Revelation is an important book in the New Testament, being largely given over to prophetic issues. Some believe that the vast array of judgments in Revelation contradict postmillennialism’s optimistic outlook on the future. In my current series of posts I am showing that Revelation does not contradict postmillennialism, because Revelation is actually dealing with prophecies concerning the soon-coming destruction of the Jewish temple in AD 70. Therefore, one major question that arises in interpreting Revelation is: When was it written? I believe it was written prior to AD 70 and was looking to the events of AD 70 coming in John’s near future.
The early date for the Book of Revelation may be amply demonstrated from within Revelation itself. In previous posts I have highlighted the temple’s presence and the role of the seven kings in Revelation to show that it must have been written prior to AD 70. In this post I will focus on the relationship of the Jew to Christianity in Revelation. And although there are several aspects of this evidence, I will just briefly introduce it. We may illustratively refer to two important passages and their implications:
First, when John writes Revelation, by all appearances Christianity is in its early, formative, “Jewish” stage. Initially Christians tended to mingle with the Jews (since most of them were Jewish), considering themselves members of the true Israel, the “continuing Israel,” as it were. The Jews trusted in and boasted of descendence from Abraham1; circumcision was the distinguishing covenantal mark of the Jews.2 Yet early Christianity applied to itself terms historically associated with Israel and her privileges. Paul wrote that Christians are “the seed of Abraham,”3 “the circumcision,”4 the “temple of God.” In fact, he rebukes the racial Jew not committed to Jesus Christ: “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh” (Rom. 2:28). Peter follows Paul’s practice; he designates Christians as “stones” being built into a “spiritual house” (1 Pet. 2:5) and applies Old Testament designations of Israel to the Church. Christians are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9-10; Exo. 19:5-6; Deut. 7:6; 14:2; 26:18). Both Peter and Paul call Christians “a people for God’s possession” (Eph. 1:14; Titus 2:14; 1Pet. 2:10), a familiar Old Testament designation for Israel.5
After the destruction of the temple (A.D. 70), however, the tendency for Christians to inter-mingle with the Jews ceased. In fact, this tendency was beginning to break down altogether by the time of the writing of Hebrews in the mid-60s. There we hear warnings of Christian judgments upon the Jews who apostatize back into Judaism (Heb. 2:1-6; 6:1-4; 10: 26-36). Shortly after the Jewish War Gamaliel II in A.D. 80 inserted in the Jewish daily prayer (Shemone Esre) a curse on the Christians: “Let the Nazarene [sc. Christian] and the Menim perish utterly.”6 Interestingly, the Christian writer Barnabas in the A.D. 80s makes a radical “us/them” division between Israel and the Church (Barnabas 13:1).
Now what does this have to do with Revelation? In Revelation 2:9 John is still applying Jewish terms to Christians: There we read of Jesus’ word to the churches of the day: “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” In the early Christian’s minds, the non-Christian Jews merely called themselves “Jews”; they were not true Jews. This suggests a date prior to the final separation of Israel and Christianity. This separation was beginning in its earliest stages with the Neronic persecution (when Rome began to recognize a distinction between Judaism and Christianity); it was finalized with the temple’s destruction (when the Christians turned their backs on the temple).
Second, at the time John writes, Jewish/Christian relations are at the beginning of a fundamental change. Revelation 3:9 reads: “Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews, and are not, but lie — behold, I will make them to come and bow down at your feet, and to know that I have loved you.”
John here points to the approaching humiliation of the Jews, noting that God will — in the near future, cp. 1 Thess. 2:14-16; Heb. 8:13 — vindicate his Church against them. In effect, he would make the Jews to lie down at the Christian’s feet. This refers to nothing other than the destruction of Israel and the temple, which Christ prophesied earlier (Matt. 23:35 — 24:2). After that horrible event, Christians began using the temple’s destruction as an apologetic for and vindication of Christianity. Justin Martyr’s First Apology 32 is an excellent illustration:
And the prophecy, “He shall be the expectation of the nations,” signified that there would be some of all nations who should look for Him to come again. And this indeed you can see for yourselves, and be convinced of by fact. For of all races of men there are some who look for Him who was crucified in Judea, and after whose crucifixion the land was straightway surrendered to you as spoil of war. And the prophecy, “binding His foal to the vine, and washing His robe in the blood of the grape,” was a significant symbol of the things that were to happen to Christ, and of what He was to do. For the foal of an ass stood bound to a vine at the entrance of a village, and He ordered His acquaintances to bring it to Him then; and when it was brought, He mounted and sat upon it, and entered Jerusalem, where was the vast temple of the Jews which was afterwards destroyed by you.7
Although there are other arguments regarding the Jewish character of Revelation (its Hebraic grammar, Jewish symbols, numerous Old Testament allusions, reference to the twelve tribes, allusions to the priesthood, and so forth), the point is clear enough: When John writes Revelation, Christianity is not yet wholly separated from Israel. After A.D. 70 the separation is full and permanent. This is strong socio-cultural evidence for a pre-A.D. 70 composition.
1. We read often of “the God of Abraham” (Gen. 28:13; 31:42, 53; Exo. 3:6, 15-16; 4:5; 1 Kgs. 18:36; 1 Chr. 29:18; 2 Chr. 30:6; Psa. 47:9; Matt. 22:32; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:37; Acts 3:13; 7:32). The Jews expected blessings in terms of their Abrahamic descent (Matt. 3:9; 8:11; Luke 3:8; Luke 13:16, 28; Luke 16:23-30; 19:9; John 8:39, 53; Rom. 11:1; 2 Cor. 11:22).
2. Circumcision is the special sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and Israel (Gen. 17:10, 13). Circumcision is mentioned 86 times in the Scriptures; the uncircumcised are mentioned 61 times.
3. Rom. 4:13-17; Gal. 3:6-9, 29.
4. Rom. 2:28-29; Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11.
5. Exo. 19:5; 34:9; Deut. 4:20; 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Psa. 135:4.
6. See: Torrey, Apocalypse, 82; H. Daniel-Rops, The Church of Apostles and Martyrs, trans. by Audrey Butler (London: Dent, 1963), 48.
7. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, The Ante Nicene Father (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, rep. 1950), 1:173.