Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Part 3 of 3 Interpreting the Book of Revelation: Personal Viewpoint


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
We have been considering how to approach the Book of Revelation by way of two essential issues: First we asked: "what must be considered when interpreting the Book of Revelation?" Then secondly, how does this blogger approach the interpretation of the Book of Revelation? I would invite the reader to look over the past  blog entries to follow up on the discussion and coverage of all that we considered in interpreting the book.  My prayer and hope has been to introduce the reader to what the rest of the Bible believing world practices and teaches on Revelation. 

Considering my own thoughts on interpreting the Book of Revelation
With the first consideration covered, I now move onto where I personally stand when it comes to the Book of Revelation.  As a Southern Baptist, I believe that the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 doctrinal statement conveys the appropriate general attitude that all true Christians should take when dealing with Bible prophecy in general and Revelation in particular:

"God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord."

The statement reminds us that as important as doctrinal positions are on Bible Prophecy, or for that matter how one approaches Revelation, there is enough liberty allowed for the major views to co-exist without doing violence to major doctrines such as Christ's second coming, the Trinity, salvation by grace through faith and the Bible as the inerrant word of God.  We need to excercise enough liberty in our viewpoints of Bible Prophecy to preserve our underlining unity in Christ.  However at the same time each Christian ought to know where they stand on eschatological (Bible Prophecy) issues to give reasons as to why they are hopeful both now and for the future. (1 Peter 3:15)  With that statement said, I submit below where I am when it comes the interpretation and application of the Book of Revelation.

1. Primarily Literal in my Approach.  Revelation 1-3 is about Christ and His church.  I see seven letters written to seven literal churches that could also portray traits of churches we see throughout history and today.  Thus I approach Revelation 1-3 as mainly literal.  I follow the often said but time tested rule: where there is no sense, seek the literal sense.  However when the literal sense makes no sense, seek some other sense.  In areas of Revelation (like chapters 6-19) where there is more figurative language, let the figure do its work in bringing about the literal truth to be applied.  However where ever the plain sense of the passage is clearly stated (such as seven churches in Revelation 2-3), let the literal sense convey the appropriate spiritual application and truth (such as the seven churches representing things we may see in churches today).

2. Premillennial in Doctrine.  Revelation 4-5 is about Christ and His worship.  This scene takes place in Heaven, which means time is not a big issue like here on earth.  Revelation 1 and 4-5 feature Jesus Christ as the Post-resurrected glorified God-man who is ruling and reigning right now over His church.  I do take the viewpoint that Christ has inaugurated His reign in heaven and being a Pre-millenialist, I do see Christ coming back to this planet, resurrecting the righteous, restore and convert the nation of Israel and bind Satan.  Furthermore, Christ will reign 1,000 years, defeat Satan in Judgment, raise the wicked and judge them at the Great White throne. (Isaiah 11; Zechariah 12-14; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Revelation 20:1-15) Following this Millennial reign will be an eternity wherein the saints of God are ever with God and the Lamb, Who is the Lamp and Light, God in Human Flesh Himself, in the New Heavens and New Earth. (2 Peter 3; Revelation 21-22) 

3. Revelation is mostly about the future, with some reference to the past and present.  Revelation 6-19:6 deals with Christ and History.  This section I find to be a mixture of events that John had to deal with in the first century, as well as events that are yet far future.  I am in agreement with Marvin Pate, who being a Dispensational Premillennialist1, uses the phrase "already/not yet" to describe how Christ is acting both now and yet to come.  I also see Revelation 6-19:6 telling the story of Christ exercising His power and return being told in a repeated or "staircase" fashion. 

Since Revelation 6-19:6 is the longest and most detailed section of the book, here is how I outline it:

Christ and History  Revelation 6-19:6
Cycle #1 Christ's Historical Concern for the Saints.  Rev 6:1-7:17
Cycle #2 Christ's Historical Ending of History.          Rev 8:1-11:19
Cycle #3 Christ's History with Israel                          Rev 12:1-17
Cycle #4 Christ's Historical Defeat of AntiChrist       Rev 13:1-16:21
Cycle #5 Christ's History Ending Defeat of this
               world system (Babylon)                             Rev 17:1-19:6.

Two observations can be made about these sequences.  First, since each cycle spawns on the next, there is to be expected some overlap in themes.  Then secondly, each of these cycles end with some reference to either Christ's return or to the time leading up to the time of His return. (compare 11:17-19; 12:15-17; 15:1-4; 19:6) 

4. I see a distinction between Israel and the Church, thus I am  a little bit Dispensational, Premillennial.  Revelation 19:7-20:15 is about Christ and His coming reign.  Being Pre-millennialist, I see Christ returning to reign 1,000 years.  Being a Dispensational Pre-millennialist, I see Christ rapturing His church, followed by a period of time before His final return to earth to begin the earthly aspect of His reign.  I don't personally think one can develop a detailed order or timing of the rapture from Revelation.2  Other Bible chapters, such as John 14; 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15 deal more specifically with that truth.  For those interested, here is how I generally outline this section:

Cycle #6  Christ comes for victory.  Revelation 19:7-10
Cycle #7  Christ comes to reign in judgment  Revelation 19:11-20:15

Let the reader note that in Revelation, the number "7" is prominently mentioned (some 52 times to be exact!)  In this outline there are "7" sections which appear to be retelling a particular sequence of events stretching from Christ's ascension to the end of His millennial reign.  I am aware that others may see Revelation 6-20 as sequential or one chapter after another chapter.  As I noted in the beginning, issues such as that have room for variation, since how one outlines Revelation is not an essential issue of the Christian faith.   

5. How dispensational I am when interpreting Revelation.  The only reason I classify myself as a dispensationalist is due to the fact I still see a distinction between Israel and the church in Bible prophecy.  This means that I believe (according to Romans 11:25-26) that when it says "all Israel" will be saved, it means "Israel" and not the church.  Therefore as I read through Revelation, I will for example view the 144,000 as literal Jewish people (Revelation 7,14) and the Tribulation martyrs being followers of Christ who were converted during the Tribulation period. 

6. Something I hope most Christians can agree on. Revelation 21-22 is about Christ and Eternity.  This section is thankfully among the most agreed upon sections among interpreters. I see the Holy City of Jerusalem as referring to a literal city that is to be the future home of God's saints built by Jesus.  The New Heavens and new Earth will most likely be a refurbished (however they could be remade) New Heavens and New Earth with Christ handing the Kingdom over to His Father so that the Triune God can be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:28)  At the end of the book, Christ and the Bride are issuing forth the grand invitation to come a drink freely of the water of Eternal life by faith.  The Book of Revelation tells us that the Bible's chief work is salvation, and its chief purpose is God's glory. 

I'll be the first to admit that the outline and understanding that I have presented is not perfect (none can make that claim) nor comprehensive (certainly others can do better than I).  However this understanding of Revelation is one which I submit to the Lord and am willing enough to change if scripture should compel.  The student of scripture can never rise any higher in their theology than the hieght of scripture, nor can any one theological system have enough scope to say with all certainty that "I've mastered the word of God".  May we all who confess Christ as our Savior be in awe of Him and be eager for His Soon return!

End Notes________
1. Marvin Pate is a Southern Baptist who holds to a specific type of Dispensational theology called "progressive Dispensationalism".  Such a system in all of its nuances exceed the purpose and scope of today's blog.  I would urge the reader to check out the book edited by Marvin Pate entitled: "Four View on the Book of Revelation".  In future blogs I hope to spell out the nuances that exist in the world of Pre-millennial Dispensational thinking.

2. The doctrine of the rapture or the "catching away" of the church by Jesus is taught throughout the New Testament explicitly in John 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.  I do believe that the rapture is true and I do believe it is a yet future event revealed in scripture.  Although many scholars have attempted to infer the rapture teaching from passages such as Revelation 3:10-4:1, nonetheless that particular truth is not explicitly taught anywhere in Revelation due to the fact that the rapture is not a significant theme in the book.  In other words, we could very well derive the doctrine of the rapture of the church "implicitly" from Revelation, however I don't think one can ever hope to build an "explicit" understanding of the rapture's timing from Revelation.  Furthermore, the issue of the timing of the rapture of the church (three positions: pre-tribulationalism, mid-tribulationalism and post-tribulationalism) is an intramural debate among Dispensational Premillennialists.  In future blogs I aim to do a short series on the rapture doctrine and its timing.