The Idealist Interpretation: (Eternal Principles)
The Idealist maintains that Revelation is not a predictive prophecy but a symbolic portrait of the cosmic conflict between the forces of good and evil. In this view, Revelation becomes merely a collection of stories designed to teach spiritual truth. Some refer to this method of interpretation as “Spiritual.” Mounce and Osborne provide a good summary of the idealist approach to interpreting Revelation. Idealist proponents hold that Revelation is not to be taken about any specific events but as an expression of those basic principles on which God acts throughout history.
The idealist approach continues the allegorical interpretation, which dominated exegesis throughout the medieval period and still finds favor with those inclined to minimize the historical character of the coming consummation. This modern approach argues that the symbols do not relate to historical events but rather to timeless spiritual truths. It relates primarily to the Church between the advents, that is, between Christ’s first and second comings. Thus, it concerns the battle between God and evil and the Church and the world in church history. The millennium in this approach is not a future event but the final cycle of the book, describing the church age. The Idealist employs allegorical interpretation to reduce Revelation to a symbolic exhibition of good versus evil. The more moderate form of allegorical interpretation following Augustine regards Revelation as presented symbolically in the total conflict between Christianity and evil. Or, as Augustine put it, “the City of God versus the City of Satan.” Idealist Calkins summarizes Idealism in five propositions:
- It is an irresistible summons to heroic living;
- the book contains matchless appeals to endurance;
- It tells us that evil is marked for overthrow in the end;
- It gives us a new and beautiful picture of Christ; and
- the Apocalypse reveals to us the fact that Christ is the author and reviewer of the moral destinies of men
The Futurist Interpretation: (A Blueprint of the End Times)
A literal reading of prophecy will primarily produce a ‘futurist’ interpretation. Thus, futurists interpret Revelation 4–22 as predictive of future, end-time historical events preceding during and after the return of Jesus Christ. Futurists, usually Premillennial and Amillennialists, spiritualize the 1000 years. Postmillennialism spiritualizes the resurrection that precedes it—a millennial kingdom on earth, followed by creating a new heaven and new earth. The earliest expositors held variations of this view, such as Justin Martyr (d. 164) Irenaeus (d.c. 195). This futurist approach has enjoyed a revival since the 19th century and is widely held among evangelicals today. The approach to interpreting Revelation that has gained perhaps the most extensive exposure of all systems of interpretation in recent times is the futurist interpretation. Several seminaries in the recent past have championed a literal interpretative approach to all of Scripture within a framework that understands related Old Testament passages and promises involving Israel and distinguishes between Israel and the Church.
The futurist interpretation is the basic interpretive framework behind the hugely popular left behind series of novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Futurism derives from the consistent application of literal hermeneutics (Note 8), the Golden Rule of Interpretation, across the entire body of Scripture, including Revelation. Contrary to the claims of many critics, it is not a priority view, which is imposed on the text. As evidenced by the testimony of the early Church, futurism is the most natural result of a plain reading of the text and the way that most unbiased readers would understand the book on their first reading. Futurism gets its label from its refusal to see unfulfilled passages fulfilled by approximately similar events in the past. Hence, it holds that many of the events in the book of Revelation await future fulfillment.