Bible Question:

When you read Revelation, nowhere in the book does it state that John is in exile or imprisoned. He states that he is there for the Gospel. I am a missionary, and I will be going to Brazil in July for the Gospel. If someone were to call me from America and ask what I was doing in Brazil and I stated that I was there for the Gospel, should they conclude that I was there to be punished for the Gospel? I think not. The tradition of John's exile was started by Augustine about 200 years after John lived.

Also, in 2 Corinthians Paul stated that he met a man some 14 years ago who had a vision and was taken up into the third Heaven, either in spirit or physically he did not know for sure. This perfectly fits the account of John and what he states in Revelation. I know that it is thought that Paul fabricated here; but if that is the case, then I would say that the Bible would be littered with fabrications and useless. But, that is not my opinion.

My opinion is that we have obvious proof of the early dating of the Book of Revelation, yet men are blinded to the truth because they have preconceived notions that came from the traditions of men. If the Bible is interpreted here as any man would interpret any other reading with some knowledge of the characters involved and the history, it would appear that Revelation was written between A.D. 43-47. Jesus never spoke well of the traditions of man. If this is the truth, and it is obvious to me, who else in that era was taken up into the third Heaven that you know of? This would settle once and for all the “supposed end times” events, the end of an era, not the end of the world. What are your thoughts on this?

Bible Answer:

You are seeking agreement about what appears to be two major conclusions that you have reached. Those conclusions appear to be as follows:

1) John was never exiled or in prison.

2) John wrote Revelation in A.D. 43-47.

The Author – Internal Evidence

First, we will address the question, “Who wrote the book of Revelation?” The internal evidence of the book of Revelation is very important since the Word of God is without error and is the only source of truth. The external evidences can only support what is internal. The external can never override the internal truth. That is the operational principle by which we discover truths about the book of Revelation.

First, let’s examine what the book of Revelation says about its author. We will start with Revelation 1:4.

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne . . . Rev. 1:4 (NASB)

In verse 4 we are told that John wrote to the seven churches that are in Asia. Then in chapters two and three of the book of Revelation, the names of the seven churches are given and a message is given to them. This clearly reveals that the person identified as “John” is the author of the book. Paul, James, Peter, and Jude introduced themselves to their readers as the author of their letters or books at the beginning also.

Then in the ninth and tenth verses, that is, Revelation 1:9-10, John refers to himself as “I.”

I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, Rev. 1:9-10 (NASB)

John then refers to himself as “I” once again in verse 10. In fact, he refers to himself in every chapter of the book of Revelation, except in chapters two and three which the author has already indicated he wrote. In the last chapter, Revelation 22:8, John uses his name once again. That means John referred to himself in the first chapters and the last chapter. That is, John is the author of the entire book of Revelation.

Who is this John? Revelation 1:5 gives us a hint when the author says, “To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood . . .” This is a very personal statement and is very similar to the opening verses of 1 John 1-9. In 1 John 1:1 the apostle John speaks about touching the Lord with his hands and seeing Him. It is important to recall that he was the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20). Consequently when the author speaks of Jesus as the One who loves us, it is a clue that this is the apostle John. No other author in the New Testament has the warmth of John.

The Author – External Evidence

The testimony of the early church fathers strongly supports the view that the apostle John is the author of the book of Revelation. For example, Irenaeus (A.D. 115 – 202) wrote in his book Against Heresies.

John also, the Lord’s disciple, when beholding the sacerdotal and glorious advent of His kingdom, says in the Apocalypse: “I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks . . .” [1]

Here he states that John was the disciple or apostle of Jesus Christ and that he wrote the Apocalypse or the book of Revelation. The verse that he quotes is Revelation 1:12. Then in numerous other passages in Against Heresies he refers to John and quotes from the book of Revelation.[2]

Justin Martyr (A.D. 100 -166) wrote in Dialogue With Trypho chap 81 that the author of Revelation was John, an apostle of the Lord. He goes on to say,

John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who are in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem . . .[3]

John Walvoord makes this statement about the authorship of Revelation,

The arguments for rejecting the apostolic authorship stem largely from the theological climate of the third century. At that time the Alexandrian School of Theology, including Dionysius, opposed the doctrine of the millennial kingdom which is plainly taught in chapter 20 with its reference to the thousand years. An attack by them on the authorship of John intended to weaken the force of the prophecy . . .

The substantiating evidence for any other author than John the Apostle, however, is almost entirely lacking. While notable scholars can be cited in support of divergent views, the proof dissipates upon examination. It seems clear that the early church attributed the book to John the Apostle. Justin Martyr quotes John’s view that Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem. Irenaeus quotes every chapter of the book of the Revelation. In like manner, Tertullian cites the author as “the Apostle John” and quotes from almost every chapter of the book. Hippolytus quotes extensively from chapters 17 and 18, attributing them to John the Apostle. Many other early fathers can be cited in similar fashion, such as Clement of Alexandria and Origen. The latter not only quotes from the book but confirms that John the Apostle was on the Isle of Patmos.

The first commentary on the book of Revelation to be preserved, written by Victorinus, regards John the Apostle as the author. [4]

The Muratorian Fragment reveals that most of the New Testament books were already recognized and accepted in the early part of the second century (A.D. 100-150). This would have been shortly after the apostle John died. The Muratorian Fragment was written about A.D. 170 since Polycarp (A.D. 69-155) refers to the Fragment himself.[5] The Fragment is important since it recognizes most of the books of the New Testament and mentions their authors. Here is a partial quote from the Fragment. For a full quote visit The Muratorian Fragment.

As for the letters of Paul, they themselves show those who wish to understand from which place and for which cause they were directed. First of all [he wrote] to the Corinthians forbidding schisms and heresies; then to the Galatians [forbidding] circumcision; to the Romans he wrote at greater length about the order of the scriptures and also insisting that Christ was their primary theme. It is necessary for us to give an argued account of all these, since the blessed apostle Paul himself, following the order of his predecessor John, but not naming him, writes to seven churches in the following order: first to the Corinthians, second to the Ephesians, third to the Philippians, fourth to the Colossians, fifth to the Galatians, sixth to the Thessalonians, seventh to the Romans. But although [the message] is repeated to the Corinthians and Thessalonians by way of reproof, yet one church is recognized as diffused throughout the whole world. For John also, while he writes to seven churches in the Apocalypse, yet speaks to all. Moreover [Paul writes] one [letter] to Philemon, one to Titus and two to Timothy in love and affection; but they have been hallowed for the honor of the catholic church in the regulation of ecclesiastical discipline. [6]

It is important to notice that the Fragment states that John wrote to the seven churches of the Apocalypse. The external evidence strongly agrees with the internal evidence that the apostle John is the author of the book of Revelation. Now the question before us is when was Revelation written and where was it written?

The Location and Date – Internal Evidence

There is both internal and external evidence that reveals that the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation while he was imprisoned on the Island of Patmos. The place where the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation is actually stated within the book itself. In Revelation 1:9 John states that he was on the Isle of Patmos,

I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. Rev. 1:9 (NASB)

It is important to note that he says he had been persecuted for the faith – “partaker in the tribulation” and “perseverance, which are in Jesus.” Then he adds “because.” The Greek word translated as “because” is DIA, which means “on account of, for the sake of, for this reason.” That is, he had suffered for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. This internal evidence supports the external evidence that the apostle wrote the book of Revelation while he was imprisoned on the Island of Patmos.

The Location and Date – External Evidence

There is also external evidence that confirms the statements of imprisonment for his Christian testimony during the time of Domitian that the apostle made in Rev. 1:9. Persecution of Christians reached a peak during Emperor Domitian’s reign (A.D. 81-96).

Early tradition says that John was banished to Patmos by the Roman authorities. This tradition is credible because banishment was a common punishment used during the Imperial period for a number of offenses. Among such offenses were the practices of magic and astrology. Prophecy was viewed by the Romans as belonging to the same category, whether Pagan, Jewish, or Christian. Prophecy with political implications, like that expressed by John in the book of Revelation, would have been perceived as a threat to Roman political power and order. Three of the islands in the Sporades were places where political offenders were banished.” (Pliny Natural History 4.69-70; Tacitus Annals 4.30)[7]

Patmos had a long history of being a Roman prison. Even in A.D. 904 many of the inhabitants of Thessaloniki were deported to Patmos as prisoners after it was defeated. Knowing that the Romans used the Island of Patmos as a prison strongly suggests that is why John was there. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150 – 215) confirms that John had been on the Island of Patmos.

And that you may be still more confident, that repenting this truly there remains for you a sure hope of salvation, listen to a tale, which is not a tale but a narrative, handed down and committed to the custody of memory, about the Apostle John. For when, on the tyrant’s death, he returned to Ephesus from the Isle of Patmos . . .[8]

Eusebius agrees with Clement of Alexandria and also states that John returned from the Island of Patmos after Domitian died.[9] Irenaeus adds that John lived in Ephesus after leaving the Island of Patmos. He remained there until Trajan began his rule.[10] This confirms the internal evidence of the book of Revelation regarding the place where John wrote Revelation. Since Domitian began his reign as Caesar in 24 October 51 and died in 18 September 96, that indicates Revelation was written around A.D. 95-96.

The John MacArthur Bible Handbook states the following about the date of Revelation.

Revelation was written in the last decade of the first century (ca. A.D. 94-96), near the end of Emperor Domitian’s reign (A.D. 81-96). Although some date it during Nero’s reign (A.D. 54-68), their arguments are unconvincing and conflict with the view of the early church. Writing in the second century, Irenaeus declared that Revelation had been written toward the end of Domitian’s reign. Later writers, such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Victorinus (who wrote one of the earliest commentaries on Revelation), Eusebius and Jerome affirm the Domitian date.

The spiritual decline of the the seven churches (chaps. 2,3) also argues for the later date. Those churches were strong and spiritually healthy in the mid-60s, when Paul last ministered in Asia Minor. The brief time between Paul’s ministry there and the end of Nero’s reign was too short for such a decline to have occurred. The longer time gap also explains the rise of the heretical sect known as the Nicolaitans (2:6, 15), who are not mentioned in Paul’s letters, not even to one or more of these same churches (Ephesians).Finally, dating Revelation during Nero’s reign does not allow time for John’s ministry in Asia Minor to reach the point at which the authorities would have felt the need to exile him.[11]

2 Corinthians 12:2

Regarding the man that Paul refers to in 2 Cor. 12:2 whom he states he knew fourteen years ago, it becomes obvious that the man is himself when one reads verse 7.

Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago – whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses. For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me. Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me – to keep me from exalting myself! 2 Cor. 12:1-7

He states that God allowed him to be afflicted in order to keep Paul from exalting himself due to the revelations that he saw. In verse 1 he implies that he will not boast over visions and revelations from the Lord. He seeks to be humble. So he does not refer to himself in verses 2-6. Then in verse 7 he refers to himself and mentions revelations once again. He starts and ends verses 1-7 by talking about revelations. He starts and ends verses 1-7 by mentioning the need to be humble. Therefore, it is obvious that the man is Paul himself.

Please note that you state Paul “met a man some 14 years ago who had a vision.” A careful examination of the passage reveals he did not say “met” but “know.” The Greek word for “know” is OIDA and it is in the perfect tense implying a longstanding relationship. This is an indication that Paul is not referring to a stranger or someone else but to himself. That is, he knew himself a very long time. In your question you indicate that you are looking for support that the man is the apostle John. Such a conclusion is completely unsupported by any internal evidence within the New Testament or any external evidence among the early church fathers.

Conclusion:

Since the early church fathers had already concluded that 1) the Apostle John was the author of Revelation, 2) the book of Revelation was written near the end of Domitian’s reign, and 3) that the book was written while John was on the Island of Patmos, we can conclude that Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354 – 430) had no influence on the authorship, dating, or John’s location while writing the book. It is important to note that Augustine lived hundreds of years after these conclusions had already been reached. We can also conclude that John was imprisoned on the Island of Patmos. That is the testimony of both the internal and external evidence.

References:

1. Irenaeus. Against Heresies. 4.14.2. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Hendrickson. 1995.vol. 1, p. 479.

2. Irenaeus. Against Heresies. 4.17.6; 4.18.6; 4.21.3; 5.28.2; 5.34.2. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Hendrickson. 1995.vol. 1, p. 479, 484, 486, 493, 557, 564.

3. Justin Martyr. Dialogue With Trypho. 81. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Hendrickson. 1995.vol. 1, p.240.

4. John F. Walvoord. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Moody Press. 1966. p. 12.

5. Geisler and Nix. A General Introduction To The Bible. Moody Press. 1973. pp. 187, 191, 193.

6. F. F. Bruce. The Canon of Scripture. InterVarsity Press. 1988. pp. 159-161.

7. Achtemeir et al. “Patmos” Harper’s Bible Dictionary. 1985. p. 755.

8. Clement of Alexandria. “Who Is The Rich Man?” XLII, Ante-Nicene Fathers. II, p. 603.

9. Eusebius. “Ecclesiastical History. Hendrickson. 1995. III, xx, The Fathers of the Church. I, p 168.

10. Irenaeus. “Against Heresies.” III, iii, 4, Ante-Nicene Fathers. I, p. 416.

11. John MacArthur,. The MacArthur Bible Handbook. Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2003. p. 517.

Reference Links:

The Rescue -Salvation
When was the book of Revelation written?
The Muratorian Fragment
Did Jesus' Second Coming occur in 70 A.D.?
Book of Revelation