More important for the [dating] issue here is that Nero was not deified, though there is some evidence that he wished to be. However, there was no widespread demand that he be recognized as such. . . . the coins of the 90s prove Domitian’s megalomania; they show even his wife was called the mother of the divine Caesar. . . . the imperial cult was apparently much more developed and prominent in Domitian’s day than it was in Nero’s time.4
Under Nero and his successors down to Domitian, the emperor-cult continued as one of the established religious institutions, but its progress is not signalized by edicts enforcing it, or by notorious persecutions arising from it. It is in the reign of Domitian (81-96) that we reach an insistence upon the cultus more vehement and more threatening for the future. . . . Clement of Rome, contemporary with Domitian, refers to his course in the quite general words ‘the sudden and repeated calamities and adversities which have befallen us.’5
We are told by ancient Roman writers that toward the end of Domitian’s reign there was more chaos in the cultural and social spheres of the Empire than in any prior time. Furthermore, we are informed that Domitian insisted on greater divine titles than earlier emperors in order to increase his tyrannical hold on the reigns of government. Those refusing to acknowledge these new titles were persecuted.6Whatever the case may be, it is our feeling that the state of emperor worship at the time of John is not a reliable indicator of the date of the book, whether early or late, because it cannot be clearly shown that the events within the book which appear similar are in fact truly related. Especially given the global and eschatological focus of this last book of the Bible.
1 Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998, 1906), lxxxiv.
2 Yet not all agree. David Aune, writing in the forward to Hemer states: “Hemer affirms the historicity of ‘the Domitianic persecution,’ though scholarship during the last twenty-five years has shown that an official and empire-wide persecution under the reign of Domitian has no firm historical basis but was in fact a Christian legend which reached full-blown form with Eusebius of Caesarea in the early fourth century AD.”—Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), xviii.
3 Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John, lxxxii.
4 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 6-7.
5 Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 200,204.
6 Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 5.