The promises that Jesus gave to John concerning the time of His return are some of the clearest made in the entirety of Scripture. They foretell the timeframe in which the readers of Revelation were to expect His coming to liberate them from their oppressors. The adverbs Jesus used to describe this time were: “shortly,” “at hand,” “quickly,” and “soon.” This type of descriptive language gave the first century Church a sense of expectancy that His promised return would happen within their lifetime.
This same expectancy language gives us the key we need to unlock the meaning of Revelation’s prophetic language. I say this because if the 70 AD coming was the main focus of Revelation, then we can also know that the prophecies used to describe that coming must have been fulfilled during that time.
The main obstacle that stands in the way of whether this coming in 70 AD was Revelation’s focus or not, rests in the date of its writing. If the book of Revelation was written prior to 70 AD, then it is feasible to see its prophecies relate to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple of that time; if it was written at a time after that coming, then it must apply to a time yet in the future.
This controversy over the dating of Revelation has led to the development of two schools of thought on its interpretation.
The first school of thought believes it was written in the 60’s. This would made John penning its words before Jerusalem fell, and would leave its prophecies applicable to that time.
The second school believes John wrote Revelation around 96 AD. This would have been after the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of her temple. This timeframe would force the prophecies of Revelation to be for a people after Jerusalem’s fall, who John never meet, and who would live some time later in the future, which some Dispensationalists say is our time.
The job we have before us is to determine which of these dates is correct; for then we can understand the prophecies of this important book.
Two Ways to Determine the Date of Revelation
There are two main ways to determine the date of Revelation’s writing. The first of these is found in external evidences. This consists of extra-biblical evidences such as: historical records; eyewitness accounts; comments from scholars of the past and present.
The second is done by studying the Bible’s internal evidences. This is achieved by cross-referencing Old Testament scriptures that refer to the same subject, or that use the same descriptive language, with those found in the New Testament. This method is the only sure way to determine the truth about this timeframe, since its source is God’s Word.
It is important to check the sources that some men use to “prove” their end time teachings, for some, in their desire to teach their doctrines, have swayed from this biblical method for finding truth. They have instead chosen quotes from men and from magazines over the Word of God. The Bible says, “Let God be true, but every man a liar.” (Romans 3:4) That is what we will strive to do in this study; we will try to allow God’s Word to show us the truth of the dating of this book of Revelation.
As we begin, let’s first briefly discuss why so many Dispensationalists have chosen the former external evidences method over the later biblical way in finding the date of the book of Revelation.
External Evidence for a Late Date
One Quote Support for Late Date Theory
Those who adhere to a late date for the writing of the Book of Revelation do so primarily through the external evidences derived from the words of one man, Irenaeus. He lived 130-202 AD, and was said to have been a friend to Polycarp who reportedly had personally known the Apostle John.
Irenaeus’ made a statement around 180-190 AD that seems to stop all Dispensationalists from going any further in their pursuit of this date. This one quote that all late date setters use to “prove” their position is the following:
“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 problem with this quote lies in the fact that Irenaeus does not explain what he meant by “that.” Was he saying that “he,” as in “John” was seen, or was he saying “it,” as in “Revelation” was seen? Also was he saying that John’s “vision” took place “during” the reign of Domitian, which would give it a later date? Or was he saying that “John,” who lived into the time of Domitian’s reign, “was seen” at that late date? Without knowing to what he was referring on these points makes his quote very questionable, and certainly not stable enough to base an entire belief or a biblical interpretation upon.
Many interpreters site that the above text should read, “for he (St. John the writer) was seen…almost in our generation toward the end of the reign of Domitian,” and not that the “apocalyptic vision was seen toward the end…”
The most important point to remember here is that every scholar after Irenaeus that believed in a post-70 AD writing of Revelation used his quote as their basis, but prior to his statement, those alive during the time of Jesus’ Apostles did not agree with his statement or his date.
Historical Errors Found in Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies”
Another of the quotes that is accredited to Irenaeus, yet seldom mentioned by Dispensational late setters, is the following: “For how had He disciples, if He did not teach? And how did He teach, if He had not a Master’s age? For He came to Baptism as one Who had not yet fulfilled thirty years, but was beginning to be about thirty years old; (for so Luke, who hath signified His years, hath set it down; Now Jesus, when He came to Baptism, began to be about thirty years old:) and He preached for one year only after His Baptism: completing His thirtieth year He suffered, while He was still young, and not yet come to riper age. But the age of 30 years is the first of a young man’s mind, and that it reaches even to the fortieth year, everyone will allow: but after the fortieth and fiftieth year, it begins to verge towards elder age: which our Lord was of when He taught, as the Gospel and all the Elders witness, who in Asia conferred with John the Lord’s disciple, to effect that John had delivered these things unto them: for he abode with them until the times of Tarjan. And some of them saw not only John, but others also of the Apostles, and had this same account from them, and witness to the aforesaid relation. Whom ought we rather to believe? These, being such as they are, or Ptolemy, who never beheld the Apostles, nor ever in his dreams attained to any vestige of an Apostle?”
Irenaeus stands alone in this statement, just like he does in his earlier one, because he is the sole source for a later date for Revelation, and the sole source that says Jesus preached up into the age of 40 or 50. This date for the writing of Revelation and the age for Jesus’ ministry are both contrary to other historical sources, especially those that predate Irenaeus, and they do not align with the consistent language and message of the Bible.
More study to come…
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