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Dating the Apocalypse
By Arthur M. Ogden
The final destruction of Jerusalem came in 70 A.D. God's purposes and plans were all in place by this time. Nothing remained to be done.
Many of the great discussions about the book of Revelation concern the date of writing. Some think that if we could determine the date of writing, we could determine the subject matter of the book and make application accordingly. In some cases efforts to determine the date of writing take precedence over the substance and application of the book.
In this article, I propose to discuss the importance of dating the books of the Bible and how to approach it with some emphasis upon dating the book of Revelation.
Importance of Dating
Establishing the dates when Biblical books were written contributes to our overall understanding of their message. By knowing the author, the place and time of his writing, we can imagine the setting with all of the attendant surroundings and comprehend more fully the message of each book. We can cast ourselves into the history of the time and feel the very mood of the age. Through our mind's eye we can project ourselves into the spirit of the era and be partaker of the very same learning experience enjoyed by the original recipients.
Types of Evidence
In searching for the date when a book of the Bible was written, we must consider both internal and external evidences. By internal, we mean, evidence contained within the book. Since all scripture is given by inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16,17), internal evidence must be considered as God breathed. By external, we mean, evidence found outside the book which contributes in some way to our understanding of the matter. External evidence rests upon the testimony of uninspired men and is, therefore, man given. Our greatest effort should concentrate upon internal evidence because it is most reliable. When there is a conflict between internal and external evidences, we must trust internal evidence (Romans 3:4). We should never believe fallible men above Holy Spirit inspired men. External evidence can contribute to our conclusions but it must be considered only as circumstantial and never as conclusive proof. External evidence must not contradict inspiration.
There are two kinds of internal evidence:
1) Evidence found within the book under consideration pinpointing the time of writing, and
2) Evidence from within the book which ties the book and time of writing to some other biblical or secular event. In many cases we can determine within reasonable latitude the time and place of a book's composition by considering the internal evidences.
Some Books Are Dated
Some authors are very kind. They dated their works, at least in general terms, so we will place them in their proper place in history. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra and Nehemiah all date their prophecies and writings to the reigns of specified kings. Some authors date portions of their books within the specified period.
The visions of Daniel were dated in relationship to the reigning monarch at the time. They occurred throughout the seventy plus years Daniel was in Babylon. The visions of Ezekiel are dated in relationship to the Babylonian captivity and the first destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (cf.Ezek.40:1). Neither Daniel nor Ezekiel record their visions in perfect chronological order.
Other authors, including the New Testament writers, were not as kind as those we named. Occasionally, authors recorded events tied to secular historical settings but they did not reveal specific dates identifying the time of their writing. Other techniques are needed to assist with our search.
Other Useful Procedures
The following list of priorities will help in searching for clues which contribute to dating the more difficult books of the Bible. As you study each book, make notes of these things, then, consider them all as making a contribution, however small, to the project.
(1) Seek to establish a relationship between the book, its author and recorded biblical history. The book of Jonah carries no date, yet recorded biblical history (2 Kings 14:23-27) places Jonah's period of prophecy during the reign of Jeroboam II (790-749 B.C.). This method also proves helpful when considering the writings of Paul and other New Testament writers. The book of Acts is a history of the church from Pentecost (30 A.D.) through the second year of Paul's first Roman imprisonment (63 A.D.). The history centers primarily around the apostle Paul following his conversion in Acts 9. This biblical picture of Paul's journeys contributes to dating most of his epistles.
(2) Search for references within each book that tie into the historical setting. These references may be to a political figure or some other recorded historical setting. Luke's mention of Gallio, deputy of Achaia, places Paul in Corinth during the time he was in office (Acts 18:12). Other evidences indicate 1 & 2 Thessalonians were written by Paul while at Corinth. These combinations of facts help establish dates.
(3) Observe references which establish the author's present circumstances at the time of writing. John was on the Isle of Patmos (Rev. 1:9) when he received the Apocalypse. The time of John's writing must correspond to a time in his life that would permit his presence there. Paul was a prisoner when he wrote Ephesians (3:1;4:1;6:20), Philippians (1:13-16), Colossians (4:3,10), Philemon (1) and 2 Timothy (4:6-18). Any date given for the writing of these books must take into account the imprisonments of Paul. He expected to see Timothy shortly when he wrote 1 Timothy (3:14), and he instructed Titus to come to him in Nicopolis (3:12). These things must be considered when dating these books.
(4) The author's references to his relationship to those addressed in the past and his anticipated relationship for the future must be observed. Paul's mention in Galatians of his past visits with them coupled with his failure to mention any plans to visit them again could be helpful in dating the book. The mention of previous work among the Philippians and expected future freedom to visit again contributes to the dating process.
(5) Search for the author's mention of personal associations both past and present. These are important factors in dating. Careful examination of all references to Paul's companions, for example, will show that at times some of them were not with him. A book cannot be dated at a time when the named associates of Paul are found in other places. All must harmonize.
(6) The availability of an author at the time assigned. Dates assigned to some books do not harmonize with the author's ability to write at the time. The circumstances surrounding the book must harmonize with the circumstances surrounding the author at the time of writing. The dates for Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians and others are prime examples.
(7) The issues addressed in each book must have had time to develop in relationship to history and the author. The dating of James must take this into account. The gospel had not spread far enough before the death of James, the brother of John, to be composed before his death. The epistle of James was penned after the gospel was preached in all of the regions of the world. It was addressed to the Jews of the dispersion (1:1). This necessitated universal preaching before these Jews could be addressed.
(8) The use of language is also a contributing factor. The author's uses of past, present, and future tenses are helpful in dating. This is especially effective in dating the Gospel of John. Personal pronouns can also be helpful in establishing the author's presence at various places as evident in the book of Acts. Comparing one author's statements to other authors who are more specific in identifying the time element is very beneficial in dating, especially the book of Revelation.
(9) The involvement of different authors addressing the same issues is also helpful in dating. Some books deal with the same questions and problems. This indicates a broad need for attention from many authors. James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, and Jude deal with false teachers who seem to have the same characteristics. This would indicate the same time period.
While none of these methods are necessarily conclusive, they become very helpful in reaching valid decisions when dating Bible books. Use them wisely and carefully and I believe you will find them productive.
Dating the Apocalypse
It is readily apparent to the observant student that John does not place a date upon the book of Revelation. To date the Apocalypse, we must rely upon other factors. Unfortunately, few of the above methods contribute to the task. Only #8 makes a solid contribution. There are a number of texts in the Apocalypse with counterparts elsewhere in scripture which identify the subject matter. These texts are so exclusive they preclude more than one application. Since the Apocalypse must predate the things predicted, the date of writing must precede their fulfillment (cf. 1:1). Every person interested in understanding the book of Revelation must take this method into consideration.
Does the Lord give clues to the subject matter and the time of writing the book of Revelation? We believe He does.
There are three different time periods advocated by conservative scholars as the possible date for the writing of the Apocalypse. These are found during the reigns of the Roman Emperiors (1) Nero (54-68 A.D.), (2) Vespasian (70-79 A.D.), and (3) Domitian (81-96 A.D.).
Students of Revelation search the book for clues to the time of writing. Two texts within the book appear to identify a specific time period. They are subject to interpretation, however, and subsequently become circumstantial. In this brief study, we shall consider these texts, the interpretations placed upon them and the contribution they make to the overall study of Revelation.
"There are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come."
This statement describes the seven headed sea beast that first appears in Revelation 13. In chapter 17, the harlot Babylon rides this beast sitting on the heads which are seven mountains and kings (vv. 9,10). The passage describes a time in relationship to the beast and the present, i.e., the time of writing. John appears to identify a kingdom ruled over by seven kings which will continue with an eighth (v.11). The beast has only seven heads for the purpose described but will continue with additional heads following the accomplishing of this purpose.
Five of the heads of this kingdom "are fallen," i.e., they are dead. "One is" implies one is still living. "The other is not yet come" means the seventh head had not ascended to the throne at the time of writing. If this is true, John is telling us something about when this book was written.
It is the opinion of this author and most of our readers that the seven headed beast represents the Roman Empire. It signifies the Roman Empire in the same way Uncle Sam and the Big Bear symbolize the United States and Russia respectfully.
If the sea beast symbolizes the Roman Empire, one would think the case closed. Surely, we can determine without difficulty this ruler of Rome! The task is not easy, however. Problems do exist. The first ten Roman Emperors were Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian. Many scholars and historians question whether Julius Caesar was the first Emperor of Rome. Even though he was the father of the Roman Empire and ruled it with all of the powers of a king, he did not wear the title and crown. Scholars and historians also question including Galba, Otho, and Vitellius. These never exercised authority over the empire nor were they recognized by the provinces as Emperors. Foy Wallace accepted Julius as the first Emperor of Rome but skipped Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian and Titus in order to count Domitian as the seventh head of the beast (The Book of Revelation, p.372). As you see, difficulties abound.
One must conclude that if Julius Caesar is the first Emperor of Rome, the sixth Emperor was Nero (54-68 A.D.). Weldon Warnock readily admits this possibility but rejects it as the solution (Message from Patmos, p.89). Warnock recognizes that starting the count with Augustus identifies the reign of Vespasian as the time of writing, a period too early for his conclusions. He thinks the evidence for dating the Apocalypse during the reign of Domitian is too strong and convincing to consider any date except 95 A.D.
David Chilton counts Julius Caesar as the first Emperor of Rome, naming Nero as the ruling Emperor at the time John received the Revelation. Galba is the seventh Emperor (The Days of Vengeance, p.436). Chilton's identification of the eighth is obscure and inconsistent.
Jim McGuiggan, Ray Summers and James Moffatt reject Julius as the first Emperor and date the Apocalypse during the reign of Vespasian. Titus, subsequently, becomes the seventh Emperor. Domitian is counted as the eighth because he was "of the seven." This is interpreted to mean that Domitian was the reincarnation of Nero (cf. Studies in the Book of Revelation by Ferrell Jenkins, p.22). None of these explanations place the time of writing the Apocalypse during the reign of Domitian.
Should we count Julius Caesar as the first Emperor of Rome? How can we refuse to count him? He was the father of the Empire. He was dictator for more than four years before his death and none of the Emperors were more imperial than he. His power was so stately that he was offered the title and crown, though he refused it. The people of John's day thought he was the first Emperor. Josephus, the Jewish historian who was contemporary with John, counted Julius as the first. He identified Augustus and Tiberius as the second and third Emperors, and Caligula as the fourth (Ant., 18, 2, 2; 16, 6, 2; 18, 6, 10). Suetonius, a Roman historian of the first and second centuries, begins Lives of the Twelve Caesars with Julius as the first. Dio Cassius also counts him as first in his Roman History, and the Sibylline Oracles (Book 5) calls Julius "the first king." Should not he whose name became the title by which all the Emperors were addressed be recognized as the first? Caesar was Julius' last name and it became the title by which all the Emperors were called. There were no Caesars if Julius was not the first. In fact, every Emperor was the extension of Julius. If Julius had not been mercilessly slain by members of the Roman Senate in 44 B.C., returning the reins of government back to that of a triumvirate, there would be no doubt about who was the first Emperor. The beast wounded to death (cf.Rev.13:3) came to life in Augustus. Therefore, the count must begin with Julius.
It is the conviction of this student that Revelation 17:10 pinpoints the time of writing the Apocalypse during the reign of Nero. In my opinion, this is the only conclusion that perfectly harmonizes with all other internal evidences within the book.
"Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six."
John apparently refers to the ancient practice of figuring the number of one's name by adding up the assigned total for each letter in the name. Many ancient languages used alphabetical characters as numerical figures with specific values attached to the letters. The process is known as gematria. When the sum of all the letters in a person's name were counted, it would reveal the number of his name. In this case, the number of the name is given from which we are to draw the name.
The intention of the author was to identify the number of the beast which he says, "is the number of a man." The identification of the man will establish the specific administration in power at the time Revelation was written.
Concerning the identify of this man, Ferrell Jenkins writes, "The general consensus among scholarly commentators is that the numbers refer to Nero Caesar. 'Some take the Latin word Neron and apply numerical equivalents for each letter in such fashion:
The final 'N' can be dropped and total would be 616. Others have transliterated the Greek or Latin for Neron Caesar into Hebrew letters and come up with a total of 666. By omitting the final 'n' in Neron the total comes to 616. There is a slight amount of evidence for the 616 reading. The only major manuscript which gives this reading is Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus of the fifth century. However, as early as Irenaeus there was some indication of this reading" (Studies in the Book of Revelation, p.22).
If Nero fits the bill, why look for another? Everyone admits that Nero is one of the seven heads of the sea beast. He also fits the other descriptions in the chapter. He was the first Roman Emperor to "make war with the saints" (13:7) and he did die by the sword (13:10). Nero, then, is the obvious man identified as the beast about which John wrote in Revelation 13.
Jenkins and others admit that Nero is the one identified by John but they will not admit the obvious; that the Apocalypse was written during the reign of Nero. They chose rather to believe the Nero redivivus myth which claims that Nero returned in the person of Domitian. How ridiculous to believe the testimony of a myth above that of an inspired apostle.
The passages discussed herein give some support to the Neronian and/or Vespasian dates. Students of the Apocalypse should not ignore what is so plain and obvious. Those who hold to the Domitian date as the time of writing find no comfort in these two texts. There is nothing in these texts to support the latter date.
This author accepts the above passages as proof the Apocalypse was written during the reign of Nero. However, their strength as arguments can only be seen when viewed in the light of all other evidences within the book. When we have completed our presentations of the evidences for dating the Apocalypse, please return to this article and see if it does not fit perfectly into the overall picture.
In our last presentation, we considered the evidence within the book of Revelation that appears to pinpoint a time of writing (13:18; 17:10). Many consider the force of these texts conclusive, setting the time of writing during the reign of Emperor Nero. I cautioned, however, that there is enough ambiguity within these verses to consider them only as circumstantial. Their force as arguments for the early dating of the Apocalypse (64-68 A.D.) becomes apparent when compared to all other evidence for the early dating of the book.
In this treatise, we shall continue our search for evidence which will contribute to a reasonable conclusion in the study of this great issue. We will now look at the evidence within the book thought to tie the book and time of writing to some other biblical or secular event. This is a valid approach, and one used by nearly every student of the Apocalypse in dating the book.
Internal Evidence for the Late Date (95-96 A.D.)
While the most convincing case for the late date is external evidence, there are some texts thought to lend weight to the late date. Homer Hailey contends the internal evidence is of equal strength with the external for the late dating. We beg to differ and feel that the course of this study will demonstrate this point.
The strongest case for the late date from internal evidence may be summed up under three headings: (1) Empire-wide Roman persecution, (2) Empire and Emperor worship, and (3) the age of the seven churches of Asia. As we consider these arguments for the late date, let us also look at the flaws within them.
Empire-wide Roman Persecution
Throughout the book of Revelation saints suffer from persecution. "The souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held" are under the altar (6:9). Later John saw "the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God" living and reigning with Christ (20:4). These were all martyred for their allegiance to the Lord. In the Apocalypse, the saints suffer at the hands of their persecutors but in the end God has His day in court. Judgment is passed and the persecutors punished.
Who is responsible for this persecution and how widespread is it? It is apparent that some of the persecution is the result of a failure on the part of saints to "worship the beast and his image" (20:4). The beast worshipped is the sea beast of chapter 13 (vs.1-8) and symbolizes the Roman Empire. The earth beast serves the sea beast causing all, except those whose names are in the book of life, to worship the beast and his image (13:8,11-18). The sea beast had power to make war with the saints (13:7) which means the Roman Empire persecuted the saints. This was a present reality at the time Revelation was written. In describing the ten horns on the sea beast, John says, "These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful" (17:14). While the sea beast already made war with the saints, it would evolve into a larger conflict in which the Lamb and His followers prevail. The conflict develops and the sea beast (Roman Empire) and the false prophet (the religions that served the empire) are destroyed (19:11-21). Without a doubt, an extensive Roman persecution of Christians is portrayed in the Apocalypse.
Babylon the Great also is a great persecutor of saints (17:6; 18:20,24) and God "avenged the blood of His servants at her hand" (19:2). Most contemporary commentators view Babylon as Rome and the persecution as an extension of that inflicted by the sea beast. By taking this position, all the persecutions against the saints are viewed as Roman.
It is evident from the first three chapters of the Apocalypse that persecution against the saints was in progress. Jews persecuted the saints at Smyrna and Philadelphia (2:9; 3:9). The saints at Pergamos suffered the loss of Antipas who was martyred for his faith in the Lord (2:13). The source of this persecution is unidentified. John (and others) suffered tribulation while writing the Apocalypse indicating an ongoing persecution (1:9). Additional persecution from an unnamed source was in the making and expected soon (2:10; 3:10). This future persecution was not identified in chapters 1-3, yet we are able to recognize it as Roman from the clues given in the rest of the Apocalypse.
Upon the basis of this reasoning, many conclude the Apocalypse pictures a Roman persecution of saints extensive enough to affect the entire Roman world. Since no Roman persecution of this magnitude took place before the end of the first century, they deduct that the Apocalypse was not written prior to the end of Domitian's reign (95-96 A.D.). Many also contend, though uninformed, that Domitian instigated a persecution against the saints so severe that he filled the empire with their blood.(2) Careful students of the Apocalypse are learning better, however Many who hold to the late date understand that evidence for a Domitian persecution is missing. While still holding to a Domitian date, they project the persecutions foretold to the reign of Trajan (98-117 A.D.) and beyond.(4) There is unquestionable evidence of empire-wide persecution during Trajan's reign and extending for about 200 years thereafter. Since the events unveiled were to "shortly come to pass", John wrote near the time when these things occurred, therefore, the late date.
The Argument Examined
Is this argument valid? Does it prove that the Apocalypse was written during the reign of Domitian about 95-96 A.D.? The argument is valid only if all the premises are true. If the Roman persecution is the only persecution symbolized in the Apocalypse, then, the argument is valid. However, there is another persecutor identified in Revelation. There can be no doubts about their identify because Jesus calls them by name. He said, they "say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan" (2:9). Of this persecutor, Jesus promised His saints at Philadelphia, "I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee" (3:9). Since the Jews are still a prime persecutor of saints when John wrote, this promise of punishment upon the Jews was yet future. If so, then we must consider the possibility that God's punishment of the Jews is also a part of the Apocalypse.
We cannot doubt that a Roman persecution of the saints is portrayed in Revelation. It is there, and must be recognized in its proper place, but we must also consider that another persecutor existed. If this is true, and it is, we must view God's dealing with the Roman persecutors as secondary to His dealing with the Jewish persecutors whom He punished first. It is this student's conviction that the Apocalypse portrays God's wrath being poured upon both the Jewish and Roman persecutors of His people. To identify one of the persecutors as Rome and apply all promise of vengeance against Rome does a great disservice to the book of Revelation and our understanding its message. The Roman persecutors are rewarded but so are the Jewish.
Empire & Emperor Worship
John deals extensively with empire and emperor worship in the Revelation (13:12-15; 14:9-11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4), and many contend that this practice did not become widespread until the days of Domitian (81-96 A.D.). Though proof is missing, many commentators insist that it was under Domitian that the death penalty was issued to those who refused to bow in worship of the emperor. Believing that Christians died at the hand of Domitian for their refusal to acknowledge his deity, many maintain the Apocalypse was penned during his reign just prior to this onslaught.
The Argument Examined
This argument ignores historical fact and assumes other things as true which cannot be proven. Rome was worshipped as an entity called Dea Roma as early as 195 B.C. and temples were erected to worship the deified emperors beginning with Julius. Throughout Asia temples were erected to Augustus and Tiberius before the ministry of Jesus began. All temples within the borders of the empire admitted Caesar's image among the temple gods for public worship. The only temple failing to welcome an image of Caesar was the temple in Jerusalem. In 40 A.D. Caligula, the fourth emperor, sent an army to Palestine for the purpose of placing his image in the temple at Jerusalem. He was murdered before the task was accomplished and the attempt abandoned. So, emperor worship existed long before the reign of Domitian.
Furthermore, the claim that Domitian instigated the death penalty as state policy upon Christians for refusing to bow to his deity is totally without foundation. This practice was clearly in operation by the middle of the second century A.D. but there is no evidence it was a state law as early as Domitian's reign. On this point, Elmer T. Merrill said, "It should be further observed that neither in Suetonius, nor in Dio, nor in any other of the pagan writers who touch upon the subject, is there the slightest intimation that Domitian's bloody jealousy was directed against any but the leading aristocrats whom he supposed he had reason to fear, or that it ravaged at all outside the narrow circle of the Court and the Parliament." The argument based upon empire and emperor worship is weak to say the least.
The Age of the Churches
Many commentators place confidence in their contention that the seven churches of Asia needed time to develop as described in chapter 2 & 3 and, therefore, assert that the late date is essential. Hailey makes this his main argument from internal evidence for the late dating of the Apocalypse.
It is argued that Ephesus was not old enough to have "lost her first love," to have a conflict over false apostles and the Nicolaitans for an early writing of Revelation. Smyrna supposedly started in 64 A.D., and was therefore too young to have reached its perfection at an early date. (This conclusion rests on a statement by Polycarp [69-156 A.D.]. He was a bishop in the church at Smyrna in later years). In short, we are told that these churches needed decades to reach their present states of perfection or imperfection as portrayed.
The Argument Examined
Were decades necessary for the conditions described in chapters 2 & 3 to develop? The answer is "NO." Why would it take decades for one congregation to reach imperfection and the same amount of time for another congregation to reach perfection? Which comes first, perfection or imperfection? Common sense teaches that congregations as individuals may be in a state of perfection at one time and in a state of imperfection a short time later. In fact, in a very short time a congregation may make a complete turn around. It happens all of the time and it doesn't take decades to do it. The church at Ephesus was in deep trouble when Paul wrote Timothy in 64 A.D. (cf.1 Timothy 1:3-6, 19-20; 2 Timothy 2:17-18). Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to correct the wrongs. Smyrna may have started in 64 A.D., no one really knows, but was she too young to have reached perfection? Think about it! Was Ephesus perfect before she left her first or original love? If so, Ephesus grew imperfect with age and that would argue for a young church at Smyrna that had not left her original love and was still perfect. Both common sense and experience teach that the conditions of churches are not determined by their age but by their loyalty and commitment to the Lord. The argument based upon the age of the churches is useless and meaningless.
Other arguments for the late dating of the Apocalypse based upon internal evidence exist, but these appear to be the strongest. It should be readily apparent that none of these arguments have a tie with scripture. They are rather the association of internal texts with external historical happenings. The argument on the age of the churches rests entirely upon supposition. This student of Revelation is not aware of any serious argument for the late date that depends upon a tie of internal evidence to other biblical texts. In our next offering, we will examine the internal evidence used to support the early date.
1. Hailey, Revelation, An Introduction and Commentary, page 27, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1979
A thorough study of the internal evidence for the early dating of the Apocalypse requires much more time and space than our study of the late date. This is because the most forceful case for the early date is internal evidence and there is an abundance of it. Unlike the evidence presented for a late dating of the book, the internal evidence for the early date ties in with other biblical texts. In other words, numerous passages within the Apocalypse have scriptural counterparts which demand identical recognition and establish the subject matter of the texts. Subsequently they establish the time of writing. Their number is too great to consider all of them, so, we must confine our studies to the more prominent ones.
Our Use of the Internal Evidence
In this study we shall consider texts from within the Apocalypse which either identify a specific subject under discussion or which ties in with other biblical texts which are specific. We shall divide these texts into three categories: (1) Texts which conclusively identify with the desolation of the nation of Israel and the destruction of their capital city, Jerusalem. (2) Texts which are not conclusive but which lend strong support to this conclusion, and (3) texts which clearly support this conclusion but which are broader in perspective. In this article, we shall study two texts which we believe conclusively establish the desolation of the nation of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem as the primary focus of the Apocalypse.
In Revelation 11:1-13, John was instructed to "measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months" (11:1,2). God's two witnesses, who identify with Moses and Elijah, continue to prophesy until they are killed. "And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city,... where also our Lord was crucified" (11:8). Later, a tenth part of the city falls and the seventh angel sounds his trumpet (11:13,15).
One need not be a genius to understand that Jerusalem is under consideration here. The temple of God and the altar are in the holy city. Jerusalem and new Jerusalem are the only holy cities identified in the scriptures (cf.Nehemiah 11:1,18; Isaiah 52:1; Daniel 9:24; Matthew 4:5; Revelation 21:1,10). This city is also "the great city... where also our Lord was crucified" (11:8). Jerusalem is identified in scripture as a great city (Jeremiah 22:8) and, furthermore, Jesus was crucified there (Cf.Matthew 16:21; 20:17,18; Luke 13:33,34; 18:31-33).
The Apocalypse reveals things which were shortly to come to pass. John saw Jerusalem being destroyed. Unless John uses the destruction of Jerusalem to symbolize a city other than the one identified, Jerusalem's destruction was still future. Therefore, the book of Revelation was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.
Those holding to later dates cannot accept this obvious conclusion. To do so would frustrate their view of the Revelation. They contend that, since the Apocalypse is a book of signs and symbols, John would not have used such indisputable language to portray Jerusalem. Somehow they perceive that such clear language cannot be symbolic.
At times while travelling I observe huge billboards advertising restaurants showing how they appear. Now I understand the difference between a sign and a restaurant. The billboard is not a restaurant but it may picture or symbolize the place where you can purchase a good meal. This is what John was doing. He saw a vision of Jerusalem's destruction. He identified the city for us in no uncertain terms. The vision was not the literal destruction but it pictured how the destruction of Jerusalem would take place. The destruction of Jerusalem as related by Josephus fully fits the scene recorded by John. I believe this text proves conclusively that the primary events shortly to come to pass center around the desolation of the nation of Israel and the destruction Jerusalem. The book of Revelation was written before these predicted things came to pass, therefore, the early date.
"But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets."
The mighty angel said this during the interlude following the blowing of the sixth trumpet. He declared that when the seventh and final angel sounded the mystery of God declared to His servants the prophets would be finished or completed. Only the Old Testament prophets are identified as God's servants the prophets (cf.2 Kings 9:7; 17:13,23; 21:10; 24:2; Ezra 9:11; Jer.7:25; 25:4; 26:5; 29:19; 35:15; 44:4; Ezek.38:17; Dan.9:6,10; Amos 3:7; Zech.1:6).(1) The mystery of God declared to them are those prophecies relating to God's plan of salvation formulated before the foundation of the world but revealed to us in these last times (Romans 16:25,26; 1 Corinthians 2:7-13; Ephesians 3:1-11).(2) The mystery of God would be finished, fulfilled, accomplished and/or completed before the seventh angel sounded. As Hailey points out, the statement points to the completion of God's plan.(3) The seventh angel's sounding would be a sign that the mystery of God revealed through the Old Testament prophets was complete.
The significance of this statement comes to light when compared to other biblical texts which teach the same things. First, consider Daniel 9:24-27. Daniel prayed to God, confessing the sins of Israel and asking God to "cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate" (9:17). Jerusalem at this time was a pile of ruins from Babylon's destruction of her in 586 B.C. God's reply came in verses 24-27. Seventy weeks were determined for Israel and the holy city "to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy" (9:24).
The meaning of the seventy weeks is not necessary for this study. Suffice it to say that it represents the total time needed to accomplish the six things outlined to be completed. One of them is the sealing up the vision and prophecy. By the end of the 70th week Daniel's vision and prophecy (all prophecy) would be sealed -- not completed but sealed. The coming of the Messiah, His death, the making of an end of sins, the bringing in of everlasting righteousness, etc., established the truthfulness of all prophecy. They also establish the fact that the prophecies were being fulfilled (cf.Acts 3:18, 20-21; 13:26-29,40-41).
As Daniel's prophecy continued, it showed that rebuilt Jerusalem would again be destroyed (9:26,27). Since this destruction of Jerusalem was to follow the completion of the six things promised, it would serve as proof that God fulfilled all that He promised in the vision and prophecy (all prophecy). Jerusalem was destroyed again in 70 A.D. by the Romans, establishing that all things promised through God's servants the prophets were fulfilled or completed. Now, if Daniel's statement means that all prophecy would be completed by the destruction of Jerusalem, then the mystery of God had to be completed at the same time as indicated in Revelation 10:7. The sounding of the seventh trumpeting angel corresponds to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (Revelation 11:15). It is interesting to note that God's servants the prophets were rewarded with the sounding of the seventh trumpet (11:18). Daniel 9:24-27 and Revelation 10:7 are identical on this point, therefore, the Apocalypse was written before the events symbolized by the seventh trumpeting angel took place, i.e., the destruction of Jerusalem.
Add to this Luke 21:22. While discussing the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus said, "These be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled" (Luke 21:22). The only things written to be fulfilled at the time Jesus spoke were the Old Testament scriptures. The New Testament scriptures did not exist at this time. Therefore, the prophecies of God's servants the prophets are included in this statement. The days of vengeance against Jerusalem finished or completed the mystery of God declared to His servants the prophets.
The final destruction of Jerusalem came in 70 A.D. God's purposes and plans were all in place by this time. Nothing remained to be done. The sounding of the seventh angel (Revelation 11:15), then, symbolizes the final step in the fall of the nation of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem. Luke 21:22, along with Daniel 9:24-27, teaches the same thing as Revelation 10:7. Since these texts were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem, Revelation 10:7 must also be fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem. Therefore, the Apocalypse existed before the destruction of Jerusalem.
In summation, our line of argumentation shows that John identified Jerusalem picturing her destruction in Revelation 11. A complete study of the chapter reveals total harmony between John's vision, biblical prophecy and historical reality. Our study also uncovered a statement in Revelation 10:7 identical in teaching to Daniel 9:24-27 and Luke 21:22. Some have said that the comparisons are too remarkable to be true. My response is the opposite. Their likeness is too extraordinary not to be true.
What shall we do? Shall we continue to wallow in confusion and indecision or shall we accept the obvious, believe God and find understanding? Hopefully we will accept the latter. If we do, we will quickly realize that the Apocalypse identifies two persecutors of God's people both of whom reap God's judgment. When we realize this, our appreciation for the book of Revelation will grow. In our next study we shall consider more conclusive evidence.
The present focus of this study centers on the internal evidence for the early dating of the Apocalypse. In our last presentation we dealt with Revelation 10:7 and 11:1-13 as conclusive proof that the book of Revelation's primary theme is the desolation of the nation of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem. Since the Apocalypse was written prior to the actual happening of the events foretold, it must have been written before 70 A.D. As we continue this study, observe two more texts which we feel are also conclusive proof for the early dating of the book of Revelation.
"He said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
One of the elders asked John, "What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?" (7:13). John responded, "Sir, thou knowest." Then, the elder identified them as those "which came out of the great tribulation."
The KJV does not include the definite article "the" in the translation. Most other translations including NKJ and interlinears (Marshall & Berry) include the definite article. This changes the meaning drastically. There is a vast difference in talking about great tribulation and "the" great tribulation. To Illustrate, consider the difference in "great depression" and "the great depression." Great depression could be any period of recession but to us "the great depression" was the recession of the late 1920's. So, when the elder identified this period of tribulation as "the great" one, he is specifying a distinctive period. When we identify this specific period, we will recognize a definite point in history. Old and New Testament passages foretold this period of great tribulation. Observe how recognizable this epoch is.
Identifying The Great Tribulation
"Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it" (Jeremiah 30:7). Written six hundred years before Christ, Jeremiah's prophecy foretold "Jacob's trouble", a day so great that none would be like it. We know this period of trouble followed Pentecost because it would happen when the people "serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them" (30:9). Contextually, this period of trouble follows the return of the Jews from the captivities and the beginning of the reign of Christ.
Daniel wrote, "And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book" (Daniel 12:1). This prophecy of a future period of unprecedented trouble upon Israel came near the end of the Babylonian captivity. The captivity was itself an extraordinary period of tribulation for Israel (538 B.C.). This future tribulation upon God's holy people was many years in the future when foretold by Daniel. The prophecy was "closed up and sealed till the time of the end" (12:4,9,13). Daniel desired to know when the time of the end would be (12:8). God gave one clue. A period of 1290 days (approximately 3 1/2 years) would exist between the setting up of "the abomination that maketh desolate" and "the daily sacrifice" being taken away.
Some terrible periods of suffering came upon the Jews during the inter-Testamental period but none of them were severe enough to eclipse the captivities. This forecast period of trouble would come much later and overshadow all previous periods of suffering by the nation of Israel.
Jesus Identifies It
In speaking of the events to surround the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus said, "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matthew 24:21). It is evident Jesus was talking about what would befall the nation of Israel. His statement parallels the prophecy of Daniel. Jesus made the connection Himself; "When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains" (24:15,16). Jesus explained Daniel's prophecy. Both Daniel and Jesus foretold a period of suffering upon the Jews. This period of tribulation would come in connection with the fall of Israel as a nation. This period of trouble took place during the years of 66-70 A.D. and ended in the destruction of Jerusalem.
Jeremiah, Daniel and Jesus all foretold this period of unprecedented tribulation coming upon Israel. Nothing ever compared to it before or would compare to it again. It was so great that it earned the designation "the great tribulation." Some question this conclusion but to do so is to question God's word. No other tribulation upon earth can compare when we consider all of the details. This was God's wrath poured out upon His holy nation in which he caused them to suffer for their rejection of Him and His son. He brought them to a sudden and complete end in a blood bath of which there is no comparison.
Since Revelation 7:14 identifies victorious saints coming out of "the great tribulation," the substance of the Revelation must center around the desolation of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem. Otherwise, it is not "the great tribulation." There are no if, and, or buts about it. These passages identify the same period of time or Jesus is talking out of both sides of His mouth. Are you ready to accuse Him of that? Since the Apocalypse was written before the things it foretold, it was written before "the great tribulation." This period of tribulation began in earnest in 66 A.D.
"In her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth."
This statement comes in response to the destruction of Babylon the Great. John gave a number of clues to the identity of Babylon many of which typify numerous cities.(1) John's statement is specific however, having only one application. It conclusively identifies Jerusalem as Babylon the Great.
Remember, the Apocalypse is the revelation of Jesus Christ by His angel unto John (1:1). Everything said by Jesus through His angel must harmonize with and never contradict what He has said at other times. This is significant because Jesus delivered the same message during His personal ministry and identified the object of His message. The blood of prophets, saints, and all slain upon the earth are to be accounted for. Observe the message Jesus uttered during His personal ministry.
Just days prior to Jesus' crucifixion and in response to a suggestion from the Pharisees that Herod would kill Him, Jesus said, "For it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem" (Luke 13:33). If a prophet could not perish outside Jerusalem, how could any other city be held responsible for their deaths? Was Jesus whistling Dixie? Did He say what He meant and mean what He said? Jesus further said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!" (13:34). There can be no other explanation. Jerusalem, and Jerusalem alone, was responsible for the deaths of the prophets. If this is true, Babylon can only symbolize Jerusalem.
Identifying Babylon with Rome or any other city demands proof that they were responsible for the deaths of prophets. Who can name even one prophet of either Old or New Testament variety that Rome was solely responsible for their death? The fact is, Rome was never responsible for the deaths of prophets. Jerusalem alone carried this responsibility. Jesus said, "Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation" (Luke 11:49,50). Note carefully; the blood of "ALL the prophets ... from the foundation of the world" was required of that generation. God avenged the blood of His prophets upon Jerusalem in 70 A.D. There is no proof that prophecy continued after 70 A.D., therefore, neither Rome nor any other city could be held responsible for their deaths. Jerusalem, and Jerusalem alone, was held responsible for "the blood of ALL the prophets."
Again, Jesus said, "I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth"(Matthew 23:34,35). Not only was Jerusalem held responsible for the deaths of the prophets but also of the apostles (cf.Luke 11:49) and indeed "ALL the righteous blood shed upon the earth." It is interesting to note that Babylon was destroyed to avenge all of these. John wrote, "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her... And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth" (Revelation 18:20,24).
The message Jesus delivered during His personal ministry (cf.Matthew 23:34-38; Luke 11:45-51; 13:33-35) is the same identical message delivered to John by the angel. Both are from the mouth of the Lord. Did Jesus speak out of both sides of His mouth? Did He punish two cities for the same thing, one that deserved it and the other which did not? Jerusalem was the city of God and deserved this punishment because she knew better than to do as she did, but Rome was not the city of God and knew no better. Before we accuse Jesus falsely, should we not consider the possibility that He spoke the same message both times?
We have discussed four passages from Revelation which tie in with other Biblical texts identifying the substance of the Apocalypse as centering upon the desolation of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem. I believe these conclusively prove that the book of Revelation was written before the things foretold, namely, the destruction of Jerusalem. You are free to disagree if you wish but, if you do, would you be kind enough to point out the error in this reasoning? If these arguments are in error, they should be easily exposed.
In the next article, we will discuss Revelation texts which clearly support these conclusions.
1. For a discussion of the characteristics of Babylon the Great which fully identify her, see The Avenging of the Apostles and Prophets, 2nd edition, Appendix C, p. 435
Our last two articles examined texts within the Apocalypse which conclusively prove that the primary events foretold in Revelation center around the desolation of the nation of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem. Many other texts from within the book support this conclusion. In this study, we shall consider texts which are not conclusive but lend strong support to our conclusion. A third group of texts broader in perspective clearly supports our findings but will not be covered in our studies.
Revelation 1:7 is parallel to Matthew 24:30. Some consider it a quotation. The details are the same. The language is almost identical. Both texts depict a coming in divine judgment (cf. Commentary on Revelation by Homer Hailey, p.102). Jesus' statement in Matthew referred to His coming in the destruction of Jerusalem (cf.Matthew 24:34). Its appearance in the Apocalypse supports our conclusion.
Revelation 1:12-17 parallels Daniel's visions of the Son of Man (Daniel 7:9,13-14; 10:2-21). Daniel saw the Son of man and His involvement in what would befall Daniel's people (Israel) in the latter days. The events foretold were many days in the future when revealed to Daniel. John saw the Son of man presented in like fashion instructing him to write about the things which would shortly come to pass (Revelation 1:1,19). The time was at hand (Revelation 1:3). The picture supports our conclusion.
Revelation 6:12-13 parallels Matthew 24:29-32, Mark 13:24-29, and Luke 21:25-31. These texts record Jesus' discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem. The language is comparable even to the discussion of the fig tree. How can we overlook the obvious? This too supports our conclusion.
Revelation 6:15-16 "And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb."Hosea used the same kind of language to describe the future punishment of Samaria who represented Israel (Hosea 10:8,9). Isaiah used it to describe the punishment of Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:10-22). Jesus also used this language to warn the Jews of the coming plague upon Jerusalem (Luke 23:28-31). Again, this supports our conclusion.
Revelation 11:18 With the sounding of the seventh trumpet a city fell demonstrating the rule of God and Christ (Revelation 11:15). In this action God avenged the blood of His servants the prophets. Only the Old Testament prophets are called "God's servants the prophets" (cf. Hailey, p.246). What occurred here is what Jesus promised in Matthew 23:34-39, Luke 11:49-51, and 13:33-35. This follows the demise of the city where our Lord was crucified (11:8), confirming the Jerusalem connection.
Revelation 12:14 "Time, and times, and half a time" is an expression used two other times in scripture (Daniel 7:25; 12:7). In both instances, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was in view. The expression means three and one half years, the length of the Roman-Jewish War which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem. This further supports our conclusion.
Revelation 14:19-20 The vine of the earth was gathered and cast into the winepress of the wrath of God. The vine of the earth was the nation of Israel (Psalms 80:8-19; Isaiah 5:1-7). The passage portrays the fruit of this vine gathered into a winepress for the extraction of blood. This is the precise picture when the Jews gathered in Jerusalem for Passover in 70 A.D. and were surrounded by the Roman armies.
Revelation 15:1 Seven angels with the seven last plagues appear to pour the wrath of God upon those who "shed the blood of saints and prophets" (Revelation 16:6). Since Jerusalem was responsible for the deaths of all the prophets, Jerusalem is the recipient of this wrath. This is the wrath God promised Israel if she rebelled against Him (Leviticus 26:15-46).
Revelation 17:4 Babylon was decked in purple, scarlet, gold, precious stones and pearls. Jeremiah pictured Jerusalem adorning herself this way hundreds of years previous to the Apocalypse (Jeremiah 4:20). Our conclusion has scriptural support.
Revelation 17:5 Babylon's forehead signified what she was, a harlot. The prophets of old portrayed Jerusalem as a harlot. Jeremiah goes so far as to proclaim her having a "whore's forehead" (Jeremiah 3:1-3). This certainly supports our conclusion.
Revelation 18:4 A voice from heaven calls for God's people to come out of Babylon the Great lest they be partakers of her sins and receive her plagues. This corresponds perfectly with the instructions given by Jesus to His disciples to leave Jerusalem when they saw the proper sign (Matthew 24:15,16; Mark 13:14; Luke 21:20-22). This fully supports our conclusion.
Revelation 18:12-13 The merchandise mentioned in these two verses are products found in Jerusalem most of which were in the temple. Verse 13 is interesting because all of the products mentioned through "sheep" were a part of the temple service (cf.Exodus 30; 1 Chronicles 9:29; 29:1-5; 2 Chronicles 2 & 3). Further support for our conclusion.
Revelation 19:7-9 The marriage supper of the Lamb continued following the destruction of Babylon the Great. This is the identical picture presented in parable by Jesus (Matthew 22:2-14). In the parable, the king (God) sent his armies to destroy those murderers (Jews), who refused the invitation to the marriage, and burned up their city (Jerusalem). This again is supportive of our conclusion.
Revelation 19:11-15 The king of Kings wore a vesture dipped in blood. He tread the winepress of the wrath of God. What was in the winepress? (cf.Revelation 14:19,20 above.) Answer: The fruit of the "vine of the earth," the nation of Israel. Jesus carried out this judgment upon Israel (Matthew 24:30; cf.Luke 21:24,27). This supports our conclusion.
A likeness between the book of Revelation and the Old Testament prophets is apparent to all serious Bible students. This is especially true when considering the book of Daniel. The Apocalypse is the New Testament counterpart to Daniel. Without doubt, Daniel addressed Israel's future all the way to the end of the nation in 70 A.D. Such chapters as 7, 9, 12 stand out in forecasting the ultimate end of Israel as a nation. That end came in 70 A.D. When Daniel received his prophecy, he was told that the time was not for many days (Daniel 8:26; 10:14). In Daniel 9:24-27, a long period of several centuries was forecast before the final destruction of Jerusalem would come. In chapter 12, Daniel inquired as to when the judgment foretold would come to pass. God answered, "for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end" (Daniel 12:9; cf.12:13).
John's message was urgent. The prophecy was to "shortly come to pass" and "the time is at hand" (Revelation 1:1,3; 22:10). Daniel's prophecy was more than 500 years future when he wrote. It was yet for many days while it was at hand when John wrote. If John wrote the Apocalypse between 65 and 68 A.D., indeed, the destruction of Jerusalem was at hand. Jerusalem was destroyed in late summer, 70 A.D.
It is also interesting to note that John spends two chapters discussing New Jerusalem. Why? It was the natural thing to do. Since the bulk of this book leans toward developing the destruction of old Jerusalem, it is only fitting to discuss the emergence of new Jerusalem which God promised centuries before. The new Jerusalem represents the New Testament order which replaced the old. From this point of view, the new Jerusalem takes on added significance and glory.
In these last three articles, I have labored to show that the internal evidence of the book of Revelation ties in with the rest of the Bible. Four arguments were made to prove conclusively that the book of Revelation centers around the desolation of the nation of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem. This article was designed to show that the entire substance of the Apocalypse supports our conclusions. If this line of reasoning is valid, we have conclusively proven what the book of Revelation is about and when it was written. I have been making these arguments for seventeen years and to date I have not had one person to deal forthrightly with the arguments. They are either true or false! If they are false would some one please prove them false.
A recent statement affirmed that the explanation of the Apocalypse centers around the identity of Babylon the Great. I agree. Suppose we give some time and attention to what the Bible says about it. I will state it again briefly and simply. In Babylon was found the blood of saints, apostles, prophets, and all that were slain upon the earth (Revelation 17:6; 18:20,24). Jesus said, "it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem" (Luke 13:33). He also said that Jerusalem would be held responsible for the "blood of all the prophets" (Luke 11:50), yea "all the righteous blood shed upon the earth" (Matthew 23:35). A prophet could not perish out of Jerusalem who was to be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets and all the righteous blood shed upon the earth. How, then, could Babylon the Great symbolize any other city other than Jerusalem without making a liar and false prophet out of Jesus? I challenge you, who ever you are, to either answer the argument or accept it as the answer to the book of Revelation.
Some say this is just my opinion. I deny it. I must accept what Jesus said in the above passages by faith. Do you accept them as a matter of faith? If not, why not? If so, please answer how you can believe them and still believe Babylon the Great is Rome or any other entity? Sectarians have as much right to ignore Biblical statements concerning baptism as we do to ignore Jesus' emphatic statements concerning the city responsible for the deaths of the prophets. Is it opinion to believe Jesus' words? If so, then everything you believe is simply a matter of opinion.
I believe our approach to the dating of the Apocalypse is valid scriptural reasoning. If it is not, I must confess that I do not know how to reason scripturally. This means I have never seen a valid scriptural argument, would not recognize one if I saw it, and could not make one if my life depended upon it. You are hereby challenged to study it carefully and prayerfully to refute and expose it if fallacious, or accept it if true. God is your judge.
What do YOU think ?
Date: 06 Aug 2007
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