The Book of Revelation and “Prophecy”

Surfing the “end times” websites and even watching the local billboards during this time of worldwide crises will reveal a host of arguments that we are nearing “the mark of the beast,” as well as “the rapture of the Church.” Most of these teachings come straight out of the Evangelical community and work as a fear-based hook for new converts and a message of hope and excitement for both new converts and matured parishioners. This is not to say that no type of global Antichrist or “new world order” will happen, but it is to say that it will not happen like the Evangelical say it will happen. In fact many areas in the Bible (both Christ and St. Paul state) say that in perilous times such as these many will fall from the true Gospel message to be enamored by their surroundings.

Remember, the Book of Revelation, even though written and prophesied for many events that have already past, will give us wisdom to handle situations such as the one that we are in right now. But to create a newspaper theology such as is being created is absolute heresy and we should tread very carefully when listening to this hype.

Self Fullfilled Prophesy

Tribulation will always occur, but not exactly like it did in the prophetic destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Many in the modern church today actually believe that some of the church will be going through the same tribulation that the early church went through in her time. To believe this tribulation theology is to pour apathy onto your soul, because your whole outlook on life becomes negative and even depressing. You tend to hope for the evil in the world to prevail so that your mind is convinced that Christ is returning to give you escape.  Meanwhile, in this state of preoccupation, the liberals and secularists corrupt our churches and societies, giving us a whole new tribulation. It seems that we can actually take some advice from modern psychology; they call this “self-fulfilled prophecy:” reacting in such a way to certain persons or ideologies that ironically brings forth the very same kind of trouble that first concerned you.      

Timing the Tribulation

To clear this misconception of prophecy in Scripture, we must find out to whom John was speaking in the book of Revelation. This can be done by understanding the correct date of the book. If the modernist/dispensationalists can claim that the book of Revelation was written after A.D. 70 (when Jerusalem was destroyed as Christ and John said it would be) then they can begin to claim their interpretation of the prophecies (their interpretation requires huge assumptions, even aside from dating). But when was the prophetic book of Revelation actually written? Was it before A.D. 70 during the reign of emperor Nero Caesar, or around A.D. 95 during the reign of emperor Domitian? If we were to find that the book was written prior to A.D. 70, then the traditional Reformed view of Revelation would be nearly indisputable. Discovering that Revelation was written before A.D. 70 would prove that the judgment of the Jews and the tribulation of the saints that is described in Revelation have already occurred. Granted, a very similar tribulation could occur in the future, but the fact that many of these prophecies are in the past (occurred during the tribulation of A.D.70) changes our whole outlook on eschatology and redemption. Here are five different subjects on which to focus when coming to recognize the correct timing of the book of Revelation.

I.  The Judgment of the Jews

      Revelation has two applications to those being addressed at that time. The first was to warn the first century church of the persecution ahead of them during Emperor Nero Caesar’s reign of A.D. 64-68. The second application was the future destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple (Matthew 24 and Revelation 11). It is universally known that the Jewish temple and the holy city of Jerusalem were both destroyed in A.D. 70. In Matthew 24:2, Jesus Himself prophesied of this event while speaking to the Jews saying, “not one stone shall be left here upon another that shall not be thrown down.”

     When studying each book of the Bible, we must always take into consideration the author’s theme. Revelation 1:7 says, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Even so. Amen.” The Old Testament frequently uses clouds as indicators of divine judgment  (Psalm 18:7-15, 104:3; Isaiah 19:1; Joel 2:1,2; Zephaniah 1:14, 15), and of Christ’s second coming at the end of the world (Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:13).

     In reference to Revelation 1:7, we can observe that Christ did use a cloud to cast judgment on “those who pierced Him.” It is also quite obvious that this verse is referring to the Jews, for they were the ones who had pierced Him. They were those who sought His death (John 11:53; Matthew 26:4; 27:1), who paid to have Him captured (Matthew 26:14-15, 47), and who initially convicted Him (Matthew 27:65-66). Jesus spoke to Pilate in John 19:11 saying, “he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin” (referring to the Jews).

     In Revelation 11:1-2, John spoke of the temple as if it were still standing, and of Jerusalem as if it had not yet been “trampled.” Much of eschatological prophecy revolves around the temple and Jerusalem. If both were still intact when Revelation was written, then we can safely assume with much of the other compelling evidence that John was speaking of the futuredestruction of the temple and of Jerusalem, which did in fact happen in A.D. 70. Furthermore, at the time when John wrote the book of Revelation the Christian church was heavily interacting with the Jews, and we recognize from history that this was not the case in the post-temple era beyond A.D. 70. Certainly this would indicate a pre-A.D. 70 dating for the book of Revelation.                              

II. John the Apostle’s Banishment

     Dating the book of Revelation relies heavily upon the date on which John was banished to the island of Patmos and the date of the tribulation in which John states that he was (Revelation 1:9). Tertullian (160-220 A.D.) declared that John was banished after being tortured in oil. This oil torture in Rome was most likely by Nero, given that he was well known to torture Christians with both oil and fire. Tertullian, the first major theologian to write in Latin, lived in Carthage and wrote a number of works, one of which is Exclusion of Heretics. This piece of literature refers to John, Peter, and Paul suffering martyrdom at the same time in Rome and to John later having been banished to an island. The death of Peter and Paul is believed to be from the persecution of Nero, thus John would likewise fit into this same time frame. In an additional chapter from Exclusion of Heretics (Apology), Tertullian speaks of the emperor Domitian (the emperor following Nero), but he does not refer to the persecution of John or his banishment within the text.

     The Syriac history of John, the Son of Zebedeerefers to John being exiled by Nero.  Also, in both Syriac versions of Revelations a statement is given that John was banished by Nero. This piece of evidence along with many others point to the fact that John was banished under the reign of Nero, which would also support an early pre-A.D. 70 dating for the book of Revelation.

III. The Irenaeus Account

Irenaeus is considered to be one of the most important witnesses of the late date theory of A.D. 95 for the reason that he speaks of the Apocalypse, as “that was seen no very long time since.” There is dispute over to what “that was seen” refers. Is it the Apocalypse, or is it speaking of John who saw the Apocalypse? The actual text reads: 

“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.”

     Irenaeus was an early church father who claimed to have known Polycarp, who in turn may have known the Apostle John. Irenaeus’ grammar has been heavily disputed amongst scholars, and has been in error within some of his other writings. In Irenaeus’s Against Heresies, he spoke of Jesus living well into the age of 40. Evidently, Irenaeus was a bit confused about gospel history, or perhaps may have had difficulty in memory.

 IV. The Tyrant

Titus Flavius Clement (A.D. 150-215) states in Quis Salvus Dives, “When after the death of the tyranthe (John) removed from the island of Patmos to Ephesus, etc.” The key phrase here is “after the death of the tyrant.” Nero best fits the description of the tyrant. Apollonius of Tyrana (b.4 B.C.) wrote that Nero was commonly called a tyrant. He was by far the worst emperor of all ancient times, raping young men and setting Rome on fire as he was suspected of doing. He killed many innocent people (including his own mother), and hated Christians and Jews alike. He provoked the Jewish War and was responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem.

     A most astonishing discovery was that Nero could be identified in Revelation by way of numerical value. In ancient times each letter of the alphabet had a numerical value, forming a cryptogrammic riddle. In Revelation 13, we find that the number 666 signifies the beast. It seems to be much more than a coincidence that Nero’s name translates into this same number.

     Revelation 13 says “the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life.” Nero was killed by the sword, but whether or not he came to life after that remains a mystery. Many spoke of seeing Nero after his death, but those claims were later found to be hoaxes. It is possible that John was referring to an actual concept of the beast, implying that the reign of emperors itself is the beast. But much like other theories of Revelation, it is difficult to confirm. Nonetheless, Nero is the closest counterpart of anyone in history. 

V.  Internal Evidence

Rome is symbolized in Revelation by its seven mountains. Revelation 17:9-10 speaks of the seven heads. These seven heads would no doubt be Rome as it has always been universally recognized by its seven hills. Verses 9 and 10 also stand for seven kings, “Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet to come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while.” If we were to trace through the Roman emperors starting with Julius Caesar as the first, we would end at the sixth king referred to in verse 9 as the “one is,” thus indicating that Revelation was written during the reign of the sixth emperor, who also happens to be Nero (A.D. 68-69).

     Internal evidence has persuaded many to an early dating of Revelation. The choppy Greek writing indicates a younger John who had not yet mastered the language. The existence of only seven churches in Asia Minor (Revelation 1) would signify a date before the greater expansion of Christianity into that region. And the existence of the temple, as well as the reign of the sixth emperor, all specify a date in the A.D. 60s for the book of Revelation.

     Many compelling factors combined conclude that Revelation was written before A.D. 70. The evidence of Nero as an Antichrist is one of the strongest, followed by the presence of the Jews within the Christian church, the archaeological evidence of the Jewish war in that same time period, and the external evidence from credible historians and church forefathers. These all point to a pre-A.D. 70 dating of the book of Revelation.