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Sixth Edition, 1915
By Dr. John Thomas (first edition written 1861)



Chapter 1

Section 1 : 4

When The Apocalypse was written.


Concerning the time when the Apocalypse was written there have been various opinions among the learned. Irenaeus, who flourished ecclesiastically A.D. 169, that is, about seventy years after the death of the apostle John, is said to have introduced an opinion that the Apocalypse was written in the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian, brother to Titus who destroyed Jerusalem, and who occupied the throne of the Caesars from A.D. 80 to A.D. 96, when he was assassinated. John being the only apostle living at the time Irenaeus supposes it to have been written, of course makes the Apocalypse the last of the sacred writings. Sir Isaac Newton does not fall in with Irenaeus' opinion. He says that he might perhaps have heard from Polycarp, who, in ecclesiastical style is called "his master," that he had received the Apocalypse from John, with whom it is said he was personally acquainted, about the time of Domitian's death: or that "John might himself at that time have made a new publication of it, from whence Irenaeus might imagine it was then newly written." But as John had no copyright in the Apocalypse, this supposition is not to be entertained. When he received it, he sent it to the Seven Ecclesias of Asia Minor, which would multiply copies to the fullest extent without any further cooperation of the apostle in the publication. Eusebius in his Chronicle and Ecclesiastical History adopts the opinion of Irenaeus.

This may strengthen it. Not that


Eusebius is any personal authority in the matter, having lived remoter from John's day than Irenaeus, (he "flourished" in the latter part of the third, and beginning of the fourth centuries,) but, being a historian of his own and preceding times, he would, it is presumable, adopt the opinion most generally received among the Christians of his own day. But he is thought to have invalidated the truth of it by conjoining the banishment of John into Patmos with the deaths of Peter and Paul, in his Evangelical Demonstrations. Paul is said to have been beheaded at Rome A.D. 65; others say A.D. 67. From his own writings, we may conclude that he was alive on the eve of the destruction of Jerusalem; but there is no indisputable evidence in them that he was really contemporary with that calamity and succeeding times. Speaking of the approaching abolition of the Mosaic constitution of things; the casting down of the host of heaven, of the stars, and of the truth to the ground; and the suppression of the daily sacrifice by the Little Horn of the Goat; he says in Heb. 8:13, that having been made out of date, or antiquated, by the confirmation of the New Covenant promised in Jeremiah, it was nigh of vanishing away. He was therefore living nigh the time of the great destruction, when he wrote the letter to the Hebrews. But from 1 Thess. 2:16, we may conclude that he lived so nigh to it as to witness its beginning, and perhaps its end. In writing to the faithful in Thessalonica, he says concerning the Jews, "who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and chased us out and please not God, and are hostile to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, to the filling up of their sins continually": he says of them, "But the wrath came (aoristically) upon them to the end." If this be accepted as the true rendering, it would indicate that the Jewish State had been destroyed; and that Paul was living after the destruction, contrary to the traditions of ecclesiastical writers. But if the aorist is taken indefinitely, it may be read "comes upon." The Jews had chased the surviving apostles out of judea, by which they escaped the terrible calamities that were about to fall upon Jerusalem, where they generally resided (Acts 8:1). John and Paul were no more to be found in Judea; and Peter writes from Babylon (1 Pet. 5:13) but died before the siege. How long Paul may have lived after THE END, there is no reliable testimony to determine. Eusebius says that John was sent to Patmos at the time of Peter and Paul's death. It may have been so; and John may have been an exile in Patmos for many years after being sent thither. There is no evidence to show how long he was an exile; or in what year of his sojourn in Patmos the Apocalypse was "indicated by sign" to him, Tradition


says he was there in the reign of Domitian; and his own testimony, that while there, he saw and heard in vision what is related.

Tertullian, who is contemporary with Irenaeus, and Pseudo-Prochorus, say that John was banished by Nero to Patmos. Arethas, in the beginning of his commentary, quotes the opinion of Irenaeus from Eusebius, but does not follow it; but afterwards affirms that the Apocalypse was written before the destruction of Jerusalem; and that former commentators had expounded the Sixth Seal of that destruction! Upon this we may remark, that he who would make such an exposition can have no opinion worthy of any regard.

The tradition of the Syrian Christians preserved in the title of the Syriac Version, is thought to agree with the opinion that the Apocalypse was written before the destruction of Jerusalem. The title is this, "The revelation which was made to John the Evangelist by God in the island Patmos, into which he was banished by Nero the Caesar." Nero reigned before the fall of the city. He succeeded to Claudius in A.D. 54, or AC 57, which are equivalent; and continued to A.D. 68, or A.C. 71, a reign of 14 years. The temple was demolished A.D. 71, or A.C. 74. The Syriac title only testifies to the banishment of John; the Apocalypse may not have been written for several years after.

It may be objected in relation to the text in Thessalonians, that a different rendering may be put upon it without constraint, which would leave it undetermined whether Paul lived after the destruction or not. The words may be translated, "The wrath has come upon them for an end"; or came upon them to, or unto, an end. The verb ephthase is the first aorist, and may be rendered by the past or by the indefinite present, which partakes both of the now and the hereafter. "The wrath cometh upon them to an end," predicted by the prophets, Jesus in Matt. 24:14, and the apostles. But as they were "hostile to all men," it is likely that the wrath was outpouring, and that the Jews and Romans were in actual war; and that "the ending" so often proclaimed in their discourses, was witnessed by some of the apostles.

There is a little presumptive evidence in the Apocalypse itself that it was written after the death of perhaps all the apostles except John. The apostles, who were also prophets and saints, are invited to rejoice over the subversion of Rome and its institutions and dominion, in the judgment; because in her their blood was found. That is, Rome had put to death apostles and prophets, as well as Jerusalem, which was destroyed for the same offence. There would have been something incongruous in the view of John's contemporaries who received the Apocalypse, to have read in 18:20, 24, a charge of murdering apostles, if all the apostles slain had been put to death by the Jewish Power, which the Romans were employed to destroy.


But some commentators are tenacious of the opinion that the Apocalypse was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, because, as it would seem, they desire to dispose of its difficulties more summarily than can be effected upon a contrary supposition. If it were not written till after Jerusalem was destroyed, what is to be done with the sealing of the thousands of Israel, in the seventh chapter; with the predicted treading of the Holy City under foot of the Gentiles, of the eleventh chapter; with that temple and altar mentioned in the first verse of the same? It is found most convenient to cast all these things into the fiery furnace of that destruction, and so to consume them out of the way. But it really matters not whether it be assumed to be written before, or after that event. The interpretation is in no way affected. The destruction of Jerusalem with its times and circumstances cannot be accommodated so as to interpret what is written in the Apocalypse about a "holy city," a "temple" and "altar," a "court," a "Jerusalem," and so forth. These are symbols, and represent something else than what the words stand for in common, or historical discourse.

The result of Sir Isaac Newton's investigation in relation to the time when the Apocalypse was written may not be unacceptable to the reader; we shall quote it, therefore, from his Observations. "Seeing that Peter and John," says he, "were apostles of the circumcision, it seems to me that they stayed with their churches in Judea and Syria till the Romans made war upon their nation, that is, till the twelfth year of Nero; that they then followed the main body of their flying churches into Asia, and that Peter went thence by Corinth to Rome; that the Roman empire looked upon those churches as enemies, because Jews by birth; and therefore, to prevent insurrections, secured their leaders, and banished John into Patmos. It also seems probable to me that the Apocalypse was there composed, and that soon after the Epistle to the Hebrews, and those of Peter, were written to these churches, with reference to this prophecy as what they were particularly concerned in. For it appears by these epistles that they were written in times of general affliction and tribulation under the heathens, and by consequence when the Empire made war upon the Jews; for till then the heathens were at peace with the Christian Jews, as well as with the rest. The Epistle to the Hebrews, since it mentions Timothy as related to those Hebrews, must have been written to them after their flight into Asia, where Timothy was a bishop; and by consequence after the war began, the Hebrews in Judea being strangers to Timothy. Peter seems also to call Rome, Babylon, as well with respect to the war made upon Judea, and the approaching captivity, like that under old Babylon, as with respect to that name in the Apocalypse: and in writing to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus,


Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, he seems to intimate that they were strangers newly scattered by the Roman wars; for those were the only strangers there belonging to his care."

He thinks that this account of things agrees best with history duly rectified. We do not think, however, that a rectification is possible. The Ecclesiastical Writers of the period succeeding the times of the New Testament, are not reliable. They all belonged to that class of men who set up for successors of the apostles with clerical authority; and where facts were wanting, did not hesitate to substitute conjecture. For our own part, we rely upon nothing ecclesiastical outside the Old and New Testaments. What they testify we believe; but whereon they are silent, we have no faith. Peter may refer to Rome in using Babylon; but there is no evidence that he certainly does. If by Babylon he do indeed mean Rome, it favours the supposition that the Apocalypse was written before his decease; because this is the only Scripture extant in which Rome is certainly comprehended in the name.

Chrysostom's testimony somewhat confirms my view of the passage in Thessalonians. He says "that the apostles continued long in Judea, and that then, being driven out by the Jews, they went to the Gentiles. This dispersion was in the first year of the Jewish war, when the Jews, as Josephus tells us, began to be tumultuous and violent in all places. For all agree that the apostles were dispersed into several regions at once; and Origen has set down the time, telling us that in the beginning of the Judaic war the apostles and disciples were scattered into all nations."

In conclusion, then, upon this point, I remark that, though the strongest evidence is for A.D. 96, yet it cannot be said with certainty in what year the Apocalypse was written. Irenaeus says it was written towards the end of Domitian's reign. It testifies for itself that it was written at some time during John's sojourn in Patmos; but owing to the unreliable character of the testimony of the post-apostolical writers as it has come down to us through the polluted and corrupting channels of Greek and Latin Orthodoxies, we cannot say when John's banishment occurred, how many years it continued, whether it began at the death of Peter and Paul, or before it, or during the Judaic war, or after the destruction of Jerusalem, or shortly before the assassination of Domitian. It may have been at any of these times, and it may not. It would, indeed, satisfy curiosity to know, but that is all. The knowledge of these particular times does not at all affect the interpretation. This is independent of the Anno Domini of John's exile. It was communicated to him after his removal from judea from some cause; and subsequently to his going to Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, where also he sojourned in tribulation and endurance. This


is all he considered necessary for the reader to know, and therefore with this scanty information we shall endeavor to be satisfied.




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