The Revelation: Summary to this Point and a Peek Ahead, Part 1

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Theories

There are just a whole lot of theories about how to interpret the Revelation. And no one is going to hell or ought to be barred from preaching over their opinion on this question. This is not a salvation issue.

On the other hand, neither is one theory as good as another. Some theories have problems that may be fairly pointed out. Maybe they all do. I don’t see that we’re under some sort of obligation to treat all theories as equally likely. Some are better than others.

Then again, I’m hardly the world’s expert on this question. I’m far more knowledgeable on several other NT topics. I approach the interpretation of the Revelation with great humility  (trepidation, really) — which seems highly advisable to me. That is, I’m giving this my best shot, but I’m not hanging my self-esteem on whether I get this right. This is my first shot at working through the whole thing — which is my own fault, but I come from where I come from — and where I come from, we don’t study the Revelation.

On the other hand, the Revelation is the only book that promises the reader a blessing for reading the book:

(Rev. 1:3 ESV)  3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. 

Although, at my age and in my health, I’m not sure I’m up to reading the entire book out loud. (But doesn’t this strongly argue for the public reading of the Revelation?)

So it’s like a lot of things — important to give it a try. Sometimes it’s more about the journey than the destination, and we learn a lot just wrestling with the text, even if we don’t come to a definitive answer at the end. There’s just all sorts of wisdom and insight to be gained if we only understand a tenth of it all.

Preterism

In the Churches of Christ, there are many who take a Preterist perspective. Some of this goes back to Foy E. Wallace, Jr. Some is much older. But it’s a minority position.

Eusebius (Fourth Century contemporary of Constantine) argued that Rev 21-22 was fulfilled when Constantine became emperor and legalized Christianity. Preterists sometimes use Eusebius to claim that Preterism goes back that far in church history. But true Preterism contends that the Revelation was fulfilled entirely before or at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. And that theory is not nearly so old.

The Wikipedia offers this history —

There has historically been general agreement with non-preterists that the first systematic preterist exposition of prophecy was written by the Jesuit Luis de Alcasar during the Counter Reformation. Moses Stuart noted that Alcasar’s preterist interpretation was of considerable benefit to the Roman Catholic Church during its arguments with Protestants, and preterism has been described in modern eschatological commentary as a Catholic defense against the Protestant Historicist view which identified the Roman Catholic Church as a persecuting apostasy.

Due to resistance by Protestant Historicists, the preterist view was slow to gain acceptance outside the Roman Catholic Church. Among Protestants it was first accepted by Hugo Grotius, a Dutch Protestant eager to establish common ground between Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church. His first attempt to do this was entitled ‘Commentary on Certain Texts Which Deal with Antichrist’ (1640), in which he attempted to argue that the texts relating to Antichrist had their fulfillment in the 1st century AD. This was not well received by Protestants, but Grotius was undeterred and in his next work, ‘Commentaries On The New Testament’ (1641–50), he expanded his preterist views to include the Olivet prophecy and Revelation. 

The earliest American full preterist work was ‘The Second Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ: A Past Event’, which was written in 1845 by Robert Townley. Townley later recanted this view.

I reject full Preterism for several reasons:

  • If the theory is that the Revelation was written to encourage Christians during the Jewish revolt that led to the destruction of Jerusalem, you’d think the early church would have recognized this and offered a Preterist interpretation. And yet, even though the Revelation was well known by early Christian writers, none takes a Preterist interpretation.
  • I just don’t see how the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 fits Rev 21 – 22. And many Preterist commentaries speak of a “victory over” Judaism — when Judaism is God’s own invention. We are heirs of Judaism, grafted into the Jewish stock by grace. Christianity is the true Judaism. Christians are heirs to the promises made to Abraham.
  • While I’m confident few modern Preterists are anti-Semitic, you have to admit that some of the older commentaries have an anti-Semitic aroma.
  • Jesus wept over the prospect of the destruction of Jerusalem. The death of over 1 million Jews (according to Josephus) was not met with shouts of “Hallelujah!” in heaven. Read Josephus’ account of the last days before Titus tore down the walls of Jerusalem. It was a tragedy. Just as the prophets mourned the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon, I’m sure John and the other Christians of that time mourned the calamity — a defeat so horrendous that the general Titus refused to receive a victory wreath.
  • The destruction of Jerusalem did not bring about great blessings for the church. It wasn’t long after then that Domitian’s brutal persecutions began. After all, the Romans were unhappy with the Jews, and so it was easy to be cruel to people who worshiped a Jewish Messiah.
  • Judaism was by no means defeated. It’s still with us today.

In short, Preterism doesn’t fit history.

On the other hand, I’m persuaded that much of the NT does in fact speak to the destruction of Jerusalem — even some of the Revelation. But that’s not the focus of the Revelation. And the passages we traditionally have interpreted as speaking to the general resurrection sometime in the future do just that.

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  1. A friend and I have been conversing with some Full Preterists for the better part of a year now. We both reject full preterism. But Jay has given me some food for thought. In the full preterist system, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD brought the fullness of the kingdom of God, the resurrection, the eternal state etc. It is hard for me to imagine that an event that made Jesus cry while He was still in the flesh on earth is actually a time that we first received redemption and a reason to shout hallelujah. It was indeed a time for mourning, not joy, and I think history bears that out.

    Now about that church history. Yes logic would tell us that if ALL things truly were fulfilled in 70 AD that the early church would have written about it and clearly stated it. They didn’t do so. Of course this doesn’t matter, because in the full preterist view the church was in full apostacy mode the day after the destruction of Jerusalem. Or, that all of the “true Christians” were raptured out of this world in 70 AD. Those are two of the more popular versions of church history in the full preterist camp.