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4 Reasons The Book Revelation Was Composed Early—And Is Not Overly Futuristic

1 month ago · By J.D. King · 3 Min Read
#bible 

Many insist that the Book of Revelation was written in 96 AD. They do so primarily because an earlier date of composition would suggest John was prophesying the 70AD destruction of Jerusalem. Although references to first-century events would have made sense to early readers (They would be cognizant of the destruction of Herod's Temple, ending of Mosiac sacrifices, changing priesthood, etc.), this approach is dismissed because it undermines popular apocalyptic interpretations. Many are so enamored by the idea of a twenty-first-century cataclysm that they cannot envision the sacred text depicting anything else.

Astoundingly, the evidence for the late date of composition is largely dependent on an ambiguous reference in the second-century writings of Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons (130-202). He declared,

“If it had been necessary to announce his name plainly at the present time, it would have been spoken by him who saw the apocalypse. For it was not seen long ago, but almost in our own time, at the end of the reign of Domitian.”[1]

Irenaeus' assertion could be taken to mean either John, the vision itself, or the scroll of Book of Revelation was what was witnessed toward the end of Domitian’s reign (96AD). The Greek rendering is genuinely difficult to decipher.

Regardless, Irenaeus has a distorted conception of time. In this same work—Against Heresies—he argued that Jesus was crucified at fifty years of age instead of thirty. Sometimes our elaborate "edifices" are built on faulty foundations.

Church history and religious traditions have tremendous value, but they should never be allowed to supersede the plain teaching of scripture. What if I told you there is clear textual evidence that the Book of Revelation was written in the mid to late-60s?

In the following, I want to share four reasons Revelation has an early composition and foreshadows the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

1. Early Jewish-Christian Associations

First of all, Revelation addresses "family" conflicts between Jews and Christians (2:9; 3:9). This is indicative of a period before 70AD. Christianity was initially a Jewish sect. However, after Israel's rebellion against Rome, it was no longer advantageous for Christians to identify with Judaism. By 96AD, Jews and Christians had already made a significant break in fellowship.

2. Measuring the Temple

The Jewish and Christian fellowship is not the only indicator of a mid to late-60s composition. Another cogent argument is derived from Revelation 11:1-2. In this passage, John is told to measure the Temple in the city of Jerusalem.

“Then I was given a measuring stick, and I was told, “Go and measure the Temple of God and the altar and count the number of worshipers. But do not measure the outer courtyard, for it has been turned over to the nations. They will trample the holy city for 42 months.” (Revelation 11:1-2)

If Revelation was genuinely written in 96AD, how could the Temple possibly be measured? At that later date, the buildings no longer stood. Some would argue that this is a future, reconstructed Temple. However, the "New Jerusalem" John envisions later in the text does not have these components. He affirms, “I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Revelation 21:22).

This goes without saying, but with Jesus’ sacrificial act on the cross, there will be no return to temple practices. His shed blood was once and for all (Hebrews 10:10). Why would God ever restore animal sacrifices?

3. No References to the Temple's Destruction

If the Book of Revelation was written so late (and John is somehow encountering a rebuilt Temple), why are there no references to the destruction of Herod’s Temple? It seems improbable that John would make no mention of the most cataclysmic event in Jewish history. This would be like writing a history of World War II and making no mention of the brutal attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Jesus made a number of prophetic decrees about the Temple's destruction. In Matthew 23:37-24:2 and Luke 21:5-7, specific questions about the Herodian Temple arose. In Luke 21:6, Jesus clarifies that the Temple would shortly be destroyed—dismantled stone by stone. If John the Revelator was writing decades after such a momentous event, could he reasonably ignore it? How could he be silent about something that confirmed the accuracy of Jesus’ proclamations?

4. The Sixth Emperor is "Currently Reigning."

Finally, in Revelation 17:10, John asserts that five Roman Emperors have died and one is currently reigning. Flavius Josephus, the venerable historian, wrote that Julius Caesar was the first emperor of Rome and that Augustus, Tiberius, Caius, Claudius, and Nero followed him in succession.[2] Nero became emperor upon the death of Claudius in October, A.D. 54, and reigned until June, A.D. 68. Thus, the Book of Revelation had to be composed before Nero died in 68AD.

What I'm proposing, in this brief article, hasn't been well-received by all. Many desperately want the Book of Revelation to be about the distant future. It seems that their entire faith of is riding on a 175-year-old apocalyptic reading. Anyone who takes away cataclysm and darkness is taking away the very essence of their Christianity.

Yet, what if these popular interpretations are wrong and the Book of Revelation was primarily a book about a covenantal transition.

What if the "bloody apocalypse" that you're afraid of already occurred? Might that change what you envision about the world?

[1] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.30.3.

[2] See Flavius Josephus, Antiquities 18; 19. This same list is also found in the following works: 4 Ezra 11 and 12; Sibylline Oracles, books 5 and 8; Barnabas, Epistle 4; Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars; and Dio Cassius’ Roman History 5.


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