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The Book of Revelation and the First Years of Nero’s Reign
"In Revelation there is no reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. It would be inexplicable in terms of religious identity if the work had been written after the year 70, because John belonged to a mentality and a culture that was notably Hebrew."
I. External Evidence
Most scholars affirm that the first and most important patristic testimony in favor of a late dating of Revelation (at the end of Domitian’s reign) is the work of Irenaeus (130-202), Adv. haeres. (5.30.3), which was written about 180-190. The original Greek version of this passage was preserved by Eusebius (Hist. eccl. 3.18.3; 5.8.6). But Irenaeus’ testimony has been objected to by several authors who argue that there is a grammatical ambiguity which makes room for two possible translations. In the most accepted translation Irenaeus made reference to the time in which the revelation was seen. According to the alternative translation, the text referred to the time in which the apostle was seen alive, which is more logical in consideration of the context. In fact, Irenaeus proposes that it is not necessary to try to decipher the cryptogram 666. Because if John had
wanted to reveal the name, he would have done it, since
he still lived at the end of Domitian’s reign2.
On the other hand, although Irenaeus has an acknowledged reputation in the
patristic tradition, his work is not exempt from inaccuracies due to,
mostly, his uncritical acceptance of not so reliable traditions3.
This questionable methodology weakens not only Irenaeus’ testimony, written
almost a century after the death of Domitian, but the whole testimony of a
patristic trend that simply repeated his words. This happens due to the
absence of coetaneous and independent testimonies related to Irenaeus to
confirm his supposed late dating4.
Domitian, he does not mention John and his exile (Apol.
5). Finally, Epiphanes (c. 315-403) affirms in Haeres.
51.12,33 that John wrote Revelation during the reign of Claudius7.
II. Internal Evidence
1. The destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple
In Revelation there is no reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. It would be inexplicable in terms of religious identity if the work had been written after the year 70, because John belonged to a mentality and a culture that was notably Hebrew. He considers himself a genuine Jew, a member of the true Synagogue (Rev 2,9;3,9),
Holy Priest of the future Kingdom (1,6;20,6), specially
concerned with the rules of ritual pureness (3,4-5; 14,4; 21,8.27;
22,11.14-15), one of the 144.000 saved ones of the Twelve Tribes of Israel
(7,4-8; 14,1-5; 21,12).
(8,3). While some were flogged, others were sentenced to
death (22,19; 26,10). Those who could escape "were scattered throughout the
countryside of Judea and Samaria" (8,1)16.
However it is curious to confirm that this persecution did not affect the
apostles who were left undamaged (8,1), but only the Hellenist
Jewish-Christians. The cause of this focused persecution can be found in the
verbal attack of Stephen — and his followers — against the establishment of
the Temple. His ideas were based on Isaiah 66,1-2 (cf. Acts 7,44-50), but
the apostles and the rest of the Community did not share this position (Acts
2,46; 3,1; 5,12.20-21.42; cf. 21,20-26). This opposition of opinions
explains the various prophetic traditions about the Temple: destroyed
according to the synoptic gospels, preserved according to Rev 11,1-13.
stays still intact (11,2), including its square (11,8).
Therefore, it has not been damaged by the fire and destruction which
demolished it almost completely in the year 70. Moreover, John explains that
this is the Great City where Jesus was crucified (11,8). Besides, he
prophesies that a tenth part of Jerusalem will be torn down by an earthquake
(11,13) as punishment for their sins (11,8). It is obvious John did not know
what the Roman army did with the city after they conquered it. Therefore,
the Sanctuary mentioned in 11,1 is not the Community of Saints after the
year 70, but the historic Temple of Jerusalem before the beginning of the
rebellion. Inside that Temple the believers will have shelter and will be
preserved from the profanation of the Holy City (11,2) and from its partial
the holy people will not need the material Temple anymore, because God himself will be their spiritual Sanctuary, whose lamp will be the Messiah23. It is exactly what is stated in Rev 21,22-23: the new Jerusalem will be enlightened by the glory of God, with the Lamb as its lamp. There will not be a Sanctuary, because God and the Lamb will be its new Sanctuary (cf. John 2,19-21). Therefore, it is not necessary to suppose from Rev 21,22 that at the time John described the new Jerusalem, the Temple was already destroyed.
2. The flight to Pella
The siege of Jerusalem was announced by Luke
(21,20) by following an old prophetic tradition (Jer 6,6). The command of
leaving Jerusalem is found in the three synoptic gospels (Mark 13,14-19;
Matt 24,15-21; Luke 21,20-24). But in the Book of Revelation John
asserts that the believers will stay inside the Sanctuary, surrounded by
gentiles profaning the exterior court and the Holy City (Rev 11,1-2). Maybe
he was inspired by 1 Macc 6,48-54.
Titus camped in front of the city with four legions and
numerous allied and auxiliary troops, the internal fights ceased for a
while. But one day, while many pilgrims were preparing the celebration of
the Passover of the year 70 in Jerusalem, the troops of John of Gischala
displaced the zealots of Eleazar by surprise from the sancta sanctorum.
Although the zealots escaped unscathed, they soon gave up their fight
against John of Gischala by joining their forces with him against Simon bar
Giora. Shortly after, however, a massive assault of the Romans took place in
one of the walls of the city, and John and Eleazar accepted to join their
forces with Simon in order to defend Jerusalem together. But their reckless
courage could not check the slow and steady advance of the Romans. On August
29th, the final assault took place. The interior atrium of the
Temple was captured and completely destroyed after being set on fire24.
destroyed: "Come out of her, my people, so that you do
not take part in her sins, and so that you do not share in her plagues; for
her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities"
3. The deaths of Paul, Peter and James the Just
John prophesies about two witnesses killed in
Jerusalem (Rev 11,1-13). According to an old tradition, Peter would have
died in the same year Paul was decapitated, that is to say, in 6727.
Did John refer to them when he wrote about the two witnesses? But his
description of the death of the two witnesses differs radically from the
historical circumstances in which Peter and Paul were executed. While the
two witnesses are executed in Jerusalem in the context of a war in which
believers are protected inside the Temple, Peter and Paul were executed in
Rome during a war in which Jewish-Christians escaped from Jerusalem.
chronology does not fit with what is described in Rev
11,1-13 either. There are several passages that make reference to the
persecution of the saints (6,9-11; 7,14; 12,17; 13,7.10.15; 16,6; 17,6;
18,6.24; 19,2; 20,4), but they are too general and it is difficult to
interpret them as a reference to Peter’s martyrdom. Could John write his
work after the death of Peter without mentioning the crucifixion of the
first of the apostles?
stand before the Lord of the earth"? Although this argument is not as conclusive as the two previous ones, it is going in the same direction: John did not say a word about the martyrdoms of James, Peter and Paul because he wrote the Book of Revelation before 62.
4. The earthquake of Laodicea
In his epistle to the Community of Laodicea, John wrote:
The message is clear. The Community had much
material well-being, just like the opulent city of Laodicea, which was known
for its banking, wool industry and medical school29.
On the other hand, the Community was "wretched" (3,17) due to its spiritual
poverty. Therefore, it had to repent before the return of the Messiah.
John himself wrote:
According to the three previous arguments, the epistle to the Community of Laodicea was written before the years 62-70. The epistle presents a marked messianic-escathological tendency. It has many allusions to the city’s geography and economy. It was written by someone interested in the earthquake as a literary resource linked to God’s judgement. With those antecedents, the absence of any reference to the earthquake of 60 shows that Revelation was written before that time.
5. The symbolism of the Beasts
The "blasphemous names" of the Beast who rises
out of the sea (Rev 13,1) allude to the divine titles of Roman emperors.
Influenced by the eastern mores of the Tolemaic and Seleucid monarchies,
they were called "lord and god" (Augustus, Domitian, maybe Nero), or simply
"god" (Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero,
Vespasian, Domitian). Therefore, the argument which links Rev 4,11 to the
imperial cult of Domitian is not conclusive31.
13,3.12.14). Many authors have seen in this passage an
allusion to Nero’s suicide. In my opinion, however, it is rather a reference
to Julius Caesar’s assassination, which led to a long, bloody civil war, but
it did not cause the fall of the Empire32.
"Babylon the great" (Rev 17,5) "the great city that rules
over the kings of the earth" (17,18). She is seated on seven hills (17,9),
in reference to Rome36.
Some authors argue that Rome was called "Babylon" after 70, alluding to the
destruction of the first Temple of Jerusalem led by Babylon in 58737.
But 1 Pet, including its reference to Rome as Babylon (5, 13), is usually
dated to the middle of the 60’s. This shows the weakness of the argument.
In the same famous whore passage, the woman is
sitting on a scarlet Beast, having seven heads and ten horns (Rev 17,3). An
Angel explains that the seven heads represent seven hills and seven kings.
Five of them have fallen, the sixth one still reigns and the seventh
one has not yet come. When he comes, he must continue a little while, so the
beast (one of the fallen kings who ascends from the abyss) shall be his
successor (17,7-11). Regarding the names of the five fallen kings and the
sixth reigning king, the possibilities change depending on whether Julius
Caesar is considered the first emperor or not, and whether the brief
governments of Galba, Otho and Vitellius are included or not40.
Therefore, the sixth king might be Nero (54-68), Galba (68-69) or Vespasian
But the internal evidence shows that the Book
of Revelation was written in the first years of Nero’s reign: between
the years 54 and 60. In fact, Nero is the sixth reigning king, since the
ancient Roman, Jewish and Jewish-Christian writers considered Julius Caesar
the first emperor43.
But if Nero still lived in the time of the prophecy, who is the beast who
"was, and is not, and is about to ascend from the bottomless pit" (Rev
It is evident that Paul was not considering Nero
when he wrote about the opponent of God, since the epistle was written in
51, when Claudius governed and Nero was 13 years old. So, who was "the
lawless one", "the one destined for destruction" that "opposes and exalts
himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his
seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God"? The description
fits Antiochus Epiphanes perfectly according to Dan 8,10-12; 11,36-37. In
fact, in the synoptic gospels, the eschatological return of Christ is
preceded by a "suffering" (NRSV) or "tribulation" (NASB) never seen before44,
with the "desolating sacrilege" (NRSV) or "abomination of desolation" (NASB)
as its symbol45,
indissolubly connected to the impiety of Antiochus Epiphanes46.
ascends from the abyss (17,8), it might be Augustus,
explicitly associated with the Messiah’s birth (cf. Luke 2,1) and implicitly
linked to the scarlet Dragon with seven crowned heads who tries to devour
the newborn Messiah (Rev 12,3-5). It might also be Tiberius, probably
identified as the beast who crucified the Messiah (11,7-8). But Caligula is
very close to the Danielic figure of Antiochus Epiphanes (Dan 8,10-12;
11,36-37), archetype of the Antichrist (2 Thess 2,3-4), since he
attempted to be worshipped in the Temple of Jerusalem47.
The external evidence does not allow us to date the Book of Revelation with certainty the end of Domitian’s government, since there is an important patristic tendency in favor of Nero’s reign or even before that. The internal evidence shows that as John wrote his prophecy, Jerusalem and its Temple had not yet been destroyed, the rebels had not yet taken the control of the Temple, the Jewish-Christian Community had not yet left Jerusalem, the martyrs James, Peter and Paul had not yet been executed, Laodicea had not yet been destroyed because of an earthquake, and Nero Caesar (666) still was the reigning emperor, the sixth one of the dynasty according to Roman, Jewish and Jewish-Christian literature. Therefore, the work should be dated between the years 54 and 60. In this context, Rev 13,3 alludes to the murder of Julius Caesar, and 17,8 to the Antichrist’ return, identified as a fallen emperor who might be Augustus, Tiberius or Caligula.
In this article I try to demonstrate that the Book of Revelation was written in the first years of Nero’s reign, because (a) there is an important patristic tradition in favor of Nero and (b) the internal evidence shows that the text was redacted after Nero’s ascension to the throne in 54 and before the earthquake of Laodicea in 60.
1 Cf. J.A.T. ROBINSON, Redating the New Testament (London 1976), with bibliography (chap. VIII); K.L. GENTRY, Before Jerusalem Fell. Dating the Book of Revelation. An Exegetical and Historical Argument for a Pre-A.D. 70 Composition (Tyler, TX 1989), with bibliography (17-18, 24-38); R.B. MOBERLY, "When was Revelation Conceived?", Bib 73 (1992) 376-393; J.C. WILSON, "The Problem of the Domitianic Date of Revelation", NTS 39 (1993) 587-605; T.B. SLATER, "Dating the Apocalypse to John", Bib 84 (2003) 252-258.
2 In the past the following supported the reinterpretation of Irenaeus: J.M. MACDONALD, The Life and Writings of St. John (London 1877) 169-170; S.H. CHASE. "The Date of the Apocalypse. The Evidence of Irenaeus", JTS 8 (1907) 431-435; G. EDMUNDSON, The Church in Rome in the First Century (London 1913) 164-165, among others. Nowadays, GENTRY, Before, 45-59.
3 Cf. F.W. FARRAR, The Early Days of Christianity (New York 1884) 398; E.C. SELWYN, The Christian Prophets and the Prophetic Apocalypse (London 1900) 125; D. GUTHRIE, New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove, IL 31970) 17; J. MOFFATT, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, The Expositor’s Greek Testament (ed. W.R. NICOLL) (Grand Rapids 1980) V, 320; MOBERLY, "Revelation", 380-383.
4 On Irenaeus as the only source of this tradition, cf. M. STUART, Commentary on the Apocalypse (Andover 1845) I, 281-282; II, 269; M.S. TERRY, Biblical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids  1974) 237-239; W.H. SIMCOX, The Revelation of St. John Divine (Cambridge 1898) xiii; C.C. TORREY, The Apocalypse of John (New Haven 1958) 78; B. NEWMAN, "The Fallacy of the Domitian Hypothesis. Critique of the Irenaeus Source as a Witness for the Contemporary-Historical Approach to the Interpretation of the Apocalypse", NTS 10 (1962) 133-139.
5 Papias was quoted by Philip of Side (TU, II, 170) and Georgius Hamartolus (Chronicon 3.134). Swete has stated that Papias does not affirm that the brothers suffered martyrdom at the same time. Therefore, John might have died at any date before the last days of Jerusalem. Cf. H.B. SWETE, Commentary on Revelation (Gran Rapids  1977) clxxix-clxxx.
6 Cf. GENTRY, Before, 93-94.
7 Cf. GENTRY, Before, 104-105. Recently, M.-É. Boismard has defended the tradition of the early martyrdom of the apostle John, son of Zebedee (Le martyre de Jean l’apôtre [Paris 1996]).
8 Cf. GENTRY, Before, 68-83.
9 EDMUNDSON, The Church in Rome, 168; G.W. BARKER – W.L. LANE – J.R. MICHAELS, The New Testament Speaks (New York 1969) 368; L.L. THOMPSON, The Book of Revelation. Apocalypse and Empire (Oxford 1990)95-115.
10 Cf. GENTRY, Before, 97-99.
11 Mark 13,1-2; Matt 24,1-2; Luke 21,5-6.
12 Mic 3,12 (cf. Jer 26,18); Jer 7,12-15.
13 Dan 9,27; 11,31; 12,11.
14 Mark 13,14; Matt 24,15. Cf. Luke 21,20.
15 During the nineteenth century the following supported this position: F. BLEEK, An Introduction to the New Testament (Edinburgh 21870) II, 226; MACDONALD, The Life and Writings of St. John, 159; F. DÜSTERDIECK, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Revelation of John (New York 31886) 46-47; B. WEISS, A Manual of Introduction to the New Testament (New York 1889) II, 82. In the twentieth century: TORREY, The Apocalypse, 87; ROBINSON, Redating, 240-242; GENTRY, Before, 165-192; WILSON, "The Problem", 604.
16 All biblical citations come from the New Revised Standard Version, unless I indicate the contrary.
17 R.H. CHARLES, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John (Edinburgh 1920) I, lxii-lxiii, xciii-xciv, 270-271; MOFFATT, The Revelation, 281-295.
18 Cf. H.B. SWETE, The Apocalypse of St. John (London 1906) 221.
19 W. MILLIGAN, Discussions on the Apocalypse (London 1893) 95; G.B. CAIRD, A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York 1966) 132; R.H. MOUNCE, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids 1977) 35.
20 C.H. GIBLIN, The Book of Revelation. The Open Book of Prophecy (Collegeville, MN 1991); M. BACHMANN, "Himmlisch: Der ‘Tempel Gottes’ von Apk 11:1", NTS 40 (1994) 474-480.
21 According to the Scriptures, God will be the eternal light that will enlight Jerusalem (Isa 60,1-3.19-20). His promise of giving David and his lineage a lamp (1 Kgs 11,36; 15,4; 2 Kgs 8,19; 2 Chr 21,7) was transformed into a messianic prophecy: "There I will cause a horn to sprout up for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed one" (Ps 132,17). God himself declared that His Chosen one would be "light" to the nations (Isa 42,6; 49,6).
22 D. FLUSSER, Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem 1988) 457-459.
23 FLUSSER, Judaism, 464.
24 Josephus, Bell. Iud. 2-6.
25 Arguments in favor of Rome as Babylon the Great (Rev 17–18) can be found in: J.E. BRUNS, "The Contrasted Woman of Apocalypse 12 and 17", CBQ 26 (1964) 459-463; A.Y. COLLINS, "Revelation 18: Tount-Song or Dirge?", L’Apocalypse johannique et l’Apocalyptique dans le Nouveau Testament (ed. J. LAMBRECHT) (Leuven 1980) 185-204; C.P. THIEDE, "Babylon, der andere Ort: Anmerkungen zu 1 Petr 5,13 und Apg 12,17", Bib 67 (1986) 532-538; R. BERGMEIER, "Die Erzhure und das Tier: Apk 12,18 –13,18 und 17f.: Eine quellen- und redaktionskritische Analyse", ANRW II 25.5 (1988) 3899-3916; MOBERLY, "Revelation", 383-389; R. BAUCKHAM, The Climax of Prophecy. Studies in the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh 1993); A.Y. COLLINS, "Feminine Symbolism in the Book of Revelation", Biblical Interpretation 1 (1993) 20-33; H. GIESEN, "Das Römische Reich im Spiegel der Johannes-Apokalypse", ANRW II 26.3 (1996) 2501-2614; J.N. KRAYBILL, Imperial Cult and Commerce in John’s Apocalypse (Sheffield 1996); D.E. AUNE, Revelation 17–22 (Nashville 1998); G.K. BEALE, The Book of Revelation. A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids 1999). Arguments in favor of Jerusalem as Babylon the Great can be found in: J.S. RUSSELL, The Parousia. The New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming (Grand Rapids  1999); W. MILLIGAN, Lectures on the Apocalypse (London 1892); J.M. FORD, Revelation (New York 1975); GENTRY, Before; D.K. PRESTON, Who is this Babylon? (Ardmore, OK 1999). But Rev 17,18 is too conclusive to have doubts about Rome as Babylon the Great: "And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth".
26 According to Eusebius, the Jewish-Christians went to Pella "before the war", because God ordered it through a revelation received by "approved men" (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.5). However, it is very probable that this escape had taken place after the disastrous retreat of Cestius, when "many of the most eminent of the Jews swam away from the city, as from a ship when it was going to sink" (Josephus, Bell. Iud. 2.20.1).
27 According to this patristic tradition, Peter and Paul died in the same year, the fourteenth year of Nero’s reign (Eusebius, Chronicon 2.211; Hist. eccl. 2.25; Jerome, De viris ill. 5;12), that is to say, between October of 67 and June of 68.
28 Eusebius and Jerome affirmed that Peter and Paul died in the same year. But some Fathers used to present their lives as parallel lives. Irenaeus, for example, assured his readers that Peter and Paul founded the church of Rome. Cf. C.P. THIEDE, Simon Peter. From Galilee to Rome (Grand Rapids 1988) 157, 190-191. In my opinion, Peter was probably crucified in 64, during the repression that took place as a consequence of the fire in Rome, three years before the death of Paul in 67.
29 W.M. RAMSAY, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia and their place in the plan of the Apocalypse (Grand Rapids  1963) chap. 29.
30 Tacitus, Ann. 14.27.
31 Cf. F.O. PARKER, "‘Our Lord and God’ in Rev 4,11: Evidence for the Late Date of Revelation?", Bib 82 (2001) 209-217, 219-220, 224-226.
32 This hypothesis has been proposed by WILSON, "The Problem", 597-604.
33 Cf. GENTRY, Before, 261-276, 279.
34 Cf. MOBERLY, "Revelation", 377-379, 389; SLATER, "Dating", 254.
35 FARRAR, The Early Days, 471; D.R. HILLERS, "Revelation 13:18 and A Scroll from Murabba’at", BASOR 170 (1963) 65; GENTRY, Before, 193-212; WILSON, "The Problem", 598.
36 Cf. note 25. On a coin (or medallion) of Vespasian, Rome is represented as a woman seated on seven hills. Cf. E. STAUFFER, Christ and the Caesars. Historical Sketches (Philadelphia 31955) 173.
37 A.Y. COLLINS, New Jerome Biblical Commentary (London 1989) 998-999; THOMPSON, The Book, 14.
38 Cf. note 9.
39 Cf. F.J.A. HORT, The Apocalypse of St. John (London 1908) I, xxvi; GENTRY, Before, 285-299.
40 I follow the traditional interpretation of considering the emperors already dead as "fallen". Cf. Moberly and his hypothesis that the five "fallen" kings are five emperors who died a violent death (Julius Caesar, Gaius, Nero, Galba, Otho). MOBERLY, "Revelation", 377, 383, n. 22, 385.
41 Tacitus, Hist. 1.2; 2.8-9; Suetonius, Nero 57; Zonaras, Ann. 11.15-18.
42 Cf. GENTRY, Before, 74-77, 300-307.
43 Tacitus, Ann. 4.34; Suetonius, Iulius 76; Josephus, Ant. Iud. 18.2.2; 18.6.10; 4 Ezra 11-12; Or. Sib. 5.12-15. Cf. A.Y. COLLINS, Crisis and Catharsis. The Power of the Apocalypse (Philadelphia 1984) 60-62; GENTRY, Before, 154-159.
44 Mark 13,19; Matt 24,21.
45 Mark 13,14; Matt 24,15. Cf. Luke 21,20.
46 1 Macc 1,54; 9,27; Dan 9,27; 11,31; 12,1.11.
47 Josephus, Ant. Iud. 18.8.2.
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