“The persecution of Domitian burned itself ineradicably into the memory of history; it may be doubted by the critic, but not by the historian.” –Sir William Ramsay
Despised and feared by the Roman Senate, Domitian came to power during difficult times./1 Sensitive to the fact that he had never served in the military, Domitian was distrustful of anyone who did not show allegiance to his Caesar-cult. Closely identified with the pagan gods Jupiter and Minerva, he proclaimed himself “Lord and God.”/2
After a failed attempt to refute this blasphemy, many philosophers and Christians were banished from the city of Rome. Since the Apostle John was preaching in Ephesus about this time, he was exiled to the island of Patmos. While there, he wrote in vivid detail about a vision that he had received from Jesus Christ./3
Frequently called the Apocalypse, John’s vision used symbolic language to illustrate God’s working between the supernatural realm and the seven churches of Asia Minor./4 Sent to the mainland as a letter to bolster faith, his vision revealed that evil would continue to persecute all good, but in the end it would be defeated by Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.
Although some opinions differ as to the mystery depicted in this drama, it is emphatic in condemning the imperial city of Rome. Synonymous with idolatry, Rome is presented as the fallen city of Babylon (Revelation 17:5-17 )./5 In spite of her dominance, Rome is condemned for her perverted worship and is doomed for her enumerable sins. Like the former city, imminent judgment is announced in a lengthy triumphal dirge (Revelation 18:1-24)./6
Today’s truths and principles are embodied in this vision, for God is in control of all history. This message confirms that truth will triumph over evil, and it is a warning to those who follow Satan. Christian, are you up for the task?
“Christ is coming! over the world victorious,
Power and glory unto the Lord belong.
Praise Him! praise Him! tell of His excellent greatness;
Praise Him! praise Him! ever in joyful song!” — Fanny J. Crosby
1/ The city of Rome was devastated by fire in A.D. 64. This conflagration was followed with the catastrophic destruction of the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii by Mount Vesuvius, in A.D. 79. In between these disasters, the empire was entangled in a great civil war, with Domitian becoming emperor in A.D. 81.
2/ Martial, Suetonius, Dio Cassius, and Dio Chrysostom record that Domitian used the title of “Dominus et Deus.”
3/ Located in the Aegean sea, Patmos lies 70 miles southwest of Ephesus. Early evidence for John’s exile can be found in the testimony of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and Hippolytus.
4/ J.T. Marlin, The Seven Churches of Asia Minor (Nashville, Tennessee: Williams Printing Company, 1980), 8. The ruins of Ephesus, Laodicea, Pergamum, Philadelphia, Sardis, Smyrna, and Thyatira are in western Turkey (Revelation 2:1-29 & Revelation 3:1-22).
5/ 1 Peter 5:12-14 and Sibylline Oracles III.75.
6/ J. W. Roberts, The Revelation to John (Austin, Texas: Sweet Publishing Company, 1974) 134-156.