Archive for February, 2010

Is Revelation guilty of what it condemns? Three accusations and responses

David L. Barr writes of the irony in John’s critique of the Roman empire. He presents  xx ways in which John appears to fall into the same sins he condemns:

  1. “…while it seems to condemn wealth, it fantasizes about a new city with streets of gold….”
  2. “…while it condemns Roman culture, it shares the cultural fascination of watching blood spectacles….”
  3. “…while it stands firmly against empire, it imagines a new imperial system with Jesus as supreme ruler.”

These are fascinating deconstructions, but my responses would be the following:

  1. John does not condemn wealth as such, but the dangers that arise from dependence upon it (complacency and the appeal of compromising morals in order to obtain or retain wealth).
  2. The appeal of writing or reading Revelation’s violent scenes of wrath comes from our desire to see justice prevail and injustice punished. The appeal of the blood spectacles of Rome came from sadistic desires to see violence for violence’s sake, and had nothing to do with justice.
  3. John does not condemn the idea of empire in and of itself, but the way in which one empire exploited, dehumanized and oppressed humankind and made an idol of itself. Jesus’ empire is the realization of the noblest aspirations of human empires.

Source: David L. Barr, “John’s ironic empire” in Interpretation 63 no 1 Ja 2009, pp. 20-30

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Five things other than persecution that threatened John’s churches

  1. The church’s interactions with pagan religions. Pagan temples were both the restaurants and butcher shops of the day, so for meat, one needed to either eat at the temple or buy meat that had been sacrificed to idols and take it home. This was a major issue of conscience for the early Christians (see 1 Corinthians 8-10). Revelation mentions this issue in Revelation 2.14 and 2.20.
  2. The church’s interactions with Judaism. Some of John’s churches were in conflict with local Jewish synagogues (Rev. 2.9, 3.9)
  3. The church’s interactions with idolatry in its daily life in society. John’s readers would have been under tremendous social pressure to cave in to idolatry, whether that be worship of the emperor, worship of Roma (the city of Rome personified as a goddess), or worship of the many Greco-Roman deities. Their participation in civic and political life, professional guilds, and many other activities would have necessitated involvement in idolatrous practices.  Temples, monuments, parades, public education, concerts and sporting events all beckoned them to honor and sacrifice to the emperor and other deities. Wives and slaves would not be able to avoid the religious practices of the heads of their households. Tax payments and daily purchases needed to be done with coins that bore the symbols of gods and emperors.
  4. Complacency. Some of John’s readers were become comfortable and complacent because of their relative prosperity. They were in danger of compromising or had already compromised their principles in order to fit into the idolatrous status quo (Rev. 3.1-3, 3.15ff).
  5. Internal differences within the churches. There were false teachers (‘Balaam’, the Nicolaitans, and ‘Jezebel’) influencing some of John’s churches, urging them by their teachings (“deep secrets” which John attributes to Satan, Rev. 2.24) to assimilate with the larger culture and to engage in sexual immorality, possibly temple prostitution (Rev. 2.14-15, 2.20ff).

Recognizing the influence of these issues, especially item #4, are important in order to counter the traditional understanding that John’s purpose in writing was only to prepare and comfort Christians threatened by persecution. Hays, 177, hits the mark when he says that Revelation was written in order to  “afflict the comfortable” just as much if not more than “to comfort the afflicted”. This knowledge also shows the relevance of Revelation for Christians who do not face immediate persecution but do face the temptation of caving in to the status quo of materialism, immorality and complacency.

Sources: Sources are many, but see especially David L. Barr, “John’s ironic empire” in Interpretation 63 no 1 Ja 2009, pp. 20-30, Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament. (New York: HarperOne, 1996), Grant R. Osborne, “Recent Trends in the Study of the Apocalypse,” in Scot McKnight and Grant R. Osborne, The Face of New Testament Studies. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004).

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Should John’s readers assimilate to Roman culture? Warren Carter’s arguments pro and con

Warren Carter helpfully describes the diversity of opinions in the churches to which John wrote. John represents one extreme, urging withdrawal from political, economic and religious affairs that compromised the integrity of their faith. But others (whom John labels as Balaam and Jezebel) are more open accomodating in their approach to the prevailing cultural practices. Carter lists five arguments that John’s adversaries could have made in favor of assimilating to the larger culture, and seven arguments that John makes against such assimilation. I offer the arguments below, with my responses to the adversaries, and a note at the end regarding Carter’s conclusions.

Five arguments in favor of cultural engagement

  1. John’s opponents could have argued (and most likely did argue) that active participation in social, political and economic activities tinged with idolatry was necessary for survival. (I would object to this argument by pointing to Daniel: actively engaged with culture, but willing to die to avoid idolatry).
  2. John’s opponents may have argued, in a manner similar to 1 Peter 2.11-17, that cultural engagement was an important evangelistic strategy. In order to maintain Christianity’s reputation it would be necessary to maintain business and political relationships and engage in practices such as “honoring the king” (1 Peter 2.17). (My response is that John’s approach and Peter’s approach are not fundamentally in conflict).
  3. John’s adversaries may have used an argument found in Paul: Christians know that the gods represented by idols don’t really exist, and that there is only one God (1 Corinthians 8.4), so eating meat sacrificed to an idol means nothing. (I would respond that while Paul agrees with this sentiment, he counters it in chs 8 and 10, issuing a universal prohibition of eating in temples, and even limiting the eating of meat in private homes.)
  4. They may have pointed to biblical characters such as Joseph in Genesis, who was politically involved with imperial powers. (But Genesis repeatedly tells us that Joseph was exceptionally faithful to God in the midst of temptations, even suffering in jail for years for staying true to his convictions. The issue is not whether to get involved in society, but how far may we be involved in a given society without compromising our core convictions).
  5. They may have pointed to the destruction of Jerusalem as a sign that rebellion would be useless, and that Rome had been chosen by God to rule. (My response is that the exhortation to faithfulness to God and rejection of idolatry applies no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in)

John’s seven arguments against cultural engagement

  1. “…anyone who lives faithfully to Jesus will collide with and suffer from imperial power, rather than enjoy  a cozily accommodated existence.”
  2. “Participation in the empire and its cultic celebrations compromises allegiance to God and the Lamb, who are alone worthy of worship.”
  3. The empire is under God’s judgment.
  4. The empire is under the control of the devil.
  5. Given the four points above, Christian strategy “requires societal distance and withdrawal.”
  6. John recognizes that such withdrawal will involve great hardship and suffering.
  7. Christians should remain faithful because God will ultimately triumph.

Carter unfortunately compares the two positions above to Niebuhr’s categories of “Christ embracing culture” and “Christ against culture”, and, because he believes in the importance of cultural engagement, finds John’s approach “disturbing” and “not entirely satisfactory.” I think a better approach would be to say that the Christian faith can and should adopt the “Christ transforming culture” when and where it can. But in situations where the church is vastly outnumbered and fights for its very survival against hostile cultural forces, the noble goal of cultural transformation must be temporarily set aside as impossible to pursue. In such situations a different strategy, strengthening Christians to withstand attack, is called for. Also, regardless of whether the situation calls for engaging culture or withdrawing from it, Christians are called to be faithful to God and distinct from their unconverted neighbors in the way they live. John is not so concerned about withdrawal versus engagement. He is concerned with faithfulness versus compromise.

Source: Warren Carter, “Accommodating Jezebel and withdrawing John: negotiating empire in Revelation then and now” in Interpretation 63 no 1 Ja 2009, pp. 32-47

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Eleven interesting facts about worship in Revelation

  1. Revelation is the New Testament book in which worship is most prominent. (Thompson)
  2. Worship provides the main conflict of the book of Revelation, the contrast between those who worship God and those who worship the beast. God will not tolerate false worship, so the story revolves around the theme and is punctuated often by scenes of true worship. “Every stage of God’s victory — through chapters 7-19 — is accompanied by worship in heaven.” (Bauckham, Kindle section 459)
  3. Thompson mentions “several threats to authentic worship” found in Revelation: emperor worship (ch. 13), the synagogue of Satan (Rev. 2.9, 3.9), Satan’s throne (Rev. 2.13), idolatry (Rev. 9.20), the eating of food sacrificed to idols (Rev. 2.14), attempts to worship angels (Rev. 19.10, 22.8-9), and a false prophetess (Jezebel, Rev. 2.20) in or at least influencing the churches. The church must keep its worship pure while surrounded by opposing religious alternatives.
  4. Worship is pictured in political and imperial terms. Chapter 4 is not modeled on worship services in Jewish, pagan or Christian circles in the first century, but on teh worship rendered to the emperor. The most frequently used word for worship in Revelation is “bow down” – an act of submission to God’s kingly sovereignty. Crowns are cast before God’s throne, just as senate members and delegates from other communities in the empire  would do before Caesar to acknowledge his authority over them. Even the act of singing around the throne is a political parody: the emperors kept courtiers close at hand, who were “notorious for keeping up a perpetual chorus of praise, lauding him day and night….” (Gloer) There are also references to God as ‘Almighty’ and calls to render power and authority to him.
  5. Gloer writes that the acclamation that God is “worthy” is not found in the Old Testament or in Judaism. Nahkro says it was widely used of people in high political and military positions like the emperor’s bodyguards and army commanders. It originally meant “of equal weight”, but came to mean “‘worthy,’ ‘deserving,’ ‘fit,’ ‘estimable,’ and ‘appropriate.'”
  6. Worship is given to both God the Father and Jesus Christ. This would have been scandalous to first century Jewish people, good monotheists that they were. But the first Christians, also strict monotheists, found room within their monotheism for worship of Jesus.
  7. Reasons that God is worshiped in Revelation: God is worthy, he is eternal, he is sovereign, he is holy, he is the Creator, he is the Redeemer, he is Judge, his plan is coming to pass. All of these themes tie into the circumstances and purposes of the book:
    • Saying that only God is ‘worthy’ of worship is a declaration that the emperor and pagan idols were not worthy.
    • Saying God is eternal and sovereign is a comfort to persecuted Christians, who, looking at their immediate situation, may have been tempted to lose sight of the long-term plans of God, who is sovereignly bringing those plans to pass.
    • Saying that God is holy would call up memories of many OT verses about his holiness and his intolerance of idolatry and immorality with which first century Christians were tempted.
    • Saying that God is the Creator emphasizes the obedience God is due by every creature, including those who opposed the churches. It also reminds us that humanity is only a small part of a much larger picture. In Revelation we see the forces of creation reacting to sin and rescuing God’s people, and the redemption of the earth itself. The Creator will indeed restore the creation that “the dragon, that serpent of old” corrupted by leading humankind astray.
    • Saying that the Lamb who was slain is Redeemer would call to mind the exodus, where Israel was redeemed the day after the Passover lamb was slain. Powerful and idolatrous Egypt, also with a king who claimed to be God, was defeated, and God’s people were called out of her. John and his readers faced a very similar situation.
    • Saying he is Judge comforts persecuted Christians tempted to cave in to the status quo: if they remain faithful, God will reward them and judge those who tempt and persecute them.
  8. There are numerous worship elements found in Revelation: amens, antiphonal singing, doxologies, gifts (crowns placed before the throne), hymns, incense, maranathas, palm branches, prayers,  prostration, robes, sacred meals, shouts of celebration, silence, thanksgiving, trumpet-blowing, victory songs
  9. Thompson mentions a sense of lingering mystery and distance involved in worship. We do not see a description of God himself, only of what is going on around his throne. This counteracts both the tendency to be too intellectual and the tendency to be overly familiar with God.
  10. Revelation also connects worship with the themes of fear (Rev. 11.18, 14.7, 15.4) and service (Rev. 7.15, 22.3).
  11. Until chapter 19, all of the worship and singing in Revelation occurs in heaven, not on earth. There is no worship on earth, and the only singing found on earth are the laments for Babylon in chapters 17-18. But when the final victory is won, there is praise in both heaven and earth, which eventually become one. (Thompson) As Bauckham puts it, the goal of worship in Revelation is “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Sources: Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); W. Hulitt Gloer, “Worship God! liturgical elements in the Apocalypse.” in Review and Expositor 98 no 1 Wint 2001, p 35-57; Mazie Nahkro, “The manner of worship according to the book of Revelation.” in Bibliotheca sacra 158 no 630 Ap-Je 2001, p 165-180; Mazie Nahkro, “The meaning of worship according to the book of Revelation.” in Bibliotheca sacra 158 no 629 Ja-Mr 2001, p 75-85; Marianne Meye Thompson, “Worship in the Book of Revelation.” in Ex Auditu 8 1992, 45-54;

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Three verses in Revelation 2.18-29 that allude to the Old Testament

Revelation 2.18 describe Christ, whose feet are like burnished bronze. Daniel 10.6 describes a man in a vision whose legs are like burnished bronze.

Revelation 2.20 compares a false prophetess to Jezebel, and says that she leads Christ’s people away to sexual immorality and food sacrificed to idols.

  • Numbers 25.1-2 is about Balaam, but mentions Israel being misled into sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols.
  • 1 Kings 16.31 mentions Jeroboam’s marriage to Jezebel and his subsequent idol worship.
  • In 2 Kings 9.22 Jehu mentions the idolatry and witchcraft of Jezebel.

In Revelation 2.23 Christ says he will execute the children of Jezebel, with the result that the churches will know that he is one who “searches hearts and minds” and repays people according to their deeds.

  • In Psalm 7.9 the psalmist prays to the God who searches hearts and minds.
  • In Psalm 62.12 the psalmist expresses confidence that God will “reward each person according to what he has done.”
  • Proverbs 24.12 connects the thoughts of the two verses from Psalms noted above. God weighs hearts and will repay people according to their works.
  • Jeremiah 11.20 likewise sees God as one who tests hearts and judges people appropriately.
  • Jeremiah 17.10 appears to be the principal verse alluded to by Revelation. In this verse God says he searches hearts and minds, and rewards people according to their deeds.

Source: The Greek New Testament (UBS, 4th edition), compared with the Old Testament Quotations and Allusions in the New Testament feature in Logos Bible Software version 4.

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Five verses in Revelation 1.9-20 that allude to the Old Testament

In Revelation 1.13, One like a Son of man stands among lampstands dressed in a long robe and a golden sash.

  • In Ezekiel 9.2 and 9.11 a man in linen appears in Ezekiel’s vision.
  • In Daniel 7.13, One like a Son of man approaches God’s throne.
  • Daniel 10.5 mentions a man dressed in linen and a belt of fine gold.

Revelation 1.14-15 describe Christ’s appearance: head and hair like snow and wool, eyes like fire, feet like glowing bronze in a furnace, and voice like rushing water.

  • In Daniel 7.9 the Ancient of Days is described as having hair as white as wool. The verse also uses snow to speak of whiteness, and mentions fire.
  • Daniel 10.6 describes a man in a vision whose face is like lightning, whose legs are like burnished bronze, and whose voice is like the sound of a multitude.

In Revelation 1.16 a  sharp double-edged sword protrudes from Christ’s mouth.  In Isaiah 49.2 the Servant says that God made his mouth like a “sharpened sword.”

In Revelation 1.17 Christ says he is the first and the last. In Isaiah 44.6 and 48.12 God says that he is the first and the last.

In Revelation 1.19 Jesus commands John to write what he has seen – “what is now and what will take place later.”

  • In Isaiah 48.6 (especially in the LXX version) God says that he will tell the prophet new, previously hidden things.
  • In Daniel 2.28-29 and Daniel 2.45, Daniel tells the king that through a vision, God has shown the king “what must take place in the future”.

Source: The Greek New Testament (UBS, 4th edition), compared with the Old Testament Quotations and Allusions in the New Testament feature in Logos Bible Software version 4.

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Six verses in Revelation 1.1-8 that allude to the Old Testament

In Revelation 1.1, God gives Jesus a visión in order to show his servants “what must soon take place.” In Daniel 2.28-29 and Daniel 2.45 Daniel tells the king that through a vision, God has shown the king “what must take place in the future”.

In Revelation 1.4, John wishes grace and peace on his readers “from him who is, and who was, and who is to come.”

  • In Exodus 3.14, God says that his name is “I am.” In other words, he is the One who is.
  • In Isaiah 41.4, God uses the same name of himself, but also says he is from the first and the last, stressing his eternal nature.

In Revelation 1.5, Jesus is called the “firstborn, ruler of the kings of the earth”, and is said to have freed us from our sins by his blood.

  • The language of the “firstborn, ruler of the kings of the earth” comes from Psalm 89.27.
  • Psalm 130.8 and Isaiah 40.2, which speak of the Lord redeeming Israel from their sins and their sins being paid for, have also been mentioned in connection with Revelation 1.5. They seems less of like allusions and more like cases of similar language.

In Revelation 1.6, Jesus is said to have made believers a “kingdom and priests” to serve God.

  • In Exodus 19.6 God tells Israel she will be a “kingdom of priests.”
  • In Isaiah 61.6 the prophet tells the people returning from exile that they will be called priests and ministers of God.

Revelation 1.7 describes Jesus as coming with clouds, and those who pierced him and the people of the earth mourn because of him.

  • In Daniel 5.13, One like a Son of man appears on clouds, arriving at God’s throne.
  • In Zechariah 12.10-14 God says that Israel will look on “me, the one they have pierced”, and will lament and mourn.

In Revelation 1.8, echoing 1.4, “the Lord God” describes himself as the one “who is, and who was, and who  is to come, the Almighty”.

  • In Exodus 3.14, God says that his name is “I am.” In other words, he is the One who is.
  • In Isaiah 41.4, God uses the same name of himself, but also says he is from the first and the last, stressing his eternal nature.
  • Amos 3.13 and 4.13 emphasize God’s title, “the Lord God Almighty”

Source: The Greek New Testament (UBS, 4th edition), compared with the Old Testament Quotations and Allusions in the New Testament feature in Logos Bible Software version 4.

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Eight tips for preaching from Revelation

  1. Fred Craddock urges us not to avoid preaching on Revelation just because it takes more time to understand. You and your church need and deserve to be inspired by this important part of God’s Word. Also, preaching on Revelation is a good way to dispel some of the errroneous ideas about this book.
  2. The book’s purposes are to comfort persecuted Christians and to empower them to resist the pressures that society puts on them to accomodate to an idolatrous lifestyle. You should select which of these purposes is most relevant to the needs of your listeners and show how Revelation addresses them with that purpose in mind.
  3. Take advantage of the many hymns and choruses based on Revelation. Use them as sources for your sermons on Revelation and as liturgical elements for the services in which those sermons are preached.
  4. There are many popular misconceptions about eschatology and Revelation. You will need to address those in your sermons to help your listeners form a better understanding of the book.
  5. Revelation is a work of art. Instill a sense of awe in your  listeners for the truly impressive features of Revelation, including its many rich allusions to the Old Testament, and its wide array of literary techniques.
  6. Fred Craddock reminds us that explaining the text is not the same as preaching it. In the case of Revelation, explanation can sometimes get in the way of what is more important: allowing the book to “create its own world” in the minds of your listeners.
  7. The messages to the seven churches in chapters 2-3 would form a good sermon series. It could be asked, “How is our church similar to the church in this passage?” “What would Jesus write to our church?” “To which of the seven churches is our church most similar?”
  8. Judith Wray recommends using passages from the book of Revelation throughout the worship service. She notes that there are references to prayers, incense, silence, testimonies, trumpets, and invitations. I would add beatitudes, doxologies, the opening and reading of books. These could be tied into various aspects of the service. For example, Wray recommends Revelation 22.17 for use as an invitation to the Lord’s Supper.

Carey, Greg, “Teaching and preaching the book of Revelation in the church”, Review & Expositor 98 no 1 Wint 2001, p 87-100; Craddock, Fred B, “Preaching the Book of Revelation”, Interpretation 40 no 3 Jl 1986, p 270-282; Wishart, Charles Frederick, “Patmos in the pulpit: a meditation on apocalyptic”,Interpretation 1 no 4 O 1947, p 456-465; Wray, Judith K Hoch, “The revelation: worship resource for preaching”, Living Pulpit 12 no 3 Jl-S 2003, p 8-9

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This is a list of works specifically consulted in the preparation of the resources found on this blog. Consult the commentaries for many more resources on the book of Revelation. Please note: the section on journal articles will be expanding.

Commentaries and other works on Revelation

David E. Aune, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 52: Revelation 1-5. (Waco, TX: Word, 1997)

Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993)

William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986)

George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1991)

Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Revelation, Revised Edition. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988)

Robert H. Mounce, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation, Revised Edition. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998)

James Ressequie, The Revelation of John: A Narrative Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009)

Mark Wilson, Charts on the Book of Revelation. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007)

Journal articles

Greg Carey, “Teaching and preaching the book of Revelation in the church”, Review & Expositor 98 no 1 Wint 2001, p 87-100.

Fred B. Craddock, “Preaching the Book of Revelation”, Interpretation 40 no 3 Jl 1986, p 270-282.

W. Hulitt Gloer, “Worship God! liturgical elements in the Apocalypse.” in Review and Expositor 98 no 1 Wint 2001, p 35-57;

Mazie Nahkro, “The manner of worship according to the book of Revelation.” in Bibliotheca sacra 158 no 630 Ap-Je 2001, p 165-180;

Mazie Nahkro, “The meaning of worship according to the book of Revelation.” in Bibliotheca sacra 158 no 629 Ja-Mr 2001, p 75-85;

Marianne Meye Thompson, “Worship in the Book of Revelation.” in Ex Auditu 8 1992, 45-54;

Charles Frederick Wishart, “Patmos in the pulpit: a meditation on apocalyptic”, Interpretation 1 no 4 O 1947, p 456-465.

Judith K Hoch Wray, “The revelation: worship resource for preaching”, Living Pulpit 12 no 3 Jl-S 2003, p 8-9.

Introductory works and dictionary articles

G. K. Beale, “Revelation (Book)”, in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. T. Desmond Alexander y Brian S. Rosner, (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000)

G. R. Beasley-Murray, “Revelation, Book of”, in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments. Ralph Martin and Peter H. Davids, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997)

D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992)

Walter A. Elwell y Robert W. Yarbrough, Al Encuentro del Nuevo Testamento. (Editorial Caribe, 1999)

Everett Harrison, Introducción al Nuevo Testamento. (Grand Rapids: Libros Desafío, 2002)

Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament. (New York: HarperOne, 1996)

H. Wayne House, Chronological and Background Charts of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981)

George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996)

I. Howard Marshall, New Testament Theology. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004)

Francesca Aran Murphy, “Revelation, Book of”, in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Kevin Vanhoozer, ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005)

Grant R. Osborne, “Recent Trends in the Study of the Apocalypse,” in Scot McKnight and Grant R. Osborne, The Face of New Testament Studies. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004).

Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008)

Frank Thielman, Teología del Nuevo Testamento. (Miami: Vida, 2007)

Miscellaneous / web resources

Dean Deppe, [Notes on CD for course on Revelation] (Grand Rapids: Calvin Theological Seminary, 2004)

Daniel B. Wallace, “Revelation: Introduction, Argument and Outline.”

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The four principal ways to interpret Revelation

  1. The preterist approach interprets the book as referring solely to events in the first century.
    • Proponents: Charles, Sweet, Roloff, Schussler Fiorenza, Collins, Thompson, Barr, Christian reconstructionists (Source: Face of NT Studies)
    • Leon Morris says this approach makes the book meaningless for people today
    • Mounce says that this approach implies that the prophecies of John were not fulfilled
  2. The historicist approach says that the book is fulfilled by specific events that occur throughout history from John’s day to ours (the papacy, the rise of Islam, the Reformation, etc)
    • Proponents: Joachim of Fiore, Franciscans, Reformers, Scofield type dispensationalists regarding ch. 2-3This approach makes the book meaningful for its original readers (Source: Face of NT Studies)
    • This approach was popular with the Reformers, who saw the pope as the fulfillment of the Beast or antichrist.
    • This approach would seem to make the book meaningless to its first readers (Source: Morris). But: the other books of the Bible were written for their generations, and we derive meaning from them.
    • This approach tends to focus on western European history to the exclusion of the rest of world history (Source: Morris)
    • Historicists tend to disagree about which historic events fulfill which phenomena in Revelation. The method tends to be subjective, limited by one’s grasp of history.
  3. The futurist approach treats the book as a window to the future: a glimpse of the last generation before Christ’s second coming.
    • Proponents: Justin, Irenaeus, Ladd, Thomas (Source:Face of NT Studies)
    • Morris says that this makes the book meaningless for all but that generation. But: knowing where history is going would be very meaningful for helping us construct the present.
  4. The idealist approach sees the book as portraying theological principles and dynamics that are true of every stage of human history.
    • Proponents: Milligan, Hendriksen, Hoekema, Hughes, Hays (Source: Face of NT Studies)
    • Morris says this approach makes the book relevant for everyone, but by itself it lacks a historical anchor.

In recent years many commentators (Morris, Johnson, Roloff, Giesen, Mounce, Beale, Osborne and many others) have opted for an eclectic approach, borrowing from all the approaches except the historicist approach.

The present author’s support for the present approach is for the following reasons:

  • Clearly John meant for his book to encourage his readers, and not simply with information about events in the far future. While the general principles in the idealist approach could have that effect for his readers, there are many similarities to first century events and details in the book (Rome as a city on seven hills, the list of goods imported to Rome, the imperial cult, the many parallels between the seven letters and the historical backgrounds to the cities, etc). There is undoubtedly more specific first century relevance in the book than we know of now, and probably far more than we will ever be able to mine from the book at this distance centuries later. So a preterist approach, while not exhausting the meaning of the book, surely plays a central part.
  • John purports to tell of things to come, of the future. Many of the things he said did not come to pass in as grand a fashion as he described them. I believe we should view Revelation as we do Old Testament prophecy: as having various levels of fulfillment. Just as Isaiah and other prophets saw fulfillments in their own time yet their words pointed to grander fulfillments centuries later, so Revelation, while pointing to first century issues, also points beyond itself to larger realities that have not yet come to pass. Also, many of the events described in the book are portrayed as happening as a lead-up to the second coming of Christ. So the futurist approach, not alone but in conjunction with the preterist and idealist approaches, also adds to our understanding of Revelation.
  • The fervor in ages past for the historicist approach, in my opinion, is actually support for the idealist position. Every age tends to read Revelation and spot dynamics on display that mirror dynamics in their own political, economic and religious situation. Revelation touches the heart of people in every century. We see corrupt beasts, the cult of personality, oppression, conformism, martyrs and valiant sacrifices in every age. So I am throwing my support in for the idealist position as well. Rather than identify every symbol from Revelation with one specific historic moment, we should see the symbols as pointing to something in Rome AND something at the end of the age AND something that we also see at work in limited ways in the intervening centuries.
  • My view is not merely the idealist view. Quite the opposite. I believe that the book needs to be interpreted primarily in light of both the first century and the final years before the second coming. Only after we have done that will we be in the best position to appreciate the dynamics that occur in every century.

Sources: Leon Morris, Tyndale NT Commnetaries: Revelation, revised edition. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1987); Robert H. Mounce, NICNT: The Book of Revelation, revised. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998); Grant R. Osborne, “Recent Trends in the Study of the Apocalypse”, in The Face of New Testament Studies. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 476

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