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Bible Research

The Four Main Views of Revelation

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
How Revelation is Interpreted? The first part is fairly clear, extolling the Church for what it is doing and criticizing because of where it should be. Most of the debates lie in Revelation 6:1 through 18:24.
How Revelation is Interpreted?

The first part of Revelation is fairly clear, extolling the Church for what it is doing and criticizing because of where it should be. Most of the debates lie in Revelation 6:1 through 18:24. Because of the aforementioned reasons, many people have come to varying conclusions. Some of them are as follows.

First is the Preterist view, meaning they "favor the past." This view came about in the 17th century under the Jesuits. They presuppose that most, if not all the prophecies of the Apocalypse have been fulfilled and/or pertain to what was happening in the first century. The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple are the main themes and events and they believe accordingly that Nero is the anti-Christ and thus past events have been completed. Therefore, the main point of Revelation was to encourage the Christians under persecution. For those who accept this view, Revelation becomes just historical and didactic, giving us only examples of being faithful. Most with this view subscribe to the apocalyptic outcome of earth and humanity of devastation and ultimate doom. This view is practical and views Revelation as mainly principles. The problem with this is that the Book of Revelation probably was not written until after the destruction, so how could there be a prophecy if the events have already occurred? Their response is Revelation was written between 67 and 68 AD. The main problem is, if these climactic events already happened, why is there no mention by the Early Church Fathers? The stars did not fall from heaven (Matt. 24:29), in addition the one-third of all animals or humans were not killed (Rev. 9:18; 16:3) in A.D. 70 or any time in global history thus far. Another problem is that Rome was not overthrown by God and the Christians did not have any victory. This view is favored amongst some Reformed peoples and mostly by liberals. There is also a Partial- Preterist view that says some of the events have occurred but not all such as the Second Coming, which is in hot debate. This view has wider acceptance over the pure Preterits view and is growing today.

Second is the Futurist view, and asserts that Revelation is about the details and order of future events immediately preceding the Second Coming. This view was held by some of the second and third century Church Fathers (although this is disputed), and is popular amongst most Evangelicals today. This view asserts that none of the events in 70 AD or what Jesus describes in Matthew 24 had occurred or had any bearing on the prophecies of the Apocalypse or the tribulations that mark the period just prior to Jesus' Second Coming. The seals, trumpets, beasts, and Antichrist are still to come and will appear in the last days of human history. Then, Christ will come back to reign and judge, and establish a millennial kingdom. Thus, most of Revelation is yet to be fulfilled, and its only value is for the Christians living in that age to come, making it irrelevant to numerous generations. The problem with this view is that the destruction of Jerusalem was the most significant event for the Jew and Early Church, and must not be disregarded too lightly. Also this view relies heavily upon the view that Israel and the church are distinct in God's plan which is very debatable as Christ's is for all Greek and Jew alike (Rom. 9-11; 1 Cor. 10:32). Obviously the first 5 chapters are current history in John's time and the genre indicates that chapters 6 through 22 are in a future tense and view (Jer. 30:7; Dan. 9:24-27; John in 6-18; 1 Thes. 4:16; Rev 3:10).

The Third is the Idealist view, which came about under 19th century liberalism. This view maintains that the prophecies of the Apocalypse are not specific events or indicate any specific historical or future happening. Rather, they are only poetry and symbolisms. This view ascertains principles and ideas of our war with Satan, and will repeat in various forms until the Second Coming. Its only value is teaching us that good will eventually have victory over evil. The problem is that those who hold this view refuse to associate the images with any specific future events, and miss the point that Revelation is written in an apocalyptic genre, and thus the language is clear, that the images and themes have or will have history and significance (Rev. 4:1). The fact is that Revelation does teach us how Satan operates and we can use these principles for understanding and combating Spiritual Warfare. In addition, these principles have been in play and at work all through church history. However, this view ignores the veracity of prophecy.

The fourth view is the Historicist view, started in the 13th century under Joachim of Floris (1202), and portrays Revelation as a template for principles of history. It is a panoramic depiction of the history and future of the Church. This is an easy view to take as many events from Nero, the Roman papacy were all versions of the antichrist, as the Middle Ages, the French Revolution, and two World Wars to mention a few. All such events depict the outline that Revelation gives us. This is why so many Christians in those days said that those were the last days. Calvin and Luther held mostly to this view, too. This view asserts that the prophecies of the Apocalypse are an outline of church history and take place over a 2000+ years period of time, climaxing with Jesus' Second Coming. Its purpose is primarily to encourage Christians of any age. The problem is the images and themes become speculative and subjective and any interpretation becomes prejudiced to the currant news of the day.

The fifth view is Biblical Eschatology, or the Open or Pan view (it will pan out). This means we engage the text with careful exegesis, uninhibited by theological prejudice, with an inductive process and come with open minds to discover God's lessons for us. What does the original language, genre, cultural analysis to the original hearers of this work. What did that term mean to John and those seven churches, not just what we may think they mean today. If not, our preconceived ideas will form our opinions and not what the Word actually says. This is how the Reformers, Calvin and Luther, did their studies (although they subscribed to the Historicist view), as well as Augustine (who was mostly a Futurist) and other great men. They were seeking His revealed truth inductively, applying literal interpretation (if the genre allows), historical and grammatical exegesis and not mere human speculations and traditions. This is what we seek to do at Into Thy Word.

First of all this is not an essential issue, as eschatology is debatable and has no real bearing on orthodoxy verses unorthodoxy. Nor is this even an important issue, as God is far more concerned with our faith formation and practice than our debate techniques and quibbling. You can be a good deep-seated Christian of the Faith whatever view you subscribe too. Thus, if you hold to a Preterist view and your friend is a Futurist none of you are engaged in heresy, although one of both of you will be wrong! Just make sure you pray, research and think them through. What is wrong and distracting to both Christians and especially non-Christians is when we allow sensationalism and getting carried away with the latest captivating trends of popular or Christian culture. Why? Because the future has not happened yet, as Christ has not come back yet, thus it is foolish to be dogmatic on any human theory. Our sensationalisms will only serve Satan and scoffers and not give glory to Christ!

Each of the first four views has both merit and deficiencies, all based on human logical reasoning. All of these views can be found in Revelation, but all have significant holes that other parts of Revelation, as well as the other Scriptures, contradict. Each of these views is within the scope of biblical orthodoxy and can be debated academically without assault to faith and practice. It is fair to both faith and academics to seek each view, taking what is Biblical and merited and rejecting what is not, and still be rationally honest. In fact, this is the best approach that brings us to the fifth view. The fifth one is based on how open and honest we can be and how we obey the rules of Scriptural interpretation, especially word meanings and context. Thus, I believe the proper interpretation is not any of these views specifically or dogmatically. Rather, each one has its good qualities and can be incorporated in the passages where the context and purpose arises.

We are all human and all we know and see comes through our fallen filter made from depravity. We must still do the best we can do. It is always best not to bow to anyone's reasoning, but take a clear look for ourselves. It is most probable that each of these views will be in the tapestry of how the events have and will unfold before us. And, when they actually do, as Scripture indicates, all will be made clear to us (Matt. 24). But, whatever view we take (and no view is as important as the honor and reality that He is coming) will be dramatically expressed in due time, His timing, not ours (Thess. 2:1-12; Rev. 1:3; 22:20). Thus, it is my endeavor to go into Revelation and bring you what it says, not what I or others think it says.

The Varying Views of the Millennium

The Millennium is the Latin word for a thousand years, as in bound him for a thousand years (Rev. 20:2). The Greek, Chiliasm, meaning one thousand years, is mentioned six times. It basically means a thousand-year period of time or a long period of time, that Jesus Christ has victory over evil and corruption (1 Cor. 15:24-28; Rom. 8:19-21; 2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 14:6-18; 19:11-16), and will physically and spiritually rule over all of the earth (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:28-30; Rev. 20:1-10) from His throne in Zion/Jerusalem (Isa. 65:17-25; Zeph. 3:11-13; Zech. 9:9-10; 14:16-21). Jesus and His glory is seated on the throne, and the righteous (those who accepted Christ) will be clothed by His righteousness with authority and inhabit the New Kingdom (Dan. 7:22; Matt. 19:28; 25:34; Luke 12:32; 22:28-30; 1 Cor. 6:2; Rev 2:5), fulfilling the Kingdom of God on earth (Matt. 16:18-19; 26:29; Mark 14:25; Heb. 8:11).

What the Millennium means is also in debate as to whether it indicates a literal thousand-year reign, a figurative time period not limited to time, or an era of church history. Most biblical scholars hold that there will be a Millennium as a fact as with Election. The debate is over how long it is and when it will occur. As for election, the debate is over what is meant by God's foreknowledge or His purpose. And, of course, as with the interpretations, there are several views:

First is the Premillennialists view which says that the Second Coming of our Lord will take place before the millennium in which Jesus will literally reign on earth for a thousand years (Rev. 19:11-21). People with this view usually subscribe to the Futurist view. Satan will be bound and we will live in harmony and peace with one another here on a new earth. Christians will receive new bodies and those who died will be re-birthed also in new bodies. Most believe Satan gets out of his prison for a short time, leads a rebellion, and then there will be a final judgment at the end of the Millennium. Justin Martyr and Papias held this view, as the Early Church was mostly premillennial in its thinking for the first three centuries of the church. They considered Jesus' return to be imminent.

Second is the Amillennialists view, and believes that Jesus is reigning now since His resurrection, that there is no literal thousand-year millennium before or after Christ returns to earth (Rev. 20:1-6). People with this view usually subscribe to the Historicist view. They see an allegorical or symbolic approach to prophecy. The major proponents are Covenant and Reformed theologians, and most mainline denominations. Since there is no literal thousand-year reign, Millennium refers to the preeminent reign of Christ in this age, covenant, or dispensation (Rev. 6:9-10; 20:5). The resurrection of the Christians refers to the new life in Christ and/or their life in eternity of Heaven (Rom. 6:8-11; Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1-4). They believe that Satan is bound already and is limited in his activities here on earth (John 12:31; Col. 2:15). They believe that the rapture and the Second Coming are simultaneous events and realities to come as Christ returns to earth before the millennium. There is a splinter group, Dispensational Premillennialism, which believes that the Second Coming occurs in two stages; the first is the rapture of the church, then after seven years, Christ returns with his church to rule on earth. This view has a literal interpretation of prophecy.

The third is the Postmilleniallism view, that Christ returns after the millennium because the Church will expand and will have evangelized all of the world (Rev. 19:11-21). People with this view usually subscribe to the Futurist view. Their main point is the victory of Christianity over the entire world. Thus, Christ will not return until all people groups have been reached. They make no distinction between the rapture and Second Coming, as most view it as one event.

The disputes in these three main views (oh yes, there are lots of others, but none worth mentioning) center on the chronological makeup of Revelation, what happens when what comes first (Ezek; Rev. 19:11-21 verses 20:1-10). Premillennialists believe that chapter 20 follows the Second Coming, whereas other groups do not see it that way. Jewish literature is usually not based on time sequence or chronology as Greek and Western literature are. Rather, it typifies relations and events over the time of those events. Each of these passages are descriptions and are not necessarily in any sequence other than how they relate to one another (Rev. 6:14; 11:18; 16:14-16; 17:14; 19:11-21; 20:1-15). When our Western mind looks at the Oriental thinking, we tend to read in our philosophical notions and forget the historical and cultural relevance. Thus, our interpretations must be made with an awareness of first century thought, not how we think 2000 years removed. Again, we must exercise caution and discernment and not take any human position literally other than Christ will return in His good time, and the details will follow. The Bible makes it clear, Christ's Second Coming, will happen at any time, where He will return to earth and establish a literal kingdom (Matt.. 19:28; Rev. 20) and reign for a literal thousand years. This will happen unstipulated to us as a thief in the night (1 Cor. 4:5; 15:51-52; 16:22; Phil. 3:20; 4:5; 1 Thess. 1:10; Heb. 10:37; James 5:7-9; 2 Peter 3:8-15; 1 John 2:28; Rev. 1:1; 22:6). We may not agree what the sequence is and the symbols mean, but we can all agree that when the last days are upon us, it will be clear. We will have at hand unprecedented suffering, evil, and persecutions, and God will pour out His wrath on an evil world while saving those who are in Him. So, be prepared by being obedient and faithful to our Lord!

If Revelation is still confusing to you, be assured that there is no need to adopt or adhere to any particular viewpoint. In addition, none of us should be captivated to any one point. Understanding Revelation and all of the various theories and perspectives is not that important. These are debatable points. Who Christ is in you and your trust in Him to work it all out is all that is important!

Tribulation Terms

The Great Tribulation is the time Jesus warned of as Jacob's trouble (Jer. 30:7), the ending of the age, (Rev. 6-19 Matt. 24; 25.70) and the week is a day of the Lord of Daniel (Dan. 9:27, Thess. 5:2).

· Preterism means fulfilled eschatology, the belief that the date, 70 AD, that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24 was all fulfilled. The Tribulation teaching is in reference to the rapture and resurrection of the saints.

· Pre-tribulation. This view believes that the Church will not go through the tribulation but will be raptured away to heaven, and the Tribulation is specifically to break the will of Israel and save them as a nation, as well as to have the world repent because of the judgments found in the book of Revelation.

· Mid-tribulation refers to a mid seventieth-week rapture. The church will be taken out before the Great Tribulation which occurs when the Antichrist goes into the Temple and declares himself God approximately 1,260 days before Christ comes back.

· Post-tribulation believes that Christ will come back at the end of the Tribulation and those who remain alive through it are raptured. There are four views within this position as well: Classic, semi-classic, futurist, and dispensational.

· Partial-rapture subscribes that only those who are watching, waiting, and are making themselves prepared will go.

· Pre-rapture-wrath is a three-fourths view that believes the church will go through much of the tribulation to purify and perfect the bride.

We need to come to Revelation without a specific view, as each prophecy can have multiple applications, meanings, and fulfillments that can be true. We must come to Revelation with patience and humility, seeking dialog and cooperation not disagreements and strife, for that is what is clearly in err. We are to interpret in light of the historical context and what it meant then because John's readers did not have a modern newspaper or CNN. And, for us to think that Revelation meant nothing for 2000 years until our generation came is extremely arrogant and dismissive to the countless Christians who came before us, upon whose shoulders we stand. Revelation is for all generations, not just ours or one to come! Also, we must never seek to be dogmatic with our feeble opinions and limited understandings. In addition, the applications in Revelation are for us now, as they were also active in the early Church and will have further meaning and fulfillment in the time to come. Revelation is not just about the first Christians, nor is it just about what will happen in some distant future. These precepts are for us today, for us to know, for us to use, and for us to deploy deeply in our lives and walk in Christ. What we do know is Christ is coming back! When Satan will be finally be defeated is not known, but God will comfort and take care of us!

Revelation's purpose is not to satisfy our dogmatic assertions and speculations. Let us not bother with unwarranted calculations, to which we have no idea or call to do. Rather, let us seek His precepts so we can grow further in our spiritual formation and make Him known to others!

Revelation is about our genuine discipleship and growth in Christ and how He impacts us so we can impact others. In His time, it will be clear without dispute (Acts 1:7). Revelation continues to add to our spiritual growth and faithfulness and encourage the Church through persecutions and the daily stresses of life. What we have to know is what we need to know. We do not need to know what He has not yet revealed, as our duty is to our spiritual formation and the expansion of the Kingdom, not idle speculations and argumentations. The purpose for our lives here is to learn and grow in Him over any theological agenda. What we learn in our preparations is far more valuable than what will come about. To live in a sin-infused world is difficult and we need the Savior and Lord to guide us through it. Our lives, circumstances, and experiences will bring us trials and testing before we learn the lessons we are taught. What we learn from Him will help us be vigorous, victorious, and able to overcome anything life or Satan can throw at us.

This article also serves as the introduction to our Bible Study in the Book of Revelation.

References and Resources used:

1. Richard J Krejcir. Into Thy Word. "Into Thy Word Bible Study Method." Writers Club Press. 2000.

2. Augustine. The City of God

3. Calvin, John. The Institutes of the Christian Religion

4. The Works of Early Church Fathers

5. The Works Eusebius

6. The Works of Justin

7. The Works of Josephus

8. Alan Johnson, Expositors Bible Commentary, I, II, Revelation. Zondervan. 1981, 1994.

9. Arthur Ogden, The Avenging Of The Apostles & Prophets, Ogden Publications, 1985

10. Barclay, William. Daily Study Bible: The Revelation of John. John Knox Press, 1977

11. Caird, G.B. Harper's New Testament Commentaries: Revelation of St John, Hendrickson Publishers, 1987

12. Charles, R.H. International Critical Commentary: Revelation of St John, 1920

13. Craig S. Keener. The IVP Bible Background Commentary. Inter Varsity Press. 1993.

14. The Expositors Greek Testament, Eerdmans, 1979

15. Foy E. Wallace Jr., The Book Of Revelation, Wallace Publications,1966

16. G.B. Caird, A Commentary on the Revelation of Saint John the Devine, Harper and Row, 1966

17. Gerhard Krodel, Revelation, Augsburg, 1989

18. G.R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation, Eerdmans NCB, 1978

19. Halley's Bible Handbook. Regency. 1927.

20. Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, Hendrickson, 1999

21. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, Zondervan, 1958

22. Jerome H Smith, Ed. The New Treasury of SCRIPTURE Knowledge. Thomas Nelson. 1992.

23. Jim McGuiggan, The Book Of Revelation, Montex, 1976

24. John F. Walvoord, Revelation, Bible Knowledge Commentary, Victor Books, 1983.

25. George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, rev. ed. ed. Donald A. Hagner, Eerdmans, 1993

26. Merill C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation, Eerdmans, 1957

27. The Moffatt, New Testament Commentary: Revelation of St John, Eerdmans, 1997

28. Morris, Leon. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Revelation of St John, Tyndale, 1969, 1984

29. New Geneva Study Bible. Thomas Nelson. 1995.

30. Philip Schaff, History Of The Christian Church, Vol. I, Eerdmans, 1910,1985

31. R.C. Sproul. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Tyndale. 1992.

32. Sturgeon's Devotional Bible. Baker Books. 1964.

33. Warren Wiersbe. With the Word. Oliver Nelson. 1991.

34. Research at the Scholarly Archives at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA;Years of study & teaching notes;Seminary notes; Prayer

 
Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Founder and Director of "Into Thy Word Ministries," a missions and discipling ministry. He is the author of several books including, Into Thy Word, and A Field Guide to Healthy Relationships. He is also a pastor, teacher, and speaker. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California (M.Div.) and holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Practical Theology in London, England (Ph.D). He has garnered over 20 years of pastoral ministry experience, mostly in youth ministry, including serving as a church growth consultant.

© 1992-2005 Richard J. Krejcir Ph.D. Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org

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