Dating the Book of Revelation

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Adapted from the Afterword of The Last Sacrifice

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Last Disciple series is based on an interpretation of Scripture that holds that the entire, not just Revelation, but the entire New Testament was completed prior to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. In contrast, the Left Behind series is based on the assumption that Revelation was written in AD 95, long after Jerusalem’s destruction. It asserts, in fact, that Revelation describes events that will likely take place in the twenty-first century rather than the first century. This is how Tim LaHaye puts it: “Revelation was written by John in AD 95, which means the book of Revelation describes yet future events of the last days just before Jesus comes back to this earth.” Dr. LaHaye has gone so far as to dismiss the notion that Revelation was written before AD 70 as “historically ridiculous.” A closer look at the evidence, however, reveals not only that such dismissive language is unwarranted but that the late-date position is untenable.

First, let me say this: it’s instructive to note that the late dating for Revelation is largely dependant on a single — and markedly ambiguous — sentence in the writings of a church father named Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons. That sentence can be taken to mean either that John or that John’s apocalyptic vision was seen toward the end of Domitian’s reign. Moreover, the credibility of Irenaeus as a source is called into question by his contention in the same volume that Jesus was crucified when he was about fifty years of age. I don’t think there are too many evangelicals that hold to that proposition.

Furthermore, if the apostle John were indeed writing in AD 95, it seems incredible that he would make no mention whatsoever of the most apocalyptic event in Jewish history — the demolition of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple at the hands of Titus. This would be tantamount to writing a history of New York City today and making no mention of the destruction of the World Trade Center at the hands of terrorists on September 11, 2001. More directly, imagine writing a thesis on the future of terrorism in America and failing to mention the Manhattan Massacre.

Here’s another parallel. Imagine that you are reading a history concerning Jewish struggles in Nazi Germany and find no mention whatsoever of the Holocaust. Would it be historically ridiculous or historically reasonable to suppose this history had been written prior to the outbreak of World War II? The answer is self-evident. Just as it stretches credulity to suggest that a history on the Jews in Germany written in the aftermath of World War II would make no mention of the Holocaust, so too it is quite unlikely that Revelation could have been written twenty-five years after the destruction of Jerusalem and yet make no mention of the most apocalyptic event in Jewish history.

Finally, those who hold that the book of Revelation was written in AD 95 face an even more formidable obstacle! Consider one of the most amazing prophecies in all of Scripture. Jesus was leaving the Temple one day when his disciples called his attention to its buildings. As they gazed upon its massive stones and magnificent structures, Jesus uttered the unthinkable: “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down….This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Less than forty years later, this prophecy, no doubt still emblazoned upon the tablet of their collective consciousness, became a vivid and horrifying reality. Josephus describes the utter devastation as the altar was surrounded by “corpuses, blood flowing down the steps of the sanctuary.” He says “The temple was in flames, the victors stole everything they could get their hands on. They slaughtered all who were caught, no pity shown for age or rank, old or young, children, men, women, the laity, the priests, they’re all massacred.” And he also notes that the Temple was doomed August 30 AD 70, “the very day on which the former temple had been destroyed by the king of Babylon.”

As incredible as Christ’s prophecy and its fulfillment one generation later are, it is equally incredible to suppose that the apostle John would make no mention of it. And we’re going to tell you exactly why. Because as a student of history knows, as the student of the Bible is well aware of, when prophecy is fulfilled, the biblical writers mentioned it. And when the mother of all prophecies is fulfilled, it is inconceivable that John is not going to mention it.

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