Volume 9, Issue 3: Eschaton
The Dating of Revelation
Jack Van Deventer
Editors' Note: Given this issue's emphasis on courtship and marriage, we felt it important to include at least one article on dating.
The dating of the book of Revelation plays a central role in how the book may be interpreted. Was Revelation a warning to churches of impending persecution prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70? Or did persecution occur much later, in A.D. 95-96 after Jerusalem was destroyed? The argument for preterism, the belief that the destructive prophecies in Revelation described events leading up to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, depends on the book of Revelation having been written before that date. Premillennialists, who believe these prophecies of destruction are yet future, are quick to argue for the late date because it "destroys this entire theory" of preterism.
Some significant research on the dating of Revelation has recently been conducted by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., in his doctoral research which is contained in the book Before Jerusalem Fell and in an excellent, but less technical summary entitled The Beast of Revelation. Gentry describes the history of the scholarly opinion as an ebb and flow with respect to the dating of Revelation. As liberalism grew in the 1800s, there was considerable pressure to assign late dates to many of the New Testament books. This bolstered the argument by liberals that redactors had added to, modified, or deleted portions of the Bible. Toward the late 1800s, however, the evidence for an early dating of Revelation was considered so compelling that a "strong majority" of scholars favored an early date. Since then, however, opinion has shifted back towards a late date with little apparent reason for doing so.
Gentry lists 145 scholars who advocate an early dating of Revelation, including the great church historian, Philip Schaff, and others such as Jay Adams, Greg Bahnsen, F.F. Bruce, Alfred Edersheim, John A. T. Robinson, and Milton Terry.
The theme verse of Revelation reads "Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen" (Rev. 1:7). Cloud comings refer to swift judgment upon God's enemies (Ps. 18:7-15; Joel 2:1,2, Zeph. 1:14,15) in this case upon "they who pierced him." The Jews were covenantally responsible for Christ's death: they sought His death, paid for His capture, brought false witness, convicted Him, turned Him over to Roman civil authority, and declared "His blood be on us and on our children" (Matt. 27:25). The Greek word for "earth" can also be translated "land," thus the reference here likely refers to the twelve "tribes of the [promised] land," the Jews.
Thus, the judgment Christ prophesied against the Jews (Matt. 21:40-45; 23:32-24:2, Luke 23:23-30) is echoed throughout the book of Revelation. Whereas Christ warned that these prophecies would come within a generation (Matt. 12:41-45, 23:36, 24:34), similarly John in Revelation warns that these events will occur "shortly" (1:1), "the time is near" (1:3), "the hour . . . is about to come" (3:10 NASB), Christ is coming "quickly" in judgment (22:7), and "must shortly take place" (22:6). These judgments culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem under multiple armies under Roman command. Over a million Jews were slaughtered, hundreds of thousands of others were enslaved, the city left in ruins, and the great temple was utterly destroyed within a generation (40 years) of Christ's prophesy (Matt. 24:2).
The late date advocates who believe that Revelation was written around A.D. 95-96 have a problem on their hands. They suggest that persecution under the emperor Domitian was what is described in Revelation, but there is scant evidence that persecution of Christians by Domitian ever took place--a fact that many late date adherents readily admit. The author of Revelation, John, repeatedly alludes to a "great city" which is very likely a reference to Jerusalem and describes the temple as if it were still standing (Rev. 11:2). How can late date advocates make such claims of a city that history records was left in ruins in A.D. 70? Much has been made by late daters of a statement by Irenaeus in Against Heresies that seems to associate John or the book of Revelation with Domitian, but there are a number of translational, interpretational, and historical problems that caution against an overreliance on this ambiguous passage.
Bahnsen and Gentry cite external evidence for an early date: "Clement of Alexandria . . . asserts that all revelation ceased under Nero's reign. The Muratorian Canon (ca. 170) has John completing Revelation before Paul had written to seven different churches (Paul died in A.D. 67 or 68). Tertullian (A.D. 160-220) places John's banishment in conjunction with Peter's and Paul's martyrdom (A.D. 67/68). Epiphanius (A.D. 315-403) twice states Revelation was written under `Claudius [Nero] Caesar.' The Syriac version of Revelation (sixth century) has as a heading to Revelation: `written in Patmos, whither John was sent by Nero Caesar.'"
Since Nero died in A.D. 68, the writing of Revelation must have preceded that date, most likely having been written sometime between A.D. 64 and 67.