Understanding the Book of Revelation
The Eyeglasses of Interpretation
There are four basic “eyeglasses” or methods of interpretation that have been used to view the book of Revelation; preterism, futurism, historical, and spiritual. Elements of all four interpretations can apply at different times and if we use just one of these lenses exclusively to view it we may end up with a faulty perspective – or crossed eyes.
We begin by allowing the lens of preterism to adjust our view. Through this lens we cannot see what lies ahead. The future is indeed blurry, because this doctrine is adjusted to see what has already come to pass.
The preterist interpretation was invented by a Jesuit priest during the Counter Reformation in an attempt to defend the Pope from accusations that he was the antichrist. Through the preterist lens, all the Scriptures contained in Revelation apply to the first century up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and Daniel’s prophecies are also seen being fulfilled in the second century. The great tribulation is regarded as the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and somehow, Jesus is seen returning at that time.
The preterist view negates the fact that Revelation was written during the latter part of the reign of Domitian, approximately around 95 AD, twenty-five years after Jerusalem’s destruction.
The Apostle John counsels us in Revelation’s introduction, that the things in the book “must shortly come to pass” (Rev. 1:1) and he tells us that he has been instructed to write those things that have happened, are happening and will happen, (Rev. 1:19); so to completely eliminate any application to events that are meant to transpire in the future is an error.
We have a bifocal that lets us see the historical perspective, and elements of the book can apply to the first century, but Revelation is a dimensional book and it was written to encourage Christians through persecution in every age; therefore, the preterist lens negates the book’s purpose for future generations. Also, as we will be reiterating through our study, if a doctrine is correct, then all the other Scriptures must be in harmony with it. As we shall see, an exclusive preterist view is not supported by a careful examination of the details provided for us in Revelation Thirteen, Daniel’s prophecies and current world events. The Euphrates River is in the process of drying up, which is a significant event in Biblical prophecy that obviously did not occur in the first century.
Realizing that preterism is not giving us a completely accurate view, we remove those lenses and don the eyeglasses of futurism.
Futurism shows us most of the events in Revelation’s pages transpiring in the future before the Lord returns. While the book is written to apply to every generation, we realize as we peer through this lens, that when we finally reach the period of time that directly precedes our Lord’s return, then those events described in Revelation’s pages will suddenly align with that age and all will apply to that generation.
Jesus and the prophets are futurists. They warn of coming storms in their prophecies so we may be prepared, and in some instances appropriate a required repentance. They are “Spiritual Weathermen,” and the futurist view operates with this purpose in mind.
This eyeglass also has a bifocal that compliments what we are seeing with the historical view. We can witness how events in the past are related to what we are seeing in the future; and it is exciting to behold a world history that has been enslaved by evil come to its conclusion in the victorious return of our Savior.
We recognize the value of futurism and its historical bifocal, but as we attempt to view Revelation exclusively with the eyeglasses of the historical without combining that lens with any other, our view again is immediately regulated to events that have already transpired. It is impossible to recognize anything in the future with these lenses, because the historical interpretation can only report what has already come to pass. We realize that it serves the best as a bifocal incorporated with one or more of the other lenses.
Now we proceed to the spiritual interpretation. This one is a kaleidoscope of a variety of lenses in various colors that can change depending on who is examining it. The spiritual interpretation basically views the entire book of Revelation as a depiction of the conflict between good and evil.
When studying Revelation, it is important to keep in mind that the book is comprised of supernatural visions, and a certain amount of revelation from the Lord is required to be able understand it. We can’t quench the Holy Spirit and expect an accurate interpretation. In Revelation 1:20, the Lord shows John that stars represent angels and candlesticks are seen as churches. If the Lord had not revealed to John what these symbols represent, the apostle would not have understood the true meaning of what he was being shown.
It is a mistake to interpret supernatural visions as literally as we do the rest of Scripture, because as we have seen, elements in the book have been designed to represent other things. We must keep this in mind as we study and be willing to keep our ears tuned to the Lord and not allow a solely intellectual approach to refute His guidance.
Any spiritual interpretation of Revelation must also be guided by sound doctrine and will harmonize and coordinate with the rest of Scripture.
As we near the conclusion of our summary of the various methods that have been used through the years to interpret Revelation, we need to consider one last fairly recent addition and that is the doctrine of dispensationalism.
This lens is a telescope. It adjusts our vision to an extreme futurist perspective that focuses on a specific interpretation of Revelation that originated by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) and was adapted by Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921). Because it has been embraced by so many Christians as the only way to perceive the time period before Jesus’ return, we need to examine this lens along with the other methods of interpretation.
Darby claimed that the Lord had shown him that Scripture was divided into seven dispensations. These dispensations record the portions of Scripture where the Lord changed how He dealt with His people. The last dispensation was the church age which ends when the Lord returns. Scofield adjusted Darby’s version and ends the church age with a “rapture” based on the Apostle John’s calling up to heaven in Chapter Four. John, as a similitude of the entire church, is removed and the tribulation is seen occurring immediately after the rapture.
Scofield taught that because the word “church” is not used in Revelation after Chapter Three, this verifies that the church will not be on earth during the great tribulation; thus, the events that transpire in Revelation deal with the Jews in Israel during the anti-christ’s and the beast’s reign.
I reiterate; if a doctrine is correct then all the other Scriptures must be in harmony with it; while the word "church" does not appear in Revelation beyond Chapter Three, the word candlestick does and candlesticks, as we have been shown in Revelation 1:20 are churches. The two witnesses in Chapter Eleven are called candlesticks (Rev. 11:4), therefore we are being told that these two witnesses are churches, most likely Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians and they will be functioning until they are overcome by the beast. They are raptured in verse twelve of Chapter Eleven.
We also must consider the fact that the Apostle John, who is correctly recognized by Scofield as a type of the church, is seen on earth in Chapter Ten being commissioned to preach the Gospel during the time period that Scofield viewed as the great tribulation.
Scofield’s interpretation regards all the chapters following his timing of the rapture as the “great tribulation.” He ignored or did not understand the symbolism of the trumpets, seeing them as only instruments for use in announcing religious ceremonies, Leviticus 23:24. Trumpets in the Scriptures are also used as warning symbols. -
If when he (the watchman) sees the sword come upon the land, he blows the trumpet, and warns the people; then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet, and takes not warning; if the sword comes, and takes him away, his blood will be upon his own head (Ezekiel 33:3,4).
Also I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Hearken to the sound of the trumpet.’ But they said, ‘We will not hearken’ (Jeremiah 6:17).
Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, sound an alarm in My holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord comes, for it is nigh at hand (Joel 2:1).
Thus the time period from Chapter Eight through Chapter Eleven is not the great tribulation, but a time of warning, most likely the “beginning of sorrows” mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24:8, that precedes His second coming. The great tribulation or the “the hour of His judgment” (Rev. 14:7) begins in Chapter Fourteen and continues to Jesus’ return in Chapter Nineteen.
Scofield also made the common error of mistaking I Thessalonians 4:16, 17 as the rapture. Paul is teaching from Jesus’ statements in Matthew twenty-four, which describes the events that occur after the tribulation. –
Immediately after the tribulation of those days…verse 29…they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet (this trumpet announces a jubilee for God’s people and a warning to the wicked) and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matthew 24:30, 31).
After the elect are gathered, the wicked are removed as described in Matthew 24:38-41.
The dead in Christ rise first at Jesus’ coming in I Thessalonians 4:16, therefore this event is the first resurrection. According to a first century document, “The Prophecy of Elijah,” the calling up of the two witnesses in Chapter Eleven is the pre-tribulation rapture, which includes the witnesses and the church; (Please read "Brethren of the Inner Court" for details). So we see the Scriptures revealing a pre-tribulation rapture occurring before Chapter Fourteen, which begins the great tribulation; and a resurrection of the believing dead and subsequent rapture of believers who are alive at Jesus’ second coming after the great tribulation.
Scofield also maintained a severe distinction between the church as the “bride” and Israel as the adulterous wife that endures the great tribulation. The bride is raptured which he sees as the entire church, but he does not take into consideration that according to the depiction of the church in chapters two and three, the Philadelphian remnant is the only spiritual condition that is promised to be kept from “the hour of temptation” or apostasy (Rev. 3:10) which in turn promises protection from God’s wrath upon the beast’s empire. Jezebel is warned to repent or her children, her followers, would endure “great tribulation” (Rev. 2:22). Therefore those whose spiritual conditions are partaking of the latter day apostasy, must take their place with Israel during the tribulation.
Because dispensationalism and those who promote it insist on an extreme literal interpretation of these supernatural visions, many prophetic clues have been overlooked, or avoided, that affect the interpretation.
We also need to consider the implications of negating the book’s purpose in preparing God’s people to face tribulation. While many Christians are guided to believe that a rapture will alleviate the need to prepare themselves to face the beast, it is this author’s opinion that many Christians will be left unprepared to endure persecution in general.
We have explored an interesting array of eyewear and equipment to help us understand a most unusual portion of God’s Holy Word. We will be applying the futurist, historical and spiritual lenses as we explore the chapters of Revelation contained in "The Revelation Times."
As it has been the custom of many to match events in Revelation to current events in their lifetimes, this writer is no exception. Revelation has been supernaturally designed to speak to every age; but as we have previously mentioned, when we actually approach the time of Jesus’ return, the events in the book will relate specifically to that era. Only then will we know for certain if ours or anyone’s interpretation of Revelation has been accurate. And when we are facing Jesus at His return, it's not going to matter then is it? The only thing that is really important is that amidst the turmoil and hardships that can befall us on this journey through time, some will have been given a little hope in the storm.
Charting the Terrain - Revelation's Structure and an Overview
copyright 2013 by H.D. Shively
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