|Q238 : Revelation as Realized Eschatology?|
For some time now, I've been wondering how I could reconcile justification by faith with the Book of Revelation. Recently I found my answer in this statement: Dr. Beatrice Neall presents a very strong case that in the heavenly scenes throughout Revelation 1-18, the 'heaven-dwellers' are not the saints proleptically seen as they will be in the future glorious state, but as they are by faith now in this temporal life, enjoying eternal life by faith up in heaven even as they are overcoming through tribulation (present tense) down here on earth below. She likens this to the teaching often found in Scripture showing that the saints today as 'kings and priests' are said to "'dwell in the house of the Lord' (Ps. 27:4), have their citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20), be seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6), come boldly to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16), and come to Mount Zion ([Heb.] 12:22)" (Neall, p. 1).
If this is the subject of Revelation, then the conclusion seems inescapable that the 'heaven dwellers' of Revelation are there today forensically in their Substitute, Surety, and Representative, Jesus Christ. That is, the theme of Revelation for the Christian in these eschatological tribulations since Calvary is justification by faith alone in the doing and dying of Christ reckoned ours in the heavenly courts above in the person of Jesus Christ! Justification by faith is realized eschatology, awaiting the consummation!
A multitude of Gospel martyrs and witnesses in the Common Era have endured 'dungeon, fire, and sword,' have walked in life triumphant to their deaths, and have even gone singing to the flames, because they apprehended the wonder that "a righteousness that resides with a Person in heaven should justify me, a sinner, on earth." (John Bunyan)!
I was just wondering, is this viewpoint the traditional reformed view of Revelation or is this an Adventist contribution on the Johannine Apocalypse?
|A238 : by Tony Garland |
I think it worth mentioning that many interpreters of the book of Revelation, who have studied it in considerable detail, fail to see any need to reconcile the book with justification by faith. I count myself among them. Could it be that your view of the book finds a tension where none is intended? When carefully considered, passages within Revelation which exhort believers to remain steadfast or maintain good works, such as the promises to the overcomersa in chapters 2 and 3, are better understood as describing true believers and their position in Christ (1Jn. 5:4-5).
Yes, the book of Revelation does serve to give important perspective to believers as they face times of great hardship throughout history, but I believe this is because the topic of the book, which concerns a future time of intense difficulty for believers demonstrates that God's Kingdom will eventually prevail, not just de jure, but de facto in real history. I do not believe Revelation concerns realized eschatology1 as if primarily intended to motivate believers to look beyond their present hardships to certain and greater heavenly realities. It is my view that an idealist interpretationb , such as that advanced by Dr. Neal, does not do justice to the text. Quite simply, such an approach fails to deal with many details in the inspired text and often overlooks the contribution of related passages concerning this same period of time.
Take, for example, Dr. Neal's interpretation of the woman who flees in Revelation 12:
The woman flees into the wilderness, as Israel fled into the wilderness from Pharaoh’s pursuing armies in ancient times. But God has a tender care for this woman, his own beloved spouse. Once again, as with Israel of old, he gives her “the wings of a great eagle,” on which he bears her to himself (v. 14; Exod. 19:4). He covers her with his feathers, and under his wings she trusts (Ps. 91:4). In her wilderness hideout he nourishes her, as he nourished his ancient people with manna from heaven and water from the rock. It is the Scriptures, carefully concealed, laboriously copied by hand, and circulated surreptitiously, that constitute their food and drink during the period of persecution. God cares for them, though they often seal their testimony with their blood (Rev. 12:11).2
Dr. Neal glosses over the significance of the inspired details (e.g., the sun, moon, twelve stars)—even ignoring the strong parallels she herself sees between the flight of the woman and the Exodus—to arrive at the widely popular conclusion that the woman represents the church. Rather, the sun, moon, and stars establish her identity as Israelc. A refusal to take prophetic passages at face value while glossing over the significance of the inspired details predictably results in spiritual or idealistic interpretations which undermine what God has plainly stated in the text (e.g., Ezekiel 40ff).
Interpreters of this persuasion are quick to assert that Jesus is already on His throne and the war with evil already spiritually complete: The event of the death, resurrection, and enthronement of Jesus constitutes the decisive battle of the Great Controversy [emphasis mine].3 Yet Scripture reveals that Jesus is not yet on His throne—as He himself makes plain in Revelation 3:21, If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant [future tense] to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down [past tense] with My Father on His throne. The book of Revelation describes the literal, historical process by which His future enthronement comes about on earth.
It seems to me that promoting a belief in Revelation as realized eschatology impoverishes the book by its failure to uphold the future historical fulfillment at the very heart of the book: the real, physical, geopolitical redemption of the earth in fulfillment of God's promises and purposes (e.g., Rev 11:16-18):
Then the seventh angel sounded:And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” And the twenty- four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: “We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, The One who is and who was and who is to come, Because You have taken Your great power and reigned. The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, And the time of the dead, that they should be judged, And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, And those who fear Your name, small and great, And should destroy those who destroy the earth."4
This is not some pie-in-the-sky spiritual pronouncement, but a real, literal prophecy which ultimately brings about what Jesus prophesied in the Sermon on the Mount, Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth (Mat. 5:5). The idea that eschatology has largely been fulfilled spiritually in our day also ignores many aspects of the vision given Nebuchadnezzar concerning the times of the Gentiles and their ultimate end in history at the Second Coming of Christ which did not find fulfillment at the First Coming of Christd.
Dr. Neal represents a Seventh Day Adventist perspective on Revelation which is largely idealist in nature. However, most reformed interpreters I've encountered follow either a historiciste or preteristf interpretation rather than idealistg. For example, R. C. Sproul promotes a preterist understanding of the book of Revelation (which I've critiqued on our websiteh).
|1.||Realized eschatology describes an interpretive view which attempts to understand almost all prophecy as finding its fulfillment at the First Coming of Jesus and the events surrounding His death and resurrection.|
|2.||Neal, The Dragon, the Woman, and the Man Childi, Spectrum Magazine, 19 January 2009. Accessed 20140526.|
|4.||NKJV, Rev. 11:16-18|
|NKJV||Unless indicated otherwise, all Scripture references are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.|