Interpreting the Book of Revelation

Revelation has a wide variety of interpretations, ranging from the simple literal interpretation, to the message that we should have faith that God will prevail (symbolic interpretation), to complex end time scenarios (futurist interpretation), to the views of critics who deny any spiritual value to Revelation at all and should not have been in the Bible at all.

In the early Christian era, Christians generally understood the book to predict future events, especially an upcoming millennium of paradise on earth. In the late classical and medieval eras, the Church disavowed the millennium as a literal thousand-year kingdom. With the Protestant Reformation, opponents of Roman Catholicism adopted a historicist interpretation, in which the predicted apocalypse is believed to be playing out in church history. A Jesuit scholar countered with preterism, the belief that Revelation predicted events that actually occurred as predicted in the 1st century. In the 19th century, futurism (belief that the predictions refer to future events) largely replaced historicism among conservative Protestants.


The Historicist View

Historicist sees Revelation as spread out history of the world.

The vision of the seals, trumpets, and bowls as well as the interludes, are explained as  prophetic of salvation history, that is, unfolding and which will continue till the fulfillment of the Kingdom.  Therefore this view has also been called the continuist view.

The beginning of historicism has been attributed to Joachim of Fiore (1132-1202) and Nicolas of Lyra (1270–1349) a Frasciscan Monk.  Fiore's diagram were very imaginatively drawn.  Here are a few.






Joachim's three circles of History
From Joachim's Liber Figurarum. MS CCC 255A f.7v, Bodleian Library, Oxford

Tree of Generations
showing three historic periods of the activity of Father, Son and the Holy Spirit

"Joachim's great insight about history is what is often called his view of the three statuses, or three eras of history. And it's fundamentally rooted in the Trinity. If Christians believe that God is three-fold (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), Joachim then said that the Bible reveals that if the Old Testament was the time of the Father, the New Testament the time of the Son, there must be a coming third status or era of history that is ascribed to and special to the Holy Spirit, who gives the deep understanding of the meaning of both Old and New Testaments.

"In this chart, Joachim illustrates his theory of the three overlapping eras of history.
The first era, the time of the Father, was the age of the Old Testament.
The second is the time of Christ, in which Joachim believed he was living.
The third and final era would be the age of the Spirit, a monastic era of contemplation, which would come after the crisis precipitated by the reign of the Antichrist. There would come a new era of the Church on earth, the contemplative utopia of the Holy Spirit, a monastic era of contemplation.

That's the heart of Joachim's great vision and contribution to western apocalypticism."
(PBS California http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/apocalypse/explanation/joachim.html)

According to this view the whole history is presented in symbolic form from Apostolic age through the end of the age. The symbols in the apocalypse correspond to events in the history of Western Europe , including various popes, the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, and rulers such as Charlemagne. Most interpreters place the events of their day in the later chapters of Revelation.

·         Chapters 2-3: as seven periods in church age as well as seven types of churches at every age. I have used this interpretation in my book "Seven Churches of Revelation" which was done over forty years ago.

·         Chapters 4-7: the breaking of the seals symbolizes the fall of the Roman Empire .

·          Chapters 8-10: the Trumpet judgments represent the invasions of the Roman Empire by the Vandals, Huns, Saracens, and Turks. Among Protestant historicists it stood for the Reformation, while the antichrist was identified with the papacy.

·         Chapters 11-13 represent the true church in its struggle against Roman Catholicism.

·         Revelation 14-19: the bowl judgments represent God’s judgment on the Catholic Church culminating in the overthrow of Catholicism.





Throne and elders

In the Kingdom with the earth at rest.


6 seals -- judgements

Events in Western Roman Empire (AD 96-324)


Sealing of 144,000

Preaching of the Truth (AD 96 - latter days)
Description of the righteous in the kingdom.


4 trumpets - judgements

Events in Western Roman Empire (AD 395-476)


5th trumpet (1st woe) judgement

Events in Eastern Roman Empire (AD 1062-1453)


Rainbowed Angel

Description of the righteous judging and teaching the nations


Holy City and 2 Witnesses (2nd woe)

Events in Western Empire (AD 312-1794)


Wrath of God on the nations (7th trumpet, 3rd woe)

Events in the earth leading to establishment of the kingdom


Great Red Dragon
War in Heaven
Persecution of Woman

Events in Western Roman empire describing developments of the beast, the religious communities and ecclesia outlined in 11:1-14 (AD 107-1572)


Beast of the Sea
Beast of the Earth
Image of the Beast

Successive developments in Western Roman Empire describing the character of the beast mentioned in 11:1-14 (AD 324-1870)


Lamb on Mt. Zion
Judgements on the final phase of the Beast -- Babylon the great -- and the world

Destiny of those against whom the powers defined in chapters 12 and 13 have waged war. This is an introductory vision. More details are given in 16:19; 17:1-19:21.


7 Vials of wrath of God

Events in the Western and Eastern section of the Roman Empire culminating in Armageddon and the establishment of the Kingdom (AD 1795-?)


Judgment on the Harlot (RV)

Description of the development of the Harlot and the destruction of the Catholic System


King of King and Lord of Lords

Future subjugation of the beast, the false prophet and the whole world to the victorious armies of Christ


Chaining of Dragon and final rebellion

The introduction of the Millennium and the subsequent rebellion at the end of the 1000 year reign of Christ.

C. Parry. http://www.antipas.org/books/revelation_pearce/revp_appendix2.html

There is no consistent interpretation using this method as each generation interpreted Revelation contexually.  As such no consensus exists.  All such interpretations were based in the West and took only the Western Churches and did not involve the Eastern History.

The charts that explain the historic interpretation is taken from http://www.ltradio.org

Front Cover




In my book on "The Seven Churches" the historic interpretation of the seven churches represented by the Churches as they develop in time as well as varying characteristics of churches in the world space at any given time.









Prominent scholars who held this view include John Wycliffe, John Knox, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Finney, C. H. Spurgeon, and Matthew Henry. This view became prominent during the reformation and within the reformation churches and hence only in the western churches. 


The Preterist View

 Preter means “past,” is derived from the Latin.   "Preterists" believe that all Bible prophecy is past history.  At the heart of the doctrine is that prophecy was declared and destined to be fulfilled within the generation of Messiah Yeshua's earthly ministry. 

Full Preterists,  (consistent preterism, true preterism, hyper-preterism and  pantelism (pan ="everything", and tel, completion) believe that all the prophecies found in Revelation were fulfilled in AD 70 and that we are now living in the eternal state, or the new heavens and the new earth.

 It will evidently require that  Revelation was not written in 95 AD but before 70 AD

Proof texts:

(Lk. 3:14).  [When John the Baptist appeared,] "the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or no" 

 (Mk. 1:15). Jesus began his ministry proclaiming the kingdom and reign of Christ, saying: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" 

(Matthew 10:23) When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

(Matthew 16:27-28) For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. [28] I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

( Matthew 24:34) I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

Time Texts which lead to believe that the fulfillment of the Apocalypse had to occur during the first century. ( Gary DeMar) These are:

1) The events "must shortly (táchos) take place." (1:1).
2) "For the time is near." (eggús) (1:3).
3) "I am coming to you quickly (tachús)." (2:16).
4) "I am coming quickly (tachús)." (3:11).
5) "The third woe is coming quickly (tachús)." (11:14).
6) "The things which must shortly (táchos) take place." (22:6).
7) "Behold, I am coming quickly (tachús)." (22:7).
8) "For the time is near." (eggús) (22:10).
9) "Behold, I am coming quickly (tachús)." (22:12).
10) "Yes, I am coming quickly (tachús)." (22:20).

Clement of Alexandria (A.D.150-215)  "But our Master did not prophesy after this fashion; but, as I have already said, being a prophet by an inborn and every-flowing Spirit, and knowing all things at all times, He confidently set forth, plainly as I said before, sufferings, places, appointed times, manners, limits. Accordingly, therefore, prophesying concerning the temple, He said: "See ye these buildings? Verily I say to you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another which shall not be taken away [Matt. 24:3]; and this generation shall not pass until the destruction begin [Matt. 24:34]. . . ." And in like manner He spoke in plain words the things that were straightway to happen, which we can now see with our eyes, in order that the accomplishment might be among those to whom the word was spoken.63 (Clementine Homilia, 3:15. See Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, 8:241.)

Henry Hudson  "Many commentators play around with the word 'generation' (genea), and thinking to avoid embarrassment, project its application to the generation which will be alive during the last days immediately preceding the Second Coming of the Messiah. Others, expand its meaning to include the whole nation of Israel , which, in spite of the intensity of the great tribulation, will nevertheless be preserved as a nation right up till the end of the present age. However, if Scripture be compared with Scripture, such verbal games are soon exposed as being nothing but armchair gymnastics (cf. Matthew 11:16; 12:41-45; 23:36; Luke 11:50, 51; Hebrews 3:10). The word is generally used to signify a people belonging to a particular period of time, or more loosely, to a period defined by what might be considered as an average life span of a man." (Echoes of the Ministry, Vol. 11, No. 2, p. 32)

New Bible Commentary, 21st (1994)   "Christ's use of the words 'immediately after' does not leave room for a long delay (2,000 years or more before his literal second coming occurs, neither) does the explicit time-scale given in Matthew 24:34. The word 'parousia' does not occur in this section but is prominently reintroduced in the new paragraph which begins at Matthew 24:36, where its unknown time is contrasted with the clear statement that the events of this paragraph will take place within 'this generation" (Matthew 24:36). This section is therefore in direct continuity with what has gone before, the account of the siege of Jerusalem . Here we reach its climax." (P. 936)

David Turner (1989)  "'This generation' applies to Jesus' contemporaries who lived to see the destruction of Jerusalem ; 'all these things' (Matt. 24:34) is limited by the contextual fig tree analogy to the events marking the course of the ages, particularly the events of A.D.70." ["The Structure and Sequence of Matthew 24," Grace Theological Journal 10 (Spr 1989): 3-27, p.3]

Eusebius of Caesarea (c. AD 263 – 339) even though he does not mention Revelation explicitly. In his 'Theophania' he states:  "But the things which took place afterwards, did our Saviour, from his foreknowledge as THE WORD or GOD, foretell should come to pass, by means of those which are (now) before us. For He named the whole Jewish people, the children of the City; and the Temple , He styled their House. And thus He testified, that they should, on their own wicked account, bear the vengeance thus to be inflicted. And, it is right we should wonder at the fulfilment of this prediction, since at no time did this place undergo such an entire desolation as this was. He pointed out moreover, the cause of their desolation when He said, "If thou hadst known, even in this day, the things of thy peace:" intimating too His own coming, which should be for the peace of the whole world. But, when ye shall see it reduced by armies, know ye that which comes upon it, to be a final and full desolation and destruction. He designates the desolation of Jerusalem , by the destruction of the Temple , and the laying aside of those services which were, according to the law of Moses, formerly performed within it. The manner more over of the captivity, points out the war. of which He spoke; "For (said He) there shall be (great) tribulation upon the land, and great wrath upon this people : and they shall fall by the edge of the sword." We can learn too, from the writings of Flavius Josephus, how these things took place in their localities, and how those, which had been foretold by our Saviour, were, in fact, fulfilled. On this account He said, "Let those who are in its borders not enter into it, since these are the days of vengeance, that all may be fulfilled which has been written." Any one therefore, who desires it, may learn the results of these things from the writings of Josephus."

Preterism as an organized system of logic initially was the response of the Catholic interpreters to  the Protestant historicist pointing the Pope as Anti-Christ.  It was proposed by the Jesuit priest Luis de Alcazar (1554-1613).  His book Vestigatio arcani sensus in Apocalypsi "Investigation of the Hidden Sense of the Apocalypse" (1614) published after his death, putting forward the preterist view of Biblical prophecy which considers everything in the Apocalypse, apart from the three final chapters, to events that have already come to pass. He rejected any connection of prophecy identifying the Catholic Church as the great whore as the Historicist attempted.  The papacy was totally exonerated as the rule of Christ through the  holy Vicar of Christ -Pope - until the end of the world.

The Revelation history is restated in the following way:

Revelation 1-11: the rejection of the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70
Revelation 12 - 19:  the overthrow of Roman paganism (the great harlot) and the conversion of the Roman Empire as Christendom.
Revelation 20:  the final persecutions by Antichrist, who is identified as Cæsar Nero (54-68 A.D.), and judgment. .  The 1,000 years of Revelation 20 referred to the struggle of the Christian life through history.
Revelation 21 -22:  the triumph of the New Jerusalem identified with the Roman Catholic Church

"This We Believe"

A Preterist Statement of Faith
http://www.preteristcentral.com/Preterist Creed.html

 We believe that the scriptures are the verbally inspired word of God; not just the thoughts, but the very words themselves (verbissima ipsi) were chosen by God for the revelation of his will to mankind.   

We believe the authenticity, historicity, inerrancy, immutability, providential preservation, transmission, and canonicity of the scriptures. 

We believe that the scriptures must be interpreted according to the intent of the author (the Holy Ghost); no interpretation is valid that sets forth a meaning the author did not intend.  Allowing for the customary habits and usages of speech, words are to be understood according to their literal meaning, unless the author intends otherwise. 

We believe that the historical narratives of Genesis were intended to affirm the truth of the facts that they recite.  We deny that the historical narratives of Genesis can be interpreted by the same principles as the poetic language and imagery of the prophets: God created the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them in the space of six evenings and mornings (24 hour days); Adam and Eve were the first created human beings; all men trace their decent from the common biological parentage of Adam and Eve.   

We believe all men are subject to a fallen nature, received by inheritance from man’s common ancestor; this fallen nature results from the loss of God’s indwelling Spirit (inspiration) breathed into Adam at the time of his creation;  all men are therefore subject to the carnality of their flesh, and the motions of sin in their members. 

We believe that the law of sin and death is appended to every commandment of God and transgression of men.  Moral law, restraining and condemning the carnality and viciousness of fallen man, has existed in every age and generation; sin has always been reckoned and punished by God.  The wickedness of man brought upon the world a universal flood of which Noah and his son, his wife and his sons' wives were the only survivors. 

The Mosaic law entered to show man his sin that existed under the moral law; it did not create that sin.  The ceremonial rites of the Mosaic law foreshadowed the redemptive work of Christ: Blood to redeem, water to cleanse, mediation to restore.

We believe in the deity, incarnation, and virgin birth of Jesus Christ. 

We believe in the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. 

We believe in the substitutionary death and atoning blood of Jesus.  Christ’s death triumphed over the law of sin and death, and relinquished the debt and bond of sin for all that believe and obey the gospel.  Men must come to salvation one by one through the obedience of faith. 

The cross alone changes man’s standing before the throne and is complete in itself for man’s salvation.  The law of Moses was impressed with no especial power of sin and death not extant in the moral law binding upon all men today.  Christ died to save man from the bondage of sin under the law of sin and death, not the Mosaic law; annulment of the ceremonial law was irrelevant in terms of accomplishing man’s salvation; removal of the Mosaic law was not necessary to defeat sin and death. Christ's cross triumphed over the law of sin and death, giving man victory.   

We believe the events normally associated with Christ’s second coming were accomplished with the events culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The eschaton was a time of world-wide judgment for the disobedience of man in rejecting the gospel and persecuting Christ’s church. 

The destruction of Jerusalem had no significance beyond Christ’s vengeance upon the sinful nation, a sign of heaven's reprobation of the temple service, and vindication of Christ's divine kingdom and sonship. 

The last enemy was Hadean death, which kept the soul of man from the presence of God in heaven.  Sin was defeated in Christ’s cross, but Hadean death remained to be defeated until the intercessory work of Christ was accomplished in heaven, at which time Christ descended to vindicate his gospel, avenge his saints, and raise the dead (viz., A.D. 67-70). 

The resurrection consists in the spirit or soul of man, not his flesh or physical body.  The general resurrection consisted in the release of all souls from Hades, which was then destroyed.  At death, the souls of men now go directly to their respective rewards – eternal life in heaven, or destruction of the soul in Hell.

Among Protestants it was first accepted by Hugo Grotius,  a Dutch Protestant who wrote ‘Commentary on Certain Texts Which Deal with Antichrist’ (1640), and ‘Commentaries On The New Testament' (1641-1650),  in which he attempted to argue that the texts relating to Antichrist had their fulfillment in the 1st century AD.  



Hugo Grotius (1583 - 1645)

Full preterists argue that a literal reading of Matthew 16:28 (where Jesus tells the disciples that some of them would not taste death until they saw him coming in his kingdom) places the second coming in the first century. This precludes a physical second coming of Christ. Instead, the second coming is symbolic of a "judgment" against Jerusalem that is said to have taken place when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70. For this reason, some people also call full preterism "The AD 70 Doctrine."

The kingdom is the dominion of Christ over earth, which he obtained at his ascension.

At death the saints now receive their immortal body and are translated to heaven and "literal rapture" view cannot be squared with history.

What was the marriage of the Lamb? The marriage was the point at which the Lord returned from heaven to dwell with his bride, and the church was clothed with the new Jerusalem, the capital city and earthly seat of Christ's throne.


Partial preterism

Partial preterists (orthodox preterism, classical preterism or moderate preterism.) believe that most of the prophecies of Revelation were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem but that chapters 20-22 point to future events regarding the return of Jesus to the earth resurrection of those who are dead  and the"Judgment Seat of Christ   They do not believe in rapture, a literal Millennium, Battle of Armageddon, literal antichrist, or a role for national Israel.

The book of Revelation was written to encourage the saints to persevere under the persecution of the Roman Empire because eventually Christendom will come. 


Partial preterism,  holds to two second comings of Christ, one that occurred in A.D. 70 as a parousia and as a day of the Lord for the purpose of judging the Jewish nation, and one that will occur universally at the climax of human history as the final and ultimate day of the Lord. 

Partial preterism holds that most eschatological prophecies, such as
the destruction of Jerusalem ,
the Antichrists,
the Great Tribulation, and
the advent of the Day of the Lord as a "judgment-coming" of Christ,
were fulfilled either in A.D. 70  or during the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Nero.  

Some partial preterists identify " Babylon the Great" (Revelation 17-18) with the pagan Roman Empire .

Most interpretations identify Nero as the Beast,  while his mark is often interpreted as the stamped image of the emperor's head on every coin of the Roman Empire : the stamp on the hand or in the mind of all, without which no one could buy or sell.  However, others believe the Book of Revelation was written after Nero committed suicide in AD 68, and identify the Beast with another emperor.


The Catholic Encyclopedia has noted that Revelation was "written during the latter part of the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian, probably in A.D. 95 or 96".  Additional Protestant scholars are in agreement.  The Second coming and the resurrection of the dead, however, have not yet occurred in the partial preterist system.


Here is a strong defence from the   http://www.preteristarchive.com/Preterism/Progressive/2002_simmons_what-is-pret.html

"What is Preterism?  Preterism upholds the authority and integrity of the word of God against theories of purported postponement and double fulfillment.  Preterism is the affirmation that prophecy culminated and came to an end in Christ, and that Christ's prophetic utterances were fulfilled when and as he said they would.

"For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.  Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom."  (Matt. 16:27,28)  Luke states that the kingdom and reign of Christ would come in the events marking the destruction of Jerusalem :  "So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.  Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.  (Lk. 21:31,32; cf. II Tim. 4:1)   The return of the Messiah would be in that generation; some of the apostles would live to witness it.  Just before his ascension, John was expressly named among the disciples who would be alive at Christ's return: "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow me."  (Jno. 21:22) 

"The nearness of Christ's Second Coming is affirmed over and over.  Paul said, "But this I say, Brethren, the time is short."  (I Cor. 7:29)  James said, "the coming of the Lord draweth nigh...the judge standeth before the door."  (Jm. 5:8,9)  Peter stated, "the end of all things is at hand." (I Pet. 4:,7)  The Hebrew writer makes several unmistakable statements to this effect when he says, "For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry."  (Heb. 10:37)  The nearness of the day is seen in the fact that his readers would "see the day approaching."  (Heb. 10:25)

"The apostle John indicated the nearness of the end when he stated they were in the "last time" (Grk. hora, "hour"):  "Little children, it is the last time; and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time."  (I Jno. 2:18)  The nearness of Christ's return is repeated over and over throughout Revelation in unmistakable terms, saying, the "time is at hand"  (Rev. 1:4; 22:10), "Behold, I come quickly" (Rev. 2:5,16; 3:11; 22:12,20), "Behold, I come as a thief"  (Rev. 3:3; 16:15), and the things of the prophecy "must shortly be done." (Rev. 1:1; 22:6)

"There is nothing difficult in any of this language; all who will may plainly see that Jesus and his apostles taught the first century church to be in earnest expectation of the Lord's return.  The difficulty arises not so much from the announced time of Christ's return, but understanding its manner.  Because men have been taught that Christ's return would mark the end of the universe, its continued existence beyond the specified time frame has forced them to explain away the express statements of time by resort to theories of delayed fulfillment or double fulfillment, and assertions that Christ and the apostles were simply wrong.  Preterism rejects all such theories, maintaining that the time elements cannot be disregarded or explained away consistent with the doctrine of verbal inspiration.  The very authority of the scriptures is at stake!



points out that, Pterism will make the gospel null and void in this graphic representation.









Charts from http://www.preteristarchive.com/ChurchHistory/
For a refutation of Preterism see:  http://www.letgodbetrue.com/pdf/preterism.pdf

The Futurist View

Futurism is a Christian eschatological view that interprets the Book of Revelation, the Book of Daniel, the Olivet discourse and the parable of the Sheep and the Goats as future events in a literal, physical, apocalyptic, and global context.

To counter the Protestant interpretation of historicism,  Roman Catholic Jesuit Francisco Ribera (1537-1591) wrote a 500 page commentary on the Book of Revelation entitled Sacrum Beati Ioannis Apostoli, & Evangelistiae Apocalypsin Commentarij. This commentary established the futurist interpretation of Bible prophecy.

The futurist view assigns all or most of the prophecy to the future, shortly before the second coming; especially when interpreted in conjunction with Daniel, Isaiah 2:11-22, 1 Thessalonians 4:15–5:11, and other eschatological sections of the Bible.  Ribera proposed that the first few chapters of the Apocalypse applied to ancient pagan Rome, and the rest he limited to a yet future period of 3½ literal years, immediately prior to the second coming.


Cardinal Robert Bellarmine S.J.(1542-1621), a Jesuit apologists, published a work between 1581 and 1593 entitled Polemic Lectures Concerning the Disputed Points of the Christian Belief Against the Heretics of This Time, in which he also denied the day = year principle in prophecy and pushed the reign of antichrist into a future period of 3½ literal years.


Manuel De Lacunza (1731–1801), a Jesuit from Chile , wrote a manuscript in Spanish titled La Venida del Mesías en Gloria y Magestad (“The Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty”), under the pen name of Juan Josafa [Rabbi] Ben-Ezra about 1791. Lacunza wrote under an assumed Jewish name to obscure the fact that he was a Catholic, in order to give his book better acceptance in Protestantism.  Edward Irving (1792-1834), a Scottish Presbyterian and forerunner of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, translated Lacunza’s work from Spanish into English in a book titled The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty with a Preliminary Discourse, published in London in 1827







Soon it was taken over by the Protestant Theologians like  John Nelson Darby (1800–1882) of Plymoth Brothren, Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921) of the Scofield Bible, Charles C. Ryrie (1800-1880) of The Ryrie Study Bible,  and many later ministries.



Darby, Scofield and Ryrie

History of the development of dispensationalism

Futurist interpretations generally predict a resurrection of the dead and a rapture of the living, wherein all true believers are gathered to Christ at the time God's kingdom comes on earth. They also believe a tribulation will occur - a seven year period of time when believers will experience worldwide persecution and martyrdom.  But there are difference in when will the rapture occur.                                                   

They follow a literal interpretation of the Revelation.

 Rev 1:19: “what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.”
gives three time periods contained in the book.

Chapter 1 describes the past (“what you have seen”),
chapters 2-3 describe the present (“what is now”), and
the rest of the book describes future events (“what will take place later”).

Chapters 4-19 refer to a period known as the seven-year tribulation (Dan. 9:27). During this time, God’s judgments are actually poured out upon mankind as they are revealed in the seals, trumpets, and bowls.
Chapter 13 describes a literal future world empire headed by a political and religious leader represented by the two beasts.
Chapter 17 pictures a harlot who represents the church in apostasy.
Chapter 19-20 refers to Christ’s second coming and the battle of Armageddon followed by a literal thousand-year rule of Christ upon the earth.
Chapters 21-22 are events that follow the millennium: the creation of a new heaven and a new earth and the arrival of the heavenly city upon the earth.

The three primary views are:

Rapture occurs
1) before the tribulation;
2) at midpoint of the tribulation;
3) at the end of the tribulation.
4) There is an ongoing multiple raptures throughout the tribulation.

All four views hold that Christians will return with Christ at the end of the Tribulation.

Premillennialism believes that Christ will return to the earth, bind Satan, and reign for a thousand years on earth with Jerusalem as his capital. (Rev 20)  There are generally two subclasses of Premillennialism: Dispensational and Historic. Some form of premillennialism is thought to be the oldest millennial view in church history.  Papias, believed to be a disciple of the Apostle John, was a premillenialist, according to Eusebius. Also Justin Martyr and Irenaeus expressed belief in premillennialism in their writings.

Amillennialism, the traditional view for Roman Catholicism, believes that the thousand years mentioned are not  a literal thousand years, but is figurative for today which is called the church age which comes between the ascension and the second coming of Jesus.  This view is often associated with Augustine of Hippo. 

Postmillennialism believes that Christ will return after  a literal or figurative thousand years, in which the world will have essentially become a Christendom. This view was held by Jonathan Edwards (1703 -1758)

Proponents of all three views also generally portray Israel as unwittingly signing a seven year peace treaty with the Antichrist, which initiates the seven year Tribulation. Many also tend to view the Antichrist as head of a revived Roman Empire , but the geographic location of this empire is unknown.

 Hal Lindsey suggests that this revived Roman Empire will be centered in western Europe, with Rome as its capital.

Tim LaHaye promotes the belief that a new world wide  Empire will arise with Babylon as its capital.  

 Hal Lindsy, Tim La Haye and Jerry Jenkins popularised the concept  rapture through books and movies.    

Among futurists there are differing views about what will happen to Christians during the Tribulation:

           Pretribulationists believe that all Christians (dead and alive) will be taken bodily up to Heaven (called the Rapture) before the Tribulation begins.  According to this theory, every true Christian that has ever existed throughout the course of the entire Christian era will be instantaneously transformed into a perfect resurrected body, and will thus escape the trials of the Tribulation. Those who become Christians after the rapture will live through (or perish during) the Tribulation. After the Tribulation, Christ will return to establish His Millennial Kingdom.

           Prewrath Tribulationists believe the Rapture will occur during the tribulation, halfway through or after, but before the seven bowls of the wrath of God.

           Seventh Trumpet Tribulationists believe the rapture will occur during the tribulation, halfway through or after, but before the seven bowls of the wrath of God. Specifically, at the sound of the Seventh Trumpet (Rev. 11:15, 1 Cori. 15:52).

           Midtribulationists believe that the Rapture will occur halfway through the Tribulation, but before the worst part of it occurs. The seven year period is divided into halves - the "beginning of sorrows" and the "great tribulation".

           Posttribulationists believe that Christians will not be taken up into Heaven, but will be received or gathered by Christ into the Kingdom of God on earth at the end of the Tribulation. "Immediately after the tribulation ... then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man [Jesus] ... and he shall gather his elect" (Matthew 24:29–31; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-27). The idea of a post-tribulation rapture can also be read into 2 Peter 3:10-13 where Christ's return is equated with the "elements being melted" and "the earth also and the works therein shall be burned up."[improper synthesis?]

In pretribulationism and midtribulationism, the Rapture and the Second Coming (or Greek, par[a]ousia) of Christ are separate events, while in post-tribulationism the two events are identical or simultaneous. Another feature of the pre- and mid-tribulation beliefs is the idea that after the Rapture, Christ will return for a third time (when also counting the first coming) to set up his kingdom on the earth.

 Charles Ryrie  states,

"Symbols, figures of speech and types are all interpreted plainly in this method, and they are in no way contrary to literal interpretation. After all, the very existence of any meaning for a figure of speech depends on the reality of the literal meaning of the terms involved. Figures often make the meaning plainer, but it is the literal, normal, or plain meaning that they convey to the reader.

Futurists acknowledge the use of figures and symbols. When figurative language is used, one must look at the context to find the meaning. However, figurative language does not justify allegorical interpretation.

"Futurists contend that the literal interpretation of Revelation finds its roots in the ancient church fathers. Elements of this teaching, such as a future millennial kingdom, are found in the writings of Clement of Rome (AD 96), Justin Martyr (AD 100-165), Irenaeus (AD 115-202), Tertullian (AD 150-225) and others. Futurists hold that the church fathers taught a literal interpretation of Revelation until Origen (AD 185-254) introduced allegorical interpretation. This then became the popular form of interpretation when taught by Augustine (AD 354-430).  Literal interpretation of Revelation remained throughout the history of the church and rose again to prominence in the modern era.

"The futurist view is widely popular among evangelical Christians today. One of the most popular versions on futurist teaching is dispensational theology, promoted by schools such as Dallas Theological Seminary and Moody Bible Institute. Theologians such as Charles Ryrie, John Walvoord, and Dwight Pentecost are noted scholars of this position. Tim LaHaye made this theology popular in the culture with his end times series of novels.

"Unfortunately, there have been and continue to be popular preachers who mistakenly apply the futurist approach to connect current events to the symbols in Revelation. Some have even been involved in setting dates of Christ’s return. Although their writings have been popular, they do not represent a Biblical futurist view.

"Critics of this view argue that the futurist view renders the book irrelevant to the original readers of the first century. Another criticism is that Revelation is apocalyptic literature and thus meant to be interpreted allegorically or symbolically rather than literally. Hank Hanegraaff states, “Thus, when a Biblical writer uses a symbol or an allegory, we do violence to his intentions if we interpret it in a strictly literal manner.” 

The Idealist View

The Spiritual view (Idealist view) does not see the all of Revelation as predicting specific events in history. Rather it sees the visions as expressing eternal spiritual truths that find expression throughout history. This is expressed in the allegorical  and symbolic way and hence any method to interpret the Book of Revelation should simply be trying to find the meaning in those symbols.  If words are sound symbols whose meanings are determined by the hearer and the written words are symbols in form, so also are symbols of images depicted in the book of Visions and Revelations.   These symbols in themselves have no meaning.  Meanings are imposed within the culture in which it is developed.

 It is the spirit in which the history moves is what is prophecy.  If at all only in the last few chapters are specifically predictive eschatological history. There is an ongoing struggle between God's eternal purposes and the freedom of choice given to Man by God in the creation as Sons of God in all realm.  God deals with the issues of Freedom to ultimately direct it to redemption of all creation. This is the story of Revelation. It is this eternal struggle that is portrayed in the book of Revelation

The allegorical approach to Revelation was introduced by ancient church father Origen (AD 185-254) and made prominent by Augustine (AD 354-420). However if we insist of a one to one correspondence of allegorical elements we can run against the wall and mis-interpretation.

According to this view, the events of Revelation are not tied to specific historical events. The imagery of the book symbolically presents the ongoing struggle throughout the ages of God against Satan (as the ultimate expression of sentient freedom of created beings) which is seen and commonly referred to as the struggle between good and evil. In this struggle, the saints are persecuted and martyred by the forces of evil but will one day receive their vindication. In the end, God is victorious, and His sovereignty is displayed throughout ages.  Zorastrian connection has developed the idea of duality of forces within the Jewish culture though it is theologically non-Judaic.  This is certainly reflected in the Revelation Visions.

 The beast from the sea may be identified as the satanically-inspired political opposition to the church in any age.

The beast from the land represents pagan, or corrupt, religion to Christianity.

The harlot represents the compromised church, or the seduction of the world in general.

Each seal, trumpet, or bowl represents natural disasters, wars, famines, and the like which occur as God works out His plan in history.  God ultimately triumphs