The Book of Revelation and Its Apocalyptic Implications for the 21st Century (Vol. 1 no. 5)

The Historicist Interpretation – (The Road Map of World History)

Historicists view Revelation as a symbolic or allegorical prophetic survey of church history from the first century to the second coming of Christ. And this was the view espoused by most of the “reformers.” This view dominated Protestant for centuries. Revelation deals with human history, and the meaning of the symbols is to be found in the events of history. Some hold that the book deals with the period before the present; some see it as unfolding in the present, and some emphasize the future.


 The entire book is a symbolic account of the whole scope of world history, with the “beast” identified with various historical figures or people, from the Saracens to Mohammed, to the Pope, to Adolph Hitler. This view arose in the middle Ages and was adopted by most reformers in the 16th century, including Martin Luther. He popularized the idea that the “beast” was the Roman Catholic Pope. In turn, Catholic theologians were convinced that Luther was the “beast.” The historicist view has been vastly discounted, as it does not adequately address the prophecy in Revelation. The historicist view is reflected in most of the “older” commentaries, including John Knox, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, C. H. Spurgeon, Matthew Henry, Adam Clarke, and Albert Barnes. An example of a historicist interpretation is the belief that the strong angel of Rev. 10 symbolizes the reformation and that the harlot in Rev. 17 represents the Roman Catholic Church, an interpretation that the plain reading of the text does not agree with.


The historicist system of interpretation understands Revelation as setting forth the significant events of Christian history spanning the time of John until the present. Proponents of this method have tended to take Rev. 2-19, including the seals, trumpets, bowls, and the interludes, as prophetic of salvation history, that is, the development of church history within the world history. This view has also been called the Classicist. The Classicist view interprets Revelation as the symbolic history of the “Church” from apostolic times to the return of Christ and judgment. It denies a literal thousand-year reign of Christ and makes the predictions more general in their application through history. This view can lead to subjectivism and widely differing opinions as to the meaning and fulfillment of the symbols.

***The Idealist Interpretation tomorrow.


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