An Introduction to the Book of Revelation
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The date of the writing of Revelation is important. A number of significant points hinge on the date. The book has been placed in the reigns of several Roman emperors including Claudius, Nero, Trajan and Domitian. Some modern scholars have even suggested the reign of Vespasian as the time of writing.19 The majority of expositors hold to either a date during or shortly after the persecution of Nero, and before the destruction of Jerusalem, or to one during the persecution by Domitian. Thus, the date would be about 69 A.D. or about 95 96 A.D. The issue is so well defined that Harrison can say, "only these two need be considered."20 This writer sees the weight of evidence pointing to the Domitianic date.
The Early Date
A number of the older works defend the early (late. The most thorough defense is made by Macdonald"21 and by Randell in The Pulpit Commentary. 22 The sobriety with which Macdonald undertakes his task is indicated:
"A true exposition depends in no small degree, upon a knowledge of the existing condition of things at the time it was written; i.e., of the true point in history occupied by the writer, and those whom he originally addressed . . . It will be found that no book of the New Testament more abounds in passages which clearly have respect to the time when it was written." 23
The arguments made in defense of the early date may be summarized under eight points: (1) The Linguistic Phenomena. This is supposed to demonstrate that Revelation was the first of the books written by John and one of the earliest of the New Testament. The idea is that John wrote the book of Revelation before he had learned Greek very well. By the time he wrote the Gospel of John he knew Greek well. This is rather interesting, but not very probable, in the light of recent reversals on the dating of the Gospel of John. As early as the time of Dionysius, the Greek of Revelation has been accused of being ungrammatical." 24 Tenney comments:
"Some of the Greek in the Apocalypse seems awkward and even ungrammatical. One should remember that the author was attempting to put into human language scenes that could not be described in ordinary terms; and consequently his grammar and vocabulary both proved inadequate." 25
(2) The Doctrinal Expressions. It is said that the Apocalypse is the link between the synoptic Gospels and the book of John. Westcott thinks that in the evolutionary plan of revelation John did not know nearly so much when lie wrote the book of Revelation as he did when he wrote the Gospel of John. Hendriksen makes an appropriate reply: "Again, as for the style, should we expect to find the same style in a history of events (the Gospe0, a personal letter (the epistles), and the apocalypse or unveiling (Revelation)?" 26 Certainly one should not expect a book that is admittedly made up of signs, symbols and visions to be put in language so plain that they become unnecessary.
If one were to make a comparison of the doctrinal teaching in the alleged writings of John, he would see that in the Gospel lie calls Jesus "the Lamb of God"; so does he in the Apocalypse. In the Gospel and Epistles, he used the title "Logos" with reference to the Lord; so does he in Revelation. John is the only New Testament writer to make such a use of this word. The Gospel presents Christ as a preexistent, eternal being. The Apocalypse does the same. Both writings ascribe man's salvation to the sovereign grace of God anti to the blood of Jesus Christ. The "whosoever" doctrine is found in both books. As Hendriksen says "There are no doctrinal differences!" 27
(3) The Jews Still a Distinct People in Their Own Land. From Revelation Seven it is argued that the twelve tribes were still in existence in Palestine. There are, however, other interpretations of the 144,000, which would seem to make it unnecessary to interpret this literally as the twelve tribes.28
(4) Jerusalem and the Temple Still Standing. It is said that Revelation Eleven, which represents the measuring of the temple and altar, indicates that Jerusalem and the temple were still standing. It seems entirely correct to regard this as symbolical, but as Macdonald says:
" it seems very strange and altogether unnatural that the apostle, in writing to churches so remote from Judea, gathered on Gentile soil, should make use of such symbols; and still more so if nearly or quite a generation had passed since that city with its temple had been destroyed. " 29
The forty-two months finds a literal fulfillment in the period from February 67 A.D., when war was declared to August 10, 70 A.D., when Jerusalem was destroyed. 30
(5) The Sixth Roman Emperor on the Throne. This argument is based upon Revelation Seventeen.
"Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. And the beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is one of the seven, a and he goes to destruction. " (Rev. 17: 9-11).
According to Macdonald this passage represents the book of Revelation as being written, or at least the visions seen, during the reign of the sixth of the emperors of Rome. Rome was built on the seven hills. The emperors are reckoned thus: Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius; these are the five who have fallen. The one who is was Nero. The one who had not yet come and was to remain only a little while was Galba, who reigned only seven months. "The context of the beast which was and is not and yet is (Rev. 17:8) strikingly describes Nero by alluding to the popular belief that, after disappearing for a time, that emperor would reappear, as if he had risen from the dead." 31 This is commonly spoken of as the Nero redivivus myth.
The difficulty of this interpretation is seen when we examine, a second interpretation. Summers does not hold the view, but shows how one holding that Revelation was written during the reign of Vespasian would deal with the problem. The five fallen emperors were Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. Vespasian was the one who "is" and Titus, who ruled for only two years is the one to come for a "little while." "The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is one of the seven" is said to be "Domitian, who was pictured as the reincarnation of Nero; his was a revival of the same type of work as that of Nero but was much more intense and widespread."32 In any similar interpretation of this question there is a big problem, as suggested by Summers. "Are the numbers literal, and if so, with which emperor do they start? Usually the numbers in Revelation are symbolical, but here they appear to be literal and to serve as the author's interpretation of his own symbol." 33
(6) Six Hundred Sixty-Six. In the first century, it was not uncommon for numbers to be written with letters of the alphabet, with each letter having a numerical value. The Seer identified the number of the beast as the number of a man, not a literal beast and not an apostate religious organization. The number was six hundred and sixty-six (Rev. 13:18). This number has been applied, at one time or another to such persons as Mohammed, Luther, Napoleon, the Pope, Hitler and others. Kepler gives an example of the ingenuity that arrived at Hitler as the identification of the number during World War 11. 34 Allowing A - 100, B - 10 1, C 102 and so on here is how it totals up:
I - 108
L - 111
E - 104
R - 117
Just why this character began his system with 100 and why he used the English alphabet is unknown.
The general consensus among scholarly commentators is that the numbers refer to Nero Caesar. "Some take the Latin word Neron and apply numerical equivalents for each letter in such fashion:
N - 50
E - 6
R - 500
0 - 60
N - 50"35
The final "N" can be dropped and total would be 616. Others have transliterated the Greek or Latin for Neron Caesar into Hebrew letters and come tip with a total of 666. By omitting the final "n" in Neron the total comes to 616. There is a slight amount of evidence for the 616 reading. The only major manuscript which gives this reading is Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus of the fifth century. However, as early as Irenaeus there was some indication of this reading. Irenaeus said that "all the most approved and ancient copies" contained the number 666, and he gave a rather fanciful explanation as to its meaning. In this connection he remarked:
"I do not know how it is that some have erred following the ordinary mode of speech, and have vitiated the middle number in the name, deducting the amount of fifty from it, so that instead of six decades they will have it that there is but one." (Against Heresies V: xxx: 1.)
Some, in the day of Irenaeus, had sought out a name, which would contain what he called "the erroneous and spurious number." We may safely conclude that 666 is the genuine reading in this place.
On the basis of this identification some have said that the book was written during the reign of Nero. This writer has no doubt that the "beast" under consideration is the Roman Emperor. He cannot, however, be dogmatic as to the interpretation of the number. Even if the identification is "Nero Caesar" this would fit well into the evidence for the late date in connection with the Nero redivivus myth which we shall subsequently mention. It does not seem probable that a literal identification would be given in such a highly symbolical book.
(7) Only Seven Churches in Asia at Time of Writing. Macdonald argues from the careful mention of the seven churches by name that these were the only ones in Asia at the time. He cites Pliny to the effect that both Laodicea and Colossae were overwhelmed by an earthquake in the ninth year of Nero's reign, and then suggests that the church at Colossac was not restored; what remained probably became identified with the one at Laodicea. 36
(8) The Judaizing Teachers Active. In favor of the early date it has been suggested that the Jewish enemies of Christianity, which are so evident in the book of Revelation (Rev. 2: 2, 9; 3:9), are the same and of the same period as those confronted by Paul in his labors.37
Randell argues negatively "the clear and positive external testimony against it (the early date) is not strong." 38 He narrows the external evidence down to the statement by Irenaetis, which we shall deal with subsequently.
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19. J. W. Bowman, "Book of Revelation," The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible", ed. G. A. Buttrick (Nashville: Abingdon, 1962), IV, p. 60.
20. Everett F. Harrison, Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), p. 446.
21. James M. Macdonald, The Life and Writings of St. John (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1877), pp. 15t-172.
22. T. Randell, "The Revelation of St. John the Divine," The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. 1950). Vol. 22. pp. ii-vi.
23. Macdonald, 151, 152.
24. See also B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John (Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954), pp. lxxxiv - lxxxvii.
25. Merrill C. Tenny, The New Testament: A Survey Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., t9541, p. 403.
26. William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1949), p.18
27. Ibid., 19.
28. For example: H. B. Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John (Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954). Swete interprets the 1_44,000 as "the whole church." p. 99.
29. Macdonald, t59.
30. Ibid., 160.
31. Ibid., 164.
32. Summers, 81.
34. Thomas Kepler, The Book of Revelation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1957), p. 147.
35. Ibid., 1,48.
36. Macdonald, 154-155.
38. Randell, iv
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 25, pp. 10-12