James M. MacDonald

The Life and Writings of St. John (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1877)

Date of the Apocalypse From Internal Evidence (1869 PDF)

“It is difficult to see how language could more clearly point to Jerusalem, and to Jerusalem as it was before its overthrow.”

Preterist Commentaries By Historicist / Continuists

(On Early Date of Revelation)
“The question whether the Apocalypse was written at an early date or in the very closing period of the apostolic ministration has importance as bearing on the interpretation of the book.  A true exposition depends, in no small degree, upon a knowledge of the existing condition of things at the time it was written ; i.e., of the true point in history occupied by the writer, and those whom he originally addressed… If the book were an epistle, like that to the Romans or Hebrews, it might be of contemporary little importance, in ascertaining its meaning, to be able to determine whether it was written at the commencement of the apostolic era or at its very close.

“It is very obvious that if the book itself throws any distinct light on this subject, this internal evidence, especially in the absence of reliable historical testimony, ought to be decisive.  Instead of appealing to tradition or to some doubtful passage in an ancient father, we interrogate the book itself, or we listen to what the Spirit saith that was in him who testified of these things.  It will be found that no book of the New Testament more abounds in passages which clearly have respect to the time when it was written.” (Life and Writings of John, p. 151-152)

“So clear is the internal evidence in favor of the early date of the Apocalypse.  And no evidence can be drawn from any part of the book favoring the later date so commonly assigned to it.” (Life and Writings of John, p. 167)

“The external evidence seems, on the whole, to be of comparatively little value in deciding the true date of the Apocalypse. The main reliance, it is clear, must be upon the argument from internal evidence. When it has been made to appear that Irenaeus says nothing respecting the time when the Book of Revelation was written, and that Eusebius ascribes its authorship to another John than the apostle, it is sufficiently evident that the remaining testimony of antiquity, conflicting as it is, or about evenly balanced between the earlier and later date, is of little account in deciding the question. And when we open the book itself, and find inscribed on its very pages evidence that at the time it was written Jewish  enemies were still arrogant and active, and the city in which our Lord was crucified, and the temple and the altar in it were still standing, we need no date from early antiquity, not even from the hand of the author himself, to inform us that he wrote before the great historical event and prophetic epoch, the destruction of Jerusalem.” (Life and Writings of John, p. 171-172)

“There appear to have been but seven church in Asia… when the book was written.  It is dedicated to these seven alone by the careful mention of them one by one by name, as if there were no others… The expression ‘the seven churches’ seems to imply that this constituted the whole number, and hence affords one of the most striking incidental proofs of an early date.. Those who contend for the later date, when there must have been a greater number of churches than the seven in the region designated by the apostle fail to give any sufficient reason for his mentioning no more.  That they mystically or symbolically represented others is surely not such a reason.” (ibid., p. 154)

(On Revelation 11:1)
“It is difficult to see how language could more clearly point to Jerusalem, and to Jerusalem as it was before its overthrow.”, (The Life and Writings of St John , p. 159.)

(On Revelation 17:10)
“We have then only to reckon the succession of emperors, and we must arrive with certainty at the reign under which the Apocalypse was written or was seen.  It stands thus: (Julius) Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius ; these make up the five who are fallen.  ‘One is’ – Nero.  The ancients, although the empire was not fully established till the time of Augustus, reckoned from Julius Caesar.” (ibid., p. 164)

(On The Two Witnesses)
‘If we had a Christian history extant, as we have a Pagan one by Tacitus and a Jewish one by Josephus, giving an account of what occurred within that devoted city during that awful period of its history, then we might trace out more distinctly the prophesying of the two witnesses. The great body of Christians, warned by the signs given them by their Lord, according to ancient testimony, appear to have left Palestine on its invasion by the Romans . . . . But it was the will of God that a competent number of witnesses for Christ should remain to preach the Gospel to the very last moment to their deluded, miserable countrymen. It may have been part of their work to reiterate the prophecies respecting the destruction of the city, the temple, and commonwealth. During the time the Romans were to read down the Holy Land and the city, they were to prophecy. Their being clothed in sackcloth intimates the mourningful character of their mission. In their designation as the two olive-trees, and the two candlesticks or lamps standing before God, there is an allusion to Zechariah iv., where these two symbols are interpreted of the two anointed ones, Joshua the high priest, and Zerubbabel the prince, founder of the second temple. The olive-trees, fresh and vigorous, keep the lamps constantly supplied with oil. These witnesses, amidst the darkness which has settled round Jerusalem, give a steady and unfailing light. They possess the power of working miracles as wonderful as any of those performed by Moses and Elijah. What is here predicted must have been fulfilled before the close of the miraculous or apostolic age. All who find here a prediction of the state of the church during the ascendancy of the Papacy, or at any period subsequent to the age of the apostles, are of course under the necessity of explaining away all this language which attributes miraculous power to the witnesses. They were at length to fall victims to the war, or to the same power that waged the war, and their bodies were to lie unburied three days and a half in the streets of the city where Christ was crucified. Their resurrection and ascension to heaven must be interpreted literally; although, as in the case of the miracles they performed, there is no historical record of the events themselves. If these two prophets were the only Christians in Jerusalem, as both were killed, there was no one to make a record or report in the case; and we have here therefore an example of a prophecy which contains at the same time the only history or notice of the events by which it was fulfilled. The wave of ruin which swept over Jerusalem, and wafted them up to heaven, erased or prevented every human memento of their work of faith, their patience of hope, and labour of love. The prophecy that foretold them is their only history, or the only history of the part they were to take in the closing scenes of Jerusalem. We conclude, then, that these witnesses were two of those apostles who seem to be so strangely lost to history, or of whom no authentic traces can be discovered subsequent to the destruction of Jerusalem. May not James the Less, or the second James (in distinction from the brother of John), commonly styled the Bishop of Jerusalem, have been one of them? Why should he not remain faithful at his post to the last? According to Hegesippus, a Jewish Christian historian, who wrote about the middle of the second century, his monument was still pointed out near the ruins of the temple. Hegesippus says that he was killed in the year 69, and represents the apostle as bearing powerful testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus, and pointing to His second coming in the clouds of heaven, up to the very moment of his death. There seems to be a peculiar fitness in these witnesses for Christ, men endowed with the highest supernatural gifts, standing to the last in the forsaken city, prophesying its doom, and lamenting over what was once so dear to God.’(ibid., 161, 162.)


Dr. J.S. Howson
“Concerning the Book of Revelation I will say nothing, except to invite attention to the arguments by which Doctor MacDonald endeavors to fix its date.  The reasoning seems to me to be very well drawn out, which assigns the writing of this part of the Holy Scripture to a time intermediate between the Gospel and the Epistles of St. John.” (Life and Writings of John, p. xxxiii, Introduction by Dr. J.S. Howson)

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16 Mar 2004


I am interested in finding three books by him. My Fathers House and the Heaven of the Bible. The Life and Writings of John. A Key to the Book of Revelation. You may e-mail me at CandyEJones@blomand.net

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