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The Testimony of the Book of Revelation

As pointed out in Back to the Future, Revelation clearly identifies the earthly instrument in writing Revelation, saying that Christ “sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John” (1:1). We say “earthly instrument” because “we must remember that the real Author of the book is not the apostle John but God Omniscient Himself.”

But, what the Book of Revelation does not tell us is-which John? There were several in the New Testament world, and because there were several in the early church it would be incumbent upon the earthly author to tell us which one he is, that is, if he were any other than the apostle John. However, “…to say John was
sufficient. Any other John would need a descriptive epithet, but there was one John who needed none.” Which John would that be? “The external evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of this view, and Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and Origen testify direct testimony that the Apocalypse is the writing of the apostle John.”
Author and Date Pt 1

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2) In his Gospel, he probably hand delivered his story to the Christian community in which he lived. Again, eliminating any question as to the authorship. 3) But for the Book of Revelation, he was not “home,” and he was writing to seven churches, only one of which knew him well-Ephesus. He simply needed to tell them who was sending the letter. He did not, could not, hand-deliver this letter as he was on the Isle of Patmos at the time. Considering also the unique nature of his letter, it is quite possible that he would feel a need to inform his audience with certainty just who the writer of the Book of Revelation was. Considering these points, John the Apostle is the only serious contender for authorship of the Book of Revelation.

As for the date, the author Milton Terry succinctly describes the importance of grappling with the exact time when the Book of Revelation was written saying, “The great importance of ascertaining the historical standpoint of an author is notably illustrated by the controversy over the date of the Apocalypse of John. If that prophetical book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, a number of its particular allusions must most naturally be understood as referring to that city and its fall. If, however, it was written at the end of the reign of Domitian (about A.D. 96), as many have believed, another system of interpretation is necessary to explain the historical allusions.”

The Testimony of the Early Church

In considering the external evidence on the date of the book, we must take note that many scholars believe that John wrote in the later part of the first century during the reign of Domitian, about A.D. 95-96, well after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Although several of the Fathers make this assertion, all base their position on the comments of one person, Irenaeus bishop of Lyons in France. Irenaeus said this: “We therefore do not run the risk of pronouncing positively concerning the name of the Antichrist, for if it were necessary to have his name distinctly announced at the present time, it would doubtless have been announced by him who saw the Apocalypse; for it is not a great while ago that it [or he] was seen, but almost in our own generation, toward the end of Domitian’s reign.” While this statement appears rather straight forward, Terry points out that “…the critical reader will observe that the subject of the verb… was seen, is ambiguous, and may be understood either of John or the Apocalypse.”

So, the question is this, who or what was seen? It may have been John that Irenaeus claims was seen, since the Apostle is reported to have lived to almost one hundred years of age. Actually, the logic of the sentence requires this interpretation. If the Revelation was “seen” at this late date, how would that have helped determine who the Antichrist was? In and of itself, possessing a copy of the Revelation does not answer that question. On the other hand, if John was “seen”-well certainly he could personally reveal who the Antichrist was! So, clearly, the seeing of John is really the only thing that makes sense. “The nearness of the vision cannot open the symbols of the book. It was the author John to whom it belonged to expound the meaning of the mystic name.”

If, on the other hand, this passage is stating that John saw the Revelation at this time, then that is powerful testimony for a late date. Unfortunately, this quote will never be able to tell us more than it does, which is nothing certain, making this source of questionable force in the argument.

One other possibility exists as to whom Irenaeus was referring when he made reference to Domitian. It is a possibility that he was referring to “(Nero Claudius Caesar) [who] was originally named Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus,” instead of referring to Titus Flavius Domitianus, commonly known as Domitian. If Nero is here referenced, then there is no confusion in Irenaeus, just in his interpreters. But again the ambiguity cannot be cleared up.

In considering the testimony of the Fathers we should also take note of Jerome’s statement that John was seen in A.D. 96 but was so weak and infirm that “he was with difficulty carried to the church, and could speak only a few words to the people.” Could a man in this condition endure an exile on an island like Patmos? And while there would he have the energy and presence of mind to write such a taxing book as Revelation? It simply does not seem reasonable.

Another Father of the Church, Clement of Alexandria tells us that divine revelation ceased under Nero: “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, ends with Nero.” If the ministry of the apostles ends with Nero, then the Revelation would have to have been written before Nero died.

In a document called the Muratorian Canon, we have the oldest Latin list of New Testament books. “In it the author described John, whom he acknowledged as the author of the Apocalypse, as the predecessor of Paul in writing to seven churches. Since it is generally agreed that Paul was martyred in A.D. 67 or 68, Revelation would have to been written prior to the death of Paul.” Obviously, Paul completed his seven epistles before he died. Since John was Paul’s “predecessor” in writing to seven churches, John would have written Revelation before this date.

As you can see, the external evidence provides some considerable indication that John wrote Revelation before A.D. 70. But, let us now turn to the internal evidence. Consider these points:

The Writing Style and Vocabulary of John

It has been said that in the Book of Revelation, John’s use of the Greek language is strained; his grammar is poor and his mindset is Hebrew. As one author said, “…while he writes in Greek, he thinks in Hebrew.” This is not at all like his gospel, which, although simple in style, is well written in Greek. What explains the difference? The difference can be explained by the fact that John wrote the Revelation in his early years shortly after he removed from Judah to Asia, at a time when his use of Greek was still rather rough. His gospel, however, was written sometime later, after some interaction with the Greek community. By then he had worked off the rough edges of his “foreign accent” and communicated with greater grammatical correctness. This would imply an early date for Revelation.

Another explanation can be suggested concerning the difference of style in John’s gospel and the book of Revelation. That would be the possibility that John used a secretary to write the gospel, that is, he would have dictated it to one with better grammatical skills in Greek than his own. However, while on Patmos, he would not have had access to such help, and therefore wrote Greek with some difficulty. “Employing scribes in the writing of letters and documents was a common practice during the first century, for Paul and Peter even mention their amanuenses (secretary) by name: Paul refers to Tertius (Rom. 16:22) and Peter mentions Silas (1 Pet. 5:12). But as an exile, John was alone and had to rely on his own authorial ability and thus wrote Greek unaided by native speakers.”

So, this point is subject to various explanations; perhaps John’s gospel was written first. But if John’s gospel was written first, how do we explain the lack of eschatological references in his gospel? The best explanation is that he had covered that material in his earlier Revelation and therefore saw no need to address it again. It is important to note that all of the other gospel writers do give considerable attention to eschatological issues in their books, only the gospel of John does not. “Of the fact, however, that John wrote the Apocalypse before he wrote his Gospel … there can now, I think, be no reasonable ground of doubt.”

Perhaps the real difference in style between John’s Gospel and the Book of Revelation lies in the nature of the writings, that is, when writing like a Hebrew prophet of old, John would naturally have used Hebrew prophetical style, whereas when writing a Gospel, a Greek historical literary style would be mandated. After all, a prophet must write like a prophet.

A comparison of the Apostle John’s other writings with the Book of Revelation makes a powerful case for the Apostle’s authorship of Revelation. Consider these points : 1) Jesus is called the “Logos” only in John 1:1, I John 1:1 and Revelation 19:13. 2) In the New Testament, Jesus is called “the Lamb” only in John 1:29, 36 and twenty-eight times in Revelation. 3) The “water of life” is promised only in John 7:37 and Revelation 22:17. 4) The “first resurrection” is spoken of only in John 5:24-29 and Revelation 20:5). Satan is “cast out” in John 12:31 and Revelation 9:9, 13. 5) Overcoming the world is addressed six times in I John and ten times in Revelation. 6) Quoting from Zechariah 12:10 (John 19:37), Revelation 1:7 speak of Jesus being “pierced” using the same Greek word, a word that is not used anywhere else in the New Testament or even in the Septuagint in the Zechariah 12:10 passage. 7) A particular form of the Greek word “true” (alethinos), is used eight times in John’s Gospel, four times in I John and ten times in the Book of Revelation. However, it is only used five times in the rest of the New Testament. 8) The noun “witness” (marturia) is used fourteen times in the Gospel of John, seven times in John’s epistles, and nine times in Revelation. It occurs only seven times in the rest of the New Testament. 9) The Greek word “overcome,” “conquer” or “victory” (nikao) occurs twenty-eight times in the New Testament; all but four of them are found in John’s Gospel, Epistles and the Revelation. 10) The Greek word for “face” or “countenance” (opsis) occurs three times in the New Testament, all of them in John’s Gospel and the Revelation. 11) The verb “to tabernacle” (skenoo) occurs once in John’s Gospel and four times in the Book of Revelation.

This common use of vocabulary between John’s Gospel and Epistles and the Book of Revelation is a powerful argument for the Apostle John’s authorship of this book.

As is pointed out in Back to the Future of the vocabulary similarities, please take note that both the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation are constructed around seven signs.

As one author says of the Book of Revelation, “The nature of the book demands the essence of a man who compares in abilities to a fully inspired Peter or Paul. In fact, he must be able to stand beside an Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel or Zechariah, for the Apocalypse encompasses the fullness of these prophets and more. Only John, the apostle, measures up to the likeness of these notable ones.”

Some scholars have questioned this conclusion, noting that John does not characteristically attach his name to his letters, and yet here he does. This objection seems less weighty, however, when the following points are considered. 1) In his epistles, John wrote personal letters to close friends who knew him well. The intimacy and personal nature of the letters did not require additional information on the author.