Last time we looked at one of the primary reasons that have led to the mistaken view of the book of Revelation. That reason is the King James Version of the Bible and its mistranslation of αἰών. While it is a significant error, that incorrect translation of αἰών is not, in itself, the only reason for the adherents of the KJV to have been misled.
We must point out that, to compound that error, the KJV has carried it virtually unopposed since its first publication in 1611. Although, since the 20th century, there are now a myriad of Bible versions available, there are many people still today who are “KJV only” adherents, which means that, according to them, if you don’t read the KJV, you are engaging in heresy. That is most unfortunate.
To be sure, there are other reasons which have contributed to the misunderstanding of the book and the general adoption of a futurist view, but underlying it all, and very possibly the principal reason that the KJV took the stance it did with αἰών, is that the early church fathers simply did not understand the meaning of the Apocalypse itself. They did not write under inspiration, which means that they were fallible human beings, so we must accept their misunderstanding and fallibility at face-value and as a fact of life because, even after 2000 years, we still do not fully understand it today either.
We will now introduce a quartet of the most important of those church fathers: Papias, Polycarp, Irenaeus, and Eusebius. While they do not stand alone as the voice of authority of the early church, those four will give us all the information we need to see why we are where we are today when it comes to our misunderstanding of eschatology and Revelation.
There is a consensus among scholars that when looking at the thousands of complete and partial manuscripts of the New Testament, that the earlier a particular one can be dated, the more likely it will be the more accurate because it is closer in time to the ‘autograph.’ Now, that is a generality, but it is safe to say that that is an accurate statement.
That is not the case, however, when it comes to the earliest of the church historians or those who conversed with the disciples of Jesus and their friends – when it comes to an understanding of the Apocalypse. The primary reason for that is, quite simply, the nature of the book. It is unlike any other in the Scriptures, except possibly Daniel. Aside from those who did write under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the remainder of the twelve, the rest did not understand it, including the early church fathers.
In studying those early fathers, because of antiquity, dates may not be exact – they can vary depending on the source. Two of those, Papias (69-163) and Polycarp (69-155), might have been contemporaries of some of the disciples, particularly of John (6-100), and their friends. While that may appear to be a satisfactory condition on the surface regarding the reliability of their testimony or witness, a closer examination will show that, in light of the nature of the Apocalypse, those links may prove rather thin.
That is not in any way meant to defame or disparage anyone; instead, it is only to show that those whom we rely upon most heavily have a high probability of being mistaken on this topic. Assuming that dates are accurate to within one or two years, at fifteen years of age, both Papias and Polycarp were but mere youths when they knew John, who was nearly eighty years old. Now, while that may not be a problem in and of itself, it does show the tenuous nature regarding the transference and the interpretation of the information of the Apocalypse.
Look at it another way: if Papias and Polycarp had lived during the time of Christ and knew the apostles and the other disciples and were indeed their contemporaries, even while not being counted as one of the disciples themselves, their witness would be much stronger. However, from the time of Christ and His disciples to the time of Papias or Polycarp, a century or more had elapsed. Therefore, we see again that those associations are not that solid.
Then, we come to Irenaeus (140-202), who was a church father and historian who wrote about and against the heresies of his day, particularly Gnosticism. His works, entitled Against Heresies, were published ~180. So, yet again, we see that, at a young age, possibly pre-teen or early-teens, he either “sat at the feet of” or had “seen and heard” or otherwise knew Polycarp, who was then an old man in his 80’s. Not only that, but by the time Irenaeus would have heard Polycarp, John had been dead for nearly sixty years. Think about all of that.
Those are the people we are all the most reliant upon, and again it must be stressed, we are only talking about their writings about Revelation and eschatology in general. It is because of the nature of Revelation that their opinions are under scrutiny here. It behooves the 21st-century reader to study to show themselves approved unto God, a workman that needs not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). On this topic, we must not continue to blindly accept what has been written by the early church historians.
Eusebius (264-339), writing even later, was a historian specifically of that first-century church. His works, entitled Ecclesiastical Histories, were published between 312-324 and are of the utmost importance when it comes to the persecution of the church because he documented it under each Roman Emperor until it finally ended in 313. However, he does not contribute much original information regarding the interpretation of the Apocalypse and actually questions its authenticity. Therefore Irenaeus is the key.
Because he quite liberally used material from Irenaeus, Eusebius twice repeated a statement made by him, which I call, in my book (The Harlot of Revelation and the Great Tribulation), “the notorious statement.” That statement, and its repetition, has led many of those who write about eschatology and Revelation to say that the earliest church fathers all come down on the side of the ‘late date’ of Revelation. They, of course, are referencing Irenaeus and Eusebius and that oft-repeated notorious statement, which they put forward as proof positive as to what they are saying.
The actual date that John saw the visions and wrote the book is central to the entire argument. The significance of that is this, a late or early date is referring to its relation to the events of 70AD. Simply-stated, if it was written before 70, then the prophecies recorded in the Apocalypse and elsewhere should be interpreted within the timeframe and context of that time. In doing so, an astonishing thing will occur – most of the prophecies will make sense.
If, on the other hand, John saw the visions and wrote them after 70, then those events become nothing more than historical facts, and their eschatological significance is erased. In their place, the emphasis is placed on man, his interpretations, and the role he plays in the “things of the end.” The ensuing machinations of the minds of men have made Revelation, Daniel, and eschatology nearly incomprehensible.
Aside from the fact that it then becomes about us, and the fact that it places ourselves at the center of all of the glorious events that we believe will happen, we must understand that every generation that has held that view down through the ages has been wrong! Why is that? It is because their thinking and understanding have been wrongly influenced by the writings of Irenaeus.
If the question is asked, “When was the Revelation seen and written?” the answer, more times than not, will be, “In the 90s, in the time, or reign, of Domitian.” And who, one may ask, was Domitian? He was a brutal Roman emperor whose reign was from 81-96. Furthermore, since many people say John wrote Revelation between 90-95, hence – in the time of Domitian.
We must point out that there was a connection between John and Domitian – he eventually freed John from exile. Many people attempt to attribute John’s banishment itself to Domitian, but that is a stretch, made only by those who hold to the futurist view and who use it in an attempt to substantiate their claims and further those futurist views, as we will shortly see. It is not known for a fact who banished John, but the best theory is that it was Nero. John, given his freedom by Domitian, lived out his life in Ephesus, where he was readily seen – in the time of Domitian.
So, then, we can see from where all of those unsubstantiated claims originate. Irenaeus, of course. We will continue to prove that the root of most of the erroneous, yet now legendary, ideas about Revelation come from him and his notorious statement.