When and Where Was Revelation Written?

In the previous post, Eusebius of Caesarea’s attempt to divide out a second “Elder John” other than St. John the son of Zebedee was discussed.  He confabulated this figure in order to be able to utilize early patristic testimony to St. John, son of Zebedee as the author of the Gospel and First Epistle while rejecting the same testimony regarding the authorship of Revelation.  This despite the fathers in question making no such distinction between two Johns.  Despite St. Irenaeus of Lyons, St. John’s spiritual grandson, giving the date and place of its composition, in recent times the date, in particular, has been called into question by proponents of certain eschatological schemes (primarily forms of preterism) originating in Calvinist theological circles.  Holders of these views propose a date based on nothing in the earliest testimony of the fathers and church tradition but in keeping with a dedication to a certain view of biblical inerrancy rendered important by sola scriptura and a belief in cessationism.  Theological motivations aside, there is no reason to disregard the testimony of the early church on these matters, nor to propose another dating system based purely on conjecture as there are no valid objections to the received tradition.

Despite third and fourth-century considerations of authorship, the date and place of origin of the text of the book of Revelation were considered established from an early period.  The earliest references to Revelation and its Johannine origin all center around the area of Asia Minor surrounding Ephesus, and in attributing the work to St. John, most often do so through the testimony of St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna at the end of the first and beginning of the second centuries.  This St. John who was buried at Ephesus was the teacher of St. Polycarp and Sts. Irenaeus and Papias in particular attribute their teaching and testimony in this regard to him.  The seven churches to whom the letters in the second and third chapters, and through them the book as a whole, are addressed all had the church of Ephesus as a center of gravity.

The importance of Ephesus to the broader Christian community is evident from the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline letter directed to its church.  Additionally, the city was traditionally the habitation of a number of apostles and other early missionaries and eyewitnesses of Christ after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem forced the Christian community to seek a new center of influence.  While the book of Revelation itself places the visions there recorded at Patmos, at which the John who authored it was in exile, it is the general testimony of the early sources that it was composed after a return by the author to Ephesus.[1]  Alternately, some modern scholars believe that the visions were recorded by another individual and that the letters to the seven churches and the epilogue which ends the text are the work of that second hand, which wrote at Ephesus.

It is significant that all of the early testimony regarding the book of Revelation in the second century comes from sources connected to Ephesus and its environs in Asia Minor.  In addition to the aforementioned connection to St. Polycarp of Smyrna, St. Justin Martyr likewise passed through Ephesus on his way from Palestine to Rome.[2]  The book of Revelation is therefore associated with Ephesus and the surrounding cities not only by its contents but by the point of origin of those first seen to be using it as an authoritative text.  This association, though Ephesus was an early apostolic center, cut both ways, as Montanism was widely known as “the Phrygian heresy”.  The chiliastic element of Montanism may, in fact, result from its place of origin rather than any innate connection in thinking between that view and Montanist principles.  It can be observed that the second and third-century writers who first utilized the book of Revelation also held to forms of chiliasm themselves, implying that the view had a general currency in Western Asia Minor.  Despite the controversy regarding these views, the area of origin of the book of Revelation was not called into question by proponents or opponents of the work.

Likewise, the date of the composition of the text was non-controversial.[3]  That it was already being cited authoritatively in the mid-second century implies a date of composition at the conclusion of the first century, if not earlier.[4]  Whether or not a date near the end of the second century was commensurate with authorship by St. John the son of Zebedee or required a John who was a member of the second generation of Christians was not discussed by Eusebius or those who utilized his theory thereafter during the period of canon formation, though it has been a subject of inquiry for modern scholars.[5]  Instead, early iconographic depictions of St. John, the son of Zebedee’s literary efforts typically depict an elderly man, implying that the relative date of composition was considered established, and the apostle’s age was adjusted accordingly to fit that timeline.

In light of a date c. AD 95, it was, for a considerable time, assumed that the exile of John on Patmos took place as a part of generalized widespread persecution of Christians under the emperor Domitian.  More recently, it has become clear that such generalized persecution did not occur at that time in Roman history, but this is not strictly relevant to the dating of the composition of the book of Revelation, as the book itself made no such claim.[6]  Exile on Patmos could have easily been the result of localized government persecution of Christian communities in Asia Minor, which took place sporadically throughout the period.  This would also serve to explain the eventual return to Ephesus.

One means which has been used to attempt to pinpoint the composition of the text has revolved around understanding the symbolism of Revelation 17:10–11 and the seven kings described therein as specific Roman emperors.[7]  Other symbols used as evidence regarding the date of composition include the ascribed number of the beast, 666, which is generally taken to be derived, by way of numerology, from the title transliterated into Hebrew script, “Nrn Qsr”.[8]  While some scholars have used this to argue that the book of Revelation must have been composed at an even earlier date, during the reign of Nero and therefore before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, this identification does not necessitate such an early date.[9]

Though Nero was long dead by the year 95, there was current at the end of the first century a belief in a reported prophecy regarding Nero’s return from either apparent or actual death somewhere in Asia Minor or elsewhere in the East.  This belief is attested to by Dio Chrysostom c. AD 88 in his Discourse XXI, “On Beauty”, showing it to be roughly contemporary with an AD 95 date of composition for the book of Revelation.[10]  Understanding the identification of the beast with Nero based on this legend of Nero not only allows for the identification with a late first-century date but serves to further interpret the description of the beast within the text.  Specifically, it explains the significance of the fact that the beast is said to have recovered from a seemingly mortal wound in Revelation 13:3 and that the eighth king in 17:8–11 is identified as also being one of the previous seven.[11]

Another argument offered for an earlier date is based on the description of heavenly worship in the fourth and fifth chapters of the book of Revelation.  This worship is clearly portrayed in terms reminiscent of that taking place in the Jerusalem temple.  It is then argued that if the temple had already been destroyed, the description of worship would have differed.[12]  It must also be noted, however, that the descriptions of heavenly worship in these chapters of Revelation are also consistent with depictions of heavenly worship in the Hebrew Bible (eg. Is 6).  The worship of tabernacle and temple were also taken to be an image of and participation in the worship of heaven (eg. Heb 9).  The descriptions of the book of Revelation, therefore, do not require the earthly temple to still be in existence.  If the temple no longer existed at the time of composition, the descriptions become a witness that the worship of God in the heavens has continued unabated despite the destruction of the earthly sanctuary.  This failed objection also raises the question as to how heavenly worship would be portrayed if not in the likeness of the tabernacle and temple?

No other book of the New Testament is as clearly dated by the fathers of the Church as Revelation, nor is the provenance of any other as clearly and unanimously established.  Other than a need to preserve theological commitments developed centuries later, there is no good reason to doubt this testimony.  The idea that those who lived within the living memory of the apostles, who were taught at the place of Revelation’s composition, who were the first to view and cite the text as authoritative, would have all come to similar conjectures without knowledge or all colluded in a lie as to when and where the text was written, or by whom, beggars belief.  That this would have happened and that modern scholars, living centuries after the fact, in other languages and cultures, far removed from any living memory of the apostles and their teachings would be able to correct them, and reliably reconstructed the “hidden” truth, is near ridiculous.


[1] Adela Yarbro Collins. “Dating the Apocalypse of John.” Biblical Research 26 (1981): 33.

[2] Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho is set at Ephesus.

[3] Thomas B. Slater, “Dating the Apocalypse to John.” Biblica 84, no. 2 (2003): 252.

[4] Irenaeus, as an early witness, places the composition of the book of Revelation at the end of the first century in Domitian’s reign.  Adversus Haeresies, 5.30.3.

[5] Collins, “Dating”, 34.

[6] Mark W. Wilson, “The Early Christians in Ephesus and the Date of Revelation, Again.” Neotestamentica 39, no. 1 (2005): 181.

[7] Wilson, “Date”, 177f.

[8] In this instance, the early text variant which gives the number as 616 is not an obstacle, as when the Latin form of the same title, “Nro Qsr” is transliterated into Hebrew characters it yields 616 by the same use of gematria.

[9] Wilson, “Date”, 181–182.

[10] Other early witnesses to this belief include the Sybilline Oracles (IV–V).  Tacitus (Histories II.8) and Suetonius (LVII) record rebellions that occurred surrounding men who emerged claiming to be Nero returned from the dead.  This myth had such power in the Roman mind that Augustine (Civitas Dei XX.19.3), at the beginning of the fifth century, records that there were still many who believed that Nero would return to retake his kingdom, either as a savior of the Roman state, or as the Antichrist.

[11] Hans-Josef Klauck. “Do They Never Come Back?: Nero Redivivus and the Apocalypse of John.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 63, no. 4 (October 2001): 691–697.

[12] Slater, “Dating”, 255.

About Fr. Stephen De Young

The V. Rev. Dr. Stephen De Young is Pastor of Archangel Gabriel Orthodox Church in Lafayette, Louisiana. He holds Master's degrees in theology, philosophy, humanities, and social sciences, and a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Amridge University. Fr. Stephen is also the host of the Whole Counsel of God podcast from Ancient Faith and author of four books, the Religion of the Apostles, God is a Man of War, the Whole Counsel of God, and Apocrypha. He co-hosts the live call-in show and podcast Lord of Spirits with Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick.