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When was the book of Revelation written?

02/06/2013 Comments (10)

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse (Rev. 6)

Most scholars today think that the book of Revelation was written around the year A.D. 95, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian.

Historically, though, many thought it was written earlier than that, and there is a surprisingly strong case that the book was written in the late A.D. 60s or the early part of A.D. 70. Let's take a quick look at the evidence . . .

 

"Five Are Fallen"

In Revelation 17, John sees a vision of the Who­re of Babylon seated on the beast with seven heads, and he is told:

[9] This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; [10] they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes he must remain only a little while.

There's pretty good evidence that the beast represents the Roman empire and that these seven kings represent the line of first century Roman emperors.

If you'd like more information on that subject, check out my videos, Who Is the Beast of Revelation and Who Is the Beast of Revelation (Part Two).

Assuming that identification is accurate, that gives us a pretty strong clue about when the book was written. If five of the kings (emperors) are fallen (dead) and one is (living/reigning) then that means Revelation was written during the reign of the sixth emperor. So which would that be?

Here are two possibilities . . .

 

The Reign of Nero?

If you start the count with Julius Caesar then the sixth emperor would be Nero:

  1. Julius Caesar
  2. Augustus
  3. Tiberius
  4. Caligula
  5. Claudius
  6. Nero

Nero certainly fits well with the description of the beast that is given in the book (see the two videos), but there is a possible problem: Julius Caesar was not technically an emperor. He was a dictator (meaning: the Roman Senate voted him the title "dictator"--which was an actual political office back then, before the term came to mean "tyrant"), but he wasn't voted the title "emperor."

Still, it's possible that this might not have made a lot of difference from the perspective of first century Jews and Christians.

Technically, the Roman emperors weren't kings at all (the Romans were very proud of the fact that they had ended the line of Roman kings and set up a republic), but they functioned as kings, and everybody understood that.

This is why the crowd cried "We have no king but Caesar!" during the trial of Jesus.

So if the count starts with Julius then we have reason to think Revelation was written in the reign of Nero, which was between October 13, A.D. 54 and June 9, A.D. 68.

But there's another possibility that may be even more likely . . .

 

The Reign of Galba?

The first person to be voted the title "emperor" was Augustus, and he could well be regarded as the starting point of the count by people all across the empire, including Jews and Christians. If so, then this is what we would get:

  1. Augustus
  2. Tiberius
  3. Caligula
  4. Claudius
  5. Nero
  6. Galba

I know. You may be saying, "Who?"

Galba isn't a very famous emperor, and one reason is that he didn't reign very long. In fact, he reigned only a few months, during a disastrous period known as "the Year of Four Emperors," in which Rome was torn apart by a series of bloody civil wars in which one emperor toppled another in rapid succession.

But if that's the case then, since Galba reigned such a short time, we'd actually be able to date the writing of Revelation very precisely.

It would have to be between June 8, A.D. 68 and January 15, A.D. 69. (Galba actually began reigning the day before Nero died, because Nero had been declared an enemy of the state by the Senate and went on the lam before being coerced into committing suicide.)

So it could be that Revelation was written during a very short span in late 68 or (very) early 69.

Is there other evidence that has a bearing on this?

 

"He must remain only a little while"

You'll recall that the seventh king was said to remain (reign) only a little while. Does that fit the situation?

Yes. In fact, it fits both of the possibilities we've mentioned.

If Nero was reigning then Nero's successor, Galba, certainly reigned a short time--just barely over 7 months.

If Galba was reigning then, since he was reigning in the Year of Four Emperors, his own successor--Otho--lasted only a short time as well, just 3 months (from January 15 to April 16, A.D. 69).

 

"Do not measure the court outside the temple"

Back in Revelation 11, John was told:

[1] Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told: "Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, [2] but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample over the holy city for forty-two months.

This passage speaks of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem as if it is still standing.

The text speaks of the gentiles (or nations, same word in Greek) trampling the holy city (Jerusalem) and invading the temple courtyard.

They also invaded and destroyed the temple itself, but the text speaks of this as not having happened yet, since John is told to measure the temple, its altar, and those worshipping there. So it was still functioning.

Since the temple was destroyed on August 5, A.D. 70, that also suggests that Revelation was written before this date.

 

What Now?

If you like the information I've presented here, you should join my Secret Information Club.

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I send out information on a variety of fascinating topics connected with the Catholic faith.

In fact, the very first thing you’ll get if you sign up is information about what Pope Benedict says about the book of Revelation.

He has a lot of interesting things to say!

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Just email me at jimmy@secretinfoclub.com if you have any difficulty.

In the meantime, what do you think?

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About Jimmy Akin

Jimmy Akin
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Jimmy was born in Texas, grew up nominally Protestant, but at age 20 experienced a profound conversion to Christ. Planning on becoming a Protestant pastor or seminary professor, he started an intensive study of the Bible. But the more he immersed himself in Scripture the more he found to support the Catholic faith. Eventually, he entered the Catholic Church. His conversion story, "A Triumph and a Tragedy," is published in Surprised by Truth. Besides being an author, Jimmy is a Senior Apologist at Catholic Answers, a contributing editor to This Rock magazine, and a weekly guest on "Catholic Answers Live."