DATING THE REVELATION
MINOR A.D. 81-96
at the site of the first century Ephesus have revealed much
about the city and the province of Asia Minor. These discoveries,
substantiated by first century writers (Dio Cassius, Pliny,
Tacitus and others) provide a considerable body of information
about conditions in that part of the world during the reign
of Domitian. A German historian, Ethelbert Stauffer, has effectively
brought together these findings in a background study of the
period. The book is entitled Christ and the Caesars. We have
drawn from this source in forming our picture of life in Asia
Minor during these last years of the apostolic age. We have
also consulted Roman Rule in Asia Minor by David Magie, professor
of Classical Antiquity, Princeton.
rule of Domitian", Prof. Magie writes, "marked a
great advance in the process of centralization, bringing with
it a despotism greater than that exercised by any of the Emperor's
predecessors."1 Though he
was a "merciless tyrant" to those who opposed him,
Domitian was able to make himself popular with the masses.
Except for the Jews and the followers of Christ, most of the
people in Asia Minor approved of this Caesar and his rule.
statue of the emperor Domitian has been uncovered by archaeologists.
It stood during the supremacy of that Caesar in the sports
stadium of Ephesus. Along with that statue there were discovered
images of the imperial priests bearing likenesses of their
god-emperor Domitian. Ephesus had become the center of the
cult of Caesar worship in Asia, and the rites of this imperial
religion were associated with festivals, sporting events and
government functions. Ephesus, famous for its temple of the
goddess Diana, was called on inscriptions "the city loyal
to the emperor". Records from Domitian's time speak of
imperial letters of grace, imperial mysteries and sacrificial
festivals. Domitian thus imposed upon these provincial people
not only the rule of Rome but a system of worship proclaiming
himself an incarnate Deity. The high priest of this cult was
the religious head of all the priests in Asia Minor and also
served in a political capacity. The new Temple of Domitian
where the high priest officiated was also the seat of government.
The rituals of emperor worship were impressive, and it seems
that the populace was very much caught up in its pomp and
ceremony. The people of Asia Minor enjoyed being a part of
the great Roman Empire, and they embraced the worship of Caesar
with some enthusiasm, at least for a time.
the sacrifice to the emperor there followed a grand procession
through the decorated and crowded streets to the place where
the festival games were held. Now the ritual became a truly
public affair. For those who joined in it had streamed together
not only from the city, but from all Asia and the whole world.
As the waves thunder on the shore, writes an author of that
time, so do the assembled masses thunder and toss expectantly
in the sports ground." 3
(local priest-rulers of the Imperial cult) performed their
functions well, and the cult of Caesar prospered in all the
cities of Asia Minor. Evidences are to be found everywhere.
In Pergamos, Smyrna, Thyatira, Sardis and Philadelphia coins
have been found depicting Domitian as a god. An inscription
from Laodicea glorifies Domitian as the incarnation of the
Roman god Jupiter.4
Roman authority and the worship of Caesar were very much a
part of life in Asia Minor, and those who refused to participate
in the popular religious exercises often found themselves
a persecuted minority. This would have been all the more true
of those who actively witnessed against these practices. The
enthusiasm of the provincial people, writes Stauffer, became
at times a raging fury against the followers of Christ. This
was particularly true in A.D. 95, a year in which several
dissidents who refused to worship the emperor or his image
were executed for treason. "In Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos
and elsewhere there were severe anti-Christian riots and executions."5
this tide of paganism the ecclesias in Asia had to maintain
their particular way of life. The popularity of Caesar worship,
associated as it was with sports and entertainment, was most
inviting probably to the young, and the brethren must have
witnessed vigorously against it. In Ephesus the apostle John
would have been the chief elder and spokesman for the ecclesia.
As the cult of Domitian was introduced and gained prominence,
the son of thunder must have opposed it as he had formerly
resisted the errors of the Judaizers and was now opposing
the teachings of the Gnostics. Credibility is thus given to
those ancient traditions which tell us that the venerable
apostle was arrested for his witness, taken to Rome to appear
before Caesar, and then sent back, not to Ephesus, but to
exile on Patmos. The witness refused to keep silence however,
nor would the Spirit allow him to do so. His letters to seven
ecclesias in Asia Minor and a powerful, if mysterious Apocalypse
became the fruit of his isolation. That Domitian was fearful
of men like John is verified by his interview with the grandsons
of Jude, the brother of Christ.
of Jude's grandsons is recounted by Hegesippus, a Jewish convert
to Christianity, who wrote in Palestine about A.D. 150. In
his history of the apostolic Ecclesia he discussed the impact
of Christianity upon the emperor Domitian. He writes: "At
that time there was yet remaining of the kindred of Christ
the grandsons of Jude, who was called his brother according
to the flesh. These some accused as being of the race of David,
and Evocatus brought them before Domitian Caesar. For he too
was afraid of the coming of Christ, as well as Herod."
These grandsons of Jude were interrogated by the emperor Domitian,
and they assured him that they were poor laboring men. Hegesippus
continues: "Being asked of Christ and his kingdom, of
what kind it was and when it should appear, they answered
that it was not worldly and would be in the end of the world;
when he coming in glory should judge the quick and the dead,
and render to every man according to his works."6
Domitian was concerned about any rumor of a threat to his
position from any section of his empire.
persecution of those who opposed his cult continued until
his death in A.D. 96. Apollonius of Tyana, with whom we have
made an earlier acquaintance, turns up in Ephesus at the end
of the period. He was delivering a lecture there when he learned
of the emperor's assassination. "Take heart, gentlemen,"
he announced to those assembled, "for the tyrant has
been slain this day".7
John was released from his Patmos exile and allowed to return
to Ephesus, and for a few years the ecclesias enjoyed a period
of relative peace. Nerva, who succeeded Domitian, released
many prisoners and exiles and followed a course of restraint.8
Dio Cassius wrote that this emperor "forbade the making
of gold or silver statues in his honour", that he restored
the property of those who had been unjustly deprived by Domitian
and abolished many of the sacrifices and spectacles.9
The first century Roman historian, Tacitus, wrote that Nerva
reversed the tyrannical policies of Domitian and "restored
liberty" to the empire.10
Unfortunately, Nerva's reign lasted just two years.
worship continued under Trajan and succeeding emperors, but
it was not enforced with quite the same zeal as it had been
under Domitian, nor was the Asian populace so caught up in
it. Pliny, the military governor of Asia Minor under Trajan
(98-117 A.D.) describes conditions of his day as compared
with the earlier excesses. To him Domitian had been a cruel
tyrant, whereas Trajan was an enlightened despot who sought
to "reclaim" his subjects as loyal adherents of
Roman paganism.11 It was still
"illegal" to follow Christ, however, and persecutions
were resumed. The way of the Truth was never an easy path
in the days of the Caesars.
1 Magie, Roman Rule in Asia Minor, pp. 576-577.
2 Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars, pp. 150-191.
3 Ibid., p. 170.
4 Ibid., p. 173.
5 Ibid., p. 173.
6 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book III, ch. 20.
7 Philostratus, The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Book III,
8 Dio Cassius, Roman History, Book lxviii.2.
10 Tacitus, Agricola, 3.
11 Pliny, Letters, Book X.xcvi.