The Revelation: Summary to this Point and a Peek Ahead, Part 2

lion-dove-lamb-yeshua
Historicist

In my youth, the view that the history of the Western church was being prophesied was popular in the Churches of Christ, and I was originally open to the possibility. But things sure seemed forced in places. It really was odd how little the Revelation spoke to the empires that actually ruled Asia Minor, where the seven churches the book is addressed to were. The Revelation was read as being about the Catholic church, the Pope, and the Reformation, none of which had the least thing to do with Asia Minor.

And it was sure odd that we ran out of history around the Reformation and then skipped to the Millennium. It seemed like no one had really thought about this stuff since Luther used the Revelation to lampoon the Pope. The anti-Catholicism and bitterness toward the Catholic Church seemed improbable.

The history read into Revelation was often a highly romanticized, one-sided understanding of what really happened. In fact, the Protestants sometimes killed Catholics; the French religious wars were ugly for both sides, and Luther supported the killing of millions in the Peasants’ Wars. But the Revelation always seemed to picture the Catholics as the bad guys and the Protestants as pure and holy. Reality was never that simple.

And I read Plain Truth and other publications by groups that tried to apply the Revelation to modern events — and they kept changing theories with each new war.

So I became very disillusioned with the views I’d heard in church.

More Than Conquerors

By the time I learned about More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation, I’d pretty much given up on understanding the Revelation and lost interest in John’s letter. And, I’ll admit, I didn’t spent much effort trying to figure it out.

I did run across Leon Morris’s commentary in the Tyndale series, which is briefer than many, but has also been influential in my own thinking and many others in the Churches of Christ–

We must not think of it as a kind of intellectual puzzle (spot the meaning of this symbol!) sent to a relaxed church with time on its hands and an inclination for solving mysteries. It was sent to a little, persecuted, frustrated church, one which did not know what to make of the situation in which it found itself. John writes to meet the need of that church.

Take for an example of his method the opening of the book sealed with seven seals. This is surely the book of human destiny, the book that tells what is in store for mankind. The first thing to notice is that ‘no-one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll’ (5:3). The secrets of the future are not accessible to us, but remain fast sealed from our gaze. But the Seer is assured that ‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals’ (v. 5). When John looks for this Lion he sees ‘a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain’ (v. 6), a clear reference to Jesus Christ in his character as the crucified One. He comes and takes the book, at which there begins a mighty chorus of praise, first from the elders and living creatures close to the heavenly throne and then taken up by myriads of angels and finally by ‘every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them’ (v. 13).

In this way John makes his point that the future belongs not to the Roman emperor, nor to any human potentate or ecclesiastic. It belongs to no man or group of men, but only to Christ, the Christ who was crucified for the salvation of us all. He it is who can open the book of human destiny. All of us, and the destiny of all of us, are in his hands. This is recognized by those in highest heaven, by all the angels, and eventually by all that live. This peep behind the scenes brings to John’s readers a glimpse of the realities of power. Real power rests with Christ, the Lion. The appearances may be against it for the present. But ultimate reality is not dependent on present appearances.

Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale NTC 20; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 22-23.

Hence, the More than Conquerors approach came to seem much more sensible to me. The parallels seem obvious once someone pointed them out to me. And there are, of course, many references to events in First Century Rome that are used in the Revelation to make John’s points about resisting evil. It fits.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t quite complete. Something was missing.

Dispensational Pre-millennialism

I don’t believe in a Rapture that carries believers off to  heaven while the damned are “left behind” for the reasons stated earlier. I think we’re in the Millennium right now — the Messianic age.

So I’m not sure whether that makes me amillennial. I believe there is a 1000-year reign. I just don’t take the time literally, and I think it’s already begun. Jesus reigns!

The Left Behind and similar interpretations of the Revelation are not only mistaken, they severely distort the book — making it into a document that supports war by Christians on others. This school of thought only goes back to the 19th Century and is built on a flawed dispensational theory.

The Wikipedia gives the history —

John Nelson Darby is recognized as the father of dispensationalism, which was later adopted, modified significantly and then made popular in the United States by Cyrus Scofield’s Scofield Reference Bible. …

As there was no Christian teaching of a “rapture” before Darby began preaching about it in the 1830s, he is sometimes credited with originating the “secret rapture” theory wherein Christ will suddenly remove his bride, the Church, from this world before the judgments of the tribulation. Dispensationalist beliefs about the fate of the Jews and the re-establishment of the Kingdom of Israel put dispensationalists at the forefront of Christian Zionism, because “God is able to graft them in again”, and they believe that in his grace he will do so according to their understanding of Old Testament prophecy. They believe that, while the methodologies of God may change, his purposes to bless Israel will never be forgotten, just as he has shown unmerited favour to the Church, he will do so to a remnant of Israel to fulfill all the promises made to the genetic seed of Abraham.

Dispensationalism was introduced to North America by James Inglis (1813–72), by a monthly magazine named Waymarks in the Wilderness, published intermittently between 1854 and 1872. …

Dispensationalism began to evolve during this time, most significantly when a significant body of dispensationalists proposed the “pre-tribulation” rapture. This caused a dispute with the “historical premillennialists” of the same the Fundamentalist philosophy. …

The efforts of CI Scofield and his associates introduced dispensationalism to a wider audience in America by his Scofield Reference Bible. The publication of the Scofield Reference Bible during 1909 by the Oxford University Press for the first time displayed overtly dispensationalist notes on the pages of the Biblical text. The Scofield Reference Bible became a popular Bible used by independent Evangelicals and Fundamentalists in the United States. 

It’s astonishing how deeply embedded in the American Protestant church these views are despite being only about 200 years old. And these views have deeply impacted American politics.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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One Response to The Revelation: Summary to this Point and a Peek Ahead, Part 2

  1. Gary says:

    Jesus is now reigning over his church but Scripture never speaks of Jesus reigning over this world before his return. This world cannot be both fallen and reigned over by Jesus simultaneously. Matthew 25:31 is clear that the reign of Jesus will begin with his return. “When the son of man comes in his glory and all the angels with him then he will sit on his glorious throne.” The Judgment follows the beginning of Jesus’ reign on this earth. Paul confirms that Jesus is not now the ruler of this world when he refers to Satan as being the ruler of this world. It is important to remember that world and earth are not referring to the same thing in Scripture. We live on the same planet Earth that Noah lived on but Scripture speaks of the world of Noah’s day perishing.

    By the way it should be noted that not all premillennialists believe that the Millennium must be a literal thousand years. Some take it to refer to an indeterminate period of time known only by God.

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