Troublesome Topic: 4 Major Interpretive Methods Applied to Revelation

Although there are a great many ways to interpret the book of Revelation, there are actually four major methods of interpretation and they form what I call four “camps.” These four “camps” are as follows:

1. The Preterists believed/believe that the things described in Revelation were political, economic, and military events which were fulfilled shortly after John’s death. It was all done and over with in just a short period of time; all of it pertained to the Roman Empire. According to this interpretation, the book of Revelation was pertinent to people of John’s day and shortly thereafter, but it means nothing to us today.

2. The historicists thought/think Revelation is a brief description of political, economic, and military events to take place between the time of John the Revelator and the end of the age. As such, some of it has been fulfilled and some of it has not. Most of the reformers placed themselves in this camp.

3. The futurists held/hold that almost everything in Revelation has to do with the political, economic and military events of the very end of time. Very little of it has been fulfilled yet. Most Christians alive today place themselves in this camp because almost all the Bible scholars, writers and preachers think Revelation is about geo-political events in the future. Whether someone is pre-trib, post-trib or mid-trib, all futurists fall into the same major camp. There are differences in the way people interpret the rapture, the tribulation and the millennium, but all futurists are lumped into this one camp when it comes to the major interpretive methods.

4. The Idealists suggested/suggest that Revelation is not about political, economic, and military fulfillments, but rather it should be seen as allegory, symbolism, or spiritual ideals. I am in this camp. There have been some strange applications of this interpretive method, for it allows for many variations. One of the reasons this group is so broad is that any interpretation that is not focused on geo-political events is thrown into this camp.

I do not think Revelation is an allegory, but it is definitely symbolism. The message, the power, and the beauty of this vision were communicated through its symbolism. If you miss the ancient meaning of the symbols, you have missed the message of the vision and the power it conveys.

The next lesson is: What Can We Know for Sure about the Future?