In the previous post, I showed from evidence within the text that Revelation was written in the late 60s A.D.
If the book of Revelation was indeed written in the late 60s A.D., why was it written at that time? That is the focus of this post.
Welcome to the 38th post in my series of rethinking Christian eschatology. Because these posts build upon each other, if you’ve not already done so, I invite you to read the previous posts in this series before continuing here.
In order to understand why Revelation was written in the late 60s A.D., we need to first examine who the original recipients were.
What was happening in those areas and to those Christians at that time?
When we combine this information with what we’ve studied so far in our journey, a complete picture begins to form.
This is an insightful exercise.
Let’s dive in…
Who were the original recipients of the Revelation letter?
The book of Revelation was addressed to the Christians in seven cities in the Roman province of Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey.
To the seven churches in the province of Asia:
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”
(Rev. 1:4-5, 10-11 NIV)
Here’s where these seven cities were located at the time.
(Image source: Wikipedia)
John was writing from the Island of Patmos, just off the western coast of Asia Minor. He was exiled there because of his faith:
9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
(Rev. 1:9 NIV)
Jesus instructed John to send a copy of the Revelation letter to the Christians in each of these seven towns.
10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”
19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.
(Rev. 1:10-11, 19 NIV)
Jesus then proceeded to give personalized instructions to each of these seven churches, followed by a captivating vision of future events.
What was the purpose of Revelation?
The purpose of Revelation is provided in the opening statement:
1 The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.
(Rev. 1:1 NIV)
The purpose was to show Jesus’ servants what would happen soon.
The word “soon” is found 8 times in the NIV translation of Revelation. Eight times!
It is important that we remember that the whole letter was written to these first century Christians for the purpose of showing them what was going to happen soon.
What tends to happen when people study Revelation is, at some point in their reading, they forget the primary audience and make a giant leap forward in time.
We start out and it’s like:
Chapter one verse one, “…to show his servants what must soon take place.”
Okay, got it!
Chapter 2-3, the instructions to the churches. Okay! This clearly applied directly to these individuals (the first century Christians in these locations).
And then somewhere between Revelation 4 and Revelation 6 we make this abrupt shift in thinking where we zoom forward to some point thousands of years into the future from the original recipients.
We start thinking about what specific statements symbolic terms mean and we completely forget about the original recipients and what those things meant to them. We forget that 100% of the letter applied directly to them.
Don’t make that mistake.
Why was Revelation written to these people at this time?
When we assume that some portion of the letter has yet to be fulfilled—that it at least in part refers to events still in the future—then we are left with this nagging question for which we have no satisfying answer:
Why would GOD send a letter to specific first century Christians, repeatedly stress that the vision concerned things about to happen “soon,” only to describe, at least in part, events thousands of years into the future?
This is inconsistent with how GOD operated in the past with events in the distant future (see Dan. 12:4, 9).
But what if Revelation really did deal with events about to happen during the lifetime of the original recipients in the first century?
Consider with me the possibility…
Christians in Judea were given signs to watch for
The Christians in Judea had been given detailed instructions by Jesus regarding the coming destruction of the temple and Jerusalem.
Here are a couple of examples:
14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.
20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. 21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
(Mark 13:14-23 NIV)
20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
(Luke 21:20-28 NIV)
Jesus was direct that those in Jerusalem would suffer the worst fait of all people.
29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! … 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.
(Matt. 23:29a, 35-36 NIV)
38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
(Mark 12:38-40 NIV)
People worldwide suffered during this time
Yet Jesus, as well as the Old Testament Prophets, foretold a worldwide judgment which would occur at His return (see Matt. 25:31-46).
Consider the following prophecies regarding this judgment upon multiple nations:
28 “And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Note: “And afterward…” in v.28 is during the last days [of the old covenant], per Acts 2:17.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
30 I will show wonders in the heavens
and on the earth,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
31 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
32 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
there will be deliverance,
as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
whom the Lord calls.
1 “In those days and at that time,
when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem,
2 I will gather all nations
and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.
There I will put them on trial
for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel,
because they scattered my people among the nations
and divided up my land.
(Joel 3:1-2 NIV)
3:16 Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.
17 “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. 18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.
4:1 “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. 3 Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.
(Mal. 3:16-4:3 NIV)
17 “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: You are the one I spoke of in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel. At that time they prophesied for years that I would bring you against them. 18 This is what will happen in that day: When Gog attacks the land of Israel, my hot anger will be aroused, declares the Sovereign Lord. 19 In my zeal and fiery wrath I declare that at that time there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. 20 The fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the beasts of the field, every creature that moves along the ground, and all the people on the face of the earth will tremble at my presence. The mountains will be overturned, the cliffs will crumble and every wall will fall to the ground. 21 I will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Sovereign Lord. Every man’s sword will be against his brother. 22 I will execute judgment on him with plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him. 23 And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord.’
(Eze. 38:17-23 NIV)
Although Jerusalem was the epicenter of GOD’s judgment, the Jews everywhere suffered at the time of the Jewish War with Rome.
Consider these statements from first century Jewish historian Josephus:
[Regarding the Jewish attack which began the war,] “This loss to the Romans was but light, there being no more than a few slain out of an immense army; but still it appeared to be a prelude to the Jews’ own destruction…”
(War Of The Jews, b.2, c.17, s.10)
“Now the people of Caesarea had slain the Jews that were among them on the very same day and hour [when the soldiers were slain], which one would think must have come to pass by the direction of Providence; insomuch that in one hour’s time above twenty thousand Jews were killed, and all Caesarea was emptied of its Jewish inhabitants; for Florus caught such as ran away, and sent them in bonds to the galleys.”
(War Of The Jews, b.2, c.18, s.1)
“…the Alexandrians had once a public assembly…a great number of Jews came flocking to the theater; but when their adversaries saw them, they immediately cried out, and called them their enemies, and said they came as spies upon them; upon which they rushed out, and laid violent hands upon them; and as for the rest, they were slain as they ran away…[the governor] sent out upon them those two Roman legions that were in the city, and together with them five thousand other soldiers, who, by chance, were come together out of Libya, to the ruin of the Jews. They were also permitted not only to kill them, but to plunder them of what they had, and to set fire to their houses.”
(War Of The Jews, b.2, c.18, s.7-8)
“Accordingly, it appears to me that the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to these of the Jews are not so considerable as they were; while the authors of them were not foreigners neither. This makes it impossible for me to contain my lamentations.”
(War Of The Jews, preface, s.4)
“Now the number of those that were carried captive during this whole war was collected to be ninety-seven thousand; as was the number of those that perished during the whole siege eleven hundred thousand, the greater part of whom were indeed of the same nation [with the citizens of Jerusalem], but not belonging to the city itself; for they were come up from all the country to the feast of unleavened bread, and were on a sudden shut up by an army, which, at the very first, occasioned so great a straitness among them, that there came a pestilential destruction upon them, and soon afterward such a famine, as destroyed them more suddenly.”
(War Of The Jews, b.6, c.9, s.3)
GOD’s people were refined by these trials
During the suffering of these days, Christians’ faith was tested as well.
Jesus had warned Peter, James, John and Andrew of this eventuality:
9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
(Matt. 24:9-13 NIV)
In Malachi’s prophecy (previously quoted), GOD promised a noticeable distinction between the righteous and the wicked at the time of this judgment.
Malachi also prophesied of a refining that would occur among GOD’s people at this time:
1 “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
(Mal. 3:1-4 NIV)
And what do we see when we examine Jesus’ message to the seven churches?
A distinction between the righteous and those called to repent.
Check it out…
Church Location #1: Ephesus called to repent
1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
(Rev. 2:1-6 NIV)
Church Location #2: Smyrna encouraged to persevere
8 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
(Rev. 2:8-10 NIV)
Note: In these verses we see another example of the rebellious Jews who violently persecuted the Christians.
According to Jesus, despite their unfortunate human condition, the Christians of Smyrna were actually rich, because of how they lived in the Lord.
Church Location #3: Pergamum called to repent
12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
(Rev. 2:12-16 NIV)
Church Location #4: Thyatira called to persevere
18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.
20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.’
Note: Are these Thyatiran Christians still holding on to what they had (if Jesus hasn’t come back yet)?
26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— 27 that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father.
(Rev. 2:18-27 NIV)
Note: Here again we have another reference to “the end” with no definition. As I’ve been saying, rather than assume we know what the phrase means, we have to go back to the Old Testament prophecies and study their context to figure it out.
Church Location #5: Sardis called to repent
1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.
(Rev. 3:1-5 NIV)
Church Location #6: Philadelphia praised
7 “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
Note: The Philadelphian Christians had lived so faithfully (so righteously) that Jesus promised to spare them from the suffering that was coming. This is an example of the distinction Malachi prophesied about.
Now, when was Jesus going to make these rebellious Jews (v.9) bow down at the feet of the Philadelphian Christians? Look at the very next phrase (of verse 11).
11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.
(Rev. 3:7-12 NIV)
Note: Here we have one of Jesus’ promises to come soon. We also see the reference to the New Jerusalem, a reference to the perfect union of Jesus with His church (i.e., His gathering), as we’ve previously studied.
Church Location #7: Laodicea called to repent
14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.
(Rev. 3:14-21 NIV)
Christians had been warned about this period of suffering.
Now, consider these words of Peter (which make sooooo much more sense within the framework of the perspective I’m presenting):
7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
Note: Why would Peter say this suffering was not “something strange?” Because it had been foretold by the Prophets and by Jesus!
13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,
“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
(1 Pet. 4:7-19 NIV)
“The end of all things is near. … it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household…“
Peter was encouraging his fellow Christians who were spread out around the known world to endure the suffering just a little longer. With his statements regarding the fiery trial, Peter alluded back to the past prophecy of Jesus and the Prophets.
Why did GOD write the book of Revelation in the late 60s A.D.?
Because He wanted to encourage Christians who needed it to hang on or to repent so that they would survive the temporary suffering they were enduring and about to undergo.
The vision of Revelation explained exactly how GOD was going to reward His servants—those who had already died and those who would die as a result of the persecution that was coming during this most difficult time.
This perspective provides the only satisfying answer I’ve ever heard as to why GOD would reveal the information in Revelation at the time the letter was written.
Continue to the next post where we study the judgments at the end of the book of Revelation.
Got questions or comments? Leave them below. (I’m truly happy to help. But please, carefully read the entire series first.)