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Friday, December 08, 2006

Dating the Book of Revelation

One of the most important items in terms of interpreting the Bible is to understand the historical context in which it was written. Much of the debate concerning Bible Prophecy hinges on when Revelation was written. While dispensational scholars insist that John wrote his apocalypse in the mid 90’s, a more compelling argument can be made for a much earlier date, around 65-66 AD.

Now one may ask, "Why is this important?" After all, it was nearly 2,000 years ago. What difference does 30 years make? Obviously, 30 years (or even 10 years) can make a big difference in the history of a nation. Germany and Japan in 1950 were quite a bit different than they were in 1940. In the same way, Rome and Jerusalem, the two main players in the Book of Revelation, were much different in 96 AD then they were in 66 AD. Thus the dating of the Book of Revelation becomes crucial in properly interpreting the book.

External Evidence

I.) The Syriac History of John, the Son of Zebedee makes reference to John’s banishment under Nero, who reigned from 54 to 68 AD. It states:

“After these things, when the Gospel was increasing by the hands of the Apostles, Nero, the unclean and impure and wicked king, heard all that had happened at Ephesus. And he sent and took all that the procurator had and imprisoned him; and laid hold of St. John and drove him into exile; and passed sentence on the city that it should be laid waste.”

Elsewhere in the Syriac tradition, we should note that both of the Syriac Versions of the Revelation give in the title the statement that John was banished by Nero. Their titles say. - "The Apocalypse of St. John, written in Patmos, whither John was sent by Nero Caesar." Since John was banished to Patmos by Nero, and Nero died in 68 AD, then Revelation was written prior to 68 AD.

II.) The Muratorian Canon states "…for the blessed apostle Paul himself, following the order of his predecessor John, he wrote to only seven churches by name, in the following order…”. Paul was killed in 68 AD by Nero. Since Paul copied John's example of writing to 7 churches, then John wrote Revelation prior to 68 AD.

III.) In his work Against Jovinianum (1:26), Jerome states, “But if thou art near to Italy, thou hast Rome, where we also have an authority close at hand. What an happy Church is that, on which the Apostles poured out all their doctrine, with their blood: where Peter had a like Passion with the Lord; where Paul bath for his crown the same death with John; where the Apostle John was plunged into boiling oil, and suffered nothing, and was afterwards banished to an island.”

It is almost universally accepted that Peter and Paul were murdered by Nero. Jerome places John’s banishment in the same time period (as do many other church fathers).

IV.) In Quis Salvus Dives (Section 42), Clement of Alexander writes, "… a true account of John the apostle that has been handed down and preserved in memory. When after the death of the tyrant he removed from the island of’ Patmos to Ephesus,”

The fact that Clement does not identify “the tyrant” suggests that it was probably Nero, not Domitian. Nero was universally feared and despised, and his name became the household word for anything evil.

Internal Evidence

I.) Revelation was written during the reign of the 6th Roman Emperor (Nero) - Revelation 17:10.

“There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time.”



Date

Emperor

69 B.C. - 44 A.D

Julius Caesar

31 B.C. - 14 A.D

Augustus Caesar

14 A.D. - 37 A.D

Tiberius Caesar

37 A.D. - 41 A.D.

Gaius (Caligula)

41 A.D. - 54 A.D

Claudius

54 A.D. - 68 A.D

Nero Caesar




The Seventh king was Galba, who was killed in office after only 6 months.

II.) Revelation was written during a time of great persecution of the Church - Revelation 2:10.

"Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

III.) Revelation was written while the temple was still standing in Jerusalem, before the Romans destroyed the holy city - Revelation 11:1-2

"Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, "Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there. But leave out the court which is utside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.”

IV.) Revelation was written while there were still other apostles alive - Revelation 2:2.

"I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;”

V.) There is a lot more internal evidence, such as Judaists in the church and the state of the churches themselves. For more information, read "Before Jerusalem Fell" by Kenneth Gentry.

Evidence for a late date?

The only evidence for the 95 AD date is a vague statement made by Irenæus, the second century bishop of Lyons. In his book "Against Heresies", he writes,

“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.” – Against Heresies Book V, Chapter 30, Verse 3 (Domitian reigned from 81 to 96 AD).

Irenæus’s statement is quite vague. He’s not real clear on exactly what was seen “towards the end of Domitian’s reign.” However, even if we allow for the understanding that John saw the vision during Domitian’s reign, Irenæus remains a questionable source at best. In this same book, he wrote that Jesus had an earthly ministry of 15 years and live to be almost 50 years old.


“For how had He disciples, if He did not teach? And how did He teach, if He had not a Master’s age? For He came to Baptism as one Who had not yet fulfilled thirty years, but was beginning to be about thirty years old; (for so Luke, who hath signified His years, hath set it down; Now Jesus, when He came to Baptism, began to be about thirty years old:) and He preached for one year only after His Baptism: completing His thirtieth year He suffered, while He was still young, and not yet come to riper age. But the age of 30 years is the first of a young man’s mind, and that it reaches even to the fortieth year, everyone will allow: but after the fortieth and fiftieth year, it begins to verge towards elder age: which our Lord was of when He taught, as the Gospel and all the Elders witness…” – Against Heresies Book II, Chapter 22, Verse 5

Irenæus was a great Christian and church father, but was a poor historian. Those who continue to hold to the late date based on Irenæus’s statement do so out of theological desperation, not sound historical research.

There are other church fathers, such as Victorious and Eusebius, who also hold to this late date. However, they clearly use Irenæus as the source for their belief.

“Irenæus, in the fifth book of his work Against Heresies, where he discusses the number of the name of Antichrist which is given in the so-called Apocalypse of John, speaks as follows concerning him:” Eusebius – History of the Church Book III, Chapter 18, Verse 5.

In fact, Eusebius, in his work “Evangelical Demonstrations”, contradicts this belief, placing John’s banishment under Nero.

Conclusion

When the evidence is weighed, both internally and externally, it clearly supports the Neronic date. This fact is crucial considering that John was writing to the First Century Churches of Asia Minor regarding “things which must shortly take place” (Rev. 1:1), were “near” (Rev. 1:3), and were “about to take place” (Rev. 1:19).

8 comments:

Turgonian said...

A good article, but what you're missing is that Julius Caesar never was an emperor. Though, when you look at the power he's has, you could call him a 'king'.

Puritan Lad said...

That;s a good point. Julius was part of the First Triumvarent. However, ancient historians, when listing the Roman Emperors, almost unanimously begin their count with Julius as #1. When one considers the other roles that Nero plays in Revelation, as well as the fact that Galba, the 7th king, did actually "continue a short space", this is the best interpretation.

Turgonian said...

This evening we had a discussion at our church's youth club about 'devils near'. I blended it with the rest, acting like I had only very vague ideas of eschatology, because most people there don't value a debate and, more importantly, I didn't know myself how to defend preterism yet. A few questions arose this evening, though:

- Who is the beast of Rev. 19:19-20?
- Has Rev. 20:2-3 (the chaining of Satan) already come to pass?
- What does this mean with regard to occultism and demon-possession (which apparently still happens in missionary areas)?
- There are many Christians (even today) who have been protected by angels. Are demons hindering us in the same way?
- When will Satan be set free and what will happen (Rev. 20:3b, 7-10)?
I would say this is about Jerusalem, but I see it's set to happen after the millennium is over in which Satan has been bound.

Puritan Lad said...

Good Questions. I'll give you my opinion of some of these.

- Who is the beast of Rev. 19:19-20?
Rome. The Great Whore (Jerusalem) rode the beast, using the Imperial power of Rome to persecute the church, as we see several times in Acts. But Rome (the sea beast) eventually destroys Jerusalem (the great whore/land beast). I'll go more into detail here in a later blog.

- Has Rev. 20:2-3 (the chaining of Satan) already come to pass?
Yes. Luke 10:18-19. Christ has bound the strong man and is currently plundering his house (Luke 11:20-23)

- What does this mean with regard to occultism and demon-possession (which apparently still happens in missionary areas)?
Christ's plundering of Satan's former possessions continue.

- There are many Christians (even today) who have been protected by angels. Are demons hindering us in the same way?
Satan always hinders us and looks for weaknesses in our armor. However, he has been defeated by Christ, and the work of the church today is merely a mop up job. If only the church could understand that.

- When will Satan be set free and what will happen (Rev. 20:3b, 7-10)?
Not sure. I'll let David Chilton answer that from his book "Days of Vengeance". (BTW: If you really want to understand Revelation from a preterist perspective, this book is a must. (Read Online copy free at http://www.entrewave.com/freebooks/docs/2226_47e.htm)

3b "But the precise thrust of Revelation 20 seems to be dealing with something much more specific than a general binding and defeat of Satan. St. John tells us that the Dragon is bound with reference to his ability to deceive the nations — in particular, as we learn from verse 8, the Dragon’s power “to deceive the nations...to gather them together for the war.” The stated goal of the Dragon’s deception is to entice the nations to join forces against Christ for the final, all-out war at the end of history. Satan’s desire from the beginning has often been to provoke a premature eschatological cataclysm, to bring on the end of the world and the Final Judgment now. He wants to rush God into judgment in order to destroy Him, or at least to short-circuit His program and destroy the wheat with the chaff (cf. Matt. 13:24-30). In a sense, he can be considered as his own agent pro- vocateur, leading his troops headlong into an end-time rebellion that will call down God’s judgment and prevent the full matura- tion of God’s Kingdom."

7-10 "At last the thousand years are completed, and God’s timetable is ready for the final defeat of the Dragon. According to God’s sovereign purpose, the devil is released from his prison in order to deceive the nations. Biblical postmillennialism is not an absolute universalist; nor does it teach that at some future point in history absolutely everyone living will be converted. Ezekiel’s prophecy of the River of Life suggests that some outlying areas of the world – the “swamps” and “marshes” – will not be healed, but will be “given over to salt,” remaining unrenewed by the living waters (Ezek. 47:11). To change the image: Although the Christian “wheat” will be dominant in world culture, both the wheat and the tares will grow together until the harvest at the end of the world (Matt. 13:37-43). At that point, as the potential of both groups comes to maturity, a each side becomes fully self-conscious in its determination to obey or rebel, there will be a final conflict. The Dragon will be released for a short time, to deceive the nations in his last-ditch attempt to overthrow the Kingdom."

Chilton also addresses the ridiculous but popular notion that this refers to a future Russian Invasion of Israel, but I'll get to that in a future blog.

Gideon said...

What would you say to someone who says that Irenaeus' recording of Jesus being 50 years old is based on his theological blunder in that he believed that "Christ goes through every stage of human life, from infancy to old age, and simply by living it, sanctifies it with his divinity," and that Irenaeus' reference to John's Revelation "towards the end of Domitian's reign" has no such theological blunder from which it could have derived?

Puritan Lad said...

Be that as it may, a blunder is a blunder, thus using Irenaeus as the sole source of the dating of the book is a questionable exercise, especially with all the evidence to the contrary.

L.D. Jones said...

From all that I have read pertaining the Nero, he persecuted / killed the Christians. He was one that banished a Christian anywhere!!!! Whereas Domitian was noted for banishing!! Yes he was also known for making entertainment for the public by persecuting Christians, but once boiling John in oil failed to entertain but rather caused many watching to repent, it was then that Domitian banished John to Patmos That is the history of the church for the first several centuries!!!

L.D. Jones said...

Nero was not one to banish.