When was the Book of Revelation written? - BibelCenter Studies
Overview
When was the Book of Revelation written?
by Wolfgang Schneider

Introduction

There are two dates that are commonly mentioned for the writing of the Book of Revelation: (a) an early date - still during the lifetime of Caesar Nero, about the middle of the 60ies AD; and (b) a late date - about 95/96 AD furing the time of Caesar Domitian.

The question about the date of the writing of the Book of Revelation is important for an accurate understanding of those events which are mentioned and spoken of in the book. A correct understanding must take into consideration when a statement was made, only then can the time frames and time related elements of the mentioned events be correctly understood. It is remarkable that the proponents of each position often accuse the other that their whole interpretation is based on the dating of the writing of the book and therefore would fall apart if the book were written at a different time. Such arguments are only partly correct. Certainly, as I have already mentioned, the knowledge of the date of writing is important to correctly understand the statements made in the book; if that premise is wrong, the interpretation will be wrong as well.

Now, the most important points for determining the time of writing of the Book of Revelation are the statements and the information in the book, which provide time elements and hints that either directly tell time factors or else imply or indicate time elements. Considering the truth that the Book of Revelation was revealed by God and that the prophet John correctly wrote down the truths he was shown, we can see that the time related information in the book (internal to the book) is the most important criteria for dating the writing of the book. Such information gained from the contents of the book is often called "internal evidence", and such internal evidence has a higher priority and carry more weight than the so called "external evidence", that is, information about the matter in other sources and other works.

The scholars are not really united on this matter, and in the course of certain theological views the late date is preferred today by the majority. The interpretations based on the acceptance of the late date as correct usually place the events recorded in the book of Revelation in the still future and thus they consider the prophecies in Revelation as unfulfilled. Rather important for the acceptance of the late date (approx. 96 AD) is a quote from a writing of the church father Irenaeus where he mentions John in the context of the persecutions of Christians by Caesar Domitian. Based on this source, the writing of Revelation is then placed in the time of Domitian because of the mention that John was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God.

I would like to set forth in this study some of the often used arguments for both dates. In addition, I will mention some points which I would consider to be imortant. Other than that, the readers have the privilege to consider the matter and to come to their own conclusions concerning this topic.

External sources and evidence

I have listed only some external sources, they are repeatedly used by representatives of both positions as a support for their respective interpretations.

Irenaeus - hints to a late date?

The proponents of a late date determine their conclusion mostly from a statement by church father Irenaeus (AD 130 to AD 202), which was quoted by the church historian Eusebius in AD 325, where 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."

If John had seen these visions toward the end of the reign of Caesar Domitian, the years 95/96 AD would be good candidates for the time of writing. Domitian died in 96 AD after having reigned 14 years as Casear and Roman emperor.

However, there are a number of things about this quote from Irenaeus which are not as clear and somewhat ambiguous. A question remains about "who" or "what" was seen. Was John seen still at that time? Or did John see the vision which then was recorded in the Book of Revelation at that time? A difficulty is that the statement comes to us as a third party quote of what someone else quoted that someone else supposedly said about two centuries earlier. We read what Eusebius had heard or knew from some source about Irenaeus, but the statement by Irenaeus is actually a "second hand" report, in that he makes reference to Polycarp. It was not Irenaeus himself, but Polycarp, who according to Irenaeus' recollection saw "that" sometime toward the end of Domitian's reign. It is not clear from this statement what Polycarp was referring to as "that was seen", for he could be referring to John and the visions John saw, he could be referring to the name of the Antichrist, he could also be referring to the book without it being clear if he actually meant that the book was written then or that it already existed. This quote is not as clear as some want to make it, when they base their dating of the writing of the Book of Revelation on this source.

Irenaeus mentioned in another one of his works concerning the number of the name of the antichrist that this number is found in all ancient and approved or recognized copies/writings. This mention of "ancient copies" is interesting because Domitian's reign ended only shortly before Irenaeus' own time and if the book were written in about 95/96 AD, there would hardly have been any "ancient" copies of the book in his day. This mention in Irenaeus' 5th book of his writings seems to point to an earlier date of writing of the Book of Revelation, at least a few more decades removed from his own time so that he could speak of "ancient [older]" copies being in existence.

Aramaic Peshitta Preface - hints to an early date

The preface comment to the Book of Revelation in the Aramaic Peshitta version has a comment which would place the writing of the Book of Revelation to the early date, a time prior to 70 AD. The title page of the Book of Revelation contains the following statement: "The revelation which God gave the evanglist John on the island of Patmos where he had been banned by Nero Caesar." The emperor Nero however died in 68 AD, and according to Roman rules those banned by a Cesaer would be released after the Caesar's death ... thus, John would have been released from Patmos in 68 AD (or shortly thereafter) and the time when he received this revelation and wrote it down would have been prior to 70 AD. John himself mentions in the book that he was at Patmos, when he received this revelation.

Internal evidence

There are a number of points arising from the internal evidence, that is, from information given in the book itself, which all indicate the early date as not only probable but the only possible date for what is stated in the Book.

Warnings to seven churches in Asia

The Book of Revelation specifically mentions that this revelation was of special relevance to the seven churches in Asia and that John wrote it and had it sent to those churches by messengers (cp Rev 1:4). It is important to note that during Paul's ministry in the 50ies AD, there had been nine churches established in Asia. At about 60/61 AD there was a large earthquake in which, as we can read in secular sources, the cities of Colossae, Hierapolis and Laodicea were totally destroyed. Laodicea was the only city of these three which was rebuilt soon afterwards, which then left seven cities with churches in Asia. The period of time where there were only seven churches in Asia was only during the few years from the early 60ies AD to the time prior to the Jewish war.

In order for the book to even be of benefit to the Christians in Asia, it must have been written prior to 66/67 AD, before Vespasian was coming through this area with his armies as they were getting in position for the war against the Jews. Once the war started, the Romans plundered and persecuted the Christians as well as the Jews wherever they came through.

An interesting detail from the message to the church at Philadelphia (cp Rev 3:7ff) also sheds some light on the possible time of writing. The believers at Philadelphia are warned by Christ in this revelation that an "hour of temptation" was imminent and "about to come upon all the world [the Roman empire]" and that they should hold fast and remain faithful as he [Christ] was coming soon. This is important and significant in that it is addressed to believers of a church in the 1st century AD and in that the first persecution of Christians all over the Roman empire took place under Nero Caesar in 64 AD. If this warning to the believers in Asia about an imminent temptation and the encouragement to hold fast related to this persecution, then the book seems to have been written even prior to 64 AD.

John's later activities

Another internal evidence in the book itself is connected to a reference about certain activities which John was still to experience in his life afterwards. In Rev 10:11, John is told that he "must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings". Now, if John would have received this revelation in 96AD and written it at that time, then these words which he was told did not come to pass, seeing that he was a very old man at that time and hardly able to walk and travel. But, if John did receive this revelation and write it down during the time of Nero approx 65-66 AD, then he could fulfill what he was told. He would have been able to prophesy and to teach during the reigns of Caeasars Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus and also Domitian (spanning the time from 68-96 AD).

Destruction of city and temple at the end of the age

There are a number of references in the book of Revelation with symbols that have reference to the temple, and in addition Rev 11,1-2 makes reference to the destruction of the temple and the city of Jersualem. This event was also foretold by Jesus, when he prophesied about the judgment on Jerusalem which was to come by the Son of man at the end of the age.

There is a parallel record in Zec 14:2 about this "day of the Lord" with its destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and Zec 13:7ff places this shortly after the shepherd would have dispersed his sheep (Jesus did quote from this section in Mt 26,31). Rev 11,2 is also a parallel to Mal 4, where a day of the Lord is spoken about when the Lord would separate and burn the chaff (the evil ones). This also parallels what Jesus mentions in parables about the burning of the chaff, the burning of apostate Israel, "at the end of the world [age]" (cp Mt 13:40,49).

Now, when is or was "the end of the age"? Other records in the NT scriptures provide some insight as they mention certain things which happen in connection with the end of the age. The writer of Hebrews speaks of Jesus as "now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." (Heb 9:26), and we can see from this passage that "the end of the world [age]"is the time when the Messiah Jesus through his sacrifice put away sin; in other words, the "end of the age" was the time during which Jesus lived and fulfilled his ministry almost 2000 years ago.

The coming of the Lord is placed as "near"

In Rev 1, the coming of the Lord is introduced and it is carried through the whole book to Rev 22, where we read about "Surely, I come quickly [soon]!" In Rev 1:7 the coming of the Lord in the clouds is mentioned, in addition we learn that those who pierced him would see him, as would be the case with all the tribes of the land, etc. Rev 1:7 is a reference to Zec 12:10, the words which Jesus also used when he was speaking to Caiaphas the highpriest (cp Mt 26:64).

The descriptions of Jesus about his coming in Mt 16:27-28; 23:34-39 and 24:30-31 are parallel to the record in Dan 9:24-27. Jesus was very clear about his coming being imminent and still happening during "this generation", that is, during the lifetime of some of his contemporaries, while some of his apostles and disciples would still be alive. Christ would come to judge the wicked and to execute the judgment on apostate Israel who were persecuting him and his disciples. This would not be a judgment that would occur at some very distant time in the future; instead, Jesus was rather emphatic about it being "soon", and "about to come".

For example, in Mt 16:27, Jesus used the words "For the Son of man SHALL COME ...". Grammatically, this looks in English like a simple future, describing an event that could be at any time (near or distant) in the future. However, the Greek uses the word mello in connection with the "come", and the expression should be translated as "For the Son of man IS ABOUT TO COME ..."! (For the meaning of mello, compare Thayer, Greek and English Lexicon, p. 396). Jesus declares that he "is about to come", and this imminency he emphasizes by stating in the next verse, that some of those who heard him that day would not die and actually see the Son of man coming in his kingdom! In other words, they would still be alive when Christ would come!

Conclusion

As we consider these points given in the NT scriptures, and as we accept that what is stated is indeed true, there are really two possibilities: (1) Jesus did already come, as he himself prophesied, or (2) there are some of those disciples who heard Jesus that day who are still alive somewhere on earth and who are approx 2000 years old by now.

The coming of the Lord was one of the various judgments of God and is parallel to the judgments of the LORD mentioned in Gen 3, when Adam and Eve were judged for transgressing God's command. It is parallel to the coming of the LORRD to judge Sodom and Gomorrah in Gen 18; it is parallel to the coming of the LORD upon Egypt at the time of the exodus of Israel from Egypt (cp. also Exo 2:8, Jer 5:25; 10:5-11; Joel 2:1; Zeph 1:1-18; 14:5)

The coming of Christ in Rev 1:7 is a mention of that coming when the Son of man would judge the enemies of his assembly and his coming to execute judgement on apostate Israel, it marks the events prophesied to happen at the end of the age.

From both external and internal evidence of the Book of Revelation, an early date is the only option which will harmonize well with the content of the book. Although the later date of 96 AD is widely accepted in many Christian circles and groups today (even though this theory basically only rests on one statement in one external source), the evidence in the book of Revelation itself points rather clearly to an earlier date of 65-66 AD for the time of writing, the time when John was banned to the Isle of Patmos during the persecution by Caeasar Nero.

 



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Copyright © 2010 by Wolfgang Schneider
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Last changed: 13.05.2010