The book of Revelation is probably universally agreed upon to be the most controversial and complicated book in the Bible. Lots of biblical texts are subject to a variety of interpretations by different Christian traditions, but Revelation is subject to a variety of interpretations by different Christians even within the same tradition! Unlike other books, how one interprets certain aspects of Revelation has a significant impact on understanding the entire rest of the book. How much of it is a prophecy of a future yet to come, versus a prophecy of the audience’s immediate future now long past? How much of it is to be understood as physical events on earth versus spiritual events in heaven? Where do we even draw the line between the two?
Back in November, I read a thought-provoking article about the book of Revelation as a whole, and have let it settle into my brain for the past few months. Since I recently shared an end-times study with one small group and a brief introduction to the book of Revelation with another group, I figure this is as good a time as any to reexamine this article’s main points.
It argues for a minority opinion: the bulk of the book of Revelation was a prophecy of the immediate future [called a preterist view] and was written in the mid to late 60’s AD. Therefore instead of predicting the destruction of Rome, it’s actually predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Many scholars argue it was written later – around the years 90 or 100 – but it’s not a definite conclusion; the early authoring date is possible and has been considered for about as long as the later date. Ten reasons are given to support this freely-admitted minority opinion.
- This view links the book of Revelation quite neatly to the “mini-apocalypse” writings in Matthew24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. He provides a handy pdf to explain the details, which I’m looking forward to studying over the summer.
- This view links the book of Revelation quite neatly to the Old Testament prophetic (and apocalyptic) writings, many of which also refer to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70AD.
- This view maintains the OT prophetic usage of the term “harlot” as referring to Jerusalem. Afterall, why should Rome be called an adulterous harlot if that city was never faithful to God to begin with?
- In Revelation 2 & 3 there are references to the “synagogue of satan,” an indirect yet fairly clear way of describing the Jews who were rejecting Jesus as the Christ. When you take that with the two beasts spawned by Satan the dragon later on in the book, it makes sense to understand it as the Church’s original persecution partners: the Jews and the Roman authorities.
- In Revelation 11 the harlot city is described as the place where “their Lord was crucified.” This has to be carefully explained away if you take the usual position that the city described is Rome.
- “The number of the beast” being 666 has often been understood as a reference to Roman Emperor Nero, who was responsible for the persecutions early on (in the 60’s). Not very often has it been understood as a reference Emperor Domitian who was responsible for the persecutions later on (in the 90’s) when the majority view asserts the book was written.
- Satan the dragon has 7 heads (7 Herods in Jerusalem) and 10 horns (10 Ceasars who interacted with the Herodians) and gave birth to the beast of the sea and the beast of the land. The sea is typical in OT prophecy as a place where Gentiles come from, so it would make sense to see the two beasts as Rome and Jerusalem.
- The rest of the New Testament describes a Church persecuted by Jews and Judaizers in league with the Roman authorities. It would make sense that Revelation continues in the same context.
- When the prophecies in Revelation are said to take place “soon,” we don’t have to re-translate that word [which certainly is reasonable & possible to do], because in this view it did happen very soon!
- If Rome is the harlot city, there’s a problem: it never was utterly destroyed.
All of these are good arguments as far as I understand them thus far. The only downside (especially with #10) is that they are all staked on the preterist view of Revelation. They don’t disprove the view that the bulk of the book is a prophecy of a future yet to come. The closest it gets to that side of the debate is in #10, where it basically says that this view is the best version of the preterist view, and if you believe otherwise you’re stuck with a futurist view.
Nevertheless, it’s a good base for a reasonable and biblically-minded interpretation of the book of Revelation, and I’m glad to have it on the table as I prepare to approach the book in further study this summer. If you want more details, I highly recommend the original article.