Revelation: Author, Date and Setting.

Revelation is probably the most controversial book in the New Testament; if not the whole Bible. This fact is evident when opening the various commentaries upon chapter 1. Many feel they need to devote time simply justifying its' inclusion in the canon, and then further justify attempting to study it. Perhaps a good summary is made by John Wesley we he admits he had despaired of understanding the book at all and even now was quite dubious about some of his notes. However it is one of the few books in scripture with a specific blessing pronounced upon those that read it[1] and thus is worthy of study. In fact we shall see that there are some peculiar quirks in the authorship, date and setting of the book of Revelation that make it a particularly interesting study.

Revelation was the last book of the New Testament to be written. Adam Clark (ACC) cites Bishop Usher in placing the authorship at 100AD, this number is agreed with by Henry Morris[2]. Tim LaHaye suggests 95AD, which is close to the 96AD offered by Gaebelien[3], Encyclopedia of the Bible and What the Bible teaches. This date is based principally upon the writing of Irenaeus the friend of Polycarp the disciple of John. In 185AD he wrote "for it was seen, not long ago, but almost in our generation, near the end of Domitian's reign". Domitian reigned 81-96 which suggests the date of 96AD.

The only serious contender to this date for authorship is much earlier, around 69AD. This view is generally held by the preterists and it based upon the assumptions that[4]:

  1. The persecution of believers in John 1:9 refers to the Neronian persecution
  2. The references to the deadly wound of the beast (Rev 13:3) incorporate the Nero redivivus myth.
  3. The beast is a symbol of the Roman Empire and Caesar.
  4. Babylon is a code name for Rome.
  5. The measurement of the template in Rev 11:1-2 requires a physical temple to be there so must before AD70.

It can be seen that this is all internal assumption with little or no external corroboration. The later date is to be preferred on the following basis: -

  1. The persecution in Rev 1:9 suggests the time must be under the reign of Claudia, Nero or Domitian.
  2. John had been banished to Patmos. Domitian is the first emperor known to have used banishment on Christians (rather than just political opponents). Clement of Alexandria (155-220) quotes a strong tradition that Domitian exiled John to Patmos and that John returned to Ephesus when Domitian died.
  3. The seven churches were formed around 50AD. It is improbable they would have had a chance to decline as far as the seven noted churches in just twenty years.

Of the authorship of Revelation the power Bible commentaries are heavily in favor of the Apostle John. In three places in chapter 1[5] and two places later[6] John identifies himself simply by name; as if he needed no further introduction. The mention of his exile[7] accords with the tradition of John the Apostle having been exiled in that manner. For those that place weight on church tradition (and those doubting an apostolic authorship are the ones most likely to place weight upon church tradition) the early writings all support John the apostle as author including: Justin Martyr (100-165AD), Irenaeus (175-195AD), Clement of Alexandria (c200), Origen (c233), and an anonymous papyrus believed to be written around 150AD that claims Revelation was written by 'John the brother of James, those who were the sons of Zebedee'.

The first noted dissenter to this view was Dionysius who died in c264. However if you read his other writings he was one of the first to try to pull away from the premillennial view so he was probably trying to weaken the voice of Revelation as part of his agenda.

Rather beautifully a number of the commentaries go on to point out that verse one makes it clear that John was not the ultimate author but that the authorship came from the Godhead. Between the authors there is a slight disagreement as to whether the author was the Father[8] and it was handed to the Lord Jesus or whether the [9]Lord was the author Himself. The People's New Testament goes as far as to suggest that Revelation is the contents of the sealed book of Revelation 5.

Robertson isolates the distinction when he points out that the word rendered 'of' in 'Revelation of Jesus Christ' can either be treated as an objective or subjective genitive. In other words this could be saying the Revelation He made or the Revelation about him. I side with Jim Allen[10] argues strongly for the objective use; that this book is designed to reveal Jesus Christ.

We have established that Revelation is the last written book of the New Testament and, as Matthew Henry points out, the last living apostle penned the last written book. We also know that the church was facing great physical persecution and we are about to discover that in the 60 or so years the church had been established it had suffered even more doctrinally than it had physically.

Into this situation the Godhead decided to send one last message. And we are told precisely why. The substance of the book is again declared in the first verse; it was to show the things that must surely come to pass. This must have been a tremendous encouragement to the believers. If you don't know whether or not you're going to be alive tomorrow then what better assurance than to be told that God has everything in control and this is what is going to happen.

In fact I believe that God has an alternate agenda with Revelation and it is given in verse 3.

Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.

It is not simply to give us the game plan; it is to alter our behavior and to give us a blessing in light of the game plan that is being enacted. If I am right and the principle aim of Revelation is to bless us then it is even sadder that this book has turned into such a bloodied battleground within Christendom. But then again, perhaps this is what we should expect given the state of the church: as we shall see in the next couple of chapters.


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