Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How is a Christian to interpret Revelation? Is a Christian to worry about certain prophesies from Revelation that are seeming to come to pass like strange weather, earthquakes, rampant immorality, certain World Wars, etc.

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In 2012 The West Visalia church of Christ published a 2 volume set of books titled “From God’s Mind to Man’s Pen”. This answer contains a great deal of information from the chapter on “Understanding Apocalyptic Literature” by Wesley Walker. These books are $10 a set + S&H and may be purchased by emailing wvcoc@yahoo.com. The West Visalia Church of Christ is the sole sponsor of The Bible Answer Show.

When observing the book of Revelation, one needs to understand that although this book is often shrouded in mystery, its main purpose is to bring encouragement to its First Century readers. The Christians at this time were dealing with great persecution and the book of Revelation exhorts them to “be faithful unto death” and they will “overcome”.

Revelation is Apocalyptic Literature
The book of Revelation falls into a genre of literature known as apocalyptic. This type of literature is noted for using various symbols and visions to portray meaning. This form of writing was used often during times of persecution and was common among the Jews during this time.

Ways to Interpret Revelation
Different people throughout the ages have come up with different ways of interpreting this book. Here are summaries of the most popular.
  • The Futurist Method
    • This method of interpretation views most of the visions in Revelation as not yet taking place.
  • The Preterist Method
    • This method views the visions of Revelation as something(s) that have already taken place. There are various subsets of this method, but overall the idea of the visions being of things that have already taken place is the same.
  • The Idealist Method
    • This method teaches that nothing in the visions can be tied to one specific historical incident, but instead is full of ideals that can fit any time in which persecution is taking place.
  • The Continuous History Method
    • This school of thought teaches that the Revelation letter has prophesies that were fulfilled during the Roman Empire, but also after. This method views many prophesies as relating to the Catholic Church.
This writer would probably be labeled as taking a Preterist type approach to the book.(Because I believe that most of the visions are symbols of historical actions in the past). However, I take a vary conservative approach to interpreting Biblical prophecy and imagery. That is, I wholeheartedly believe that the Bible is it’s own best interpreter. This means, that unless an inspired writer tells me how or when a prophecy is being fulfilled, I will not make a definitive conclusion on when it was. I may come to a educated conclusion about the fulfillment of various visions in Revelation, but alas, without direct Biblical support they are only speculative. 

  •  This writer strongly believes that even before trying to interpret the various visions of the book, one needs to first exegete the book and come to a conclusion on what is the overriding theme. After determining the primary message of the book, one can then speculate regarding the various visions. (Because without an inspired writer confirming what a particular vision is regarding, it is nothing more than a educated conclusion on the interpreter’s part,
An exegetical approach to the book seeks to glean from the Revelation what the author intended. One does this by looking at key words and repeated thoughts throughout the book. When doing this, one tries to get a feel for the whole book, before attempting to interpret any vision within the book. Without even attempting to interpret the visions in Revelation, one can clearly see that it is a book designed to correct and encourage persecuted Christians to be faithful.

What about the Visions, Signs Etc..?
As was stated earlier, this author leans toward more of a Preterist (that most of the visions have already happened in the past) type approach to the book. The reason this position is held is because of (Revelation 1:1) which states:
  • “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John”.
One would assume then, that the visions given through the opening of each one of the seals would be something that was going to happen relatively soon to the time of the writing. Remember, seven churches in the region of Asia Minor are receiving this letter. These 7 churches are corrected and then encouraged to stay faithful during what is about to happen. One would assume that the readers at that time would be able to identify what these visions were of and then make adequate preparations to “overcome”. These visions were for them, not for us today. Although the encouragement to faithfulness stays the same.

If this writer were to provide an educated guess on what the visions were regarding, his view would be as follows.
  • The book is referring to the history of the church during the age of martyrs and fierce persecution, which happened during the reign of Domitian and continued to about 311 AD.
  • This view is a-millennial in stance believing that the thousand-year reign of Revelation 20 is simply a long period of peace and triumph for Christianity.
  • This view holds the Revelation as not a series of literal events, but instead of symbols that represent historical actions. (pg 211)
  • Always remember that the book of Revelation was written to a specific people for a specific purpose. (ie. To encourage faithfulness in the midst of severe persecution).
  • Although it is easy to make the visions in this book fit many different events in the past and in the present, the best interpretation would be one that the early Christians would have needed to hear, not what Americans in 2012 would want to hear.
  • Remember (Revelation 1:1) - the events of this book “must soon take place” after the time of its writing. This would mean that the signs, earthquakes etc, do not really apply to us today.
  • This author personally believes that we are currently living during the 1000 years of  Revelation 20:6 (term for complete amount of time not a literal 1000 years).
  • Overall the events prior to 20:6 would have taken place most likely during the fall of the Roman empire. 
  • No matter what the visions are about, the overriding theme of the book is quite clear when noting the key words in Revelation
    • Theme: “God’s bondservants might know that in spite of tribulation at the hands of the kings of the earth, they will overcome if they remain faithful to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus unto death, because of the blood of the Lamb” (pg 215).
Post by Cliff Sabroe - Scripture quotes from NASB 95.