The “When” of Revelation (Rev 2)

Revelation appears to have been written in the context of some persecution, so scholars of Revelation have consistently looked to the reigns of Nero and Domitian as the likely context for the book. During the 19th Century the consensus of scholarship was that Revelation was written during the reign of Nero (54-68 A.D.), based on subjective interpretation of certain passages in the book. Revelation was, therefore, read in light of the persecution of Christians that began after the great fire of 64 A.D. Over the last hundred years, however, scholarly opinion has shifted to the later date for the book, around 95 A.D. Most scholars today read Revelation in light of an episode of persecution (or at least “perceived crisis”) toward the end of Domitian’s reign (81-96 A.D.). The earlier date has now fallen out of favor due to the lack of clear references to Nero’s reign in the text of Revelation and the fact that the church fathers universally favored the time of Domitian. The weakness of the later date is the lack of contemporary evidence for officially sanctioned persecution of Christians during the reign of Domitian, or for Patmos as a penal isle.

Ellen White assumes that John, the son of Zebedee, is the author of Revelation and that he came to be on Patmos as a result of persecution during the reign of Domitian, whom she explicitly names (AA 568-570). She took that position before the scholarly shift from an early date to a late date for Revelation. The setting of Revelation, in her view, would be the exile of the leader of the churches in Asia Minor to Patmos. Given the lack of evidence for widespread persecution, it is likely that whatever trials the church faced were based on local issues, such as disputes with the local synagogue or pagan neighbors. The purpose of Revelation was to strengthen Christians at a time when they were vulnerable to their surrounding culture.

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