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.

16 thoughts on “Interpreting Revelation – Modified Futurism

  1. I love old George Elton Ladd, and also Osborne is good. I have a signed C.H. Dodd book I got in the London book shops years back: The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments. And every teacher should have G. “Kelly” Beale’s book on Revelation!

    Btw, Phil, have you heard of Michael Vlach? I have just got his book: Has The Church Replaced Israel? A Theological Evaluation. This appears to be a depth book on and against Supersessionism. Though he is very fair with Supersession!

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    • It is George *Eldon* Ladd, although you might have been making an Elton John joke, which would have been pretty funny.

      I have a copy of Vlach’s book, but have yet to read it. I have three from B&H on nearly the same topic, all three came out about the same time. I think that the issue of Superscessionism is mixed up in all this hermenutical talk about Revelation, but I have chosen not to directly address. I worry a bit whether my modified futurism is driven by a non-replacement theology, or whether my non-replacement theology is a result of my reading of Revelation. I think there is probably a bit of a hermenutical / theological spiral there, but something came first.

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    • It is George *Eldon* Ladd, although you might have been making an Elton John joke, which would have been pretty funny.

      I have a copy of Vlach’s book, but have yet to read it. I have three from B&H on nearly the same topic, all three came out about the same time. I think that the issue of Superscessionism is mixed up in all this hermenutical talk about Revelation, but I have chosen not to directly address. I worry a bit whether my modified futurism is driven by a non-replacement theology, or whether my non-replacement theology is a result of my reading of Revelation. I think there is probably a bit of a hermenutical / theological spiral there, but something came first.

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      • Well, I live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Eerdmans keeps his NT Theology and Commentary on Revelation in print. The NT Theology was updated by Donald Hagner a few years ago. I do not think his books on the kingdom have been reprinted recently. I am amazed to notice that he died 20 years ago….wow.

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      • Btw, I had a greatgram who was a PB, Plymouth Brethren in Ireland (she was among the so-called “Kelly” Brethren, for Willam Kelly), she was a great effect on me. We both later went to England, though separate. Funny how “PB” my name is; Robert Kelly Darby. No relation however to JND that I know of? Though I have preached at an Open Brethren conference a few times as an Anglican. I have been both A-Mill and even Post-Mill in my past, so my movemant to the Historic Pre-Mill, has been more from a biblicist place for me, to just honor the Text. As I have noted many times, there were certain Anglican Pre-Mill’s back in the late 19th and early 20th century! Btw, I have a signed copy (Hardback, with dustjacket) of Things To Come, by J. Dwight Pentecost (1977). It was a gift from a somewhat distant Irish cousin, who went to Dallas. He is now with the Lord, so it is a treasure!

        I too know something of that ‘Hermeneutical Spiral’ to quote Osborne’s book.

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      • I remember when Ladd died! That generation of theolog’s is gone now, sadly! Indeed “wow”! I also got to hear T.F. Torrance speak…I love his book: The Trinitarian Faith, etc. But, he is too Barthian for me in general. Funny, how Barth ebbs and flows with me, not that I claim to always understand Barth? I am now just too “biblicist” I guess.

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  2. I’m not sure why but every time I read revelations I just naturally assume that it is a future event. I just think that futurism is the most logical of the views because of the events that take place. In order for some of the other views to make since, the reader has to interpret events and phrases as things that have already happened even though the language does not specifically say it. I think that futurism does not require us to alter any of the language used, and because of that I prefer to consider revelations as a prophetic future event.

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    • Ryan: I agree somewhat, but it is *Revelation”..the Apocalypse (singular)! ,i.e.”The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show..” (verse 1:1). But, as verse three it is “prophecy”..and “written”..”for the time is near.” (Rev. 1:3) 🙂

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  3. I agree with Ryan’s comment I think that futurism. When you have to interpret different writings and words or phrases its generally from the past. But futurism is something that you can not interpret because it clearly has not happened yet.

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  4. I agree with Ryan and know why it is a natural assumption to think this is all in the future. It is primarily because it is the way its first readers understood it almost 2,000- years ago. This is why we have so many positions being developed down through the ages with others arriving at a historicist and currently with many moving toward a preterist position on what was written almost 2,000-years ago. It is also true as noted by Phillip that most of our thinking is being affected by the Darby-ism and Replacement Theology presuppositions we drag with us as we read this Revelation. So if we understand that this is a revelation, it had to be a present future for the time John lived. Therefore it would be most helpful to understand the words of our Lord Jesus as He explained to His disciples what would be taking place between His 1st and 2nd Advent. If we have an accurate understanding of what Peter and Paul were saying to the believers before AD 70 then we would understand all the persecution Christians were going through with some of them thinking they had missed the 2nd Advent. The fact was back then as it is today that many believers were already going through tribulation as predicted in Matthew 24 while others were enjoying the success of turning their world upside down with the proclamation of the Gospel. In the western world today we enjoy the freedom of living a kingdom lifestyle while more believers in the rest of the world have died for their faith in Christ during the 20th Century than all the other centuries combined. So when we take this in consideration all 4-Views of Interpretation for this book are based upon Truths found in this and other NT writings, but when some say 3-Views are wrong and only 1-View is correct it is because of a presupposition they hold over the Word of God that trumps a Biblical view.

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    • Thanks for the comment Larry. Your final lines are the main point, the reason that there are “four views on Revelation” is that the book of Revelation generates those views. Presuppositions will push the blend out of shape, there is certainly something important to learn from each.

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