Understanding The Bible
Clarence E. Mason's "REVELATION"
VARIOUS VIEWS on REVELATION
BY THE AUTHOR
Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
- Various views on Revelation.
There are four chief interpretational patterns on the book of Revelation:
- The spiritualizing or allegorical approach.
- The preterist (sometimes spelled praeterist).
- The historical or continuous-historical (including
amillennial and postmillennial). D. The futurist view (held by this College
and most premillennialists).
THE FOUR VIEWS CHARTED AND EXPLAINED
- SPIRITUALIZING OR ALLEGORICAL VIEW
Perhaps the phrase "to spiritualize the text" would
best describe this view. The signs and symbols are alleged to be allegorical
representations of the never-ending conflict between good and evil, truth and
error, God and Satan. Good, truth, and God ultimately win out. The book
describes no specific persons, events, or situations. This is the
spiritualizing method. To chart it:
The blue line arrow coming down to the solid line
at the end does not necessarily imply a personal return of Christ to the earth,
though all historic creeds of Christendom assert it and most believe it. But to
some liberals, this is merely the ultimate victory of good and truth, hence of
Normally this is used of the view that says that
almost all the book is already past (i.e., fulfilled), and that most of this
took place by the time of Constantine, who made Christianity the state religion:
HISTORICAL OR CONTINUOUS-HISTORICAL VIEW
This view started around the 9th century. Romanists
adopted it and the Reformers unfortunately simply took over the view but made
the Pope the Anti-Christ. The seven seals are made to correspond with the seven
churches of Revelation 2-3. According to tins view, the book has been in process
of fulfillment in the history of the whole Christian era, and very little
remains to be fulfilled. Christianity is declared to be the state religion by
Constantine; they then see Turkish invasions as the explanation of hordes of
chapter 9, etc. Most expositors write from the historical viewpoint, unless they
are comparatively recent.
A few present writers use the title j3reterist- historical to emphasize that
most of the book has been historically fulfilled, not by Constantine' s time (as
in view 2 above), but by the present time in which we are living.
Some even try to combine this view with the futurist view (view 4), making what
they call a preterist-historical fulfillment up to the present, leaving only the
coming of Christ for the future. Such people would be technically premillennial,
holding to a post-tribulational view of the future coming of Christ to the
earth. This leaves no distinct future for Israel and, of course, places the
Church on earth when Christ returns to earth. This is a novel combination of
views 2, 3, and 4. But most of those who hold view 3 use the
continuous-historical theory with one of two divergent endings: amillennial or
postmillennial, rather than premillennial.
- AMILLENNIAL (i.e., non-millennial)
For fuller information the student should examine the notes on Eschatology,
when he is eligible to possess them. For purposes of introductory summary, we
should point out that this ending for the continuous-historical view envisions
that Christ returns just before the eternal state, but not to reign on earth.
There is no future 1000 year period when Christ will reign on earth
(personally, bodily, literally) after His second advent. The view envisions no
future for the Jews.
In thus spiritualizing prophecy generally and the millennium particularly, its
method follows the postmillennial hermeneutical approach to the OT. Yet in
emphasizing a literal, cataclysmic, catastrophic, personal, sudden return of
Christ to the earth, it seeks to steal the thunder of the premillennialists
position (who hold the futurist position on Revelation). With
premillennialists they see no gradual improvement of the world; certainly no
world conversion. Many of them think Christ will come in a time of trouble.
But, in their view, when Christ comes, it is the end of time. A general
resurrection and general judgment take place and eternity sets in. The view
embraces more adherents than any other view, including as it does Romanist,
Lutheran, and Reformed theologians (and some of other communions). (Many
amillennialists also follow "covenant theology.")
- POSTMILLENNIAL (after the millennium)
This view formerly held the adherence of a great many people (in America and
Britain particularly, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries up till the
resurgence of amillennialism and premillennialism). Few theologians today
advocate the view. A strange exception is Reformed theology propounder Loraine
Boettner. But he is a lonely voice. The idea is that there is a literal
thousand year period known to God when Christ may be said to be reigning (by
virtue of the spread of the gospel and Christian ethical principles and
legislation). Thus, Christ does not bring in the kingdom. The gospel does,
through education, Sermon on the Mount, etc. When the earth has been made fit
for the King, He comes. According to this view, He will come after the
100Q-years are completed or simply sometime after they begin. Two World Wars
in a lifetime have brought general disillusionment. Most of its former
advocates are now amillennial.
Here is the way postmillennialism would be charted:
In rebuttal to all forms of the historical method of interpretation. Dr. Henry
C. Thiessen has significantly quoted Milligan as follows: "To make
interpretation dependent upon the knowledge of political history is absurd and
opposed to 1:3. "
- FUTURIST VIEW (i.e., most of the book remains to be
The chart for the futurist position follows on a later page. This is the
position which has always been held by Philadelphia College of Bible from its
founding. We understand that chapter 1 gives the Patmos vision of the Risen
Christ. Then, chapters 2-3 give seven messages by our Lord to churches in
(Roman) Asia in the end of the first century (John's day). These letters
provide lessons for individuals and churches throughout the whole church
We also believe that, in the providence of the Lord, these letters are placed
in an order by which our Lord gave us a prophetic foreview of the spiritual
problems significant in each period of Church history as they are viewed in
chronological sequence from John's day till the Lord's return. At the end of
chapter 3, Christ is pictured as outside the door of a lukewarm church,
Thus the large part of the book yet awaits fulfillment (i.e., chs. 4-22),
beginning with the translation or rapture of the Church (1 Thes. 4:16-18),
illustrated by John's being caught up to heaven in spirit at Revelation 4:1.
Dr. Henry C. Thiessen has charted this viewpoint of Revelation thus:
Self Revelation of X
Christ and the Church
the Tribulation 4-19
Christ & the Millennium
Christ and Eternal State
2 & 3
(Vials, or bowls, Chs. 6-19)
Dr. Thiessen declares that Christ's coming is plainly announced by Him as
being imminent, yet He warns it will take a while (Lk. 19:llff., in the
parable of the nobleman). There is expectation ("we that are alive and
remain") but "a far country." He did not go to the far country to set up the
throne (kingdom). This was an historical allusion: Herod the Great willed his
throne to Archelaus, who went to Rome to get it confirmed. But a delegation of
Jews followed saying, "We will not have this man to reign over us." However,
their objection was overruled and the kingdom right was confirmed to Archelaus.
But he had to come back to Palestine to rule. So Christ's kingdom is not in
heaven but on earth. He must come back to earth to rule.
The early Church did believe in the imminent coming of Christ, as witness the
NT and the writings of the Fathers (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, "The Shepherd of
Hermes, " etc.). But two things obscured and eventually caused the view to be
- The idea that Judaism is continued in Christianity (this
finally blossomed into Roman Catholic Church) - Tertullian insisted upon a
special priesthood; Cyprian taught a second sacrifice (in the mass). With
this was incorporated the idea that there must be a special building
(cathedral) for proper worship. The thought of ablutions completed the
concept of Christianity as Judaism continued.
- The view of the imminent coming of Christ was largely
lost by the 4th century, following Emperor Constantine's proclamation of
Christianity as the state religion, with the Bishop of Rome coming into
prominence and power.
Largely through the influence of Augustine' s City of God, the idea that the
kingdom is now on earth prevailed through the Middle Ages. Any other
teaching was proscribed and persecuted (Chiliasts, Montanists, and later
Waldensians and other small sects kept the view alive).
The futurist view has reblossomed since the Reformation. All historic church
creeds state Christ's return to earth, state or imply that the kingdom is to
be set up on earth, and state or imply an imminent coming.
REASONS FOR BELIEVING THE FUTURIST VIEWPOINT
- BELIEF IN VERBAL INSPIRATION IS FOUNDATIONAL TO THIS
- We believe the Holy Spirit gave us the Revelation in
- It is an insult to the Holy Spirit to think there is no
definite program. God is a God of order and His program has a definite
chronological sequence. This book .is not just a few series of 7's all mixed
- IT IS SIGNIFICANT THAT THE WORD "CHURCH" DOES NOT OCCUR
in Chapters 4-19.
- The Church is in heaven when these things take place on
- If the Church were to be in the tribulation on earth,
wouldn't it be mentioned? It is the time of the Wrath of the Lamb (e.g.,
- THE CHURCH IS REFERRED TO SYMBOLICALLY A NUMBER OF
E.g., Lampstands, 24 elders. Bride of Lamb, armies of Heaven (not angels). The
24 elders - God's people, the Church, not angels. They are not disembodied
spirits (for there are thrones, robes, crowns).
- SCRIPTURES TEACH US A TRIBULATION MUST PRECEDE THE
SETTING UP OF THE KINGDOM.
- a. Jews believed a period of unparalleled affliction
would be experienced just prior to the kingdom. (See Zech. 13; two-thirds of
the people of the land will be destroyed.)
- Time of Jacob's Trouble must be put somewhere in time.
Only this futurist view allows room.
- These events precede the standing of His feet on the
Mount of Olives. (Zech. 14)
- THE CHARACTER OF THE SEALS, TRUMPETS, AND BOWLS.
- These picture God's judgment on sinners, not men's
judgment on the Church or on Israel.
- Persecution = Satan's efforts to crush God's people; but
the Tribulation = God's punishment of persecutors.
- THE SHORTNESS OF TIME INVOLVED in Chapters 6-10 (could
not be over 7 years, with emphasis on last 3 1/2 years)
- "1260 days, 42 months, time(s), half a time"; no room for
long extended events of history.
- All the year-day theories have proved untrue when the
supposed time came.
- 9:5 indicates that these time markers are dealing with
literal days. Cannot have symbolic days here.
- THE 70 "WEEKS" CONSTITUTE THE ONLY ADEQUATE EXPLANATION
OF THE PERIOD.
- 69 weeks came to an end at the Cross of Christ.
- With Israel's failure, God chose the Church to witness
This unrevealed period of witness is inserted by the NT into the prophecy
pattern previously presented in the OT between the 69th and 70th weeks.
"Until the end, wars shall be" (Daniel 9).
- All 70 weeks have to do with "thy city, thy people and
(i.e., Daniel's people, Israel, and his city, Jerusalem).
The Church is not in the 69 weeks, so not in the 70th!
Thiessen points out that among the scholars we have some
friends in men like Dean Alford, who fights for premillennialism and two
resurrections; also S. H. Kellogg, etc.
A. T. Robertson was not premillennial, but said that if he
were young again, he probably would be.
To guide our thinking, study this basic chart with explanation
GENERAL PANORAMA OF PROPHETIC EVENTS (CHRONOLOGICALLY LISTED)
(in harmony with Futurist-Premillennial viewpoint)
- The Cross and Pentecost (birthday of Church).
- The Church Age.
- The "last days" of the Church.
- The Translation (Rapture) of the Church: Believing dead
raised; living believers "changed." All of these are caught up to meet the
Lord in the air.
- The Church in heaven during Daniel's 70th Week:
- Judgment Seat of Christ
- Marriage of Lamb
- The Tribulation:
- First 3 1/2 years, "The Beginning of Birthpangs"
- The middle of the week, "The Abomination of Desolation"
- Last 3 1/2 years, "The Great Tribulation"
- The Movements of Armies in the 70th Week, prior to
- The Battle of Armageddon.
- The Descent of our Lord to earth on Mt. Olivet, splitting
it (Valley of Jehoshaphat?).
- The Binding of Satan (in bottomless pit during 1000 years).
- Completion of First Resurrection and Judgments on Living
Gentiles and Jews.
- The Thousand Year Reign of Christ on Earth.
- The Loosing of Satan and Final Revolt at End of 1000 Years.
- Satan Cast: Alive into Lake of Fire (His eternal doom).
- The Day of God and the New Heavens and New Earth (also
called Day of Lord).
- The Second Resurrection and Great White Throne Judgment.
- The Eternal Destiny of the Wicked and Righteous.
- The Deliverance of the Kingdom (all enemies defeated
including death) by the Son to the Father that "God (the Godhead) may be all
The plan of redemption completed forever, 1 Cor. 15:24-28.
The Son's stewardship and self imposed subjection consummated.
THE FUTURIST INTERPRETATION OF REVELATION
Main Divisions (1:19)
*Note: The short arrows at the bottom of the chart at
the end of the CHURCH AGE, before the Tribulation, stand for those living
believers on earth at the Lord's return to the air who go up to meet Him in
their air at the Translation (Rapture) of the Church. Dead believers of
the Church Age also go up but are included with changed living believers in the
solid arrow above the earth time-line. (Of course, unbelieving dead are not
raised then, but after the 1000 years.)
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