- John tells us the book was communicated through signs (Rev 1:1). The NASB translates the word semaino as "communicated". The word is used elsewhere by John to refer to the description of historical events through symbolic language (cf. John 12:33; 18:32; 21:19). We need to remember that symbolism is not a denial of the historicity of an event, rather it is simply a matter of literary genre.
- A Strict Literalistic approach destroys our understanding of Scripture. (cf. John 2:19-22; 6:51-56; 5:39-40; 18:33-37). In fact, in one of the instances where we get a divine interpretation of what John sees the angel actually tells us that these objects are merely symbols of other tangible things (Rev 17:9-12).
- Old Testament prophecy used symbolism to either magnify spiritual truths or dramatically symbolize historical events. For example God did not literally ride a cloud into Egypt to judge that nation (Isa. 19:1)
A second consideration from the Preterist is that Revelation actually presents us with a temporal expectation.
- Revelation 1:1-3 declares the book is about "what must soon take place" and that "the time is near"
- Revelation 22:6, 10 provides us with bookends. Bookends are a literary device to kind of sum up the book. Matthew 1:23 & 28:20 tells us that God is with us, Romans 1:5 & 16:26 shows us that Paul's message to the Romans church was to bring about the obedience of faith. In the latter example Paul's point is that their strife and division between Jew and Gentile was preventing the Gospel from showing its power (Rom 1:16) to bring about the obedience that results from faith.
There are a few objections to the temporal expectation argument presented here. Some say that "John is speaking of God's timing not ours". That is, the time is near for God but not for us since 1000 years is like a day to God (citing 2nd Peter 3:8). Is this a legitimate objection? I don't think so for the following reasons?
- 2nd Peter 3:8 is explaining why God would delay his judgment and blessing. But Revelation is warning of the nearness of temporal judgment. These warnings form as imperatives to the first century church to repent and obey God so they are not caught up in His wrath.
- If this objection is taken seriously then it divorces the imperatives of Revelation from any real historical context. But Revelation was written to real churches, dealing with real problems, giving them real solutions, and real promises. The key is to interpret Revelation like we would other New Testament books. Even though Galatians was written to a real first century church dealing with real historical problems, we can still take those principles and apply them to our current situation. Revelation would be no different if the preterist view is correct.
- How else could John express nearness in time? What else would John have to say besides "the time is near"?
- The language parallels other New Testament references of nearness. Mark 9:1 & Matthew 24:34 present the Kingdom of God & judgment on Jerusalem as realities that will take place within the lifetime of the first century Jews. If we accept that language then why reject it in Revelation?
Now that we know how the Preterist approaches Revelation we can ask how they interpret the book.
The Revelational Theme (1:7)
The main theme of revelation, according to the Preterist, is God warning that He will judge national Israel for killing Jesus. They form this conclusion from the following interpretation.
- The Old Testament system, although done as far as God is concerned, seems to be taking a while to fade away (Hebrews 8:13). The destruction of Jerusalem will put the final nail in the coffin.
- The phrase "coming with the clouds" is typical language for divine judgment (cf. Isa 19:1; Psalms 104:3; 18:7-15)
- This coming of judgment will be especially directed against "those who pierced him" (Rev 1:7). The Preterist would translate the world "earth" as "land" which is a legitimate translation as far as grammar is concerned. There conclusion is that all the tribes of the land, that is the land of Israel, will mourn when Jesus comes in judgment.
The Throne Scene (Rev 4-5)
God prepares John for the judgment visions by showing him God is still on His throne and sovereignly controls the world (4:2-6, 11). The four living creatures that surround the throne are full of eyes, thus they are watching over all creation (4:6). John sees a paradox. He hears about a mighty Lion but turns to see a Lamb (paradox 1) that is standing as if slain (paradox 2). Judaism looked for a mighty lion and was scandalized to behold a little lamb. Next comes the Sealed Scroll (5:1). There are four considerations the Preterist wants us to consider with the scroll.
- Applies to 1st Century events for “the time is near”
- Refers to Israel, for Revelation’s theme refers to “those who pierced him”
- Has OT warrant, for the influence of the OT on Revelation is overwhelming
- Consistent with the flow of Revelation (series of 7’s; bowls, seals, plagues)
Next time we will describe the Preterist view of Revelation 6-22. What did you find that you agreed or disagreed with thus far?