interpreting the book of revelation
This past Sunday, October 4, we began our journey through the book of the Revelation. I mentioned that throughout church history there have been at least 5 different views of how to interpret this book. I will briefly summarize these here and then mention which view I subscribe to at the end:
1. The Futurist Interpretation - In this view the majority of the events in the book of the Revelation are still future to us, not just future to the 1st c. audience, but to us today. The most popular of this view is Dispensational Premillenialalsim (e.g. the Left Behind series). Everything from Revelation 4 on is all future to us today. The biggest weakness is that this view does not take into account what it meant to those living in the first century to whom this book was written. For example, the great whore sitting on the 7 hills (Rev. 17) to the first centruy reader immediately recognized this as the Roman empire. This Futurist view did not exist prior to 1830.
Just today, October 7, 2015, Business Insider published an article citing 11 end times dates, including one that says today is the day. The reason they got it wrong was due to the interpretative lens they used to interpret revelation.
2. The Preterist Interpretation (Latin for past). This view sees everything in this book taking place in the past with the possible exception of last few chapters. It describes the fall of Jerusalem in AD70, persecution under Nero, etc. It is primarily a history book for us. The weakness of this view is that it does not recognize the still future events yet to unfold.
3. The Historicist Interpretation – Those who ascribe to this view, see Revelation as a chronological history of the church and each of the symbols represent each time period
from 1st c till the end. The reformers middle ages saw the great whore who sits on the 7 hills representing not the Roman empire, but the Roman Catholic Church. The weakness of this view iswe read own time circumstances into the book and interpret it that way instead of asking what did it mean to 1st c. audience.
4. The Idealist Interpretation – Those who hold this view say the book of Revelation does not refer to any specific events but to principles of how God operates. Specifically principles of how God deals with those who belong to him and those who oppose him. The inherent weakness of this view is that it does not take into account the events that had specific meaning to the 1st c. audience.
5. The Right Interpretation. I'm joking. Throughout history, people have strong opinions about each of these ways to interpret this book which has even resulted in divisions. Therefore whatever view we hold, we must hold it loosely and humbly and recognize we may not fully understand everything in this book. With that being said, the approach I am taking is the Eclectic Interpretation. As I study this book I plan to ask – what did the text mean to original audience? (aka The Preterist Interpretation), What future meaning is there? (aka The Futurist Interpretation) and What does it mean for us today? (aka The Idealist Interpretation).
May God bless us as we read and study this book together.