When was the Revelation
of Jesus Christ
The Testimony of the Church Fathers
“I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” - Rev 1:9
by Rusty Entrekin
The writing of the Revelation of Jesus Christ has been traditionally assigned to around AD 96. Because this date does not fit into their theological scheme, Full Preterists, who claim that all of Bible prophesy was fulfilled in AD 70, argue for an earlier dating of the book, prior to AD 70.
However, the testimony of the Church Fathers is that the Revelation of Jesus Christ was written by John near the end of the reign of Domitian in AD 96. According to them, John was banished by Domitian to the lonely Isle of Patmos, a desolate Greek island in the Aegean Sea only 11 square miles in area. Victorinus, in his Commentary on the Apocolypse of the Blessed John, recorded that John labored in the mines of Patmos.
Domitian was a particularly cruel and ostentatious Roman emperor, who reigned from AD 81 - 96. He regularly arrested, imprisoned, and executed his enemies, even Roman noblemen and senators, and confiscated their properties for his own use. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "The years 93-96 were regarded as a period of terror hitherto unsurpassed."
The Britannica also informs us that “A grave source of offense was his insistence on being addressed as dominus et deus (‘master and god’).” Perhaps this aroused in Domitian a hatred of faithful Christians, who would have refused him this demand. Domitian did in fact launch a persecution of Christians. In Book three, chapter 17 of his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius writes,
Domitian, having shown great cruelty toward many, and having unjustly put to death no small number of well-born and notable men at Rome, and having without cause exiled and confiscated the property of a great many other illustrious men, finally became a successor of Nero in his hatred and enmity toward God. He was in fact the second that stirred up a persecution against us, although his father Vespasian had undertaken nothing prejudicial to us.
Tertullian (b.160 AD, d. 225 AD) is an early Christian writer who also testifies to this persecution. However, according to Tertullian, Domitian was somewhat more restrained than Nero had been in his persecution of Christians. In chapter five of his his Apology, Tertullian wrote:
Domitian, too, a man of Nero's type in cruelty, tried his hand at persecution, but as he had something of the human in him, he soon put an end to what he had begun, even restoring again those whom he had banished.
According to the Church fathers, the Apostle John was not among those released, but even if he had been, the fact that Domitian's reign did not begin until AD 81 means that the Revelation must have been written after that date.
Domitian was so hated for his excesses that own wife participated in the plot to assassinate him. Upon his death, his successor, Nerva, reversed many of the cruel judgments of Domitian, and John was subsequently released. Domitian’s reign ended in AD 96, and this has provided the traditional means for dating the writing of the book of Revelation.
Direct References to the Date
Although there are many indirect references to John being banished to Patmos under Domitian in the Church Fathers, there are also direct references to John’s banishment under Domitian. The earliest of these is that of Irenaeus (c. 130-202). He was bishop of Lyons in Gaul. In Against Heresies (A.D. 180-199), Book V, Chapter 30, we read:
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.
The church historian Eusebius Pamphili was born about 260 and died before 341. Bishop of Cćsarea in Palestine, he is known as the "Father of Church History." Eusebius confirms the authenticity of the testimony of Irenaeus. In chapter 18, Book 3 of his Church History, we read:
It is said that in this persecution the apostle and evangelist John, who was still alive, was condemned to dwell on the island of Patmos in consequence of his testimony to the divine word. Irenaeus, in the fifth book of his work Against Heresies, where he discusses the number of the name of Antichrist which is given in the so-called Apocalypse of John, speaks as follows concerning him: a "If it were necessary for his name to be proclaimed openly at the present time, it would have been declared by him who saw the revelation. For it was seen not long ago, but almost in our own generation, at the end of the reign of Domitian."
Regarding the reliability of the testimony of Irenaeus, in Barnes Notes on the New Testament we read:
It will be recollected that he [Irenaeus] was a disciple of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who was himself the disciple of the apostle John. He had, therefore, every opportunity of obtaining correct information, and doubtless expresses the common sentiment of his age on the subject. His character is unexceptionable, and he had no inducement to bear any false or perverted testimony in the case. His testimony is plain and positive that the book was written near the close of the reign of Domitian, and the testimony should be regarded as decisive unless it can be set aside. His language in regard to the book of Revelation is: "It was seen no long time ago, but almost in our age, at the end of the reign of Domitian."—Lardner, ii. 181. Or, as the passage is translated by Prof. Stuart: "The Apocalypse was seen not long ago, but almost in our generation, near the end of Domitian’s reign." There can be no doubt, therefore, as to the meaning of the passage, or as to the time when Irenaeus believed the book to have been written. Domitian was put to death A.D. 96, and consequently, according to Irenaeus, the Apocalypse must have been written not far from this time.
Writing around AD 236, Hippolytis, in chapter one, verse 3 of On the Twelve Apostles, penned:
John, again, in Asia, was banished by Domitian the king to the isle of Patmos, in which also he wrote his Gospel and saw the apocalyptic vision; and in Trajan's time he fell asleep at Ephesus, where his remains were sought for, but could not be found.
About AD 270, Victorinus, In the Tenth Chapter of his Commentary on the Apocolypse of the Blessed John, wrote
...when John said these things he was in the island of Patmos, condemned to the labour of the mines by Caesar Domitian. There, therefore, he saw the Apocalypse; and when grown old, he thought that he should at length receive his quittance by suffering, Domitian being killed, all his judgments were discharged. And John being dismissed from the mines, thus subsequently delivered the same Apocalypse which he had received from God.
Jerome was born about 340. He died at Bethlehem, 30 September, 420. Jerome wrote in the Ninth Chapter of Illustrious Men,
In the fourteenth year then after Nero, Domitian, having raised a second persecution, he was banished to the island of Patmos, and wrote the Apocalypse, on which Justin Martyr and Irenaeus afterwards wrote commentaries. But Domitian having been put to death and his acts, on account of his excessive cruelty, having been annulled by the senate, he returned to Ephesus under Pertinax(1) and continuing there until the tithe of the emperor Trajan, founded and built churches throughout all Asia, and, worn out by old age, died in the sixty-eighth year after our Lord's passion and was buried near the same city.
In Against Jovinianus, Book 1, Jerome also wrote:
"John is both an Apostle and an Evangelist, and a prophet. An Apostle, because he wrote to the Churches as a master; an Evangelist, because he composed a Gospel, a thing which no other of the Apostles, excepting Matthew, did; a prophet, for he saw in the island of Patmos, to which he had been banished by the Emperor Domitian as a martyr for the Lord, an Apocalypse containing the boundless mysteries of the future."
Sulpitius Severus was an ecclesiastical writer who was born in Aquitaine in 360. He died about 420-25. In chapter 31 of Book 2 of his Sacred History, we read:
THEN, after an interval, Domitian, the son of Vespasian, persecuted the Christians. At this date, he banished John the Apostle and Evangelist to the island of Patmos.
The testimony of these ancient witnesses indicates that the Revelation of Jesus Christ was written around AD 96. This leads us to the reasonable conclusion that many of the events prophesied in it must occur later than the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. When any interpretation of scripture flatly contradicts multiple historical witnesses, especially scholarly, respected and reliable Christian witnesses who lived much closer to the time of writing than us, this should be cause to carefully reconsider that interpretation as possibly being in error.
Rusty Entrekin is a theology graduate of LA College. He and his wife Julie have seven children, with 5 still at home, and three grandchildren. Currently, he resides in Kennesaw, GA, and teaches in a house church that practices participatory meetings.
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