The Book of Revelation and History

I am speaking next week as the Bible Lecturer at Camp Wi-Ne-Ma on the Oregon coast near Lincoln City for the Week of Missions. This is a great privilege for me and I have been working on my messages very hard. The theme is “The Everlasting Gospel” from Revelation 14:6, and I will be teaching through the book of Revelation during the week.

One’s understanding of the book of Revelation is influenced by one’s understanding as to what the book has to say about history. When we relate to historical situations, we have four options: past history, present history, future history (excuse the oxymoron here), and non-history. All four of these are represented in the various approaches to Revelation. Here is how I understand them. Each of the four views is represented by a timeline diagram showing four events: the resurrection of Jesus in A.D. 30, the writing of Revelation in A.D. 96, our perspective in A.D. 2012, and the events of the end of time in the future (i.e., the second coming and final judgment).

1. The Symbolic View of Revelation: Revelation speaks of the eternal spiritual battle between God and the rebellious forces of demonic evil, but in symbolic form. It is like a giant parable, not tied to any history past, present, or future. This is the non-historical approach, as if the story of Revelation floats above historical timelines in an ahistorical manner. It can be represented by this diagram.2. The Futuristic View: Revelation is primarily prophecy of future events of the end of time, things that have yet to take place even today. This is the “future history” approach. There are many versions of this, including the highly detailed and structured systems of dispensational premillennialism (sometimes called the extreme futurist view). Revelation’s account of future events begins after the letters to the seven church, from chapter 4 to the end of the book. This view might be diagrammed like this:3. Panoramic Historicist View: Revelation reveals the unfolding history of the church (or world) including the rise of Islam and the Protestant Reformation. This is the “present history” approach, for we are in the middle of the story. This usually sees the Beast of Revelation as the Pope of Rome, and understands the culmination of the book as now at hand. This was popular among the later Protestant Reformers who often equated the church of Rome and the Pope with the Beast of chapter 13 and the Great Harlot of chapter 17. This view is mixed with the futurist view sometimes, but is most fully represented today by the Seventh Day Adventists. It is represented by this diagram:

4. First Century Historicist View: Revelation speaks of historical events of the first century in code or symbolic language (often borrowed from Daniel) and portrays primarily the spiritual battle between the persecuted church and the Roman Empire. This is the “past history” approach, for most of the book is in the past from our perspective.  In this view, the Beast of Revelation 13 as the Roman Emperor(s) and the Great Harlot of Revelation 17 as the Roman Empire. Usually the final two chapters are seen as future referring in this view, along with various other verses throughout the book. (This view is sometimes called “Preterist,” but that label has been co-opted by a small group who believe that all the events of Revelation took place before A.D. 70, so I have chosen the designation, “First Century Historicist View.) It may be diagrammed like this:

There are many, many variations on these views, but I think that all of the modern views I have encountered could be put into one of these four categories.

I hope to see some of you at Wi-Ne-Ma, especially my beloved former students. We will have a great week exploring the book of Revelation.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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