There are a significant number of traditions and opinions from the patristic writers, which have been used on both sides of this debate about the date of the book of Revelation. But very little of that uninspired patristic testimony carries any weight, simply because most of it cannot be confirmed at the mouth of two or more reliable first century eyewitnesses. Most of it is merely external hearsay evidence and opinion, and some of it even tends to contradict scripture. Over 130 authors, most of whom are futurists, have advocated a pre-AD 70 date for the book of Revelation. And almost all of them place it during the reign of Nero (AD 54-68). But even with such a long list of writers it is still not the argument a student of the Word should use for the early date. Truth is never to be determined by a majority vote or a popularity contest. It does not matter how many names we can stack up on either side of this debate.
What does matter, however, are the reasons that these writers give to support the early date, and especially the evidence inside the book of Revelation which points most clearly and forcefully to a pre-70 date. The only kind of evidence that can decide this issue is biblical evidence, and especially that evidence which comes from inside the book of Revelation itself. So, let us focus a lot of our attention on the internal evidence for a pre-70 date of the book of Revelation.
As we all know, the interpretation of most Biblical books is not significantly affected by differences of opinion about its date of composition. But the book of Revelation is a clear exception to that. Its meaning and application is radically affected by its date of writing.
And since Dr. Kenneth Gentry has already done such a marvelous job of the internal and external evidence proving that the book of Revelation was written Before Jerusalem Fell, we will not spend many words here to cover that ground (See his scholarly work, “Before Jerusalem Fell: the Dating of Revelation” for a modern most scholarly work which is re-changing the landscape and opinions in seminaries today. I believe it leaves no doubt on the dating of Revelation to be pre-AD 70. A must read for every serious student of the Bible).
Let’s go to the book of Revelation for a brief look at some of the contextual information, combined with some historical facts:
At the beginning and end of the Apocalypse there are several statements which claim the radical nearness of the events mentioned here. And throughout the book there are numerous allusions to historical conditions and situations that were unique to a pre-70 timeframe, which cannot apply after AD 70.
We deal with each of these following passages in depth throughout our eschatological Study Series 16 Lessons 1 thru 16 on Revelation, but for now let’s just read these to get the sense of imminence throughout the Revelation:
Rev. 1:1-3 “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.”
This theme of urgency permeates the rest of the book. Notice just some of the many references to the imminence of fulfillment:
Rev. 2:5 “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.”
Rev. 2:16 “Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.”
Rev. 3:10-11 ‘Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. ‘I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
Rev. 10:6 “and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, WHO CREATED HEAVEN AND THE THINGS IN IT, AND THE EARTH AND THE THINGS IN IT, AND THE SEA AND THE THINGS IN IT, that there will be delay no longer,”
Rev. 11:14 “The second woe is past; behold, the third woe is coming quickly.”
Rev. 12:2 “and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.”
Rev. 14:7 “and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”
Rev. 22:6-7 And he said to me, “These words are faithful and true”; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place. “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.”
Rev. 22:10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.
Rev. 22:12 “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.
Rev. 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
• These TIME statements are too many and too varied to dismiss. If soon did not mean “soon” to them, how can it mean soon to us? Indeed, how can it ever be fulfilled if it was not fulfilled within the “soon” timeframe that John stated here?
• Daniel was told to seal up his book “until the time of the end” (Dan 12:4). But John is told NOT to seal up his book “because the time is at hand” (Rev 22:10). Furthermore, Daniel was told that more information about the End of Days (the Last Days) would be given at the time of the end, and the book of Revelation appears to be that very revelation that was promised!
• The book of Revelation deals with four major events:
1. The Soon Coming of Christ
2. The death of one of the horns of the Beast
3. The downfall of the Great City Babylon (the Harlot)
4. The end to a very threatening great tribulation
And as we have seen, the Apocalypse repeatedly affirms the radical nearness of Christ’s return and these other end-time events. At the beginning and the end of the book it says that “these things must take place soon” because “the time” for their fulfillment was “at hand.” And here is the point that our futurist brothers need to carefully consider:
If the book was written in AD 95 (like futurists think) then they will have to find some major event which happened shortly after AD 95 which was significant enough to call it “the Second Coming”, the death of one of the horns of the Beast, the destruction of the Great City Babylon, and the end of a very threatening great tribulation which would see a great multitude of martyrs killed from every nation! How did all four of those things occur shortly after AD 95?
GENERAL EVIDENCE FOR A PRE-70 DATE:
There are several passages inside Revelation itself which point clearly to a date before AD 70. Let’s look at some of them:
“Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.” [Rev. 1:7] (Commentaries note that the theme of the book is found in Rev 1:7.)
Notice that the eyes which would see Him coming with the clouds would include at least some of “those who pierced him.” Think about that. Are any of those folks who pierced Jesus still alive today? And this theme verse sets the stage for four other places in the book where Jesus repeatedly affirms the nearness of His coming at the time when the book was written:
Rev. 3:11 ‘I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
Rev. 22:7 “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.”
Rev. 22:12 “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.
Rev. 22:20 “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
And as a matter of historical fact, Josephus documented the very “day and hour” of His appearance in the sky with His angelic armies [Josephus Wars 6.298-300 (6.5.3) “…before sunsetting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the] temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, “Let
us remove hence.”] [Pentecost May 30 AD 66] [See Study Series 7 Lesson 3a2 Matthew 24 Fulfillments for a more detailed look into the writings of Josephus]. The futurists have nothing like this to show that Christ came shortly after AD 95.
Rev. 11:1-2 –The temple was still standing at the time of writing Revelation, and Jerusalem had not yet been trampled underfoot for 42 months (3 ½ years). The temple was still in existence and continuing to function at the time of writing. This demands a pre-70 date. Note especially what verse 2 says: “they will [future tense] tread underfoot the holy city for forty-two months.” Notice the future tense here. This is a very clear reference to a future (but imminent) destruction of Jerusalem which would occur over a 42-month period. And John was told to measure the temple, thereby implying “it was still there,” but its doom and destruction was imminent.
Rev. 11:8 – Indicates that “The Great City” was Jerusalem (“where also their Lord was crucified”). Jerusalem was also quite often compared “mystically” to Sodom and Egypt, by the Old Testament Prophets, by Jesus, and by John as well (we will study into this more later). And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified [Rev. 11:8]. There is only one city on earth which fits that description (Jerusalem).
Rev. 18:24 –It would be hard to find a clearer identification of the Great City than this verse: “And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.” – This Great City (Babylon the Harlot) was the city which killed all the prophets, saints, and martyrs. Jerusalem was the only city which can ever fit this description (cf. Rev. 17:6 “drunk with the blood of the saints and martyrs”).
When this is compared with Jesus’ statements in Luke 13:33-35 and Matthew 23:29-39, one can see that the “Great City” mentioned in the book of Revelation is Jerusalem, not Rome! Jesus says that Jerusalem is the city that “kills the prophets,” and that the “guilt for all the righteous blood shed on earth” would fall upon Jerusalem in that generation (Matt. 23:34-37). Upon comparing these statements of Jesus with Revelation 18:24, the conclusion is inescapable: Jerusalem is the “Great City”! And, if the book of Revelation is dealing with the downfall of Jerusalem, it must have been written before AD 70 in order to predict it.
Notice what Jesus said about first century Jerusalem:
• Luke 13:33-34 – “it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem … the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her!”
• Matt 23:31-38 – “So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell? Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!”
I believe we have seen from the internal evidence alone, that it is very easy to establish a pre-AD 70 date for the Apocalypse.
For a more in-depth study see the related full “Study Series” (available upon request if not hyperlinked):
For a study digging deeper into many other portions of scripture which help even narrow the date down to AD 62 see “Study Series 16 Lesson 1 Dating and Chapters 1 thru 4”