Reading Revelation

In our Bible study group that meets on Sunday mornings, I’m currently a study called “Seven Kinds of Christians.” This study is using the seven churches of Asia minor as a context for talking about types of Christians.

One of the conversations that came up Sunday concerns how we are to read Revelation. Perhaps more than any other book in the New Testament, much less the rest of the Bible, the book of Revelation is terribly challenging to find consensus on with believers and scholars. The nature of the literature alone, the dramatic imagery, the allusions, its apocalyptic nature (it is called “The Apocalypse” in the Greek) all add to the challenge.

Growing up in a happy little neo-fundamentalist church, and then going to Liberty University, for my undergraduate, I had been taught the only proper way to read Revelation is from a purely futurist perspective. That is, the events of the book, particularly chapter 4-22, were all coming in the future. This lined up with the dispensational pre-tribulational, premillennial viewpoint taught at multiple levels in my formative years and collegiate education. I even studied with Dr Tim LaHaye and his group of leaders.

However, I no longer hold that view.

This is stunning for a lot of faithful church goers who have never been exposed to a complete presentation of the facts of these matters. For so many, their perspective on Revelation, and eschatology, has been informed like mine was informed.

There are four basic views of how to read Revelation:

  • Futurist view – the events of Revelation, particularly chapters 4 – 22, are describing coming events. (Ryrie, Patterson)
  • Historicist view – the events in Revelation describe historical instances throughout history. (Calvin, Edwards)
  • Idealist view – the events in Revelation speak about the spiritual battle between Satan and God throughout history. (Morris, Tenney)
  • Preterist view – the book of Revelation, having been written prior to AD/CE 70, describes events that will transpire at the fall of Jerusalem and by the end of the first century. (Hannegraf, Sproul)

 

Probe Ministries has a great discussion of these views at their website. Some scholars take an eclectic approach to reading Revelation which blends together two or three categories. For instance, GK Beale’s commentary on Revelation (which is outstanding) is an idealist-historicist read. George E Ladd also has a blended approach (preterist-futurist.)

Dispensationalists have better artwork than the rest of us.

Dispensationalists have better artwork than the rest of us.

My view on Revelation is an eclectic read that is between Beale and Ladd. Aspects of the book are clearly historical (first chapter, seven churches) while others are appear futurist (chapters 19-22.) There are challenges in the text, specifically how John is attempting to interpret massively symbolic acts along with figures and language that is clearly apocalyptic. Also, some of the figures and scenes are simply ontologically impossible.

So, I approach the text of Revelation with a historicist-futurist read of Revelation.

The first three chapters are the unfolding of the book and commissioning of it to the churches near John’s ministry. Chapters 4 – 18 are speaking of the grand narrative of salvation history as it has occurred in our time. Finally, chapter 19 – 22, speak of the coming final sequence of events.

Of course my eschatological view is important as I have moved from a dispensational pre-tribulational, pre-millennial view to historical premillennialism.

Being able to see that there is more than one way to read the book has a kind of liberating quality for so many of our church goers. We are no longer bound to an uneasy read, but we can allow them to study on their own and come to their conclusions. Ultimately, the one conclusion that we must reach is that Jesus is coming back and those who are in His Book have a greater future ahead.

So, how do you read Revelation? What challenges do you see in the book? What hope do you see?