RESPONDING TO SIMON KISTEMAKER’S
REVEALING CHAPTER ON REVELATION #5
Don K. Preston (D. Div.)
THE CONDITION OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES
This is article #5 in response to a chapter written by Simon Kistemaker, in a 2004 book edited and produced Keith Mathison entitled When Shall These Things Be? (The book is available on Amazon). That book was intended to be a definitive refutation of Full Preterism. The respected commentator Simon Kistemaker wrote a chapter in which he attempted to establish the late date of Revelation.
When that book was published, Edward Stevens asked me and some other authors to write chapters for a proposed book to respond to Mathison’s book. He even raised money to publish that work. Unfortunately, Stevens never published that book. Since Edwards never published the book I thought it would be good to go ahead and publish the chapter, after such a time, that I submitted to Stevens.
Kistemaker makes the normal claims that the conditions of the seven churches (Revelation 2-3) precludes an early date for Revelation. However, his arguments are less than compelling and often trifling, although to the untrained, they may sound convincing. For space considerations, we can only give a brief response to his claims. For more in-depth response, see Gentry’s work, Before Jerusalem Fell, or my Who Is This Babylon.
Kistemaker says that even a cursory reading about the seven churches, “leaves the impression that the recipients were second generation Christians. We read of an abandonment of the first love, the Nicolaitans, persecution, martyrdom, the teachings of Balaam, toleration of sexual immorality, learning Satan’s deep secrets, and being rich in worldly goods.” (232) Personally, to suggest that any one of these items is indicative of a late date a manifest example of petitio principii.
Are we to suppose that the church, at a very early date, could not depart from the faith? To claim this is to ignore the testimony of Galatians, a book written possibly as early as A.D. 49-50, and it ignores the problems at Thessalonica (circa 49-52), or Corinth (circa A.D. 55-57), or at Ephesus itself as foretold by Paul (Acts 20:29f; 1 Timothy 3-4).
Why does the doctrine of the Nicolaitans indicate a late date? Kistemaker suggests that the Judaizers and the Nicolaitans are distinct groups, unrelated in time (232). However, Gentry, citing Stuart, (Before, 330), shows that it is highly likely that the Nicolaitans were in fact Judaizers, and needless to say, this was a very early and persistent problem in the early church.
And why does the existence of persecution indicate a later date? There is, in fact, little historical evidence that Domitian actually persecuted the church at all! Donald Guthrie, late date advocate, says the evidence for a widespread Domitianic persecution is, “Not as conclusive as many suppose.” (Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, Hebrews to Revelation, (Chicago; Inter-Varsity Press, 1962), 272). Helmut Koester says Domitian, “Never ordered a worldwide persecution of the Christians.” Historian Richard Niswonger says, “It cannot be proven without doubt that Domitian initiated a persecution against Christians. Roman records provide no clear evidence of even a small scale movement, let alone a concerted or large-scale persecution.” (Helmut Koester, History and Literature of Early Christianity, Vol. II, (Philadelphia; Fortress Press, 1982), 251). Bruce noted Domitian’s reputation as a persecutor of Christians but said, “Evidence to justify this reputation is scanty.” (Cited in Gentry, Before, p. 289).
On the contrary, as the texts prove, much of the persecution against the churches sprang from Israel (Revelation 2:9, 3:9), and this is true in the rest of the book as well (Revelation 11:8), as we shall see. Kistemaker makes a rather remarkable claim: “When we read the seven, especially the last four, epistles in the Apocalypse, we are in a different atmosphere. 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.” (233). This is patently untrue and contradicts the other writers of When Shall These Things Be?.
Commenting on Revelation 3:10-11, and Christ’s promise to come quickly in relief of the persecuted Philadelphian church, Editor Mathison says: “This passage poses a difficulty for non-preterist exegetes. (Such as Kistemaker, DKP!) Why would Christ promise to keep a first century church from an hour of testing, if that hour of testing was not to occur for many centuries?” (Hope, 147). Gentry concurs by noting that the churches were enduring persecution and that, “John is deeply concerned with the expectant cry of the martyrs and the divine promise of their soon vindication (6:10; cp 5:3-5). He would be cruelly mocking their circumstances (while committing a ‘verbal scam’ according to Mounce) were he telling them that when help comes it will come with swiftness–even though it may not come until two or three thousand years later.” (Beast of Revelation, 28). Patently, the presence of that Jewish persecution in Revelation does not indicate a late date as Kistemaker posits.
The Jewish nature of the conflict and persecution against the church in Revelation is undeniable. Jesus said the Smyrnians lived where the synagogue of Satan dwelled, where those claiming to be Jews lived. This is a conflict about identity: Who are the Sons of God?
This is the same situation as in Revelation 3:10f where the Philadelphian church was being persecuted, “by those who say they are Jews, but are not, for they are liars.” Failure to see that the controversy in those two cities revolved around the identity of the true sons of God has caused commentators to sorely miss the message of Revelation. Who was truly the sons of God?
As Steve Gregg says, “Since the persecution is said to be instigated by the Devil, and since the Jews of Smyrna were a synagogue of Satan, it is probable that the persecution here, as elsewhere, was brought about by the local Jewish community.” (Steve Gregg, Four Views of Revelation, (Nashville; Thomas Nelson, 1997), 67). This is an astute observation, but perhaps fails to notice the significance to the rest of Revelation.
In chapter 12, the Devil pursues the seed of the woman. Why is the Devil in chapter 12 not the synagogue of Satan in chapter 2:9? Why should we look any further for the identity of the persecuting power, Babylon, than the synagogue of Satan?
Not only was the synagogue of Satan to persecute the saints, Jesus said he was to do so for ten days. Barclay says this expression, “is the normal Greek expression for a short time.” (William Barclay, Letters to the Seven Churches, (Nashville; Abingdon, 1957), 38). Hort says the expression, “Indicates a time not of the shortest, and yet short” duration. (F. J. A. Hort, The Apocalypse of St. John, (London; MacMillan, 1908), 25).
So, once again, notice the direct correlation with Revelation 12. Satan, i.e. the Jews, were to persecute the Christians for a short time (Revelation 2:9-10). In Revelation 12:9-12 the Devil persecutes the seed of woman, and knows that “he has a short time” to do so before his defeat.
The question that begs for an answer, but that no one seems to be asking is, why is the persecution in chapter 12 not that pogrom predicted by the Lord in chapter 2:9f (and 3:9-10)? And if the persecution is the same, then that means that the persecuting power of chapter 12 and the rest of the book is (primarily) Israel. This means that Babylon in Revelation was first century Jerusalem.
So, in two of the epistles of Revelation the conflict is patently a conflict between the church and Israel. This matches Jesus’ prediction in Matthew 23 perfectly. It matches what happened in the ministry of Paul. To suggest that Revelation discusses a situation far removed from that found in the earlier epistles is simply a misrepresentation. One might well ask why Kistemaker ignored this evidence.
The same can be said of the claim that the toleration of sexual immorality indicates a late date. Was not the church at Corinth far too tolerant of a man “living with his father’s wife” (1 Corinthians 5)? Did not Paul have to urge the Corinthians not to engage (once again), in sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:14f)? To claim that tolerance for sexual immorality suggests a second generation frame-work simply ignores the testimony of scriptures.
What about the promise of Christ to give the church at Philadelphia a new name if they persevered? Kistemaker claims that this refers to the period of 69 and afterward. Emperor Vespasian (A.D. 69-79), was honored by the citizens of Philadelphia when they built a temple there. They then renamed the city after him for a short time. (233)
To suggest that this reference must refer to the period under Vespasian is misguided as even Kistemaker seems to admit. In note 28, p. 28, he notes that in A.D. 17, Philadelphia was rocked by an earthquake. Tiberius exempted the citizens of the city from taxes to help the recovery process, and as a result, they renamed the city Neocaesarea. Thus, it is distinctly possible that the promise of being given a new name was a reference to what had happened at that time not to the events of A.D. 69+!
Kistemaker claims: “The Christians in Laodicea claimed to have acquired wealth and to have no need of anything (Rev. 3:17). Even though many of the citizens of Laodicea were wealthy, it is doubtful that the Christians in general, who as a rule lived in a lower economic scale, could have become wealthy within a decade after the church was founded” (233).
So much is taken for granted here that it is difficult to address it all. However, the most glaring issue is that Kistemaker takes for granted that the Laodiceans were claiming to have become financially wealthy! As Gentry observes: “it may be that the reference to ‘riches’ made by John is a reference to spiritual riches and not to material wealth at all.” (Before, 320). Thus, Kistemaker takes for granted the very thing that he must claim. This is poor argumentation.
What we find then is that Kistemaker appeals to the condition of the seven churches of Revelation by making false claims, or presuppositional arguments about the churches, and he ignores the actual testimony of the Apocalypse concerning the enemies faced by the churches. This is hardly convincing.
Stay tuned for more! In the meantime be sure to get a copy of my book, Who Is This Babylon? in which I give a wealth of powerful evidence to support the early dating of Revelation.