John was exiled to the Island of Patmos around 95 AD perhaps during the writing of this Epistle. The Church was undergoing the beginnings of more severe persecution than what they initially went through in James’ and Peter’s time when the Roman Emperor Nero was blaming the Christians for the burning of Rome, (which he had caused) making them the scapegoat (54-68 AD). At this time, the Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD) had stepped up the persecutions severely, perhaps being the worst ever seen in Church history (Rev. 1:9; 2:9-13; 13:7-10).
- There are two opposing schools of thought for the date of Revelation. First is an “early date,” approximately 64-68 AD, during the reign of Nero.
- The second is a “late date,” approximately 95-96 AD, during the reign of Emperor Domitian.
- The main arguments for an early date are that the Temple, which was destroyed in 70 AD, seems to be still standing (Rev. 11:1-14).
One of the main themes of the Book is support for the early Christians. Then we find the eight “kings” (Rev. 13: 3-14; 17:9-11). If these “kings” were the Roman Emperors that I listed in the Background and Setting, this would place the events as current to the First Century. The rebuttal to this is that these are given to us in a figurative sense, and/or that history repeats what they went through and will be repetitive.
However, the witness of the Early Church Fathers, confirmed by Irenaeus (185 AD), church tradition, and the Gospel of John as well as his comments in Revelation indicates that John was old and at the end of his life here. This sets up the possibility for the writing having been done as late as 95 AD, making it the last Scripture penned. However, since the 19th century, there has been contention against this view, arguing for an earlier date of 60 to 69 AD, prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.
The contention is that the 90-95 AD view is very problematic, mainly due to the fact that the destruction of the Temple is the singular most climatic and important Jewish historical event since the Exodus of Egypt. It would be like writing a history of the 20th century and not mentioning the two world wars. It just seems problematical, as John make no assertion that the Temple has already been destroyed. The counter is that the Temple‘s destruction was so obvious, no mention was needed.
The problem for an earlier date is that the Roman Emperors were in violent opposition to the Christians, so an earlier date after Nero’s death seems unlikely when the great persecutions arose later in Domitian’s rule in the 90s. Also, the Churches in Asia Minor were more in fruition in the 90s; in the 60s, many of them may not have even been planted yet. Further testimony of a late date is it is what the Early Church Fathers said. The date is significant, because an early date would support a Preterist or Partial-Preterist view whereas a late date would support a Futurist view.
What is the truth? It is hard to tell since there is evidence on both sides, but the veracity of the evidence seems to indicate an early date, because of the temple imagery and the historic situation of the Church in Asia Minor going through that persecution.