There are four approaches to interpreting prophecy, and all related to time: past, present, future, and timeless. These are known as preterism (past), historicism (present), futurism (future), and idealism (timeless).1We would add a fifth approach known as eclectic (mixed).
|Name||Time Period||Revelation Chapters 4-19|
|Describes the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 or the fall of Rome in A.D. 476.|
|Describes major events of Christian history spanning from John’s time to the Second Coming of Christ.|
|Describes a future period prior to the Second Coming of Christ.|
|Describes spiritual truths. Good will eventually prevail over evil. Readers are encouraged in their current trials.|
|Typically favors idealism while borrowing some elements from other systems.|
The Dead Sea Scrolls offer to us a window into the eschatological worldview of Jesus and the New Testament. Their eschatology followed a literal interpretation of prophetic texts and a numerological calculation of temporal indicators in judgment and pronouncements, and understood a postponement of the final age, while not abandoning their hope of it. In many ways their eschatology was not dissimilar from modern Christian premillennialism and reveals that as a system of interpretation, premillennialism is more closely aligned to the first-century Jewish context than competing eschatological systems. [emphasis added]3Our treatment of the book will make mention of alternative interpretations at important junctures, but to attempt to mention them all would only lead to hopeless confusion and a commentary spanning thousands of pages which might never be completed! “It is nearly impossible to consider all the interpretive options offered by people holding the other three views.”4 Nevertheless, it is important to understand each of the popular systems in order to grasp how widely different results can be derived from the identical text.
1 Thomas Ice, “What Is Preterism?,” in Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, eds., The End Times Controversy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2003), 18.
2 The astute reader will recognize the smaller variation in the interpretive results of the futurist system as an implicit endorsement of its validity.
3 Randall Price, “Dead Sea Scrolls, Eschatology of the,” in Mal Couch, ed., Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 91.
4 John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 11.