Did Irenaeus Claim that Revelation Was Seen at the End of Nero’s Reign?

Examining the claim that “Domitian’s reign” in Irenaeus referred to Nero (Domitius), not Domitian

The most cited passage employed as evidence that the early Christians placed John’s exile and apocalyptic vision (of Revelation) late in the first century, late in Domitian’s reign, is found in Irenaeus:

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Was Lazarus the Beloved Disciple?

While there are good reasons for supposing that the Beloved Disciple was not John the son of Zebedee (see here), the view that he was Lazarus also raises difficulties.

1. The Beloved Disciple is maintained as an anonymous figure right up until the final chapter of the Fourth Gospel, whereas Lazarus is named. This fact alone seems to rule out Lazarus as the BD.

2. Lazarus is spoken of as one whom Jesus loved (John 11:3), but so are his sisters (John 11:5). He is never spoken of as a “disciple” which may have denoted someone that followed and travelled with Jesus.

3.  The theory seems to treat the Fourth Gospel as a puzzle book with clues that the reader is supposed to piece together concerning the identity of the BD. However, the Gospel of John seems to presuppose that its readers were aware of the identity, for an unspecified “we” assures the readers that the testimony of this figure is reliable: “This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24, NKJV).

Furthermore, the readers were aware of a rumor that he wouldn’t die, based upon Jesus’ prophecy to him (not based upon the idea he had already been resurrected), which again presupposes that they were familiar with his identity.

4. The resurrection of Lazarus is written from the perspective of an eyewitness who was there with the crowds and could record their reactions, and who witnessed it from the outside, as it unfolded.

5. Lazarus lived in Bethany, possibly at the house of Simon the Leper. It is thought that Bethany may have been one of three towns east of Jerusalem designated by the Temple Scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls as a place for lepers. The Beloved Disciple was with Jesus at the Last Supper, which took place ‘in the city’ (Luke 22:10), in Jerusalem, and not in Bethany, where Lazarus lived. Witherington suggests that the account of the Last Supper in John is actually a mixed account of an earlier meal, in order to avoid this.1

6. The priests sought to kill Lazarus following his resurrection (John 11:57), yet the Beloved Disciple freely entered the palace of the high priest (John 18) and stood by Jesus at the cross (John 19).  

7. No early writer identifies the Beloved Disciple with Lazarus. This includes people that were said to have personally known the Beloved Disciple, like Papias and Polycarp. Witherington argues that John the Elder wrote the Gospel using the recollections of Lazarus, but John’s Gospel is clear that the BD himself wrote it (John 21:24).2


  1. Witherington writes:
    “John does not recount the Lord’s Supper at all, simply the earlier meal, but he does indeed add the end of the last supper meal story about Judas going out and betraying Jesus here which is necessary to the plot line continuing.” http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/01/was-lazarus-beloved-disciple.html

2. Witherington writes:
“How did this Gospel come to be named according to John? My answer is a simple one—it is because John of Patmos was the final editor of this Gospel after the death of Lazarus. Once Domitian died, John returned to Ephesus and lived out his days. One of the things he did was edit and promulgate the Fourth Gospel on behalf of the Beloved Disciple. Somewhere very near the end of John’s own life, Papias had contact with this elderly John. It is not surprising, since this contact seems to be brief, that Papias learned correctly that this John was not the Zebedee John and that this elderly John had something to do with the production of the Fourth Gospel. This I think neatly explains all of the various factors involved in our conundrum. It may even have been Papias who was responsible for the wider circulation of this Gospel with a tag ‘according to John’. It is not surprising that Irenaeus, swatting buzzing Gnostics like flies, would later conclude that the Fourth Gospel must be by an apostle or one of the Twelve.” http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/01/was-lazarus-beloved-disciple.html

Were John son of Zebedee and the Beloved Disciple the same person?

It’s commonly thought that John the son of Zebedee was the author of the Gospel of John, the figure spoken of in that Gospel as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The two are never explicitly identified, however, and there are reasons for questioning this identification.

Here are eight points to consider:

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The Early Christians and the Dating of Revelation: Are We Too Late?

Sources do not support a Domitianic Dating

Four factors have contributed to the consensus opinion that early sources dated John’s apocalyptic vision late in Domitian’s reign:

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John and the Bishops of the Asian Churches

John’s ministry in Asia Minor and the Dating of John’s Gospel and Revelation

According to a number of ancient writers, John founded the bishoprics in the churches of the province of Asia.

What was the historical situation of these ordinations, according to early Christian tradition, and what can it tell us about when early sources placed the writing of the Gospel and Revelation of John?

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The Confusion of Patmos and Cyprus

Cyprus as the location of John’s exile in some medieval sources

According to a medieval Greek prologue to the Gospels, John wrote his Gospel “in Patmos of Cyprus.”[1] Of course, Patmos is quite a distance from the much larger island of Cyprus (see map below).

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Polycarp, Smyrna, and the Date of Revelation

Was the church of Smyrna founded too late for an early dating of Revelation?

Some claim that according to Polycarp, the Christians at Smyrna (one of the seven churches of Asia addressed in Revelation) had not known the Lord at the time of Paul’s ministry, which ended with his death (c. 66).[1]

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The Martyrdom of Antipas and the Dating of Revelation

What does tradition tell us about when the martyr Antipas died?

The book of Revelation, in its letter to the church at Pergamom in Asia, speaks of a faithful martyr named Antipas (2:13).

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John Mark? You have got to be kidding me!

My research into the thesis that the early Christians identified John/Mark with John the Evangelist

I remember as a graduate student talking about my undergraduate research. There was interest until I mentioned that I had examined the potential identification of the Beloved Disciple/John the Evangelist with the John also called Mark.

Immediately the mood changed. Words didn’t need to be spoken; the incredulous look and change in demeanor said it all. The conversation was brought to an abrupt end.

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