Every Monday, I will provide a glimpse into the research I am doing into the persecution of the Christian and Jewish communities during the reign of Domitian. I am plunging headlong into the research and loving every minute of it.
My interest in Domitian began with research I undertook in summer of 2014 into Johannine studies. Last week’s third part can be seen here. Today, I present to you the fourth portion of that research, and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
This section is an attempt to show the exegetical implications of how to view the persecution enacted under Domitian or conducted by the alleged Ephesian cult. The debate over how to interpret Revelation is determined by two things: the date of the book and what way did John refer to things in his time. These two issues determine which of the four views one takes. A Preterist will take an early date, and will view the visions as symbolizing the events of A. D. 70. A Historicist will take either an early 70 A. D. or later 90 A. D. date, but also see the symbolism as realized in events throughout history. An idealist will take either an early or late date. Also, the Idealist will not see the symbolism as realized in actual events, but he will rather see the visions in Revelation as spiritual truths. A Futurist (normally a Dispensationalist) will take a late date for the book, and will see the symbolism as unfulfilled action to be completed at a later date. There has been a good presentation of these four views released recently.1
Placing the book during the reign of Domitian will obviously preclude a Preterist reading. This will obviously exclude seeing the visions as completed in the persecution initiated under Nero. The exegetical implications rest now among the latter three views. First, the historicist would read Domitian as the Antichrist, and they would see the various persecutions of believers envisioned by John as being realized in him. To the historicist, a turn toward seeing the Ephesian cult as the persecutor would provide interesting exegetical options allowing the many headed beast to be a possible amalgamation of public animus toward Christians.
Second, the Idealist would see little difference between either taking Domitian or the Ephesian cult as the Antichrist figures, seeing in them as types of the things John is referring to. Rather they would most likely focus on the human obstacles to the faith in our daily lives as Antichrists, and so on.
Third, Dispensationalists would see Domitian or the Ephesian cult as a the background information to the book. Either or these would be the background to John’s comment about being on Patmos, “because of the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus (Rev. 1.9).” They see the fulfilment as still future, which is in keeping with the temporal language of John. Thompson is correct to state, “Thus, tribulation is a significant theme in the seer’s visions, but that theme must be explored in the context of the seer’s linguistic universe rather than in the time and space of the first-century Asia.”2 In short, the exegetical ramifications are only as great as the view of Revelation one allows.
However, there are significant exegetical insights to be made in the first three chapters by this information, and it primarily is seen in the person of John. The possibility of the persecution being localized and inflicted from a misguided group of Imperial loyalists does little to assuage the clearly anti-imperial sentiment felt by John. Having been exiled to Patmos, the beloved disciple would have felt the Imperial persecution far more acutely than say a nominal Christian in the Corinthian church. Whether or not some of the church in Asia Minor was under persecution officially or not, it would have mattered little to John since his own predicament was due to official censure. This insight allows one to see the Apostle’s care for the Saint’s condition in relationship to the persecution of outsiders.
1 Steve Gregg, ed., Revelation, Four Views: A Parallel Commentary (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers, 1997).
2Thompson, Semeia 36, 148.
Domitian Denarius, by Heinz-Joachim Krenzer, published into the Public Domain.
Domitian Rhino Obverse, Quadras, by Ginolerhino, published into the Public Domain.