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Bible Studies

Research insights into the Date of Revelation

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
Why is the dating of Revelation so important? Because it sets up what approach or view one will take-which of the four. Unlike letters today, the book of Revelation does not come to us postmarked with a date, so scholars and researchers need to make a reasonable assumption about the date of this book from...

Why is the dating of Revelation so important?

Because it sets up what approach or view one will take-which of the four. Two of them, the Preterist and Futurist views, are predominately hinged on it. Unlike letters today, the book of Revelation does not come to us postmarked with a date, so scholars and researchers need to make a reasonable assumption about the date of this book from careful study that is not based solely upon a theological agenda. The context and word meanings of the material in Revelation do give us clues to examine.

Since my expertise is more in textual criticism and inductive logic, this is where I will keep my arguments as well as a look in to the "Early Church Fathers." Keep in mind; I have no "ax to grind" or theological agenda to propagate. So, I will be like a CSI person, and just provide the evidence and present the findings. You can be the jury.

First a backdrop: What is often forgotten or ignored is the fact that the Book of Revelation has more references from the Old Testament than any other book in the Bible! A magnitude of them deals with prophecies about the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. and God's judgment of Jerusalem, as well as the Jewish headship and the disobedience of apostate Israel. Thus, most postmodern Christians will not understand Revelation because they do not know the Old Testament, its rich symbolism, its culture, or the historical conditions of that time.

The date is significant, because if Revelation was "just" written about far-away future events, then this letter to people in dire stress was mostly meaningless. How could they listen to the words of the prophecies and obey something that was not relevant to them?

This would have been a belated word of comfort or a cruel joke, like a relief agency sending a Christmas card to a persecuted Christian in Sudan and saying we are praying for you, but do not worry we will help your great grand kids. (I need to note that I was a diehard late-date person, but now I lean toward an early date personally. So, pardon any bias of language).

An early date prior to 70 A.D.?

First are the arguments previously given. The main arguments to setting a date proposed in the last post is predicated on the fact that John makes no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem or the Temple in 70 A.D. and thus the book must have been written prior to these events. However, the retort to that is that this is an "argument from silence" which does not persuade when there is ample evidence that John wrote Revelation around 95 A.D. Also, when the "Olivet Discourse" (Matthew 24) is compared to Revelation, a proof is formed that is hard to rebuff. In addition, Jesus' own words are seen in Matthew 24:1-3: "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down ....This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." In less than forty years later, this prophecy was fulfilled. This statement is climatic and earth shattering to a Jew and for setting up a new covenant, a Kingdom of God age. The "early date" people use this as their main argument. But, is there more evidence?

Word usage and "internal evidence:"

Let's begin with what the word Apocalypse means. The accepted and understood meaning is that it deals with the end times, with what is going to happen at the end of the world. Also, the popular thinking is that this is about what is ominous, anarchical, and disastrous. However, the word, Apocalypse, has the same meaning as the word Revelation, which comes from the Greek word, apokalypsis, meaning the "discourser of events," as opposed to undisclosed or mysterious. Thus, even though Revelation has a lot of figurative phrases, it is not necessarily concealed when we take an honest look and compare it to other passages in the O.T. rather than pursuing trends or "newspaper eschatology." Thus, Apocalypse means something is being revealed as an "uncovering," an "unveiling," or, as we have it in the English, a "Revelation." Revelation is a book of disclosure and hope through John's seven visions and God's exhortations (Judges 6:11-23; Dan. 7:16; 10:5-21).

We then see this further as Revelation opens with an elaborate greeting so we can more firmly connect our relationship with the authority that is Christ and we can receive His hope and encouragement. Thus, the title of this Book means the "revelation of and about Jesus Christ" that the original hearers could now know.

Revelation 1:1 states, "what must soon take place." The word "soon" (swift/shortly-Greek "Tachos") means quickness and speed, indicating that these events will happen "suddenly" and "unexpectedly" (Matt 24:32; 2 Pet. 3:8-18).

The late date, so people point out, also refers to God's divine providence and the final phase. The time of waiting is over; Christ is here. The time is near for God who lives outside of space and time, but not necessarily near for us. This is similar to the last days, referring in context to the sudden nature of the Christian era, not necessarily a time reference (2 Pet. 3:3). Many Christians took this to mean that it would happen soon. We need to understand God's perspective, not our desires. This word is critical to which approach and view of Revelation one takes. If we take this word as it is in English and do not pay attention to the Greek or the context, we will jump to the conclusion of immediate fulfillment (Acts 2:16-17; 1 John 2:18; Rev. 22:6-12, 20).

Thus, if it is a prophecy of things that were to happen "shortly", then these or most of these prophecies were fulfilled with the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.!

More Word usage and "internal evidence for an early date:"

The eight kings mentioned in Revelation 17:9-14, may present a date of early 70 A.D. just before the destruction of the Temple which happened in the fall season. The argument goes that if the kings were the Roman emperors, and if it started with the first, 1. Augustus, with the next seven being 2. Tiberius, 3. Caligula, 4. Claudius, and 5. Nero (who died June 9, 68 A.D. and may be the "deadly wound" in Rev. 13:3-14), then after Nero's murder which left the Roman Empire in chaos, there were three very short lived "pocket emperors" 6. Galba, 7. Otho, and 8. Vitellius, who sought to take advantage of the situation and consolidate power, but each was quickly assassinated. Then, after the eighth one came Vespasian, who restored order in 70 A.D. but also did not live long (Job security was not good then). The date can be predicated because the "deadly wound" was healed by Vespasian (Rev. 17:10). If you did not count the pocket emperors, Vespasian would be sixth and Titus the seventh and Domitian the eighth. So an argument can be made using this system for both date theories. Even though the length of a Roman Emperor's reign might be short, he was still the king.

Another wording of note is how the tense of word and context of "beast" is used. In Revelation 17:8-11, it says, the beast, which you saw, once was, now is not. If the "beast" represents the Roman Empire and its megalomaniac emperors like Nero and Domitian, then Revelation could not have been written during the reigns of either Nero or Domitian; rather, just before either one! Now this just confounds things a bit more.

Another "internal evidence" is how John addressed his personal situation. John was still to experience a lot of life after this writing, not that he was ready to die of old age. In Rev. 10:11, John is told that he "must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings." If John received this message around 96 A.D., how could he be able to walk and travel? Of course, an assist from God would be an answer too. If he was told this in 65-70 A.D., then he had lots of time and the enablement to do it.

An O.T. word example in Daniel 9 is the term "the abomination of desolation." This is an image of extreme evils, oppression, sexual exploitations, and the seductions of the world, referring to the evils of paganism and immorality and rationalizing it as OK (Lev 18:23; Jer. 3:3; Ezek-. 27; Hos. 2:2; Rev. 2:23; 7:3; 13:6). Antiochus IV Epiphanes destroyed the Temple in 167 B.C., at which time he also desecrated an idol of Zeus resembling himself. But wait; there is more! Herod rebuilt it, and it was just being finished at the time of Christ (Daniel 8:12, Daniel 9:24-27, Daniel 11:31, 12:11, Matthew 24:15, Revelation 11). This also refers to Matthew 24, and the most despicable apostasy and sacrilege that a Jewish person could conceive of that caused the desolation of the most holy place of the Temple. Daniel predicted this would happen after the death/rejection of the Messiah, which was also fulfilled at the crucifixion and the Temple's destruction in 70 A.D. (Dan. 9:25-27; 11:31).

We will also see that Matthew 24 addresses the same issues as Revelation and the same period of time as Daniel 9. In Matthew 24, Jesus is not talking about the end of the future world, but the destruction of the Jewish temple, marking the end of the Jewish system or "age". He is not teaching about "The Last Day" (of history), but the last days of the Jewish economy, the false religious system of the Jews, and the beginning of the New Covenant era. This is what John's readers and hearers were going through.

Textual redaction considerations: 

• The "Syriac version" of the New Testament, which dates back to the second century A.D., states that Revelation was written during the reign of Nero making a date of 64-68 A.D.

• The "Muratorian Fragment," dating back to 170-190 A.D., states that this work of John was written during the reign of Nero.

• The "Aramaic Peshitta" version has a remark that places its date prior to 70 A.D. The title page of Revelation states this work of John was written right after the reign of Nero.

• The "Monarchian Prologues," that dates back to 250-350 A.D., claims that Paul also wrote to these seven churches (possibly Romans which was a "circular letter," it went out to many addressees) following John's Book, thus, placing the book even before some of the other Pauline epistles.

•A quote, arguably attributed to Papius (130 AD), states that John the Apostle was martyred before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Roman law of exile:

Nero Caesar exiled John on the island of Patmos. Nero died in 68 AD, and according to Roman law, those banned by a prior Caesar would be released by the succeeding Caesar. Thus, John would have been released from Patmos around 68 AD. (John himself mentions he was at Patmos when he received the Revelation).
 
The condition of the Church in Asia Minor:

John is clearly writing to the seven churches and consequently to people being persecuted by Rome. Rome was a bloodthirsty, pagan empire that oppressed its people, especially Christians, who were considered criminals and slaves and used for sadistic entertainment.

Peter also wrote to the Christians in Asia Minor around the same time for an early date or a few years before John (1Pet. 1:1-6; 4:12; 5:9). He notes that they were in extreme persecution, suffering, and in dire anguish. This is similar to John's language and situation (Re 2:9; 3:9) and similar situations recorded by Paul in Acts 13:50; 14:5,19; 17:5-8,13; 18:12. Thus, the severity of the persecution is consistent with an early date.

Keep in mind that a Preterist view would require that the date for Revelation be prior to 70 A.D.

A late date after 70 A.D.?

Most modern, historical, and biblical scholars tend to state that Revelation was written between 95 and 96 A.D. with the major exceptions of McGuiggan, Jay Adams, Philip Schaff, and some others who contended for an early date of 70 A.D., specifically in the spring, during Vespasian's reign, thus making an argument for an early date steps one out of the herd into the presumption of pride or a theological agenda; of course, the majority can be wrong too. If the later date is true, then the Preterist position cannot stand up well-if at all. The majority of the prophecies were fulfilled (except Christ second coming). Keep in mind that the key to this position is Jesus' own words in Matthew 24.

Most scholars contend that the date of Revelation was around 95-96 A.D. near the end of the Domitian's evil reign. How, and why?

Iraneaus is the main spokesmen to this date. He lived in the second century A.D., a principal "Early Church Father" who made a statement in 185 A.D. that the apostle John "saw the revelation...at the close of Domitian's reign (A.D. 81-96). (Ref: Contra Haereses 5.30.3; ANF, 1:559-60 also called in the fifth book of his work "Against Heresies".) The argument against this is that in context, his statement is not clear, rather ambiguous, but can be implicit in various ways.

Here it is: 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.

There are at least four main problems with this statement. 1. It is actually a "second hand" account, which he quotes from Polycarp. Thus, it is not a direct quote from Irenaeus. 2. In context, this quote referred to Polycarp's remembrance (also referred to by Eusebius) "that" sometime toward the end of Domitian's reign there will be an antichrist (which simply means anyone who opposes Christ; here in a grand scale). 3. It is not clear from this statement to what Polycarp was referring or what he meant by "that was seen." It could have been referring to Revelation or to a coming antichrist that was also implied by John. 4. Irenaeus suffers from credibility issues and/or textual and scribal errors. He also wrote when he was very old and/or made major mistakes. For example, in the same work as the aforementioned quote, he states that Jesus was crucified when he was fifty years old. Thus, the principle source for the late dating of the Book of Revelation has some significant holes.
 
Did the Early Church Fathers give credence?
Some of the other Early Church Fathers give credence to a late date. Jerome, Sulpicius Severus, and Hippolytus all thought that John was exiled to Patmos under Domitian, where he saw the visions and wrote the Apocalypse. Another was Clement of Alexandria, who was an "Ante Nicene Father." In his work, "Who is the rich man that shall be saved? XLII," he gives credence to a late date too. So say many Futurist scholars. But, when the text is examined,
"the Apostle John. For when, on the tyrant's death, he returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos, he went away, being invited, to the contiguous territories of the nations, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, there to ordain such as were marked out by the Spirit..."
The key is how you translate the phrase the tyrant's death, because it could be Domitian as this theory argues, but it could be someone else like Nero. Jerome also stated in his Book of Illustrious Men that during the final reign of Domitian, he instigated the biggest persecution of all, even greater than Nero's. Therefore, this sets up the situation for Revelation. However, these statements can easily be cross-examined and refuted because of contextual issues similar to the Irenaeus refute. Thus, these late date theories may come out of interpretative errors by their scholars, from reading into a theory and grasping for any evidence, or that the historians just could not recognize how Christ's statements applied to the audience as he said they did.

The other main theory for a late date is when the events recorded in the book of Revelation take place in Domitian's reign (81- 96 AD), the contention is that it is in the future after the date of around 82 to 96 A.D. This is backed up by the early church historian, Eusebius (A.D. 300-340), who actually did not state the date but just gave a general connection between John and Domitian, which could just mean John was still alive in Domitian's reign.

Keep in mind that a Futurist view will require that the date for Revelation be after 70 A.D.

When I originally wrote this fifteen years ago, I was seeking to research and perhaps prove a late date, but the investigative study proved to have too many holes. However, as I said in the beginning, Revelation does not come with a date and time stamp, so scholars and Bible students need to make a reasonable, logical investigation before an assumption can be made about the date and views. Although I personally lean toward an early date now, I am not an advocate of it nor am I totally convinced. Why? Because Revelation has more to do with how we live than what will come. Thus, having a Preterist or Future view or even something else is not as important as what the beasts in our lives are, as well as in whom and where our hope is (which is more of a Spiritualist view, but I can't hold to that-I am Reformed! lol)

© 1991, 2008, R .J. Krejcir, Ph.D., Into Thy Word www.intothyword.org/

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