The book as prophecy: Because Revelation is written in John’s name, it is related to Old Testament (OT) prophecy, perhaps more closely than the apocalyptic. But it is not prophecy in the famous (and incorrect) modern sense of “predicting the future.” OT prophecy was overwhelmingly concerned with speaking God’s message to people of the prophet’s own time, interpreting God’s will for them in light of the current historical events. The prophets were primarily “covenant mediators,” calling the people to be faithful to God amid the ups and downs of history.
1. In this sense, Revelation is a message, not for the far future, but for the first century Church whose very existence was being threatened by persecution from both Romans and Jews. However, as a message to the first-century church, it is also a “word” of God to the church today since we accept it as Scripture.
2. This relation to OT prophecy also underscores the fact that the Book of Revelation is related to a particular time in history, a particular set of circumstances, and particular people. It does not mean it is irrelevant for us today; it just means we cannot make it address the issues we want it to address directly without first understanding what it meant to the early church.
Approaches to Interpreting Revelation
Any keys to interpreting Revelation must be intrinsic to the text of the Revelation itself or otherwise available to the original recipients from their historical context (Note 6). The rich and varied cultural context of the ancient world must be the frame of reference for interpreting the names and symbols of the book, but also with sensitivity to how creatively they are used in the book. The visions and symbols should not be pressed into an allegory in which every detail has some meaning; most often, the meaning is in the entire vision and its impact rather than every detail. Apocalypses do not intend to give a detailed chronological map of the future; the message is more historically conditioned and theologically oriented. Rather than a future map, it is an encouragement for the present.
The Preterist Interpretation:
Preterist (from Latin preter meaning “past”) holds that through the use of symbols and allegory, Revelation deals with events fulfilled in John’s time. It was written primarily to provide hope and comfort to the first-century Church persecuted by Rome. The symbols are drawn from ancient texts and contemporary culture to dramatize the plight of the Church and encourage its members in the face of troubled times. The “beast” (Rev. 13) is usually identified with the Empire of Rome or a particular Roman emperor. While the book does deal with the future, it is mainly focused on the first century and extrapolates and projects the first-century experience of the Church into the future. This view gained prominence in the 17th and 18th centuries as more knowledge of the history of the early Church and other apocalyptic writings from the period came to light. Many modern scholars, especially liberals and those who deny that the Revelation predicts specific future events, hold the preterist view.
Preterism understands specific eschatological passages, which are in the future, as having already been fulfilled. All biblical interpreters understand that specific prophecies have been fulfilled, but Preterists differ in that they interpret a more significant portion of Scripture as already have come to pass. There are different types of Preterism resulting from differences in views on which passages have been fulfilled and what events they fulfilled. Mild or Partial Preterism (Note 7) holds that most of the prophecies of Revelation were fulfilled in either the fall of Jerusalem (A.D. 70) or the fall of the Roman Empire (A.D. 476). Still, the Second Coming of Christ is futuristic. This form of Preterism is orthodox and is the most frequent view encountered today. Moderate Preterism has become mainstream Preterism as it appears to be the most widely held version of Preterism today. In addition to R.C. Sproul, some well-known moderate Preterists include Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Gary DeMar, and the late David Chilton (who converted to full Preterism after all his books were published). Complete, extreme, or consistent Preterism holds that all the prophecies of Revelation are already fulfilled. We are currently living spiritually in the “new heavens and a new earth” and deny a future bodily return of Jesus. Extreme Preterists believe that “the second coming must have already occurred since it was one of the things predicted in the Old Testament, which had to be fulfilled by the time Jerusalem was destroyed.” It means there will never be a future second coming, for it already occurred in A. D. 70.
Further, there will be no bodily resurrection of believers, which is said to have occurred in A.D. 70 in conjunction with the second coming. Full Preterists believe that we have been spiritually resurrected and will live forever with spiritual bodies when we die. Full Preterists say we are now living in what would be called the eternal state or the new heavens and new earth of Rev. 21-22. Proponents of this view include the originator of full Preterism, J. Stuart Russell, Max R. King, and his son, Tim, David Chilton,
Ed Stevens, Don K. Preston, John Noe, and John L. Bray. The book’s purpose to Preterists is to encourage Christians to endure because their persecutors assuredly will be judged.