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Church-State Relations and the Book of Revelation
An Introduction to The Parousia: A Careful Look at the New Testament Doctrine of the Lord's Second Coming
by James Stuart Russell (1878) // Written by
Todd Dennis, Curator
 


Futurism and Rapture Dispensationalism

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FUTURISTS
(Virtually No Fulfillment of Matt. 24/25 & Revelation in 1st C. - Types Only ; Also Included are "Higher Critics" Not Associated With Any Particular Eschatology)

Henry Alford
G.C. Berkower
Alan Patrick Boyd
John Bradford
Wm. Burkitt
George Caird
Conybeare/ Howson
John Crossan
John N. Darby
C.H. Dodd
E.B. Elliott
G.S. Faber
Jerry Falwell
Charles G. Finney
J.P. Green Sr.
Murray Harris
Thomas Ice

Benjamin Jowett
John N.D. Kelly

Hal Lindsey
John MacArthur
William Miller
Robert Mounce

Eduard Reuss

J.A.T. Robinson
George Rosenmuller
D.S. Russell
George Sandison
C.I. Scofield
Dr. John Smith

Norman Snaith
"Televangelists"
Thomas Torrance
Jack/Rex VanImpe
John Walvoord

Quakers : George Fox | Margaret Fell (Fox) | Isaac Penington

Some Fundamentalists Ache for Armageddon | Dispensationalism Impacting U.S. Policy  Conservative Christians Resist Last Days Scenarios | Apocalypticism in American Culture | Futurist Articles Critical of Preterism | The Hope of Israel | C.H. Spurgeon on Preterism | Theory of Parousia Delay

  • Introductory Thoughts on Allegorical Interpretation and the Book of Revelation
    Part I

    Mal Couch
    President & Professor of Theology and Languages
    Tyndale Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, TX

     

    Introduction: Controversy Over Revelation

    The book of Revelation is again in the path of the prophetic storm. There are those who still want to relegate this incredible prophecy to the junk heap of jumbled mysticism, designate it as a strange symbolic allegory of church persecution, or make this letter a mysterious prophecy that was somehow fulfilled in the early church.

    Even the world speaks of Armageddon, shuddering at the book's descriptions of future terror to come, and even those most skeptical know of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Unfortunately, the church has made no clear stand in handling the book, leaving its members in confusion.

    There is no question that Revelation requires effort to understand its meaning for even skilled Bible readers, but most theologians still refuse to believe that God can predict through prophets like John 2,000 years into the future. Below, is a short history of the various views to illustrate how the interpretation of Revelation has fared through the centuries.

    The Interpretative Confusion of the Book of Revelation

    It was C. I. Scofield who observed that, as we near the time of the events of the book of Revelation, the things prophesied within will become more clear to our understanding. Most premillennialists would certainly agree. And most premillennialists would hold to a futurist position, whether they understood the details of the predictions or not. But premillennialism has not held the high ground in understanding Revelation. The amillennial view has dominated the history of the interpretation of the book, though Walvoord and others show that this was not the view of the early church.  Lange and Walvoord give a short history of how the book has been interpreted through the centuries.

    The Second and Third Centuries.

    Walvoord notes:

    The second century like the first bears a sustained testimony to the premillennial character of the early church.  Even the amillenarians claim no adherents whatever by name to their position in the second century except in the allegorizing school of interpretation which arose at the very close of the second century. [1]

    Walvoord further writes:

    ... Justin Martyr (100-168) is quite outspoken.  He wrote: 'But I and whatsoever Christians are orthodox in all things do know that there will be a resurrection of the flesh, and a thousand years in the city of Jerusalem, built adorned, and enlarged, according as Ezekiel, Isaiah, and other prophets have promised.’[2]

    Walvoord quoting Herzog's Cyclopaedia:

    Chiliasm constituted in the sec[ond] century so decidedly an article of faith that Justin held it up as a criterion of perfect orthodoxy.[3]

    Finally, Walvoord observes:

    The third century had its own continued witness to premillennialism, however. Among those who can be cited are Cyprian (200-258), Commodian (200-270), Nepos (230-280), Coracion (230-280), Victorinus (240-303), Methodius (250-311), and Lactantius (240-330)...Nepos early recognized the heretical tendencies of the Alexandrian school of theology, which was the first effective opponent of premillennialism, and he attacked it with vigor.[4]

    The Old Catholic Period Down to Gregory the Great

    Gregory the Great reigned as Pope 590-604. Lange sets forth that many “placed the time of the Millennial Kingdom in the period intervening between the first Coming of Christ in the flesh and the coming of Antichrist.”[5] “Jerome interprets allegorically, e.g., he makes the Holy City denote the present world.”[6] “Cassiodorus also reckoned the Millennial Kingdom from the birth of Christ; he held the first Resurrection to be significant of Baptism.”[7]

    Theocratico-Hierarchical Half of the Middle Ages to the Time of Innocent III

    Innocent III reigned as Pope 1198-1216. Men were certain the events of Revelation would begin at the year 1000, having calculated the Millennial Kingdom beginning at the first coming of Christ. Christians expected the speedy coming of Antichrist and the end of the world. When the world did not come to an end at 1000, they modified their views symbolically and said the number one thousand simply denoted an indefinite period. The mode of interpretation was, as a whole, historico-allegorical.[8]

    Second Half of the Middle Ages from Innocent III to the Reformation

    Innocent declared Islam to be the Antichrist and Mohammed to be the false prophet. Gregory IX called Frederick II the Beast of the abyss, and Frederick retorted by applying the same appellation to the Pope. Joachim saw Rome as the carnal Church and the new Babylon. Dante felt the Papacy as Antichristian in a secular way.  Nicholas de Lyra regarded the Revelation as a prophetic mirror to all of history.

    Old Protestant Theology Down to Pietism

    Some thought the 1000 years were past. The Anabaptist view:  The thousand years have just dawned. Many felt Revelation was a prophetic compendium of Church History and it was a settled issue to interpret papal Rome as antichristianity. Luther arranges the facts of Revelation to fit his view of Church History. He thinks the 1000 years is from the time of the writing of Revelation down to Gregory VII. Bossuet applies the number 666 to Dioclesian; the loosing of Satan at the end of the thousand years, he thinks, has reference to the Turks and Lutheranism.

    The Pietistic-Mystical Period

    Many continued to see Rome as the Antichrist. Whiston felt Christ's Coming should take place in 1715, and then later he said 1766. Isaac Newton said Revelation was written during Nero's time and believed things predicted in chapter 12 had yet to come to pass.

    Historico-Critical and Rationalistic Period

    With the influence of German rationalism, the meaning of the Apocalypse was nearly destroyed. Semler thought the book but Jewish chiliastic fanaticism. Many felt it but represented enthusiastic idealization and Oriental figurative language. Others looked at the book as a novel, a poem, or some kind of illustration of the fall of Judaism.

    More Modern Times and Thoughts

    Hengstenberg felt the Millennial Kingdom had somehow come and gone.  But during this period there arose the fourfold manner of apprehending Revelation.  For example:

     

    1.      Preterist view. The prophecies contained in the Apocalypse were fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of Rome.

    2.      Continuist view. Revelation prophecies are predictive of progressive history, being partly fulfilled, partly unfulfilled.  Thus, Mede, Isaac Newton, Elliot (and many Germans).

    3.      Simple Futurist view. From chapter four on in Revelation, the prophecies relate to an absolute future of Christ's Coming--being a prediction of the condition of the Jews after the first Resurrection.

    4.      Extreme Futurist view. Even the first three chapters are a prophecy relative to the absolute future of Christ's Coming.

    Above is but a summary of thoughts on Revelation. What are some of the most important features of interpreting the book that may give more firm direction as to how it is to be understood? Are there keys within the writing of the prophecy that need more attention and may give a definitive clue as to how to approach the message recorded?

    Comparative Language

     

    The continuing question about Revelation and interpretation revolves around the issue: is Revelation interpreted literally or symbolically? From the Jewish and Christian premillennial perspective, Revelation is interpreted from a literal base but with comparative language wording that points ultimately to a literal meaning.

    There are two words that give us comparative language indicators. They are the words hos (ws) and homoios (omois).  Hos and words related to it are used sixty-eight times in Revelation and approximately 416 elsewhere in the New Testament. Homoios is used twenty-two times in the Apocalypse and around twenty-six times in the rest of the New Testament. Both are two distinct words of comparison and should be translated: "Like, as, like as, it seemed to be, something like, etc."

    From about chapter four on, John the Apostle was struggling to describe what he was seeing. If he was indeed spiritually transported into the future, as premillennialists say, he witnessed things and observed events he had never seen before. Take for example Revelation 8:8-9. The passage reads:

    “And the second angel sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood, and a third of the creatures, which were in the sea and had life, died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.”

    "Something like" (ws) is used once in these two verses.  "Something like a great mountain burning...thrown into the sea." Could this be an atomic cloud that boiled up into the atmosphere but then disintegrated into hot ash, rock, and dust as a massive gaseous fallout? Studying atomic mushroom clouds, one could see this possibility. Without doubt, when this great mountain or cloud falls on the sea, deadly pollution follows. The sea creatures turn belly up! But what about the blood? The verse does not say the sea became like blood. Then, did it actually become blood itself? No, because common sense comes into play as in Exodus when the waters of Egypt became blood. Anyone reading these descriptions would understand the concept of pollution and would not be expecting the waters to actually become hemoglobin! But the literalness of pollution is retained because the creatures are dying and the ships destroyed. Common sense, unless otherwise indicated, would dictate literal interpretation coupled with an acceptance of descriptive, comparative language.

    Problems of Symbols

    Tan points out that the patience of Job is required in interpreting biblical symbols! The interpreter has to put it all together, sift, collect and collate prophetic data.[9] The best possible material for the interpretation of symbols is the immediate context in which given symbols are found. Under the guidance of contextual studies, the guesswork is taken out of many Bible symbols.[10]  For example, the four ferocious beasts of Daniel 7 are explained as four earthly kingdoms in Daniel 2. "The dragon, that old serpent" in Revelation 20:2 is immediately identified as the Devil and Satan." "Sodom and Egypt" in Revelation 11:8 is identified at once as the city "where also our Lord was crucified" (Jerusalem). And the star which fell from heaven (Rev. 9: 1) is identified as symbolic of a personal being (v. 2 He opened the bottomless pit.).[11] Tan continues:

    It must be noted that not every word-picture in prophecy is a symbol. Many of these are plain, everyday figures of speech.  When the angel in Revelation 19 invites the fowls to “the supper of the great God,” figurative language is used.  When Isaiah exclaims that “in the last days, the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains...and all nations shall flow unto it” (Isa. 2:23), the prophecy is not a symbol of the Christian church and world evangelization. The prophet Isaiah is using figurative language to describe the glory of the Jerusalem temple at the millennium.[12]

    Milligan demonstrates how far Amillennialists go in denying any literal sense in Revelation. He writes:

    One of the great lessons of the Apocalypse consists in this, that it unfolds such a bright view, not of a world beyond the grave, but of this present world, when we contemplate it with the eye of faith,...It may be doubted if in this respect there is one single picture of the Apocalypse applicable only to the future inheritance of the saints. What is set forth in its apparent visions of future happiness is rather the present privilege of believers ...(Italics mine.).[13]

    If one was on a desert island and read Revelation for the first time, how would one interpret these verses? The answer would be actual and literal unless there was an Amillennialist and allegorist around to say, "No, no, these events are not real! They have some hidden meaning that no one is sure of, but don't let that bother you!" The first meaning, with comparative language, must be given a chance unless there are other indicators to read the verses some other way.

            No Wonder the Layman is Confused!

    Many so–called Bible scholars look at the Apocalypse through the confusing system of interpretation called allegorical interpretation. The well-known Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, in its introductory remarks on Revelation, is a prime example of allegorical hedging and confusion. This commentary tries to find common and commendable ground in the three major interpretive views, yet in reality the waters are but too clouded. At some point the reader of Revelation must ask "what is this book all about and what is it attempting to communicate?" Because the allegorist is working from a false starting premise, it's impossible to arrive at an explanation that makes sense. It is difficult to believe the Holy Spirit is so incapable of imparting revelatory truth clearly! Something is definitely amiss when a key work of inspiration is so confusing in the mind of the author.  For example, in Ellicott's we read:

    We are disposed to view the Apocalypse as the pictorial unfolding of great principles in constant conflict, though under various forms. The Praeterist may, then, be right in finding early fulfillments, and the Futurist in expecting undeveloped ones, and the Historical interpreter is unquestionably right in looking for them along the whole line of history; for the words of God mean more than one man, or one school of thought, can compass. There are depths of truth unexplored which sleep beneath the simplest sentences. Just as we want to say that history repeats itself, so the predictions of the Bible are not exhausted in one or even in many fulfillments. Each prophecy is a single key which unlocks many doors, and the grand and stately drama of the Apocalypse has been played out perchance in one age to be repeated in the next. Its majestic and mysterious teachings indicate the features of a struggle which, be the stage the human soul, with its fluctuations of doubt and fear, of hope and love--or the progress of kingdoms--or the destinies of the world, is the same struggle in all. [14]

    Note how the commentator hedges. Each interpretive school can be correct! No wonder the layman is confused and runs from the book of Revelation. Nothing could be more unclear than to write “for the words of God mean more than one man, or one school of thought, can compass.” Without question the spiritual depth of the Word of God can't be plumbed and we're always comprehending more because of personal maturity and Bible study experience, but the statement implies hidden meanings. It implies that the Spirit of God had more than one message to give that is secretly tucked away in the grammar and words.

    Confusion is compounded with the statement "There are depths of truth unexplored which sleep beneath the simplest sentences." Again, spiritual depth and clarity of written intention are two different things. All languages and interpretation of languages assumes grammatical keys that unlock meaning. But what the author in Ellicott's is implying is - come one and come all interpreters! Whatever approach you take, there is meaning for all here!

    Ellicott's makes matters worse with this jumbled mess of interpretations by trying to explain the Second Coming. Since the Second Coming of Christ is a major theme of Revelation, Ellicott's, in a silly state of uncertainty, all but destroys this historic truth and fails to be honest in what the book of Revelation could even be potentially trying to describe! For example Ellicott says:

    The "coming of Christ," viewed from the human side, is a phrase which is not always to be held to one meaning: it is, in this aspect, analogous to the "Kingdom of God." Holy Scripture, beyond all doubt, recognizes potential and spiritual, as well as personal, "comings" of the Lord. There are many comings of Christ. Christ came in the flesh as a mediatorial Presence. Christ came at the destruction of Jerusalem.  Christ came, a spiritual Presence, when the Holy Ghost was given. Christ comes now in every signal manifestation of redeeming power. Any great reformation of morals and religion is a coming of Christ. A great revolution, like a thunderstorm, violently sweeping away evil to make way for the good, is a coming of Christ.[15]

    Obviously, something is wrong when Christ's Coming and its real and specific meaning is so far beyond reach for a rational mind. Although all allegorical interpreters may not be quite this confused, most still throw up their hands in attempting to explain clear meaning in the verses in Revelation. This is why many Amillennialists, those who do not believe in a coming earthly Kingdom, who are writing commentary sets often leave out a work on the book of Revelation.

    It must be emphasized that both an Amillennialist and a Premillennialist may have difficulty grasping the meaning of a specific passage in Revelation but the Amillennialist will allegorize and claim a full basket of spiritual, hidden meanings in the words. The Premillennialist will admit difficulty on that same specific passage but he will exhaust the interpretive quest to find the one intentioned meaning as first given by the Holy Spirit in inspiration.

    What is absolutely amazing is that, when studying the Apocalypse, the Amillennialists toss out the basis of scientific hermeneutics and replace it with a forced system of allegory. Yet all interpretation must start with a foundation of literal interpretation. Most Bible scholars understand that, embedded within the literal framework of Revelation, there is room for (1) Comparative language ("it seemed to be," "it appeared as") and (2) Symbolic language. For example, the scorpions in Revelation 9 represent something very real.  Granted we all may not know what that is. In allegorical interpretation, with prophecy diffused, the hidden spiritual meaning of scorpions may never be discovered.  Because of all this possible concision, LaHaye urges students of Revelation to start at the base--with literal interpretation.

    When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate text, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, clearly indicate otherwise. This rule, ...provides basic guidelines for properly interpreting the many signs and symbols in the book.[16]

    A Premillennialist will start then with the literal base and work forward, admitting to signs, symbols, figures of speech and comparative language that may convey the prophetic and historical intention of the words!

    Ellicott's concludes its Introduction to Revelation with these strong but dead ended statements about the book: "Jerusalem stands as the type of the good cause"...and thus is "the Church of Christ." And, "we are thus taught, in this ever-deepening spirituality of the book, to look beneath the phenomena, to trace the subtle and unmasked principles which are at work..." "The book of Revelation becomes the unfolding of a dream which is from God."

    Ellicott's further states: The book "is not a manual of tiresome details." Revelation "is not meant to be a treasure-house of marvels for the prophetical archaeologist: it is a book of living principles."[17]

    Revelation is a book of minute, twisting and turning details!  One's interpretive approach to this incredible work of prophecy may determine whether it is viewed as tiresome or not! And why can't it be a treasure-house for the prophetical archaeologist if it is indeed a prophecy book? Can't God write prophecy? Can He not give us the Plan of the Ages? Why does the Amillennialist begin with such a determined assumption that distant future prophecy isn't possible? If Revelation is indeed such a treasure-house of prophecy, the Amillennialist has a distinct spiritual problem. He has a blind spot that calls God into question. He, at this point, is neither spiritual nor intellectual! He keeps his people from knowing how God will bring to completion objective and literal earth history! Could this blind spot not fall into the hands of Satan who would desire to rewrite or certainly water down the details of End Time events?

    The Purpose of Revelation

    In answering the question as to why Revelation was written, the liberal and Amillennialist would attempt to wash down any possibility that the book is giving far prophetic prediction.  To destroy any Premillennial possibility, it is said that John is writing the incredible events he sees simply to make present martyrdom attractive. This ludicrous answer is quite common and is propounded by The Interpreter's Bible. Revelation was written by John

    ...to sharpen the alternatives open to the Christians, of worshipping either Caesar or God, of being completely loyal to the state or wholly devoted to Christianity. Furthermore, he endeavored to make martyrdom, with its eternal rewards, so attractive, and worship of the emperor, with its eternal punishments, so fearsome, that his readers would quite willingly accept death as martyrs rather than be disloyal to Almighty God and his Christ by worshipping Rome and the emperors.[18]

    If the Old Testament prophets were literal and Premillennial in their prophecies, and if Christ was clearly the same with His prophecies, there is no way that this approach can sum up the purpose for the writing of Revelation! Going through the book takes a master-mind interpreter to get out of it what allegorists would have us see. If however, the base is literal and future, the prophecies fall into place and fancy, mystical interpretation is not called for.

    Were The Early Church Fathers Premillennial?

    Hal Lindsey does an excellent job in The Road to Holocaust in explaining and analyzing the beliefs of the Apostolic Church Fathers. Were they Premillennial? Did they take the Tribulation and return of Christ literally as written in Revelation? Were they still looking for His return even after 70 AD the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem? Or, did they consider the fall of the Temple as the Tribulation that is described in such detail in that book?

    The Apostolic Fathers are the Apostles and those taught directly by them. Lindsey lists at least five beliefs that seem quite common among the early Fathers, as stated by Church historian J. L. Neve (who himself, by the way, would not be Premillennial):

     

    1.      They firmly held that Israel would be yet redeemed as a Nation and fulfill her unconditional promises as the Messianic Kingdom.  They held the Second Coming would be the Kingdom on earth and that it would last a thousand years.

    2.      They thought that Christ could come anytime, confirming the Rapture doctrine.

    3.      They saw coming the Tribulation, or great world distress, as maintained by Premillennialists today.

    4.      They held to a personal Antichrist who would come during the terrible period of Tribulation.

    5.      They still held these views long after the destruction of Jerusalem, AD 70, and on into the fourth century.

    Lindsey notes:

    These prophetic views caused the early Christians to recognize the Jews as a chosen people whom God will yet fulfill His promises. These views also promoted a compassion for the Jews because the Christians saw them as a demonstration of God’s faithfulness to His Word.[19]

    The Dating of Revelation

    Much of the argument about the interpretation of the Apocalypse turns on the dating of Revelation. The date of authorship of 95 or 96 is held by Premillennialists while Amillennialists attempt to place the date before 70 AD. The war over dating centers around the Amillennialists struggle to make the prophecies fit a past historical mold. Denying a Premillennial position, they think they can line up certain events in the book to tie into the destruction of Jerusalem, by trying to force the book's date of writing to a point before 70 AD. They cannot! By all logic of language it will not fit! Ellicott's gives strong internal evidence in Revelation, relating to the seven churches of Asia Minor, that seems to clearly support the late date:

    The advocates of the later date rely much upon the degenerate state of the Asiatic churches, as described in the Epistles to the Seven Churches. The Epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon were written during the captivity of St. Paul at Rome, about the year AD 63. If, then, the Apocalypse was written in AD 69 or 70, we have only an interval of six or seven years to account for a striking change in the spiritual condition of the Asiatic churches. Can we believe that a Church which is so forward in love as that of Ephesus (Eph. 3:18) can have in so short a time left its first love? Can it be believed that the Laodicean Church--whose spiritual condition in AD 63 can be inferred from that of Colossae (Col. 1:3, 4)--can have, in six brief years, forsaken their "faith in Christ Jesus and their love to all the saints," and become the "lukewarm" church (Rev. 3:15, 16) of the Apocalypse?[20]

    Another of the arguments against the late date of the book is that the city of Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake in the reign of Tiberius and around 60 AD, about the time of Nero.  Therefore, the city could not have been mentioned in Revelation if the book was written in 96 AD. But Unger points out that “the affluence of the city enabled its citizens to rebuild without help from Rome or the provincial government.” If the book was written in 96 AD, over thirty years would have passed, whereby a thriving metropolis would have been reestablished with a wealthy but spiritually blind church in its place. One of the most well-known and respected New Testament scholars, Theodore Zahn, sums up in strong language the argument for the late date of Revelation, 96 AD:

    The correctness of the date is also confirmed by all those traditions which refer the exile of John upon Patmos to his extreme old age, or which describe Revelation as the latest, or one of the latest, writings in the NT. On the other hand, all the differing views as to the date of the composition of Revelation to be found in the literature of the Church are so late and so manifestly confused, that they do not deserve the name of tradition. [21]

    Most are certain the Church Father Papias was wrong when he wrote that John was killed before 70 AD. Eusebius and Clement of Alexandria both make the point that on Patmos, John penned the Revelation around 96 AD. Obviously, there is a conflict of views but the latter has a greater witness. That witness fits the facts of what the book claims for itself, in regard to Patmos and the exile.  An objective judgment call would come down on the side of Eusebius and Clement.

    Even the renowned Church historian Philip Schaff, himself an Amillennialist, accepts as genuine the later dating of the book of Revelation as cited by Irenaeus. He writes:

    The traditional date of composition at the end of Domitian's reign (95-96) rests on the clear and weighty testimony of Irenaeus, is confirmed by Eusebius and Jerome, and has still its learned defenders.[22]

    When other arguments prove pointless, attempts are made to side-step the obvious 96 AD dating by denying that the apostle John is the author. Walvoord notes: “It is most significant that in many cases the theological bias against the chiliastic teaching of the book of Revelation seems to be the actual motive in rejecting the apostolic authorship [and the late dating of the book.”[23] Robertson agrees with the later date when speaking of authorship.  He writes:

     

    The writer calls himself John (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8)...The traditional and obvious way to understand the name is the Apostle John,...Irenaeus represents the Apostle John as having lived to the time of Trajan, at least to AD 98. Most ancient writers agree with this extreme old age of John.  Justin Martyr states expressly that the Apostle John wrote the Apocalypse. Irenaeus called it the work of a disciple of John...On the basis of...slim evidence some today argue that John did not live to the end of the century and so did not write any of the Johannine books. But a respectable number of modern scholars still hold to the ancient view that the Apocalypse of John is the work of the Apostle and Beloved Disciple, the son of Zebedee. [24]

    The testimony of the early church father Irenaeus is of high importance in establishing date and authorship. Ellicott notes:

    The later date was that which was accepted almost uniformly by the older theologians. In favor of this early tradition has been appealed to.  The most important witness (in some respects) is Irenaeus, who says that, “the Apocalypse was seen not long ago, but almost in our own age, towards the end of the reign of Domitian.” Other writers have been claimed as giving a support to this view by their mention of Patmos as the place of St. John's banishment; and it is plain from the way in which Eusebius quotes the mention of the Patmos exile by Clement of Alexandria, that he associated it with the reign of Domitian.[25]

    Concerning Irenaeus, Lindsey further observes:

    Irenaeus was from Asia Minor, the region of the Apostle John's last ministry. He was discipled in the area around Ephesus where the Apostle John spent his last years...the great Polycarp, trained by the Apostle John himself, was Irenaeus' spiritual mentor. So there was only one generation between Irenaeus and John. Therefore the quality of his evidence is as strong and reliable as any we have for any book of the New Testament.[26]

    Lindsey as well points out how Irenaeus was considered by all a careful scholar and defender of the faith. His answers against the Gnostics virtually killed this mystic heresy. In addition, because of his fair treatment of the Gnostics, “it is ludicrous to reason that Irenaeus would be less careful and accurate with facts about the book of Revelation which he held to be the Word of God.”[27]

    What could be the hidden agenda of those who try so hard to date Revelation early (65 AD)? With the poorest of scholarship allegorists attempt to line up Revelation events with Early Church persecution and thus destroy the idea of far, far prophecy in the book.  For some reason many allegorical writers detest the idea that Revelation is truly revealing End Time events.

    Without question, the majority of the early Church Fathers believed Revelation was written after the fall of Jerusalem. They looked for Revelation events to take place beyond their own times.  The great Amillennial Church historian Philip Schaff fairly summarizes the issue of the early Church Fathers and their millennial beliefs. He writes:

    The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age is the prominent chiliasm, or millennarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment. It was indeed not the doctrine of the church embodied in any creed or form of devotion, but a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers, such as Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactanius; ... The Jewish chiliasm rested on a carnal misapprehension of the Messianic kingdom, a literal interpretation of prophetic figures, and an overestimate of the importance of the Jewish people and the holy city as the center of that kingdom.[28]

    With all due respect, how can Schaff judge "the carnal misapprehension" of the orthodox Jews who held to a physical, earthly reign of the Messiah [the Christ, Greek]? How could this be wrong when such plain literal reading of the Old Testament would clearly proclaim just that? Schaff has to also admit that this view comes from literal interpretation. It must have somehow slipped by him that historical, literal interpretation is the starting point for all languages.

    Juggling Interpretations

    Schaff shows his own confusion on the issue by the fact that he is working hard at juggling interpretations to fit his own prejudices against the historical standard interpretation. He says, “The Christian chiliasm [of the early Church] is the Jewish chiliasm spiritualized and fixed upon the second, instead of the first, coming of Christ.”[29] What is Schaff saying? The pious orthodox Jews in Old Testament times, during the life of Christ and after, began the interpretation process with a literal, historic, normal hermeneutic. In fact, Christ never refuted the orthodox view of prophetic fulfillment.  He only complimented it. What does Schaff then mean by “Jewish chiliasm spiritualized”? To the Jews, the Messiah would be born literally and would reign literally! Only with the coming of New Testament events did it all come together, but certainly Millennialists are not believing in Jewish chiliasm spiritualized!

    Schaff continues:

    Justin Martyr represents the transition from the Jewish Christian to the Gentile Christian chiliasm. He speaks repeatedly of the second parousia of Christ in the clouds of heaven, surrounded by the holy angels. It will be preceded by the near manifestation of the man of sin...who speaks blasphemies against the most high God, and will rule three and a half years. He is preceded by heresies and false prophets. Christ will then raise the patriarchs, prophets, and pious Jews, establish the millennium, restore Jerusalem, and reign there in the midst of his saints; after which the second and general resurrection and judgment of the world will take place.  He regarded this expectation of the earthly perfection of Christ's kingdom as the key-stone of pure doctrine,...[30]

    Schaff concludes with the Early Fathers:

    Irenaeus, on the strength of tradition from St. John and his disciples, taught that after the destruction of the Roman empire, and the brief raging of antichrist (lasting three and a half years or 1260 days), Christ will visibly appear, will bind Satan, will reign at the rebuilt city of Jerusalem...will celebrate the millennial sabbath of preparation for the eternal glory of heaven; then, after a temporary liberation of Satan, follows the final victory, the general resurrection, the judgment of the world, and the consummation in the new heavens and the new earth. This is virtually what Premillennialists teach today about the book of Revelation.  It would seem as if they are in good company with the most outstanding teachers among the Early Fathers. --author

    Tertuilian was an enthusiastic Chiliast, and pointed not only to the Apocalypse,...After Tertullian,...chiliasm was taught by Commodian toward the close of the third century, Lactanius, and Victorinus of Petau, at the beginning of the forth. Its last distinguished advocates in the East were Methodius (d. a martyr, 311), the opponent of Origen, and Apollinaris of Laodicea in Syria.[31]

    The Great Departure to Allegorical Amillennialism

    What brought about the great departure from a literal, millennial position? Did something specific happen in philosophical terms that could have brought on allegory, mystical and nonliteral interpretation? The story of allegorical interpretation is a fascinating study that ultimately makes a strong impact on the interpretation of the book of Revelation. There are three systems put forth by Amillennialists and if most Christians knew how these systems of literary study began, they would reject them outright!  Here are their basic descriptions:

    Preterist Interpretation

    The preterist view holds that John was referring to events of his own day, about A.D. 96. This requires mental gymnastics that are quite unnecessary if one would apply the Golden Rule of Interpretation. The Roman emperors Nero or Domitian could scarcely fulfill the requirements of this book for the Antichrist.

    Historical Interpretation

    The historical view suggests that John was describing the major events that would take place during the history of the Church. It therefore suggests that we can see these events as we look back at history. This, of course, calls for the juggling of historical events to fit the prophecy. This is historically unsound and tends to distort the plain meaning.

    Spiritualizing Interpretation

    There are those who believe everything in the book should be taken figuratively or metaphorically, that John was talking about a spiritual conflict and not a physical experience. This view is held by most amillennialists and postmillennialists. Until the turn of the century, postmillennialism gained many followers with the idea that the world was getting better and better and we were about to usher in the kingdom. Man's perpetual degeneracy during this century has rendered this a most untenable position.[32]

    Schaff helps us pinpoint just what happened historically and culturally that destroyed the prevailing interpretation of Revelation. Schaff writes:

    In Alexandria, Origen opposed chiliasm as a Jewish dream, and spiritualized the symbolical language of the prophets...But the crushing blow came from the great change in the social condition and prospects of the church in the Nicene age. After Christianity, contrary to all expectation, triumphed in the Roman empire, and was embraced by the Caesars themselves, the millennial reign, instead of being anxiously waited and prayed for, began to be dated either from the first appearance of Christ, or from the conversion of Constantine and the downfall of paganism, and to be regarded as realized in the glory of the dominant imperial state-church. Augustine, who himself had formerly entertained chiliastic hopes, framed the new theory which reflected the social change, and was generally accepted. The apocalyptic millennium he understood to be the present reign of Christ in the Catholic church, and the first resurrection, the translation of the martyrs and saints to heaven, where they participate in Christ's reign. It was consistent with this theory that towards the close of the first millennium of the Christian era there was a wide-spread expectation in Western Europe that the final judgment was at hand. [33]

    Going back to the sixth century BC, it was Xenophanes who slammed Homer's humanizing depiction of the Greek gods. They were too literal for Xenophanes because the gods’ realistic humanity shocked their followers. By Plato's time people began to interpret the deities, and their blatant hedonism symbolically or allegorically. For example, Heraclitus explained the bedroom scandals of Aphrodite by allegories and by seeing the story of the gods simply as symbolic, children could again read their escapades.

    The Jewish Rabbis of Alexandria, Egypt, in order to stop Gentile criticism of the Old Testament, also began teaching with allegory. This softened the harshness of the literal Law and made it more palatable to swallow. It is in this context that the great Church Father Origen enters.  Origen (ca. 185- ca. 254), raised in Alexandria, could not help but absorb the cultural literary patterns around him.

    Supposedly, allegory is the literary system that yields the hidden, symbolic meaning. Origen, above anyone else, helped make allegory the key method of interpreting the Bible even down through the Middle Ages.

    Origen's understanding of biblical inspiration was entirely consistent with a rigorously critical approach to the text. If the Bible is inspired by God but appears in places to be irrelevant to our condition, unworthy of God, or simply banal, we may take it for granted that we have failed to grasp its inner sense. If no spiritual significance is apparent on the surface, we must conclude that this surface meaning, which may or may not be factual, is intended symbolically...It took no genius to recognize that such allegory was a desperate effort to avoid the plain meaning of the text, and that, indeed, is how Origen viewed it.[34]

    For example, Origen tried to restate the conquest of Canaan as “Christ's conquest of the fallen human soul.”[35] On interpreting the Old Testament as a whole, he saw Christ and the individual soul on every page. On the Lord's Prayer, to Origen the hallowing of God's name and the coming of God's kingdom refer to our gradual sanctification. Trigg illustrates:

    We pray that God's name may be hallowed in our good works and that God's kingdom may come in our well-ordered life. There is not the slightest trace of apocalyptic eschatology, the notion that Christ will in fact reappear to establish God's reign on earth, in Origen's understanding of the kingdom of God, ...[36]

    Trigg gives the clearest explanation of allegorical interpretation and its failure in understanding prophecy--especially the prophecies of the New Testament. One cannot but have in mind the book of Revelation as this amazing quote is read:

    One of the most interesting features of the Commentary on Matthew (Origen's) is its tendency to psychologize the Gospel's apocalyptic eschatological imagery. Thus, when the Gospel predicts that Christ will come “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matt. 24:30), it refers to his appearance to the perfect [or mature] in their reading of the Bible. Likewise, the two comings of Christ, the first in humility and the second in glory, symbolize Christ's coming in the souls of the simple when they receive the rudiments of Christian doctrine and his coming in[to] the perfect [the mature] when they find him in the hidden meanings of the Bible. The trials and tribulations the world must endure before the second coming symbolize the difficulties the soul must overcome before it is worthy of union with the Logos.  The imminence of the second coming refers to the imminent possibility, for each individual, of death. Perhaps more radically, the two men laboring in a field, one of whom is taken and the other left when the Messiah comes (Matt. 24:40), represent good and bad influences on a person's will, which fare differently when the Logos is revealed to that person. Although Origen did not openly deny the vivid apocalyptic expectations such passages originally expressed and still did for many Christians, he tended by psychologizing them to make them irrelevant. Although that was far from Origen's intention, the outcome of his work was to make the church feel distinctly more at home in the world (Italics mine).[37]

    Note how Origen created interpretation. He did not seek interpretation. Though not directly denying prophecy, by rewriting the script and ignoring future prophesied events, he destroyed the truth intended by the passage. Note that many still held the prophetic “expectations” which were part of the belief of the early church and Origen made the “church feel distinctly more at home in the world.” Premillennialists should not and do not, as often accused by Amillennialists, ignore passages meant for present day living. Likewise, Amillennialists should not ignore the great prophetic truths that tell us clearly not to be comfortable in this world because God is bringing it to a definite conclusion.

    A Sensual Millennium

    Origen and then Augustine are the guiltiest in throwing the Church into the waiting arms of allegorical interpretation. Yet many from the third century reacted against literal millennialism because of Origen's sensual approach to the one thousand year reign of Christ. As he described it in his De Principiis, Origen held a very sensuous idea of the kingdom with “marriages and luxuriant feasts.”

    Though he is called "the father of critical investigation," Origen dealt the church a great blow with his strong leanings into allegory.  When this system was fully developed with Augustine, the book of Revelation fell back into a darkness that even persists today. The door was shut on this most profound inspired prophetic work. It could well be argued that Satan is delighted to put blinders on men as to the coming Tribulation, millennial reign, and judgment.  Amillennialist Schaff is fair when he describes the great hermeneutical failings of Origen:

    His great defect is the neglect of the grammatical and historical sense and his constant desire to find a hidden mystic meaning. He even goes further in this direction than the Gnostics, who everywhere saw transcendental, unfathomable mysteries. His hermeneutical principle assumes a threefold sense--somatic, psychic, and pneumatic; or literal, moral, and spiritual. His allegorical interpretation is ingenious, but often runs far away from the text and degenerates into the merest caprice, ...[38]

            Without question, Origen's allegorical interpretation is certainly not acceptable for serious students of God's Word!

    New Schools of Interpretation

    It was in the Alexandria, North African church that a new school of interpretation was developed along the lines of pagan and "liberal" Judaism. Morris explains:

    In the Alexandrian church a spiritualizing approach was developing due in part to the influence of Greek thought, the fact that centuries had passed without the establishment of the awaited kingdom, and in reaction to the excessive chiliasm of the Montanist movement. Origen played a major role in the rise of an allegorical method of exegesis. The mysteries of the Apocalypse can be learned only by going beyond the literal and historical to the spiritual. The spiritualizing method was greatly advanced by the work of Tyconius, who interpreted nothing by the historical setting or events of the first century. Augustine followed Tyconius in his capitulation to a totally mystical exegesis.  For the next thousand years this allegorical approach was normative for the interpretation of Revelation...A new departure was taken in the twelfth century by Joachim of Floris. Since the rise of the allegorical approach it had been generally thought that the millennial reign had begun with the historic Christ.[39]

    It is unbelievable how present-day Amillennialists, knowing the history of hermeneutics, can still with confidence cling to this system. The facts are so overwhelming that something is amiss in interpreting all of prophecy, and especially Revelation, that one would expect an Amillennialist, in the secret quiet of his study, to reexamine this final New Testament book.  Instead, he continues to throw verbal (and supposedly intellectual) boulders at Premillennialists for going back to the basics, as understood by the early church!

    A Futurist View?

    After giving the various interpretive views of Revelation, Robertson mentions the Futurist view and says,

    There is the futurist, which keeps the fulfillment all in the future and which can be neither proved nor disproved. There is also the purely spiritual theory which finds no historical allusion anywhere. This again can be neither proved nor disproved. One of the lines of cleavage is the millennium in chapter 20. Those who take the thousand years literally are either premillennialists who look for the second coming of Christ to be followed by a thousand years of personal reign here on earth or the postmillennialists who place the thousand years before the second coming...There seems abundant evidence to believe that this apocalypse, written during the stress and storm of Domitian's persecution, was intended to cheer the persecuted Christians with a view of certain victory at last, but with no scheme of history in view.[40]

    How amazing that the purpose of Revelation can be so quickly and easily relegated to cheering up the persecuted Christians in the early Church! The whole maze of description and detail is written off as hard-to-understand and confused symbolism. Furthermore, how is Robertson so sure that there is "no scheme of history in view" in the book? A great cloud or wall arises in the minds of the Amillennialists when it comes to far future prophecy. It is as if God had nothing to say about final events for world history!

    In the opinion of this author, Amillennialism was the sure bed-fellow that opened the door for biblical liberalism. With such syrupy, unsure and clouded meaning, it was easy to make the Bible a target of mysticism and wild human imagination and thus consider it an unreliable guide for humanity sinking in a swamp of evil.

     


     

                   [1] John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, (Findlay, OH: Dunham Publishing Company, 1959), p. 120.

                  [2]  Ibid.

                  [3]  Ibid, p. 121.

                    [4]  Ibid, p. 123.

                    [5]  John Peter Lange, Revelation, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, n.d.), p. 65.

                    [6]  Ibid.

                    [7]  Ibid.

                    [8] Ibid.

                    [9] Paul Lee Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy, (Rockville, MA: Assurance Pub., 1988), p. 162.

                    [10]  Ibid.

                    [11]  Ibid, p. 163.

                    [12]  Ibid, p. 164.

                    [13]  The Preacher’s Homiletic Commentary, Ibid, pp. 406-07.

                    [14]  Charles John Ellicott, Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1957), 4:529.

                    [15]  Ibid, p. 529.

                    [16]  Tim LaHaye, Revelation, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980), p. 3.

                    [17]  Ibid, pp. 531-32.

                    [18] The Interpreter’s Bible, (New York: Abingdon Press, 1957), 12: 354.

                    [19] Hal Lindsey, The Road to Holocaust, (New York: Bantam, 1989), pp. 10-11.

                    [20]  Ibid.

                    [21]  Merrill F. Unger, Archaeology and the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962), p. 267.

                    [22] Theodore Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, (Minneapolis: Klock and Klock Christian Pub., 1909), 3:183-184.

                    [23]  John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1966), p. 14.

                    [24]  Ibid, pp. 272-73.

                    [25]  Ellicott’s, p. 526.

                    [26]  Lindsey, Ibid, p. 242.

                    [27]  Ibid, p. 243.

                    [28]  Philip Schaff, Ibid, 2: 614.

                    [29]  Ibid.

                    [30]  Ibid, p. 616.

                    [31]  Ibid, pp. 617-18.

                    [32]  Ibid, p. 4.

                    [33]  Ibid, pp. 618-19.

                    [34]  Joseph Wilson Trigg, Origen, (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1983), p. 121.

                    [35]  Ibid, p. 122.

                    [36]  Ibid, p. 162.

                    [37]  Ibid, pp. 212-13.

                    [38]  Ibid, p. 792.

                     [39]  Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), p. 39.

                    [40] Archibald T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman, 1933),  VI: 277.

     

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