- New Revelation Series
- Revelation Study Foreword
- Revelation Chapter One
- Revelation Chapter Two
- Revelation Chapter Three
- Revelation Chapter Four
- Revelation Chapter Five
- Revelation Chapter Six
- Revelation Chapter Seven
- Revelation Chapter Eight Part I
- Revelation Chapter Eight Part II
- Revelation Chapter Nine Part II
- Revelation Chapter Nine Part I
- Revelation Chapter Ten
- Revelation Chapter Eleven Part I
- Revelation Chapter Eleven Part II
- Revelation Chapter Eleven Part III
- Revelation Chapter Twelve Part I
- Revelation Chapter Twelve Part II
- Revelation Chapter Twelve Part III
- Revelation Chapter Thirteen Part I
- Revelation Chapter Thirteen Part II
- Revelation Chapter Thirteen Part III
- Revelation Chapter Fourteen Part I
- Revelation Chapter Fourteen Part II
- Revelation Chapter Fourteen Part III
- Revelation Chapter Fifteen
- Revelation Chapter Sixteen Part I
- Revelation Chapter Sixteen Part II
- Revelation Chapter Seventeen Part I
- Revelation Chapter Seventeen Part II
- Revelation Chapter Eighteen
- Revelation Chapter Nineteen Part I
- Revelation Chapter Nineteen Part II
- Revelation Chapter Nineteen Part III
“That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said, “See, this is new”? It has already been in ancient times before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come By those who will come after.” (King Solomon, Ecc 1:9-11, NKJV)
Concerning the above Scripture, and since the Bible teaches that everything that is happening today has already happened1, the scenes in Revelation have already played out in the history prior to the time of the writing of its recording by the Apostle John. Accordingly, they will be found in the Biblical Scriptures. Hence, the exegesis I am using in this study of Revelation is based on the fact that the Scriptures interpret the Scriptures or the Bible interprets the Bible. The vast majority events in Revelation have related passages elsewhere in the Scriptures. The aim of this commentary is to tie those related Scriptures and the events in Revelation together.
The Book of Revelation is the revelation2 of Jesus Christ beginning in the First Century AD and continuing in successive stages until the Return of Christ and the coming of the New Jerusalem in the future. To understand this Revelation, one must take the whole book into account. It cannot be understood in a piecemeal fashion. It is one book, one disclosure, one story, one whole revealing about the salvation of the just and destruction of the unjust. It carries this theme throughout history from the resurrection of Christ until the end of the age. Having stated that, we must also note that, even though the revealing is in successive stages, one cannot fully interpret the Revelation chronologically. That is because of a writing style known as recapitulation.
Recapitulation is the fact that, in the Scriptures, including in the Revelation, a concept is introduced in a particular passage and is given attention there. Yet in a later passage the concept is reexamined in more detail. One will find that process in several places in the Revelation. More about this will be explained later in this foreword.
There are two major schools of thought on the date of the composition of Revelation. Some opt for an early date, before the destruction of Jerusalem, usually around 64 AD during the reign of Nero, thus relating the major parts of the book of Revelation to the destruction of Jerusalem. The other school places the date of Revelation, after the fall of Jerusalem, usually around 95 AD during the reign of Domitian, relating the entire Revelation to the future from the writer’s (John’s) perspective.
The evidences used to defend either case begin with the first verse of Revelation and specifically the phrase, “to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass. . .” The emphasis is upon the word “shortly.” The phrase α δει γενεσθαι εν ταχε, ha dei genesthai en tachei, which is rendered in the KJV, “things which must shortly come to pass,” may be rendered with slightly different English intonations. We must, at this point, state that the word rendered ‘shortly,’ simply means what it says. It literally means in a short time. It means John was expecting it to begin within a short period and certainly within his lifetime. There is no disputing that. Nevertheless, there are several ways we might understand the entire phrase. Let us first look at Rev 1:19, where Christ tells John, “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.” Thus the Revelation of Christ is about the things that happened in John’s past, but also things that were happening while John was receiving this vision, and what will happen in the future.
Let us view some examples of how the phrase is translated by others. The People’s New Testament commentary by BW Johnson puts it this way, “Lange renders the Greek translated ‘shortly’ by the phrase ‘in quick succession,’ which is nearly its meaning. It implies successive order.” The Orthodox Jerusalem Bible3 puts it thus: “the things which are destined to take place, and speedily.” The Analytical-Literal Translation4 of the New Testament of the Holy Bible says, “what [things are] necessary to occur with quickness.” The Jonathan Mitchell New Testament5 states, “that which is necessary to come to be (to be birthed) in swiftness.” We can see from the various translations that there is not a complete consensus as to what the original writer meant to stipulate.
The verb, γενεσθαι, genesthai, from the lexical form γίνομαι, ginomai, which means to become, begin, or come into existence, is in the aorist tense—the aorist infinitive to be precise. This aorist is in the non-indicative mood thus it is aspectual, which means it signifies the relation of the action to the passage of time, especially in reference to completion, duration, or repetition.
This is what A.T. Robertson wrote about the phrase:
“Must shortly come to pass (dei genesthai en tachei). Second aorist middle infinitive of ginomai with dei. See this same adjunct (en tachei) in Luk 18:8; Rom 16:20; Rev 22:6. It is a relative term to be judged in the light of 2Pe 3:8 according to God’s clock, not ours. And yet undoubtedly the hopes of the early Christians looked for a speedy return of the Lord Jesus. This vivid panorama must be read in the light of that glorious hope and of the blazing fires of persecution from Rome.” (Word Pictures in The New Testament, Archibald Thomas Robertson, note on Revelation 1:1, Broadman Press, Nashville, 1930)
From the context of the entire Revelation, which is described in successive stages, the seven trumpets for example, and the fact that we start out with the immediate future Roman persecutions and end with the New Jerusalem coming down from Heaven, the aorist here would refer to duration. What John specified was that the things he described in the Revelation would begin in a short time, but would not necessarily be completed in a short span of time. If that is the case, then either the early date or the late date would suffice.
The only problem with this suggestion is that many of the early date school insist that the destruction of Jerusalem is the only thing in view here. Additionally, many in the late date school will not allow that the destruction of Jerusalem is in view here at all. Thus this discussion does not solve the dilemma. Further investigation is needed. Therefore, we must consider other evidences as well.
Let us discuss some of the external evidences. The first is a statement by Irenaeus the disciple of Polycarp. Polycarp was a disciple to John the Apostle, the writer of Revelation, establishing a very direct link between Irenaeus and the Apostle John. In “Against Heresies,” circa 180 AD, Irenaeus wrote, “We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.6” This is a fairly direct statement that John had his vision at the end of Domitian’s reign (81-96 AD). This places John’s vision in the 95 AD time frame, which is the late date.
The early date school argues that this is not proof at all. They ask who, or what, was “seen” almost in Irenaeus’ day? Is it “him” who saw the vision? Or was it the vision itself? This is an extremely weak argument that rearranges the thought and casts doubt on Irenaeus credibility. It is obvious that the most likely and probable antecedent to the word ‘that’ is the noun clause closest to it, which is the apocalyptic vision and not “him who beheld” it or the name of the Antichrist. The early school says Irenaeus was talking about John and not the vision. They state that John was seen towards the end of Domitian’s reign instead of the vision being seen by John at that time.
Clement of Alexandria from the Second Century, wrote that John returned from the isle of Patmos “after the tyrant was dead.” Eusebius Pamphillus, Bishop of Caeserea in AD 314, known as the “Father of Church History,” identifies the “tyrant” as Domitian: “At that time the apostle and evangelist John, the one whom Jesus loved, was still living in Asia, and governing the churches of that region, having returned after the death of Domitian from his exile on the island7.” Five paragraphs later, Eusebius quotes Josephus, who wrote in Antiquities of the Jews, “listen to a tale? which is not a tale but a narrative, handed down and committed to the custody of memory, about the Apostle John. For when, on the tyrant’s death, he returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos, he went away, being invited, to the contiguous territories of the nations, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, there to ordain such as were marked out by the Spirit.8”
The early date school, against the evidence, says that this must have been Nero, not Domitian. Their support for this position is an unrelated statement made by Apollonius of Tyana that Nero was a tyrant. Indeed he was, but so was Domitian. They use other sources discussing tyrannical characteristics that could apply to any tyrant. Nero was not the only tyrant from Rome. This is another weak argument from the early date school.
In Victorinus’ Commentary on Revelation, written in the third century, he stated: “When John said these things, he was in the island of Patmos, condemned to the mines by Caesar Domitian. There he saw the Apocalypse; and when at length grown old, he thought that he should receive his release by suffering; but Domitian being killed, he was liberated.9“
Jerome, who lived from 340-420 AD, wrote in Lives of Illustrious Men, “John, the apostle whom Jesus most loved, the son of Zebedee and brother of James . . . In the fourteenth then after Nero, Domitian having raised up a second persecution, he was banished to the island of Patmos, and wrote the Apocalypse.10” The entirety of Chapter 9 is a treatise on John, the apostle whom Jesus most loved, the son of Zebedee and brother of James
Eusebius, who lived in the early Fourth Century also agreed, based on the materials to which he had access at the Library in Caesarea Maritima, placed the writing of Revelation at Patmos during Domitian’s reign. Eusebius and the writers mentioned above attributed the persecution of Christians to Domitian. Other historical data show that Domitian deified himself and his father Vespasian, that he persecuted Jews, and that he was an offensive, impolite, insolent, arrogant and cruel tyrant. He officially took the title, ‘Dominus et Deus,’ meaning ‘master and god.’
Eusebius had access the library at Caesarea Maritima, which was “the most extensive ecclesiastical library of the time,” according to Wikipedia and several other sources. It contained more than 30,000 volumes, according to St. Isidore of Seville in his Etymologiae VI.6.1, AD 448. This number is echoed in The Biblical City of Caesarea Maritima, © 2004, David Padfield. It “was second in size only to the renowned Library of Alexandria.11” Unfortunately the library was destroyed during the Muslim conquest of the Levant in the mid Seventh Century.
Let us consider one item of evidence for the late date from the negative, which admittedly is a weak argument, however, given the historical evidence above, the argument is strengthened. There is no record that Nero ever banished Christians to Patmos; instead, he had them killed for sport. Nero banished his wife Octavia to the island of Pandateria (modern Ventotene), but there is no evidence that he banished any Christian anywhere.
The early date school claims that the fact that the angel told John to measure the temple in Rev 11:1 indicates that there had to be a temple in Jerusalem at the time. Thus, they say the Revelation had to have taken place before the temple was destroyed. That is an extremely weak argument for when John measured the temple in Revelation he was “in the Spirit,” just as Ezekiel was when he measured the temple.
Rev 1:10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
Rev 4:2 And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
Eze 8:3 And he put forth the form of an hand, and took me by a lock of mine head; and the spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner gate that looketh toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy.
There was no temple when Ezekiel wrote of this vision for Judah was in captivity when the vision was given him and the temple had been destroyed several years earlier. Additionally, we are specifically told that the temple John measured was in heaven. The angel commanded to measure the temple in 11:1, and in that vision we are told that the temple was in heaven:
Rev 11:19 And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.
Rev 15:5 And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened:
In my research, I studied many more arguments than these on both sides of this issue. Based on those and on the material written here, I must accept the late date assumption for the vision and writing of St. John’s Apocalypse. I must add, however, that I accept the possibility that the early date is correct. Yet, I will only accept that possibility if we understand the first verse of Revelation to state that the things John described would begin in a short time, but would not necessarily be completed in a short span of time. Thus John may have described the destruction of Jerusalem, but that was only the beginning of the revelation given him and that those visions continue even until today and into the future. That is the only way I will admit the possibility that the early date school is correct. However, in the Book of Revelation, it is difficult for me to discern the destruction of Jerusalem.
I cannot accept the Preterist idea that Jesus returned in 70 AD because coming in clouds is a symbol of God coming in judgment. Yes, God did judge Jerusalem in from 66 AD to 73 AD. For 3½ years from 66 to 70, Jerusalem was under siege and fell in 70. The destruction of the Jewish nation was completed 3½ years after that at Masada in 73. But that was not the return of Christ to gather His elect. He left earth by rising into the clouds. He will return the same way—in the clouds— and it will be seen by all.
Therefore, this commentary will proceed on the assumption that the Revelation was written circa 95 AD by the Apostle John after receiving the vision on the Island of Patmos, where Domitian had exiled him.
Let me plainly state here, after all the detailed explanation above, simply that the events described in the Book of Revelation were to begin in a short time after the writing of the Revelation, that is, with John’s immediate future, and would then extend through time until the eternal state begins. At the time of the writing of this Commentary, the eternal state is still future.
One last observation; John wrote the Apocalypse in a mode some refer to as the “recapitulation process.” According to pastor, renowned theologian, and accomplished Christian author, Carl Gallups, “that means to move forward and then to ease back and to focus in on something.” This process was first described in the fourth century by Victorinus of Pettau, in his book, Commentary on the Apocalypse. That is certainly my observation and that will be noted in those places in the Revelation when that process occurs. An example of that can be seen in Genesis. In Genesis 1:26 the Scripture says, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion [over all living things].” In the next verse the Scripture states specifically that God created mankind in the image of God. In verse 30, God saw that His creation was good. Then the recapitulation of the story of the creation of man begins in Genesis 2:15, where the Scripture goes back to the creation of man and goes into much greater detail. The Scripture eases back from the completion of the creation to focus in more closely on the creation of mankind. Such recapitulation is seen in several places in the Revelation.
Recapitulation is a good reason not to try to understand the book of Revelation chronologically. That will lead to many errors in its interpretation. In fact, many errors have occurred in the interpretation of the Revelation because of the misunderstanding of the recapitulation process.
Very many people refer to the Book of Revelation as the Book of “Revelations.” That is incorrect. The title is written in the first verse and is the actual first five words. The Real title of the book is The Revelation Of Jesus Christ. It is one revelation not many. It is the one revealing of events from Jesus Christ to John and subsequently to the church. Revelations is incorrect, Revelation is correct.
- The technology is, of course, different. We do not find space vehicles, airplanes, combustion powered engines, electrical gadgets, etc., in the Scriptures. Yet that does not mean that all things have not already occurred. Societal mores are always recurring. ↩
- Revelation, n., the act of revealing or disclosure of something not previously known or realized. ↩
- OJB Copyright © 1999-2002 by AFI International ↩
- Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament of the Holy Bible. Copyright (c) 1999-2001 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org) ↩
- © 2010-2018 Jonathan Mitchell New Testament – All Rights Reserved ↩
- Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine, c. 340, 3:18:3 ↩
- Ibid, 3:18:2 ↩
- Ibid, 3:23:6 ↩
- Victorinus Poetovionensis: Commentarius In Apocalypsin, c. 260, 10:3 ↩
- De Viris Illustribus, Jerome, c. 302, Chapter 9 ↩
- See http://www.bibarch.com/archaeologicalsites/Caesarea-Maritima.htm ↩