Dating the Book of Revelation
By Jim Hopkins
I don’t know that I have any of the answers, but I’m not afraid to look. One of the ways that I have found to encourage looking is to have someone to share that search with. I’ll write it down and you serve as my sounding board.
In the early 1970’s I found Foy E. Wallace, Jr.’s book on The Revelation. It was the first time that I knew of any of the brethren suggesting an early date for the book. I had read brother Wallace for years following mostly his debates on premillennialism, but for some reason I don’t remember the question of the date for the book as being mentioned. As for teaching the book, I used the postmillennialist approach, Hendrickson’s “More Than Conquerors”. I also found that Alexander Campbell in his Millennial Harbinger was a postmillennialist looking for the coming Kingdom.
But somewhere between Campbell and now, the concept of the “Kingdom Present” came into being. I have been unable to document where this amillenialist approach came from. But it did come and it has a strong presence in Christian and churches of Christ. It is one of the big things that really separates them from the other churches. It has the advantage of optimism over pessimism. With premillennialism the end of the world is at hand and the world is becoming worse and worse until the end comes. A very depressing outlook. With postmillennialism the outlook is much brighter with the little stone cut out of the mountain (Dan 2) becoming a great mountain and a period of increasing righteousness before the end comes ushering in the millennium. But with the “Kingdom Present” we have all things summed up in Christ. We have the Blessing appointed to Abraham’s seed (Gal 3:8); we have God dwelling with his people (Ezek 37:27); we have the restoration of all things (Mt 19:28); we have a garden likened to Eden (Ezek 36:35; Isa 51:3); we have the Kingdom of God in heaven and on earth (Mt 28:18).
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, from Napoleon to Hitler to Saddam Hussein. So dating plays a very important part in its interpretation.
The external evidence centers around Irenaeus (130-202). He was commenting on the number 666 when he wrote: “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.”
If John saw the vision towards the end of Domitian’s reign, then a date of 95 or 96 AD would fit very nicely, for Domitian was killed in 96 AD, after being Caesar for 14 years. But the statement is ambiguous as to what was seen. Was it John that was seen or did he see the vision then? If it was John that was seen, the vision had to have been seen earlier. If John, then he had been last seen ‘almost in their day,’ and if it had been necessary for them to have known the name of the Antichrist, John could have made it known to them. Therefore, a date earlier than 95 AD would be required. 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.
But how much earlier? Let us look now to the internal evidence of the book.
Most writers consider the theme of the book to be Rev 1:7: “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they which pierced him: and all tribes of the earth shall mourn over him. Even so, Amen.” This verse is very similar in context to Mt 24:30: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” There is a cloud-coming, all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they will see him. It may not be conclusive standing alone, but you can see that just based on the language a case can be made that the two verses are speaking of the same event. I think you would concur with me that Mt 24:30 is a verse that speaks of the fall of Jerusalem. And that is just the case that I am making about the Revelation — it speaks of the fall of Jerusalem.
Notice also the language. It speaks of those who pierced him. Although we know that the Romans crucified him and pierced him, the apostles accused the Jews of the act. In Acts 2:23 and 36 Peter says that they crucified Jesus. He continues to state this in his following sermons (Acts 3:15; 4:10; 5:30). Stephen in 7:52 calls them murderers and Paul in I Thes 2:15 speaks of the Jews that killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets. So perhaps the book concerns itself with the Jews.
This view is further reinforced with the phrase, “tribes of the earth.” This is a direct allusion to the Jewish tribal system. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament notes that the Septuagint “with few exceptions . . . has ‘PHULE’ (tribes), so that this becomes a fixed term for the tribal system of Israel.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states that with few exceptions ‘PHULE’ “refer[s] exclusively to the tribes of Israel.” Another term suggestive of the Jews.
The next term is the word “earth”. The word has the meaning of earth or land and depending on context is translated earth or land. Some contexts are easy enough when the text is speaking of the “land of Judah” or “they brought their boats to the land.” Some passages like Ps 37:11 “the meek shall inherit the land” are translated in Mt 5:5 as “the meek shall inherit the earth.” showing an interrelation between the two words. If the context is Jewish, it could be translated “the tribes of the land” just as well. Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible translates it just this way. Not conclusive, but still holding its place.
Next consider the expectations of the author, Jesus Christ. He tells John to expect the fulfillment of the prophecy soon. In verse 1 he is showing John the “things which must shortly come to pass.” In verse 3, “the time is at hand.” At the end of the book in chapter 22:6,10 these phrases appear again. In order to illustrate this further consider the verses which use the Greek word, TACHOS.
Revelation 1:1 “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified [it] by his angel unto his servant John:”
Revelation 2:16 “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”
Revelation 3:11 “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”
Revelation 22:6 “And he said unto me, These sayings [are] faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to show unto his servants the things which must shortly be done.”
Revelation 22:7 “Behold, I come quickly: blessed [is] he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.”
Revelation 22:12 “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward [is] with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”
Revelation 22:20 “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
TACHOS in its various tenses is translated in Rev 1:1 and 22:6 as “shortly” as in the sense of at hand or soon. In all other places it is translated “quickly.” For the premillennialist TACHOS has the meaning: to indicate suddenly coming to pass or rapidity of execution after the beginning takes place. But Rev 1:1 and 22:6 are translated soon or shortly by most versions and with this the lexicographers seem to be in agreement and concur that the word in all other places has the idea of “quickly, at once, without delay.” Kurt Aland, a noted Greek scholar, is even more specific as he comments on the word in Rev 22:12:
“In the original text, the Greek word used is TACHU, and this does not mean “soon,” in the sense of “sometime,” but rather “now,” immediately.” Therefore, we must understand Rev 22:12 in this way: “I am coming now, bringing my recompense.” The concluding word of Rev 22:20 is: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘surely I am coming soon.'” Here we again find the word, TACHU, so this means: I am coming quickly, immediately. This is followed by the prayer: “Amen, Come, Lord Jesus!” . . . The Apocalypse expresses the fervent waiting for the end within the circles in which the writer lived – not an expectation that will happen at some unknown point X in time (just to repeat this), but one in the immediate present.”
Another word which suggests immanency is not disputed among authorities. It is the Greek word ENGUS. In all translations it is either translated ‘at hand’ or ‘near.’ It occurs in the following verses:
Revelation 1:3 “Blessed [is] he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time [is] at hand.”
Revelation 22:10 “And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.”
The next Greek word, MELLO, means ‘is about to come’ but is never translated in the literal fashion by major translations. The NASB is one exception in Rev 3:10. Only Marshall’s The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament and Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible translate it in this manner in both occurrences. This word occurs in the following verses:
Revelation 1:19 “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;”
Revelation 3:10 “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.”
MELLO is translated in the two verses above by the word, ‘shall’. It is true that the verb MELLO can indicate simply ‘destined’ or a word for the future. Gentry in his book, ‘Before Jerusalem Fell,’ makes this comment: “Nevertheless, when used with the aorist infinitive – as in Revelation 1:19 – the word’s preponderate usage and preferred meaning is: ‘be on the point of, be about to.’ The same is true when the word is used with the present infinitive, as in Rev. 3:10. The basic meaning in both Thayer’s and Abbott-Smith is: ‘to be about to.’ Indeed, MELLEIN with the infinitive expresses imminence (like the future).“
Gentry continues: “All of this is particularly significant when the contexts of these two occurrences of MELLO in Revelation are considered: the words appear in near proximity with statements made up of the two other word groups indicating ‘nearness.’ Revelation 1:19 is preceded by Revelation 1:1 and 1:3 (which contain representatives of both the TACHOS and ENGUS word groups). Revelation 3:10 is followed by Revelation 3:11 (which contains a representative of the TACHOS word group). Clearly, then, the Revelation 1:19 and 3:10 references hold forth an excited expectation of soon occurrence.“
Well, what do you think so far? Is there anything to be said for the early date? A close friend of mine who also holds to the early date makes this statement: “If a person doesn’t believe the first three verses (i.e., the near expectation of the events), neither will he believe the rest of the book.” That may be a little harsh but I think it is on the right track. For if a person is unwilling to accept the time constraints of the text, the rest of the document can mean anything that the reader desires.
My study is getting to be a little lengthy, but I would like to mention a few more areas. The seven kings of Rev 17:10 help us date the book. With the early date approach, they are considered the emperors of the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar is considered by some to be the first emperor (Josephus calls Augustus the second emperor which implies that Julius was first, Ant. xvii, II, 2). We then have Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius, Nero, and Galba as the seven kings. The verse says that five have fallen, one is and one is yet to come and remains a little while. This would place the vision in the time of Nero (54 to 68 AD) with Galba to follow who reigns but six months.
Historically, Nero is the one that persecuted Christians beyond all comparison. One of the things that doesn’t fit is the persecution of Domitian. There is very little evidence for any involved persecution. And even if there was, the vision takes place after the persecution! So where is the fulfillment?
It was interesting to me to see a major historian change his mind. In Philip Schaff’s, “History of the Christian Church,” Vol. I, Preface to the Revised Edition, 1882, he makes this statement: “On two points I have changed my opinion — the second Roman captivity of Paul (which I am disposed to admit in the interest of the Pastoral Epistles), and the date of the Apocalypse (which I now assign, with the majority of modern critics, to the year 68 or 69 instead of 95, as before).“
The word “witness,” (MARTUS in the Greek), is very revealing. Antipas was a witness of Christ as one who had seen and heard him. He was also killed because he was a witness. But he did not become a witness because of his death. This definition has come into being after the New Testament. We call one a martyr if one dies for his faith. But this definition and spelling is foreign to the scriptures. The word, martyr, is found in the KJV in Acts 22:20 where it speaks of Stephen; Rev 2:13 in speaking of Antipas; and in Rev 17:6 it sees a plurality of martyrs. Their death did not cause them to be martyrs! But because of this inconsistent translation, we miss the fact that some of the witnesses of Jesus were still alive at the time of the vision. It makes the early date more plausible.
Also a Jewish problem was present in the church at Smyrna (2:9) and in the church at Philadelphia (3:9) which makes an early date more consistent.
The temple seems to be present in Rev 11 which places the writing before 70 AD.
That should give you some places to start looking. Now I would like to ask some general questions.
In Daniel 2 the fourth kingdom is a divided kingdom. Identify the time that the God of Heaven set up the Kingdom.
In Daniel 7 identify the four beasts. Identify the little horn of the fourth beast. Identify the time of the judgment of the little horn. What is the time of the one like the son of man coming before the Ancient of Days and receiving a kingdom that shall not pass away. Does he ever receive a kingdom that does pass away (ICor 15:24)? Does he ever quit reigning (Lk 1.33)? What is his inheritance and when does he receive it (Ps 2:8: Heb 1:2)? Who is the little horn that makes war on the saints (Dan 7:21)? When do the saints possess the kingdom (7:23)? What kingdom do the saints possess (7:27)? In the NT when do the saints receive the Kingdom (Lk 21:31)? When do they inherit the kingdom (Mt 25:34)? In Heb 12:28 what kingdom are they receiving after the shaking of heaven and earth? In Heb 2:5 what earth is ruled over by Christ and when? Is the earth presently under the reign, authority and subjection of Christ (Heb 2:8)?
In Daniel 9:24 to whom does the 70 weeks apply? When do the 70 weeks terminate? How many of the six items are left to be fulfilled. Were they all fulfilled at the cross? If not, when?
In Daniel 11:31 what is the time of the abomination that makes desolate? Who are the wise among the people that instruct many in vs 32? To what time does the ‘time of the end’ refer in vss 35, 40, and 45? What is the time of trouble in 12:1? Is it the same as Christ mentions in Mt 24:21? What kind of deliverance is received, physical or spiritual? Is the kingdom in view? Those that come from the dust in vs 2, are they referred to by Christ in Mt 24:31 as the ones gathered from the four corners of the earth? Or John 5:28?
In 12:7 all things are finished when an end of breaking in pieces the power of the holy people. Is this the same as the end of the 70 weeks? When is the time of the end in vs 9? Who opens his book at that time? Does Christ open it in Mt 24:15? Is the abomination of desolation fulfilled? Is the time of the end fulfilled? Did Daniel stand in his lot at the end of days?
When are the last days? When did they begin? Of what age are they part of? Did the Mosaic age have any last days? Is the Christian age the last days of the Mosaic age? Did Jesus die in the end of the ages (Heb 9:26)? What age did he die in the end of? Did the apostles live in the end of the ages (I Cor 10:11)? What end of the ages? Did a new age begin at the cross? Did the old age end at the cross? If not when? Do we live in a new age? Did the apostles? Their age was evil and ruled over by Satan (Gal 1:4; II Cor 4:4). Is ours?
In Heb 10:1 the law was a shadow of the good things that were coming. In Col 2:16,17 the good things are coming. In Heb 9:11 Jesus is the High Priest over good things to come. Did they ever come? If not, do we live in a time in which Jesus is not High Priest?
May the Lord bless you in your study of God’s Word.
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Date: 02 Jun 2007
I think they falsely expected Christ to return soon.