Was Revelation Written Before or After the Destruction of the Temple in AD 70?
Just as it is common to describe Patmos as a barren Alcatraz, misidentify the great prostitute as the Roman Catholic Church, or identify the 144,000 as exclusively Jewish male virgins, so too it is common to contend that Revelation was written long after the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Thus, according to modern-day prophecy pundits, Revelation describes events that will likely take place in the twenty-first century rather than the first century.
First, if the apostle John were indeed writing in AD 95—long after the destruction of the temple—it seems incredible that he would make no mention whatsoever of the most apocalyptic event in Jewish history—the demolition of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple at the hands of Titus. Imagine writing a history of New York today and making no mention of the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center at the hands of terrorists on September 11, 2001. Or, more directly, imagine writing a thesis on the future of terrorism in America and failing to mention the Manhattan Massacre. Consider another parallel. Imagine that you are reading a history concerning Jewish struggles in Nazi Germany and find no mention whatsoever of the Holocaust. Would it not be reasonable to suppose that this history was written prior to the outbreak of World War II? The answer is self-evident. Just as it stretches credulity to suggest that a history of the Jews in Germany would be written in the aftermath of World War II and yet make no mention of the Holocaust, so too it is unreasonable to think that Revelation was written twenty-five years after the destruction of Jerusalem and yet makes no mention of the most apocalyptic event in Jewish history.
Furthermore, those who hold that the book of Revelation was written long after the destruction of the temple in AD 70 face an even more formidable obstacle! Consider one of the most amazing prophecies in all of Scripture. Jesus is leaving the temple when his disciples call his attention to its buildings. As they gaze upon its massive stones and magnificent buildings, Jesus utters the unthinkable: “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2; Mark 13:2; Luke 21:6). One generation later this prophecy, no doubt still emblazoned on the tablet of their consciousness, became a vivid and horrifying reality. As noted by Josephus, the temple was doomed August 30, AD 70, “the very day on which the former temple had been destroyed by the king of Babylon.” As incredible as Christ’s prophecy and its fulfillment one generation later are, it is equally incredible to suppose that the apostle John would make no mention of it. As the student of Scripture well knows, New Testament writers were quick to highlight fulfilled prophecy. The phrase “This was to fulfill what was spoken of by the prophet” permeates the pages of Scripture. Thus, it is inconceivable that Jesus would make an apocalyptic prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple and that John would fail to mention that the prophecy was fulfilled one generation later just as Jesus had predicted it.
Finally, let me highlight an additional piece of internal evidence that should give pause to those who are overly dogmatic about the late-dating of Revelation. In Revelation 11 John says, “I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, ‘Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months’” (vv. 1–2). In context, Jesus has sent his angel “to show his servants what must soon take place.” Thus, the prophecy concerns a future event, not one that took place twenty-five years earlier.
In summary, among the reasons we can be certain that the book of Revelation was not written twenty-five years after the destruction of Jerusalem, three tower above the rest. First, just as it is unreasonable to suppose that someone writing a history of the World Trade Center in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, would fail to mention the destruction of the twin towers, so too it stretches credulity to suggest that Revelation was written in the aftermath of the devastation of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple and yet makes no mention of this apocalypse. Additionally, if John is writing in AD 95, it is incredible to suppose he would not mention the fulfillment of Christ’s most improbable and apocalyptic vision. Finally, New Testament documents—including the book of Revelation—speak of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple intact at the time they were written. If Revelation was written before AD 70, it is reasonable to assume that the vision given to John was meant to reveal the apocalyptic events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem—events that were still in John’s future but are in our past. This, of course, does not presuppose that all the prophecies in Revelation have already been fulfilled. Just as thoughtful Christians should distance themselves from the fully futurist fallacy, they should disavow a predominantly preterist (i.e., past) perspective.
For further study, see Hank Hanegraaff, The Apocalypse Code: Find Out What the Bible Really Says about the End Times and Why It Matters Today (Nashville:Thomas Nelson,2007).
“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” Revelation 1:1–3