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The Four Views of Revelation

In the Methodist tradition we believe that there are multiple ways to interpret Scripture, and Revelation is no exception. Rev. Daniel Humbert has outlined below four of the most popular understandings of the book of Revelation to help you read this book with more holistic comprehenstion. CLICK HERE to read more about the signs and symbols found in Revelation and the meanings behind them.

The Idealist View

What Is It? The idealist view does not take a literal historical or futuristic fulfillment but sees the entire book as a symbolic presentation of the battle between good and evil.

According to this view: The symbols in Revelation are not tied to specific events but point to themes throughout church history. The seals, bowls, and trumpets speak repeatedly to the events of human history in every age and give believers of all ages an exhortation to remain faithful in the face of suffering. The battles in Revelation are viewed as spiritual warfare manifested in the persecution of Christians or wars in general that have occurred in history. The beast from the sea may be identified as the satanically inspired political opposition to the church in any age. The beast from the land represents pagan, or corrupt, religion to Christianity. Catastrophes represent God’s displeasure with sinful man; however, sinful mankind goes through these catastrophes while still refusing to turn and repent. God ultimately triumphs in the end.

More About This View: The allegorical approach to Revelation was introduced by ancient church father Origen (AD 185-254) and made prominent by Augustine (AD 354-420). Many combine this view with their own. Preterist-Idealist views are very common. Less common but existing is Futurist-Idealist. Most scholars hold at least a partial idealist view or an Idealist/Preterist view with a late date (AD 95).

The Positive aspects this view: It avoids the difficulty of harmonizing specific passages with specific fulfillments, which has plagued the historicist, futurist and preterist views. Makes the book of Revelation applicable and relevant for all periods of church history, especially to those suffering persecution.

The Critical aspects of this view: The book of Revelation itself claims to be predicting events that must shortly come to pass (1:1). Reading spiritual meanings into the text could lead to random personal interpretations, based solely on a person’s opinion, not Scripture.

The Historicist View

What Is It? A running account of the whole of church history written in advance, from the time of John to the return of Christ.

According to this view: The Seven Seals and the Four Horsemen represent the decline of the Roman Empire, the 144,000 represent the spread of Christianity, the locust invasion is the rise of Islam, and the Beast is the Roman Catholic Church and the Papal system. Other events highlighted in this view is the Protestant Reformation, The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Era.

The Positive aspects this view: This view has its roots in the Reformation and all reformers were Historicists. (John Knox, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Finney, C. H. Spurgeon). Can point to striking historical parallels to the prophecies in Revelation. As a running history, Revelation is relevant to all church ages.

The Critical aspects of this view: The Historicist view was a reactionary response against the Roman Catholic Church and may have prejudices built into it. Those who hold it do not agree on the interpretation of many details. Though the dominate view in the Protestant church for 500 years, it has not had much of a following since the late 1800's.

The Preterist View

What Is It? The preterist view sees Revelation as largely fulfilled in actual events that have now already happened.

More About This View: Preterist comes from the Latin “Preter, which means “past.” One school of this view called Full Preterism, which sees the entire prophecy of Revelation as being fulfilled in AD 70 with the fall of Jerusalem [the view of J.S. Russell, David Chilton, Don K. Preston]. Another school of this view called Partial Preterism, [the view of RC Sproul, Kenneth Gentry, Hank Hanegraaff, and Gary Demar], which is a more orthodox view and sees most of the book as being fulfilled in AD 70 except for the Second Coming, Final Judgment, General Resurrection and New Heavens/New Earth.

According to this view: Most preterists fix the events in Revelation with fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 and possibly, of Rome later on. According to this view, the ‘Biblical Last Days’ were not the last days of human history but the last days of the Old Covenant Age. This view sees the coming of Christ as a ‘coming in judgment’ and a fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecies in Matthew 24. Revelation’s focus of attention is this: God will soon judge the first-century Jews for rejecting and crucifying his Son, their Messiah. John states his theme in his introduction at Revelation 1:7, just after he declares the nearness of the events (1:1, 3), a theme that is directly relevant to the first-century circumstances.

The Seven Sealed Scroll in chapter 5 is a bill of divorce against unfaithful Israel, containing the judgments to come upon them (which corresponds to the scroll of lament and woe in Ezekiel 2:9-10), leading to the Marriage of the Lamb (Christ and the Church). The seals, trumpets, and bowls in Revelation describe the Roman war with the Jews that lead to the destruction of Jerusalem. The sevenfold nature of the judgments on Israel recalls the covenantal curse God threatens on Israel in the Old Testament: “If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over” (Lev. 26:18).

The martyrs in Revelation are those who Jesus said their blood would be avenged upon his contemporary generation (Matthew 23:34-39). According to this view, Babylon is seen as Jerusalem who Jesus pronounces judgment upon in the preceding scripture reference. The “great city” mentioned in Revelation 11:8 (also 14:8, 18:10) is the city “spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.” Jerusalem is also pictured in Revelation as the Harlot (unfaithful Israel) riding a Beast.

The Beast in this view is seen as the Roman Emperor Nero (specifically) and the Roman Empire (generally). A first-century spelling of Nero Caesar’s name, written in Hebrew characters, adds up to the exact value of six hundred sixty-six (666). The Emperors of the Roman Empire in the first century also line up with the prophecy in Revelation 17:10-11. The first seven Caesars of Rome are Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius, Nero, and Galba. The first five of these “have fallen” (they are dead); the sixth one “is” (Nero is alive). The seventh will come and “remain a little while”: The emperor following Nero’s thirteen-year rule was Galba, who reigned only seven months.

The Positive aspects this view: It takes literally and makes the most sense of the ‘time statement’ passages like 1:1, 3, 19 and 22:10 which speak of a near/soon fulfillment. Preterism makes the book relevant to the original readers (like most epistles). It also agrees with Jesus’ Olivet discourse (Matt. 24, Luke 21). This view agrees impressively with the history of the Jewish War recorded by Josephus. It also renders the emperor passages like 13:18 and 17:10 intelligible.

The Critical aspects of this view: Requires a date of writing prior to AD 70, which is defensible but debated and not widely held today. The historical view of the seven churches don’t perfectly fit a pre-AD 70 culture. Critics say this view renders the book irrelevant to the church today since the events would have already been fulfilled in the past. Full Preterism denies the creedal, historical beliefs of the church (the second coming of Christ, event of the final judgement, and resurrection). Also denies a future for national Israel as an independent people of God.

The Futurist View

What Is It? The futurist view sees everything beginning with chapter four and onward as yet to be fulfilled in our future.

According to this view: Futurist divide the book of Revelation into three sections based on 1:19: “what you have seen, what is now, and what will take place later.” Chapter 1 describes the past (“what you have seen”), Chapters 2-3 describe the present (“what is now”), and the rest of the book describes future events (“what will take place later”). Futurists argue that a consistently literal or plain interpretation is to be applied in understanding the book of Revelation. Chapter 4:1 is the rapture of the church to heaven. Chapters 4-19 refer to a period known as the seven-year tribulation (Dan. 9:27). During this time, God’s judgments are poured out upon mankind as they are revealed in the seals, trumpets, and bowls. Chapter 13 describes a literal future world empire headed by a political leader called the Antichrist, which is pictured by a Beast. Chapter 19 refers to Christ’s second coming and the battle of Armageddon. This is followed by a literal thousand-year rule of Christ upon the earth in chapter 20. Chapters 21-22 are events that follow the millennium: the creation of a new heaven and a new earth and the arrival of the heavenly city upon the earth.

Origins of this View: In the mid-1500’s a Catholic Jesuit, Francisco Ribera proposed the futurist view of Revelation to take the heat off of the Pope in response to the Reformers Historicist View who claimed the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church was the Anti-Christ and Beast.

Dispensationalism is a futurist system of belief that arose to prominence in the 1830’s with John Nelson Darby and popularized by C.I. Scofield in his Scofield Reference Bible and believes the church will be raptured from the earth at the beginning of chapter 4 and will not be on earth during the seven-year great tribulation on the earth. Often termed, Dispensationalism, it is a system of belief founded upon certain guiding beliefs (see below). The futurist view is widely popular among evangelical Christians today. One of the most popular versions on futurist teaching is dispensational theology, promoted by schools such as Dallas Theological Seminary and Moody Bible Institute. Theologians such as Charles Ryrie, John Walvoord, and Dwight Pentecost are noted scholars of this position. Tim LaHaye made this theology popular in the culture with his end times series of novels, Left Behind. Other prominent popular adherers to this view are John Hagee, Jack Van Impe, David Jeremiah, Perry Stone.

Key Teachings of the Dispensational View:

  1. A distinction between two covenant people: Israel and the church. God set aside Israel to work through the church. But will one day restore Israel and His covenant with them to fulfill to them all of the unfulfilled Old Testament Promises.
  2. The Dispensational View is dependent upon the interpretation of Daniel 9 that sees a ‘gap’ of thousands of years in Daniel’s prophecy. This gap postpones the last seven years of Daniel’s prophecy thousands of years into the future.
  3. The church will be taken up from the earth prior to a seven-year tribulation called a ‘pre-tribulational rapture (or ‘mid-’ or ‘post-‘ tribulational rapture) in order for God to remove the church from the earth and restore the nation.
  4. The Kingdom was delayed. The Jews rejected Jesus’ offer of the kingdom so the kingdom offer was withdrawn from Israel and Jesus will physically return to earth and set up a 1000-year kingdom to reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem.
  5. Israel must rebuild the temple, reinstate the priesthood, and reinstitute animal sacrifices. The antichrist will make a seven-year peace treaty with Israel but break it in the middle of the tribulation when he walks into the temple and causes the sacrifices to cease.

 

The Positive aspects this view: This view is the most widely held and taught view in our modern time (the past 50 years or so). It is also the most "popular" view among Christians today spawning countless books and movies. The futurist view claims to take the events of Revelation more ‘literally’ than any other view. Adherents to this view often harmonize current events with the events in the book of Revelation. This view shows a total completion of God’s plan for the future of humanity and the earth.

The Critical aspects of this view: As covered earlier, the complete system of dispensationalism is a relatively new system of belief with views not held throughout the history of the church (Gap is Daniel’s prophecy, pre-tribulational rapture, modern restoration of Israel). This view renders the book mostly irrelevant to the original audience since it was not to be fulfilled for thousands of years in the future (it struggles to explain the imminent time statements), and it also renders most of the book irrelevant to modern Christian since the Christians are raptured at 4:1 and will not be on earth during these events. This view demands a revival of many first century realities (restoration of Israel, rebuilt temple, reinstituted priesthood and sacrifices, a revived roman empire and a world ruler.) This view also overemphasizes the importance of national Israel in God’s plan and underemphasizes the importance of the church and New Covenant realities.

While an emphasis is placed on a literal interpretation, it fails to recognize the symbolic character of apocalyptic literature. This view lends more toward prophetic speculation than prophetic interpretation, affectionately called, ‘Newspaper Exegesis’. Historically, comparing prophesy with current events has been disastrous.

Posted by Alyssa Robinson at 10:50 AM
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