Friday, December 4, 2020

Interpreting Revelation (Part 2)

"Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches …” (Revelation 1:11a).

We turn now to the futurist approaches to Revelation. The futurist view is encountered all the time on Christian radio and in Christian bookstores. It is currently the most popular approach to the book. The futurist argues that while the time was near at hand for the seven churches in a literal sense, the time is always near in some general sense. He argues that Revelation 4–22 was not literally near to the early church. These chapters, he maintains, apply to the time just before Christ’s return.

The popular form of futurism encountered today is linked with dispensationalism, an approach to the Bible that was developed a century-and-a-half ago. The dispensational theory says that God has two peoples, not one: Israel and the church; that the church is not the new Israel; and that prophecy applies only to Israel. Thus, the prophesied events in Revelation apply to a time in the future when the church has been “raptured” out of the world, and God again makes the Jews central in His plan. Popular dispensational preachers are constantly identifying parts of Revelation with current events (Hitler, Mussolini, Kissinger, Gorbachev, Saddam Hussein, the Common Market, etc.) and then being shown as foolish when their predictions don’t come true.

The dispensational scheme falls apart upon serious examination, and thus is held by virtually no evangelical scholars. Many evangelicals are, however, “moderate futurists.” They believe that Revelation 4–19 mainly focus on events just before the return of Christ, but that the events concern the church and the world she lives in. Since we don’t know whether Jesus will return soon or centuries from now, we dare not try to identify the beast or Babylon with any particular person or culture.

Moderate futurists, like preterists, seek to make applications of the book of Revelation to the present situation of the church. Both see the general principles as applicable for all time. They share this viewpoint with the idealistic approach to Revelation, which says that the book does not really predict events at all but simply reveals the spiritual nature of events that are going on all the time in all ages of the church.

The problem with the purely idealistic approach is that it fails to deal with the book as prophecy. Biblical prophecy always has specific events in mind, while also revealing universal principles. Revelation 1:3 says that all ages of the church are to be blessed by Revelation. Our God reigns. In this find comfort.