Interpreting Revelation – Modified Futurism


Futurism is the view that Revelation is a prophecy of events yet future from our perspective as well as John’s.  This view is usually associated with Dispensationalism, but I want to present a modified view similar to C. Marvin Pate in his Four Views on Revelation (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan, 1998).  This Modified Futurism attempts to combine the best of the preterist, idealist and futurist positions. It builds on the foundation of George Ladd, who combined idealism and futurism. Ladd 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. (New Testament Theology, 624.) One finds something very much like this approach in the recent commentary by Grant Osborne, who describes his approach as “eclectic” (Revelation, 21).

A similar attempt to blend methods is Greg Beale’s recent commentary Revelation.  He attempts to read the book as a “redemptive-historical form of modified idealism” (Revelation, 48). Frequently his interpretation sounds like an idealist, but he includes a future aspect which sounds familiar to the futurist. For example, the beast of chapter 13 is representative of all the “anti-christs” throughout history, but also points to the ultimate Antichrist of the future (ibid. 680-1). 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” (Revelation, 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. The criticism of dispensational futurism have merit; Ddispensationalism 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,” especially as applied to the Kingdom of God in the Gospels by C. H. Dodd and later by George Ladd.  The phrase “kingdom of God” may refer to several different “kingdoms,” from God’s general reign over al of creation to a specific time in the future when the Messiah reigns from Jerusalem. Depending on one’s previous theological commitments, any time the phrase “kingdom of God” is used, it may invoke one or more of these ideas. Progressive Dispensationalism therefore 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.

A critically important matter is the timing Revelation 4-5. When does the Lamb receive the scroll from the father? If this is a reference to the cross (and/or the resurrection, ascension), then at least Revelation 6-7 could refer to the present age. Classic dispensationalists took the prophecy as “future” beginning in chapter 2-3, the seven churches themselves prophetic of the flow of church history. I think that it is probable that chapters 4-5 represent “the current age” in that Christ has been enthroned and has not yet returned. On the other hand, I am more than warm to the idea that the seven seals are the Olivet Discourse for the Johannine community, beginning the “future” part of Revelation in chapter 8 with the seven trumpets.

All in all, I think that a modified futurism is the best approach to Revelation since it preserves the original, first-century intent along with the more general “good versus evil” teaching usually highlighted in idealist approaches to the book. Finally, by reading most of Revelation as a prophecy of the second coming of the Messiah, this modified futurism takes seriously Revelation’s own claim to be prophecy looking forward to the final consummation of God’s plan of redemption.

Is this view “futurist” enough to read Revelation accurately?  Or does it still retain too much futurism?  I suppose both sides will find fault with it, but the only way to determine the value is to apply a modified futurism to specific passages in Revelation.