THE INTERPRETATION OF REVELATION
The interpretation of Revelation has always been a subject of debate among Bible interpreters. The interpreters of Revelation are divided into three main schools: (1) the preterists, (2) the historicists, and (3) the futurists.
The preterist view: This view maintains that the words in the entire book have almost been fulfilled. A great part of the things said in the book was fulfilled in the past struggle between the church and Rome. The final result of that struggle was victory for the church. What this school said was too idealistic to be accepted by orthodox Bible interpreters.
The historicist view: This view regards the book as a book on church history, which shows how the evil power of the world fought against the church. During the Reformation, this interpretation was most prevailing. It had not died away even by the nineteenth century. Today, this view still exists. During the time of the rise of Napoleon, this view was recognized as the most acceptable interpretation. Many Protestant reformers thought the pope and the Roman church were the Antichrist and the beast. Luther also held the same view. At the same time, Bible interpreters of the Roman church considered the reformed church the Antichrist. They further said that the number 666 refers to Martin Luther, because they discovered this number in his name! At the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century, many of God’s people thought Napoleon was the person who fulfilled the prophecy in Revelation 13. Based on their conjecture, they concluded that the numbers in the book refer to fixed dates when many prophecies would be fulfilled. They took the three and a half years and other numbers as referring to tribulations occurring in the history at their time.
The futurist view: This view considers the majority of the book as not having yet been fulfilled. The fulfillment will be in the future. From chapter four onward not even one word has been fulfilled. Chapters two and three are concerned with the church. The church age must be completed before there is the possibility of the fulfillment of the events in chapter four and onward. From chapter six to chapter nineteen are the events yet to take place in Daniel’s seventieth week. The church age must end before there will be the start of Daniel’s last week. This interpretation is the most satisfactory one and coincides the best with the prophecies given elsewhere in the Bible. We are not arguing about opinions. May God keep us away from this. What we want is His truth. May His Spirit guide us into all the truth that we may clearly understand the Word of God.
As to the interpretation of the book of Revelation, those of these three schools were bound to have many debates. Our intention, mentioned previously, is to apprehend what God wants us to know. It is not to argue about the view of these schools. Therefore, I do not want to spend much time reasoning here. Although men welcome this, it will not edify them. However, I can say a few words here: the preterist view is, in general, the view of the idealists. None of the church fathers in the first few centuries held this view. The preterists limited John’s view, considering his writing to be an allegory of what he had witnessed of the persecution of the Christians by the Romans, and that he was prophesying the fall of Rome. The historicists negate the Bible’s serious warning to the people in the end time, so that men become ignorant of the wrath of God. However, we should see clearly what the Bible teaches us.
In 1 Corinthians 10:32 Paul divided men into three categories: Jews, Gentiles, and the church of God. In the Old Testament, there was no church. It is in the New Testament that the Lord established the church. Since the book of Revelation is not only the last book of the Bible but also the conclusion of the entire holy book, we can surely see how each of these three categories will consummate. This is most logical. The preterists thought Revelation talked about the past and how the church struggled. The historicists thought it talked of the church’s experience after the passing away of John. These two schools concern themselves only with the church and ignore the Jews and the Gentiles. Their explanation is unavoidably biased; it makes God’s revelation in the Bible incomplete. If what they said was right, we will not know the fate or destiny of the Jews and the Gentiles. In this book we see the journey experienced by the church in the world and the glory she will receive in the future; how the remnant of the Jews are protected by the Lord, how they will go through the great tribulation, and receive the promised blessing which God promised through the prophecies; and how some Gentiles disbelieve, sin, and receive punishment, and how some of them turn to the Lord and receive their joy.
I have no desire to argue about who is right or who is wrong. However, there must be a true interpretation which matches all the prophecies of the Old and New Testament and which will benefit our spiritual life. Where can we get this true interpretation? My answer is that it is in this book. The record of Revelation is most reliable. We do not need to waste time to study the interpretations and concepts of the different schools. Do not pay attention to the terms "preterist," "historicist," and "futurist." The best way is to study the Bible directly. I believe that in the book of Revelation our Lord Jesus Christ has already given us an excellent key to the interpretation.
THE EXCELLENT KEY TO EXPLAINING
THE BOOK OF REVELATION
Every book of the Bible has a key verse. This key verse can be used to unlock the meaning of the book. We hope to find such a key verse from the book of Revelation that we might see the structure of this book. Where is such a verse? We can see how the Lord Jesus commanded John to write the book of Revelation and how John obeyed the command. Hopefully, from this we can understand the content of the book. The Lord Jesus commanded John, saying, "Write therefore the things which you have seen and the things which are and the things which are about to take place after these things" (Rev. 1:19). John was charged to write three things: first, the things that he had seen; second, the things of the present; third, the things which are going to take place. When John wrote Revelation, he wrote these three things according to what the Lord had commanded. At the time of the Lord’s command, John had already seen a vision. The Lord commanded him firstly to write down that vision which he had seen. Then the Lord commanded him to write "the things which are," and after these "things which are," the "things which are about to take place." Thus, this verse of the Bible includes the things of the past, the present, and the future.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 03, The Christian (1), Chapter 9, by Watchman Nee)