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Why Study the Book of Revelation?



The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near. (Revelation 1:1–3)



Why study the Book of Revelation? The obvious answer is “Because it is in the Bible.” Admittedly, it is a difficult book to understand, but that is not a justifiable reason not to study the book or to avoid it. There has been much controversy concerning the Book of Revelation, both as to its authenticity and what it means. In fact, this book originally was rejected by the Church when determining the cannon of the New Testament; but when it was finally accepted, it was accepted with caution. Throughout the history of the Church, passages from the Book of Revelation have been used to criticize and condemn many things that came into the Church, such as the office of the Pope—often referred to as the antichrist, especially by Martin Luther. In modern times, many churches, preachers, radio evangelists and the like have capitalized on the seeming obscurities of the Revelation to establish their claim to fame, such as Herbert W. Armstrong and his Radio Church of God, or to identify themselves as the prophetic object of the Revelation, such as the Seventh Day Adventists and the Church of God Reformation Movement.

Over the centuries of study, several different interpretations of the Book of Revelation have come into existence; each being different and often contradictory to the others. There are four primary views for interpreting the Book of Revelation. These views are ably discussed by Dr. Patrick Zukeran in an article posted by Probe Ministries on their website, The Idealist View: symbolic language depicting the battle throughout the ages between God and Satan and good against evil. The Preterist View: events recorded in the Revelation were largely fulfilled in 70 a.d. with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. The Historicist View: a symbolic presentation of church history beginning in the first century a.d. through the end of the age. The Futurist View: the events that will take place in the future, including the rapture of the church, seven years of tribulation, and a millennial reign of Christ on the earth.

The Idealist View is spiritual in nature and uses the allegorical method to interpret the Book of Revelation. Introduced by Origen (185–254) and made prominent by Augustine (354–420). Robert Mounce wrote concerning this View, “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. In this View, the symbols in Revelation are not tied to specific events but point to themes throughout church history.” The strength of this View is that it avoids the problem of harmonizing passages with events in history and it makes the Book of Revelation applicable and relevant for all periods of church history. Its major weakness is that it does not allow any historical fulfillment of the Revelation, which is contrary to what Jesus said in Revelation 1:1, the events “must shortly take place.”

The Preterist View is based on the assumption that the prophecies of the Olivet Discourse and the Revelation were fulfilled in the first century with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. This View came out of the interpretation devised by a Jesuit priest by the name of Luis de Aleazar (1554–1613), which was a response to the Protestant historicist interpretation and their claim that the Pope is the anti-christ. Some claim that Preterist teachings can be found in the writings of some of the church fathers as early as the fourth century.

There are two views among Preterists: (1) Full Preterism, which says that all the prophecies of Revelation were fulfilled with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. and that we are now living in the eternal state, or the new heaven and new earth. (2)Partial Preterism, which believes most of the prophecies were fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem except for chapters 20–22 which predict future events such as a future resurrection and the return of Christ to the earth.

There are several reasons why Preterists believe their View is correct, the strongest argument being what Jesus said in Matthew 24:34, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Against their argument is that the Preterists believe John wrote the Revelation prior to 70 a.d., thus predicting the fall of Jerusalem; however, scholars date the Revelation at 95 a.d., so why would John predict an event that happened 25 years earlier?

The Historicist View teaches that the Revelation is a symbolic representation of the course of history from the time of the Apostle John to the end of time, and that the events pictured correspond to events in the history of Western Europe and even in the United States. No one person can be cited as the originator of this View. Generally this View sees seven periods in church history. Protestants during the Reformation saw the anti-christ as the papacy and themselves, as the true church, struggling against Roman Catholicism. One problem with this View is that there are 50 or more different interpretations and there is a significant lack of agreement among their advocates. Most interpretations of this View focus on the church in Western Europe to the exclusion of the church in the East, of which there is a long history. Another criticism is that this view would have had no significance for the church of the first century. However, there are many prominent scholars that have held the Historicist View including: John Wycliffe, John Knox, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Finney, C. H. Spurgeon, and Matthew Henry.

The Futurist View teaches that the events of the Olivet Discourse and Revelation chapters 4–22 are to happen in the future. This View divides the Revelation into 3 sections as indicated in Revelation 1:19 what you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place. Chapter 1 describes the past: what you have seen; Chapters 2–3, the things which are; The rest of the book, the things which will take place.

The Futurist View is based on a literal approach to interpreting the Revelation. While the Revelation does contain figures of speech and symbolic language, the prophecies are to be interpreted according to the received laws of language. Futurists claim that the literal interpretation of the Revelation is seen in the writings of the ancient church fathers. A future millennial kingdom is found in the writings of Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Turtulian. Futurists believe that the church taught a literal interpretation of the Revelation until Origen (185–254) taught an allegorical interpretation. One criticism of this View is that it is irrelevant to the original readers of the Book of Revelation.

This View is very popular among modern evangelical Christians. The most popular version of the Futurist View is the Dispensational Pre-Millennial View as promoted by schools such as Dallas Theological Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute. This View has enjoyed much commercial success in the Left Behind Series written by Tim LaHaye. A major drawback is that there continue to be popular preachers that apply a Futurist approach to connect current events to the symbols in the Revelation.

So many Views and so much disagreement; so, why study the Book of Revelation? The obvious answer as I said earlier is “Because it is in the Bible.” More important than that is what the Apostle John wrote in verse 3 of our text, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it.” A blessing is promised for those that read, hear, and keep the words of this prophecy; from this it is obvious that the church is supposed to study and understand the meaning of this book of prophecy. That the contents of the book are to be understood is made plain by the fact that keeping the things written in the book are part of what imparts the blessing. The word keep means to guard from loss or injury Things are revealed in the prophecy that must be kept in order to avoid loss or injury; therefore, these things are of great importance to the church.

Many have attempted to explain the Revelation to the best of their knowledge, ability, and by whatever View they believe most correct. Some become impressed with their ability to do so, and think of themselves as some kind of end-time prophets. Others just follow outlines taken from the writings of teachers they admire. The rest of us just do the best we can, attempting to be fair and accurate to the Scripture and following the leading of the Holy Spirit. There must obviously be a correct rendering of the Revelation, and at some time that rendering will be made plain, but until then, we proceed with our study as honestly and as simply as we can. As I proceed through this study, I will adhere as closely as I can to a Historicist View, but perhaps not in the sense that most Church of God people that have heard Revelation preaching will expect.