REVELATION IN NERO’S TIME

Nero fiddlesPMT 2014-112 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

I am briefly presenting the evidence for the early date for Revelation. If the early date holds for Revelation’s date of composition, we can apply its judgments to the first century instead of the last. This would fit nicely with postmillennial expectations. I now ready to offer a second line of internal evidence for the early date.

In Revelation 17:1-6 John records a vision of a seven-headed beast. In this vision we discover strong evidence that Revelation was written before the death of Nero, which occurred on June 8, A.D. 68.

John wrote to be understood. The first of seven benedictions occurs in his introduction: “Blessed is he that reads, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein” (Rev. 1:3).

And just after the vision itself is given in Revelation 17:1-6, an interpretive angel appears for the express purpose of explaining the vision: “And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns” (Rev 17:7).


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Then in verses 9 and 10 this angel explains the vision: “Here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.”

Most evangelical scholars recognize that the seven mountains represent the famed seven hills of Rome. The recipients of Revelation lived under the rule of Rome, which was universally distinguished by its seven hills. How could the recipients, living in the seven historical churches of Asia Minor and under Roman imperial rule, understand anything else but this geographical feature?

But there is an additional difficulty involved. The seven heads have a two-fold referent. We learn also that the seven heads represent a political situation in which five kings have fallen, the sixth is, and the seventh is yet to come and will remain but a short while. It is surely no accident that Nero was the sixth emperor of Rome, who reigned after the deaths of his five predecessors and before the brief rule of the seventh emperor.


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Flavius Josephus, the Jewish contemporary of John, clearly points out that Julius Caesar was the first emperor of Rome and that he was followed in succession by Augustus, Tiberius, Caius, Claudius, and Nero (Antiquities 18; 19). We discover this enumeration also in other near contemporaries of John: 4 Ezra 11 and 12; Sibylline Oracles, books 5 and 8; Barnabas, Epistle 4; Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars; and Dio Cassius’ Roman History 5.

The text of Revelation says of the seven kings “five have fallen.” The first five emperors are dead, when John writes. But the verse goes on to say “one is.” That is, the sixth one is then reigning even as John wrote. That would be Nero Caesar, who assumed imperial power upon the death of Claudius in October, A.D. 54, and remained emperor until June, A.D. 68.

John continues: “The other is not yet come; and when he comes, he must continue a short space.” When the Roman Civil Wars broke out in rebellion against him, Nero committed suicide on June 8, A.D. 68. The seventh king was “not yet come.” That would be Galba, who assumed power in June, A.D. 68. But he was only to continue a “short space.” His reign lasted but six months, until January 15, A.D. 69.

Thus, we see that while John wrote, Nero was still alive and Galba was looming in the near future. Revelation could not have been written after June, A.D. 68, according to the internal political evidence.

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One thought on “REVELATION IN NERO’S TIME

  1. Greg Harvey September 15, 2014 at 8:22 am

    This seems pretty straightforward to me. Dr. Kim Riddlebarger claimed in his Amill 101 talks that John is not trying to give a history of the emperors lesson here and the average guy on the street couldn’t tell you the names of the last six emperors. So? When GW Bush was president he was called Bush 43 and his dad Bush 41. I guarantee that hardly anyone could name all the previous presidents but many could tell you that George W was the 43rd president which is a bigger challenge than Nero 6!

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