Introduction to Revelation

Overview of the structure

The Four Approaches to Interpretation of Revelation

  1. Preterist
    • The prophecies were entirely fulfilled in the first century
    • Plus: It would have been intelligible to John’s readers
    • Minus: It is not massively relevant for us
    • Minus: To be consistent, it means that Jesus must have already returned 1900 years ago
  2. Historicist
    • The book is a description of European history over 2000 years
    • Plus: It is interesting for us
    • Minus: Every age has had a different interpretation, relevant to themselves
    • Minus: Everyone disagrees what it means
    • Minus: It would not have been intelligible to John’s readers
  3. Futurist (Dispensational)
    • Apart from the first few chapters the book is exclusively concerned with events right at the end of the age
    • Christians will not even be on earth for most of it (raptured)
    • Minus: The book is not very relevant for us
    • Minus: Much of the detail will not be understood till it happens, so it would not have been very intelligible to John’s readers (or to us)
    • Minus: The Dispensational view makes the 7 churches = 7 ages
      • The last age (Laodicea) is a total failure and then Christ returns
      • Very pessimistic about the Kingdom and demotivating for the church
  4. Idealist
    • The book is not about specific events, but patterns of events that occur right through the age
    • It sets out principles for how God works in human history
    • Plus: It would have been intelligible to John’s readers
    • Plus: It is relevant for us and for Christians in all ages
    • Plus: There are examples of “repeated fulfillment” in O.T. prophecy
      • e.g. some of Daniel’s prophecies which are already fulfilled in Antiochus Epiphanes are repeated by Jesus with future application
    • Minus: The meaning can end up being so vague and general that the value of the book is much reduced
    • Minus: This would make it different to all other “apocalyptic” literature in the Scriptures which tends to be more specific
  • So what is the solution? All of them seem badly flawed?
  • I am going to go with an approach which is:
    • mostly a modified Futurist (but non-Dispensational)
    • some aspects Historicist
    • some Idealist which make it relevant and intelligible to John’s readers
      • “repeated fulfillment” makes it relevant to all ages

Good Principles for Interpreting the Book

  1. Allow the simple and straightforward parts of Scripture to interpret the complex and difficult
    • Jesus’ teaching on the events preceding his coming in Matt 24
    • Paul also gave similar teaching in II Thessalonians
  2. Understand the language of symbols from other similar literature in the Bible
    • Symbols can be understood from other prophetic (apocalyptic) literature in the Scriptures (e.g. Daniel)
    • e.g. dragon/serpent → Satan
    • e.g. Sun darkened & stars fall → collapsing of earthly powers
      Ez 32:1-10 (Pharoah), especially v.7 & 8
      Daniel 8 (Macedonian empire), see v.10
      Joel 2:1-11 (Great army), see v.10

The language of Symbols

  • Have to be consistent as much as possible
  • Scripture (e.g. Rev 12)
    • Vision recorded (A sign appeared in heaven...)
      • symbol in vision (e.g. Dragon)
        • meaning of symbol (e.g. Satan)
  • so, if he sees a vision of a great battle, this does not necessarily mean a physical battle

Analysis of the Structure of the book

  • There are several options
  1. All in sequence:
    • Christ’s first coming — 1 — 2 — 3 — 4 — 5 — 6 — 7 — eternity
  2. All in parallel:
Christ’s first coming —1—
  1. Some combination, e.g. telescope all of 2 inside the last 7th of 1
  2. We are going to see four parts to the book:
Vision Division of Book
—1— Part 1. Letters to the Seven Churches [1-3]
Part 2. The First Scroll: The Seven Seals and the Seven Trumpets [4-11]
Part 3. The Second Scroll: Warfare (Seven Visions, Seven Plagues and Seven Visions of Victory) [12-19]
—7— Part 4. The Second Scroll: The End of the Age and the New Creation [20-22]

Updated on 2011-05-27 by Andrew Fountain -