Looking unto Jesus — chapter by chapter

The Dating of the Book of Revelation

Author David Courson

… Shortly after becoming Emperor of Rome, Domitian initiated Rome’s 2nd Christian persecution[1] that was to last until his death.[2] Arrested early on, John was first boiled in oil,[3] and then, in A.D. 82,[4] suffered the common[5] punishment of exile[6] – in his case to the mines[7] of Patmos. There, in A.D. 95, he wrote Revelation.[8] When Domitian was assassinated for his cruelty, Nerva succeeded him as Emperor, and made it his first edict[9] to grant a universal[10] recall of all those who had been exiled. Thus, in A.D. 96, John was released[11] and returned to Ephesus[12] where he lived until his death[13] in A.D. 100.[14]

Remarkably, the early Church Fathers are in unanimous agreement with this account.

It has been objected that Tertullian differs by associating John’s suffering with the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul. Since these latter two were both slain under Nero’s reign,[15] they conclude that John’s exile must have occurred then as well – not during Domitian’s. But Tertullian’s meaning is not that all three suffered under the same person, but rather at the same place – as he wrote: “Rome . . . where Peter endures a passion like his Lord’s! Where Paul wins his crown in a death like John’s. Where the Apostle John was first plunged, unhurt, into boiling oil, and thence remitted to his island-exile.”[16] Indeed, Tertullian does not contradict the other Fathers.

Finally, Clement of Alexandria wrote that after his return from Patmos following “the tyrant’s death,”[17] John undertook an arduous journey. It has been reasoned that since Nero was a tyrant and difficult treks are typically accomplished by the young, it follows that John must have been exiled, not by Domitian, but rather by Nero, as a younger man. However, Nero was not the only “tyrant” – in fact, Domitian himself called a “tyrant no less wicked”[18] than Nero. Furthermore, John was explicitly specified to be “old”[19] during his post-Patmos journey. Clement does not contradict the other Fathers… 

[1] Orosius, Seven Books of History 7.10.

[2] Eusebius, Church History 3.18.5.

[3] Tertullian, Against Heretics 36.

[4] Jerome, Lives 9.

[5] Dio Cassius, Roman History 67.14.1-2.

[6] Eusebius, Church History 3.17-18.1.

[7] Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John 10.11.

[8] Irenaeus,  Against Heresies 5.30.3.

[9] Orosius, Seven Books of History 7.11.

[10] Dio Cassius, Roman History 68.1.1-2.

[11] Eusebius, Church History 3.20.10-3.23.1

[12] Jerome, Lives 9.

[13] Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.22.5.; 3.3.4

[14] Jerome, Lives 9.

[15] Vol. 2 Appendix 15

[16] Tertullian, Against Heretics 36.

[17] Clement of Alexandria, Who is the Rich Man that Shall Be Saved? 42.

[18] Lactantius, Of the Manner in which the Persecutors Died 3.

[19] Clement of Alexandria, Who is the Rich Man that Shall Be Saved? 42.