Jewish Roots Evidence for a Futurist Interpretation of Revelation
By Ed Vasicek
I am a believer in the concept of biblical patterns and double or even multiple fulfillments of prophecy. The destruction of the Temple on the 9th of Av, 586 BC and again on the 9th of Av, AD 70 evidence the pattern-like nature of God’s dealings.
Still, prophecies usually have one “more literal” fulfillment (e.g., Isaiah 7:14). So it is possible to examine a verse, see how it was fulfilled somewhat near to the prophecy, but then see a fuller fulfillment in the future. Thus the Book of Revelation can have several fulfillments, one that is past, one that is ideological and not tied to particular dates, and one that is somewhat more literal, sequential, and tied to the End Times. Thus the “Futurist” approach to Revelation is not necessarily mutually exclusive, but is, I believe, primary.
Does Jewish literature leave us an example, a clue for interpreting Revelation 4-19 in particular? Although many of us tie this period to Daniel’s 70th seven (Daniel 9:25ff), others see it otherwise. So what evidence is there—outside of the Bible proper—that suggests understanding Revelation 4-19 as an expansion and detailed account of the coming seven-year world tribulation? Glad you asked.
2 Baruch is part of the pseudepigrapha, meaning it is a “falsely named” Jewish religious work; it was probably written shortly before Jesus was born. The authorship is ascribed to Jeremiah’s secretary, Baruch, which is why the document is falsely named. It was certainly not written by Baurch, but over five centuries after his time.
This passage—while not a source of doctrine—demonstrates what some Pharisees believed about the End Times shortly before Jesus’ first coming. Although Jewish imagination is involved in this equation, we must remember that the initial ideas (a time of tribulation, for example) are grounded in Old Testament texts. These verses—and the idea that information about the Tribulation and Earthly Kingdom needed to be expanded upon—may prefigure Revelation, which does just that. The difference, of course, is that Revelation is inspired and dependable. Still, Revelation’s teachings are continuations of Old Testament themes; this is to be expected, for the same God is Lord of both Testaments.
Note these similarities to Revelation: a terrible tribulation with all sorts of disasters, the ideal Millennial Kingdom, and then judgment day (Great White Throne). Also note a well-defined viewpoint on perdition (in Revelation, expanded to include the Lake of Fire). The text follows.
The text from 2 Baruch
(2 Baruch 26:1-30:5)
26:1 And I answered and said: “Will that tribulation which is to be continue a long time, and will that necessity embrace many years?”
27:1 And He answered and said unto me: “Into twelve parts is that time divided, and each one of them is reserved for that which is appointed for it. 2 In the first part there shall be the beginning of commotions. 3 And in the second part (there shall be) slayings of the great ones. 4 And in the third part the fall of many by death. 5 And in the fourth part the sending of the sword. 6 And in the fifth part famine and the withholding of rain. 7 And in the sixth part earthquakes and terrors. 8 [Wanting.] 9 And in the eighth part a multitude of specters and attacks of the Shedim [demons]. 10 And in the ninth part the fall of fire. 11 And in the tenth part rapine [violent seizures of property] and much oppression. 12 And in the eleventh part wickedness and unchastity. 13 And in the twelfth part confusion from the mingling together of all those things aforesaid. 14 For these parts of that time are reserved, and shall be mingled one with another and minister one to another. 15 For some shall leave out some of their own, and receive (in its stead) from others, and some complete their own and that of others, so that those may not understand who are upon the earth in those days that this is the consummation of the times.
28:1 Nevertheless, whoever understands shall then be wise. 2 For the measure and reckoning of that time are two parts a week of seven weeks.” 3 And I answered and said: “It is good for a man to come and behold, but it is better that he should not come lest he fall. 4 [But I will say this also: 5 Will he who is incorruptible despise those things which are corruptible, and whatever befalls in the case of those things which are corruptible, so that he might look only to those things which are not corruptible?] 6 But if; O Lord, those things shall assuredly come to pass which you have foretold to me, so do you show this also unto me if indeed I have found grace in Your sight. 7 Is it in one place or in one of the parts of the earth that those things are come to pass, or will the whole earth experience (them) ?”
29:1 And He answered and said unto me: “Whatever will then befall (will befall) the whole earth; therefore all who live will experience (them). 2 For at that time I will protect only those who are found in those self-same days in this land. 3 And it shall come to pass when all is accomplished that was to come to pass in those parts, that the Messiah shall then begin to be revealed. 4 And Behemoth shall be revealed from his place and Leviathan shall ascend from the sea, those two great monsters which I created on the fifth day of creation, and shall have kept until that time; and then they shall be for food for all that are left. 5 The earth also shall yield its fruit ten-thousand-fold and on each (?) vine there shall be a thousand branches, and each branch shall produce a thousand clusters, and each cluster produce a thousand grapes, and each grape produce a cor of wine. 6 And those who have hungered shall rejoice: moreover, also, they shall behold marvels every day. 7 For winds shall go forth from before Me to bring every morning the fragrance of aromatic fruits, and at the close of the day clouds distilling the dew of health. 8 And it shall come to pass at that self-same time that the treasury of manna shall again descend from on high, and they will eat of it in those years, because these are they who have come to the consummation of time.
30:1 And it shall come to pass after these things, when the time of the advent of the Messiah is fulfilled, that He shall return in glory. 2 Then all who have fallen asleep in hope of Him shall rise again. And it shall come to pass at that time that the treasuries will be opened in which is preserved the number of the souls of the righteous, and they shall come forth, and a multitude of souls shall be seen together in one assemblage of one thought, and the first shall rejoice and the last shall not be grieved. 3 For they know that the time has come of which it is said, that it is the consummation of the times. 4 But the souls of the wicked, when they behold all these things, shall then waste away the more. 5 For they shall know that their torment has come and their perdition has arrived.” [Source: http://www.pseudepigrapha.com]
The Jewish culture is the background for the New Testament, and writings like 2 Baruch could easily have primed the early Messianic community to understand Revelation in the Futurist sense, with Revelation 4-19 being a more detailed prophetic account of that period. Such an idea is not merely a New Testament innovation.