Revelation Before 1 Peter? Evidence for the Early Dating of Revelation
The traditional dating of the two books, 1 Peter and Revelation, suggests that 1 Peter was written circa AD 64-65, while the current majority view is that Revelation is posited in AD 96-98 in the reign of Domitian. It is significant that there is a growing number of scholars who are rejecting that late date for Revelation since it is now widely admitted, even by the late date advocates, that there is scarcely any evidence that Domitian ever persecuted the church. In fact, some scholars are suggesting that all of the books of the NT were written before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. (See Jonathan Bernier’s, Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids; Baker Academic, 2022).
I suggest that in agreement with Bernier and others, Revelation was written earlier than the current consensus suggests. In fact, I propose that Revelation was actually written prior to the book of 1 Peter. The evidence for that is extremely powerful, in my opinion. What I will present in this article is a small part of the supporting evidence that I offer in a video (DVD or flash drive) series of lessons on 1 Peter that I have produced, and that is available from this website. This is a truly unique study and one that will challenge your traditional thinking on the book of Revelation. I also present a wealth of documentation for the early dating of Revelation in my book, Who Is This Babylon?
Let me present, at the very outset, my argument:
Peter and John wrote to the same audiences- the churches of Asia.
They addressed the identical topics, themes, motifs.
They called on the identical prophetic background.
The both wrote concerning the hope of Israel.
They both made the identical promises.
They both posited fulfillment within an imminent time frame.
Note first of all that John and Peter were writing to the identical audiences, the Diaspora of the tribes of Israel, the churches of Asia (1 Peter 1:1-2 / Revelation 1:4; chapter 7 & 14).
Both Peter and John are focused on the suffering of their audiences, and the entire drama of the vindication of that suffering (1 Peter 1:5f / Revelation 1:9; 6:9-11, etc.).
Both Peter and John posit that vindication would come at the parousia of Christ, Peter affirmed that Christ was “ready to judge the living and the dead”, (1 Peter 4:5); “the end of all things has drawn near” (1:4:7); “the time has come for the judgment to begin” (1:4:17). In Revelation, the Father, who knew the Day and the Hour of the end, revealed that the hour had arrived (14:6-8), and told the the son to tell the churches that Christ’s coming was to come quickly (22:10-12).
Peter promised his audience that they would only have to suffer for “a little while” (from, oligon – 1 Peter 1:6; 5:10). Likewise, John revealed that the martyrs under the altar, those who had already been slain, only had to wait for a little while, (chronon mikron – 6:11f) until the number of their fellow-brethren who would be slain as they were, was fulfilled. This means that the living martyrs would only have to suffer for a little while longer.
The suffering of the saints in Peter was filling up the measure of the suffering of the saints (which means that the measure of sin on the part of the persecutors was likewise being filled up). In 1 Peter 5:9, Peter told the brethren that their suffering, and that of their brethren in the rest of the world, was filling up the measure of suffering (epitelesthai – to complete, to fill up).
In Revelation 6, John saw the imminent filling up (plerothosin – from pleroo) of the measure of suffering, when he spoke of “the about to be – mellontes– killed saints” (6:11).
On this theme of filling up the measure of sin and its correlate, Jesus gives us the definitive, undeniable time frame and context for that:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (Matthew 23:29-37).
Jesus’ words are clear, unambiguous and undeniable.
It would be incongruous if, for instance, Peter was discussing what Jesus foretold, but John was speaking of something far removed in time from what Jesus and Peter discussed. This would be particularly disjunctive if, as the commentators normally claim, John was speaking of events hundreds – perhaps even thousands – of years away i..e the filling up of the measure of sin on the part of Rome, or some modern entity. John said that the filling up of the measure of that persecutorial sin and the filling up of the suffering of the martyrs, was taking place when he wrote and was to be fulfilled shortly and in a little while. He said in 17:6 that Babylon was holding a cup of the blood of the saints, and the cup was full. To posit Revelation beyond that imminent context, but to take seriously Peter’s affirmation that the then present suffering, and the about to be suffering of his audience was indeed imminent – for only a little while would make a mockery of language. The promises in both books is identical, the temporal context is identical. There is clearly no contextual justification for divorcing 1 Peter and Revelation from one another temporally – or thematically.
Unless one can prove, definitively, that Jesus and Peter, and then John, spoke of two totally different persecutions, of the identical audiences, separated in time by hundreds of years – (in spite of the inspired statements by both Peter and John that they both expected the end very soon) – this demands that the Apocalypse must be placed within the same temporal context as Matthew 23. That demands that Revelation was written prior to AD 70. This does not prove that Revelation was written before Peter, but it assuredly does place both books prior to AD 70. Now, back to the parallels between Peter and Revelation.
In Revelation 12, after being cast down to earth out of heaven, the Devil had great wrath because he knew he had only a little while (ὀλίγον καιρὸν- oligon kairon – a short / small time, literally “appointed time”), to persecute the nascent church. In Revelation 20:3, 8, Satan is loosed at the end of the millennium, to persecute the saints, for a little while (μικρὸν χρόνον – mikron chronon, 20:3). The “little while” of Revelation 12 is patently the time of the end of the millennium in Revelation 20.
In Peter 5:8, the Devil is like a roaring lion walking around seeking whom he may devour, but, he has only a little while (1: 5– ὀλίγον , oligon). The saints only had to suffer a little while, as in Revelation 12, where the Devil had only a short time to persecute them), to accomplish his persecutorial work (1 Peter 1:5f; 4:5, 7, 17). It is literally amazing that commentators virtually ignore these time words that demand that the persecution in Peter and Revelation was delimited to a very short period of time – not thousands of years.
Are we to suppose that “the little while” of Revelation 12 / 20 is a totally different “little while” from that in 1 Peter? Upon what basis can this be argued? If these referents are, in fact, to the same period, (and there is no textual or contextual indication that they are different), this virtually demands that Peter was writing at the end of the millennium. The is the time when the Devil was loosed for that “little while.”
Consider now the following. In Revelation 3:9-12 we find the following in Jesus’ address to the church at Philadelphia:
Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.
Now, the issue / problem there was patently a “Jewish” problem. Those claiming to be the true Jews, were in fact, now considered by the Lord to be “the synagogue of Satan.” One might well consider that in 1 Peter 2 the apostle goes to great length to establish that Christ is the chief cornerstone of the true (spiritual) temple of God – which may well indicate that he was responding to those who claimed to be Jews but were not. Keep in mind that Peter and John were writing to the same areas. This raises the question of exactly how one could delineate between the subject matter of 1 Peter and Revelation, given the specific, direct parallel nature of the issues – and the temporal statements – in both books.
Second, Jesus foretold “the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world.” This rendering does not convey the force of the situation. Jesus spoke of the “hour of trial” that was coming. But the Greek has it that the trial was about to come (μελλούσης ἔρχεσθαι- mellontees erchomai). That is, the hour of trial (πειρασμοu , peirasmou ), was about to come. This is confirmed by the opening of the book (1:1-3) in which the Father, who knew the day and the hour of the end times events, said that those things “must shortly (en taxei) come to pass.”
Third, it is to be observed that Jesus was patently predicting the imminent beginning of the persecution, the trial (peirasmou / πειρασμοu ). It had either not begun, or, just perhaps, had not yet reached the level of intensity that it was about to. It is perhaps not possible to determine which. But one thing is incontrovertible: Jesus was predicting what was coming– but had not yet been fulfilled – on the Asian Christians. When we come to 1 Peter, however, we find something more than remarkable, something that few commentators observe.
Notice 1 Peter 4:12:
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;
Why did Peter say “do not think it strange” concerning the “fiery trial”? I suggest that they knew – they had been told- that it was supposed to come. Compare 1 Thessalonians 3:2-4, where Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he had:
Sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know.
Of course, Paul expended a great deal of time and effort in evangelizing Asia (See Acts 19:1-10), with great success.
Since Peter (circa early to mid sixties) is addressing the saints in Asia, it is certainly conceivable that Paul had already warned them of the coming persecution, just as he had taught consistently (Acts 14:22- “we must, through much tribulation, enter the kingdom”). Of course, it is to be kept in mind that Paul’s missionary work was taking place in the AD 50s, so that brings 1 Peter and Revelation into focus. It once again raises the question: Since Paul warned the Asian churches that he established that persecution was coming, and Revelation gave the same warning, adding the note of imminence that Peter then speaks of, what is the hermeneutic for even suggesting that Paul and Peter and John were addressing persecutions widely separated from each other temporally?
We know that the Thessalonians began to be persecuted as early as the early AD 50s. (One could note the persecution of the Galatian churches even earlier than that- Galatians 4:22f). The point is that the Asian churches were informed, often as soon as they were founded, that persecution was coming. That is what Acts 14:22 & 1 Thessalonians 3 shows us. But, it was clearly not just Paul that warned them of that impending (worsening?) persecution / trial. It was patently John (Jesus) in the Apocalypse as well: “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is about to come…” And just as in 1 Thessalonians 3 where Paul reminded the saints there that they had been warned of the coming persecution that had already begun, 1 Peter gives us a direct parallel. But we have to look closer at the translation of 1 Peter 4:12 to “catch the power” of that parallel.
Here is the New American Standard rendering, supported by the Greek and the majority of other translations:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though something strange were happening to you;
The fact is that the Greek gives no support for the rendering “the fiery trial that is about to come upon you.” There is no future tense in the text! Peter refers to the fiery trial that “is among you.” The “among you” is from en humin and speaks to what was then present among them, when Peter wrote.
Let me emphasize: there is no future tense in 1 Peter 4:12 that indicates in any way that the fiery trial had not yet arrived. If ever there was a case of translational bias, this may well be the “showcase” example. As M. R. Vincent notes:
The A. V. thus makes the trial a thing of the future; mistranslating the Greek present participle, which is taking place. This participle, therefore, represents the trial as actually in progress does not give this force by its which cometh upon you. (Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 1, p. 663). Charles Scribner’s Sons– Logos Bible Program).
So, what Paul had earlier predicted would occur in the Asian churches, (and no one denies that Paul wrote before 1 Peter), and what John in Revelation had predicted, was now a reality in 1 Peter. It is patently untenable to claim, without probative proof, that Paul certainly did predict that coming trial but that John was writing four decades later! The question is, since both Paul and John had predicted the coming fiery trial on the Asian brethren, and Peter seems to reference those earlier predictions, what is the basis for claiming that John wrote 40 years after Paul and 30 years after 1 Peter and spoke of a totally different “persecution” from that foretold by Paul?
So, if it is true that the persecution foretold by both Paul and John predated what was taking place in 1 Peter, this serves as powerful evidence that Revelation, (as were Paul’s epistles), was written before 1 Peter.
Peter, Revelation and Babylon
There is another intriguing tidbit that contributes to this study, and that is found in 1 Peter 5:13:
“She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you; and so does Mark my son.”
What follows draws somewhat from an article found on my website. Be sure to visit there and read the longer article.
This passage has caused no small amount of discussion in the literature. It is widely assumed that Peter was writing from Rome and was referring to Rome as Babylon. We are told that the Jews called Rome Babylon, but what is commonly overlooked, but which I document in my Who Is This Babylon? book, is that the Jews did not call Rome Babylon until after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. And they did so because of that destruction.
J. Christian Wilson notes, in post-AD 70 Jewish writings references to Rome as “Babylon” focused on Rome as the destroyer of the Temple, whereas pre-AD 70 references focused on Babylon as the place of exile and bondage. (J. Christian Wilson, “Babylon as a Cipher For Rome and the Dating of Early Jewish and Early Christian Documents,” (Unpublished paper read at the 1994 Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. Cited by Beale in his commentary on Revelation, 19).
This agrees well with the fact that early Christianity– and certainly not Paul or Peter – did not see herself as in bondage to Rome. In fact, when one examines Paul and Peter’s writings carefully, the theme of bondage is discussed in the context of bondage to Torah and the Old Covenant system. (Cf. Galatians 4-5).
Consider that we know that Biblically, Peter’s base of operations was Jerusalem. This is not to suggest that he never traveled outside there, but, it is to emphasize that Jerusalem was his base. Now, if we can assume– and I see no reason to question this – that Peter viewed Torah and Jerusalem as the city of “bondage” like Paul did (Romans 7 / Galatians 4-5) then it makes perfect sense to see Peter cryptically referring to Jerusalem as Babylon – just as John did.
Another thing that is highly suggestive is that 1 Peter, just like Revelation, is focused on the “Second Exodus.” In 1 Peter 1:18f the apostle said: “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”
Peter’s reference to being “redeemed” echoes the Exodus motif, since perhaps no other word suggested “Exodus” more to the Jewish mind than “redemption” (lutruoo). (See Deuteronomy 7:8; 9:26; 15:15, etc.).
Peter said they had been redeemed from aimless conduct “received by tradition from your fathers.” Now, the “fathers” in Petrine thought – and generally in NT references- were the Jewish fathers. Furthermore, his reference to the “tradition” of the fathers takes us back to Jesus and his castigation of the Pharisees and their “traditions of men” (Matthew 15:8).
Lastly, Peter said they had been redeemed, “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” This is a direct allusion to the Passover / Exodus. Jesus was the Passover sacrifice offered to redeem them from their vain manner of life. (For a discussion of the Second Exodus in 1 Peter, see Mark Dubis, Messianic Woes in First Peter, Suffering and Eschatology in 1 Peter 4:12-19 – Studies in Biblical Literature, Vol. 33, (New York; Peter Lang, 2002), 48f).
So, if Peter has “Egypt” and “bondage” in mind in 1:18f and if he has “bondage” in mind in 5:13, then by far the better understanding of “Babylon” in 5:13 was Old Covenant Judaism. Let me point out that since Revelation could refer to Jerusalem as Sodom (a pagan entity) and Egypt (a pagan nation) then it is clearly possible that Peter could likewise refer to Jerusalem as Babylon.
In keeping with the Second Exodus motif, remember that in Revelation we find the identical motif. Thus, in both 1 Peter and Revelation, the Second Exodus motif is a dominant theme, and it is not Rome that is seen as the enslaver of God’s people, but the Old Covenant world. It is the city, “where the Lord was crucified” that was spiritually designated as Sodom, Egypt (Revelation 11:8)- and Babylon.
Keep in mind again that, as shown above, Revelation foretold the situation that had come to reality in 1 Peter. Thus, it makes good logical sense that since John was writing about “Babylon” (i.e. Jerusalem, as the persecutor, as the one that the saints were to leave behind, as the entity that was filling the measure of sin through persecuting the saints, as the enslaving “Egypt,” etc.), that Peter, writing of the same identical issues, to the same people, was likewise referring to Jerusalem as Babylon. He did not have Rome, or the literal city Babylon in mind.
There is a great deal more that could be said about 1 Peter and Revelation, because the parallels between the two books are incredible, but, I will stop here. I think what I have presented here is sufficient to establish that Babylon in 1 Peter 5:13 was in fact Jerusalem. See my Who Is This Babylon? for more on the identity of Babylon in Revelation.