Monday, May 13, 2013

Part 2 of 3 Interpreting Revelation: Doctrinal views and outline

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."

Review: Directing our thoughts toward interpreting the Book of Revelation
As we approach 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? Two days ago we began to answer the first question.  We proposed that four standpoints must be addressed when approaching the Book of Revelation, namely looking at Revelation from  a literary, historical, doctrinal and outline standpoint.  How one deals with each of these will determine how one interprets and applies Revelation specifically and Bible prophecy in general. 

In our last post we noted the following literary features of Revelation:  Revelation is composed of Epistles (Revelation 1-3); Apocalyptic and Prophecy elements (Revelation 4-22) and perhaps a little bit of history as well (the whole book). 

Furthermore, we also covered the second standpoint that must be addressed when interpreting Revelation - namely the historical standpoint.  How much of Revelation is about the future, the past and the present?  Four responses were examined which I will list only by name: Preterist, Idealist, Historicist and Futurist.  All of these views were briefly examined as well and were seen to represent the mane of conservative Bible believing Christianity, with futurism being the majority report.

With the literary and historical standpoints examined, we continue on answering the question: "what must be considered when interpreting the Book of Revelation?"  In today's blog we aim to cover both the doctrinal approach and outlining approach to the Book.

What must be considered when interpreting the Book of Revelation?
The Book of Revelation from a doctrinal standpoint
The doctrinal standpoint is mainly focused on one chapter in Revelation: Revelation 20.  In fact what may surpise a lot of people is the fact the how one interprets Revelation 20 affects how they view all of Bible Prophecy and how they interpret scripture as a whole. 

The phrase "1,000 years" is mentioned six times in Revelation 20 and has produced much debate among students of scripture over the history of the church.  Thankfully in the history of the church there have been only four main responses given to these big questions. These four positions are respectively called: Historical Premillennialism, Dispensational Premillennialism, Amillennialism and Postmillennialism. To avoid making today's post into a book-length document, I have included information and diagrams in the end notes of today's blog for those who may want to know more information.1

The four main positions will vary in how much they view prophecy as either literal (Dispensational Pre-millennial and somewhat Classical premillennial) or more symbolic (Amillennial and Post-millennial). Again the reader is invited to consider the endnotes section of today's blog to get more detail on these four major viewpoints of Revelation 20.

Five things that Revelation 20 is focused upon and its connection to the whole book
For one thing, Revelation 20 is at bare minimum speaking about five key events: the coming of Christ, the reign of Jesus Christ, the resurrection/reign of the saints, the judgment of the wicked and the judgment of Satan.  If I may risk a second major observation: almost all interpreters that I have read see Revelation 20 being the final chapter referring to history before the Eternal State of Revelation 21-22.  These two things seem to be universally agreed upon by all interpreters who take seriously the inerrancy and Divine inspiration of scripture.   

The issues that lead to differing views over Revelation 20
Where the differences among believers begins to arise has mainly to do with the following:

1. Is the reign of Christ occuring now, in the future, or both now and the future?

2. Are the resurrections in Revelation 20 literal and future, spiritual and now or both?

3. Is Christ and His saints to reign mainly in Heaven now, to reign on the earth in the future or a little bit of both?

4. Is the 1,000 year period (Millennium) in Revelation 20 a symbolic number or literal number?

5. Is the Kingdom of Jesus Christ depicted in Revelation 20 a Heavenly Reign now, a future earthly reign or a little bit of both?

6. Is Satan's judgment occuring now, future or a little bit now and ultimately in the future?

7. Will Christ come back to set up a kingdom on earth for a 1,000 years, or is He reigning in Heaven now and waiting to come back to usher in Eternity or is Eternity to be ushered in by the church's preaching of the Gospel, with Christ coming back to usher in eternity?

8. Are Bible Prophecies to be interpreted as being literally fulfilled, symbolically fulfilled or a little bit of both?

How one answers those eight questions does impact how one interprets Bible prophecy.  It must be remembered of course that the answers given do not carry the weight of importance as one's view on the Trinity, Christ's Deity, Salvation or view of the Bible as God's Word.  However prophecy and one's view of it can affect how one views God's final goal for our world and the carrying forth of the Great Commission. 

Outlining Standpoint of the Book
So much more could be said about the doctrinal standpoint in approaching Revelation, however we must move onto the fourth major area to consider when interpreting Revelation: namely how to outline the book?  Whenever you consider the 22 chapters of Revelation, most people will take as their point of departure Revelation 1:19 which gives you a three-fold outline:

"The things which you have seen" Revelation 1-3
"The things which are now/are yet to come" Revelation 4-5
"The Things yet to come" Revelation 4-22

In some instances you may see even a two-part outlining approach:

"The things which you have seen"  Revelation 1-3
"The things which are to come"  Revelation 4-22

Both Classical and Dispensational Premillennialists  (see endnotes below) will typically see the Book of Revelation unfurling in a sequential, step by step fashion.  Some other Pre-millenialists tend to see the book, especially in Revelation 4-22, unfold in more of a "winding staircase" fashion, meaning that the Apostle John is presenting the same sequence of history over and over again in greater and more intense detail. 

When we consider Amillennial and some Post-millennial interpreters (see endnotes below), the staircase model tends to be the preferred outlining approach.  Other types of Post-Millennial interpreters tends to view Revelation 6-18 as a summary of God's overall program for history, with no immediate connection to any one history or event (also called the idealist view of Revelation)

These are but samples of the various ways people have attempted to outline and understand the book of Revelation. 

Tomorrow this blogger will share how he approaches the book of Revelation in terms of its literary interpretation, historical approach, doctrinal approach and outline.

More tomorrow............


1. Four key viewpoints on Revelation 20.
Let the reader note that the summaries below did not include the numerous scripture references that would be used.  In future blogs I intend to go into detail.  For now let the reader understand the key features of each viewpoint. 

A. Historic Pre-millennialism. (Christ returns before 1,000 year literal kingdom) This first view is the oldest view of all four viewpoints. Historic Premillennialists believe that the 1,000 year reign of Christ will be literal, will be on earth, will be future and will last for 1,000 years. Below we can see a summary pictorial illustration:

Present Age------------Christ's-----1,000 year reign---Final-Eternity---->
                                   Return                               Judgment
                                Righteous raised               Wicked raised
                                  Satan Bound                    Satan Judged

B. Dispensational Pre-millennialism. (Christ returns before 1,000 year literal kingdom) This second view tends to divide God's dealing with history into periods called "dispensations". Though similar to Historic Pre-millennialism in how it views the term "1,000 years", Dispensational pre-mills tend to distinguish Israel from the church and place more emphasis on Christ's gathering of the church (the rapture) as being separated by a seven year tribulation period before His Return. Again we lillustrate:

Present Age----Rapture 7yr Trib Christ's-1,000 year reign-Final-Et-->
                                                  Return Judgment
                                                  Saints Jewish saints Wicked raised
                                                  raised raised
                                                  Satan Bound             Satan judged

C. Amillennialism. (There is no 1,000 year millennium, thus the term "a-millennialism". Right now is the millennial age and the Kingdom is all spiritual) This third view views the millennium as a symbolic number that describes Christ's reign from His ascension in the Book of Acts until when He comes back to usher in Eternity. The first resurrection speaks of people being saved or converted now, with the final resurrection referring to the raising of both the righteous and the wicked. Below we see a summary:

Christ Began reign--Present age/"millennium"--Christ returns-eternity
when he ascended unknown length of time       Resurrection
                                                                           of saints &

D. Post-Millennialism. (Similar to A-millennialism in how it views the number 1,000, except it believes there is a golden age yet to come of indeterminate length that will conclude with Christ's return, hence "post" or "at the end") This fourth view believes that Christ went into heaven to begin His reign and will not return until the Gospel has been fully preached and most of the world (not all) has been Christianized and converted by the power of the Gospel. Post-millennialism is a very optimistic viewpoint and takes seriously the Great Commission. Its summary is as follows:

Christ began-----Church right now----------------Christ returns-eternity
Ascended           preaching Gospel, turns into   raises righteous
                           Millennium as world becomes  & wicked
                           Christianized, Christ then will   Satan
                           turn at the end of this                Condemned
                           "Millennium" hence