Theology Thursday: When was Revelation Written?

One of the reasons that I call myself an “orthodox preterist” is my belief that John’s Revelation was written prior to the events of 70 A.D.

This position is at odds with the majority of today’s bible scholars who place the date closer to 90 A.D. This difference, of course, completely changes the way that the book of Revelation is interpreted, whether by preterists or by futurists.  In today’s post I hope to offer evidence of why I believe Revelation was written prior to 70 A.D.

We simply won’t know in this life which position is accurate, but I hope to describe how John’s book dates itself, and thus my position has a basis in Scripture itself rather than in speculative interpretations of archaeological findings, tradition, and theory.

Practically all sources for a post-70 AD dating of Revelation derive their opinions from Irenaeus (130-202 AD).  Irenaeus, perhaps in defense of his own eschatological position (historic premillennialism) in his book Against Heresies, states:

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.

It’s rather difficult to even figure out exactly what Irenaeus is saying in this rather obscure passage.  Is he talking about John or the Antichrist, that was seen in his day?  Also, who saw him?  The statement suggests third hand information on the part of Irenaeus.  Second, we also know Irenaeus is not accurate in dating other events.  In the same book he writes that Jesus’ ministry lasted 15 years and that He lived to be almost 50 years old!  (Against Heresies, 2.22.5).

One of the best ways of dating a book of the scriptures is to let the book date itself.  All orthodox Christians believe in the infallibility of the scriptures, so “let scripture interpret scripture:” 

Rev 17:9-10 seems to put us within 14 years of John’s vision, and it definitely puts it at a pre-70 AD date.  The passage states there are 7 kings, five have fallen, and one is.  In other words, the 6th king is currently ruling.  Verse 9 attaches these kings to seven mountains, which most everyone agrees is a reference to the city of Rome.  The ten Roman emperors from Julius Caesar are:

1. Julius Caesar (49-44 BC)

2. Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD)

3. Tiberius (14-37 AD)

4. Gaius (37-41 AD)

5. Claudius (41-54 AD)

6. Nero (54-68 AD)

7. Galba (68-69 AD)

8. Otho (69 AD)

9. Vitellius (69 AD)

10. Vespasian (69-79 AD)

 Interestingly, the passage also tells us the 7th king will continue “for a short time” (unlike the previous 6).  As the judgement of God and vindication of Christ drew near, Roman emperors didn’t last very long. Some ruled for less than a year before they were murdered.  But there is no possible way to equate the “6th king” of Revelation with Domitian, as Irenaeus does.

The next passage is Rev 11:1-2.  According to this passage, the temple was still standing at the time of the writing, yet it predicts a trodding of the holy city by the Gentiles for 42 months.  Note that the time from Rome’s declaration of war on Jerusalem until to the fall of Jerusalem was almost exactly 42 months.  This passage is strong evidence that Revelation was written at least 3 and a half years before 70 AD (still in the time of Nero).

The next passage to look at is Rev 13:18.  The number of “the beast” is 666.  The Hebrew spelling of Nero (Neron Kesar) has the numerical value of 666.  But even more interestingly, many ancient Latin manuscripts of Revelation have this number changed to 616, not 666.  Why?  Well, when you spell Nero Caesar in Latin, it has a numerical value of 616.  So apparently the early church knew who the beast was. But in a futurist eschatology of course, this wouldn’t fit.

Third, all the Jewish symbolism in Revelation is strong evidence that Judaism was still vibrant in the church when this book was written, and we know Judaism was extremely prevalent in the Christian community before 70 A.D.  After 70 A.D., Judaism and Jewish influence dwindled very rapidly.  Additionally, note that the entire theme of Revelation is one of imminent judgement and destruction.  70 A.D. most nearly fits with the “imminence language” of Revelation.  It is a stretch to make this language fit something thousands of years in the future.  Specific passages of Revelation almost exactly match wordings used in the historical writings of Josephus and other eye-witness accounts of the Roman conquest of Jerusalem.

Preterist eschatology is largely the basis for my own cessationist arguments against modern Charismatic manifestation gifts as well (to be published here in future editions of Theology Thursday), and in my opinion, a strictly futurist eschatology must allow for the continuation of the charismata until the Second Advent.

This is of course not to argue for a “full” preterist eschtology!  Full preterism is heresy! Christ’s Second Coming is yet future, as is the resurrection and judgment of the righteous and unrighteous alike.   But hopefully it offers a view of one basis upon which those of us who are orthodox preterist (Amillennial and Post-Millennial)make the case for our position.