Revelation Introduction Part 2

Since the completed inscripturation of God’s Word there have been a number of ideas about how the prophetic portions of the Bible, St. John’s Revelation included, are to be interpreted.

I’m not going to bother you with all the minor variations of prophetic interpretation.  But I do want you to know, with some certainty, what the four primary ideas of prophetic interpretation are.  This is different from the “hermeneutical” approaches to Scripture.  Hermeneutic approaches are approaches to the entireity of Scripture.  What we’re dealing with today is “prophetic interpretation”.

And let me say this in advance:  it would be very rare, in your daily ventures, to encounter another person, pagan OR Christian (!), who has any notion of these things.  Most have had no instruction.  So the opening to evangelistic and apologetic activity will present itself to you whenever discussion or comment occurs in connection with these things!

And, as always, I urge you to take advantage of opportunities when they come up.  Teaching the Gospel and defending the Faith are “no-brainers” for The Lord’s people.   We ought to be constantly on the lookout for those instances in which we can be witnesses to our Lord and His Word.

And it’s the ones who are most knowledgeable who get the attention, isn’t it?   When you can demonstrate some “command” of a subject, you are more likely to get an audience.  And even if you’re met with vitriolic backlash from some, you’re still apologetically engaged (which is where we need to be).  The apostle Peter said that all of us are to be ready to give an answer!  And Jesus said that we were to teach and baptize the nations.

So, all of our preparations are for the purpose of knowing God, and for accomplishing what we’re commanded to do; and all for the Kingdom and the glory of God.

Learning about the four “versions”, or interpretations, of prophecy (again, including St John’s Revelation) is, most assuredly, a part of our “preparedness”.   To be able to address one, or many, with confidence about this subject may gain respectful attention to your instruction.  And you can be helpful to the saints and teach the Gospel of God to those who aren’t.

With regard to your apologetic and Gospel efforts, there are some out there who will say to you that these are issues which are not at the center.  They’re on the periphery!  It’s not so important what you believe about prophecy! 

Well, that’s just not so.  The Word of God and the faithfulness of God IS at the center of everything.  It’s NOT peripheral; and it is important what you believe and know to be true.

In addition to those who don’t think this is important, there are also beliefs regarding prophecy that are full of the imaginations of men rather than the doctrines of Scripture.  And I remind you that the word “imagination” comes from the root word “image”!  And we all know what God revealed to Moses about images!  And I’m afraid that the word “chimera” comes to mind in relation to this subject.  (A chimera, by the way, is a grotesque product of the imagination!)  And I’m afraid that the imaginations of men with some charisma have won the hearts and minds of adoring souls who act as if there’s nothing else in God’s Revelation other than prophecy!  And therefore they spend all their energies preparing for a rapture or for “doomsday”.

But, not to belabor that, we proceed now to the four basic views of God’s prophetic Word (which, once again, includes The Revelation….. especially the Revelation!).

And I suppose, since major portions of the Church are presently in a state of “charismania” over an imminent catastrophic consummation of the prophetic Word in St John’s Revelation, we ought first to look at “futurism”!

Futurism, as it pertains to Biblical prophecy, is the theory that most of the events of the Revelation, and the prophecy of Daniel, are to be fulfilled sometime in the future.  Most futurists generally believe that an individual will appear on the world stage who will usurp the place of Christ as the head of the Church.  This individual, they anticipate, will deceive many people into believing that he is some kind of messiah.  He will become a world-leader, and through his influence persecute Christians and Jews for a period of time.  This person futurists believe will be the Antichrist.

 In relation to that:

·         Some Futurists believe that Christ will return at the beginning of Antichrist's reign to rescue the faithful Christians and take them to heaven so that they are spared the seven years of "great tribulation."  After these seven years Christ will return to earth with His saints to destroy Antichrist and establish His Kingdom on earth to last a thousand years.  (And, of course, that Kingdom would be centered in Jerusalem.)

·         Another main view of Futurism holds that Christians won’t be spared from the tribulation under the Antichrist.  These Futurists believe that Christ will only return to rescue His Church and destroy the Antichrist at the end of seven years of persecution.  Most evangelical Christians today hold one of these two Futurist views.

·         The third main group of futurists (called “historic” premillennialists, or “classical” premillennialists), reject John Darby’s dispensationalism.  The primary difference being historic premillennialism’s insistence upon the fact that the older Scripture foretold the present age of grace and the Church.  Premillennial dispensationalism, on the other hand, rejects the idea of a prophesied age of grace and the Church.  The older Scripture, in their opinion, has virtually nothing to do with New Testament prophecy (with only one exception: Daniel chapter 9).  In their understanding, the present age is a mistake (rather than a prophesied age of grace)      ….. a “parenthesis” (if you will) because the Jews rejected the kingdom and crucified its King.

So, futurism (as one of the primary interpretations of prophecy) picks up at Revelation chapter four!  And everything after that is yet to come to pass.  With variations, it goes like this: 1) a “rapture” of the invisible church at any moment (including a resurrection of deceased believers), 2) a seven-year period of tribulation (from Daniel 9), 3) the second advent of Jesus Christ, 4) the establishment of His millennial reign from Jerusalem, 5) a revolt against Him from antichrist 6) Jesus wins, 7) a third resurrection of believers, 8) the resurrection of unbelievers into eternal judgement, 9) all believers live in heaven eternally, and 10) a cataclysmic destruction of the world by fire.

As I mentioned a minute ago, all of this came from John Nelson Darby, a lawyer who founded the Plymouth Brethren movement.  And since his imaginative prophetic sequence was formulated (in the second and third decades of the 19th century) it has spread to many evangelical Churches and some seminarys.  Some have even mentioned that he may have gotten it from a London fortune teller.

Darby had once been ordained as an Anglican priest; and his “system” of prophetic interpretation, as well as the rest of his Biblical positioning, was a response to what he considered “empty formalism” in the Church of England.

Now.  We have to move on; but that will give you a brief overview of futurism.  From there you can put some flesh on it yourself from reading and study on your own.

The second view of Biblical prophecy (especially that of St. John’s Revelation) that you need to be aware of is that of the “idealist”.  This view tends to see much of “apocalyptic” literature as a general description of any given point in history.  It does not usually see The Revelation as describing specific historical events, but sees the book as describing the ongoing struggle between the spiritual powers of evil and good, represented by Satan and the Church.

Typically this view outlines The Revelation as “several versions of the same story” told with varying symbols and detail.  And, again, “typically” (and I say typically, because it is certainly not always the case), (typically) the ones who are “idealists” are not historical premillennialists or dispensationalist premillennialists.  Those who think in terms of those two views are “futurists” (as we previously described).

Christians who see The Revelation (and other prophetic passages) that are idealists are usually amillennialists.   Strictly speaking, the word amillennialism means “no millennium”.  But that is somewhat of a misnomer, because idealists recognize that the Bible does, indeed, speak of a millennium.  They just think of the reign and realm of the Christ as being in the hearts of believers, and the prophecies of the Scripture as descriptive (symbolically) of the entire struggle of the Church and the individual against evil during the whole period between the first and second coming of Christ.  Therefore, the visions and events of St John’s Revelation are “cyclic” in nature, by which history goes through those struggles.  In clear terms, the Revelation is “symbolic” of the continuing and recurring events and struggles of Christianity.


Now as we move carefully into the third of the four main views of The Revelation and other prophetic passages of Scripture, let me advise you to pay close attention to this because there are some similarities between “historicism” (this third view) and idealism and the fourth main view (which we’ll get to in a few minutes).

Historicism then is the third primary means of interpreting what is sometimes called “apocalyptic” literature.  (And when people say that word “apocalyptic”, what they normally mean is prophecy of world-ending doom.  But the Greek word apocalypsis simply means “revelation”.  The problem is that nowadays The Revelation is referred to as the dooms-day book!  And it’s come to mean that because of John Darby and his fortune-teller-based imagination.)

Anyway, those who see the prophetic Scripture from an historicalistic point of view (i.e. historicism), tend to see the events in Revelation as actual events in history.  They do not see them however as primarily in the past or in the future.  Neither do they see them as simply symbolic of the struggle between good and evil for Christianity.

For the historicist, the events in the Revelation are a panoramic view of all of Church history culminating in the return of Jesus.  And the events in history of great significance are the “filling up” of the prophetic Word.

So, historicalists may point to the events in the history of the Church, or periods in the history of the Church (such as the papacy and islam, and relate those events and periods to specific portions of St John’s Revelation.

So (in order for you to keep these straight and not become confused), futurism says that Christ’s Kingdom hasn’t come yet, and that the prophetic Word hasn’t yet been fulfilled.  Idealists say that the Kingdom is in our hearts, and that the prophecy of St John is symbolic of the continuing struggle of Christians and the Christian Church.  Historicists say that the specifics of St John’s Revelation are continually being fulfilled in the actual events of history.

Now let me give you the fourth general view of the prophetic Word.  It’s called “preterism”.  And here’s a definition of the term:

 Preterism places the prophecies of intense evil and foreboding doom and gloom as having been fulfilled in the first century, focusing on the events surrounding the forty-two-month long Neronic persecution, and the forty-two-month long Jewish war with Rome (that’s seven years), and the destruction of the temple, the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation; and the attempted obliteration of the Jews world-wide. The word "preterist" is based on the Latin "praeteritus," meaning "gone by" or having already been completed.

One more time: the futurists see all those events as yet to come to pass; the idealists see them as allusions to the general course of things as good and evil oppose each other; historicalists see them as indicative of specific events during the whole course of history.  And then preterists (that is, those who interpret the Revelation of St John as having already taken place) see them as specific events that occurred soon after John received his revelation!

Now.  Having given you those rather obtuse definitions (which we can talk more about during the second hour if you wish), let me just finish our time together this morning by speaking about The Covenant, and about the Covenant in history.  That may sound as if I’m getting off track a bit, but bear with me.  It’s not off topic at all.  It’s an important review of things we’ve heard previously, and it is certainly a prerequisite to an exegesis of St John’s Revelation here in this second introductory sermon.

The first thing I want to approach for you is the revelation of God’s covenant in history.  As we saw in the concluding verses of Matthew, our Lord Jesus Christ is the risen, ascended and triumphant Lord of heaven and earth.  He is its Judge.  He is its Lord.  And He doesn’t rule from “outside” history.  He rules IN history!  He doesn’t “break into” history. It IS His history.

What we study is the history of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  What we study is the revelation of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  What we study is the covenant of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

We don’t study God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit “breaking into history” and intervening on various occasions.  That kind of neo-orthodox dualism denigrates the covenant, denigrates the salvation wrought by Jesus Christ, and denigrates the Lordship of Christ over the heavens and the earth.  He isn’t just “involved” in history; it is HIS history!

The second point here is that Jesus Christ was appointed mediator of the covenant in history!  And it is a “gracious” covenant from the beginning.  This same apostle, John, just a few years before he penned The Revelation, said, “For God SO loved the “cosmos” – the creation, the universe, all that He had made – that He ‘gave’ His only Son………”  You see, all of this happened in history!

The creation is history; the promise of the Mediator is history; the setting apart of a peculiar people is history; the specifics of the covenant stipulations is history; the arrogant rebellion against those stipulations by that peculiar people is history; the birth, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of the promised Mediator is history; the termination of the relationship with the peculiar people is history; the inclusion of peoples of all nations is history……. and it is a linear history.  It is not cyclical.

And God is not “involved” with that history…… that’s arrogant!  That sees history as something “apart” or “separate” from God.  That sees man as a terminal point; and God as something of a superfluous interloper on occasion!  God is not just “involved” with history.  The history belongs to Him.  He is “immanent” (as some theologians put it).

And here’s the point we need to get to here.  The Word of God is the special Revelation of God’s history.  There is the history of Revelation and a Revelation of history!  The covenant that He made to save all that He made, and to glorify Himself in that salvation has been revealed in His Word.  And the whole Word, Genesis to Revelation, came from the same mind; and it’s all historical; and it all agrees.

And that’s exactly why, when the Mediator came, that he quoted extensively from the covenant and from the prophets concerning the Mediator of that covenant!  It all agrees!

So, when we come to the text of St John’s Revelation, we can see more clearly the history of Revelation, the history of the covenant, the history of salvation……  it all agrees!  We can depend on it.  We follow the history – God’s history – and we can quote from the covenant documents, we can quote from the Psalms, we can quote from the prophets; and we can be sure that the “capstone” of the Revelation of God follows the same linear history (which belongs to God) that all the rest of Scripture follows.  Because it all agrees.