This is a second article written on the subject of the actual date for the writing of the book of Revelation. The previous article was an attempt to provide the most concise explanation, without presenting an overly lengthy dissertation. Recently however, several requests for more information have come to my attention. Many questions that were not fully explained have also been received.
Therefore, I have submitted this follow-up to provide information that was lacking in the earlier article. Only by the actual proper dating of Revelation, can the the true historical prospective be rightly established. If the date is early (before 63AD), its fulfillment is in God’s judgment on Israel which fully culminated in 70AD. If the date is later as (Dispensationalists insist), it becomes open to every man’s idea. So dating plays a very important part in its proper interpretation. In addition to that former article, these facts have been recently researched.
As always I encourage readers to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit while prayerfully considering these things. While it is NOT my intention to declare my findings as sound doctrine, I do sincerely hope that everyone desires to establish for themselves that which truly is sound doctrine. Please never be content to merely embrace the teachings of another for your own, unless the Spirit of God has delivered an abiding conviction of validity to your inner being.
Supporters of the later date (95-96Ad) offer this: The external evidence for the late dating of Revelation is of the highest quality. Irenaeus in 180AD, a student of Polycarp (who was a disciple of the apostle John), wrote that the apocalyptic vision “was seen not very long ago, almost in our own generation, at the close of the reign of Domitian”. The testimony of Irenaeus, not far removed from the apostolic age, is first rate. He places John’s vision near the end of Domitian’s reign, and that ruler died in 96AD. Irenaeus seems to be unaware of any other view for the date of the book of Revelation. But nowhere does Irenaeus say that the BOOK was WRITTEN at that time, only that John LIVED until the reign of Domitian.
However, higher criticism of these claims begs for clarification. Just because the vision “was seen not very long ago” certainly, those who determine time-frames referring to terms like “soon” or the phrase utilized by John, “shortly come to pass” (appearing twice in Revelation), concur that those events were expected to occur “sooner”, rather than “later” – especially 2000+ years away!
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place” – Rev. 1:1
“The Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place” – Rev. 22:6
Is conventional wisdom more inclined to accept that those events that were to “shortly take place” actually occurred within John’s time or are yet to happen over 2000+ years later? That Irenaeus wrote that the vision was before the reign of Domitian came to an end, does NOT negate the possibility of an earlier dating of the writing. After all, the flood of Noah’s time definitely occurred before the end of mankind then, but prophesies about THAT end came through him about 120 years during the actual building of the ark. The very 1st prophecy about the impending end was just as true as the later ones that came mere days before the flood, rather than decades. But what if NO flood ever came in Noah’s life-time? Would there be some still today awaiting fulfillment of Noah’s warning?
Another criticism in support of a later writing is the argument offered by Clement of Alexandria (155-215AD) who speaks of John as an “old man.” By which the Dispensationalists reason – if Revelation was written prior to 70AD, it would scarcely seem appropriate to refer to John as an old man, since he would only have been in his early sixties at this time.
THAT one is laughable, considering the total world population in the 1st century was about 200 million (compared to the over 7 billion today), the average life-expectancy was 35, which factors in the ancient world’s very high child mortality rate; about half of all children died before the age of 10. If one did reach 10, they could expect to live into their 40s or 50s. But there is also this that results in the average: all the men who died in warfare, and the women who died in childbirth. Girls were being married at age 12 due to short-life expectancy. Those who reached the age of 60 would, on average, die after their 70th birthday. So, John’s early sixties age would have been widely considered as him being “an old man”. History indicates that he died at 84 in 100AD.
Another claim to later writing is this conclusion based upon Victorinus in the 3rd century, an author of the earliest commentary on the book of Revelation. He wrote that John was on Patmos condemned to the mines by Caesar Domitian. But other ecclesiastical writers have taught that at the time of Claudius Caesar (emperor from 41-54AD), when THAT famine which the prophet Agabus had announced (Ac. 11:28) would come in 10 years time, was at its height, that during that difficulty this same Caesar, impelled by his usual vanity, had instituted a persecution of the churches. It was during this time that he ordered the Apostle John to be transported into exile, and he was taken to the island of Patmos, and while there confirmed this writing.
Still others testified that it was Claudius’ successor, the vicious Emperor Nero (54-68AD) who banished John to Patmos. So either Claudius or Nero fit in the earlier writing supposition. There is no historical evidence of widespread persecution during Domitian’s reign, only that he usually exiled troublesome Christian leaders. The only years of widespread persecution of Christians prior to Domitian’s reign occurred during the reign of the Emperor Nero.
Further evidence of John’s banishment under Nero reveals this. The suggested list of the seven or eight emperors in Revelation chapter 17 can be supported historically by the two different lists of emperors used by Roman historians. The mention of the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem in Revelation 11:1 suggests that the Temple was still standing when John had his vision. The Jerusalem Temple had already been destroyed in 70AD, decades prior to the reign of Domitian.
Consider this recap. Zero historical evidence to support a widespread persecution of Christians during Domitian’s reign exists. He was the son and brother of two prior emperors. Domitian’s father was the Vespasian, succeeded by Domitian’s elder brother, Titus. These men were the Roman generals who suppressed the Jewish Revolt in 66AD. Both previous emperors held a view of Christians that was not completely favorable but ambivalent because Christians did not participate in the Jewish 7 year revolt against the Roman Empire from 66-73 AD. [NOTICE: THAT revolt was 7 years].
Years of peace after the suppression of the Jewish Revolt saw a great increase in the number of Christian communities across the Roman Empire. Many soldiers of common and high rank, senators, and Romans of noble birth converted to Christianity. Domitian’s negative reaction to Christians later in his reign may have been more of a fear of the spread of the influence of Christians who were becoming influential in Roman politics and in the army. He also wished to be worshiped as a god towards the end of his life when mental illness became an increasing burden. This is the only brief period when there is some evidence of Christian persecution since the time of Nero.
Eusebius (260-340AD), a Roman historian, exegete, and Christian polemicist of Greek descent, quotes the testimony of the Roman lawyer and Catholic priest, Tertullian, that there was some persecution of Christians during Domitian’s reign but that it was not like the persecution during Nero’s time. Tertullian also has mentioned Domitian in the following words – “Domitian also, who possessed a share of Nero’s cruelty, attempted once to do the same thing that the latter did. But because he had, I suppose, some intelligence, he very soon ceased, and even recalled those whom he had banished”.
The Roman historian Tacitus (56-125AD) speaks of the deaths of “immense multitudes” of Christians during the reign of Nero, but does not mention any accounts of severe persecutions during the reign of Domitian. Tacitus begins his list of Roman emperors in Annals, his history of Rome, with the name of the first man to bear the title “emperor” of the Romans: Augustus Caesar (Octavian). However, the Roman historian Suetonius began his list of Roman emperors in Lives of the Twelve Caesars with Julius Caesar as the first of the Roman emperors (even though Julius Caesar never officially bore that title), as does Cassius in his Roman History and Flavius Josephus, the Jewish first century priest/historian, in his history of the Jewish people entitled Antiquities of the Jews. There were, therefore, two official lists in use during the first century.
In Tacitus’ list Nero is the fifth name, but on Suetonius’ list Nero is the sixth emperor named.
Those are the evidences from secular history. Perhaps the greatest evidence to support the actual proper dating of the writing of Revelation is within the book itself.
“The beast you have seen was once alive and is alive no longer. Here is a clue for one who has wisdom. The seven heads represent seven hills upon which the woman sits. They also represent seven kings: five have already fallen, one still lives, and the last has not yet come, and when he comes he must remain only a short while. The beast that existed once but exists no longer is an eighth king, but really belongs to the seven and is headed for destruction” – Rev. 17:8-11.
Nero committed suicide (with a little help from a friend) in June of 68AD after a reign of 14 years. He was immediately replaced by Galba who was murdered in 69AD and was replaced by Otho who only lasted 95 days before his murder. This historical succession seems to fit perfectly the passage. Take also into consideration the next line (vs.11). Otho is both number seven and number eight on the lists of emperors.
It is quite possible from this passage to place the written record of John’s visions on Patmos to immediately after Nero’s death during the short reign of Galba. Consider also vs. 8 above. That passage seems to point to the recently dead Nero who was awaiting the resurrection of the dead and final judgment with the damned. If the seven heads and ten horns refer to actual Roman emperors, Domitian does not make the list because he would be number eleven or number twelve depending on which list.
There is also an interesting connection found in the following passage in Revelation.
“Wisdom is needed here; one who understands can calculate the number of the beast, it is a number that stands for a person. His number is 666” – Rev. 13:18.
In ancient times most cultures did not have separate symbols for both letters of the alphabet and numbers. Some ancient sources list this number as 616. In both Hebrew and Greek each letter of the alphabet also had a corresponding numerical value; in Latin only six letters had numerical value. In Greek the word ‘gematria’ denoted the letter value of names, words, or phrases. The ‘gematria’ of “Neron Caesar” (an alternating spelling of Nero’s name in the 1st century) in Hebrew is 666, while the sum of the letter-number value of “Nero Caesar” is 616. The sum of the letters of the words “Caesar-god” in Greek is also 616, and all six of the Roman numerals (I=1, V= 5, X=10, L=50, C=100, D=500) add up to 666. (Note: M = 1,000 was two D’s (500) back to back). See more about 666 in my other articles Anti-Christ’s Mark
The Beast of Revelation
The Sciptural Significance of 666
“Then I was given a long cane like a measuring rod, and I was told, ‘Get up and measure God’s Temple, and the altar, and the people who worship there; but exclude the outer court and do not measure it, because it has been handed over to gentiles” – Rev. 11:1.
The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the pagan gentile Romans in 70AD. If John was told to go to Jerusalem to measure the Temple during the reign of Domitian (81-96 AD), he could not measure the Temple because it no longer stood. If the Temple was still standing at the time of John’s vision then the vision must have taken place prior to the Temple’s destruction in 70 AD.
Most scholars agree that the letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor describe the conditions of seven historical churches in John’s time. They also agree that the last half of chapter 20 and all of chapters 21 and 22 are prophetic visions of the end times which will culminate in the Second Advent of Christ, the Resurrection of the dead, the Final Judgment, the creation of the new heaven and the new earth, the new Jerusalem, and the eternal life of the saints with God in the heavenly sanctuary. The interpretation of the middle chapters of Revelation hinge on two important interpretive questions: What is the historical reference of the visions and what is the nature of the 1000-year period described in chapter 20?
Basically there exist five prevailing views on the topic:
- All the events of John’s visions were fulfilled during the period of the Roman Empire. This view was exceedingly meaningful for the early Church, but less relevant to the present age. Its modern label is PRETERISM (from the Latin term for “past”)
- This school of thought holds that the middle chapters of Revelation, beginning with chapter 4 and including the concluding chapters, apply strictly to the yet to be future. Today most evangelical Protestants (including rapture theorists) and many Catholics support a futurist interpretation. The difficulty with this view is that it robs John’s vision of any meaning for the early Christians for whom he was writing. Modern theologians call this The FUTURIST View.
- In this view particular historical events and characters have no one-on-one correspondence to the scenarios and figures in the book of Revelation. Instead John’s imagery simply symbolizes spiritual realities depicting the fight between good and evil, God and the Devil, etc. that Christians witness in every generation. In this approach the references to the sun, moon, and stars for example are symbols for political rulers. In this approach to Revelation all of John’s visions are concerned with mere ideas and principles. The strength of this view is that it secures the relevance of John’s visions for all periods of Church history, but its weakness lies in its refusal to find a firm historical context to any of the central message. This is referred to as The Spiritual-Idealist View.
- A theory developed from the literary analysis of the book of Revelation, it can be used in the interpretation of a number of the different schools of thought concerning the interpretation of John’s visions. This view holds that the book is structured in seven sections that run parallel to each other. Each of these sections portrays the Church and the world from the time of Christ’s 1st Advent to the time of his supposed promised 2nd Advent. In other words it is not a historical chronology; the story starts all over again with each new section but is told or viewed from a slightly different perspective. In Scripture repetition is underlining, as in the Egyptian Pharaoh’s double dreams which Joseph interpreted in Genesis 41:1-7; 17-36. This identified as The Progressive Parallels View.
- This last view holds that the events described in the middle chapters have found their fulfillment throughout the past two thousand years of the Church’s history. It was popular among medieval dissenters of the Catholic Church and became widespread in the Protestant Reformation movement because it could be used as anti-papal propaganda. In this view the whore of Babylon is the Catholic Church and the Beast is the Catholic Pope. This view was popular with Martin Luther, John Calvin and other anti-Catholic reformation leaders. The Historicist view is less popular today but still has its supporters. In the view of the historicists the seven trumpets equal seven historic invasions of Christendom by enemy armies like the Goths, Vandals, etc. The major disadvantage to this view is that historicists fail to fully agree about which events of human history are foreshadowed in the symbolism of the visions. This is known simply as The Historicist View.
Since each of these views of interpretation in most forms is at least somewhat plausible, it is not necessary to accept any one theory in its pure form. Many modern commentators may teach that one scenario in the middle chapters of the book of Revelation is a symbol of the present age, while teaching that another is actually a prophecy of a future event.
Augustine held that the “first resurrection” in Rev 20:5-6 refers to the present regeneration of the soul through baptism and that the 1000-year reign of Christ in Rev 20:4-10 represents the era of the Church between Christ’s two advents. Of course, he lived before the literal 1000 years between Christ’s 1st Advent passed without any apparent 2nd one having ocurred. But he also taught that the antichrist will be a specific individual who will appear toward the end of human history to persecute the Church for a literal 3.5 years.
Most Evangelical who have been influenced byDispensationalism embrace the “Rapture Theory” in association with a futuristic interpretation of the book of Revelation. But such a “rapture” is never mentioned in Revelation (or by the same name ANYWHERE in scripture).
The chief weakness with this interpretation is that Evangelicals who support the futuristic Dispensational theory are also teaching that there will be two “2nd Comings” of Jesus Christ. According to this view the first return of Christ is in the so-called “Rapture” when only the righteous will be “raised up” with Christ and taken to heaven, followed by a period of tribulation for those “left behind.” According to this view there will be another return of Christ at the end of the age when all humanity – the living and the dead – will be bodily resurrected to face the Final Judgment. The theory of two “2nd Comings” of Christ is not supported in Scripture. It is a teaching introduced in 19th century when it was made popular by a disaffected Anglican named John Darby (the father of Dispensationalism).
The attractive part of this theory for many is that it teaches all Christians will be swept away by Christ in the “Rapture” and will therefore be able to avoid the Great Tribulation that those “left behind” must endure.
Some scholars contend that it is possible to embrace all these views at once, to the extent that Scripture can have several levels of meaning. An example of several levels of meaning can be found in the interpretation of scripture from strictly literal to absolutely figurative and somewhere in between.
Hopefully this added information provided enough ‘food for thought’ for every reader to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and arrive at a truthful conclusion. As mentioned at the begining of this post, an earlier article on the topic is also available, When Was Revelation Written?