Introduction, concerning the time when the Apocalypse was written

IRENAEUS introduced an opinion that the Apocalypse was written in the time of Domitian; but then he also postponed the writing of some others ofthe sacred books, and was to place the Apocalypse after them: he might perhaps have heard from his master Polycarp that he had received this book from John about the time of Domitian’s death; or indeed John might himself at that time have made a new publication of it, from when Irenaeus might imagine it was then but newly written. Eusebius in his Chronicle and Ecclesiastical History follows Irenaeus; but afterwards in his Evangelical Demonstrations, he conjoins the banishment of John intoPatmos, with the deaths of Peter and Paul: and so do Tertullian and Pseudo-Prochorus, as well as the first author, whoever he was, of that very ancient fable, that John was put by Nero into a vessel of hot oil, and coming out unhurt, was banished by him into Patmos.

Though this story being more than a fiction, yet it was founded on a tradition of the first Churches, that John was banished into Patmos in the days of Nero. Epiphanius represents the Gospel of John as written in the time of Domitian, and the Apocalypse even before that of Nero. Arethas in the beginning of his Commentary quotes the opinion of Irenaeus from Eusebius, but follows it not: for he afterwards affirms the Apocalypse waswritten before the destruction of Jerusalem, and that former commentatorshad expounded the sixth seal of that destruction.With the opinion of the first Commentators agrees the tradition of the Churches of Syria, preserved to this day in the title of the Syriac Version of the Apocalypse, which title is this: The Revelation which was made to John the Evangelist by God in the Island Patmos, into which he was banished by Nero the Caesar. The same is confirmed by a story told by Eusebius out of Clemens Alexandrinus, andother ancient authors, concerning a youth, whom John some time after hisreturn from Patmos committed to the care of the Bishop of a certain city. The Bishop educated, instructed, and at length baptized him; but thenremitting of his care, the young man thereupon got into ill company, andbegan by degrees first to revel and grow vicious, then to abuse and spoilthose he met in the night; and at last grew so desperate, that hiscompanions turning a band of highway-men, made him their Captain: and,saith Chrysostom, he continued their Captain a long time. At length John returning to that city, and hearing what was done, rode to the thief; and,when he out of reverence to his old master fled, John rode after him, recalled him, and restored him to the Church.

This is a story of many years,and requires that John should have returned from Patmos rather at thedeath of Nero than at that of Domitian; because between the death of Domitian and that of John there were but two years and an half; and Johnin his old age was so infirm as to be carried to Church, dying above 90years old, and therefore could not be then supposed able to ride after the thief. This opinion is further supported by the allusions in the Apocalypse to theTemple and Altar, and holy City, as then standing; and to the Gentiles, whowere soon after to tread under foot the holy City and outward Court. ‘Tis confirmed also by the style of the Apocalypse itself, which is fuller of Hebraisms than his Gospel. For thence it may be gathered, that it was written when John was newly come out of Judea, where he had been usedto the Syriac tongue; and that he did not write his Gospel, till by long converse with the Asiatic Greeks he had left off most of the Hebraisms. Itis confirmed also by the many false Apocalypses, as those of Peter, Paul,Thomas, Stephen, Elias and Cerinthus, written in imitation of the true one. For as the many false Gospels, false Acts, and false Epistles were occasioned by true ones; and the writing many false Apocalypses, and ascribing them to Apostles and Prophets, argues that there was a true Apostolic one in great request with the first Christians: so this true onemay well be supposed to have been written early, that there may be roomin the Apostolic age for the writing of so many false ones afterwards, and fathering them upon Peter, Paul, Thomas and others, who were deadbefore John. Caius, who was contemporary with Tertullian, tells us that Cerinthus wrote his Revelations as a great Apostle, and pretended the visions were shown him by Angels, asserting a millennium of carnal pleasures at Jerusalem after the resurrection; so that his Apocalypse was plainly written in imitation of John’s: and yet he lived so early, that heresisted the Apostles at Jerusalem in or before the first year of Claudius,that is, 26 years before the death of Nero, and died before John.

These reasons may suffice for determining the time; and yet there is one more, which to considering men may seem a good reason, to others not.I’ll propound it, and leave it to every man’s judgment. The Apocalypseseems to be alluded to in the Epistles of Peter and that to the Hebrews and therefore to have been written before them. Such allusions in the Epistle to the Hebrews, I take to be the discourses concerning the High-Priest in the heavenly Tabernacle, who is both Priest and King, as was Melchisedec; and those concerning the word of God, with the sharp two-edged sword, the *,or millennial rest, the earth whose end is to be burned, suppose by the lake of fire, the judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour theadversaries, the heavenly City which hath foundations whose builder andmaker is God, the cloud of witnesses, mount Sion, heavenly Jerusalem,general assembly, spirits of just men made perfect, viz. by the resurrection, and the shaking of heaven and earth, and removing them,that the new heaven, new earth and new kingdom which cannot be shaken, may remain. In the first of Peter occur these: The Revelation of JesusChrist, twice or thrice repeated; the blood of Christ as of a Lamb foreordained before the foundation of the world; spiritual building in heaven, I Pet. 2:5. an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us, who are kept unto the salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time, I Pet. 1:4, 5. the royal Priesthood, the holy Priesthood, the judgment beginning at the house of God, and the Church at Babylon. These are indeed obscurer allusions; butthe second Epistle, from the 19th verse of the first Chapter to the end,seems to be a continued Commentary upon the Apocalypse.

There, in writing to the Churches in Asia, to whom John was commanded to sendthis Prophecy, he tells them, they have a more sure word of Prophecy, to be heeded by them, as a light that shineth in a dark place, until the daydawn, and the day-star arise in their hearts, that is, until they begin to understand it: for no Prophecy, saith he, of the Scripture is of any private interpretation; the Prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, butholy men of God spake, as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Daniel himself professes that he understood not his own Prophecies; and therefore the Churches were not to expect the interpretation from their Prophet John, but to study the Prophecies themselves.

This is the substance of whatPeter says in the first chapter; and then in the second he proceeds todescribe, out of this sure word of Prophecy, how there should arise in theChurch false Prophets, or false teachers, expressed collectively in theApocalypse by the name of the false Prophet; who should bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, which is the character of Antichrist: And many, saith he, shall follow their lusts; they that dwell on the earth shall be deceived by the false Prophet, and be made drunk with the wine of the Whore’s fornication, by reason of whom the way of truth shall be blasphemed; for the Beast is full of blasphemy: and through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise ofyou; for these are the Merchants of the Earth, who trade with the great Whore, and their merchandise is all things of price, with the bodies andsouls of men: whose judgment lingereth not, and their damnationslumbreth not, but shall surely come upon them at the last day suddenly, asthe flood upon the old world, and fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrha, when the just shall be delivered like Lot; for the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust untothe day of judgment to be punished, in the lake of fire; but chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, being made drunk with the wine of the Whore’s fornication; who despise dominion, and are not afraid to blaspheme glories; for the beast opened his mouth against God toblaspheme his name and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. These, as natural brute beasts, the ten-horned beast and two-horned beast,or false Prophet, made to be taken and destroyed, in the lake of fire, blaspheme the things they understand not: they count it pleasure to riot in the day-time sporting themselves with their own deceivings, whilethey feast with you, having eyes full of an Adulteress: for the kingdoms ofthe beast live deliciously with the great Whore, and the nations are made drunk with the wine of her fornication. They are gone astray, following the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness, the false Prophet who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before thechildren of Israel. These are, not fountains of living waters, but wells without water; not such clouds of Saints as the two witnesses ascend in, but clouds that are carried with a tempest, &c.

Thus does the author of this Epistle spend all the second Chapter in describing the qualities of theApocalyptic Beasts and false Prophet: and then in the third he goes on to describe their destruction more fully, and the future kingdom. He saith, thatbecause the coming of Christ should be long deferred, they should scoff,saying, where is the promise of his coming? Then he describes the suddencoming of the day of the Lord upon them, as a thief in the night, which is the Apocalyptic phrase; and the millennium, or thousand years, which are with God but as a day; the passing away of the old heavens and earth, by a conflagration in the lake of fire, and our looking for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Seeing therefore Peter and John were Apostles of the circumcision, itseems to me that they staid with their Churches in Judea and Syria till the Romans made war upon their nation, that is, till the twelfth year of Nero;that they then followed the main body of their flying Churches into Asia,and that Peter went thence by Corinth to Rome; that the Roman Empirelooked upon those Churches as enemies, because Jews by birth; and therefore to prevent insurrections, secured their leaders, and banished John into Patmos.

It seems also probable to me that the Apocalypse was therecomposed, and that soon after the Epistle to the Hebrews and those of Peter were written to these Churches, with reference to this Prophecy as what they were particularly concerned in. For it appears by these Epistles, that they were written in times of general affliction and tribulation underthe heathens, and by consequence when the Empire made war upon theJews; for till then the heathens were at peace with the Christian Jews, as well as with the rest. The Epistle to the Hebrews, since it mentionsTimothy as related to those Hebrews, must be written to them after their flight into Asia, where Timothy was Bishop; and by consequence after thewar began, the Hebrews in Judea being strangers to Timothy. Peter seems also to call Rome Babylon, as well with respect to the war made upon Judea, and the approaching captivity, like that under old Babylon, as withrespect to that name in the Apocalypse: and in writing to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bythinia, heseems to intimate that they were the strangers newly scattered by theRoman wars; for those were the only strangers there belonging to his care.

This account of things agrees best with history when duly rectified. ForJustin and Irenaeus say, that Simon Magus came to Rome in the reign ofClaudius, and exercised juggling tricks there. Pseudo-Clemens adds, thathe endeavored there to fly, but broke his neck through the prayers of Peter.Whence Eusebius, or rather his interpolator Jerom, has recorded, that Petercame to Rome in the second year of Claudius: but Cyril Bishop of Jerusalem, Philastrius, Sulpitius, Prosper, Maximus Taurinensis, and Hegesippus junior, place this victory of Peter in the time of Nero. Indeedthe ancienter tradition was, that Peter came to Rome in the days of thisEmperor, as may be seen in Lactantius. Chrysostom tells us, that theApostles continued long in Judea, and that then being driven out by theJews they went to the Gentiles. This dispersion was in the first year of theJewish war, when the Jews, as Josephus tells us, began to be tumultuousand violent in all places. For all agree that the Apostles were dispersed intoseveral regions at once; and Origen has set down the time, telling us that inthe beginning of the Judaic war, the Apostles and disciples of our Lordwere scattered into all nations; Thomas into Parthia, Andrew into Scythia, John into Asia, and Peter first into Asia, where he preached to thedispersion, and thence into Italy. Dionysius Corinthius saith, that Peter went from Asia by Corinth to Rome, and all antiquity agrees that Peter andPaul were martyred there in the end of Nero’s reign. Mark went withTimothy to Rome, 2 Timothy 4:11; Colos. 4:10. Sylvanus was Paul’sassistant; and by the companions of Peter, mentioned in his first Epistle, wemay know that he wrote from Rome; and the Ancients generally agree, thatin this Epistle he understood Rome by Babylon.

His second Epistle waswrit to the same dispersed strangers with the first, 2 Peter 3:1; and thereinhe saith, that Paul had writ of the same things to them, and also in his otherEpistles, ver. 15, 16. Now as there is no Epistle of Paul to these strangersbesides that to the Hebrews, so in this epistle, chap. 10:11, 12; we find atlarge all those things which Peter had been speaking of, and here refers to; particularly the passing away of the old heavens and earth, establishing an inheritance immoveable, with an exhortation to grace, because God, to the wicked, is a consuming fire, Hebrews 12:25, 26, 28,29.Having determined the time of writing the Apocalypse, I need not say much about the truth of it, since it was in such request with the first ages,that many endeavored to imitate it, by feigning Apocalypses under theApostles’ names; and the Apostles themselves, as I have just now showed,studied it, and used its phrases; by which means the style of the epistle to the Hebrews became more mystical than that of Paul’s other Epistles, andthe style of John’s Gospel more figurative and majestical than that of theother Gospels.

I do not apprehend that Christ was called the word of Godin any book of the New Testament written before the Apocalypse; and therefore am of opinion, the language was taken from this Prophecy, as were also many other phrases in this gospel, such as those of Christ’s being the light which enlightens the world, the lamb of God which taketh awaythe sins of the world, the bridegroom, he that testifieth, he that came downfrom heaven, the Son of God, &c. Justin Martyr, who within thirty yearsafter John’s death became a Christian, writes expressly that a certain man among the Christians whose name was John, one of the twelve Apostles of Christ, in the Revelation which was shewed him, prophesied that thosewho believed in Christ should live a thousand years at Jerusalem. And a few lines before he saith: But I, and as many as are Christians, in all things right in their opinions, believe both that there shall be aresurrection of the flesh, and a thousand years life at Jerusalem built,adorned and enlarged. Which is as much as to say, that all true Christiansin that early age received this Prophecy: for in all ages, as many as believedthe thousand years, received the Apocalypse as the foundation of theiropinion: and I do not know one instance to the contrary. Papias Bishop of Hierapolis, a man of the Apostolic age, and one of John’s own disciples,did not only teach the doctrine of the thousand years, but also asserted theApocalypse as written by divine inspiration.

Melito, who flourished next after Justin, wrote a commentary upon this Prophecy; and he, being Bishop of Sardis one of the seven Churches, could neither be ignorant of theirtradition about it, nor impose upon them. Irenaeus, who was contemporary with Melito, wrote much upon it, and said, that the number 666 was in all the ancient and approved copies; and that he had it also confirmed to him by those who had seen John face to face, meaning no doubt his master Polycarp for one. At the same time Theophilus Bishop of Antioch asserted it, and so did Tertullian, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Origen soon after; andtheir contemporary Hippolytus the Martyr, Metropolitan of the Arabians,wrote a commentary upon it. All these were ancient men, flourishing withina hundred and twenty years after John’s death, and of greatest note in theChurches of those times.

Soon after did Victorinus Pictavienses writeanother commentary upon it; and he lived in the time of Dioclesian. This may surely suffice to show how the Apocalypse was received and studiedin the first ages: and I do not indeed find any other book of the NewTestament so strongly attested, or commented upon so early as this. TheProphecy said: Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this Prophecy, and keep the things which are written therein. This animated the first Christians to study it so much, till the difficulty madethem remit, and comment more upon the other books of the NewTestament. This was the state of the Apocalypse, till the thousand years being misunderstood, brought a prejudice against it: and Dionysius ofAlexandria, noting how it abounded with barbarisms, that is withHebraisms, promoted that prejudice so far, as to cause many Greeks in thefourth century to doubt of the book. But whilst the Latins, and a great partof the Greeks, always retained the Apocalypse, and the rest doubted only out of prejudice, it makes nothing against its authority.

This Prophecy is called the Revelation, with respect to the Scripture of truth, which Daniel was commanded to shut up and seal, till the time ofthe end. Daniel sealed it until the time of the end; and until that timecomes, the Lamb is opening the seals: and afterwards the two Witnessesprophesy out of it a long time in sack-cloth, before they ascend up toheaven in a cloud. All which is as much as to say, that these Prophecies of Daniel and John should not be understood till the time of the end: but thensome should prophesy out of them in an afflicted and mournful state for along time, and that but darkly, so as to convert but few.

But in the very end, the Prophecy should be so far interpreted as to convince many. Then, saith Daniel, many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased. For the Gospel must be preached in all nations before the great tribulation,and end of the world. The palm-bearing multitude, which come out of thistribulation, cannot be innumerable out of all nations, unless they be madeso by the preaching of the Gospel before it comes. There must be a stone cut out of a mountain without hands, before it can fall upon the toes of theImage, and become a great mountain and fill the earth. An Angel must flythrough the midst of heaven with the everlasting Gospel to preach to allnations, before Babylon falls, and the Son of man reaps his harvest. The two Prophets must ascend up to heaven in a cloud, before the kingdoms ofthis world become the kingdoms of Christ.

‘Tis therefore a part of thisProphecy, that it should not be understood before the last age of the world;and therefore it makes for the credit of the Prophecy, that it is not yetunderstood. But if the last age, the age of opening these things, be nowapproaching, as by the great successes of late Interpreters it seems to be,we have more encouragement than ever to look into these things. If thegeneral preaching of the Gospel be approaching, it is to us and ourposterity that those words mainly belong: In the time of the end the wiseshall understand, but none of the wicked shall understand. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this Prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein. The folly of Interpreters has been, to foretell times and things by thisProphecy, as if God designed to make them Prophets. By this rashness they have not only exposed themselves, but brought the Prophecy also into contempt.

The design of God was much otherwise. He gave this and theProphecies of the Old Testament, not to gratify men’s curiosities byenabling them to foreknow things, but that after they were fulfilled theymight be interpreted by the event, and his own Providence, not the Interpreters’, be then manifested thereby to the world. For the event ofthings predicted many ages before, will then be a convincing argument that the world is governed by providence. For as the few and obscure Prophecies concerning Christ’s first coming were for setting up the Christian religion, many and clear Prophecies concerning the things to bedone at Christ’s second coming, are not only for predicting but also foreffecting a recovery and re-establishment of the long-lost truth, and settingup a kingdom wherein dwells righteousness. The event will prove the Apocalypse; and this Prophecy, thus proved and understood, will open the old Prophets, and all together will make known the true religion, and establish it.

For he that will understand the old Prophets, must begin with this; but the time is not yet come for understanding them perfectly, becausethe main revolution predicted in them is not yet come to pass. In the days of the voice of the seventh Angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God shall be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the Prophets: and then the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ, and he shall reign for ever, Apoc. 10:7; 11:15. There is already so much of the Prophecy fulfilled, that as many as will takepains in this study, may see sufficient instances of God’s providence: but then the signal revolutions predicted by all the holy Prophets, will at once both turn men’s eyes upon considering the predictions, and plainly interpret them.

Till then we must content ourselves with interpreting what hath beenalready fulfilled.Amongst the Interpreters of the last age there is scarce one of note who hath not made some discovery worth knowing; and thence I seem to gatherthat God is about opening these mysteries. The success of others put meupon considering it; and if I have done any thing which may be useful to following writers, I have my design.