There are a plethora of issues that remain integral to contemporary discourse regarding the book of Revelation, and these matters should be explored by individuals who are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of this biblical letter. Amongst the issues that have engendered comparative and occasionally contentious commentary are the authorship and date of Revelation. In his important book “Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary,” Robert L. Thomas discusses the views held by several people about these topics. With respect to the issue of authorship, he notes that Dionysius-an outstanding Christian leader who served as an overseer of the Alexandrian church from A.D. 247 to 264-opposed the apostolic authorship arguments which maintained that the apostle John was the writer of the book. In defending his view, Dionysius referenced things such as the fact that the author of the book of Revelation mentions himself three times in the book. In the epistles and gospel attributed to John, however, the author does not name himself (3,4). Those who would counter the legitimacy of this argument as substantive proof against apostolic authorship could, like Thomas, point towards the idea that “The strategic importance of a reference to some authoritative figure in apocalyptic/prophetic writing is widely illustrated in similar works coming from this era of history” (4).This notation provides the reader with enlightenment regarding why the writer of Revelation might deem it important to inform the audience of his authorship.
Further evidence that one might submit to advance the argument for apostolic authorship could include references to the similarity in vocabulary between John’s gospel, his epistles, and the book of Revelation. In juxtaposing the similarities, Thomas points out that “The author of all three writes from the perspective of one who was personally involved in and a witness to the things he writes about” (5). This argument is of merit and gains credence when one compares the letters. For example, I John 1:1-4 includes the apostle’s personal testimony regarding the fact that he and others were eye witnesses of Jesus. Similarly, Revelation opens with the author asserting that he bore record of the word of God and the testimony of Christ. This fact-coupled with other forms of evidence such as the manifestation of phrases like “the Word” in both John’s gospel and Revelation-function as strong proofs that the argument for apostolic authority is valid.
Just as the issue of apostolic authorship is central to discourse regarding the meaning and import of the book of Revelation, many biblical scholars engage in debate regarding the book’s dating. In discussing the matter, Thomas notes that “a date during the last decade of the first century, about A.D. 95, is the traditional time assigned to the publishing of the Apocalypse” (20). The information presented to support this view is diverse and includes the condition of the Asian churches in the 90s compared with that evinced in Paul’s epistles of Colossians, Ephesians, and I and II Timothy. The latter epistles were composed and addressed during the 60s. In juxtaposing the two periods, Thomas notes that when the book of Revelation came along, however, references to doctrinal apostasy and serious spiritual decline that were formerly not present become prevalent (41, 42). Individuals who argue against the later dating and the evidence submitted to support it maintain that an early dating is valid on the grounds that the book “speaks to particular circumstances and events that were fulfilled within the lifetime of the book’s original first-century audience and that there is nothing in it about our future” (Noe 767). To explain and legitimate such claims, proponents of this theory point towards textual realities such as Revelation 11:2. There, the reader learns of a time period which is considered the worst tribulation in Jewish history. While premillenialists might argue that this event will transpire in the future, the preterists maintain that it already occurred in the form of the Jewish-Roman War (Noe 768). This event, which took place in AD 66-70, functions as proof that the proper dating would be prior to AD 70. I think this argument is legitimate and that other scriptural passages-such as Revelation 1:1 and its reference to the fact that the events being described would pass shortly-functions as stong evidence for the preterist world view.
In addition to posing meaningful questions regarding the dating of Revelation, individuals interested in discussing its signification and import often examine issues surrounding its occasion and purpose. The occasion is made plain in 1:9, where the apostle John informs his readers that he was exiled to the island of Patmos for sharing the truth of the gospel message with others. The purpose of the letter is made plain in 1:1, where the author informs his audience that he writes to show them events that will transpire shortly. Although there are probably a plethora of nuances surrounding the interpretation of these passages as well as whether or not they function as the key to understanding the book’s occasion and purpose, the message each scripture conveys seems plain.
As one might gather from conducting a cursory examination of issues integral to the construction and meaning of the book of Revelation, the letter is complex and has engendered a variety of contentious claims that are still being contested by biblical scholars and theologians. Irrespective of how one reads the book, however, it remains of great significance and import to the biblical canon.
Noe, John. “An Exegetical Basis For A Preterist-Idealist Understanding Of The Book Of Revelation.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. JETS 49:4 (Dec 2006).
Thomas, Robert L. Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press, 1992.