Otto Nordgreen: The Problems of a Pre-AD70 Date of the Apocalypse – “The date of the Book of Revelation (Rev) has been as disputed as its authorship. The dates proposed for the composition oscillate between, on the one hand, the time before or during the so-called Jewish War (66-77 CE) and, on the other hand, the time of Emperor Trajan, viz. late 1st century (Aune 1997:lvii). Traditionally, the prevailing view has been that Rev was written sometime during the reign of Emperor Domitian (81-96 CE); more specifically (and in harmony with the ancient testimony of Irenaeus ) towards the end of his reign, viz. ca. 94/95 CE. “
- The Apocalypse: Christadelphian “A view that the Apocalypse was written before A.D. 70 against errant Judaism virtually nullifies its impact on this issue. The primary purpose of this booklet is to show that an early date and Jewish application is wholly against the facts.” (1932)
Irenaeus‘ Quote (Used as Grounds for Late Date Theory)
“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 Revelation. For (‘he’ [John?] or ‘it’ [Revelation?]) was seen not long ago, but almost in our own generation, at the end of the reign of Domitian.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:30:3)
“It is said that in this persecution [Domitian’s] the apostle and evangelist John, who was still alive, was condemned to dwell on the island of Patmos in consequence of his testimony to the divine word. Irenaeus, in the fifth book of his work Against Heresies, where he discusses the number of the name of Antichrist which is given in the so-called Apocalypse of John, speaks as follows concerning him: ‘If it were necessary for his name to be proclaimed openly at the present time, it would have been declared by him who saw the Revelation. For it was seen not long ago, but almost in our own generation, at the end of the reign of Domitian.’ To such a degree, indeed, did the teaching of our faith flourish at that time that even those writers who were far from our religion did not hesitate to mention in their histories the persecution and the martyrdoms which took place during it. And they, indeed, accurately indicated the time. For they recorded that in the fifteenth year of Domitian Flavia Domitilla, daughter of a sister of Flavius Clement, who at that time was one of the consuls of Rome, was exiled with many others to the island of Pontia in consequence of testimony borne to Christ (Church History, Bk. III, ch. 18).
“Tertullian also has mentioned Domitian in the following words: ‘Domitian also, who possessed a share of Nero’s cruelty, attempted once to do the same thing that the latter did. But because he had, I suppose, some intelligence, he very soon ceased, and even recalled those whom he had banished.’ But after Domitian had reigned fifteen years, and Nerva had succeeded to the empire, the Roman Senate, according to the writers that record the history of those days, voted that Domitian’s horrors should be cancelled, and that those who had been unjustly banished should return to their homes and have their property restored to them. It was at this time that the apostle John returned from his banishment in the island and took up his abode at Ephesus, according to an ancient Christian tradition (Church History, Bk. III, ch. 20)
“And He says unto me, Thou must again prophesy to the peoples, and to the tongues, and to the nations, and to many kings.” He says this, because when John said these things he was in the island of Patmos, condemned to the labour of the mines by Caesar Domitian. There, therefore, he saw the Apocalypse; and when grown old, he thought that he should at length receive his quittance by suffering, Domitian being killed, all his judgments were discharged. And John being dismissed from the mines, thus subsequently delivered the same Apocalypse which he had received from God. This, therefore, is what He says: Thou must again prophesy to all nations, because thou seest the crowds of Antichrist rise up; and against them other crowds shall stand, and they shall fall by the sword on the one side and on the other. (Commentary on the Apocalypse, 11)
The time must be understood in which the written Apocalypse was published, since then reigned Caesar Domitian; but before him had been Titus his brother, and Vespasian, Otho, Vitellius, and Galba” (Commentary on the Apocalypse, XVII).
Clement of Alexandria
“And that you may be still more confident, that repenting thus truly there remains for you a sure hope of salvation, listen to a tale, which is not a tale but a narrative, handed down and committed to the custody of memory, about the Apostle John. For when, on the tyrant’s death, he returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos, he went away, being invited, to the contiguous territories of the nations, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, there to ordain such as were marked out by the Spirit.” (The Rich Man, XLII)
“After an interval of some years from the death of Nero, there arose another tyrant no less wicked (Domitian), who, although his government was exceedingly odious, for a very long time oppressed his subjects, and reigned in security, until at length he stretched forth his impious hands against the Lord. Having been instigated by evil demons to persecute the righteous people, he was then delivered into the power of his enemies, and suffered due punishment.” (Address to Donatus, Ch 3).
“Why, my son, dost thou flee from me, thy father, unarmed, old? Son, pity me. Fear not; thou hast still hope of life. I will give account to Christ for thee. If need be, I will willingly endure thy death, as the Lord did death for us. For thee I will surrender my life. Stand, believe; Christ hath sent me….And he, when he heard, first stood, looking down; then threw down his arms, then trembled and wept bitterly. And on the old man approaching, he embraced him, speaking for himself with lamentations as he could, and baptized a second time with tears, concealing only his right hand. The other pledging, and assuring him on oath that he would find forgiveness for himself from the Savior, beseeching and failing on his knees, and kissing his right hand itself, as now purified by repentance, led him back to the church.” (The Rich Man, XLII)
“In the fourteenth year then after Nero, Domitian having raised a second persecution he was banished to the island of Patmos, and wrote the Apocalypse, on which Justin Martyr and Irenaeus afterwards wrote commentaries. But Domitian having been put to death and his acts, on account of his excessive cruelty, having been annulled by the senate, he returned to Ephesus under Pertinax and continuing there until the tithe of the emperor Trajan, founded and built churches throughout all Asia, and, worn out by old age, died in the sixty-eighth year after our Lord’s passion and was buried near the same city.” (Lives of Illustrious Men, Ch IX).
“We maybe sure that John was then a boy because ecclesiastical history most clearly proves that he lived to the reign of Trajan, that is, he fell asleep in the sixty-eighth year after our Lord’s passion, as I have briefly noted in my treatise on Illustrious Men. Peter is an Apostle, and John is an Apostle – the one a married man, the other a virgin; but Peter is an Apostle only, John is both an Apostle and an Evangelist, and a prophet. An Apostle, because he wrote to the Churches as a master; an Evangelist, because he composed a Gospel, a thing which no other of the Apostles, excepting Matthew, did; a prophet, for he saw in the island of Patmos, to which he had been banished by the Emperor Domitian
As a martyr for the Lord, an Apocalypse containing the boundless mysteries of the future Tertullian, moreover, relates that he was sent to Rome, and that having been plunged into a jar of boiling oil he came out fresher and more active than when he went in (Against Jovinianus, Book 1, 26).
“Then, after an interval, Domitian, the son of Vespasian, persecuted the Christians. At this date, he banished John the Apostle and Evangelist to the island of Patmos. There he, secret mysteries having been revealed to him, wrote and published his book of the holy Revelation, which indeed is either foolishly or impiously not accepted by many” (The Sacred History, Ch 31).
“John, again, in Asia, was banished by Domitian the king to the isle of Patmos, in which also he wrote his Gospel and saw the apocalyptic vision; and in Trajan’s time he fell asleep at Ephesus, where his remains were sought for, but could not be found (The Twelve Apostles, XLIX).
Acts of the Holy Apostle John
“And the fame of the teaching of John was spread abroad in Rome; and it came to the ears of Domitian that there was a certain Hebrew in Ephesus, John by name, who spread a report about the seat of empire of the Romans, saying that it would quickly be rooted out, and that the kingdom of the Romans would be given over to another. And Domitian, troubled by what was said, sent a centurion with soldiers to seize John, and bring him. And having gone to Ephesus, they asked where John lived.
And when all were glorifying God, and wondering at the faith of John, Domitian said to him: I have put forth a decree of the senate, that all such persons should be summarily dealt with, without trial; but since I find from thee that they are innocent, and that their religion is rather beneficial, I banish thee to an island, that I may not seem myself to do away with my own decrees. He asked then that the condemned criminal should be let go; and when he was let go, John said: Depart, give thanks to God, who has this day delivered thee from prison and from death.
And having prayed, he raised her up. And Domitian, astonished at all the wonders, sent him away to an island, appointing for him a set time. And straightway John sailed to Patmos, where also he was deemed worthy to see the revelation of the end. And when Domitian was dead, Nerva succeeded to the kingdom, and recalled all who had been banished; and having kept the kingdom for a year, he made Trajan his successor in the kingdom. And when he was king over the Romans, John went to Ephesus, and regulated all the teaching of the church, holding many conferences, anti reminding them of what the Lord had said to them, and what duty he had assigned to each. And when he was old and changed, he ordered Polycarp to be bishop over the church. (Acts of the Holy Apostle John, Exile and Departure).
“But after Domitian had reigned fifteen years, and Nerva had succeeded to the empire, the Roman Senate, according to the writers that record the history of those days, voted that Domitian’s honors should be cancelled, and that those who had been unjustly banished should return to their homes and have their property restored to them. 11. It was at this time that the apostle John returned from his banishment in the island and took up his abode at Ephesus, according to an ancient Christian tradition. (Church History, Book 3, Ch 20).
“And all the elders that associated with John the disciple of the Lord in Asia bear witness that John delivered it to them. For he remained among them until the time of Trajan.”
“But the church in Ephesus also, which was founded by Paul, and where John remained until the time of Trajan, is a faithful witness of the apostolic tradition.”
Clement of Alexandria
“Listen to a tale, which is not a mere tale, but a narrative concerning John the apostle, which has been handed down and treasured up in memory. For when, after the tyrant’s death, he returned from the isle of Patmos to Ephesus, he went away upon their invitation to the neighboring territories of the Gentiles, to appoint bishops in some places, in other places to set in order whole churches, elsewhere to choose to the ministry some one of those that were pointed out by the Spirit. (Church History, Book 3, Ch 23).
Refuting the Praeterist Counter-Scheme “What the grounds of this strange presumptuousness of tone? What the new and overpowering evidence in favor of the modern Præterists?”
“The same is the recorded judgment of Jerome; the same of Augustine’s friend, Orosius; the same of Sulpitius Severus. Once more, we find an unhesitating statement of similar purport in Primasius; an eminent Augustinian commentator on the Apocalypse, of the sixth century. In his Preface to this Commentary, he speaks of the Apocalyptic visions having been seen by St. John when banished and condemned to the mines in Patmos by the Emperor Domitian” (Horae Apocalypticae, vol. I, p. 36).
“Nor can it be wondered at: seeing that as to any contrary statement on the point in question, there appears to have been none whatsoever until the time of Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, in the latter half of the fourth century: …whose chief work, On Heresies, is decried … as ‘full of blots and errors, through the levity and ignorance of the author:’ …For he speaks of St. John having prophesied when in the isle of Patmos, in the days of the Emperor Claudius: –a time when… it does not appear from history that there was any imperial persecution of the Christian body whatsoever…” (Horae Apocalypticae, vol. I, p. 37).
“ …another testimony to the early date of the Apocalypse. The subscription to a Syriac version of the book, written about the beginning of the sixth century, is thus worded; ‘The Revelation which was made by God to John the Evangelist in the island of Patmos, whither he was banished by the Emperor Nero.’ But of what value is this opinion, then first broached, as it would appear?” (Horae Apocalypticae, vol. I, p. 38-39).
“May not the mistake have arisen from Domitian having sometimes the title of Nero given him; and in fact the original writer of the Syriac subscription have meant Domitian, not Nero?” He includes in this footnote further proofs given in Latin of this title applying to Domitian (Horae Apocalypticae, vol. I pg. 39, footnote 1).
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Premillennialist)
“First, then, let us look at the preterist view… It seems to me that the view is clearly impossible in terms of the book of Revelation itself. For the book takes us on to the very end of time and tells us, “that there should be time no longer” (Rev. 10:6). It takes us on to the destruction of the devil and all his powers, and the instruments that he uses – the dragon himself and the various beasts. Revelation deals with that final destruction, so, obviously, it cannot be right to say that it only refers to events confronting the early Christian Church and things which would come to an end when the Roman empire became officially Christian.” (The Church and the Last Things, vol. 3, 152)
Robert Thomas (Premillennial Dispensationalist)
“Preterism uses the “soonness” of Christ’s coming to prove a writing of Revelation in the 60s and fulfillment of much of the book’s prophecies by A.D.70. Placing a time limit on “soon” is, however, unwarranted. Jesus taught against pinpointing the time of his return… He could have returned by 70, but he did not. God has not been pleased to reveal how long it will be. So far “soon” has extended to over 1900 years, but God’s people still must anticipate an any-moment return of Christ. Ninteen hundred years may not seem to be “soon” for humans, but they must accept God’s lesson about expecting Christ’s coming to be near.” (“A Classical Dispensationalist View of Revelation,” in Four Views on the Book of Revelation, gen. ed. C. Marvin Pate, 191.)
“It has been frequently assumed that the Apocalypse may be dated to the reign of the Emperor Domitian, the last representative of the Flavian house (AD 81-96), as a response to fierce persecution which took place during his reign. But this view has recently been challenged seriously, both because encouragement in the face of persecution may not be regarded as the single motive behind the composition of Revelation, and also on account of the insecurity surrounding the evidence of imperial oppression during the time of Domitian. This leaves the way open to revive the alternative view, common among nineteenth-century scholars, that Revelation was written between AD 64, as a result of the persecution under Nero, and AD 70, the fall of Jerusalem (see the summary of the research representing these two positions in Robinson, Redating [the New Testament, London: SCM Press, 1976], 224-26).
As it happens, I believe that it is perfectly possible to locate the writing of Revelation in the reign of Vespasian (AD 69-79); and I have argued that the book emerged just before the fall of Jerusalem to Titus, Vespasian’s son, in AD 70 . . . I suggest that this conclusion fits the internal and external evidence for the dating of Revelation; it is also supported by the theological thrust of the drama itself. For the members of John’s circle, the earthly Jerusalem and its Temple would have been a central holy place in which to encounter God, and also a spiritual centre of gravity. If Jerusalem were about to be destroyed, the vision in Rev. 21-22 of a stunning and emphatically new holy city, where God’s people will dwell eternally in a close covenant relationship with him, would have provided exactly, and at the right moment, all the spiritual encouragement they needed.”
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- 08 Nov 2003
The blind battling the blind. The date, structure and meaning of the book of Revelation are only revealed by relying on the complete and consistent typology that God gave the church for guidance – i. e., first the natural things of the OT, then the spiritual things of the NT (1 Cor. 15:46).
As long as Bible students continue their stubborn rejection of that God-given guidance and insist on relying instead on an endless variety of personal opinions about NT passages, they’ll never understand what really happened in the first century.
Date: 26 Feb 2011
I believe the comment below is very clear and to the point. The scriptures point to first century fulfillment, as do almost all commentaries on the subject. Unfortunately if we can’t square our literal understanding of things with scripture, then we can’t accept what God’s word actually says. We need to adjust our thinking to God’s ways, not the other way around.
Date: 26 Jul 2012
Hengstenberg gives a detailed consideration of this matter, in his introduction to his commentary on the Apocalypse, confidently concluding that the date of the writing of the Apocalypse was during the latter part of Domitian’s reign.
You can download this(Hengstenberg’s commentary) from the Internet Archive.
Hengstenberg quotes Vitringa also, as being of the same mind, and it would be good to see if there is available an English translation of Vitringa’s work on the subject.
Date: 02 Jul 2012
I never heard anyone mention that D Martyn Lloyd Jones was a Premillennialist before. Can you please tell me the source of your information or evidence for this.
I had understood that Todd Dennis no longer held to full preterism, is that incorrect? The early date of Revelation is foundational, without it preterism cannot be built. [That is correct. Agreed.]