First, the only evidence for the 96 AD date of writing of Revelation is from a statement from Irenaeus in about 180 AD. The statement supposedly says that John saw the revelation vision in the latter part of the reign of the emperor Domitian (about 96 AD). It is unclear from the Greek words if he was saying that John saw the vision at that time or if John was seen at that time, so the statement in untrustworthy right off the bat. Plus he is relying on a childhood memory of what Policarp, a disciple of John, told him, so how reliable can that be? Plus, he had a “chiliasm” view of Revelation, believing that Jesus would come to reign on earth for a thousand years, which I do not believe is correct, as you will see later in this article. Point is, his false interpretation of the book could have influenced him against accepting an early before 70 AD date of writing. Plus, Robert Young (the Young’s Analytical Concordance Robert Young) said that part of Nero’s name was Domitius and that Irenaeus could have actually been referring to Nero and not Domitian. We can’t answer all these doubts, but dating the book from a dubious statement he made is not very convincing if there is plenty of internal evidence that contradicts that date, and there is. Many of the church fathers after him took the 96 AD date based on his statement without any other supporting evidence. They were simply relying on what Irenaeus said. Also the late date proponents talk a lot about the persecution of Christians under Domitian, but there is scant evidence, if any, of such persecution. But, as I will show later, the persecution of Christians is not the main theme of the book, although it is included.
So what evidence do we have for the date of writing before 70 AD? Plenty. We can’t rely on what church fathers thought about the date (we have shown that we don’t trust Irenaeus) but there were early church fathers who dated the book before 70 AD in the reign of Nero. Among them were Epiphanes (315-403 AD), Andreas of Capadocia (500 AD), Arethas (540 AD), and others. Kenneth Gentry lists 145 scholars who advocate an early dating of Revelation, including the great church historian Philip Schaff, and others such as F.F.Bruce, Alfred Edersheim, and Milton Terry (late 1800’s). James Stewart Russell in The Parousia (late 1800’s) takes the early date (read this book online if you haven’t; it is a great book, the primer for preterism).
One of the most interesting evidences is the Muratorian Canon of 170 AD. In chapter 3 of the Muratorian fragment, it says, ” Paul, following the rule of his predecessor John, writes to no more than seven churches by name, in this order:” and then names the 7 churches Paul wrote to. That is, John wrote to the 7 churches in Asia (Revelation 2 and 3), and Paul, whether intentionally or not, wrote to 7 churches (and the fragment names them) just like John did. Revelation would have to have been written before Paul finished writing to his 7 churches for this to be true (and Paul died in 68 AD so Revelation had to be written before 68 AD), which is what the Muratorian fragment is saying. This gives us an external dating of the book before 70 AD that offsets the 180 AD statement of Irenaeus.
Read this article: Research insights into the Date of Revelation By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir for some of these points. One amazing evidence to me is the translation of the NT canon into the Syriac languages. Most of these early translations were written in the late first century or the 2nd century. The “Syriac version” of the New Testament, which dates back to the slate first century AD or second century A.D., states that Revelation was written during the reign of Nero making a date of 64-68 A.D. the date of writing. Also, the “Aramaic Peshitta” version has a remark that places its date prior to 70 A.D. In that translation the title page of Revelation states this work of John was written right after the reign of Nero.
A quote, attributed to Papius (130 AD), states that John the Apostle was martyred before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This quote is very important. He says that the brothers James and John both suffered martyrdom, just like Jesus predicted in Mark 10 39 And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.” The “baptism” was a baptism of death by martyrdom. We know James was beheaded by Herod in 62 AD (Acts 12) but we trust Jesus that John was also martyred at some time. Papias affirms this no later than 130 AD. We don’t know what he knew about the death of John, but he says that John died a martyr at the hands of the Jews. We can easily see that happening before 70 AD, but it would be hard to see that happening around 100 AD if John indeed lived that long. The Catholic tradition is that John lived till about 100 AD in Ephesus and died a peaceful death! That totally contradicts what Jesus said. I would prefer to believe what Papias said! Thus, John died before 70 AD and obviously wrote Revelation before 70 AD. That also tells us why John did not write any inspired books after 70 AD. I have always wondered why, if he lived till 100 AD, that he did not write a follow up letter talking about how Jesus’ predictions were fulfilled in 70 AD and how the temple was destroyed, but of course this explains why. He was dead by 70 AD. BTW Jesus did say: John 21 22 Jesus *said to him (Peter), “If I want him (John) to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” 23 Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple (John) would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?” If Jesus’ 2nd coming was in 70 AD, then that makes sense that John lived right up to that 2nd coming in 70 AD but died a martyr at the hands of the Jews around that time before they lost all their power. BTW, if John wrote Revelation in 96 AD, why did he not mention the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem that would have happened 26 years earlier? Surely, he would have talked about that momentous event! Actually the whole book is about that event, but in the book he is predicting the event to be in the near future, not past. Also, in Revelation it claims that Jesus is coming “quickly. If the book was written in 96 AD, how did Jesus come quickly after that date. If the book was written before 70 AD, then He did come quickly after that date, i.e. in 70 AD. Of course, some say “quickly” just means suddenly, but read the context. He says the things in the book will happen shortly, and follows that up with “Jesus is coming quickly”. Also, he tells some of the churches to repent or else “Jesus is coming quickly” to punish them. What relevance would that have to them if it did not mean that He was coming shortly in their time frame. Those who take the early date who are not preterists would still have trouble dealing with this “coming quickly” statement, but it fits the preterist view perfectly.
Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD) makes an interesting comment: “the Apostle John. For when, on the tyrant’s death, he returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos. The problem is determining who he was referring to as the “tyrant”. Many of the early historians and church fathers referred to Nero as the tyrant. Clement also said “for the teaching of our Lord at His advent, beginning with Augustus and Tiberius, was completed in the middle of the times of Tiberius. And that of the apostles, embracing the ministry of Paul, end with Nero.” This seems to indicate that Nero believed that the inspired writings of the apostles ended by the end of Nero’s reign which ended in 68 AD. I agree that all 27 of the NT books were written before 70 AD.
Another interesting thing I read. in the article by Krejcir: “Nero Caesar exiled John on the island of Patmos. Nero died in 68 AD, and according to Roman law, those banned by a prior Caesar would be released by the succeeding Caesar. Thus, John would have been released from Patmos around 68 AD. ” (John himself mentions he was at Patmos when he received the Revelation). I haven’t seen this law verified but it sure fits John being released from Patmos and the Jews killing him (as Jesus predicted) within the next 2 years after he was released.
But the most impressive evidence for the early date is the internal evidence. 1) Rev 17 10 and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. The woman harlot, drunk with the blood of the apostles, prophets, and saints, is riding on the beast (Rome). The beast has 7 kings: 5 had fallen or died at the time of writing, and “one is” (that would be the emperor reigning at the time of writing). There is debate over who was considered the first king or emperor. Josephus several times in Antiquities clearly calls Augustus the 2nd emperor, which means he considered Julius Caesar the first emperor. Other much later historians said Augustus was the first emperor, but I will trust what Josephus said because he lived in the first century and he would know who everyone, including John, considered to be the first emperor, which was Julius. With Julius as the first, Claudius would be the fifth and last of the dead emperors who had “fallen”, and Nero would be the “one is”, the 6th emperor or king, i.e. the emperor reigning at the time of writing. Nero died in 68 AD, so that dates the book before 68 AD. The one would would reign for a “little while” would be the 7th emperor Galba who only reigned a few months. As a matter of fact, Galba, Otho, and Vitelleus all 3 only reigned a few months each in 69 AD before Vespasian, the 10th emperor started reigning in 69 AD and reigned till 79 AD. The beast in Rev 17 had 10 horns, and that would be the first 10 emperors of Rome, i.e. Julius through Vespasian. That also corresponds with the 10 horns of the iron beast in Daniel 7, which was Rome. Then there was a little horn after those 10, which would be Titus who was sent by Vespasian his father to siege and destroy Jerusalem and the temple, which he did in 70 AD. He was called a “little horn” because he would be an emperor later (79-81 AD) but was not an emperor when he destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD.
2) The identity of the “great city” and the harlot woman with the name Babylon on her forehead is important. Rev 17 18 The woman whom you saw is the great city. I.e., the woman riding on the beast Rome. She is also called a harlot. Also Rev 17 5 and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” 6 And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the [d]saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. So the woman is the great city who is Babylon. Rev 118 And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which [f]mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. That tells us that the great city, Babylon, was Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. Thus the great city is not Rome, although one could see why many would think that with Rome being the capital of the empire. In Rev 17, the woman harlot first comes out riding on the beast, but by the end of the chapter, the beast (Rome) turns on the harlot (Jerusalem) and burns her with fire. That is exactly what Rome did in 70 AD. Up until the 60’s AD, Rome did not persecute the church. The main persecution of the early Jewish church was from non-believing Jews. But when the Jews rebelled against Rome in about 66 AD, that began the wars of the Jews as recorded by Josephus. So, the woman = the harlot = the great city = Babylon = Jerusalem (where the Lord was crucified). The great city Babylon (Jerusalem) is destroyed (70 AD) and there is a great celebration over her fall in ch 18.
3) The theme of the book of Revelation is the “avenging of the blood of the apostles, prophets, and saints”. Rev 18 20 Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you [w]saints and apostles and prophets, because God has [x]pronounced judgment for you against her.” Some say the theme is victory of the Christians over persecution, but usually that it because they think it was written in 96 AD during some Domitian persecution of the church. But since it was written before 70 AD, that changes everything on the theme. And then we read about the great city harlot Babylon woman Jerusalem being destroyed in the book, and we read Rev 18:20 and the theme becomes very clear. This theme in Rev 18:20 is the same thing Jesus said in Matthew 23 35 so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the [ab]temple and the altar. 36 Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.35 so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the [ab]temple and the altar. 36 Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. The following chapter in Matthew is the famous Olivet Discourse in ch 24 about the destruction of Jerusalem that would happen within the generation of those he was speaking to. Matthew 24 34 Truly I say to you, this [x]generation will not pass away until all these things take place. The Jews had persecuted and killed the prophets during their entire history as a nation, for the most part. They would then kill the apostles, as in Acts 12 when Herod beheaded James. They killed the saints, as Paul did before he became a Christian. When Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, Josephus says that a million Jews died in the city, and another 200,000 were enslaved. Truly, God used the Romans to avenge the blood of the prophets, apostles, and saints that they had shed. The harlot woman of Rev 17 who was drunk with that blood would be burned, destroyed. That is the real theme of the book.
I am firmly convinced that the internal evidence gives an early date of writing and far outweighs the statement by Irenaeus. When we correctly understand the theme of the book and date, the book becomes a neat conclusion to the entire Bible. Jesus said in Luke 21 20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then [l]recognize that her desolation is near. 21 Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of [m]the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter [n]the city; 22 because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. There are no prophetic predictions in the OT or the NT that were to be fulfilled after 70 AD. Revelation 10 7 but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then the mystery of God is finished, as He [b]preached to His servants the prophets. The mystery is the unknown plan of God as to how He is going to saved sinners. That mystery would be revealed to the inspired apostles. Ephesians 3 4 [a]By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight [b]into the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets [c]in the Spirit; 6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Colossians 1 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His [ak]saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. One of the greatest passages is found in Romans 16 25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen. Rev 10:7 says that this mystery was finished in 70 AD when the last predicted events of Revelation were fulfilled.