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The Book of Revelation

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Apocalypse
Genre:
(4/5) ****
Reliability of Dating:
(3/5) ***
Length of Text:
Greek
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Ancient Translations:
Modern Translations:

Estimated Range of Dating: 90-95 A.D.

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Information on the Book of Revelation

Kummel provides the following information on dating the Apocalypse of John (Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 466-8):

According to the oldest tradition [in Iren., Adv. Haer. 5.30.3] Rev was written toward the end of the reign of Domitian (81-96). The book's own testimony indicates that it originated in the province of Asia in a time of severe oppression of Christians, which is most readily conceivable under Domitian. In the letters included in Rev, persecutions by the officials are expected (2:10), the blood of the martyrs has already flowed (2:13; 6:9), the whole of Christianity is threatened with a fearful danger (3:10): the immediate prospect is for the outbreak of a general persecution of Christians throughout the Roman Empire. In 17:6 John sees the harlot who is Babylon-Rome drunk on the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses of Jesus (cf. 6:10; 16:6; 18:24; 19:2). In 20:4 participation in the thousand-year reign is promised to the martyrs who have been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and for the word of God, and who have not worshiped the beast and his image and have not accepted his sign on their forehead and in their hand, i.e., those who have refused divine honors to the emperor (13:4, 12 ff; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20). Christianity has collided with the state and with the state religion, the Christ cult with the imperial cult. In the interest of faith, Rev raises passionate objections to Rome and the imperial cult. That corresponds to the situation under Domitian.

Prior to Domitian, the state religion did not direct itself against the Christians. Nero's mad acts in Rome against the Christians had nothing to do with the imperial cult. Under Domitian, who according to the Eastern pattern laid claim to divine honors for himself as emperor during his own lifetime, there arose for the first time the persecution of Christians by the state on religious grounds. In 96 in Rome members of the imperial household were called to account for the charge of aqeoths; i.e., violation of the state religion. And in the Christian tradition Domitian is unanimously regarded as the first persecutor of Christians after Nero. In the province of Asia imperial cult was promoted with special zeal. Under Domitian, Ephesus received a new imperial temple. Thus it was precisely in the province of Asia, the classical land of the imperial cult, that at the time of Domitian all the prerequisites were present for a severe conflict between Christianity and the state cult, which is what Rev has in view (cf. also I Pet). The seer nowhere points directly to Domitian as the then reigning emperor, and the Antichrist, the "beast" (13:1 ff, etc.), does not bear the features of any specific ruler but rather those of the demonic form of Nero redivivus, which was still a popular expectation in that time. But the temporal scene which Rev sketches fits no epoch of primitive Christianity so well as the time of the persecution under Domitian.

Kummel goes on to propose an interpretation of 17:9 wherein the counting of the emperors begins with Caligula so that Domitian would be the sixth in succession. He concludes (op. cit., p. 469):

Also favoring the end of the first century as the time of origin of Rev is the fact that according to 2:8-11, the church of Smyrna has been persevering for a long time, while according to Polycarp (Phil 11:3), at the time of Paul it did not even exist; and 3:17 describes the community of Laodicea as rich, while this city had been almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 60/61.

In all likelihood, therefore, Rev was in fact written toward the end of the reign of Domitian, i.e., ca. 90-95, in Asia Minor, in order to encourage Christian communities threatened by a destructive persecution to endure and to make them confident of the imminent victory of Christ over the powers of the Antichrist.

Norman Perrin makes the following comments (The New Testament: An Introduction, pp. 81-2):

That John of Patmos can be identified as a prophet is more important to understanding his work than identifying him with some other individual named John in the New Testament. Traditionally it has been claimed that he is the John, son of Zebedee, known to us from the gospel stories, but this is most unlikely. It has also been claimed that he is the "John" of the fourth gospel, but the difference in language and style alone makes this identification quite impossible. However, that he is able to identify himself, and as a prophet (in sharp contrast to the pseudonymity and practice of apocalyptic writers in general), speaks volumes for the vitality, power, and self-confidence of New Testament Christianity.

Another most unusual aspect of the book of Revelation is its letters to seven churches in Asia Minor: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (see chapters 2 and 3). This is unparalleled in apocalyptic writing and has to be due ultimately to the impact that Paul's letter writing made on the New Testament church. Paul's letters had become so important that the literary form was imitated even by an apocalyptic writer. The book of Revelation as a whole has the external form of a letter in that it begins with an opening salutation (1:4-6) and closes with a benediction (22:21). The contrast in literary form between the direct address of the letters and the symbolic drama of the remainder of the book is startling, but no more so than the fact that an apocalyptic writer identifies himself and calls his work a prophecy.

The fact that we have here the outward form of a Pauline letter helps us to grasp the essential thrust of the work. It begins with a salutation in the Pauline style: "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen" (Rev 1:5b-6; compare Gal 1:3-5). But then it continues: "Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amon" (1:7). This is a classic statement of early Christian hope for the return of Jesus as apocalyptic judge and redeemer. Similarly, the closing benediction, "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen" (22:21), is in the Pauline style, but it is preceded by a prayer for the coming of the Lord, "Come, Lord Jesus" (22:20). However, this is the early Palestinian Christian Eucharist prayer Maranatha, which Paul himself used at the end of a letter: "Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen" (1 Cor 16:22-24). It is a reminder that for all its surface strangeness, the book of Revelation is not to be separated from the rest of the New Testament. The hope it represents is a fundamental feature of a major part of the New Testament.

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Kirby, Peter. "The Book of Revelation." Early Christian Writings. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/revelation.html>.