Interpreting Revelation (Part 4)

Modified Futurism

This position is often listed as a final option which attempts to combine the best of the preterist, idealist and futurist positions.  George Ladd, for example, combines idealism and futurism.  He held that most of Revelation was future, but only after chapter 6.  Chapter 6 is symbolic of the general flow of the church age, similar to the idealist position rather than the historicist. (Eerdmans, 1972).  One finds something very much like this approach in the recent commentary by Grant Osborne (Baker, 2002).

Greg Beale’s commentary attempts to be a “redemptive-historical form of modified idealism.” (Eerdmans, 1999).  He attempts to read the symbols very much like an idealist, but includes a future aspect as well.  The beast of chapter 13, for example, is representative of all the “anti-christs” throughout history, but also points to the ultimate Antichrist of the future.  For Beale, the idealist view is primary, the futurist is secondary.

Grant Osborne concurs with Beale’s approach, but emphasizes the future aspect of the prophecies.  Osborne defines apocalyptic as “the present addressed through parallels with the future” (22)  For example, Osborne feels the three and one half year great tribulation in Revelation serves as a model for all previous tribulations the church has faced.

C. Marvin Pate writes as a contemporary dispensationalist attempting to read Revelation as a book about the future, to be understood as literal, but also to address some of the excesses of the dispensational approach (Four Views, Zondervan, 1998).  The criticism of dispensational futurism have merit; dispensationalism needs to “reinvent itself” in order to deal with the critique from Reformed writers (primarily a-mil and idealist / preterists).  This “re-invention” is modeled along the catchphrase “already / not yet”  as applied to the Kingdom of God in the Gospels by C. H. Dodd and later by George Ladd.  Progressive dispensationalism attempts to see both the presence of God’s kingdom in the present age while also looking for an ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom in the future.

I think that recent commentaries on Revelation (like Beale and Osborne) are less worried about futurist / preterist categories, and I think this is helpful.   While Robert Thomas’s two-volume work published by Moody is an example of a purely futurist commentary, most scholars are coming to the point where they realize Revelation is too complex for a single view.  John certainly was looking at events of his own day (preterism) and did in fact deal with the problem of evil faced by the church in all ages (idealism), and he certainly looks forward to the return of Jesus (futurism).   All three of these are necessary ingredients to a full understanding of Revelation.

6 thoughts on “Interpreting Revelation (Part 4)

  1. Of all four views, this one is the most attractive to me. I’ve been thinking for a while that the seven churches in Revelation really were seven churches that Christ was singling out in John’s day that were being made examples of for our benefit. All seven churches are also examples of churches we can find somewhere in the world today and at various times in church history. I think if one holds to all three views of Revelation one gains a fuller and more relevant and less confusing view of Revelation. I think it is more than an exasperated attempt at synthesis to make everyone happy. With that said; Revelation addresses the past, the present, and the future. It simply works for me.

  2. “John certainly was looking at events of his own day (preterism) and did in fact deal with the problem of evil faced by the church in all ages (idealism), and he certainly looks forward to the return of Jesus (futurism). All three of these are necessary ingredients to a full understanding of Revelation” (P. Long). I believe that a majority of the Revelation is explaining the future worship of God and the ushering in of His kingdom. But to camp only in one part of the forest would be foolish. There is much more to be understood about the book. Especially when you grow up in a Christian Reformed church that never mentioned the book of Revelation. Sometimes I feel like I am reading the script to a really crazy Sci Fi movie. Yet in my limited understanding of the different views of the Revelation I would agree that there are parts of each view present within the text.

  3. I would agree with the statement that Revelation is to complex of a book in order to maintain one view; it is like arguing whether justification is a one time event or an ongoing process. Both are correct. There is a present idealism to be had in the book and there are parts that lead one to believe a future implication. However, as the prophets of old were, the prophecy of John is much more concerned with immediate future than with one generations passed his general audience. Another point is the use of mythology in the book. The use of dragon, sea beast, and Babylon all span grand differences in time of their use. The sea beast, Leviathan, predates the creation account while references to Babylon go through the exilic period. With this vast array of language, one has to be very careful how they determine a present translation or a future one, or both.

  4. Going off my last post I believe it is important to see the connection between Babylon and Rome. Rome is seen as the current Babylon, being a world power bent on a destructive path against God’s will and his chosen people to carry out that will. I believe, however, that it did not matter that it was Rome that was the current world power, it could have been any nation. John would still have referred to any current nation as the new Babylon because Babylon is a well defined description of what a anti-Christ nation looks like. With this in mind, the terms used to define Babylon in Isaiah and Jeremiah can be applied to the current world power. Their rise and their destruction will follow the same order as Babylon’s rise and fall. This is not the first time this has happened for before Babylon, people would have seen evil nations as the new Egypt or Sodom. In other words, what Rome is doing to God’s people and rule is nothing new. Not much prophecy is needed to be able to say that this is whats going to happen to Rome, that which happened to Babylon. The OT gives a pattern of which the future is sure to follow.

    • I completely agree with you Keith. Even though Revelation is mixed bag of past, present, future, and idealist thoughts, the only real way to understand what John is talking about is through his context. Keith, you give a great example of this when you talked about the “Babylons” of the Hebrew Bible. This could not have been pulled out of the text without the context of the times.

  5. “most scholars are coming to the point where they realize Revelation is too complex for a single view.” -P. Long

    I don’t mean to take things a bit off track from the current topic of discussion, but this comment really struck me, and perhaps this type of mentality can be applied to scholarship as a whole in the biblical academic world. Now before making any drastic assumptions, know that I’m am not offering a practice of relativity, of flip-floppin’ theology where what is right and what is wrong are disregarded. By all means, I am after the truth, whatever it may be and where ever it may be found. But let’s face it, Christian thought today has become a ground breeding civil war. We take up sincere pride in our doctrinal positions, as much patriotic to a system of thought as many our to their country. And herein lies a danger of narrow-mindedness, Christians not just dead set on a single point of view, and far too stubborn to listen other perspectives. Christian scholarship and thought from the doctorate level down to the layman, cannot be about choosing sides, cannot be about condemning others and pointing fingers behind un-shared presuppositions. Maybe its time to start listening to other points of view across the spectrum of Christian thought and see what hints of truth might be found there. Maybe they’ll be cracked out, but maybe they’re not.

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