This is one of those subjects that comes around every so often in my debates on FR, so I’m just going to post it here so that I can just make a link or copy-and-paste whenever it comes up again.
Early Church tradition overwhelmingly supports that Yochanan (John) was exiled to the quiet, lonely isle of Patmos during the reign of Domitian, which would put the writing of Revelation somewhere between 90 to 96 A.D. The earliest quote verifying the date of the writing of this book comes from Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Polycarp, who in turn was a disciple of Yochanan the Emissary himself. In about 180 A.D., Irenaeus wrote:
We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign. (Against Heresies, Book V, chapter 30.3)
Preterists, whose position requires that Revelation have been written before Jerusalem’s fall in 70 A.D. (for it undeniably claims to speak of events yet future as of its writing), will try to make the case that Irenaeus was actually referring to Yochanan being seen “towards the end of Domitian’s reign” rather than the “apocalyptic vision.” But how many of us would refer to a revered Apostle with the neuter pronoun “that”? The argument that the pronoun was changed in the Latin translation but was correctly preserved in the Greek quote preserved by Eusebius does not hold up, as we’ll see in a moment.
Besides which, Irenaeus’ interpretations of Revelation are decidedly consistent with modern premillennialism. Bear in mind that he wrote Against Heresies primarily as an apologetic work. If Revelation were really so manifestly a prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction, wouldn’t the early Church fathers have recognized it and used it as a part of their witness? Yet history tells us that’s not what happened. Only centuries removed from the event was the “discovery” made of Revelation’s supposed intent to prophesy of Jerusalem’s destruction.
Nor is Irenaeus the only person to comment on the time when this book was written. Eusebius quotes Irenaeus and goes on to cite others that were also exiled during Domitian’s reign in support of Irenaeus’ dating:
And they, indeed, accurately indicated the time. For they recorded that in the fifteenth year of Domitian Flavia Domitilla, daughter of a sister of Flavius Clement, who at that time was one of the consuls of Rome, was exiled with many others to the island of Pontia in consequence of testimony borne to Christ. (Ecclesiastical History, Book III, chapter 1; see also Book V, chapter 7).
If Eusebius understood the Apostle to have been exiled during Nero’s reign, why exactly would he offer the exile of other Christians during Domitian’s reign as proof that “they”–his sources, evidentially not limited to Irenaeus–“indeed, accurately indicated the time”? Is it not more likely that a scribal error, or even an original typo, crept into Eusebius’ work than to assume that he himself misunderstood Irenaeus’ statement so aggregiously? Moreover, the above testimony is sandwhiched between two other chapters describing Domitian’s persecutions, which would be absurd if Eusebius understood Irenaeus to be referring to Yochanan being seen in Domitian’s reign after an exile under Nero’s.
If only these two fathers recorded Yochanan’s exile to have taken place in the 90s, this would be enough to put the nails in preterism’s coffin. But they were not alone: Victorinus wrote that “when John said these things he was in the island of Patmos, condemned to the labour of the mines by Caesar Domitian” (Commentary on the Apocalypse, chapter 10.11), in agreement with Jerome (Illustrious Men, chapter 9) and Hippolytus (On the Twelve Apostles). Nor can the case be made that when the early Church fathers spoke of Domitian in regards to the Apocalypse, they really meant to write ”Domitianou,” a title for Nero, as some have tried to claim. Eusebius speaks of both Nero and Domitian in his works, and never once refers to the former emperor by any name other than Nero. If every early Church father stated in no uncertain terms that the book was written in Domitian’s reign, why in the world would we try to date it decades earlier?
Simply arguing that Irenaeus is fallible is barely a fig leaf of a counter-argument, and amounts to begging the question: The only reason to assume that Irenaeus (and Hippolytus, Victorinus, Eusebius, and Jerome) has the dating of the Revelation wrong is the presumption of preterism, which requires an early date.
Now, if there were any competing traditions from the second through fourth centuries, there might be some reason to doubt all of the above fathers. The closest thing one finds to such a competing tradition is found in the intro of the book in the Syriac version, which reads, “The Revelation which was made by God to John the Evangelist in the island of Patmos, whither he was banished by the Emperor Nero.” However, to cite the Syriac version, you have to ignore the fact that in the original Syriac translation that is dated from the second century, the books of 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation were not included. The others had been put back in by the fifth or sixth century, but there seems to be some doubt as to whether Revelation was included even then. Indeed, one source states that Revelation “did not appear in the Syriac Testament as late as 1562.” Even if we argue that that date is too late, the fact is that the Syriac version of Revelation’s title was written, at a minimum, four centuries after Yochanan recorded it and is contrary to every other manuscript of the book and the witness of at least five early Church fathers. How exactly is this a point in preterism’s favor?
The fact is that there is really no question about the dating of Revelation except among those who require a certain date in order to make their particular interpretations viable. In this regard, it should be noted that a futurist, premillennial interpretation of Revelation does not depend upon the 90 A.D. dating of the book, and in fact will work perfectly well even given an earlier authorship. That being the case, it should be up to those requiring the earlier date to prove their supposition with clear and decisive evidence.