The Book of Revelation is arguably one of the most problematic books in the Christian Cannon for us to interpret. Before anyone begins reading the Book of Revelation or any other apocalyptic literature like the Old Testament prophets Daniel and Ezekiel, or the New Testament “little apocalypses” in Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 17, 21 one must understand the nature of the genre. We must keep in mind that writing is wiring, regardless of where we read it or the value that we place upon the document. When we read a how-to manual we do so carefully usually stopping frequently to follow the steps involved. Whereas a piece of fiction is usually read quickly, some (like my wife) read the end before reaching the plot intensifies.
Biblical literature was written to an ancient people in an historical context using popular genres of the time, with images more easily understood in the author’s time. Holy Scripture is considered inspired because it in more that human created literature, it is God’s word to His people. So, we must also look at scripture not only as ancient writing, but also at God’s transformative message for us today. Understanding God’s Word is called interpretation, a task that is much easier when reading a biography or historical document. Apocalyptic literature is much more challenging and multiple methods of interpretation.
Apocalyptic literature defends God’s justice against the evil acts of humanity and the opposition of Satan. It was intended to encourage believers in the then “present” age as well as show God’s blessings to the future age (both our present and our future). The Book of Revelation and other similar Biblical passages were not and should never be intended as predictions of the future. In Matthew 24 (a little apocalypse), Jesus tells of the destruction of the Second Temple, a great tribulation, and the coming of the Son of Man.
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, * but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36 RSV-CE)
Jesus is quite clear that the hour of judgement is only known by God the Father, therefore we are to read this literature to make our path’s straight and not project the images as concrete examples happing in our present.
This 5 part series of posts will address the four methods, interpretation: preterist, historicist, futurist, and idealist. It is important to keep in mind that these are the “big ideas” many interpreters create hybrid views combining aspects of each of these.
- The preterist view suggests that Revelation was fulfilled in the past, at the time of its authorship.
- The historicist view suggests that Revelation is predictive of the stages of the “future” New Testament Church from the first century to the end of time.
- The futurist view suggests that Revelation was not correctly understood in past ages. It can only be truly understood as the “end of time” approaches.
- The idealist view suggests that Revelation is a symbolic description of the ongoing spiritual struggle faced by every believer in every age.
Cory, Catherine A. New Collegeville Bible Commentary: The Book of Revelation. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2006.
Hahn, Scott, Ph. D. "The Book of Revelation: The End." Sycamore, Illinois: St. Joseph Communications, 2003.
Harrison, Wilfred J. O.P. Sacra Pagina: Revelation. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2008.
Senior, Donald, Mary Ann Getty, Carroll Stuhlmueller, and John J. Collins, . The Catholic Study Bible. New American Bible (NAB). New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Wilson, Neil S., and Linda K. Taylor. Handbook of Bible Charts & Maps. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2001.
Zukeran, Patrick. Probe Ministries: Four Views of Revelation. April 20, 2009. https://www.probe.org/four-views-of-revelation/ (accessed June 27, 2015).
Revelation, its how you read it
4/ 5Oleh JIM Woodmansee