I have recently held several conversations concerning the book of Revelation – no problem btw – I am always happy to discuss Scripture and Revelation is a perennial concern to most Christians. I am going to pass on here what I believe to be the single most powerful tool for interpreting the Revelation. The official name of this interpretive tool is ‘historicism’ I know – everyone’s eyes start glassing over as soon as an ‘ism’ appears but bear with me as I attempt to simplify the basic list of competing ‘isms’.
Futurism contends that prophecy is always oriented toward the future (some prophecies concerned what was future for the prophet is question but is now our past) and that much of the end time prophecies of the Bible describe events still in our future.
Preterism contends that almost all Biblical prophecy and especially end time prophecy describes events that have already happened or at best, were in the midst of happening at the time the prophecy was given. In this view, almost all the book of Revelation describes the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Idealism contends that the imagery of Revelation does not describe concrete persons or events at all. Rather, they describe spiritual concepts. Idealists do not look for real world events to fulfill the prophecies at any time – the prophecies metaphorically describe sets of ideas common to the world and the kingdom respectively.
The position I recommend is historicism – tinged with just a dab of idealism. The book of Revelation describes the cosmic war in which Jesus Christ is central. That war was going on in the days of the Old Testament, at the time of Jesus’ ministry, at the time the book of Revelation was written, is still going on today and will be going on for as long as the present creation lasts. The events described in the book, then, occur over and over in passing generations – with one final cataclysmic repetition which will bring the historical process to a halt.
Read Revelation chapter twelve with this in mind and see what you think. Then try this: Read Revelation chapter 13 and consider the beast. Then read Daniel chapter seven and consider the beasts. It is made clear that at least the first of the beasts is in active operation at the time Daniel gave the prophecy. It seems equally clear that the operations of the beasts continue beyond Daniel’s time – passing up the Babylonians, Meads and Persians and entering into the ages of the Greek and Roman empires. Other visions in Daniel tell the same story. And if you think the beast of Revelation 13 is the same as the beasts of Daniel 7 – Gold Star! The Beast(s) are human governments opposed to the will of God and following the program of Satan in the great cosmic war. The beast was operating in the time of Daniel – and in the time of John – and today – and into the future – and, I believe, the rabid beast will finally be put down in one final cataclysmic clash.
Try one more. Consider the horsemen of Revelation 6:1-7. Then read Zechariah 1:7-12 and 6:1-9 – horsemen who patrol the earth, acting in the midst of the wars of men (The horsemen in Zechariah were impatient at first because the war which would contain their coming ministry seemed to them to be slow in getting started!) to achieve the purposes of God. You see, the question is not – When will the horsemen ride? But When will they stop? I, of course, believe they have been riding for ages, are riding today, and will have a last ride one of these days.
Keep going – the four living creatures of Revelation chapter 4. Where have you seen them before and what were they doing and how do we know they are Cherubim? Hint – read Ezekiel chapters one and ten.
So, when will the events of the book of Revelation - you know – apostate governments, apostate religions, (the false prophet) apostate nations, apostate economic systems (Babylon) and charismatic but apostate leaders (antichrists) of all the above all working to bring about Satan’s will on our sad fallen planet – happen? Well, of course they happened in AD 70. But check out today’s newspaper too. And count on it all continuing to happen – until God brings these events to a final end.
We have been in the End Times since the ascension of Christ and have been surrounded by the events described in the book of Revelation the whole time.