I am glad to publish here an article by my friend Jim Gunter. The dating of Revelation is critical to a proper understanding of the book. The late date is so often assumed, wtih no real proof offered. Jim’s article will shed a lot of good light on the issue.
Don K. Preston
When Was The Book of Revelation Written?
By Jim Gunter
The book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse, is the product of the inspired pen of the beloved apostle, John, who had been exiled to the Isle of Patmos by the Roman Emperor. It is agreed by most disciples and bible scholars alike, that due to the enormity of the signs and symbols, along with the very highly-charged apocalyptic language used in the book, that it is considered to be perhaps the most difficult to understand of all the inspired writings in the new covenant scriptures. The purpose of this article will not be to discuss in detail the subject matter of the epistle, but as the title suggests, to learn as best we can, the point in time at which the book was written.
Because of the language used, and complexity of the book, many disciples tend to not include the book in their bible studies. And I will confess to you that for many years, I, too, spent very little time there. The reason for that was because from the eschatological perspective which I then approached the book (amillennial), there was much confusion and uncertainty, thus making comprehension of its message a most difficult thing. However, after a change in my eschatological perspective in the past nine or ten years (preterist), do feel that I now have a much better grasp on its contents.
I also believe there is understanding to be gained by establishing the correct time-frame in which John wrote this epistle. I once thought, as do many other believers, that it was written somewhere from 92-96 A.D. However, in recent years, my view of that has changed. I am now persuaded that it was written prior to the 70 A.D. destruction of Jerusalem—perhaps 65-68 A.D. I have also learned where many well-known scholars (such as Phillip Schaff), also changed their view to a pre-70 A.D. date. So, if you would be so kind as to bear with me for a little bit, I would like to present my reasons as to why I believe the 65-68 A.D. time-frame for not only its writing, but for its fulfillment as well.
I would like to begin this search by first considering the “external evidence” (i.e, evidence outside the scriptures) of just when the book may have been written. Those who support the “late” date of its writing (92-96 A.D.) seem to base their belief on the grounds of a solitary quote of Irenaeus who lived from 125-202 A.D. The late Foy E. Wallace Jr. (who supported the “early” date of its writing), in his book titled, “The Book of Revelation,” quotes that statement by Irenaeus. It reads as follows:
“If it were necessary to have his name distinctly announced at the present time it would doubtless have been announced by him who saw the Apocalypse; for it was not a great while ago that (it or he-emphasis by FEW) was seen, but almost in our own generation, toward the end of Domitian’s reign,” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:30:3, quoted in, The Book of Revelation, Foy E. Wallace Jr., p. 25).
As we can see here, the key phrase in Irenaeus’ statement is, “that was seen!” The
question then becomes: Was it ‘he’ (John?) or ‘it’ (Revelation?) that was seen? In the
English, it could be either one! Then there other scholars who comment on both
Irenaeus and also his statement:
D. Ragan Ewing writes:
“The difficulty arises in Irenaeus’ statement, as translated, “… that was seen …” The Greek text simply reads eJwravqh. The subject of the statement is simply subsumed in the verb, and there is therefore no grammatical indicator as to the referent; it could be the Apocalypse, or it could be John himself. In other words, the English could just as easily be, “… he was seen …”
Ewing further writes:
“Nevertheless, there remains another problem with the Irenaean witness. To what extent are we to take as trustworthy Irenaeus’ historical claims… In one place he portrays James the Apostle as the same person as the brother of the Lord, and in another, he astonishingly informs us that Jesus lived to be between forty and fifty years old! Lapses like these have understandably led to assessments such as Guthrie’s caution that Irenaeus’ historical method is “uncritical,” as well as Moffatt’s comment, “Irenaeus, of course, is no great authority by himself on matters chronological.” Such being the case, should we really place the great confidence in this testimony that many scholars have?”
Kenneth Gentry quoting Irenaeus:
Irenaeus said of the age of Jesus, “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 when He taught, as the Gospel and all the Elders witness…” (Quoted in Before Jerusalem Fell, Kenneth L. Gentry, p. 63) Can we trust the testimony of a man that says Jesus taught for 15 years and was fifty years old when he died? Yet, it is largely his testimony alone, for the latter date!
Burton Coffman writes:
“His (Eusebius’) quotation (of Irenaeus’ statement) does not even mention “the writing” of Revelation, but refers solely to the time when certain unnamed persons are alleged to have seen either the apostle or the prophecy, nobody knows which. This proves nothing. Besides that: If he meant the Apocalypse was seen, and if it had been originally composed in quotation, could have reference to the Greek translation, if indeed it referred to the Revelation at all. There goes the whole case for the latter date,” (Commentary on Revelation, Burton Coffman, p 4).
William Bell writes:
“Concerning the above statement (Irenaeus’ statement), scholars have long recognized that it is not possible to determine whether Irenaeus meant to say John was seen by Irenaeus’ tutor, Polycarp, or that “the Apocalypse” was seen toward the end of Domitian’s reign. Such ambiguity destroys this argument as evidence. Even Eusebius, who recorded this statement, doubted that John, the apostle, even wrote the book of Revelation. The point here is this, if the statement was not strong enough to convince Eusebius that John even wrote Revelation, why do so many think today that it is strong enough to convince one that the apostle saw it (the Apocalypse) during Domitian’s reign (A.D. 95)? It is weak to say the least.”
Finally, is support of the “early” day of the Apocalypse, are the words of Robert Young, author of “Young’s Analytical concordance of the New Testament,” and “Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible.” In his remarks, you will see that he contends that a mistake has been made on the part of other early writers who quote Irenaeus’ statement. As you will see, it is his belief that the other early writers actually (mis)quote Irenaeus as to the name of the Roman Emperor who was ruling at the time of his statement, and succeeding writer simply followed their lead!
Robert Young (late 1800s) writes:
“It 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 (A.D.175), who says it happened in the reign of Domitianou, ie., Domitius (Nero). Sulpicius Severus, Orosius, &c., stupidly mistaking Domitianou 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 earlier date.” (Concise Critical Comments on the Holy Bible, by Robert Young. Published by Pickering and Inglis, London and Glasgow, (no date), Page 179 of the “New Covenant” section. See also: Young’s Concise Critical Bible Commmentary, Baker Book House, March 1977, ISBN: 0-8010-9914-5, pg 178.)
Now that we have looked at the “external” (outside the scriptures) evidence, most of which opposes the “late date” of the book (92-96 A.D.), I would now like to offer what I understand as “internal” (inside the inspired scriptures) evidence for why I believe the “early date” (65-68 A.D.) to be the more accurate date for its writing.
Many scholars now believe Revelation to have been written just prior to “the fall of Jerusalem,” perhaps 65-68 A.D. One bit of internal evidence is found in Revelation 11:1-2. Here, John was instructed by the angel to “measure the temple of God.” However, if the time in which John wrote was the later date (92-96 A.D.), then the temple would not have still been standing! Not only that, but the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation would all have been destroyed for a quarter century by then! Good folks, please consider this with me: If John wrote the epistle in 92-96 A.D, which would have been after the fall of Jerusalem, the temple, and the Jewish nation, how could it possibly be, that there would be absolutely no mention whatsoever in the Apocalypse about these things? In my view, this is just simply inconceivable! I would even go one step farther and say: If “any” one of the epistles, or the gospels, or the book of Acts, had been written after 70 A.D, can you imagine the odds that not even one word being written by at least one of those inspired writers, about the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, or the nation? But as you know, there is not one single word! Please let us not forget that the destruction and burning of the temple and the city of Jerusalem, the slaughter of more than a million Jews, and the enslavement of almost another million; why, this was one of the most monumental and historic events in the history of the world! Our Master prophesied of the things of the 70 A.D. judgment in great detail in Matthew 23, 24, & 25, Mark 13, and Luke 17, 19, & 21. and He said that it would all take place in that same generation [Matt. 24:34; Mk. 13:30; Lk. 21:32]. And personally, I just simply cannot fathom the likelihood of the fulfillment of these things never even being mentioned anywhere in all of the new covenant scriptures, if any one of them was written after 70 A.D! Folks, am I making sense here? Moreover, it is my understanding that the period of The Spirit’s revelatory work, (i.e, His inspiring of men to write scripture) also ended with the fall of Jerusalem, the temple, and the Jewish nation [See Zechariah 13:1-3; 1Corinthians 13:8-13].
When The Things Shown to John Were Fulfilled:
Other internal evidence of the earlier date for the writing of the Apocalypse, would be the words of both John and the angel that was sent to him by the Lord. And please, let us not forget; these things that John wrote had to mean something, first and foremost, to the 1st century disciples; the ones to whom the epistle was written! Folks, I believe this is critical to a proper understanding of the message being conveyed therein! For example:
[1.] In Revelation 1:1, John makes it very clear that the things the Lord
showed him were, “things which must shortly take place.”
[2.] In Revelation 1:3, John further spoke of the blessings to come to those 1st century disciples to whom he prophesied. They (1st century disciples) were to, “keep those things which were written” in that prophecy because, as he said, “for the time is near.”
[3.] In Revelation 1:9, John declared to those 1st century disciples, that he was their brother and companion, “in the tribulation…”
So, it should be noted here that these words were written to John’s brethren who were presently, “in the tribulation.” Certainly, it is not “we 21st century disciples” that he is talking about! According to history, the most severe days of that “great tribulation” began in the spring of A.D. 67, and of course culminated with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the temple in the fall of 70 A.D; a period of 3-1/2 years—a time, times, and half a time—42 months—1,260 days [See Daniel 12:7].
[4.] In Revelation 2:25, Jesus told the Church at Thyatira, “…hold fast until I come.” Folks, the
church at Thyatira has been extinct for 2,000 years now. Therefore they cannot still be, “holding
fast.” So, did Jesus keep His promise to come to them? I sincerely believe that He did!
[5.] In Revelation 22:7, Jesus said “Behold, I am coming quickly.”
[6.] In Revelation 22:10 John was told by the angel, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.”
[7.] In Revelation 22:12, Jesus further told these disciples of the 1st century: “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” [See also Matthew 16:27-28].
[8.] In Revelation 22:20, again, Jesus closes by saying to them, “…Surely, I come quickly.”
Under Item No. 6 above, there is something I find very interesting about verse 10 as it relates to the time-frame for the fulfillment of “all the things” Jesus and the angels have shown John throughout this marvelous epistle. I believe a comparison of this prophecy to a prophecy found in Daniel 8:23-26, would be helpful in establishing the time-frame for the fulfillment of all the prophecies in the Apocalypse, including our Lord’s promised coming (parousia). Here is that comparison:
The fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel 8:23-26:
[Daniel 8:26—KJV-King James Version] “…shut thou up the vision; for it shall be for many days.”
[Daniel 8:26—NASB-New American Standard Bible] “…But keep the vision secret, for it pertains to many days in the future.”
The fulfillment for all the prophecies in Revelation—Rev. 22:10:
[Revelation 22:10—KJV]” Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.”
[Revelation 22:10—NASB]“…Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.”
Brothers and sisters, when juxtaposing these two prophecies, there emerges a most conspicuous and salient point when comparing the time-span covered by each of the two prophecies. First, most scholars agree that the prophecy of Daniel 8:23-26 is a prophecy of the Seleucid King, Antiochus Epiphanes, who reigned from 175-164 B.C.
In vs. 26 of this prophecy, Daniel is told by the angel to, “seal up the vision.” And as we can see, the reason for this was because, “it would be for many days in the future” [vs. 26]. What’s so interesting here is that the time period for this vision, that is, from the time the angel showed it to Daniel till its fulfillment, covered a time-span of approximately 386 years. This fact is very important as we shall see shortly!
Now, please let us contrast this with what the angel in Revelation 22:10 said to John, “Do not seal up the vision.” The angel then gives John the reason for this command. It was because, “the time is (was) at hand” at the time John penned the Apocalypse! There was a time in my past when I understood the fulfillment of all the things in Revelation to be yet in our future. This was in spite of the fact that more than 2,000 years have passed, and in spite of the fact that the angel told John, “Do not seal up the vision, for the time is (was) at hand.” However, I now believe that my former reasoning was flawed and inconsistent with our Father’s word! For example, how could it be possible for 386 years in the Daniel 8:23-26 prophecy to be considered, “many days in the future,” from the time it was prophesied; and yet the 2,000+ years (and counting) in the Revelation 22:10 prophecy considered as, “the time is at hand?” I’m sure you can see my point! This is the reason that I believe the Apocalypse and the things written therein, came to pass in the 1st century, by 70 A.D. And I further believe that God’s Judgment on Jerusalem and the unbelieving Jews is central to the message in the book, and not the judgment on the Roman Empire, as I once believed.
Please bear with me as I give a little illustration similar to one I heard many years ago. Let’s just imagine ourselves back about 2,000 years in the past, O. K? So, here we are, living in the days of the apostle John. As a matter of fact, we know the beloved apostle very well, having both seen and heard him speak on a number of occasions. You see, we are among those seven churches of Asia. So not only do we know John quite well, but we have read all four of his other books! J
And so there we are on a Sunday morning in one of our little assemblies, singing, praying, and eating the Lord’s Supper. Now let’s just suppose that while we are standing and singing, the front door suddenly opens, and in comes an elderly figure. We can see now that it’s the beloved apostle! Obviously, we’re all both excited as well as shocked at what we see! And so, while we are singing, John slowly makes his way down the aisle to one of the front pews. He continues to stand there and sings along with us until the song is finished. But after the song, instead of sitting down, John remains standing and he turns around to face the audience, and immediately begins to address us disciples.
As he begins to speak, he unrolls a big roll of parchment and begins to read to us many truly marvelous, yet frightening things that the Lord has shown him! John informs us that these are things from the Master Himself, and that Jesus had instructed him to pass this information on to us. As you can well imagine, John really has our undivided attention by this time! We are all just excited beyond belief! And now, as every eye in the building is riveted on John, he says to us that Jesus had His angel to communicate to him, that these things he has written to us are things, “which must shortly come to pass.” And the angel said that we were to “read those things and take heed to them, because the time for all these things to come to pass, “is near; yes, it’s even at hand!”
John continues to read and speak to us for the next couple of hours or so, showing us the things in the great scroll. Finally, he reaches the end of his letter and begins to roll up the scroll, leaves it on the table up front and then begins to make his way up the aisle and out the door. However, before any one of us can say anything, the door suddenly opens once again. And wouldn’t ya know it; it’s John again! He sticks his head through the door jam and says in a very stern but loving voice and says, “Now don’t you folks forget that these are things that must shortly take place. And don’t you forget that Jesus said, ‘Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me! And I want you to know that you are not to seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because as the Lord has already said, ‘the time is at hand. It’s near!”
Good folks, I said all of that simply to ask this: If you and I had really been there, and these things had happened in our presence, do you believe for one minute that we would have reasoned: “Oh well, there’s really nothing that we should be all that concerned about. After all, the things John just showed us, well, surely, they’re not going to happen in our lifetimes anyway. In fact, they won’t happen for at least another 20 centuries or more!” Folks, what do you think? Do you really think anything like that would have even crossed our minds? Why, of course not! Never in a million years would we have reasoned in such a fashion! If you’re anything like myself, you would have been trembling! Why, there would have been no question that we would have understood that John was speaking of things that were going to happen soon; in our own lifetime; in our1st century generation for sure! Would you not agree? This I believe, begs the question: If we don’t believe, that had we lived back then, and received this letter from John, that we would have been so foolish as to reason in that manner, then why should we not recognize the fact that those 1st century disciples would have been no different? They certainly knew that the epistle was written to them!
One more question: If John wanted the disciples to understand that their Master was indeed coming in their generation (that 1st century generation), and that all the things he was shown by the Lord were also going to come to pass in that generation, just what would you suppose John could have said to convey such a message? Well, good folks, please don’t think I’m trying to be cute here, but wouldn’t he most probably say something like, “the time is near, or the time is at hand, or Yes, I am coming quickly, or these are things that must shortly come to pass!” I’m sure you can see my point! Yes, good folks, you judge for yourself, but as for me, I am fully persuaded that all the things written in this marvelous epistle were both written and fulfilled in the 1st century!
Before closing, I would like to proffer just one more little illustration, which I believe further supports my conviction that the Apocalypse was in fact written during the early date (65-68 A.D.). In other words, it was written and fulfilled prior to the 70 A. D. “ Judgment (destruction) brought on Jerusalem, the temple, fleshly priesthood, Judaism, and the Jewish nation.” Moreover, it is my understanding that the Judgments mentioned above, were central to the message in the Apocalypse. Now, would you please consider that illustration with me?
Let us use our sanctified imaginations and once again project ourselves back into the 1st century. Only this time, we find ourselves in the year 94 A.D. I’m using 94 because that would be midway of that later date of 92-96 A.D, when many disciples think the book was written. As I’m sure you have already surmised, this date would have been “after” the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, Judaism, the fleshly priesthood, and the Jewish nation. Yes, all of those things are now “no more”; they’re all “gone; they have ceased to exist!
Now let’s just say that John goes through the same procedure we used in the first illustration. He thoroughly explains to us just what the Lord and the angel had shown him, the results of which would be no different from sending out the epistle. And let’s just say that after spending that long two hours explaining these things to us so that we can clearly understand the message, he says goodbye, and departs. Good folks, totally setting aside all of the things that John explained to us that were written in the book, here is the big question I have: For those who do insist that the book was written in 92-96 A.D, just what do you suppose the odds would be, that John would have spent all that time teaching us on all of these many things, and yet not once mention anything whatsoever about the holy city, Jerusalem, the temple, or the Jewish nation having all been destroyed? Folks, I really believe that to ask that question is also to answer it! I hope you can truly see now, why I believe the book was written in the early date (65-68 A. D.).
I would like to close now by saying that in all of the above 8 passages from the last chapter of the Book of Revelation, we have seen the great “urgency” in the words of The Lord, the angel, and the apostle John. And we have also seen that every one of these passages express an “imminent” coming (Parousia) of Jesus. But please let us not be mistaken; this urgency and these warnings were spoken to 1st century disciples and not to us in the 21st century. The apostle John and all the other apostles were told by Jesus, personally, while He was yet with them, that He would be returning soon. He had forewarned them in Matthew 16:27-28:
“For the Son of Man is going to (Gr. mello; “about to”) come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to His deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here, who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
He had further told them in Matt. 10:23:
“But whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you (apostles-jg), you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes.”
I wish to thank you for investigating these things with me, and I hope that you will simply consider them, and see if they are consistent with our Father’s marvelous word. May the Lord richly bless you all with His grace and peace.
Yours in Him,