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.
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.
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.”
69 B.C. - 44 A.D
31 B.C. - 14 A.D
14 A.D. - 37 A.D
37 A.D. - 41 A.D.
41 A.D. - 54 A.D
54 A.D. - 68 A.D
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.
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).