The Art of Revelation

I would like to offer you a brief excerpt—dealing with the dating of the book of Revelation—from Dr. Jonathan Welton’s book, “The Art of Revelation”. This book can be sourced from Amazon.

To arrive at a biblically and historically accurate view of this most important painting, we must find out the original intentions of the artist and how his original audience would have received it. In other words, we need to know what exactly the Holy Spirit was saying when He wrote the Book of Revelation and how the early believers would have interpreted it. To understand its application to us, these many years later, we must first understand how it applied to the first century Christians. This is the big picture we are seeking, and it is encapsulated in the answers to our four important questions— when, how, why, and where. The answers to these questions are the frame for this painting.


When we look at a painting of a battle scene, if we want to understand what was happening, we need to know when the painting was painted and what time and event it was about. Without that understanding, it would be impossible for us to understand many of the details of the painting specific to that period and event. Are we looking at a painting of World War I or World War II? Perhaps it is of the American Civil War or the American Revolutionary War. Knowing the date of the painting will help us determine which events are being depicted.

In the same way, it is crucial to understand when the Book of Revelation was written. There are two main positions on the dating of Revelation. One camp says it was written around AD 65, just prior to the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem. The other camp places it later, in AD 96, twenty-six years after Jerusalem’s fall. The modern and popular position has, for the most part, been the later date. Yet, most of the evidence within Scripture indicates the book was written before the fall of Jerusalem. The reason that modern teachers point to a later date is because the leader of Rome in AD 96 was Domitian, and the Church historian, Irenaeus, writing around AD 120, seemed to say that Revelation was written during Domitian’s reign. Yet for many historians, Irenaeus has a credibility problem, because he also wrote that Jesus was in ministry from the age of thirty to the age of fifty (instead of three and a half years). That mistake on his part has caused people to question his reliability with dates and numbers. But let’s assume for a moment that Irenaeus was correct and that John was on Patmos during the reign of Domitian.

With that assumption, the next question we need to ask is, “Which reign of Domitian?” Frank Viola points out a little known but crucial fact in his book, The Untold Story of the New Testament Church. Domitian was emperor for a six-month period in AD 70; then he was again emperor from AD 81– 96.

This means that, even if Irenaeus wrote accurately, he could have been referring to this earlier time period, which was prior to the fall of Jerusalem. The point is, the evidence from Irenaeus that is used to prove a later date is not at all conclusive. So, leaving aside the debate over Irenaeus, let’s look, instead, at the text of Revelation itself, which I believe offers us nine solid proofs that Revelation was written prior to AD 70.

Proof #1: The Syriac

The first proof for an earlier dating of Revelation is the witness of one of the most ancient versions of the New Testament, called The Syriac. The title page of the fourth-century Syriac Version, called the Peshitto, says this: Again the revelation, which was upon the holy John the Evangelist from God when he was on the island of Patmos where he was thrown by the emperor Nero.

Nero Caesar ruled over the Roman Empire from AD 54 to AD 68. This means John had to have been on the island of Patmos during this earlier time period. One of the oldest versions of the Bible tells us that Revelation was written before AD 70! This alone is a very compelling argument.

Proof #2: Revelation 17: 10

Second, when we look at the internal evidence, we find a very clear indicator of the date of authorship in Revelation 17: 10: “They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while.” This passage, which speaks of the line of rulers in Rome, tells us exactly how many rulers had already come, which one was currently in power, and that the next one would only last a short while. This accurately identifies the rule of Nero and gives an outline of the Roman Empire of the first century. The succession of the first seven Roman Emperors went like this:

“Five have fallen...”

Julius Caesar (49– 44 BC)

Augustus (27 BC– AD 14)

Tiberius (AD 14– 37)

Caligula (AD 37– 41)

Claudius (AD 41– 54)

“One is...”

Nero (AD 54– 68)

“the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while.”

Galba (June AD 68– January AD 69, a six-month rule) Of the first seven kings, five had come (Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, and Claudius), one was currently in power (Nero), and one had not yet come (Galba), but would only remain for a short time (six months). From this, we can clearly see that the current Caesar at the time of John’s writing was the sixth Caesar, Nero.

Proof #3: Those Who Pierced Him

Our third proof is found in the Hebrew idiom “coming on clouds,” which speaks of God coming to bring judgment on a city or nation. That is what Jesus came to do in AD 70. Revelation 1: 7 tells us the target of God’s judgment:

Lo, he doth come with the clouds, and see him shall every eye, even those who did pierce him, and wail because of him shall all the tribes of the land. Yes! Amen (Revelation 1: 7 YLT).

Here, the phrase “those who did pierce him” refers to the people of the first century. At any later time in history, these people would be deceased. Yet, according to this passage, they were expected to be alive at the time of this verse’s fulfillment. This tells us that the prophecy of Revelation 1: 7 had to be fulfilled within a short time after Jesus’ death, while His accusers were still alive on earth. In other words, it was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem that happened in AD 70. For this to be true, the Book of Revelation must have been written before AD 70.

Proof #4: Influence of the Jews and Judaizing Heretics

Our fourth proof is found in the fact that the activity of the Jewish leaders and Judaizers in the Church is mentioned in the letters to the churches in Revelation. Jesus speaks of “those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2: 9). This was a clear reference to the Jewish leaders who persecuted the Christians. Also, among the Christians existed a group called the Judiazers, who tried to turn Christians back to the old covenant Jewish Law. This was a major heresy in the first-century church, and Paul wrote quite a bit against it. Prior to AD 70, both the Jewish leaders outside the church and the Judiazers within the church had a strong negative impact upon believers. About them, Jesus says:

I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you (Revelation 3: 9).

Before the AD 70 destruction, it was advantageous to be a Jew. The Jewish people had a favoured relationship with Rome. They were allowed to have their own police force and follow their own Temple system, so long as they continued in subservience to the empire. But all that changed in AD 70 when the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem and killed more than a million Jews. Ever since that time, history has not been particularly kind to the Jewish people, and I think it is safe to say that after AD 70 people were not touting their status as Jews. These verses about people who falsely claimed to be Jews only makes sense in the pre–AD 70 context. Since the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, it has not been advantageous to claim to be Jewish.

In this way, these verses point to an earlier dating of the letter. The first-century Jews and Judaizers lost a great deal of influence after the destruction of AD 70 because the Jewish religious system had been destroyed and the Jewish population significantly diminished. Only if we give the Book of Revelation an early date of authorship does the significant presence and threat of the Jews and Judiazers make sense.

Proof #5: Existence of Jerusalem and the Temple

Along the same lines, the fifth proof of an earlier date is the existence and integrity of Jerusalem and the Temple in Revelation 11. This suggests that the book was written before the destruction of AD 70. On the other hand, if the Book of Revelation was in fact written in AD 96, only twenty-six years after the destruction of the Temple and the Holy City, it is shocking that John didn’t mention the recent massacre of the city and Temple. The sheer unlikeliness that John would omit such a crucial piece of Jewish history tells us that the book must have been written prior to AD 70.

Proof #6: Time-related Passages

Our sixth proof is in the time-related passages at both the beginning and end of Revelation. In Revelation 1: 1 and 1: 3, as well as 22: 10 and 22: 20, we find internal time indicators that declare, “the time is near,” it is “shortly to come to pass,” “he is coming quickly,” and “behold, he comes speedily.” John clearly wrote that the time of judgment was close. This only fits if the book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem. 

Proof #7: John’s Appearance in AD 96

A seventh reason to believe the Book of Revelation was written at the earlier date is the appearance of John in AD 96. Jerome noted in his writings that John was seen in AD 96, and he was so old and infirm that “he was with difficulty carried to the church, and could speak only a few words to the people.” We must put this fact together with Revelation 10: 11, which says John must “prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.” It is difficult to imagine John would be able to speak to many nations and many kings at any date after AD 96 since he was already elderly and feeble.

Proof #8: Timetable Comparison with Daniel

Eighth, in Daniel’s prophesy about events that would happen hundreds of years later, he was told to “roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end,” because it was a long way off (Dan. 12: 4ff). By contrast, John was told, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near” (Rev. 22: 10). While Daniel was told to seal the prophecy up because it was a long way off (about 500 years), John was told not to seal it up because it was about to come to pass. In other words, the prophetic events were closer than 500 years. This only makes sense if the book was written prior to AD 70 and the prophecy was fulfilled in AD 70. 

Proof #9: Only Seven Churches

Our ninth proof for an early dating of the writing of Revelation is the existence of only seven churches in Asia Minor (see Rev. 1). This tells us that the book was written before the greater expansion of Christianity into that region, which occurred after the fall of Jerusalem.

These nine points strongly point to a dating of the writing of Revelation prior to AD 70. The debate continues in scholarly circles, yet I believe these points are convincing enough for us to move forward with the idea of a pre– AD 70 writing of Revelation.