Sin City – 2


or Where Kenneth Gentry Is Wrong on the Revelation

Part 1 here.

I’ve been meaning to write this post since I wrote Part 1 (over two years ago). A friend’s recent question concerning Kenneth Gentry’s lectures on the Revelation encouraged me to bite the bullet and bust a gut and get it done. The question is this: Is the Revelation to be interpreted in the light of Josephus’ Jewish War, or in the light of the Bible itself?

Just as the Tabernacle rebuilt by David included Gentile worshipers, the reinstitution of worship in Israel after the exile likewise required the inclusion of Gentile sponsors. We saw in Esther in Ezekiel’s Temple that the oikoumene was a Jew-Gentile social architecture, with the city of Jerusalem itself serving as a kind of holy altar within a larger temple. [1] Just as the four-horned altar served as an image of the (symbolically) four-cornered Land (not earth; see The Earth Is Flat), so now the entire city was referred to as “holy,” and the genealogy of every Jew was considered “priestly.” This upgrade in holiness of what was once common was the result of Israel’s exile, a death-and-resurrection which purged her of idol worship. So, what could go wrong?

Of course, these new blessings could and would be twisted into curses. The holy city itself and the genealogy of every Jew would become Israel’s new gods.

This is the situation into which the Messiah was born. The outcome of this idolatry was the requirement for a new death-and-resurrection. In Israel’s place, Christ initiated it, and Israel followed Him through the process over the next generation. Like the bronze altar outside the Tabernacle, the entire city itself would be considered “outside the camp,” and even its sides would be splashed with the blood of the atoning sacrifices. As the law decreed, the crimes of the murderers would be atoned for with their own blood.

Consequently, it would be no surprise that the deep structure of the Revelation recapitulates the order of sacrifice. The Revelation is not a description of the Jewish war, though it is part of the outcome. It is a liturgy describing the sacrifice of the priesthood of Israel for the sake of the nations. Herod’s Jerusalem would be offered up in a spectacle of blood, fire and smoke. Any other reading of the final book of the Bible, using, for instance, uninspired second Temple literature, the works of Josephus, or the latest news headlines, to interpret it, is a gross misunderstanding of the purpose of the text.

Ordo Sacrificii sub Apocalypsis

In the book of Leviticus, the simple process of the whole burnt offering (“the ascension” [3]) blooms like a flower, revealing myriad parts with different purposes. Yet each of these remains a process of transformation, one whose pattern can be traced back to Genesis 1.

CreationCalled: Animal chosen (Sabbath)
DivisionSanctified: Animal separated / sacrifice cut (Passover)
AscensionPresented: Sacrifice lifted onto Altar; Sacrifice awaits (Firstfruits)
TestingPurified: Holy fire descends from heaven (Pentecost)
MaturityTransformed: Clouds of fragrant smoke as a witness (Trumpets)
ConquestVindicated: The savor accepted by God (Atonement)
GlorificationSent: Reconciliation and reunion (Booths)

Creation – Day 1 – Called (Sabbath – “on the Lord’s Day”)

What is the correspondence between the choosing of the blameless animal and Day 1? The baptism of Jesus is a great help. The dove hovers over the water and identifies the Lamb from hundreds of His repentant brothers. We see a similar process at the anointing of David, the shepherd. In the Revelation, it is the vision of the glorified Jesus, the one who has already ascended.

Division – Day 2 – Sanctified (Passover)

In biblical terms, sanctification is not a growth in holiness but a setting apart. In sacrificial terms, it is the delegation of a purpose, much as one might set apart food for a special event. Thus, sanctification has more to do with election than the kind of practical holiness which the word brings to mind today. In Genesis 1, this is the parting of the waters. In Exodus, it is the parting of the Red Sea to set Israel apart from Egypt. In Galatians, Paul combines these two images in his use of Hagar and Sarah as symbols of Egypt’s river and Canaan’s rain, the waters below and the waters above (see The Shape of Galatians, pp. 155-165). In the Revelation, it is the Division of the New Israel, represented by the seven churches, from the Old Israel, the city of Jerusalem who now embodies the worst traits of Egypt, Sodom and Babylon, and worse, flaunts these in God’s face through her continued sacrifices, following the murder of Christ and most of His apostles. Jesus calls these new “sons of God” out of Egypt and “passes over” them, “trimming the wick” on each lampstand. He cuts off the leaven of the Pharisees in each church before He cuts off “Egypt” altogether (see The Eighth Letter and Living Menora).

Ascension – Day 3 – Presented (Firstfruits)

The Passover sacrifice could be a lamb or a kid, but the Firstfruits animal offering was a lamb. Revelation 4-5 reveal the Lamb, ascended to heaven as the firstfruits from the dead, representing all who believe. Since the work of Day 3 was twofold, Land and fruits, Altar and Table, Christ is the connection between the earth (His grave in Israel) and the heavens. Instead of grain and fruit plants, Christ is flesh and blood, bread and wine, offered upon the Table.

Christ opens the scroll, which ends His ministry in the Garden, and sends the four Gospel witnesses into the Land (or, in Tabernacle terms, moves the action from the Most Holy into the Holy Place). The seven seals follow the same sevenfold pattern in microcosm.

Testing – Day 4 – Purified (Pentecost)

Just as Christ is the Head of the sacrifice (offered without being washed), chapter 7 reveals the firstfruits Body: 144,000 believing Jews. Note that the Body is washed (v. 14). These are the sheep which Peter was to feed for the slaughter. The process of “counting” alludes to the book of Numbers. Only the men were counted, because men are sacrificial “heads,” hence circumcision for Israelite males. But there are Gentiles as well, yet these are not counted. They are numberless. Peter’s haul of fish was counted, an offering from the sea presented upon the “altar” on the beach (a fire of burning coals). The fact that these Gentile “human sacrifices” are not counted means the Covenant is moving from earth to heaven, from the Cainite ground to the “Abel” (hebel) clouds of heaven. This is a new heavens and earth, a new creation, and the description of the end of their suffering aptly follows the order of the Creation week (see Saved From The Green Horse). The centre of this promise concerns the striking and scorching heat of the sun, which leads into chapter 8. This is a description of the holy fire from heaven, the Spirit of God descending upon both Jews and Gentiles from the Day of Pentecost onward. From heaven’s point of view, salvation was a call to become a human sacrifice, since Christ has made us “acceptable” to God (in sacrificial terms). We no longer need animal substitutes.

Maturity – Day 5 – Transformed (Trumpets)

This is where our concept of “sanctification” comes in. It is spiritual maturity, so in biblical terms a better word for it might be transformation. The flesh has been consumed and is now fragrant clouds, able to pass through locked doors (as we see in John and Acts), following the High Priest who entered through the torn veil in clouds of incense on the Day of Atonement.

New Israel – Good Trumpets

Maturity corresponds to the Feast of Trumpets (see above), describing in “Mosaic” terminology the witness of the Apostles leading up to the destruction of the  Temple and its now obsolete – and corrupted – worship. The seven trumpets follow the same sevenfold “creation-through-sacrifice” pattern. As the Feast of Trumpets, they muster the troops of Israel. However, as is described by Paul in Romans, there were now two Israels. The Judiastic Israelites are described as Egyptian/Babylonian locusts, and the saints are described as human Tabernacles, temples of the Spirit.

In chapter 10, a part of the New Covenant authority is delegated to John, a son of thunder, who, as the Last Apostle, will speak the final words of judgment upon the rulers of the Land (“kings of the earth”). For a description of the angel, see The Church As Colossus and The Last Trumpet.

The two witnesses are the Law of Moses and the Testimony of the Prophets embodied in the Apostolic Witness as the testimony of Jesus, hence Moses and Elijah deferring to Christ at His transfiguration, and the Father vindicating Christ as He did at His baptism. Just as that act ended Christ’s personal testimony to Israel, so these two witnesses end the Apostolic testimony to Israel. Both Head and Body have now spoken and been slain.

What is interesting here is that the Word began in the Garden, worked its way out through the Land to the World. Here we have three pictures of the testimony of the Firstfruits Church, which reverse the order: A great army crossing the Euphrates into the Land (World), the witness of John as seven “Sinaitic” thunders (Land), and the Law and Prophets as two cherubim (Garden). These symbols follow the High Priest as He makes His way from the court, through the Holy Place and into the Most Holy, just as He does in Leviticus. So the final verse of this section referring to the Ark of God in His temple should be no surprise if we have a handle on sacred architecture. The blood of the human sacrifices is being offered by Christ as the “washed Body” (Leviticus 1:9 – supporting baptism by full immersion of the body). However, this brings a new fire from heaven, one which will be administered by the Roman armies.

Old Israel – Bad Trumpets

Following the pattern of Psalm 1, Maturity has both blessings (the Apostolic witness) and curses (the response of the rulers of the Land). This dual witness is the “Deuteronomy” of the book of Revelation (read Deuteronomy 28). In their warnings, the Firstfruits Church not only “filled up” (multiplied into an abundance, as Brides do) the sufferings of Christ, but also provoked unbelieving Israelites to harden their hearts like Pharaoh did, and to “fill up” their sins. Paul describes this Jew-Gentile ministry and the imminent judgement of Jerusalem:

For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last! (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16)

I hope it is becoming plain how erroneous is most exposition of the Revelation, including that by many preterists. Throwing proof texts at each other is like arguing about jigsaw pieces without reference to the picture on the box, which is found in the Torah.

Anyhow, from Revelation 12, the pattern of the Trumpets (Maturity) is repeated. It begins with a negative Pentecost. Just as David received the Spirit and Saul received an evil spirit from the Lord, so false Israel became demonic after the “enlightening” of Pentecost (Hebrews 6:4). Satan was kicked out of his “legal” role in heaven and took up residence on the earth, or more specifically, on the Land, in the Temple of the Herods (the source of the Edenic “springs” described in the final chapters of Ezekiel). So, that’s the Herodian Garden corrupted. Notice it begins with the Woman and the Herodian Dragon, a clear reference to Genesis as the beginning of this legal pattern.

Next, he spewed this corrupted (“bitter” Wormwood) river into the Land, and the false Church sucked it right up. This was the false doctrine which the apostles had to battle against, referred to over and over again in the epistles (so much for the attempts over the centuries to identify this false doctrine as anything but anti-Christian Judaism).

Satan’s final attempt to kill the Bride was to turn to the World for aid, so he called upon the Sea Beast, Rome (see Three Strikes, Binding and Loosing, and Serpents and Dragons). AD64 saw not only the completion of Herod’s Temple (proving Jesus to be a false prophet) but also the burning of Rome, the first time Roman authorities recognised Christianity as separate from Judaism. Satan’s ploy was to attack this strange new Jew-Gentile Body with a Jew-Gentile counterfeit, just as Herod and Pilate became “friends” after the trial of Christ.

After a description of this false worship and its false kingdom (presented as an Aaronic golden calf, the image of a beast), the “transformed” sacrifices are seen as “holy smoke” on the mountain with Christ, Head and Body now united. Their flesh and blood was “harvested” as bread and wine. Like the blood of Abel, it cried from the ground and calls upon God for vindication and vengeance. However, unlike the first murder, this vengeance would not be delayed. The blood of all the prophets from Abel onwards would be avenged upon that generation. The Land is described as an altar overflowing with blood “as high as a horse’s bridle.”

Conquest – Day 6 – Vindicated (Atonement)

titusentersmostholyJerusalem had been surrounded by saints with Gospel “Trumpets”, but the final day had come. As it was with Jericho, the firstfruits of the Land, “all flesh” would be cut off in Jerusalem, as the firstfruits of the World. The entire city would be cut around, or circumcised. This brings us to the seven bowls of wrath, which correspond to the seven sprinklings of blood from the hand of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. However, on this day, the Roman general Titus would step over the Body of the apostate High Priest (see End of the Abrahamic Rift and Jesus’ Caesars).

What is the source of the seven bowls? Only the structure of the text reveals this (which means exegetes with little or no poetic sense will write this observation off as speculation). Interestingly, it is the Lampstand, the light of the Law now available by the Spirit (see Seven Bowls of Wrath). The Spirit would no longer strive with old Israel. For a sample of the beauty of the “de-Creation” described under the image of these Temple bowls, see #41 in 50 Failed Predictions part 9. For a complete rundown, see James B. Jordan’s The Vindication of Jesus Christ.

Chapters 17-19 describe the separation of the harlot and the bride, corresponding to Hagar and Sarah (Israel as Egypt versus Abraham’s “heavenly Canaan”), and also the two prostitutes whose hearts were discerned by Solomon. Since this entire pattern recapitulates the Testing of Adam in the Garden, the Father is discerning the heart of the Bride (Numbers 5) whom Christ has presented to Him as a chaste virgin. Not only are her eyes open (Luke 24:31; Acts 9:8,18), but she is liberated by the obedience of her Adam.

Glorification – Day 7 – Sent (Booths)

The final section of the Revelation is also sevenfold. It describes the ministry of the now-enthroned Firstfruits Church in heaven during this current period (see For A Thousand Years and Altar of the Abyss – 7). The sacrificial process enacted in the Garden and re-enacted in the Land would now be recapitulated throughout the World through the testimony of saints from every nation.

I hope to write a complete “Shape of the Revelation” some time soon, but will wait for Peter Leithart’s 2015 commentary because he will no doubt present many insights I can rip off include! In the mean time, get a hold of James B. Jordan’s Revelation lecture series.

But I hope you can see that the Revelation is not a symbolic account of the Jewish War, as important as understanding that history might be. Of course, I do recommend Kenneth Gentry’s Before Jerusalem Fell, which is extremely helpful when it comes to dating the book and establishing its purpose in the biblical canon.

[1] For an introduction to this subject, see Peter J. Leithart’s The Four: A Survey of the Gospels. For a more in-depth study, see James B. Jordan’s The Handwriting on the Wall: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel. And you can search for “oikoumene” here on the blog.
[2] See Peter J. Leithart, Skinned and Cut, Biblical Horizons No. 35 (March 1992)

ART: A souped up version of the original cover artwork for David Chilton’s The Days of Vengeance. Chilton makes a similar error to Gentry, but is still well worth a read for his many insights.

Share Button

6 Responses to “Sin City – 2”

  • David Says:

    Mike this is a very insightful article, however after listening to Gentry’s lecture series, and Jordan’s, I am thinking that there is two layers or dimensions to Revelation (really to all the books of the Bible). There is the layer that is closest to the surface (shall I say the physical layer) that is most easily visible and understood as Gentry using Josephus in explaining what happened in AD70. And then a deeper more difficult to see and understand spiritual layer which you and Jordan bring out. I am being honest when I say that in reading your article it was like looking at the book of Revelation with ‘new eyes’. Almost like looking through a microscope – you see what is not visible with the naked eye. And it is so foreign I have to read it several times (almost like I am learning a new language).
    Do you think there is any merit to the two layers/dimensions, or do you feel the Gentry vs. Bull/Jordan views are mutually exclusive of one another?

    I love your writing, you are totally amazing!


  • Mike Bull Says:

    Thanks David

    The details here are really just a summary of Jordan’s 144 hours of lectures pegged out slightly differently and with a few of my structural observations. The “foreign language” is “Bible symbol,” which I think only Jordan is teaching. From my experience over the past 7-8 years, it really works, and is very consistent. I’d put it down to Jordan’s close study of the Torah.

    Where Jordan and Gentry really differ is in the guts of the book. Gentry (and Chilton) attempt to decode the symbols by looking to Josephus, whereas Jordan looks to the rest of the Bible. Their differing interpretations of the “hail” is a good example: Gentry thinks they are the white rocks catapulted at the city, where Jordan understands them as an allusion to Joshua’s defeat of Adoni-zedek, a bad king of Jerusalem. But they are not that different when it comes to chapters 1-5 and 19-22.

    If anyone else would like to compare, both sets of lectures are available from http://www.word.mp3

    Thanks for reading!

  • Mike Bull Says:

    One more thought – Revelation serves the same purpose as Ezekiel, and its layout is level-pegged with that book (as Chilton observes). Jordan’s approach is the same approach we take with Ezekiel, whereas Gentry’s is not.

  • MarkO Says:

    I agree with David. It is not that Gentry is wrong, but simply providing a historical perspective. It appears that both you and he are in agreement that the events in Revelation has as their point in history the actual events surrounding AD70 – right? I realize your approach is to read Revelation with heavy dose of OT liturgy, but you certainly aren’t placing the events in a Futurist time frame as do Dispensationalist nor are you placing the events in a Historicist time frame.

    So you and Gentry agree more than not. It’s just the interpretive details that differ, not the time structure.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Thanks Mark
    Certainly we agree on the timing of the book, but if it’s about the process of calling the saints as sacrifices, not only does it miss the point of the prophecy, and miss the “heaven’s-eye view” of the ministry of the Church from acts onwards, but the actual destruction of the city doesn’t play a large part. Both views can’t be right – it’s more than just reading with a dose of OT liturgy. It’s using the OT to interpret the symbols, as we do with every other book.