The significance of the date of the book of Revelation depends to a great degree on the interpretive system one holds. The Preterist Interpretation requires that the book be written during the reign of Nero before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. If the book proves to have been written after A.D. 70, then the entire basis of the preterist interpretation collapses. Other systems of interpretation are not so sensitive to the date of writing, since their interpretive frameworks do not connect the events of the book as directly to the events attending the fall of Jerusalem.
The reason the preterist position is intent on dating the book before A.D. 70 is twofold: First , they insist that the theme of the book centers on the near-term destruction of Jerusalem prophesied by Jesus (Luke Luke 21:22).1 Second, modern preterism is often associated with the Christian Reconstruction movement which holds to Dominion Theology which cannot accept a worldwide rejection of Christ and a time of global judgment prior to His return. Those who accept the teaching that the book of Revelation predicts a future time of judgment coming upon the earth are seen as defeatists,2 so there is significant motivation to try to prove an early date over against the traditional late date.3
The reader should be aware of the major weakness of those who depend upon an early date for their interpretation: The danger of dependence on a particular date for the writing of Revelation is aptly stated by Howard Winters: When the interpretation depends upon the date, the interpretation can never be more certain than the date itselfif the date is wrong, then, of necessity the interpretation is wrong. 4
In a review of fellow preterist David Chiltons commentary on Revelation, entitled The Days of Vengeance, Kenneth Gentry observes, If it could be demonstrated that Revelation were written 25 years after the Fall of Jerusalem, Chiltons entire labor would go up in smoke. Another preterist, R. C. Sproul, observes, If the book was written after A.D. 70, then its contents manifestly do not refer to the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalemunless the book is a wholesale fraud, having been composed after the predicted events had already occurred.5For systems of interpretation other than the preterist, the date is not critical. Either an early or a late date for the writing of the book of Revelation will not significantly affect the understanding of the book. But if the book of Revelation proves to have been written after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, then the preterist interpretation can be rejected.
Hitchcock has noted the narrow date range which modern preterism depends upon for its interpretation of the book. He also observes that many of those who support an early date do not necessarily support a date as early as is required by the modern preterists:
While it is true that many scholars do hold to a pre-70 date for Revelation, it is critical to observe that the preterist position requires more than just a pre-70 date. According to Gentry, Revelation anticipates the destruction of Jerusalem (August A.D. 70), the death of Nero (June A.D. 68), and the formal imperial engagement of the Jewish war (spring A.D. 67). Therefore, for preterists, the earliest Revelation could have been written . . . is the beginning of the Neronic persecution in November A.D. 64, and the latest possible date . . . is spring A.D. 67. The date Gentry favors is A.D. 65. . . . the problem Gentry faces is that almost all of the scholars he lists in support of his position do not actually support his position at all. These early-date advocates hold an early date, but not an early-enough date to support the preterist position.6Although there are other early-date advocates, the most vocal advocates of our time have a specific agenda: to localize the prophetic content of the book of Revelation in both time (prior to A.D. 70) and place (events surrounding Jerusalem and within the boundaries of the historic Roman Empire). This agenda provides two key results: First, the future judgment of the earth dwellers and tribulation upon the earth is moved to the past clearing the way for Christian Reconstructionism and dominion. Second, the events of Revelation are poured out specifically upon the Jews rather than the entire disbelieving world. In concert with Replacement Theology, they believe the nation of Israel has been irrevocably replaced by the Church in the program of God.
It is our belief that when all the evidence is taken into account, the traditional late date is supported. But even if the early date turns out to be valid in the end, it still would not prove that the events of the book are found exclusively in the events of the past. In other words, the early date is necessary for the preterist interpretation, but not sufficient to prove that the text applies strictly to the immediate readers of Johns day.
1 The early date is especially important to those viewing the main intention of the book as prophecy of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem: interpreters who hold to the early date generally understand the book primarily as a polemic against apostate Jewish faith.Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 4.
2 [Gentry] associates cultural defeatism and retreatist pietism with assigning a late date to Revelation and wants to date the book before A.D. 70 so as to have biblical support for the implementation of long-term Christian cultural progress and dominion.Robert L. Thomas, Theonomy and the Dating of Revelation, in Richard L. Mayhue, ed., The Masters Seminary Journal, vol. 5 (Sun Valley, CA: The Masters Seminary, 1994), 187-188.
3 Based on the historical evidence, the date, therefore, must be before the death of Domitian, who was assassinated in A.D. 96, as the apostle was apparently released from his exile shortly after this.John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1966), s.v. Latest Possible Date.
4 Mark Hitchcock, The Stake in the HeartThe A.D. 95 Date of Revelation, in Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, eds., The End Times Controversy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2003), 124.
5 Ibid., 123.
6 Ibid., 125.