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February 22, 2021 12:01 am
The book of Revelation is difficult to understand. Bible teachers continue to debate questions about the Antichrist, the millennium, and more. Today, R.C. Sproul considers a crucial question in interpreting this book: when was it written?
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First century Christians thought that Jesus was going to return it any moment. There's a reason why the first generation of believers had this urgent sense of expectancy of the nearness of the crisis that was of a because of the language of the book of Revelation itself, which whenever it does speak and time frames speaks of a time frame of that which is coming soon.
Jesus earthly ministry said truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. You just been discussing the end times and when he would come back so you can imagine how the people of that day waited eagerly for his return, only to have the hopes that welcome the renewing reminder this Monday. I'm really well. Skeptical scholars have often use those words of Jesus to object to the reliability of Scripture choices. It was necessary to take the last days according to Jesus, picking up today midway through the series so surely in any study of New Testament eschatology, the one who was concerned about what the Bible teaches regarding the future that concern inevitably leads us to a consideration of the content and significance of the New Testament Apocalypse or the book of Revelation. I don't think there's any book in the Bible that is been subjected to more scrutiny than that book and about which there is a wider diversity of interpretation than with respect to the book of Revelation and part of the reason for that. Of course, is the very nature of the literary forms that we find in it that all kinds of arguments and debates about what the symbol names with that symbol refer so and so on. But there is a very pressing question about the book of Revelation that is widely ignored among Christians, and that is the question of when the book was written because when were seeking to understand any book of the Bible where you have to do our homework and look at the setting, the life setting in which it was first penned and the dating of the book at that level becomes very important. We also want to know who wrote it and to whom it was written well we know who wrote the book of Revelation that is attributed to the apostle John, who tells us that he was in exile on the Isle of Patmos and that he received this direct revelation from Christ and was commanded to write down these things for the construction and benefit of the church and so the question this okay John says he was a Patmos. He was an X.
He was the author of this in the source of the information came from Jesus when was it written. Why is that question so important well in our discussions of trying to understand the all the discourse and its references that Jesus made about these things that were about to transpire within the timeframe of the present generation in which he prophesied the destruction of the temple, the destruction of Jerusalem and is coming at the end of the age which we've been wrestling with and the moderate prioress position is of course is way of saying that all of these things that Jesus predicted would come to pass within the timeframe of one generation did in fact come to pass coincidental with the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D. now the question is what bearing does the book of Revelation have on that theory is that's what it is, is the theory. This is not a dogmatic assertion on my part. I want to labor. Let this is just one view of understanding these difficult questions. Well, the majority report in New Testament scholarship for a long time has been that the book of Revelation was written during the decade of the 90s, probably during the reign of the Emperor Domitian, which would have made it appearing well after the fall of Jerusalem and so that would make it extremely unlikely that the prophecies contained within the book of Revelation had any reference immediately to these catastrophic events that Jesus had predicted on the Mount of olives. But then the question comes up. What if it wasn't written in the 90s but was written before the fall of Jerusalem, then that would put a whole new cast on understanding the immediate application of the content of the book of Revelation to the contemporary's of John who received that revelation, and there have been reputable scholars in the past who have argued for a much earlier date of Revelation, placing it in the decade of the 60s rather than in the 90s or even after the year 100 is some higher critics have placed the that is to say that it was written before the fall of Jerusalem and, with specific reference to those events that were going to come to pass in and around these catastrophic moments that had been predicted by amount of DISCOURSE so I want to take some time today to look at this question about the dating of the book of Revelation.
Anytime we face the question of dating a book in the Bible we pay attention to two basic sources were to two areas. First of all we talk about the external evidence and then we are concerned with the internal evidence. For example, when we look at the book of Romans and it begins where the author says Paul, apostle called by God and so on. He identifies himself as the author and we know when he died, and so on.
We can get some information about the dating of Romans by the internal evidence of what Paul says about what's going on at the time, Luke talks about the infancy narratives of Jesus placing them during the reign of Caesar Augustus, when Kawai winningest was governor of Syria and so on and so you have internal statements in various books that give you a clue as to when they were written, but the church is always been concerned historically for external references and what we mean by the external evidence are references to the works by extra biblical writers. For example, the early church fathers would frequently quote from scriptures that obviously had appeared before they did. And if we know, for example, one Clement of Rome lived and we find Clement quoting the apostle Paul from the book of Corinthians. We know that the book of Corinthians was written before climate.etc. if we know when Clement died that'll help us give us some parameters for judgment and sometimes even the extra biblical writers. We would be more specific and tell us the year or so on that the tradition holds to the appearance of a certain book now one of the most formidable arguments for the late date of the book of Revelation comes by way of the testimony of the church father Aeneas, who is one of the most respected fathers of antiquity because he makes a specific reference to the apocalypse in his famous book, against heresies. In fact it's book 5 of against heresies, he says and I quote we will not, however, incurred 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 now are Aeneas was born in the year 130 and died in the year 202 so he's a second century church father and now he's talking about the mysterious character of the antichrist and of the apocalyptic references to him that he said if it were necessary that his name should be known by us, that it would be distinctly revealed in this present time.
It would've been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision of what's he saying there if we needed to know the name of the antichrist. John would've told us because he's the author and the one who beheld the apocalyptic vision. Now here is the critical sentence for that was seen know very long time since but almost in our day. Toward the end of the missions reign reset again for that was seen know very long time since but almost in our day.
Toward the end of the missions reign. So here is the chief reason in terms of external evidence because most of the later church fathers who dated Revelation late and during the reign of Domitian did so on the basis of our analysis testimony and the first glance at these words would suggest that what are Aeneas is saying was that the apocalyptic vision that John received took place during the reign of the mission that obviously would have been after the fall of Jerusalem. Now, on the other hand, are Aeneas could be wrong is not an inspired writer. He could have his dates and times mixed up. However, there is a grammatical and literary question about this translation and the question has to do with the antecedent of that that which again was seen almost an hour day toward the end of the missions reign is he saying that John's vision was seen during the reign of Domitian or is he saying that John who received the vision was seen as late as the reign of Domitian. Again, church history indicates that of all of the disciples of Jesus, the one who lived the longest was John. In other words, if you do a technical analysis of this statement. The statement can mean either one either that the vision John received took place during the reign of Domitian or the John was seen during the reign of Domitian, the one who could answer the question for us as to who was the antichrist. Now if we look further at the writings of our Aeneas.
Some other interesting facts emerge. One is that our Aeneas himself makes reference to quote ancient copies of the book of Revelation. You don't talk about something that was written in your own lifetime as an ancient manuscript but had it been written 100 years earlier than he was writing then obviously that appellation could justly be applied as he does here, so he makes references elsewhere in his own writings to ancient copies of the Revelation. Also, Clement argued another very highly respected early church father that all of the apostolic Revelation that we received in the text of Scripture ceased during the reign of Nero, so that the external testimony of Clement is that everything that is found in the canon of the New Testament and all the apostolic Revelation, which would include the book of Revelation had ceased by the death of Nero which means all of the New Testament documents were completed by the year 68 which would make it prior to the fall of Jerusalem. Those are a couple of the key points of external evidence there other minor considerations and I won't take the time to go into them here. I do give more that information in my book. But let's turn our attention now, at least for the meantime away from the external evidence and look at the internal evidence because that can be very important that we been concerned all along in this series with the timeframe references in the New Testament, I remind you how the book of Revelation begins chapter 1 verse one reads as follows.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants things which must shortly take place and he signified it by his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ to all things that he saw.
Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it for the time is near. Over and over again in the book of Revelation we have references to time frames of nearness, just give you a quick summary. As I've already mentioned those things which must shortly take place To repent or I will come to quickly chapter 3 behold, I come quickly. Chapter 22 speaks of the things which must shortly take place.
Surely I am coming quickly. Chapter 1 verse three. The time is near.
Chapter 22 verse 10 the time is at hand and verse 119 write these things that are about to take place. Chapter 310 the hours trial, which is about to come on the whole world of the Greek terms that are used there to talk about soon, near at hand all our timeframe references in the language that have a very very short time span.
It's really stretching it to say that the Bible says we have a revelation here that is given about things that are near at hand and are going to take place shortly that you would expect. Of over 2000 years to elapse after those timeframe references are given so the point is this, that the contemporaries who received the first addition of the book of Revelation. Note the several references in it that point to the radical nearness of the fulfillment of the things that are being unfolded in this prophecy that is to say, there's a reason why the first generation of believers had this urgent sense of expectancy of the nearness of the crisis that was in and because of the language of the book of Revelation itself, which whenever it does speak and time frames speaks of a time frame of that which is coming soon now. In addition to that there are other internal references that we pay attention to, not the least of which is that so much of the language of the symbols of the book of Revelation is borrowed from the temple itself. It's replete with temple illusions throughout the book, and yet there's not the slightest hint anywhere in the book of Revelation that the temple is no longer standing and this is an argument of silence, but it's one of those pregnant silences that certainly an event as catastrophic to Christian Jewish history. As the destruction of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple would be mentioned by an apostolic writing that took place after the event and if Revelation was written in the 90s and if it was the only New Testament book that was written after 70 A.D., one would certainly expect some statement about the destruction of Jerusalem had been a past event. There's not a word and the background the illustrative background that shapes the whole character and content of the book is of the present temple. So really it still there now in Revelation chapter 17. There is a segment of the text which is critical to pinpointing the dating and the timing of the book with respect to internal evidence and let me call your attention to chapter 17 where we read these words. But the angel said to me why do you marvel. I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which is the seven heads and the 10 horns.
The beast that you saw was and is not and will ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go to perdition and those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was and is not in yet is here is the mind which has wisdom. Here we get an internal translation or explanation of the symbols. The seven heads are seven mountains upon which the woman sits.
There are also seven kings.
Five have fallen, one is in the other has not yet come in when he comes, he must continue a short time, and he goes on to describe the beast and so now the question of two questions your forcible what is the city of seven hills. It's possible that that is an obscure reference to Jerusalem itself, but in all of antiquity. The most famous nickname for wrong was the city on the seven hills and so if the author of Revelation is describing Rome here. Those goes on to speak of the kings of Rome and some scholars objected that saying that the Romans didn't call their emperors, kings, they called them emperors rather than kings but in any case we read here in the text that there are seven kings. Five have fallen, one is the other is not yet come to tell you it tells you that the book is being written at the time of the sixth King because five have gone, there's another one that is to come. But the sixth is now. That is, there is a present reference to the sixth King and the six came who reigns over the city with the seven hills now the question is who is the 16th and we would ask that question by saying who was the sixth Emperor of Rome.
Now we have a problem here. Julius Caesar called Caesar did not receive the title Emperor.
The first one to receive the formal title Emperor was Caesar Augustus, so if we start with Caesar Augustus, he would be number one.
Tiberius would be number two Caligula three Claudius for Nero five and got all the would be number six the number gullible. Just last a short time he was murdered. The gobbler died before the year 72 of gobbler is the sixth King is referred to here that obviously the book was written before 70. Now some people say that because of the Civil War and the rapid elimination of gobbler's successor, Ortho and Vitellius, that those three are included in the list I don't count so now beginning with the Gustus the sixth.
If you skip all the Ortho and Vitellius would be respiration who also comes too early.
He's not in the 90s. His reign finishes in the decade of the 70s others. 1/3 option and that is that you start counting not with the Gustus but you start with Julius Caesar, who by the way, in ancient Roman lists of rulers. He is the George Washington. He really is the first and I might just add to you.
The other problem of calling them kings.
Remember when the Jews were interrogated about Jesus and so on. In his political aspirations whether they say we have no king but Caesar, there's ample evidence to indicate that the Jewish people called the Roman rulers kinks.
So if we start with Julius Caesar as number one. The Gustus number two Tiberius three Caligula for Claudius 526 indicate that the book was written during the reign of which explains his respect to internal significance is will is no question that the book of Revelation is difficult to understand and even after Dr. RC Sproul's careful explanation today here on Renewing Your Mind.
There are still some unanswered questions, but that doesn't keep us from studying and pursuing what we can about the end times are series this week is Dr. Sproles response to Jesus words that we find in Matthew chapter 24, where he says that this generation will not pass away until his in time.
Predictions come to pass in the question remains, did they come to pass. Critics are quick to say that Jesus was wrong. That's why Dr. scroll taught this 12 part series titled the last days according to Jesus, it's an in-depth study and I recommended that you take your time with your Bible open as you make your way through each of the lessons will be happy to send you the two DVD set when you contact us today with a donation of any amount you conductive your gift and request the series online at Renewing Your Mind daughter work or when you call us at 800-435-4343 for 50 years leader ministries has been a source of answers for theological questions and we always want to be available when you have a question so we developed the online service asked legionnaire to make the process as easy as possible, well trained team members around the world are standing by to offer answers 24 hours a day, Monday through Saturday.
If you have a theological question or just want to find out more about this resource. Just go to ask.linear.org will tomorrow will continue the series of the last days according to Jesus, and RC will address, and often asked question who is the antichrist, if it merely means and in the antichrist is defined in terms of is opposition to Christ. The term if used in a secondary sense of God. Somebody who subverts or seeks to replace Christ as a false Messiah. I hope you'll make plans to join us again tomorrow for Renewing Your Mind