Dating the Book of Revelation
With the dating of Revelation, you establish the true historical prospective. If you date it early, you have its fulfillment in God’s judgment on Israel. If you date it late, you have every man’s idea. So dating plays a very important part in its interpretation.
There are differences of opinion as to when this book was written. These can be summed up as the “late date” and the “early date” theories. First, we’ll cover the late date theory. Then we’ll examine the facts which support the early date theory.
The Late Date Theory
Those who hold to the “late date,” have Revelation written during the time of Domitian Caesar (AD 95-96). This date is determined by the following statement by Irenaeus (AD 130 to AD 202), as quoted by Eusebius, the church historian, in AD 325: “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 no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.”
There are things about this statement that need to be noted. First, Irenaeus did not witness this. He referred to Polycarp (who supposedly knew the apostle John). Secondly, the key part — “it is not long since it was seen” — is ambiguous. According to Irenaeus recollection, Polycarp saw “it” sometime in AD 95-96, during the last part Domitian’s reign. Thirdly, we do not know if the “it” Polycarp was referring to was John, the visions he saw, the name of anti-christ, or the book itself and we do not know if he meant that the book was written at that time or not. Furthermore, it comes to us through three people separated by three centuries. Simply put, this is hear-say.
This statement, even with all of this uncertainty, is the only evidence used to support the “late date” theory. It has been accepted by generations of people without really questioning it or examining it in light of the book itself. The late date has been passed on to us in the same way it was passed on to Eusebius, “…it [was] handed down by tradition…” Tradition is not the way to interpret Scripture.
Another statement by Irenaeus seems to indicate the earlier date also. In his fifth book, he speaks as follows concerning the Apocalypse of John and the number of the name of the Antichrist: “As these things are so, and this number is found in all the approved and ancient copies.” Domitian’s reign was almost in his own day, but now he speaks of the Revelation being written in ancient copies. His statement at least gives some doubt as to the “vision” being seen in 95 AD which was almost in his day, and even suggests a time somewhat removed from his own day for him to consider the copies available to him as ancient.
The Early Date Theory
So, where can we turn to find evidence for the dating of Revelation? Within the book itself! It will be shown, from internal evidence, that Revelation was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
John must prophesy again
The first point to consider in favor of the early date is the fact that John was told that he “must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings” in Revelation 10:11. Now, if Revelation was written in AD 95-96, John would have been over 90 years old and it would have been very difficult for him to travel to the various “nations and…many kings” and preach. However, with Revelation written earlier, John would have been in his mid 60’s and at that age, his traveling would have been more feasible.
The Seven Churches in Asia
Another point is that John wrote Revelation to a specific group of churches in Asia (Revelation 1:4). The importance of this statement cannot be overlooked (even though it has been by many scholars). There is only one small window of time in which there were only seven churches in Asia. The early AD 60’s. The apostle Paul established nine churches in that area, but only seven were addressed in Revelation. The reason for this is that the cities of Colosse, Hierapolis, and Laodicea, were all destroyed by an earthquake around AD 61. Laodicea was rebuilt soon afterwards, but the other two cities were not. This left only seven churches in Asia during the five years just prior to the beginning of the Roman/Jewish war.
Of particular importance is the message to the church of Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13). In verse’s 10 and 11, Christ told John to inform them that an “hour of temptation” was “about to come upon all the world,” i.e., the Roman Empire. Christ then told them that He was coming quickly and that they should hold fast. The reason this is important (besides the fact that this was directed to an actual church in the first century) is that the first persecution of Christians took place under Nero Caesar in AD 64. Therefore, Revelation must have been written before that time.
The Temple was still standing
One of the most compelling proofs that Revelation was written before Jerusalem was destroyed is the fact that the Jewish temple was still standing!
Revelation 11:1-2, “And there was given 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.”
How do we know that this was the temple of the first century and not some future one? First, there is not one verse in the entire Bible that speaks of a “rebuilt” Jewish Temple. Not one. That alone should be proof enough.
However, this passage is very similar to Luke 21:20-24. Notice that Jesus told the disciples that they would see this event. They had asked Him about their temple (verse 5), and Jesus told them it would be destroyed before their generation passed away (verse 32). Notice again what Jesus said in verse 24, “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles.” This is the same thing Christ told John in Revelation 11:2. Therefore, since the disciples’ generation has long since passed away, Revelation must have been written before the nations trampled Jerusalem under foot in AD 70.