Q221 : Criticisms of the Futurist Interpretation of Revelation

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Q221 : Criticisms of the Futurist Interpretation of Revelation

Your assessment of the views of interpretation seems to be rather bias and judgmental. While I would fall somewhere between the preterist and the idealist (your terms), I do not exclude the future judgment. To see any apocalyptic work as purely futuristic does not allow for the origin of the writing to have been to a people of the writers time. Clearly, the Book of Revelation was written, primarily, to the seven churches of John's day. Otherwise the first three chapters are meaningless as part of the whole writing. If John were only writing to someone in the future, why would he make such a strong case for this being written to the seven churches.

The futurist interpretation becomes rather useless if it is removed from the idealist point of view. Jesus told his followers that no one knows the day or hour and wanted them to always be ready. (c.f. Matt. 25:1-13) It would be contradictory to make that statement and then offer a tool by which people spend their time trying to figure out what we are told not to worry about.

The question of, does the Book of Revelation tell us what the future will be, can be answered yes. However, to take it literally, one would have to expect that John meant what he said when he wrote that this was for the seven churches. Otherwise, you are picking and choosing which parts you wish to be "literal" and which parts can be interpretive.

I would suggest that you review your assessments of the various views of understanding, and consider the positive contribution that each makes. None is absolutely the only way to understand scripture, especially apocalyptic literature. However, when each is allowed to contribute, that understanding can be much richer and much more meaningful.

A221 : by Tony Garland

Thanks for writing to express your thoughts concerning the interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

In the discussion concerning various Systems of Interpretationa in my Revelation Commentary, I tried to clarify that a futurist interpretation of the Book of Revelation does not deny or minimize its applicability to the seven churches of Asia. This is because most futurist interpreters recognize Revelation 1:19 as providing a divine outline for how to understand the book:

Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.1

Specifically: (1) “the things which you have seen” is understood to denote that which John has just seen in chapter 1; (2) “the things which are” is understood to describe the content of chapters 2 and 3, the letters to the churches of Asia which follow; and (3) “the things which will take place after this” has in view chapters 4 through 22. The futurist interpretation upholds the relevance of all these chapters to all saints of all times. Unlike preterists, futurists also recognize that over 80% of the book (19 out of 22 chapters) pertains to things which were future to John and remain future to our own day—events closely related to numerous prophetic passages found elsewhere in Scripture.

The futurist interpretation also recognizes that even though chapters 2 and 3 are written primarily to the seven churches of Asia, the repeated refrain which closes each letter (“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”) along with the nature of the promises made to the overcomers in each church (e.g., right to the tree of life (Rev. 2:7), exemption from the second death (Rev. 2:11)) underscore that the message to these churches is also of significance to all believers throughout the ages. Neither do futurists minimize the importance of the "things which are" (chapters 2 and 3). The hardbound version of my commentary devotes over 70 pages of exposition to chapters 2b and 3c. At the same time, we also recognized that over 80% of the book concerns “the things which will take place after this”—future events.

To say that futurists believe that “John [is] only writing to someone in the future” misrepresents our position. Nor does John say that the book was written only “for the seven churches.” As the first verse in chapter 1 makes clear, the book is written for the servants of God in general, not just for the saints of the seven churches at the time of writing.

There will always be unreliable interpreters of every persuasion who abuse the clear warnings in Scripture to avoid date setting. This is not unique to futurism (since almost all systems of interpretation still await the literal, bodily return of Jesus). At the same time, the myriad details and close interconnection between the content of the book of Revelation and the rest of Scripture mandate that we synthesize all that God has chosen to reveal concerning the end of the age and the way in which it closes. To do less would be to dishonor God's revelation and the prodigious labors and sacrifice of the many saints who God used to preserve the book for our generation.

You seem to suggest that a reader of the book should consider combining elements from the different systems of interpretationd when interpreting its contents. I believe there are several problems with such an approach. First, it ignores the contradictory elements—incompatibilities—between the different systems. For example, it does not make sense to interpret judgments described in the book as applying hyperbolically (non-literally) to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and then also see them as describing literal events yet future at the end of this age. Second, it confuses observation and interpretation with application. We believe that each passage is communicating the primary, single, intended meaning of the author (the Apostle, but ultimately the Holy Spirit Who is providing the visions and inspiring the text). It is only after careful observation and interpretation of this primary meaning that we move to application which looks beyond the immediate literal meaning to the spiritual lessons that can be learned. Third, if the interpreter is to mix the different systems of interpretation when reading the text, who determines which system should dominate for interpreting each passage? Such an approach is too subjective to provide reliable guidance for arriving at the intended meaning.

The reason I am unwilling to embrace an eclectic approach to interpreting God's Word can be summed up as follows:

A growth in popularity of the eclectic interpretation is to be expected given our postmodern age, for the eclectic system of interpretation has much in common with it: First, the tendency to embrace all paths as being approximately equivalent; Second, the desire to avoid treating other views negatively; Third, the willingness to allow for a variety of interpretations of what truth is (your truth is your truth, my truth is my truth). The Word of God’s objective claim that there is a single path to truth undermines the claims of an eclectic approach much as it does the claims of postmodernism.2


1.NKJV, Revelation 1:19
2.Ref-1265, 2.12 spiritandtruth.org/id/revc.htm#Ecclectic_Interpretatione


NKJVUnless indicated otherwise, all Scripture references are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Ref-1265Anthony C. Garland, A Testimony of Jesus Christ: A Commentary on the Book of Revelation - Volume 1, (Camano Island, WA: SpiritAndTruth.org, 2004) [http://www.SpiritAndTruth.org/id/revci.htm]. ISBN:0-9788864-1-0f.

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