Just to give a more direct answer to your question, here is an
excerpt from my book that may be helpful.
DOUBTS CONCERNING A DOMITIANIC DATE
If much of the Revelation is predicting events yet to happen,
especially if it did so before the persecutions instigated by Nero,
it is necessary to question what Irenaeus is usually understood to
have said when he reported of the Apocalypse:
"For it was seen, not long ago, but almost in our generation, near
the end of Domitian's reign."(1)
If, as many hold, the upheaval to which the Revelation refers was
that of Domitian (81-96 AD), and if what Irenaeus is saying is that
the book only appeared as that emperor's career was about to end,
then it would have been of little value to those to whom it was
supposed to have been addressed (i.e. those who had already suffered
under Domitian). If it was meant to refer to those who suffered under
Nero, it was of no value to them at all. I will reassess Irenaeus'
statement in more detail below. Here it is sufficient to say that
Domitian's suitability as a candidate for the cruel king/beast of the
Revelation has been seriously questioned. Moberly has written:
"There is almost no hard evidence that Christians were persecuted by
Rome under Domitian."(2)
"The persecution of 95 and 96 was the creation of Eusebius and
Lightfoot, not of Domitian."(3)
According to Reicke, Domitian had a `remarkable zeal on behalf of
Roman religion and morality'.(4) He was undoubtedly a dangerous man
with whom to fall out of favour. His violence, however, seems not to
have been against Christians so much as against any who threatened
Rome and all it stood for.
In the final years, 93-96, however, the religious trials that were
intended to contribute to the internal security of the Roman Empire
and its emperor finally made Domitian appear a tyrant...In the second
century Christian writers treated Domitian as a second Nero and a
persecutor of Christ-ianity. It is probably true that Domitian
ordered local persecutions. The picture was distorted, however,
because in his treason trials against the senatorial party he
formulated the charges in such a way that they resemble the charges
leveled by later emperors in their persecutions of Christians.(5)
In that account he says:
"Despite all uncertainties in detail, the pagan and Christian
traditions concerning Clemens, Domitilla, and other victims in the
year 95-96 appear to suggest that Roman aristocrats were accused of
atheistic and Judaistic conduct, but that a few of the most prominent
among them had shown Christian sympathies. In this context Domitian's
purpose was domination of the Roman aristocracy, not an attack upon
the Christian faith."(6)
Chilton, speaking of Domitian in his commentary on the Apocalypse,
"...until the fifth century there is no mention in any historian of a
supposedly widespread persecution of Christians by his government. It
is true that he did temporarily banish some Christians; but these he
eventually recalled. Robinson remarks: "When this limited and
selective purge, in which no Christian was for certain put to death,
is compared with the massacre of Christians under Nero in what two
early and entirely independent witnesses speak of as `immense
multitudes', it is astonishing that commentators should have been
led...to prefer a Domitian context for the book of Revelation."(7)
Robinson argues that the evidence does not show that any emperor
within the possible time span was as cruel or vicious as Nero.(8)
It is also true that there are no records of Nero persecuting
Christians outside of Rome. However, when the Asian temples were
robbed even of their idols to pay for the reconstruction of Rome
after the fire of 64, it is impossible to believe that the local
residents did not avenge themselves on that group, the Christians,
who were held responsible for the conflagration. The Asians, who were
caught up in emperor worship and who held Christians in very low
esteem, would have dealt severely with the followers of Christ.
Slater, who argues for the Revelation to be dated in Domitian's time,
"This negative perception of Christianity was present at least as
early as Nero, who made Christians the scapegoats for the fire of
Rome without establishing their culpability, feeding solely upon the
hatred of the movement by the Roman citizenry."(9)
The fact that nothing was recorded of persecutions outside of Rome at
this time would have been because such persecutions were not
officially sanctioned. The violence vented against the believers
would have been a matter of local outrage and revenge, but we can be
certain that it happened, and not just in Asia .
1. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V.30.3.
2. Moberly, Robert B., `When Was Revelation Conceived?', Biblica 73
no. 3:376-93, 1992, p. 377.
3. Wilson, J. Christian, `The Problem of the Domitianic Date of
Revelation', New Testament Studies 39:587-605, 1993, p. 605. Wilson
argues that in the nineteenth century most New Testament scholars
gave the Revelation a pre-70 date. Among them, he says, was J.B.
Lightfoot. Lightfoot's arguments for a period of persecution under
Domitian, however, have been taken up by subsequent scholars as
evidence of a later date for the Apocalypse. Naming three scholarly
commentaries published in English in the first decades of the
twentieth century by R.H. Charles, H.B. Swete and I.T. Beckwith,
They accept Lightfoot's work and refer to it without criticism and
without making any significant critical inquiry of their own into the
validity of the claims of a Domitianic persecution. (p. 588)
A similar change in this century by many German scholars, says
Wilson, was due to their following Irenaeus' comment placing the
vision near the end of Domitian's reign. His own article provides a
critical look at both of these bases for dating the Revelation.
4. Reicke, Bo, The New Testament Era, Fortress Press, 1964, p. 276.
Reicke gives a comprehensive picture of Domitian in pp. 271-314.
Despite the quotes included here, however, he still sees the
Revelation as an indicator of Domitianic persecution of the Church
(e.g. p. 294).
5. Ibid, p. 282.
6. Ibid, p. 301f.
7. Chilton, David, Days of Vengeance, Dominion Press, 1987, p. 4.
8. Robinson, J.A.T., Redating the New Testament, p. 230ff.
9. Slater, T.B., `On the Social Setting of the Revelation to John',
New Testament Studies, Vol. 44, 1998, p. 255. Slater's article is
equally applicable to a date prior to Nero's persecutions, see p. 61.