In his Chrysostom paper, Khristian Trotter, a young parishioner at Providence Church, tackled the dating of Revelation. Here is his excellent introduction to the discussion:
Hello, my name is Khristian Trotter and I would like to thank you for giving me your time today. Over the course of this year I have become intrigued with the question of the date of the writing of the Revelation of John, and how a certain view can possibly explain many of the mysteries found in the book. I have studied the general aspects of Revelation in my readings of two famous commentaries: The Revelation of John by J.P.M. Sweet and Revelation by J. Massyngberde Ford. These books were quite helpful, but the source from which I was best informed on the question of dating is Kenneth L. Gentry’s, Before Jerusalem Fell. This is a topic that is has been highly debated for hundreds of years and audiences like us, that are not properly informed, often assume the “late” date, which sees Revelation as being written soon after the destruction of Jerusalem, because it is the belief of the majority of scholars. However a majority should not be quickly accepted without an argument that challenges it, and I would like to do that today. I would like to argue that the book of Revelation was completely composed before A.D. 70, the destruction of Jerusalem.
The importance of the date of Revelation’s composition is an indisputable fact that is vital to any person attempting to understand the book. For example, if the early date was understood, and the destruction of Jerusalem was in the approaching future, then a host of the particular allusions likely refer to that city’s fall. However, if it was written after Jerusalem’s destruction, an entirely different understanding of the prophecies must be taken. These allusions would have then been predicting entirely different events than the “early” date, thus giving a completely different meaning to the text of Revelation. The debates that occur on this important subject fall into two general classes, as I have stated above: “late” (c.A.D. 95) and “early” (pre-A.D. 70, usually thought to be between A.D. 64 and A.D. 70). “Late” date advocates have traditionally found most of their defenses within external evidences, which primarily include the works of church fathers. Most convincing of these fathers are the men who lived very near to the time periods speculated. Closest to this time and thus perhaps the most influential for the “late” date advocates was Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons who lived nearly a century after Jerusalem’s destruction. Other external evidences include Clement of Alexandria, the work known as The Shepherd of Hermas, Papias of Hierapolis, Tertullion, Origen, and countless others. In contrary, much of “early” date advocates’ defenses have been found in internal evidence within the text of Revelation itself. Whether one is stronger than the other, I will leave for you to decide, but I hope that I have given you an unbiased look into the two sides of the argument at hand.
I would now like to argue that Revelation was the apostle John’s personal exposition of the great prophecy of Jesus on the Mount of Olives. And within Christ’s discourse He specifically emphasized that this destruction which would occur was going to be focused upon Israel and was going to fall upon “this generation”. Secondly, I will argue that the identity of the sixth king, mentioned in Revelation 17:10, was Nero who reigned at the time when John wrote Revelation. This will provide a direct correlation from the events foretold in Revelation to the historic events of the destruction of the temple. Lastly I would like to show that the book of Revelation refers directly to Christ’s judgment upon the Jews who crucified Him. I will discuss the theme of Revelation and give a fitting explanation of it, to reveal the likelihood of this statement.
In the Synoptic Gospel accounts of Christ’s life, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all spend a lengthy amount of time recounting Christ’s prophecy on the Mount of Olives. The strange thing is that we find no trace whatsoever of this great prophecy in John’s Gospel. We must ask ourselves why St. John would omit such a significant prophecy told by our Lord. The answer to this difficulty can be explained if it is understood that John’s Revelation is nothing other than a transfigured form of Christ’s prophecy on the Mount of Olives. In order to prove this, we should compare the contents of these two prophecies and from there determine if they are referring to the same events. In Luke 21:24 we find an excerpt of the Olivet Discourse that reads: “And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Likewise Revelation 11:2 reads: “…for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.” This “it”, which has been given to the Gentiles is, when understood with context, the temple of God. These two passages, no doubt, look forward to the manifestations of the same events. And indeed, these events were actual, historical occurrences done to certain institutions and structures during the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, which lay in the future for Jesus and John.
Next we should consider the identification of the sixth king. In Revelation 17:9-10 we read: “The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come.” The first aspect to consider is the place on which the woman sits. This point is perhaps the most obvious and undisputed point in the entire book. Rome is the city being symbolized by the seven mountains. In history, Rome has always been distinguished by its widely recognizable seven hills. For example, Suetonius and Plutarch record the Septimontium in the time of Domition, which was a Roman festival of the seven hills of Rome. The seven are the Palatine, Aventine, Caelian, Esquiline, Viminal, Quirinal, and Capitoline hills. Secondly, in order to determine the sixth king of Rome, we must determine the first king of Rome and then we can create the line of kings. The first king of Rome is debated, but I would like to defend that Julius Caesar was the first. Roman historian Suetonius, who lived from c. A.D. 70 to 160, declares in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars that the first of the Caesars of Rome was Julius. Also, a very trusted and well-known Jew, Josephus, who lived from A.D. 37 to 101, during the period of John and the compilation of the New Testament, wrote in his Antiquities that Julius was the first emperor. We should also understand that Julius was respected by the Jewish people because he gave them legal status and many other privileges. Thus, any Jew like Josephus or John would have naturally considered Julius as the first Caesar. With this in mind, here are the seven kings: Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius, Nero, and Galba. When we apply what Revelation tells us, we see that these first five emperors had fallen and Nero (A.D. 54-68) was reigning during the composition of the book. This necessitates, then, that John wrote Revelation before A.D. 70.
Lastly, I would like to focus on the theme of Revelation and what it implies. In Revelation 1:7 the theme of the book is stated: “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” Christ’s cloud coming will, after studying many passages in the Old Testament, make itself clear as an indicator of divine judgment. We are told that this judgment brings mourning, but who is it that is mourning? It is told to us that “those who pierced him” and “all the tribes of the earth” are going to be mourning. First, let us consider the people who pierced him. At first glance, we might think that the Romans were the ones who crucified him, but after thinking deeper we can perceive that the Jews were really the murderers. The Gospel accounts give us clear records that the Jews are the ones who sought His death, and John specifically says that the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate, longed to free Jesus because he found no fault in Him. Jesus Himself specifically tells Pontius Pilate, that: “he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin” (John 19:11). Peter also specifically points to the Jews as the murderers of Christ in Acts 5:30: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.” Next, we see that “the tribes of the earth” mourned. The Greek word meaning “tribe” is a word, which in Scripture is almost always used to refer to the Jewish tribes. Also, in the Septuagint this word indicates, with very few exceptions, the tribes of Israel. This view simply reinforces my previous considerations on the ones who “pierced” Christ. With this look into the subject matter of Revelation, we see that the prophecies of the book are addressed directly to the Jews.
One might look at the host of important and trustworthy “late” date believers that I have mentioned and think skeptically at how they could all be wrong. Someone might question, at what point were they misled to believe false information? The same textual information has been available to all who have ever studied this issue, thus how could so many great minds not have arrived at the truth?
These church Fathers who were proponents of the “late” date should not be seen as wholly wrong. Rather, they should be respected for their interpretations of the themes of Revelation. Indeed, they arrived at the truth of the theological implications of Revelation even while believing the “late” date. For the Fathers, this is what was important to have the correct viewpoint on. Whether or not Revelation was written thirty years earlier was not as important to them, as was gaining the proper understanding of the book’s eschatological connotations. Thus, their commentaries that mention issues concerning the “late” date should not be taken as complete defenses for the “late” date. Instead, these passages which seem to aim directly at an argument for the “late” date should be taken as pointing to a side issue which, again, was not as important to the Fathers as the theological suggestions made in the book.
Certainly, if this is true, some might wonder how we came to understand that these church Fathers were complete proponents of the “late” date. How did we come to arrive at these misunderstandings, which have lead people to believe in the Fathers’ enforcement of the “late” date?
Many of these misunderstandings that are reached about the church Fathers grow from people studying a passage with pre-conceived notions. When a man ventures into learning what is being communicated about the dating of Revelation in a passage from a commentary, then he has gone into the study already looking hard for the smallest things which might clue into this subject. If he looks too hard into the details to find a specific thing, then the man has lost all hope of finding the truth being communicated.
In interpreting anything of importance, we must go into the situation with a completely clean mind. We must be willing to understand and be taught by the text, yet not attempt to force things to fit into the context. We should not try to squeeze out from a passage something we wish the author was attempting to communicate, but we should be content to take the author’s words for what they are.
I urge everyone to go now and interpret everything with what I have suggested in mind. Know that with an open mind, anything can be learned. However, realize the potential damage that can be done if one interprets with a specific expectation in mind. Go now and read the book of Revelation, be taught by it, and allow what I have proposed, to help you understand it more fully.