“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 he was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.”
That is Irenaeus’ notorious statement. But if only the translators correctly translated Irenaeus’ statement like the above, instead of incorrectly the way they did. It makes perfect sense in the above. The “he” would refer to John, who was seen in the reign of Domitian, in Ephesus, where he lived out his life after being freed from exile, in the reign of Domitian. Otherwise, how was he seen during that time?
God, through His angel, gave the apostle John a series of visions called the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, which we know as Revelation. John was a prisoner of the Roman Empire, banished to Patmos, an island in the Aegean Sea, off the coast and south of Ephesus, in Asia Minor. Which emperor exiled him is part of the mystery; some say Nero, others Domitian. No one knows with certainty.
If one were inclined to research this subject, the chances are good that most articles would say that Domitian banished John to Patmos, who then received and wrote the Apocalypse. “According to most biblical historians, he was exiled as a result of anti-Christian persecution under the Roman emperor Domitian” – Wikipedia.
“The Emperor Domitian banished the revelator St. John to this island” – The Gospel Faith Messenger.
“He was exiled under Emperor Domitian to the Island Patmos” – Zarephath Ministries.
And so on. A more honest approach would be something like this: “According to early tradition, John wrote near the end of Domitian’s reign, around 95 or 96 CE. Others contend for an earlier date, around 68 or 69, in the reign of Nero or shortly thereafter. Those in favor of the later date cite the fact that the Neronian persecution was limited to Rome. In addition, Irenaeus (d. 185) states that he had received information from those who had seen John face to face and that John had recorded his revelation ‘almost in our day, toward the end of Domitian’s reign” (Against Heresies 5.30.5) – New World Encyclopedia.
Case closed, right? Open, shut case, right? Domitian in a landslide, right? Not so fast. First, Nero was as evil as they come, the beast of Revelation. Second, when the Great Fire broke out in Rome (July 64), the people blamed Nero, and he blamed the Christians. In all probability, that was when he had Christians covered in animal skins and set dogs on them or dipped them in pitch and set them on fire to use as torches to light the night in his garden. Third, Nero was emperor of the entire Roman Empire, so to think the persecution was “local” is ludicrous. And fourth, it was probably at that time when he had the apostle Paul beheaded, and Peter crucified upside down. Therefore, it is not a stretch to believe he exiled John at around the same time, later freed in Domitian’s reign.
But instead of “For he was seen,” it says, “For that was seen,” exchanging the correct subject of the verb from John to the Apocalypse. Gentry says no impersonal pronoun “that was seen” exists in the original Greek (346). I can attest to that as I studied New Testament Greek and know that personal pronoun word endings attach to verbs. The correct choices should have been he, she, or it was seen, not that was seen. Thus, Irenaeus is not reliable on this score, and for dispensationalists to embrace him makes their entire argument bogus.
Next time we will finish up on Irenaeus.