When Was the Book of Revelation Written?

Perhaps more than any other New Testament book, the date for the writing of Revelation is important for interpreting the book. If the book was written in the 90s, then the immediate background for the book is persecution of Christians under Domitian. But if the book was written before A.D. 70, then the persecution in the background of the book is Nero’s backlash against Christians after the fire of Rome.

Fall of Jerusalem (David Roberts, 1850)

Fall of Jerusalem (David Roberts, 1850)

Another factor is the Fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It is fairly obvious the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple are somehow related to the images in the book. For a preterist like Ken Gentry, the book of Revelation is revealing “what will happen soon,” and the soon-event is the destruction of Jerusalem. (See his Before Jerusalem Fell, for example.) For other preterists who do not feel the need to preserve Revelation as a book of prophecy, the fall of Jerusalem is in the background as a past event that provides a set of metaphors.

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. Pliny the Younger wrote a tribute to Emperor Trajan:

He [Domitian] was a madman, blind to the true meaning of his position, who used the arena for collecting charges of high treason, who felt himself slighted and scorned if we failed to pay homage to his gladiators, taking any criticism of them to himself and seeing insults to his own godhead and divinity; who deemed himself the equal of the gods yet raised his gladiators to his equal.

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.

Since all of the sources describing Domitian as a megalomaniac who demanded worship as a god date from after his reign, some argue 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 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 [1991], 199).

I am personally inclined to retain the late date for the book and see the imperial cult as the potential background for many things in the book. I am not opposed to the destruction of Jerusalem as a possible background, but (for me) it does not have to be predictive of the event. There is no problem for John to be using a past event like Rome’s obliteration of the city of Jerusalem to talk about other, still future judgments.

What difference might it make to reading Revelation if the book is early (pre A.D. 70) as opposed to in the 90s?

9 thoughts on “When Was the Book of Revelation Written?

  1. I think it’s important to look at the dates of the book in their original context before making the distinctions between the two and their importances. If the book was to be written in the early 90’s there is a section that gives us proof that this section talks about the persecution of the Christians by specifically addressing the seven churches in section 2-3. But the metaphorical references could also be an indication that the book was written at a different time period when Nero was king over the city. Specifically talking about the fire, dragons, angels, the beasts, the sacrificial lamb, plagues etc that are displayed throughout different sections of the book. So the date of the book exactly can be interpreted differently by different scholars depending on which section of the book they decided to read first.

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  2. Whenever a book of the Bible is written, it is critical to figure out the time period that it was written in. The time period tells us a lot about the context and everything that is going on in the community thus we can infer why different things were written or situations had happened. I agree with you that it was written at a late date instead of the early date. If Revelation was written as early as pre A.D. 70, it would be difficult to distinguish when the author is talking about the persecution of the believers in the seven churches. The date of the writing is crucial in identifying what all is going on and what is going on in the community at the time of the writing.

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  3. The first and only real point about Revelation is that it is included in the canon of Scripture so no matter what everything that was written is profitable. The dates are insignificant if the book is still talking about a future apocalyptic time. If it had an earlier date people would be constantly thinking the anti-christ was present and was the emperor. So, not much different then how we read into it today. I here all the time Obama is the anti-christ, and I’m positive people thought Hitler was the same. No matter the date people would read into it the same.

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    • I agree with miller2016 that in this case that the date does not hold much significance as knowing the dates of other books in the Bible. The pre A.D. 70 might mean it could be talking about the fall of Jerusalem and/or the future while the 90s would just be future. Either way their is future implications. Which as miller2016 mentioned makes the date insignificant, which I agree. I think how we read it today is how they would read it as well which is that it could happen at any moment. As miller2016 mentioned that Obama was the anti-christ which I heard from people both close and distant from me. I think each generation will have a new accusation who the anti-christ is as long as the current and past accusations have been wrong. Nonetheless, as miller2016 says that I agree with is that the date does not change how people would read Revelation.

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  4. The point remains the same, like Miller said. It should be read the same as if it was in a slightly different time. But to answer the question, I could see how the time would make some people think that the book already predicted the end times and that we are in it now. I personally do not believe we are in the end times, but not far from it. Israel being rebuilt is a good example of some of the prophecies being fulfilled already. In the end though, the book can’t be read properly by those not within the end times. It will be revealed to them at the end.

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  5. To answer your question following your analysis, I believe that the book of Revelation will be read in and looked at in a different context than that of the A.D 70 suggestion. One question that always comes to mind, is that when all of the authors of the New Testament wrote, they would add excerpts of the book of Revelation, so could it possibly be that the book of end times was written before all of the other books? Or perhaps the author wrote piecing the excerpts together from past authors? Nevertheless, Revelation and the setting of the book does go hand in hand with some of the A.D 70 setting. The imperial cult does play a role because of the previous NT authors who, also, were part or experienced the same cult. Perhaps the author of the book experienced the same cult, but there some significant prophecies mentioned from the earlier books in the OT. With respect to the question, there are connections to both A.D 70 and 90’s, but the later date makes more sense according to the setting and examples used.

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  6. Answering this question is tough because we really do not know the exact date written for this book of the Bible. However, should it really matter that there is a difference in reading it no matter what time a person is in? Because there is more support for it being written in A.D. 70 as written in the original post. For example, the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple are the support for the A.D. 70 side of this argument. I would go with the side that has the more support in this argument. To directly answer the question there would be a difference in reading it because they are two completely different times with different people. So, that means there would be different methods of interpretation too. Overall, there is more support for older of the two dates and it should not really matter that there would be a difference at all.

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  7. Wow, this is defiantly an article that I had to think deep of as it blows my mind that such an important book of the Bible doesn’t have a 100% specific date that we know the book of Revelation was written. The beginning of the article explained that persecution would have been a big thing to look for if the book was written in the 90’s AD. When I look at books at the biblical, the date of when it was written isn’t the first thing that comes to my mind. Normally the first thing that comes to my mind is theological principles and the audience of who the author is writing to. It was neat reading this article and seeing how when the period of time the book was written changes how the book is viewed and interpreted.

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