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Interpreting Revelation

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Encyclopedia Britannica defines apocalyptic literature as “The literary genre that foretells supernaturally inspired cataclysmic events that will transpire at the end of the world. A product of the Judeo-Christian tradition, apocalyptic literature is characteristically pseudonymous; it takes narrative form, employs esoteric language, expresses a pessimistic view of the present, and treats the final events as imminent.”

Revelation is an example of apocalyptic literature. In addition to this, Revelation is one of the most debated books of the Bible.

There are four schools of thought when interpreting the book of Revelation. The first is the Idealist View; a school of thought that uses the allegorical method to interpret Revelation. This approach is that Revelation was introduced by Origen (AD 185-254) and made prominent by Augustine (AD 354-420). This interpretation states that the events of Revelation are not tied to specific events in history and that the book is a symbol of the ongoing struggle between God and Satan. The second view is the Preterist View. “Preter” means “past” (Latin). The interpretation is based on the principle that Revelation was already fulfilled in the first century with the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Matthew 24:3-7 (NET) states; “As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, His disciples came to Him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered them, “Watch out that no one misleads you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will mislead many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Make sure that you are not alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.”

The Preterist View is the belief that this prophecy, along with Revelation, was all fulfilled in AD 70. The third view is the Historicist View. This view of interpretation is that Revelation is a symbolic representation that presents the course of history from the apostle’s life through the end of the age. Thus, Revelation is a symbol of everything that has happened (the history of Western Europe, various popes, the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, and various rulers) and everything that is currently happening (the wars in the Middle East). The fourth view is the Futurist View. This interpretation is that the events discussed in Matthew 24 and in Revelation will occur in the future. Futurist divide Revelation into three sections; the past (chapter 1), the present (chapters 2-3), and the future (the rest of Revelation).

The interpretation that I hold is that of the Futurist View. While I can understand where the Historicist View is coming from, and many events in history could hold true to Revelation, I see that everything written about in Revelation has yet to happen. We still have yet to see many things fall into place. The false prophet and the Anti-Christ have yet to come before us. We have yet to see the battle at Armageddon. Revelation 19:19-21 (NET) states; “Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to do battle with the one who rode the horse and with his army. Now the beast was seized, and along with him the false prophet who had performed the signs on his behalf – signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire burning with sulfur. The others were killed by the sword that extended from the mouth of the one who rode the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves with their flesh.”

We have yet to see the false prophet, the Anti-Christ, and the war at Armageddon. Thus, we have yet to see the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Robert H. Gundry states in his book “A Survey of the New Testament. 5th Edition” that; “Most futurists hold either to pre-tribulationism or to post-tribulationsim. Broadly speaking, the more strictly an interpreter separates God’s dealings with the church from His dealings with Israel, the more inclined that interpreter is to see the church removed from earth before the tribulation.”

This is a major point that influences my view of Revelation. The rapture has yet to happen. Thus, we are pre-tribulation. This is why I feel that Revelation is primarily literal. This piece of apocalyptic literature is a warning to all who are believers and non-believers alike. Author and internet blogger Greg Boyd states in the article “What is the right way to interpret Revelation?” that, “A key verse for the futurist interpretation is 1:19, in which the Lord tells John, “Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this.” According to most futurists, “what you have seen” refers to the vision recorded in chapter 1. “What is” refers to the seven letters written to the seven churches in Asia Minor in his day, recorded in chapters 2 and 3. “What is to take place after this” refers to all the end-times events recorded throughout the rest of the book (chapters 4–22). While there is disagreement about this matter, the fact that the church is not mentioned in these chapters leads many futurists to conclude that these events will occur after the “rapture,” when, according to futurists, the church is literally taken out of the world (1 Thess. 4:16–17).”

This is what I hold to be true about Revelation; that the fact that the church is not mentioned in these chapters shows that the events predicted in Revelation will happen after the rapture.

So, in summary, looking at the four schools of thought on Revelation – Idealist, Preterist, Historicist, and Futurist; one can come to many conclusions as to what the book actually means and what is being told to us. I hold to the Futurist View. Most events foretold in Revelation will happen after the rapture. However, when looking at apocalyptic literature, one will always come to their own conclusion. This is why reading and truly meditating on the scriptures is so important. This is especially true when dealing with Revelation.



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