Interpreting the Book of Revelation

Approaches to Interpreting the Apocalypse (the Book of Revelation)

1. The Preterist View (L., praeteritus, past) 1.1. The book applies literally to the actual situation of the author's time and to no other time. 1.2. What is related is the conflict between the Roman emperor Domitian and the Church. 1.3. The predictions are not meant to be taken literally as predictions; they are part of the literary form of apocalyptic. 1.4. The book shows the hope of God's people during a time of persecution. 1.5. One should interpret this apocalypse as one interprets all apocalypses, with the same hermeneutical principles.

2. The Church History View 2.1. The book is a prophecy of the course of church history. 2.2. Different characters and events are identified with known past people and events. 2.3. No agreement exists among the proponents of this view as to the identity of these people and events. E.g., who is the anti-Christ? Nero? Papacy? Hitler? Kissinger? Gorbachev? Obama? 2.4. The author's own time is always thought to be the end time. 2.5. This view has a problem seeing the significance of the book for its original readers, the seven churches of Asia Minor.

3. The Idealist View 3.1. The book teaches us basic moral and spiritual principles and timeless truths, such as God's ultimate victory over evil and the need for faithfulness and endurance. There are lessons in it for every age. 3.2. Revelation portrays symbolically the cosmic conflict between the Kingdom of God and the Satanic powers of evil. 3.3. It does not portray real events, either in the past or in the future.

4. The Dispensational-Futurist View 4.1. The book is primarily a record in advance of events, not only future to the original writer and readers but also future to us today. 4.2. Chapters two and three prophesy the progressive stages of church history. 4.3. The rapture occurs at 4:1, when John is taken up to heaven in a vision. 4.4. Chapters 6-18 refer not to Christians but to Israel during a time of great tribulation as prophesied in the book of Daniel. 4.5. Many of the events take place in Israel, in a restored Jerusalem, with the temple rebuilt (Rev. 11:1-3). 4.6. There will be a revived Roman Empire, the Beast, and an apostate world church, the false prophet. 4.7. There will be a literal millennium on earth.

5. The Classical-Futurist View 5.1. The book is primarily a record in advance of events, not only future to the original writer and readers but also future to us today. 5.2. Chapters 2-3 are letters to actual churches, not a prophecy of the course of church history. 5.3. Rev. 4:1 is not a reference to the catching away of the church out of the world before the great tribulation. 5.4. Chapters 6-18 are about the Church, not Israel, and about the persecution of Christians during a period of tribulation before Christ returns. 5.4.1. From 7:1f on, it is about the great tribulation as in Matthew 24:29-30. 5.5. Problem: How could a book which deals with events which are still future to us today be relevant for the first-century Christians to whom it was originally written? 5.6. Solution: Although the Book of Revelation was primarily written to tell the seven churches of Asia Minor that some day in the future God's eschatological salvation and judgment will occur, this also was relevant to their immediate situation, because the same demonic powers will be manifested in the great tribulation that were behind the persecution by Rome of their time. The future is described in terms of the present, and the present is described in terms of the future. 5.7. Apocalyptic is concerned with future events and the book claims to be a true prophecy. 5.8. There will be a literal millennium on earth.

6. My Eclectic View 6.1. Each of the previously cited positions has some value and preserves some genuine truth that had been taken to an extreme in that view. We should avoid the extremes and extract the truth. 6.2. The Preterist View convinces us that we should read the Book of Revelation in the light of its own historical situation. The entire book must be understood as relevant to the original writer and his readers. We are also well advised to interpret the book as apocalyptic literature not as "future history." 6.3. While the Book of Revelation is not a prophecy of the course of church history, the book is relevant to the Church in every age. The letters of chapters two and three and the events of chapters 6-18 tell of challenges and struggles that face the church perennially. 6.4. With the Idealist view, we see that there are lasting moral and spiritual principles, as well as theological truths, which are taught in Revelation. To convey this teaching was definitely part of the author's purpose in writing the book. 6.5. The Dispensational and Classical Futurists Views remind us that many of the events in the Apocalypse are future, such as persecution of God's people, Christ's return, God's judgment, and the life of the age to come. Both views are mistaken, however, in viewing Revelation as prophesying "future history." This view overlooks the nature of apocalyptic literature as a dramatic portrayal of God's victory over evil and God's rescue of his persecuted saints. Chapters 6-18 do not foretell either the future history of Israel or the Church. 6.6. A Christian theologian's eschatology is formed best, not from the most symbolic and obscure books of apocalyptic literature, such as Daniel, Ezekiel, the Book of Revelation, but from the clearer, didactic passages of the New Testament, such as the teaching of Jesus, 1 Thessalonians 4-5, 2 Thessalonians 2, I Corinthians 15, Romans 8 and 11. 6.7. There is not in the New Testament, neither in these teaching passages, nor in the Book of Revelation, properly interpreted, anything like a detailed chart of pre-determined future events. What we can say is that the people of God will suffer tribulation, God will deliver them, Christ will come again, there will be a resurrection of the dead, God will judge the world, and there will be eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

These approaches have been drawn from many books and a few websites. I must especially give credit to the good work of Dennis Bratcher at www.crivoice.org/therevelation.html.

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