The King and I: The Apostle John and Emperor Domitian -- By: Gordon Franz

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 11:4 (Fall 1998)
Article: The King and I: The Apostle John and Emperor Domitian
Author: Gordon Franz


The King and I: The Apostle John and Emperor Domitian

Gordon Franz

Emperor Domitian, the self-proclaimed “Lord and God” and ruthless dictator, reigned from AD 81 to 96. He was the son of Emperor Vespasian and the brother of Titus, the conquerors of Jerusalem in AD 70. Late in life, Domitian become very superstitious. In fact, on the day before he was murdered, he consulted an astrologer. During this time he also consulted Apollo, the god of music and poetry, as well as light, truth and prophecy! Commemorating his superstition, the emperor minted coins depicting Apollo on one side and a raven, associated with prophecy, on the other (Jones 1989: 266).

The ancients believed a bird’s flight could foretell the future (Kanitz 1973-1974: 47) and Domitian looked to the raven to foretell his immediate future. Ironically, Suetonius, a Roman historian and senator, records, “A few months before he (Domitian) was killed, a raven perched on the Capitalium and cried, ‘All will be well,’ an omen which some interpreted as follows: . . . a raven . . . could not say, ‘It is well,’ only declared ‘It will be well’“ (Rolfe 1992: 385). Emperor Domitian died soon after and all was well!

The Apostle John, exiled to the island of Patmos about AD 95, received a more sure word of prophecy. Not from a raven or Apollo, but from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The Book of Revelation begins, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place” (Rv 1:1)1. He goes on to say, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it, for the time is near” (Rv 1:3).

The Book of Revelation is a polemic against Emperor Domitian and the Roman world. While Domitian looked to Apollo and the raven to foretell the immediate future, the

Emperor Domitian minted coins with the head of Apollo, (top) and the raven (bottom). He consulted Apollo, Roman god of music, poetry, light, truth and prophecy, for knowledge of the future. Depicted as a handsome young man, Apollo was also identified with Helios, the Greek sun-god. Emperor Domitian consulted the raven because its flight pattern was believed to predict the future. Christians have a “more sure word of prophecy.”

omniscient Lord Jesus Christ, infinitely greater than Domitian, revealed the future of the world in this book. He instructed John to:

write the things which you have seen [the vision of the glorified Son of Man—Rv 1]...

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