One of the most common methods of understanding the book of Revelation today is the futurist approach which says that the visions of the book of Revelation signify historical events that will occur at the end of the world. Some early Christian writers like Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Lactantius seem to have held similar views. Some who hold this view today believe that the visions in the majority of Revelation (Chs. 6–19) will be fulfilled only in the last seven years of life on earth as we know it. That seven year period they call the Tribulation or Daniel’s Seventieth Week. Many of this viewpoint say that the Tribulation will be preceded by a catching away or Rapture of true Christians to heaven. They also teach that the Tribulation will end with the Second Coming of Christ who, upon His return, will reign as an earthly king in Jerusalem for a thousand years. This view is called Premillennialism.
Another interpretive approach to Revelation, very common between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries, is the historicist view. This view sees the visions of the Apocalypse as markers in a grand blueprint of Christian history from the first-century to the Second Coming of Christ. Its advantage is that it makes the book of Revelation not simply about the last few years of history, but relevant for the whole church age. One of its main problems is that it paves the way for as many interpretations of the Apocalypse as there are interpreters. Each interpreter is free to interpret its visions in reference to any historical person or event that he sees fit. For example, one historicist interpreted the “angel having the everlasting gospel” (Rev. 14:6) as the emperor Constantine; another saw the angel as Francis of Assisi, and still another saw it as Martin Luther. The same can be said when they come to the two witnesses of Rev. 11 and the beasts of Rev. 13.
Revelation and the First Century
The increase in understanding of biblical eschatology in recent decades has brought with it a return to biblical preterism—the view that much of biblical prophecy which we formerly considered to pertain to our future was actually fulfilled in the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. In this book, Francis Gumerlock has done an invaluable service to everyone interested in prophecy and church history. Dr. Gumerlock provides dozens of citations from early church history proving that many of them held a preterist view from the very first days of Christianity onward.Buy Now
A more sober approach is the idealist one, an interpretive method common in the fifth through tenth centuries. Its major premise is that the visions of Revelation are not prophecies of historical events as much as they contain eternal truths that apply to God’s people throughout their sojourn on earth before the Second Coming. These truths center upon: the enthronement of Christ the King, God’s salvation of and faithfulness to His people, His call for all humans to repent of their sins and to persevere in loyalty to Him in the midst of persecution, God’s judgment of the ungodly, and His crowning of the righteous with everlasting life. Idealist commentaries avoid the wild speculations common in futurist and historicist commentaries, but also are not without problems, the major one being a divorce of John’s visions from the experiences of the churches of Asia Minor.
On today’s podcast, Gary discusses his new project: a commentary on the book of Revelation. Christians too often fail to take the context of the first century into consideration when reading Revelation and instead interpret it based on events in their own time. But how would the original audience and readers have understood and interpreted the letter based on what they had available to them soon after Jesus' ascension in the days of the early church?