12.3. Failure in Fulfillment

Aside from the more obvious ways in which Nero fails to fulfill the passages of Scripture as discussed above, there are other problems with the Neronic Beast.

Those who have studied the emperor cult within the first century have noted that the cult was not fully developed or enforced as early as Nero. “Nero was not deified, though there is some evidence that he wished to be. However, there was no widespread demand that he be recognized as such.” [emphasis added]1 This became more characteristic of the time of Domitian which is the traditional date for the writing of the book of Revelation from Patmos. “It was not until the reign of Domitian that failure to honor the emperor as a god became a political offense and punishable.”2

Emperor Domitian Gold Coins

Emperor Domitian Gold Coins3

Although Nero was famous for vicious persecution of Christians, it has not been shown that this persecution extended beyond the city of Rome and as far away as Asia Minor which would be required by our text (Rev. Rev. 2:10+, Rev. 2:13+). “The first outbreak of persecution by the Roman government was under Nero in AD 74 (Tacitus, Ann. xv.44). This organized retaliation was apparently confined to the city of Rome and therefore distinct from the universal persecution envisioned in Revelation.”4

Beckwith notes that Nero’s career ends before the fall of the Roman empire whereas Revelation describes just the opposite. “Activities and attributes are assigned to him [the Beast] which cannot be predicated of any Roman emperor in his ordinary human personality, as is also a career falling after the destruction of the Roman empire.”5

It is unlikely, however, that these shortcomings will deter the preterists who are intent on having Nero be the Beast. The reason can be seen in how Chilton interprets the clear biblical declaration concerning the time and manner that the Beast is to be destroyed:

And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. (Rev. Rev. 19:19-20+)

From this passage, we see that the Beast is destroyed at the Second Coming of Christ and cast alive into the Lake of Fire. Chilton’s exposition of this passage is typical of preterist tendencies to brush aside the details:

The imagery is borrowed from the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah . . . St. John’s point, therefore, is not to provide a detailed personal eschatology of the Beast and the False Prophet; . . . Rather, the Lake of Fire is his symbolic description of the utter defeat and complete destruction of these enemies . . . The evil personifications of pagan Rome and apostate Israel are ruined and overthrown. [emphasis added]6

When interpretation majors on “borrowed imagery, symbolic descriptions, and personifications,” it is conveniently elastic. Notice the preterist tendency to resort to symbolic interpretation when the text precludes a first-century fulfillment. Chilton unintentionally places himself among the company of liberal interpreters who oppose a literal hell. For if the “lake of fire” is symbolic here, why not elsewhere? And perhaps there is no literal Lake of Fire after all?

Literal interpreters who cling to the Golden Rule of Interpretation and point out the obvious mismatch between the simple declaration of the text and the preterist “fulfillment” are seen as making “much about nothing.” Yet as we said before, the divine is in the details. Once again, it can be seen just how important The Art and Science of Interpretation is when we study the Scriptures. The details concur with Tenney: “One cannot assert that the ‘beast’ is finally to be equated with any single person or power that has yet appeared.”7


Notes

1 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 6.

2 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), 33.

3 Copyright © 2003 www.BiblePlaces.com. This image appears by special permission and may not be duplicated for use in derivative works.

4 Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 34.

5 Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 397.

6 David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance (Tyler, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), 491.

7 Merrill C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1957), 189.

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