Thursday, December 3, 2020

Interpreting Revelation

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8).

Today and tomorrow we want to survey the basic approaches to the specifics of the book of Revelation. There are four basic approaches: the preterist approaches, the historicist approaches, the futurist approaches, and the idealist approach.

The preterists take note of the fact that repeatedly the events in Revelation are said to be about to take place, near at hand (Revelation 1:1, 3; 22:7, 10, 20). Thus, say the preterists, most of the events prophesied in the book took place in the first or at most the second century. We can look back on them, just as we look back on events in the Old Testament, and learn from them.

There are two evangelical varieties of preterism, though they are in the minority. First, there is what we can call Jewish preterism. According to this view, Revelation was written around 67 A.D. and deals with the fall of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is Babylon, who worked with the beast (Rome/Nero) to persecute the early Christians. The judgment on the Old Testament church (Jerusalem) is a sign to the seven churches and to the New Testament church of all ages. This view was popular among Bible-believing Protestant scholars a century ago and has undergone a considerable revival in the last decade.

Second, there is what we can call Roman preterism. According to this view, Revelation was probably written in the A.D. 90s (though possibly earlier). Babylon and the beast are both Rome. The persecution is not a persecution under Jerusalem and Nero, but under the reign of Emperor Domitian. Thus, the book of Revelation deals mainly with the fall of Rome, an encouragement to the early Christians and to persecuted believers of all ages. This view was also popular among Bible-believing scholars a century ago, but does not have many advocates today.

An extension of the preterist view is the historicist view, which sees in Revelation 4–19 a predicted history of the church from the first century to the Second Coming. For protestants, this meant Babylon was the papacy and the beast was the pope. This view was once almost universally held among Protestant interpreters but has few advocates today.

The preterists view takes seriously John’s words which say that those things will “soon” take place because the time is near. Likewise, it takes seriously other passages which seem to affirm a quick return. As you study these views, do not be afraid to challenge the view you already have and be open to change if Scripture warrants such change.