Early Church History
persecutions of Christians under Domitian with that emperor's entire reign. It may well have been the case
that Christians were mistreated under Domitian throughout his reign. Suetonius portrays Domitian as a cruel
and unpredictable ruler.
He did not hesitate to put to death whomever he chose, even Roman Senators who
were ex Consuls.
However, this does not mean that John was sent to Patmos at the very beginning of Domitian's reign.
According to Eusebius, the persecutions and martyrdoms reached their height near the end of Domitian's
reign. They also indicated the precise date, noting that in the fifteenth year of Domitian, Flavia Domitilla,
who was a niece of Flavius Clemens, one of the consuls at Rome that year, was with many others, because of
the testimony to Christ, taken to the island of Pontia as a punishment.
Though Eusebius claims this was the
15th year of Domitian, the consulship of Flavius Clemens is generally placed in the 14th year of Domitian
95 in the usual chronology;
82 in my revised chronology).
And this may be the reason that
Jerome associates the exile of John to Patmos with the 14th year, though it was Domitian's 14th year, not the
14th year after Nero. Therefore, the most likely year that John was sent to Patmos, given the above evidence,
is the 14th year of Domitian,
82, the same year that many others were also sent into exile on an island.
Domitian's reign ended with his death the following year, in September of
83, the 15th calendar year of
his reign and just over 15 years after the death of the previous emperor, Titus.
After the death of Domitian, John was released from Patmos and allowed to return to Ephesus. But
Domitian having been put to death and his acts, on account of his excessive cruelty, having been annulled by
the senate, he returned to Ephesus under Pertinax [the emperor Nerva Pertinax] and continuing there until the
tithe of the emperor Trajan, founded and built churches throughout all Asia . John's stay on Patmos lasted
perhaps two years; he arrived on Patmos sometime during Domitian's 14th year (
82), Domitian died
during the 15th year of his reign (
83), and John was released under the reign of the very next emperor,
who ruled for only a little more than a year (late
83 to Jan.
85). Therefore, John was probably in
exile on the island of Patmos for roughly two years. Still, it is possible that John was sent into exile earlier than
Eusebius indicates, for the persecution of Christians under Domitian did begin earlier than Domitian's 14th
If this was the case, then John's stay on the island of Patmos could have been somewhat longer than
The Death of Saint John
John survived the persecution under Domitian and his sentence to work the mines on the island of Patmos.
Eusebius quotes Clement of Alexandria as saying that after the tyrant (Domitian) had died, John moved
from the island of Patmos to Ephesus, and that he traveled to neighboring areas, but kept Ephesus as his
Eusebius quotes Irenaeus as saying that John lived at Ephesus until sometime during the reign of the
Jerome is more specific about the death of John. He tells us that John returned to Ephesus continuing
there until the tithe of the emperor Trajan, founded and built churches throughout all Asia, and, worn out by
old age, died in the sixty eighth year after our Lord s passion and was buried near the same city. The tithe of
the emperor Trajan was the third year of his reign.
In this revised chronology, Domitian died September 18
83 (see chapter 13). According to Dio, the next emperor, Nerva, reigned for only one year, 4 months,
and 9 days.
Nerva, then, died near the end of January in the year
85. Trajan actually took over as
emperor before Nerva died, for, according to Dio, Nerva resigned from the throne.
85 was the
first year of Trajan's reign and
87 was his third year. John died in Trajan's third year, at Ephesus, in the
According to Saint Jerome, John died in the 68th year after the year of Christ's Passion. Since Christ died in
19, the 68th year after His Passion would be
87 (19 + 68 = 87). The length of time from Christ's
Passion to John's death matches the year given by Jerome, Trajan s third year. (Note that Jerome does not
correctly match year and length of time in the cases of James the Less, Mark the Gospel writer, and the
Apostle Peter's deaths.) Since the year and the length of time agree in this case, the date Jerome gives for John
the Gospel writer's death is confirmed.
According to Saint Epiphanius, John was 94 years old at the time of his death.
If so, then John was about
26 years old at the time of Christ's Passion (68 years earlier), and was about 23 when he became an Apostle