Posted by: colegrove | Sunday 1 April 2012

Revelation: Four Views

How is Revelation chapters 4-19 to be interpreted?  

Revelation can be divided into three general sections:

  1. Revelation 1-3 contain letters to the Seven Churches in Asia
  2. Revelation 4-19, the bulk of the apocalyptic prophetic vision
  3. Revelation 20-22, the “millennium”, judgment, Return of Christ, and the End of Time (as we know it)
Each of these can be, and have, throughout the centuries, been interpreted differently.
For instance, in Chapters 1-3, some see the letters to the Churches as being specific letters for specific churches.  Others see, in addition to that obvious fact, that they symbolize different eras of church history.  Both views can be equally valid.  Likewise it is a reminder and warning to all churches of all eras.
Side note: What is a “Church”?  When I say “church” here in this article and elsewhere on this blog, I do not mean a building, denomination, organization, hierarchy, or people to attend said things.  All of these have been known as “church” in varying contexts, sometimes rightly so.  But here, when I say church, I mean people.  People who are no good on their own.  People who can only boast in the Lord Jesus Christ, not in their own work or flesh.  People who have repented of their sins, believe (present-tense) the Word of God to be true, and put their faith and trust in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ.  A true spiritual Israel.  A Church can be a building where believers gather.  It can be a denomination of like-minded people.  It can be people who attend those things.  However, the Word mostly speaks of PEOPLE who are being changed, refined by in one form of another into the likeness of Christ.   Many people claim be believe the Gospel message, have been “baptized”, are a member of a church, etc., but that does not mean they have a changed heart and surrendered will.  Here, when John says these were letters to the Churches, I believe he means to BELIEVERS.
The bulk of Revelation consists of confusing and unusual visions that John received while exiled on the Isle of Patmos, off the coast of modern Turkey.  The main theories as to the meaning of Chapters 4-19 can be summarized as:
  1. The Futurist View – They see most of the events in these chapters pertaining to a short period of time before Christ returns and before the Millennium.  Dispensational Futurists take these events to be a supposed specific “Seven-Year” period that they see prophesied in Daniel chapter 9.  Now, one need not be a dispensationalist, but they just tend to be more defined group.  Dispensationists usually believe in a “Rapture” that will take believer’s out of this world.  Disagreements arise over whether or not this is at the beginning of the 7-years, mid-way, or at the end.  They also interpret Daniel 9 to say that the Antichrist will stop the temple sacrifices, thus necessitating a third temple being built in the yet future.  The question most fail to address here is – is Daniel actually speaking of an end-times seven year period?  I would say “nay”.   An in-depth study of Daniel 9 and his seventy prophetic weeks can be seen to be fulfilled in Christ’s baptism at the beginning of the 70th week, and final sacrifice, when the veil of the temple was torn in two mid-way through… not in Antichrist and some re-built temple.  To rebuild the temple and begin sacrifices again would be to say that Christ’s work was not enough to take away sin.  When the seven-year theory’s foundation crumbles, all the rest of dispensationalism fall with it.  A relatively recent view, being popularized in the 19th century by Darby and Scofield, the Dispensational-Futurist view is the prevailing view in American Evangelicalism today, as well as the basis for much support of the modern nation of Israel.    Again, one can still be in the futurist camp without believing in a seven-year tribulation period.  Many elements of Futurism, in my mind, seem to ring true, but I cannot see the whole story that has been built up on the dispensational view.  Many aspects, especially at the end, and obviously, the Return of Christ himself, have yet to be fulfilled.  As this part is true, one cannot destroy all of what the futurist view has to say.  Futurism simply put, means that the bulk of Revelation 4-19 is still to be fulfilled.  I may seem to criticize this view too strongly, perhaps wrongly even.  If I do, it is just because I see such a flimsy foundation for such a popular an elaborate eschatology.
  2. The Preterist View – They see most of the events in these chapters as already been fulfilled in the 1st century AD with the Jewish War of AD 66-70, the Fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 and judgment on apostate Judaism.  Many Preterists also see parts of Revelation 4-19 as the fall of the western Roman empire and Roman paganism and the triumph of Christianity in the 4th century with Constantine’s legalization of it.  Elements of Preterism seem to specifically tied to Revelation.  But many Preterists believe that Christ either returned “spiritually” in AD 70, or else have an unknown gap of many centuries before he is to return, which leaves this view wanting.  Besides, the book of Revelation and its letters were for the CHURCHES, not the Jewish leadership, as a warning of the coming destruction.
  3. The Historicist View – View Revelation 4-11 as being a vision of things that will come hereafter.  From the time John wrote Revelation until the time Christ returns.  An overview of the people of the New Covenant.  Deals with some events of world history and politics, but is mainly concerned with the church – believers.  The rise and spread of Islam, the rise of apostate Christianity, the persecution of believers, and the eventual – yet-to-be-fulfilled return of Christ.  This was the view of all the reformers, those sola-Scriptura lights such as John Wycliffe, Jan Hus of Bohemia in the 15th century, Martin Luther, Zwingli, William Tyndale, many of the Anabaptists of the 16th century, John Bunyan as well as my ancestor – Rhode Island founder Roger Williams in the 17th century, and others such as the great Charles Haddon Spurgeon in the 19th century and the controversial John Calvin – to an extent – held this view.  It was the prevailing view of the Pilgrim immigrants.  It is so rarely mentioned today that no one realizes it has any validity.  In fact the great Henry H. Halley wrote his “Halley’s Bible Handbook” in many versions over many years in the 1910’s-1960’s.  At his death the rights to his work were given to Billy Graham, and all subsequent printings since 1961 have removed nearly all his research into church history and Roman Catholic persecution of believers, as well as most of his notes on Revelation.  Simply vanished.  One wonders… why?
  4. The Idealist View – Takes Revelation as a whole, without trying to identify of interpret the prophetic visions.  It seeks to take a moral lesson from them.  I commend this view as life-applicable, but wholly not the main message of the Prophecy.  It is written in symbols but it is about real events.  This view is incomplete.
Then there is the end of Revelation.  Chapters 20-22.  The Millennium and beyond.  One can be a futurist, preterist, or historicist and hold to any one of these following views at the same time.  Some hold to –
  1. Amillennial View – “a” meaning “no” millennium. belief that the 1,000 years is a symbolic time period from the time of Christ’s death and resurrection until he returns again, with Satan being released shortly before the return of Christ.
  2. Historic Pre-Millennial View – A period of 1,000 years where Satan is bound and Christ reigns on earth, from the return of Christ to the releasing of Satan before the second resurrection.
  3. Dispensational Pre-Millennial View – Similar to the above Historic Pre-Millennial view, a period of 1,000 years of Christ reigning on earth, but with the 144,000 faithful Jews and those who have been martyred during the “Seven-Year” Tribulation period that immediately preceeded this Millennium.  This view is directly tied to Dispensational Futurism of ch 4-19.
  4. Post-Millennial View – the 1,000 years will be a period of peace before Christ returns.

I tend to find myself as a sort of composite.  However the Historicist view makes the most sense to my mind for chapters 4-19, and some sort of fusion between amillennialism and historic pre-millennialism seems to be in my mind while reading Revelation myself.



WHAT GOT ME THINKING ON THIS?  So, this is the post that got me going on this topic…  and view on the millennium –

I recommend two books: “End Times Delusions” by Steve Wohlberg and “Revelation: Four Views” edited by Steve Gregg for a better over arching yet in depth view on the above views.



  1. Thoughts, people?

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