Therefore, John’s reference to “the Lord’s day” in Revelation 1:10 is “probably a subtle pointer to a late date for the composition of Revelation” (247).

Actually, it is assumed that Christians began calling the first day of the week “the Lord’s day” by the late first century because it is assumed that Revelation 1:10 is the first reference to that day being called “the Lord’s day.” Kistemaker’s argument is circular and based on itself.

The practice of later Christians calling the first day of the week “the Lord’s day” could have been the result of them misinterpreting Revelation 1:10. Or if John was truly calling the first day of the week “the Lord’s day” and this is the first instance of that usage, then that merely means that the usage began whenever the book of Revelation was written, whether it was in AD 65 or 100. Therefore, John’s usage of the phrase “the Lord’s day” indicates nothing whatsoever as to the date of the book of Revelation.

In 1 Corinthians 4:3, however, we read: “But to me it is a small thing that I am judged by you, or by man’s day.” “Man’s day” is man’s judgment. Paul went on to make an implicit contrast between “man’s day” and the Lord’s Day:

Therefore do not go on passing judgment [“man’s day”] before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts [“the Lord’s day”]; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. (1 Cor. 4:5)

The Lord’s Day was the time in which God brought to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclosed the motives of men’s hearts, when He brought final judgment upon the Old Testament world. “In the spirit,” on the Isle of Patmos, John was in that Day.

All the Tribes of the Earth

On page 253, Kistemaker argues that in the book of Revelation, the phrase “all the tribes of the earth” “generally points to the people (tribes) of all nations (5:9; 7:9; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6).” And he concludes, “In harmony with these passages, a universal interpretation of 1:7 appears more likely than a nationalistic explanation (7:4–8).”

Actually, the phrase “all the tribes of the earth [or land]” appears only once in the book of Revelation. There is no “general” usage of the phrase in the book of Revelation, as Kistemaker alleges. While the word “tribe/tribes” may be used in “universal” contexts elsewhere in Revelation, we know that the word is not used in a universal sense in 1:7, because the “tribes” are qualified there as being “those who pierced Him.” Additionally, the prophecy in Revelation 1:7 is a condensed version of the prophecy in Zechariah 12:10–14, which defines the “tribes” as the families of Israel.

The Millennium and the Great Commission

Kistemaker argues that the binding of Satan in Revelation 20:3 depicts the universal success of the Great Commission. He concludes that since this obviously has not yet been fulfilled, the millennium also is not yet fulfilled (250).

Kistemaker’s objection here that the Great Commission has not been fulfilled is squarely at odds with Scripture, as the chart on page 105 has already demonstrated.

Since Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles and he uses every Greek word used by Jesus to describe the Great Commission, but speaks of it as having already been fulfilled, his inspired testimony on this takes precedence over Kistemaker’s naked assertions. The Great Commission is fulfilled. Therefore, according to Kistemaker’s own argument, so is the millennium.


Kistemaker’s arguments are contradictory and confusing, yet revealing. On pages 234–236, he admits that the external, church fathers evidence for the late date of Revelation “is found in only a few documents.” But then on page 254, he claims that the external, church fathers evidence is “strong.”

On page 219, he says that the internal evidence for the late date of the book of Revelation is “neither incontestable nor improbable.” Then on page 254, he implies that the internal evidence is “compelling” (254).

But Kistemaker forsakes all equivocation when he tells us without qualification or contradiction that “the voice of tradition” is “compelling” for the late date (234).

Thus Kistemaker puts himself in the same category as Gentry, Hill, and Wilson—basing his final faith on the only witness he finds absolutely “compelling”: Tradition. Like other futurists, he is forced to find his resting place in tradition because he knows that the word of God provides insufficient evidence to prove his eschatological framework.

This chapter has been brief, but there is no need to spend more time on Kistemaker’s arguments and multiply words. Kistemaker’s logical fallacies and his exegetical and theological liberties have been sufficiently dispatched.

Kistemaker’s “non-imminent imminence” arguments might sound impressive and deep. They might be appealing to those who like “time warp” episodes on Star Trek. They might be creative and innovative, but they are not scriptural by any stretch. We reject Kistemaker’s “bait and switch,” “carrot and stick” eschatology of the “hope deferred.” We reject the notion that God has cruelly misled and disappointed His people with a false sense of urgency and imminent expectation for nearly 2,000 years and counting.

When we clear away all of Kistemaker’s mind-boggling conundrums of imminence stretching like a rubber band to the end of the space-time continuum, it comes down to a simple, biblical truth that any Christian can understand:

The “imminent” return of Jesus is a “repeated,” emphatic, and “solemn promise of Jesus” (236). Therefore, Jesus returned in His generation, when He said He would—Kistemaker’s sophistries notwithstanding. Selah.


[1] . “Preterism 101”:

[2] . Mathison, Postmillennialism An Eschatology of Hope (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1999), 144 (emphasis added). Note the sureness and confidence of Mathison as he defends preterist time texts against futurist views. Then notice the “constant state of flux” and uncertainty in Mathison in WSTTB as he debates preterists on the time texts.

[3] . David Chilton, Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), 281.

[4] . Chilton, The Days of Vengeance, 281 (emphasis added).

[5] . Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.30.3

[6] . Ibid., 5.26–30.3

[7] . Codex Baroccianus 142, from the History of the Church by Philip of Side (c. 420)

[8] . Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies 7:17

[9] . Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2001; fourth printing 2007), 97.

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