Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 7 - The Date of Revelation

The date of the writing of Revelation is a matter of fundamental importance, vitally affecting the interpretation of the book. Two possible dates have been suggested: A.D. 95 in the reign of Domitian, and A.D. 66 in the reign of Nero. It is hoped to shew that the evidence for A.D. 66 is overwhelming. The reason why these two dates and these two only, are possible is that Revelation was written in a time of persecution (ch. 1:9 and many other places), and there were no other vigorous persecutions of Christians by the Romans in the First Century.


The A.D. 95 dating rests almost solely on the testimony of Irenaeus (c. A.D. 178) who wrote concerning the apostle John that he "saw the Revelation: for it was not long since it was seen, but almost within our own generation about the end of Domitian's reign" i.e. A.D. 95. John Thomas regarded this as decisive, but two considerations weaken the force of this testimony:

Irenaeus' doubtful value as a witness, e.g. he insists that Jesus die. at the age of 50; he also gives credence to the fantastic story of the miraculous translation of the Septuagint Version.

Possible mistranslation. The words of Irenaeus could read: "For it i not long since 1le (John) was seen . . ." a statement which would the' merely confirm the well-known fact of John's great age when h' died, without making any reference whatever to the writing of the. Apocalypse.

Eusebius, the church historian (c. A.D. 314), often cited for the late date is really a witness for the early date. His testimony for the A.D. 95 dating' is not independent, being actually a verbatim quotation of the words o Irenaeus. In another place, however, he definitely couples the banishing o John to Patmos with the deaths of Paul and Peter, i.e. A.D. 64-66.

Victorinus (Fourth Century) plumps for the late date, and yet elsewhere h' asserts that the Gospel of John was written after Revelation, a statement' very difficult or even impossible to square with the A.D. 95 date. Other' witnesses on this side all come well after the time of Constantine, too far re" moved from the First Century, to be of great consequence.


The fairly copious evidence usually cited for Revelation being written about A.D. 66 is now summarized:

Various early Christian fathers, especially Tertullian (A.D. 200 approx.), mention the early date, i.e. the time of Nero's persecution.

The heading of the very ancient Syriac Version: "The Revelation which was made by God to John the Evangelist in the island of Patmos to which he was banished by Nero the Emperor." This item of evidence is specially strong.

The circumstantial story, preserved by Clement of Alexandria, that after returning from Patmos John committed one of his young disciples to the care of a certain bishop; a long while afterwards when the disciple has lapsed from the Faith and had actually become captain of a band of brigands, the Apostle journeyed into the hills, found this man and reclaimed him for Christ. This achievement would have been a physical impossibility for the aged John, if all this happened after A.D. 95.

The frequent references in Revelation to persecution harmonize admirably with the Nero date, when Christians truly had to face a fiery trial; so far as is known Domitian's persecution was by no means so fierce.

The extremely Hebraistic style of the Greek text of Revelation, a fact discernible even in the English translation and which positively shouts from the original text, argues a date of writing fairly soon after John was come to Ephesus out of Judaea. Here is a man thinking in Biblical Hebrew or its kindred Aramaic and writing in less familiar Greek. After many years at Ephesus (if writing in A.D. 95) John would surely have had no difficulty at all with his Greek.

The very early appearance of pseudo-apocalypses (uninspired imitations of the Apocalypse given to John) implies that they had a yet earlier prototype.

The foregoing evidence and arguments have a cumulative force, which far outweighs the dubious arguments advanced for the later date. But these are themselves flimsy by comparison with the Biblical argument now to be set out, which demands that the date of Revelation be in the reign of Nero and not Domitian.


Briefly, the argument (first hinted at by Sir Isaac Newton, and lately expanded by the present writer) is this: It is possible to identify many allusions to the Book of Revelation in Hebrews and in the two Epistles of Peter. If this assertion can be established as true, then Revelation must predate the three epistles mentioned. Since Peter definitely died in Nero's persecution of A.D. 64 66 approx. (much of his First Epistle was to strengthen the brethren in that fiery trial) and since Hebrews is generally admitted to have been written before the Jewish War of A D 67-70, the dating of Revelation is narrowed down to a very fine margin.

Before getting down to details it may be as well to dispose of the only way of upsetting this argument. It could perhaps be suggested that whilst the links between Revelation and the three epistles may be undoubted, the facts are capable of the reverse interpretation, namely, that Revelation is borrowing from Hebrews and 1st and 2nd Peter as it borrows from almost every other book in the Bible.

The answer to this comes from careful consideration of the character of the phrases under review. Practically all of them will be seen at once to be "Apocalyptic" in style - they belong naturally to Revelation, they are in keeping with its idiom and symbolism; e.g. "the morning star" (see below). Further, when they occur in the three epistles they often introduce matters which have received no mention whatever in their context but which are fully explained in Revelation, e.g. "the city which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (again, see below on this).


The main parallels between Revelation and Hebrews can now be sent out for the reader's considered judgement:

The Word of God (4:12=Jesus, not the Bible; see v. 13)
The Word of God (=Jesus: 19:13)
is sharper than any two-edged sword (4:12).
with the sharp two-edged sword (1 16).
A fierceness of fire, which shall devour the adversaries (10:27 R.V.).
Satan (the Adversary) cast into the lake of fire and brimstone (20:10).
The city which hath the foundations (already described in Revelation) whose builder and maker is God (11:10 R.V.).
The wall of the city (the city of my God) had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (20:14).
(The Mosaic tabernacle appointments were) the patterns of things in the heavens (8:23).
The visions of Revelation all make reference to details of a heavenly tabernacle service similar to the tabernacle in the wilderness.
Ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation (1:14: this word "minister" means specially "to minister as a priest").
Another angel . . . having a golden censer: and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar (8:3 and several other passages).
That they without us should not be made perfect (11 :40).
It was said unto them[12] that they should rest yet for a little season, until their brethren that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled (6:11).

The examples cited this far might perhaps be considered suggestive but hardly conclusive. It is when attention is given particularly to Hebrews 12: 22-25, 28, 29 that there is seen to be a long series of correspondences with the heavenly visions of Revelation:

Hebrews 12
Mount Zion.
The Lamb on Mount Zion (14:1).
The heavenly Jerusalem, the city of
New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven (21 :2).
the living God.
The God of the living creatures (4:6). Cp. also, the angel having the seal of the living God (7:2).
An innumerable company of angels
The voice of many angels round about the throne . . . ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands[13] (5:11).
The gcneral assembly.
The hundred and forty and four thousand sealed out of the twelve tribes of Israel ("Israel is my first born") (ch. 7 and 14).
The church (ecclesia) of the firstborn
Twenty-four elders (4:4, "the Levites instead of the firstborn of the children of Israel". Numbers 8 :16).
Written in heaven.
Written in the Lamb's book of life (13:8; 21.27)
God the Judge of all.
The dead standing before God . . .and were judged (20:12).
Spirits of
just men made perfect.
Jesus the mediator of a new covenant
A Lamb as it had been slain (5:5, 6).
The blood of sprinkling.
Thou hast redeemed us to God by thy blood (5:9).
Him that spake from heaven.
The Apocalypse itself (when else has Jesus spoken from heaven?)
Let us serve God.[15]
They serve2 Him day and night in His temple (7:15).

Sufficient material has now been assembled to put point to the argument for an A.D. 66 date for the writing of Revelation. A number of the foregoing correspondences may not impress some readers as being more than coincidence. But even if a full half of them were to be considered inadmissible, the argument still stands. An argument based an cumulative evidence of this kind is extremely difficult to set aside. Should doubts exist, then, before these suggested parallels are airily dismissed as coincidence, let the unconvinced select any similar block of four verses or so at random from any other part of the New Testament (except 1st and 2nd Peter! - or Jude, which is a commentary on 2nd Peter), and see if he can assemble as readily a set of correspondences with Revelation comparable with the above.

This dependence of Hebrews on Revelation requires an earlier date for the latter. But it is not possible to assign to Hebrews a date after A.D. 70. "It is generally agreed that Hebrews was written near, but not after the destruction of Jerusalem. The writer throughout speaks of the Levitical ritual as still in force" (Angus). "It is impossible to suppose that a writer wishing to demonstrate the evanescent nature of the Levitical dispensation and writing after the Temple service had been discontinued, should not have pointed to that event as strengthening his argument" (Marcus Dods).


Precisely the same type of argument is available from 1 Peter, an epistle certainly written in connection with the Nero persecution. 1 Peter 1:9-13 carefully studied, seems to indicate that Revelation had been published just before the writing of this Epistle. Paraphrased, the passage says: The Old Testament prophets studied their own inspired writings that they might learn more concerning the suffering and glory of Christ, realizing that their message was primarily for the benefit of later generations and especially for yourselves who have had the same message continued through the ministrations of the Spirit-guided Apostles. And now (v. 13) "set your hope perfectly on the grace that is being brought (or carried) unto you in 'An Apocalypse of Jesus Christ'." This word "grace" is often used in the New Testament with reference to Holy Spirit guidance and power (e.g. Romans 12:3 6; 1 Corinthians 1:4, 7 and 15:10; Galatians 2:9, Ephesians4: 7; Luke 4: 22 and many others) and consequently sets this third divine help which Peter specifies in the same category as the inspiration (previously mentioned imparted first to prophets and then apostles. And since Revelation, like 1 Peter, was written expressly to strengthen the believers in time of persecution, there was every reason why Peter's readers should "set their hop perfectly" on its consolations.

With this passage as a clue, a whole series of allusions to Revelation ca now be traced in 1 Peter.

1 Peter
Which things angels desire to look into (1:12).
A strong angel proclaiming, Who is worthy to open the book . . .(5 2).
Your faith . . . much more precious than gold that perisheth, though it be tried in the fire(3:18).
I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire (1: 7).
Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house (2:5).
The city had twelve foundations and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (21:14).
A royal priesthood[16] (2:9).
Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests (5:10 .and 1:6)
Redeemed . . . with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot (1:19).
A Lamb as it had been slain...Thou art worthy . . . for thou was slain, and hast by thy blood (5:6, 9).redeemed us to God
Foreordained before the foundation of the world (1:20).
Written in the Lamb's book of life from foundation of the work(13 8).
Let them commit the keeping of their souls to him (4:19).
The souls under the altar (6 :9).
As unto a faithful Creator (4:19; this unusual word means "the founder of a city").
The new Jerusalem coming down from God (21:2).
To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever (5:11).
1:6 is verbatim the same.
Babylon (5:13).
Babylon the Great (17:5).


It is to be expected that if 1 Peter has ample allusion to Revelation then the same characteristic will be at least equally marked in 2 Peter. To say, that such is probably the case is a considerable understatement.

After plain reference to that almost unique Apocalypse of Christ's glory, on the Mount of Transfiguration (1:16-18), Peter goes on to mention also "the more sure word of prophecy whereunto ye do well that ye take heed in your hearts, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place,1[17] until the day dawn and the daystar arise." Is this a reference to another Apocalypse of Jesus Christ given to strengthen the Lord's people in the dark and difficult days? The reference to the Day-Star suggests it-compare "I am the bright and morning star"; Revelation 22:16. The phrase in the next verse, which would rule out any reference to Revelation, disappears in the Revised Version.

Certainly the rest of the Epistle turns itself into a kind of running commentary on Revelation.

2 Peter
Until the day dawn and the day star arise (1:19).
I am the bright and morning star (22:16 and 2:28).
False prophets . . . swift destruction (2:1).
The false prophet . . . cast alive into a lake of fire (19:20).
The Lord (Despot) that bought them (2:1).
O Lord (Despot), holy and true . . . (6:10).
Through covetousness . . . shall they make merchandise of you(2 3).
The merchandise (of Babylon) . . . bodies and souls of men (I8:13,14).
Angels . . . cast down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness to be reserved unto judgement[18] to be punished (2:4). The Lord knoweth how to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgement to be punished (2:9).
An angel . . . with a great chain in his hand . . . and he bound the Devil and Satan a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit (20:1, 2).
They walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness . . . having eyes full of an adulteress (R.V.m.). . . they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness (2:10, 14, 18).
They have committed fornication, and lived wantonly (R.V.) with her. . . the great whore . . . mother of harlots . . . the unclean things of her fornication(18:9and 17:1,2,4, 5, etc.).
They speak great swelling words of vanity (2:18).
The deep things of Satan, as they speak (2:24)
s natural brute beasts made to be taken and destroyed (2:12).
The beast and the false prophet - another beast (13:11) - cast into the lake of fire (19:20) - and the dragon (20:10).
Following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor (2:15).
Them that hold the doctrine of Balaam (2:14).
One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (3 :8).
Satan bound a thousand years(20 3).
The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night (3:10).
Behold, I will come on thee as a thief (3:3 and 16:15).
The heavens shall pass away with a great noise (3 :10).
Before whose face the earth and the heaven fled away: and there was no place found for them (20:11).
We, according to his promise (in Revelation) look for new heavens and a new earth (3:13).
A new heaven and a new earth (21:1).

As already insisted, a cumulative demonstration of this kind is extremely difficult to overturn. For even if some of the parallels cited be disallowed the result remains virtually unaffected.

It follows that Revelation was written before 1, 2 Peter and therefore before the death of Peter which is known to have happened in Nero's persecution of the Christians A.D. 66 approximately. This then must fix the date of the writing of Revelation and this in turn must influence not a little the interpretation of a book concerning "things which must shortly come to pass."

[12] A very strong case can be made for identifying these "souls under the altar" with the Old Testament saints of Hebrews 11 (see on the Fifth Seal).
[13] Literally innumerable, because the numeration system of the ancient Greeks could not take them further than a hundred millions.
[14] Exposition of these and other items not included in this list is really a separate study. Readers may find it profitable to follow the clue for themselves.
[15] Another uncommon specialized word meaning to worship or to serve as a priest.
[16] This idea comes here only and in Exodus 19:5, 6.
[17] This Greek word is used in LXX for "wilderness." Thus the "Light in a Wilderness compares prophetic Scripture to the Shekinah Glory guiding Israel to the Land of Promise. Now consider Revelation 7:14-17 RV.
[18] Here, surely is an explanation why Peter uses such odd language in his allusion to Korah's rebellion — his mind is intent on the resemblance to the symbolic punishment meted out to "Satan" in Revelation.
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