Dating Revelation (Part 1)

I am winding down to the end of the Jewish Christian literature. The next month or so will be concerned with Revelation as an example of Jewish Christianity.

The majority of the early church assumed that it was under Domitian’s persecution that the book was written.  Irenaues said that John wrote “nearly in our generation”, at the end of the reign of Domitian.  All of the secular evidence for persecution under Domitian comes from after his reign. However, contemporary sources such as Tacitus, Pliny and Dio Cassius all imply Domitian persecuted Christians. In 1 Clement 1:1, written in A.D. 96, alludes to “the sudden and repeated calamities and reverses that have befallen us.”  1 Clement 4-7 contains several references which might be taken as either referring to the martyrdom of Peter and Paul or the present persecutions under Domitian.

S. R. F. Price (Rituals and Power, 197-198) argues the establishment of an imperial cult in Ephesus is the immediate background for Revelation 13.  He draws parallels between Dan 3:12, 18 (LXX) and Rev 13:7-8, 14-15, 18 and concludes the writer of Revelation is drawing a connection between the refusal of the three young men to bow to the idol and the presence of an imperial cult in Asia Minor.

Since all of the sources which describe Domitian as a megalomaniac who demanded worship as a god date from after his reign, it can be argued the later sources are painting the old emperor in a negative light (perhaps to paint Trajan in a good light.)  DeSilva disagrees, arguing instead that “Domitian valued cultic language as an expression of social and political relationships.”  This cultic language would have been imposed on the lower levels of society as a method of declaring loyalty to the state.  (“The ‘Image Of The Beast’” TrinJ 12:2 (Fall 1991), 199)

On the other hand, there are a number of recent scholars who challenge the assumption of Roman persecution as a background for the book.  For example, A. Y. Collins (Crisis and Catharsis, 69-73)  argues the book is more about problems within the church, especially with Christians being drawn into pagan worship, rather than an organized and systematic persecution of Christian by the Empire.  This is view has the advantage of taking the letters to the seven churches seriously (Rev 2-3).  In these letters, the problems arise from within the church and not from Rome. The problems revolve around how the churches in Asia Minor integrate Christianity and pagan culture.  If there is a persecution theme in Rev 2-3, it is the same fraternal debated between Jews and Christians we see as early as Galatians.

In the end, however, I think that John is addressing how Christians can live in a culture that is thoroughly anti-Christian.  For the Jewish convert to Christ, this is easier since Jews were more or less used to finding ways to be separated from the paganism of the Greco-Roman world.  For the converted Gentile, things were much more difficult because their worldview simply accepted many of these practices as “normal.”

It is this problem which is most “preachable,” since American Christianity stopped asking how to remain separate from the world, hardly noticing how non-Christian categories of thought influence how we live our lives in Christ.  Perhaps we need to re-read the letters to the seven churches with this in mind.  (Let the one with ears hear?)

10 thoughts on “Dating Revelation (Part 1)

  1. I think that you could read it with that in mind. You could say that the book is written to show how Christians were in the church. To me, I thought that is how it was suppose to be read. I never thought about it being associated with the persecution of Christians outside the church. I thought it was talking about how the churches had messed up and what would happen to them or what they had done wrong. I did not think about any persecution. But I do think that it is an interesting light to read the book in. I think that we need to be careful when we start throwing out new ideas about how to read books. We have to take things as they are in the Bible and not put other people thoughts to them.

    Like

  2. “Since all of the sources which describe Domitian as a megalomaniac who demanded worship as a god date from after his reign, it can be argued the later sources are painting the old emperor in a negative light (perhaps to paint Trajan in a good light.)” P.Long

    This is an interesting thought, but it is also possible that the exact opposite is true. What are the odds of an emperor’s subjects writing bad things about him before he died? I’m guessing slim to none with the emphasis on the none. If he was a megalomaniac, that is not something people would write while he was still alive, at the risk of losing their life.

    Also, it is an interesting light to look at Revelation through the eyes of persecution. Every time I have gone through the letters to the seven churches, I have been in the same boat as Jessica in that I see it in similar reprimands as those which Paul expresses to churches in his letters. I had never thought of it being in relation to persecution.

    Like

  3. “In the end, however, I think that John is addressing how Christians can live in a culture that is thoroughly anti-Christian.” (P. Long)
    If John was writing letters of rebuke and encouragement to the seven churches, it would makes sense that it would be in an environment of persecution. The admonishment to all the churches is “To he who overcomes…” something of great value having to do with their ultimate salvation is promised. When I have read the letters to the seven churches, I don’t think that I’ve ever thought of anything besides persecution as the reason for writing the letters.

    Also to note on something Casey said, “what are the odds of an emperor’s subjects writing bad things about him before he died? I’m guessing slim to none with the emphasis on the none.” I would agree, it’s unlikely that you would denounce a tyrant who would likely kill you before he even read your treasonous material.

    Like

  4. Often times people say they don’t want to talk about religion and politics. And those same people disengage themselves from following what is going on in the world. They see discussions like these as getting too personal and making everyone upset. Often this is the case. Too often Christians just want to blend in. Nobody wants to stick out as being “that guy” who is different from all others. They just want to be normal and live at peace. Christ has called us to radical obedience and to live without fear. God doesn’t want us to be normal lukewarm Christians- giving theological assent and agreeing with all church doctrine and denying its proper place in our lives. If we really believe the things we say believe we ought to live differently. We should stand out without even trying. Our speech should be filled with grace, with evidence of thoughts of God, his people, and love for others should be plentiful. Or in other words we should be seen as Jesus freaks, or as those who have taken this religion a little too seriously by those that are lukewarm Christians and especially by those who are not Christians.

    Like

  5. It is this problem which is most “preachable,” since American Christianity stopped asking how to remain separate from the world, hardly noticing how non-Christian categories of thought influence how we live our lives in Christ. Perhaps we need to re-read the letters to the seven churches with this in mind. (Let the one with ears hear?) – Plong.

    Too often Christians just want to blend in. Nobody wants to stick out as being “that guy” who is different from all others. They just want to be normal and live at peace. Christ has called us to radical obedience and to live without fear. God doesn’t want us to be normal lukewarm Christians- giving theological assent and agreeing with all church doctrine and denying its proper place in our lives. If we really believe the things we say believe we ought to live differently. – Aaron

    One of the struggles with statements like these is the reality of people being in different walks of life and coming to belief in Christianity at different stages. Not everyone comes from the same background [christian family, grew up non believer and went to church and got saved, etc…]. Sometimes I think we forget the messiness of life and the reality that it takes YEARS sometimes for change to happen. We are not completely different after conversion, and we…well I guess I can only speak for myself, but I am still working out some of these very same questions, being 10+ years from conversion. How do we live not of this world, but still in it? Is it living a life like Shane Claiborne[www.thesimpleway.com] How about like a Rob Bell? Aaron, I agree with your statements 100%, but I wonder how we navigate some of those questions of not being a “lukewarm christian” [I’m starting to believe there is no such category as a lukewarm christian…you either follow Jesus or you don’t] and questions like how do we not allow these “non christian influences to be shaping how we as Christians live?

    Like

    • “How about like a Rob Bell?” (Moses)
      No, please don’t. One Rob Bell is enough.

      “I’m starting to believe there is no such category as a lukewarm christian…you either follow Jesus or you don’t” (Moses)
      Exactly. “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16). It sounds to me like God is disgusted with so called “lukewarm people”, I wouldn’t call them Christians. The word “Christian” is used way too lightly today. There will probably come a day where the true followers of Christ will be sorted out due to persecution here in America, but for now, the phrase is widely abused. You either follow Jesus or you don’t. You either believe that the Bible is the word of God or you don’t. You can’t pick and choose. Doing so brings disgust to God. So much so, that he alludes to “spitting out” or vomiting.

      “how do we not allow these “non christian influences” to be shaping how we as Christians live?” (Moses)
      Read your Bible, compare what you see and come in contact with to Scripture, read your Bible, and read your Bible some more. We are, by no means, called to stay away from non Christians! We are actually called to be witnesses among them, we are called to be “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom [we] shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15). Read this next passage:

      “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

      We are too be very careful around those who call themselves Christians, yet live like the world. Sounds to me like the problem with the “lukewarm” Christians we talked about earlier. Once again, read your Bible 🙂

      Like

  6. Applying what John had to say in the Revelation to our lives would be very beneficial. Each message given to each church addresses a seperate issue that is relevant in our Christian sub-culture. We so often leave the events of the past, as described in the Bible, in the past. To see the things being explained to us in the Revelation as things that we also struggle with would revolutionize the contemporary Christian movement around the world. America Christianity would go from a near comatose state of spiritual reality to an alive and active gospel movement for the kingdom of God. Yes, I am throwing kingdom of God around rather frivilously, but thats because I am not a hyper-dispensationalist. And that was not a bash on dispensationalism, no offense; seriously!!! To some degree I agree with A.Y. Collins and his perspective on the purpose of the writings in Revelation. That is considering that a majority of the NT was written in order to correct or address the issues of the “Body of Christ”. As even we are drawn into different forms of worship that were not present around 95 A.D. I do not find it hard to fathom paganism within the church. Although, I do still find common ground with the notion that Domitian was the primary dictator of such pagan practices.

    Like

  7. I thought the comment at the end of the post about how Christians today do not hardly notice the influences of the world on us. That struck me and made me think about the influences that do impact my life and the lives of the people around me. When I think about the movies that I watch or the music that I listen to, I can honestly say that I am being influenced by the world with them. I am giving a section of my life to the world by allowing myself to be influenced by them. I think it would be for all churches benefits to go through these final letters again with the mindset of setting ourselves apart from the world. John is continually talking about how to live in an ungodly world. We should be feeling more hardship from living in this world because we are so set apart from it. I feel like most of our lives we blend in with the world, except for maybe on Sundays when we go to church. It is shameful to realize this and I hope it is something we will realize more and want to do something more about as we read through the book of Revelation.

    Like

  8. I think it was written with a latter date. Although it does have references to empire worship. I agree that it could be written to show how Christians should live within the culture.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.