Dating the Book of Revelation
This Learning Activity is a continuation of Learning Activity #39 which should be completed before you continue with the following material.
There are many and varied commentaries available that purport to inform the reader as to the meaning of the contents of the book of Revelation. To the Bible student who is familiar with history and has a basic understanding of prophetic language as used throughout the Scriptures and as explained in Learning Activity #30, there is no explanation needed. Revelation describes the Parousia (second appearance or presence of Christ) with His judgment of Jerusalem by the destruction of the city, the Temple and the entire Jewish priesthood with its ordinances and rituals. This action, which took place over a period of siege by the Romans, culminated in the total leveling of the city and the Temple in AD 70, a fact which is clearly recorded in the annals of history. One such place where this fact is recorded is in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, in his War of the Jews, Volume Seven, where he indicates that the fall of Jerusalem began with Nero giving the order to Vespasian in February, AD 67. The war and the destruction ended in September AD 70, three and one–half years later!
There can be no mistake that the city that is the center of the destruction described in the book of Revelation, Babylon, is no other than the ancient city of Jerusalem. I think the following gives adequate support for this conclusion.
John repeatedly refers to “Babylon” as “the great city.” These references are found in Revelation 14:8; 16:19; 17:5, 18; 18:2, 10, 16, 18, 19 and 21. In addition, Revelation 11:8 identifies “the great city” as the place where our Lord was crucified. In Jeremiah 22:8, Jerusalem is also referred to as “this great city.” It would take a serious case of tunnel vision for anyone to think that the great city spoken of in the book of Revelation is any city other than Jerusalem!
The seven kings of Revelation 17:10 also help us to date the book of Revelation.
“And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space” (Rev.17:10).
Many believe these seven kings to be the emperors of the Roman Empire. This line of succession consisted of Julius Caesar followed by Augustus, Tiberius, Caius, Claudius, Nero and Galba as the seven kings. The first four in this succession are confirmed by Josephus in his historical writing,
Antiquities, Book 18, Chapter 2, Paragraph 2; Book 16, Chapter 6, Paragraph 2; Book 18, Chapter 6, Paragraphs 9 and 10. The Revelation 17:10 verse states that five have fallen, one is and one is yet to come. The five heads of this kingdom that “are fallen” would mean that they had died. “And one is” would seem to signify that one is still living at the time the book of Revelation was written. This individual would be Nero in the succession. “The other is not yet come” would refer to Galba who had not yet come into power at the time of the writing of Revelation. If all of this is true, John is indirectly telling us when the book of Revelation was written. This would place the vision in the time of Nero which is 54–68 AD with Galba to follow who ended up reigning for only six months!
The instructions to John to measure the Temple are also important to our study.
“And there was given to me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months” (Rev. 11:1–2).
In this part of the vision, John is asked to measure the Temple. If the vision was before AD 70 there was a Temple that could be measured. If the vision was given at the late date of AD 95, there was no Temple to measure as it had been destroyed in AD 70! Since there is still no Temple 2,000 years later, and the vision was supposed to have been fulfilled in “tachu” time, which is real quick, then there is a problem with the vision having been given at that late date. The only logical answer is the earlier date (AD 68) prior to the destruction of Jerusalem when the Temple would have still been standing!
1. Revelation 1:1
The scripture above is probably all a person should require to properly understand the time frame and context of the book of Revelation. The verse shows that the focus of the book is Jesus Christ and that it was written about “things which must shortly come to pass.” This wording supports a time frame where its internal prophecies had to take place “shortly” and cannot by the rational reader be placed in any other time frame than the near future at the time it was written.
There are other internal references in the book of Revelation for the serious Bible student to study, however, the writer feels this is an adequate treatment to convince those who may be open to what the Scriptures say. To regard this book as a revelation of the distant future, as some Christians do, when it expressly declares that these things of which it speaks are at hand, is to ensure misconception and failure in interpretation. Much confusion has been introduced into the church when those who exegete this book engage in such gyrations as interpreting “near” as being “distant,” “quickly” to mean “thousands of years hence” and “at hand” signifying “afar off.”
In conclusion, it appears to the writer that this entire situation illustrates the power of bringing preconceived doctrine into our reading of the Scriptures. The influence of doctrine causes us to see what our doctrine demands, rather than letting the Scriptures speak for themselves. To assume that no mistake has been made by some in the church before us would be preposterous given the contents of this Learning Activity and other research that I am sure will surface in time to come. I am convinced that fellow travelers along this same route will soon correct what is proven to be erroneous and confirm that which is shown to be correct. My research has convinced me that the late date of 95–96 AD for the writing of Revelation is more a product of tradition of some rather than by solid evidence.
The list that follows will be an attempt on my part to provide the reader with some Christians who have found that an earlier dating for Revelation (AD 68) is to be found more accurate than the later (AD 95) dating. I will attempt to add to this list as I remember to do so.
Alfred Edersheim in his book, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, Books for the Ages, Albany, Oregon, 1997, states on pages 95 and 96 that the internal evidence of the book of Revelation points to a date prior to the destruction of Jerusalem for the writing of Revelation.
Philip Schaff in his work History of the Christian Church, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, Michigan, vol.1, p. vi writes “…the date of the Apocalypse which I now assign, with the majority of modern critics, to the year 68 or 69 instead of 95, as before.”
Robert Young, who authored “Young’s Analytical Concordance, wrote a commentary on the book of Revelation which was published about 1885. In that work, Young makes the following statement: “It [the book of Revelation] was written in Patmos about A.D. 68, whither John had been banished by Domitius Nero, as stated in the title of the Syriac version of the book; and with this concurs the express statement of Irenaeus in A.D. 175, who says it happened in the reign of Domitianou – i.e., Domitius (Nero). Sulpicius, Orosins, etc., stupidly mistaking Dimitianou for Domitianikos, supposed Irenaeus to refer to Domitian, A.D. 95, and most succeeding writers have fallen into the same blunder. The internal testimony is wholly in favor of the early date.”
Nelson Glueck has written that, “We can already say emphatically that there is no longer any solid basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about A.D. 80.”
“The trend of modern criticism is unmistakably toward adoption of the early date of the Apocalypse, and yet the best scholars differ. Elliott, Hengstenberg, Lange, Alford, and Whedon contend strongly that the testimony of Irenaeus and the ancient tradition ought to control the question; while, on the other hand, Lucke, Neander, De Wette, Ewald, Bleek, Auberlen, Hilgenfeld, Dusterdieck, Stuart, Macdonald, Davidson, L.B. Lightfoot, Glasgow, Farrar, Westcott, Cowles, and Schaff maintain that the book, according to its own internal evidence, must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem. The last-named scholar, in the new edition of his Church History (vol. 1, pp. 834-837), revokes his acceptance of the Domitian date which he affirmed thirty years ago, and now maintains that internal evidence for an earlier date outweighs the external tradition.” Biblical Hermeneutics, Milton S. Terry, Wipf and Stack Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, 1999, Page 189.
Sir Isaac Newton advocated the early date based on internal evidence, and the patterns of prophecy.