A Tale of Two Cities

Morison Lee


Part I

I still remember clearly when my friend Keith More first mentioned the unfamiliar idea that the book of Revelation was about the destruction of Jerusalem. I had always been told Revelation was about Rome in 96 AD, and Jerusalem in 70 AD didn’t ring any bells for me.   

External Dating 96 

The argument I’d learned for a later date (96AD) was based on external evidence, and while I was persuaded, I felt a little challenged by my friend Keith, because, well to be honest, I’d never actually looked at the internal evidence of Revelation. So at first hearing I rejected Jerusalem simply because I knew nothing about it - we humans seem to have an almost supernatural fear of the un-familiar – but later I overcame my initial mental-inertia and turned a page of the Greek bible to check it out. 

Greek study of polis 

Here’s what I found:  the word city (Greek polis) occurs twenty-eight times in the book of Revelation. Of these polis occurs twenty-seven times in the singular. (Only Rev.16:19 is in the plural). Of these singular occurrences the term polis refers to the holy city New Jerusalem thirteen times, and fourteen times polis refers to ‘Babylon,’ the ill-named ‘holy’ harlot city.  Here are the occurrences of polis in the Apocalypse.

Chart: The twenty-seven occurrences of polis (city) in Revelation 


New Jerusalem in Revelation 

3:12 name of city of my God 

Ch   21-22

21:2 I John saw the holy city New Jerusalem

21:10 showed me great city holy Jerusalem

21:14 wall of the city

21:15 measured the city

21:16 city lies foursquare; measured city with reed

21:18 city of pure gold

21:19 foundations of the wall of the city

21:21 streets` of city pure gold

21:23 city needs no sun

22:14 through gates into city

22:19 in and out of the holy city


Harlot city in Revelation 

Ch  11-20               

11:2 and the holy city will they tread

11:8 and the street of the great city

11:13 tenth part of city fell

14:8 Babylon is fallen great city

14:20 trodden without the city

16:19 great city divided into three parts

17:18 woman [Babylon] is that great city

18:10 Alas great city Babylon, mighty city

18:16 Alas great city Babylon

18:18 What city is like unto this great city

18:10 Great city Babylon thrown down

20:9 armies compassed camp of saints, the beloved city


The Importance of Identity 

Almost ten chapters of the Apocalypse are taken up with the destruction of the doomed holy-city Sodom/ Egypt / Babylon. In contrast only the final two chapters deal with its sister-city alter-ego, New Jerusalem.  

The observation is useful because it means in the context of the book the greatest discussion grows out of the harlot city. The identity of the doomed holy-harlot city Babylon was the essential key to locating the context of the book.  Who is the harlot? Answer this question and the scene is set for understanding the book.  A host of confusing theories abound. I believe that if God had wanted to say something to humanity He wouldn’t just whisper in the ears of erudite scholars schooled in the mystical arts of arcane knowledge. I was convinced there was an answer, and that if I looked candidly enough in the scriptures themselves the solution would present itself. I began by emptying my mind and asking questions:- 

Why was the harlot city called the ‘holy city’, ‘beloved city’, ‘camp of the saints’, and why did it have the ‘temple of God and the altar,’ and an ‘outercourt given to the nations’, ‘where their Lord was crucified?’  Weird: this didn’t sound like Rome or Babylon to me. 

The Two Cities 

However it was this strange tension between holy city and harlot city that Most intrigued me. Why was the holy city to be trodden underfoot for forty-two months? (Forty-two months equals three and a half years, twelve hundred and sixty days, time, times and half a time). This sounded like Jerusalem. 

The end of temple A.D. 70 

Jerusalem was surrounded by the Roman army of Titus and sacked in three I knew from a scant reading of Jewish history, (Josephus’ Wars of the Jews) and half years, (66AD to 70 AD) but I’d never really made anything of this connection before. More significantly though, other parallels in the gospels emerged. The words of Revelation 11:2 strangely echoed those of Luke in Jesus’ Jerusalem prophecy about forty years before: 

..and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and they will be led captive into all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the gentiles are fulfilled. Lk 21:24 

This passage in Luke’s Jerusalem prophecy seemed a pretty near fit between biblical prophecy and events shortly to come to pass in Revelation forty years later. (In 70 AD).  

Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles, and they will tread underfoot the holy city for forty-two months. Rev 11:2 

Jerusalem the Holy City 

Check a concordance and you’ll find Jerusalem is always the holy city (Mtt 4:5 Satan took Jesus to the Jerusalem temple in the holy city. Mtt 27:53 In Jerusalem, the holy city, the dead appeared. ).  This also ticked off with Matthew 23-24 when Jesus spoke about the end of the Jerusalem temple and the end of the age in His own generation: ‘Truly I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation.’ (Mtt 23:36) and also in Mtt 24:34 ‘Truly I say unto you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.’ 

Only to  Jerusalem 

Jerusalem was certainly the holy city of the bible:  this is just a plain fact.  Rome was never mentioned by any bible author as the holy city. That was unthinkable. The sacred term holy city was only ever applied to Jerusalem by the ancient prophets, and Revelation was plainly the most prophetic book in all scripture.   

Harlot to be Trampled 

Other things made me think. The temple of God, was located in the harlot.  city, which was consistent with Jerusalem, as was the idea that it was about to be trampled underfoot: which historically occurred in a time frame of three and a half years, which tied in with the same period of 1260 days or forty-two months.  

Jerusalem a Harlot 

The idea of Jerusalem as the harlot city was also echoed by passages like Isaiah 1:21;  how the faithful city has become a harlot? and Isaiah 1:10 where Jerusalem is called Sodom. I knew a good theory should also answer more and more facts, so I wondered what would happen when I considered other facts like time and place? 

Harlot’s Demise: Time 

In time Jerusalem answers the generational span in Matthew 23 and 24 consistently with Revelation’s time span of: ‘shortly to come to pass’ ‘quickly’ ‘shortly.’  ‘every eye shall see Him, even those that pierced Him,’ the destruction of the Mosaic temple and the end of the Mosaic age. (Matt 24:1-3). 

This also explains Daniel ch. 9 

So broadly this explanation combined more stuff: the books of Matthew, Luke and Revelation together with the more ancient prophets like Isaiah and Daniel’s seventy week prophecy in both time and place: 

where the end of the holy city is decreed, to seal up vision and prophecy and anoint the most holy pace; war and desolations have been determined...but after 62 weeks the Messiah will be cut off, in the middle of the week an end will be put to sacrifice. Dan 24-27 (paraphrased) 

Greater Simplicity

There still remained to my mind some reservations, like how to explain the description of a second coming in the first century, and what the context of Jerusalem has to do with the great judgment and the resurrection? I did not know at this stage: that could wait a little, but there was one thing I thought was pretty neat. If Revelation can be explained by first century Jerusalem, then it simplifies the endtime considerably. For example, a first century view: 

1. eliminates the need to add a theoretical 2000 years

2. eliminates the idea of a supposed delay. “O Jesus has just been ‘delayed’ for

 2000 years that’s all.”  (I never felt comfortable mumbling this excuse).

3. eliminates the need to add invisible gaps between verses and chapters.

4. eliminates the need to divide chapters without facts

5. eliminates the need to invent terms like ‘personally’ visibly’ and ‘physically’ (none of which occur in the Bible)

6. eliminates the need to deny passages like Heb 10:37 ‘He shall come and not delay.’ “All things will come upon this generation.’ (Mtt 23:36)

7. eliminates the need to invent ‘multiple second comings’. 

No facts for Futurism

None of these seven futurist arguments have any basis in observable.  Biblical fact.:They all follow from futurism’s historical ignorance of first century facts and a supposition of literalism. But I still had doubts because I had this lingering picture in my head of Jesus coming back in the clouds riding a horse and wearing a white robe.  

Issue Decided by Observation 

A first century Jerusalem-harlot raised many new problems to solve. The thing I liked about a Preterist (past) view that it made sense of more and more facts by observation, and not by the opinions of scholars. I felt really comfortable seeing the connections with my own eyes. The problems I decided to defer until later, but first things first. How far had I come? 

True facts like fixed Stars 

To my mind the safest course in life is to trust known facts: they are like fixed stars in the night sky. Facts are eternal. To the captain of a sailing ship the stars are his guideposts. The ship leaves the dock and the security of land to venture over wide oceans, the destination is far off and unseen. During the voyage the captain must navigate in the dark over unmarked shoals and reefs, at other times plunging madly through white caps breaking over the bows in sprays of foam. Every voyage has risks and danger. The navigator knows he cannot control the sea, and does not care much that he cannot see land, but he surely makes his daily sightings with care. Safe landfall comes when navigation is correct at each point of the way. It is simple logic. The workings are everything. If the observations and reasoning are correct, the correct outcome, the destination will appear. I leave it to the reader to compare their observations and sightings in scripture with the following workings of my own navigation.  In Part II some aids to study will be considered. 

End of Part I

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