Monday, May 19, 2003

Four Views of Revelations

Introduction

With this post, I begin a survey of the Book of Revelation. I begin, simply enough, with an overview of 4 different ways of approaching the truths in this book. Those of you who would like to explore these viewpoints more deeply might find Steve Greg's Revelation: Four Views; A Parallel Commentary useful. It is published by Nelson.

Here are the four interpretive styles that I will cover.

  • Preterist -- The book of Revelation predicts events that have already occurred. They were future at the time of writing. Fulfillment occurred in the first century.
  • Historical -- The predictions in Revelation come to pass in the entire span of church history.
  • Futurist -- Most the the prophetic fulfillment in Revelation is yet to happen.
  • Symbolic -- The events in Revelation describe eternal principles of the struggle between good and evil, the world and the church, persecution, suffering, and so forth.

I should mention that the Revelation of Jesus Christ contains much value to the Christian regardless of viewpoint or time-point. It promises a blessing to all who read it. It gives us insight into the nature of God, His mercy, and His wrath. It can give us perspective when the events of life come crashing down around us.

In any case, what I would like to do briefly is illustrate the four viewpoints of the book of Revelation by taking certain key events and highlighting how the approaches deal with them. I will then state my preferences and why.

The Seven Seals

Preterist. The seals represent the judgment of God upon Jerusalem in 70 AD.

Historicist. The seals represent the beginning of the fall of the Roman Empire.

Futurist. The seals represent the beginning of the future Great Tribulation. I should note that whereas all dispensationalists are futurist, not all futurists are dispensational.

Symbolic. The seals represent God's dealings with mankind seen in cycles of war, famine, martyrdom, and so forth.

I must point out that within each camp there are distinct variations. Not all preterist view holders would agree that the seals correspond exactly to the destruction of Jerusalem. But they would agree that the seals represent past events from our viewpoint. The purpose of the above pithy comments is to give you a flavor for the approach. As I read Gregg's four Views, I sometimes wondered where he got his information concerning the futurist viewpoint. I can imagine the same would be true for anyone studying this book from the other viewpoints.

The Seven Trumpets

Preterist. Correspond to disasters inflicted by the Romans on the Jews during the Jewish Wars.

Historicist. Represent a series of invasions against the Roman Empire by the barbarians.

Futurist. Calamities endured by unrepentant inhabitants on the earth during the tribulation.

Symbolic. Typify catastrophes through which God warns mankind to repent.

Let's take one more.

The Seven Bowls

Preterist. Judgment against Jerusalem culminating in its fall in 70AD.

Historicist. Judgment on the Papacy beginning with the French Revolution.

Futurist. Global judgments at the end of the tribulation period.

Symbolic. Periodic outpourings of God's wrath.

Which is Right?

The fair-minded person recognizes that intelligent people are behind each of these viewpoints. They are spiritual people who love their God. They are truth seekers. If there is any fault to be cast, it is simply that the viewpoints are so diverse and there are so many more critical issues facing the church, nobody really has the time to understand the real soul of the alternatives. Besides, each viewpoint has strengths and weaknesses. After centuries of debate, views that were only weak have long since disappeared. the fair-minded person will acknowledge the strengths of the alternate views and face the weaknesses of his own.

The preterist view is clearly strengthened by the "coming soon" references. If first century events did fulfill the vision of John, then Jesus did "come soon." Two negative points are that the book must be dated prior to 70AD, which is somewhat problematic, but not impossible. The other is that it seems, to me, preoccupied with wrath agains the Jewish people, and I do not see the scriptural warrant for that.

The historicist has the advantage of explaining seemingly repeated events. On the other hand, it is incredibly subjective. There can be no definitive correlation between a particular historical event and a passage in Revelation. The other problem is that it does not generally include non-western history and movements.

The futurist, of course, has trouble with the "coming soon" passages and must swizzle meaning. It can miss many symbolic meanings by tending to be too literal. It has the strength of being a natural first reading of the book. The adoption of another view would come either from reading the works of others or from subsequent readings of Revelation. But the book purports to proclaim future events.

The symbolic has a unique strength. The preterist, historicist, and futurist span all time periods. It follows that the book contains visions that are, in fact, timeless. The problem is that there is no internal evidence for such an approach. The book is hardly cyclical and moves to a conclusion.

I hope that you can see that choosing among these viewpoints is not easy. There is no clear winner. Here is where I make my cuts. The historicist is too subjective and would drive me crazy. The preterist rejects a future Kingdom of Israel and forces a figurative understanding of otherwise plain Old Testament passages. The symbolic ignores the book's claim to speak of real future events. So my preference is the futurist with symbolic themes. Eternal principles are at work in the events of this book.

Tuesday: The Structure of Revelation

<>< Test Everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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