Dating the Book of Revelation
There is considerable disagreement among students of Revelation as to when it was written. This study is being researched and written in an effort to try and bring to light the evidence which is available to help in the dating of this book.
It is this Bible Student’s belief that Revelation was written by John after the destruction of Jerusalem, during the reign of Emperor Vespasian and that it refers chiefly to the great Roman persecution of the church which occurred after the destruction of Jerusalem.
Many well meaning people try to approach this subject with preconceived ideas and then attempt to force the visions of Revelation to fit within that mold. For instance, there is the belief that John’s visions are pointing to the destruction of Jerusalem and the associated events leading up to that instead of the intense Christian persecution of the Roman Empire and her subsequent destruction. In part, this teaching arises from the belief that all direct workings of the Holy Spirit ceased at the destruction of Jerusalem. Consequently, all of the writings we have which comprise our New Testament would have to have been written prior to this date. Well intentioned people then set out to force Revelation into a time frame which is not in conflict with their belief that all divine inspiration ceased with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
First we’ll deal conclusively with the belief that all divine inspiration ended in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem. To answer this we can look to the seventy weeks prophecy of Daniel as recorded in chapter 9, verses 25-27. In particular verse 27 which reads, “Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; But in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering“. (NKJV) The covenant in Daniel’s vision here can be nothing but the new covenant. The confirmation of that covenant was the role which the Holy Spirit of God engaged in during the infancy of the church (Mark 16:20, Romans 15:19). The ending of sacrifice and offering cannot be anything but the ending of the old Levitical system of animal sacrifice which took place only at the temple in Jerusalem. The seventieth “week” of Daniel’s vision represents the entire confirmation period of the new covenant which started on Pentecost and ended when the whole new covenant had been confirmed or authenticated by the Holy Spirit. Notice carefully the text says that the “end to sacrifice and offering” occurred in the middle of the confirmation period. This means the confirmation period must have extended beyond the ending of sacrifice in order to be true. Inspiration specifically pointed out that the ending of this sacrifice happened in the middle of the confirmation period of the new covenant. Thus we conclude that the workings of inspiration and miraculous signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit did not suddenly cease when Rome destroyed the temple in Jerusalem.
Next, we’ll examine the evidence which helps to determine whether the Revelation was written before or after 70 AD.
1. John records Jesus addressing seven churches in Revelation 1 thru 3. If Revelation were about the destruction of Jerusalem and was written prior to AD 70, then why did Jesus not address the Jerusalem church which was in existence up to the siege of Jerusalem immediately prior to its destruction?
2. At the writing of the book of Revelation, Ephesus had left her first love. Paul wrote his epistle to Ephesus about 58 to 60 AD. Paul lived in Ephesus for 2 years (Acts 19:10) during which the church received direct personal apostolic direction at his hands. Ephesus was where Paul was recorded to have wrought special miracles, some so significant that even a garment of clothing which Paul touched or wore would heal the sick. The best evidence we have places Paul’s execution around 66 AD under the reign of Nero. The city of Rome having been burned and Nero anxious to blame it on the Christians thus detracting the blame from himself had Paul unjustly beheaded. Paul’s love and diligent instruction of the church in Ephesus is well documented in scripture. In order for the book of Revelation to be written prior to 70 AD, the church at Ephesus would have to have lost her first love to the degree it did while Paul was alive or very shortly after his death.
3. The church in Sardis was considered dead.
4. Laodecia, which was destroyed by an earthquake during Nero’s reign is completely rebuilt and is boasting of her spiritual wealth (Revelation 3:17).
5. John wrote of the doctrine of the Nicolaitans in chapters 2 and 3 which was an insipient form of Gnosticism and did not develop until quite some time after 70 AD. At the time of John’s writing of Revelation, Gnosticism had worked its way into the church to the degree that it was mentioned in the addresses to multiple churches.
All of these things would have had to have developed in these churches in 4 years or less in order to maintain the 70 AD date. While such a thing is not entirely impossible, it is highly unlikely. It is exceedingly important in our consideration of this subject that we acknowledge that by 70 AD, the spiritual degradation, apostasy of the Gnostics and the persecution of the church in Asia Minor had not yet developed to the degree evidenced by the text. We must remember to whom the Revelation was addressed and to consider the historical timeframe under which these churches realized the circumstances they were facing at the time. Any dating of the book of Revelation must coincide with the dates of the current situations or circumstances relevant to those seven churches.
6. The Revelation being addressed to the churches of Asia is not only understood to be directed toward them, but about them as well. The dire circumstances depicted therein are going to apply directly to those to whom the letter is addressed and not to people living in another part of the world. It does not make sense for John to address a letter to Christians living in Asia Minor that pertains to events to happen in Judah. The Revelation was not just written to the churches of Asia, it was for the churches of Asia. The events of the visions are going to relate directly to them and not just to Christians living in a whole different region of the earth. It is not to say that the Revelation does not have application to Christians living in other places and/or other times. Revelation most certainly does and did have a direct application to all Christians living in the Roman Empire, however we must acknowledge that an understanding which focuses the readers attention on a group of Christians other than the ones to whom it is addressed would be an inaccurate way of approaching the overall letter.
7. John had been banished to Patmos, a very common form of punishment after AD 70 but not prior to that.
8. The great antagonist of the church was identified in Revelation 17:6 as, “MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF THE HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” and then in Revelation 17:18, she is further identified as “the great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth“. Babylon, the mother of harlots is a reference back to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon who erected a giant golden statue of himself and forced his people to bow down and worship it, thus committing spiritual fornication in the form of idolatry. With this practice, Babylon spawned, fostered and engendered spiritual harlotry and the abominations of the earth. The Jews were not forcing anyone to worship idols or false gods. They were persecuting the Christians for worshipping the same God they worshipped. Levitical worship was never considered idolatry, even by those living under the new covenant.
There is the belief that the great harlot of Revelation 17 was actually Jerusalem and many advocates of the early date hold to this belief. It is exceedingly important to the correct understanding of who this harlot was to consider all the evidence which characterizes her. This “Babylon, the mother of harlots” is described in Revelation 18:17 as a maritime city which engaged in ship trade. Revelation 17:1 previously described her as setting on many waters. There is no way this could be Jerusalem which was located in the desert, forty miles from Joppa.
9. Emperor worship was being vigorously enforced by the Imperial Cult, also known as the “Concilia” (Revelation 13:11-17), and no emperor prior to 70 AD actually enforced emperor worship. There was no organized, government supported, forced emperor worship before AD70 and in order for Revelation to point to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, such a level of forced emperor worship within the Roman Empire must be demonstrated.
10. The persecutions of Nero were localized around Rome, while the persecution under later emperors such as Domitian extended beyond the boundaries of Rome to that of Asia Minor which was the location of the churches to which the book of Revelation was addressed (Revelation 1:4).
11. The absence of any references to the Jerusalem church in Revelation cannot be overstated. In fact the region in Asia Minor where the seven churches were located is roughly 500 miles if you want to cross the Mediterranean sea and roughly 700 if you went by way of dry land through the mountains of Turkey, keeping in mind the principle mode of transportation in that time was by foot or by beast of burden. If the Revelation were intended to be a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, it seems logical that the letter would have been addressed to churches located in or around Jerusalem, not in an area several months journey from there.
12. There are three direct Internal references to Jerusalem in the Revelation. Two of them are found in Revelation 3:12 and 21:2. Both of these references refer to a “new Jerusalem” suggesting the old Jerusalem was no longer in existence. Jerusalem is mentioned again in Revelation 21:10 in a figurative and prophetic sense representing heaven.
13. Advocates of the early date who hold to the destruction of Jerusalem as the final outcome of Revelation often point to Revelation 11 as proof the temple was still in existence. This conclusion cannot be reasonably known without any doubt and such must be the case in order to even suggest a pre 70 AD authorship of the Revelation.
14. The early church was fairly unanimous in its belief that the book was written after 70 AD. This is seen in the writings of Irenaeus, Origen, Victorious, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, Hegesippus, and Jerome. It is a real stretch to suggest that all these writers are merely parroting Irenaeus, and that they had no independent reasons for making their claim.
The evidence in support of the authorship of Revelation after 70 AD is both compelling and significant. Most of the Bible scholars adhere to an authorship of the book during the reign of Emperor Domitian which I question. It is my conviction based on my own studies that the book of Revelation was written later in the reign of Emperor Vespasian who died in June of 79 AD.
To support this belief, we’ll consider the text of Revelation 17:9-11, “Here is the mind that hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth: and they are seven kings; the five are fallen, the one is, the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a little while. And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is of the seven; and he goeth into perdition“.
Paying particular attention to “and they are seven kings“. Augustus was the first emperor of the Imperial Roman Empire constitutionally elected by the senate and approved by the military according to Roman law.
|1||Augustus||26 BC – 13 AD||“five are fallen”|
|2||Tiberius||14 AD – 37 AD|
|3||Caligula||37 AD – 41 AD|
|4||Claudius||41 AD – 64 AD|
|5||Nero||64 AD – 68 AD|
|6||Vespasian||69 AD – 79 AD||“the one is”|
|7||Titus||79 AD 81 AD||“the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a little while”|
|8||Domitian||81 AD – 96 AD||the beast that was, and is not, is himself also an eighth|
Five of the seven kings are fallen. This would be Nero as the fifth. The next one, the sixth presently reigning at the time was Vespasian. The other after him is Titus, his son who only reigned as emperor for 2 years, (a little while). The beast of Revelation is the eighth in line, Domitian. He was the brother of Titus who was number 7 in succession thus qualifying him as being “of the seven“.
So Domitian, being the eight was the beast. Five kings had fallen at the time of this prophecy and the sixth had not yet come. Revelation was written during the reign of the 6th king; Vespasian, who died in 79 AD, 9 years after the destruction of Jerusalem. A writing of the book of Revelation near the end of the reign of Vespasian would give ample time for copying and distribution to the churches in Asia Minor and beyond before Domitian, the beast, would come to power in 81 AD. Domitian reigned as the eighth constitutionally elected emperor of Imperial Rome until his assassination in 96 AD.
We need to explain why Galba, Otho and Vitallius are not here listed. The suicide of emperor Nero, in 68, was followed by a brief period of civil war. Between June of 68 and December of 69, Rome witnessed the successive rise and fall of Galba, Otho and Vitellius until the final accession of Vespasian, first ruler of the Flavian Dynasty. History records them as being in the imperial lineup however none of these men were ever emperors according to Roman constitutional law. They were either rejected as emperors by the senate, the military or both. All of this occurred in the year 69 AD during what is referred to in history as the year of the four emperors. These three kings are mentioned by Daniel in reference to the 10 kings of the fourth kingdom which would rise up as recorded in Daniel 7. These are the kings (horns) which were “plucked up” (Daniel 7:8). Domitian was the eleventh one to “rise after” his fellows mentioned in Daniel 7:24. Daniel’s vision had eleven kings and accounted for Galba, Otho and Vitallius, explaining that they were “plucked up” before becoming established and well rooted kings, while John’s vision took into account the fact they were never really emperors and excluded them from consideration altogether. Both visions are historically accurate and complement each other in such a way that they can be used to verify each other’s authenticity. More information is available on Daniel’s prophecy here: Daniel’s Vision of the Four Kingdoms (Daniel Chapter 7)
The overwhelming majority of the scholars hold to a 95 AD writing of the Revelation. If such were the case, there is no way to reconcile Domitian as the sixth emperor/king who “is” following the five who had fallen and preceding the one who must “continue a little while“, according to the lineage of the predecessors of the beast as given in Revelation 17:9-11. If Domitian were the emperor/king that “is” then the emperor following him would be the one that only reigned for a short span of time being Emperor Nerva who reigned four years from 96 to 98 AD. The beast would then be Trajan who was nowhere near as antagonistic an adversary of Christianity that Domitian was.
According to the internal evidence which specifically speaks to the current king as being the 6th on line of the 8 kings mentioned, Vespasian is the best historical fit. This solves one major problem with the 95 date of writing for the Revelation. With a date of 95 and the death of Domitian in 96, there is a inherent problem with getting the book off of Patmos, copied and then distributed to all the churches of Asia Minor in time to be of any benefit to the readership. With Domitian being the personification of the beast, thus being the figurehead for the persecution which was to come, it poses a difficulty to explain why a prophetic book which contains words of encouragement and perseverance for the Christians living under the rule of this man would receive this letter at the end of this beast’s life. This difficulty is entirely overcome when a dating of the book under the reign of the sixth emperor, Vespasian, is considered.
Thus, a dating of the book in Vespasian’s lifetime, according to the text of Revelation, and in accordance with historical evidence we have at hand is the most logical conclusion and best fits the overall historical circumstances. Vespasian reigned before, during and after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Titus was acting under the will and direction of Vespasian in the overthrow of the Jerusalem at that time and led the forces which utimately conquered the city. The dating of the Revelation in the latter years of Vespasian’s life gives ample time for the spiritual conditions of the churches to whom the Revelation was addressed to develop. It also allows for the necessary time to get the letter into the hands of those to whom it was written in time for it to be of the most benefit. For these reasons it is the firm conviction of this student of God’s word, that the Revelation was written around the end of Vespasian’s life, 76 to 79 AD.
There is additional information on the dating of the Revelation available in the study Guide for chapter 17