The Necessity of Proclaiming God’s Word in Biblical Times By Jonathan C. Brentner Why do…
The Future Hold All The Answers!
By Dr. Mike Murphy
The Book of Revelation. A book of the Bible that more quote than understand, that more discuss than read. A book that most have an opinion on, but far too few have the insight to explain. A book that our world has sadly come to know more by its’ symbols than by the message of its’ words. A book of the Bible than more see as a fictional novel, than for the factional warnings that fill its’ pages.
Ask a group as they leave church this Sunday to explain the Book of Revelation, and you will get mainly glazed stares and complete silence. Many will tell you they do not have the training to fully understand John’s vision, and the words God instructed him to give us. What we fail to see is that Revelation does not come with a warning label, only a simple set of instructions the Lord ask us to follow. God wants all of us to understand the Book of Revelation! We so easily forget, God did not choose the most scholarly man He could find to reveal the events of Revelation to. He gave them to a fisherman named John. A simple man of faith who looked to God and His Word for the answers. A man of prayer, and a man who studied and often quoted the words of those God had also chosen in past years to reveal His Word through.
When God inspired and revealed the book of Revelation to John, He intended for us to understand every part, in every chapter. And just like John, through our prayer and study we can understand the prophecies that we find in its’ chapters. And any prophecy we may not understand fully, we have the promise that one day all will be made clear when we see that prophecy fulfilled.
We must understand, the key to comprehending Revelation is not found in the Book of Revelation. We must look to many of the same prophets of old that John, the apostles, and Christ Himself often quoted. Revelation is the culmination of many of the prophecies we find throughout Scripture. The Book of Revelation gives color and detail to the masterpiece many of the Old Testament prophets had already began to paint. Revelation continues and completes what these men of God had started, to shine a light on the dark future this world gives us, and to show us a Glorious Hope where no hope would otherwise be found.
Many will say that the Book of Revelation can never be understood, and it generally serves no purpose for us to study it or devote time in it. In many churches today, the book is ignored, seen as controversial and generally to hard to comprehend. I do not believe that those who would assert this philosophy have even thought through what they are saying. In reality, they are telling you that God is foolish. That God gave us the detailed and visionary words of this book with no purpose in mind. These words are simply there for no other reason that to fill up space. The Bible tells us, “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for the day of evil” – Proverbs 16:4. God has a purpose for all things, and each purpose leads to the fulfillment of God’s plan. If we choose to ignore that purpose, we must be willing to accept that we can never understand that plan. Revelation, and all prophecy, brings to life the purpose of that plan!
To best understand Revelation, and all prophecy, we must be willing to put our own desires and interpretations aside, and concentrate on God’s will and His vision. 2 Peter 1:20-21 tells us, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Our hermeneutics, the principles of interpretation, must reflect the vision the Holy Spirit shows us, not the image that we desire to see. We must have a desire to see and understand Scripture through the Lord’s eyes, not through our own.
So if God intended for Revelation to be understood, and to have us see the future through His eyes, why have so many interpretations of these prophecies been presented and often taught? Let us take a look at the four main interpretations of Revelation, and see what image is reflected in our own eyes, and what vision is seen through God’s eyes.
Idealist or Symbolic Interpretation
Those who follow this view teach that there are no references in Revelation to actual events, past, present or future. This view uses a symbolic or allegorical approach to its’ interpretation. Revelation is seen as imagery that represents the ongoing struggle of good versus evil. Followers of this interpretation will tell you that John was trying to put forth an idea, not a literal prophetic message. Idealist see five main purposes in the book. First, it calls us to live an honorable life. Second, it teaches us we are to endure. Third, it tells us that evil will be overcome in the end. Fourth, it gives us a glimpse into who Christ is. And fifth, that history is in the mind of God and can be seen in the moral destiny of men.
This allegorical view of Revelation was first thought to be widely introduced by Origen, and made popular by Augustine. Much of the early church rejected this view, but the view has again come to prominence among many theologians in recent years. One of these recent theologians, Robert Mounce, stated, “Revelation is a theological poem presenting the ageless struggle between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. It is a philosophy of history wherein Christian forces are continuously meeting and conquering the demonic forces of evil.” They teach that the symbols of Revelation are not representative of events, but of themes. For example, the battles written of in Revelation are seen as spiritual warfare, Christian persecution throughout the ages. The beast of the sea is seen as political opposition to the Church. And the catastrophes foretold are seen as God’s unhappiness with man.
There are many problems with this approach. It becomes based on man’s interpretations, not on God’s intended meaning. The culture and politics of the day become influencing factors of this view. The view turns on itself, as the symbolism it is based on can be seen to represent whatever one chooses. And above all, it ignores God’s own words. Those who say that moral instructions are the purpose of Revelation, ignore what Christ Himself says about the book. Revelation 22:18-19 tells us, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” Christ specifically tells us the purpose of this book, it is prophetic, not symbolic! When we place interpretative symbolism over proven substance, we forfeit our understanding of God’s plan.
This view teaches that Revelation predicts and envelops the whole history of the Church, from the time of the Apostles until the end of this Age. Many who take this position see in the first three chapters of Revelation as seven distinct eras of the Church’s history. They see in chapters four through seven the decline and eventual fall of the Roman Empire. They tell you the judgments of chapters eight through eleven represent the challenges of Western Europe, and the rise of religions that oppose the Church. Many proclaim the fifth trumpet judgment as the rise of Islam, and see the sixth trumpet judgment as the emergence of the Turks. Many see chapters eleven through thirteen as the struggles of the Protestant Church against Catholicism, with chapters fourteen through nineteen representing God’s judgment against the Catholic Church.
There are many criticisms of this approach, including the wide variety of interpretations that have come from it. It has been said that as many as fifty different interpretations have been present at various moments in history, with no two interpretations agreeing with what events of history were being represented. These views tend to focus on Western Europe, ignoring the rest of the world. Focusing its’ attention to struggles between Protestantism and Catholicism. It is for these reason, that this viewpoint has been all but forgotten, with only a very few following it today. Those that do find themselves waist deep in prophetic gobbledy-gook, not knowing which direction to turn to find a way out. The Lord requires us to both read and understand the prophecies that Revelation gives us (Revelation 1:3), not to look to assign meaning to them by connecting them to events of history.
The term preterist comes from the Latin word ‘preter’, which means past. Most preterist see the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24) and the Book of Revelation fulfilled by the events of the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. They state that chapters one through three deal with the conditions of the churches of Asia Minor prior to the events of 70 AD, with the rest of Revelation being fulfilled by the events that surround the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Full preterism then teaches that chapters twenty through twenty-two of Revelation have already been fulfilled, and we are now living in the era of the promised new heaven and new earth. While partial preterism teaches that the events of chapters twenty through twenty-two will be fulfilled at a future date, with the resurrection of believers and the return of Christ.
The teachings of preterism can be traced back to a Jesuit priest named Luis de Alcazar. His commentary, Vestigatio arcani sensus in Apocalypsi, published a year after his death in 1614, put forth this viewpoint in response to many pointing to the Pope as the Anti-Christ. This theory took the focus off the conflict between Catholicism and the Reformationists, placing it on events that had already been fulfilled.
When we closely examine this interpretation, the flaws quickly become overwhelming. We must first accept that Alcazar was given greater understanding than over fifteen hundred prior years of Church history. That he understood more than those who were taught at the very feet of John, many who lived, or had relatives live through, the events they say the Revelation described. We are told that Polycarp was a disciple of John. From his writings, Irenaeus tells us that he was taught by Polycarp. And we also know that Irenaeus taught and mentored Hippolytus, who we also have early church writings from. Irenaeus wrote of his teacher Polycarp, “Polycarp…instructed by apostles…always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true.”
So what exactly did Polycarp teach about Revelation? Irenaeus addressed this in his writing Against Heresies, and Hippolytus also addressed the issue in Treatise on Christ and Antichrist. They tell us that Satan will attempt to reign over mankind as a man we know as Antichrist, and he will desire for all to worship him as God. They connect the teaching of Christ, Daniel, and the writings of John, teaching of a seven year tribulation with the “abomination of desolation” at its’ midpoint. The Antichrist will be the little horn of Daniel (Daniel 7), and will overthrow three other kings of the earth as he gains his power. The Antichrist will deceive the majority of the people of this world, and will persecute those who refuse to worship him as God. They also tell us that at the end of these seven years, and after the three and one half year reign of the Antichrist (the last half of the Tribulation), Christ will return and destroy the kingdom of Satan. Those who were taught by John did not teach or believe the interpretation of Alcazar, who had objectives besides truth in mind when he penned these views. Another problem those that follow preterism cannot overcome is the date of when John wrote the Revelation. And once again the writings of Irenaeus and Hippolytus are not their friends. In order for Revelation to apply to the events of the destruction of Jerusalem, then Revelation would have had to have been written before 70 AD, as these prophecies were written and given future tense. Almost every legitimate Biblical scholar will tell you that John was given and wrote the Revelation from the isle of Patmos around 95 AD, long after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. And when we look at the writings and beliefs of our early Church fathers, like and including Irenaeus and Hippolytus, they all tell us that it was also given and written by John at this time, not before the Temple and the city were destroyed.
Closely looking at this interpretation, we see more than just flaws in the fabric, we see gaping tears in the material. We see a view that was not introduced to show others the truth, but to put forth for alternative motives. We see prophetic truth becoming prophetic delusion when we examine this view closely.
When the world today hears of the events Revelation describes, most recognize it from the futurist viewpoint. Most within the evangelical church today hold to a futurist interpretation of the Olivet Discourse and the book of Revelation. Futurists follow the words of Christ in Revelation 1:19 as a guideline. “Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.” When we look closely at chapter one, we see what John had been shown, the glorified Christ on the isle of Patmos. When we look at chapters two and three, we see John describe the things “which are”, the seven churches of Asia Minor and the realities those church each faced. Then when we look at chapters four through twenty-two, we see described events “which will take place”, future events that those of John’s day had not yet seen.
Futurism applies a literal interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Chapters four through nineteen describe events that the world will see because man has failed to follow God. For example, chapter thirteen describes a future world empire that will be lead by political and religious leaders known as the two beasts. In chapter seventeen, we will see an apostate Church represented by the harlot. In chapter nineteen, we see the literal and physical return of Christ, and the battle in which He will overcome Satan and those that choose to follow him. In chapter twenty we see Christ reign over this earth for a thousand years in what we call the Millennium. And in the final two chapters, we see the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.
Futurists rightly contend that this literal interpretation can be traced back to the founding fathers of the Church. These beliefs can be found in the writings of the Church’s earliest leaders. Clement, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, and many others all taught and wrote these principles. It was not until Origen introduced an allegorical interpretation of the Bible in the early two hundreds that this view was not widely accepted. In modern times, the literal interpretation of the founding fathers of the Church has once again rose to prominence.
Those who follow the view of futurism do not discount or deny the symbols that are found in John’s writing. Nor do they claim to have all the answers when it comes to these symbols, they do not claim to be able to explain every detail of these symbols with complete certainty. But they do teach and believe, that a literal interpretation must be applied and followed throughout the Book of Revelation. They believe that consistency must be used when reading the prophecies John gave us. Only futurism instructs the reader to take a literal view of each of these symbols and visions, reducing the difficulty in understanding and teaching each.
When we look closely at all four of these interpretations, it becomes obvious to those who seek the Truth which view reflects those of John. When we implement and compare the principle of letting Scripture interpret Scripture, it is not hard to see which interpretation holds up to this scrutiny. When we look at the Book of Revelation with a perspective of the entire Bible and its’ history, we soon see which view we must follow. When we look at past prophecies, and see how the Lord fulfilled His words and His warnings, we soon come to see that futurism emerges as the only credible interpretation. The first three interpretations ignore the basic teachings of Scripture, having resulted in a myriad of errors in predicting and explaining the words and warnings John gave us. The facts of Scripture, and the history we find in the Church, prove to us beyond a doubt that we should all take a futurist interpretation when reading John’s words.
So next time you sit down, and open your Bible, do not be afraid to read the Book of Revelation! Never feel that it is a part of God’s Word you cannot and will not ever understand. Pray before you read it, and trust that the Lord gave John these very words so that you might know them. And as you read the words of John, please remember, the future hold all the answers!
Every time you read God’s Word, I pray you stay true to God’s Word (Revelation 22:18-19)!