The Beast of Revelation

Kenneth L. Gentry Jr. American Vision, Powder Springs, GA March 1, 2002
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Are the events described in the Book of Revelation yet future, were they substantially fulfilled in the first century, or are they a combination of both? Gentry, dean of faculty and professor of systematic theology at Westminster Classical College in Elkton, Maryland, argues that Revelation describes first-century events and that the beast in Revelation 13 is Nero. Although this book is a condensation of more detailed arguments presented in his doctoral dissertation, published as Before Jerusalem Fell (Atlanta: American Vision, 1998), it includes information that was not in that larger work.

In part one Gentry presents the case for his belief that Nero was the beast referred to in Revelation. Gentry discusses five principles that govern the interpretation of the number of the beast, 666, which is the key to the beast’s identity. (1) The beast’s number is that of a man, (2) The beast is an evil man of debased character, (3) The beast possesses “great authority,” (4) The beast is one of John’s contemporaries, and (5) The beast is relevant to first-century Christians (pp. 8–9). Although Gentry acknowledges that the first three are widely held among evangelical commentators, he believes that the last two have been “largely overlooked, which almost certainly causes a radical misidentification of the Beast and his mission” (p. 9). The remainder of part one presents the case for Nero based on these interpretive principles.

Futurist interpreters of Revelation will not find Gentry’s evidence for preterism compelling, although this book will help them understand how a conservative Christian exegete could interpret the book as describing first-century events.

In part two Gentry argues that the Book of Revelation was written before the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70. This is an important issue, since it is intricately connected to the identity of the beast. If, as the majority of modern scholars argue, Revelation was written sometime in the early to mid 90s, it is unlikely that the book describes first-century events and the beast must be other than a first-century figure. On the other hand, if Revelation was written before the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70, Nero becomes a prime candidate for the beast and an entirely different understanding of the events in Revelation becomes possible. In presenting his case Gentry examines both internal and external evidence. With respect to external evidence a major point in his argument is what he believes is an erroneous interpretation of a key statement made by Irenaeus in his work Against Heresies. Since this statement is used by many scholars as probably the most important piece of evidence for a late date for Revelation, Gentry’s discussion is extremely important. A commonly accepted translation of Irenaeus’s comments reads, “We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen not very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign” (p. 205). Gentry argues that Irenaeus’s statement has been improperly translated, and that it is better understood to mean that John was alive in Domitian’s reign and not that Revelation itself was seen by John then (p. 206). Most interpreters will not find this reinterpretation convincing.

If Gentry’s arguments are viewed in isolation from the remainder of scriptural evidence, they might seem compelling. However, when viewed in the light of clear future prophecies such as Daniel’s seventieth week (Dan. 9:27) and the coming of the Son of Man in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:29–31), his arguments for a preterist understanding of Revelation are not convincing. In his discussion of internal evidence he does not address the issue of the binding of Satan during the thousand-year reign of Christ (Rev. 20:1–6), which is a critical piece of evidence that points to future fulfillment of events described in Revelation 4–22.

—James M. Larsen with Glenn R. Kreider

July 1, 2005
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2005 vol. 162 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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