There is a well-accepted theory around today that the book of Revelation appeared right at the close of the first century. The theory is not as new as some folks may think because it actually dates back to the late second century. And as with many things, it seems to me that we would do well to recall what the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
In general, rather than paying attention to the signs and to the text, more time seems to be spent on pondering the validity of theories like this one. Both of the primary writers here have posed that the biblical text has too many “holes” in it to support the 96 – 98 AD theory. One of the most difficult of these is with the insurmountable fact that the New Testament nowhere mentions the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in anything but the future tense. It was described by Jesus as a sign yet to come while he was still here. And it is not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament as being past or its destruction as having already taken place – including in the Revelation.
That is the single strongest reason to accept a date for Jesus’ Revelation as having been given prior to 70 AD when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans – a seminal historical event if ever there was one.
The editors of the Pulpit Commentary series, a popular Anglican centered set put together in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries put this and a few other things in fairly simple language. Some of their arguments in the introduction to the text and commentary are noteworthy.
They dismissed the records of some of the so called early “Church Fathers,” in this instance particularly Clement and Irenaeus. What follows is an edited and incomplete listing as to why they rejected the later date theory.
1) “Regarding the methods of conveying Christian truth: ‘Of the two books (here meaning John’s Gospel and Revelation, RAV) the Apocalypse is the earlier. It is less developed both in thought and style…’ (The writers continue on to point out particulars in both language and doctrine.)
2) “The clear and positive external testimony against it is not strong, being reducible (as it seems to us) to the solitary statement of Irenaeus, near the end of the second century, that the Apocalypse was seen towards the close of Domitian’s reign. Domitian was emperor from AD 81 to 96. Irenaeus, writing a century after the fact, may have easily made the mistake of putting the name of one famous persecuting emperor instead of the other, and it is remarkable that his statement is supported by no other writer earlier than Victorinus of Pettau, after a second interval of a century.
3) “The remaining early evidence as to the time when the Apocalypse was written is certainly reconcilable with, and seems rather in favor of, the earlier date…
(1) “Clement (…as quoted by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical Histories…) says that John went from the island of Patmos to Ephesus ‘after the tyrant was dead…’
“Clement does not give the name of ‘the tyrant’ to whom he refers: but Eusebius, influenced (as we may reasonably suppose) by the express statement of Irenaeus, with whose writings he was very familiar, takes it for granted that Domitian is meant; and many modern writers agree with him…
“We differ so completely… on this point that we avow our conviction that ‘the tyrant’ must be some other than Domitian.”
Then comes the best part and with just a slight touch of sarcasm:
“And any schoolboy would perceive the fitness of the designation as applied to Nero, so proverbial for cruel tyranny, and so terrible a persecutor of Christians. He died in the year 68, and we quite believe that he was the tyrant referred to by Clement. This would allow a period of about sixty years for the apostle’s life and work in and around Ephesus, and some such period seems required by evidence derived from other sources and by the probabilities of the case.”
The small point of this exercise is – somebody ancient put the theory into words, not someone modern. Also, the late date theory is based on the scarcest historical evidence and (ready for this!) on not one single tiny bit of Bible. The larger point is that virtually every person has indeed heard something of Nero and likely of his recorded persecutions too, while they may know nothing at all about the rest of the Caesars.
Now this is mostly a tempest in a teacup as far as the Revelation is concerned if you lean on the Scriptures and also recognize that a definitive conclusion for a diversion like this will never be reached. But then perhaps you may also understand, that like everything else listed in the Scriptures, all of God’s Word has long ago been fulfilled – with the only exception being those prophecies and passages concerning Christ’s coming to “reclaim his own” and of those who will “live forever with Him.”
However it could amount to a very big thing if you should hold precariously to the futuristic theories that both marginalize or ignore the entire text of that little read and greatly commented upon book, listed last in the Scriptures. And so I close with the remarks that serve to both open and close the book of visions and signs.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw.
Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.
Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true.” And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place. Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant; and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand. He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.”
“And behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”