Saturday, May 11, 2013

Part 1 of 3 Interpreting the Book of Revelation

Revelation 1:19 "Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things."

As we explored a suggested method for interpreting the Bible in general, we noted the following four step process:

1. Observation
2. Interpretation
3. Application
4. Correlation

We also saw that in Bible interpretation (also called hermeneutics or the science of interpretation), four gaps are being bridged by the interpreter: geographical, literary, historical and cultural.  As was suggested, websites such as and offer the Bible student access to Bible study tools like Bible Dictionaries, Encyclopedias and Commentaries that can enable the student to close the gaps.  It was also noted that the Holy Spirit is the Chief interpreter of the scripture Who illumines the believer's understand to compare and grasp all the things freely given by God to us. (1 Corinthians 2:10-16; 1 John 2:20,27) 

Directing our thoughts toward interpreting the Book of Revelation
With those thoughts in mind, we now come to the Book of Revelation in particular with the aim to understand two essential issues: what must be considered when interpreting the Book of Revelation? Then secondly, how does this blogger approach the interpretation of the Book of Revelation? We will take each of these two questions in their turn as we consider this final book of the Bible.

What must be considered when interpreting the Book of Revelation?
The Book of Revelation from a literary standpoint
We can answer this first question in four specific parts: Literary, Historical, Doctrinal and Outline.  First of all we must consider the Book of Revelation from a literary standpoint.  The Book of Revelation is not just one uniform type of literature, but multiple forms.  Revelation 1-3 features seven letters to seven different churches in a first century form of a letter we call an "epistle".1 

However there is a second type of literature (also called genre = "jan-ray") that we see in Revelation that is termed "Apocalyptic" (or revelatory).  Other books of the Bible such as Daniel and Ezekiel feature "apocalyptic" characteristics.2

As much as Revelation does contain definite elements of apocalyptic style, some distinguishing features of Revelation (and the other Biblical Books containing similar material), is the fact that it is directly revealed by the Lord, it is predictive in nature and the future it portrays has begun in a small way in the here and now due to Jesus' first coming.3 

The third literary feature that must be noted about Revelation is that fact that it is a prophecy.  Those who take Revelation (4-22) to be completely referring to the future (a view called "futurism") mention the fact that Revelation is at its core a series of prophecies about the future.  John MacArthur in his commentary notes that noting Revelation's predictive character (also called "futurism") "takes the book's meaning as God gave it."  Prophetic books typically have three main features: warning, comfort and prediction.  The Book of Revelation without a doubt is a prophecy of the first order.

As a mixture of different types of literature, most would term Revelation 1-3 to be Epistles and Revelation 4-22 to be a combination of Apocalyptic and Prophecy. 

The Book of Revelation historical standpoint: it is either primarily historical, about the future or a little bit of both
With the literary standpoint considered, we now move to the second that must be taken when approaching the Book of Revelation, namely the historical standpoint of the Book.  How much of Revelation is speaking entirely of the future and how much of Revelation is speaking of history?  According to most authors today, there are four approaches to the book of Revelation, all of which are defined by how much or how little they view Revelation as a work of history or work of prophecy.  It must be noted that in all four of these approaches, Christ's literal, bodily return is believed and cherished as the ultimate event looked forward to by Revelation.  The difference lies of course in how such an event will be arrived at from this present day and time:

1. Preterist view of Revelation: "The Book of Revelation is prophecy that was fulfilled primarily in the first century".4 Conservative Bible teachers such as R.C Sproul espouse a moderate version of this position.The word "preterist" comes from a Latin word meaning "past" and is held by a strong minority of scholars.

2. Idealist view of Revelation: The idealist or what is sometimes termed "spiritual" view of Revelation sees the book "as representing the ongoing conflict of good and evil, with no immediate historical connection to any social or political events."6
3. Historicist view of Revelation: The Book of Revelation is prophecy about church history from the time of John to the end of the world."7 A prime example of this approach would take the seven churches of Revelation 2-3 and view them as successive representations of seven stages of church history.

4. Futurist view of Revelation: This approach is the most familiar to many readers since it views the Book as being almost entirely about the future, as the name suggests.  Numerous Bible teachers like Dr. John MacArthur and past Bible teachers and preachers such as Dr. W.A Criswell, Dr. C.I Scofield, Dr. Dwight J. Pentecost and Dr. John Walvoord were futurists in their approach to Revelation.

These four historical approaches are also approaches we find to one degree or another throughout the history of the church among Bible believing teachers.  As far as this author knows, all four approaches exist in Southern Baptist life, with the futurist most likely being the majority report.

Note to Reader about tomorrow's blog and Monday's blog
In tomorrow's blog I will be presenting a poem based off of 1 Samuel 1-3 entitled "A Mother's Prayer".  On Monday May 13 we will continue our discussion we started today on interpreting the Book of Revelation.  Until then, may the reader have a blessed day.  

End Notes______________________

1. There are 21 examples of epistles in our New Testament which contain at least four features: A salutation or introductory greeting, a doctrinal section, a practical section and a closing section. Epistles are usually (but not always) personal and are as a general rule to be interpreted as literally as possible unless otherwise indicated. Revelation 1-3 and the last few verses of Revelation 22 have the tell-tale signs of the style we call "Epistle". 

2. Steve Gregg. Revelation Four View: A parallel commentary. Nelson. 1997. Pages 10-12

Steve Gregg in His Book: "Revelation Four Views - A Parallel Commentary", writes this about the genre or literary type called "apocalyptic".

1. In both Revelation and other apocalyptic writings, angels commonly appear as tour guides and interpreters.

2. Like most apocalyptic types of literature, Revelation was written during intense times of persecution

3. We see the use of vivid symbols and imagery (monsters, dragons, symbolic numbers, names) in depicting the conflict between good and evil.

4. In apocalyptic literature like Revelation, certain numbers carry with them certain meanings

3. William Klein, Craig Blomberg and Robert L. Hubbard. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Word Publishing. Page 371

Klein, Blomberg and Hubbard have pointed out one other additional feature of apocalyptic literature which we also see in Revelation:

"Apocalyptic types of literature include a description of events surrounding the end of world history, often said to have come from God by means of angelic or otherworldy intermediaries"

4. Dr. Timothy Paul Jones.  Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy. 2011  Page 263

5. Dr. R.C Sproul.  The Last Days According to Jesus.  Baker Academic.  1998

6. Stanley N. Gundry, Series Editor; C. Marvin Pate, General Editor. "Four Views on the Book of Revelation.  Zondervan.  1998. Page 23. 

7. Dr. Timothy Paul Jones. Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy. 2011 Page 263