Revelation – How to Approach It

Revelation (Part 3) – Jesus Revealed

How do you approach Revelation?  In order to understand why someone teaches Revelation the way he/she does, it is important to understand the four main ways people approach it. Here is a synopsis of the “Four approaches to Revelation.”

  1. The Spiritual approach – The prophecies of Revelation portray the ongoing cosmic conflict and the central theme of the triumph of good over evil.
  •  Strengths
    • There is a cosmic struggle – Rev 12 woman giving birth and a dragon wants to consume.
    • There is cleansing going on in the world, in which most are punished.
  • Weaknesses
    • It doesn’t hold to a natural reading of the text
    • It misses the point of God’s faithful promises to Israel
    • It misses the role of the church today and in the future Rev 2-3; 19-20

2. The Preterist approach – Revelation was fulfilled during the time of the Roman Empire, some specifically hold to completion by AD 70, or mainly in the first or first few centuries and not prophecy about the end of time.

  • Strengths
    • The judgment on Israel in AD 70 is very significant.
    • There were many challenges the early church had with Rome.
  • Weaknesses
    • It doesn’t hold to a natural reading of the events in the text.
    • It has no prophetic message to the church in the last 2000 years.
    • It misses the point of God’s faithful promises to Israel.
    • It misses the descriptions of Israel’s repentance, cleansing and regeneration during the Tribulation. Rev 6-18

3. The Historicist approach – Revelation is a survey of church history fulfilled in time and approaching the Second Coming of Christ. The churches of Revelation 2-3 describe the synopsis of all church history. 

  • Strengths
    • It declares God’s control of history. The emphasis is on God’s sovereignty.
    • It declares that Jesus is coming back in the future.
  • Weaknesses
    • It forgets the significant promises (covenants) God made to Israel, which will yet be fulfilled.
    • It forgets to let Daniel 2 and Ezekiel provide interpretation to Revelation.
    • It doesn’t recognize Daniel’s 70th week as the Tribulation period, yet to be fulfilled.
    • It declares the Catholic Church as the antichrist, which is erroneous.
    • It forces history as one thread (through Israel, to the Church, to Christ’s rule), but misses the big picture of separate phases of history and why they are unique.
    • It assumes interpretation, without letting Scripture interpret Scripture

4. The Futurist approach – Revelation 2-3 describe trends in the church age and Revelation 4 to the end describe literal events in the future.

  • Strengths
    • It looks at coming future events. This was promoted by the “Left Behind” series.
    • It promotes God is in control of events and is victorious in the end.
  • Weaknesses
    • Too many focus on a Eurocentric interpretation and make Romanism the antichrist. Although some believe this was written to get attention off of Romanism.
    • It leaves the church out of the book of Revelation, because Rev 2-3 ascribes what John saw in the first century, not succeeding centuries.

 

*   The Literal Historico-Grammatical approach to interpreting Scripture 

  • A Literal approach according to the type of writing
  • Historico– according to the history, background and culture in which it is found
  • Grammatical according to the word and verb meanings in their context

You must maintain “Authorial intent

 SO WHAT?

  • God is in control of history. We see struggle, but God is not struggling. He is sovereign. He is not struggling with how people interpret Scripture. Interpretation is part of growth.
  • Your method of Interpretation is everything in understanding Scripture. Everyone needs to learn what their approach is. If you want to grow and influence others, you will need to know how you approach Scripture and HOW YOU EXPECT YOUR BIBLE TEACHER TO APPROACH Scripture.

NOW WHAT?

  • Review your notes and ask, “How is my Bible leader approaching Scripture?”
  • Be a Berean. God knows the outcome.

Questions

  • What are reasons people plunge into the different approaches to Revelation?
  • Are there any dangers in choosing the wrong approach?
  • How would you define or describe what the “Literal Historico-grammatical” approach is?
  • The Literal HIstorico-grammatical approach is often considered difficult. Why?

Book Review: Multiply: Disciples making Disciples by Francis Chan

“Multiply” by Francis Chan is a well-written, engaging book on an overview of the Bible story.  As Francis continues to minister to thousands of people around the world, he has provided an excellent volume to establish the story line for new believers to Christianity and Jesus Christ.  It is written so that anyone can read and understand the thrust of the message.

What is especially helpful in the book are the three parts preceding the overview of the Old and New Testaments.  The first part describes “Living as a Disciple Maker” and highlights from the beginning our responsibility to Jesus Christ to grow and make disciples ourselves.  The second part describes “Living as the Church” and the importance of life in the church, especially when the church is filled with imperfect people.  The third part describes “How to Study the Bible” and gives excellent principles of how to study and prayerfully obey it.

The last two sections cover an overview of the Old and New Testaments.  He works through important aspects of each Testament in God’s story of creation, fall and redemption.  His gospel presentation is clear; his emphasis on the sin failure of man is evident.  And he ensures God is glorified as the only means of redemption from man’s fallen state.

I appreciate how in the section on “How to Study the Bible” and specifically “Studying Logically,” he emphasizes interpreting Scripture by finding the plain meaning of the text.  He wisely places emphasis on the context and understanding the difference between interpretation and application.  His next two portions define “Find the plain meaning” and “Take the Bible Literally.” (pp. 129-133)  I agree with him completely.  These are accurate tools for interpretation. 

However, it doesn’t appear that he does that in his overview of the Old and New Testaments.  For example, it appears he takes the prophecies of Ezekiel 36, which he identifies given to Israel, but applies them directly to believers in the Church (pp. 279-280).  Those are prophecies given to Israel and will be fulfilled with Israel when the Lord comes back at the Second Coming.  There is truth about how the Holy Spirit will transform hearts of unbelievers in the Church Age, but not in fulfillment of Ezekiel 36.  Another example is identifying Jesus’ return at the Second Coming to be the end of the world (p. 316-318).  If a person looks for the plain meaning and interprets literally, Jesus’ return at the Second Coming precedes a thousand year millennium, which Francis does not identify.  Francis graciously identifies differences in end time perspectives (p. 317), but he takes a symbolic view of interpretation for many things rather than take a plain, literal interpretation. 

With that being said, Chan’s passion for discipleship and reaching the world for Christ is almost unparalleled.  I am convicted in reading this volume and pray that I might also seek to reach the world for Christ to the extent or manner that Francis Chan has.

Explaining Divine History – Part 3

            I used to consider history dull and boring.  When I grew up, I realized how fascinating it is.  I also learned that the more I learn from history, I just MIGHT not repeat it.  How do you look at history?

            This short series, called “Explaining Divine History,” is seeking to establish fundamental truths in order to understand Divine History.  Part one stated that Salvation was, is and will always be the same.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).  For those who lived prior to Jesus Christ, it was the same, although they did not have the same revelation as we have in the completed canon of Scripture, so they trusted God in His revealed provision for redemption. 

Part two briefly described the biblical method of interpretation.  If you follow a “Literal Historico-grammatical” approach to biblical interpretation, you’ll establish one correct interpretation in the context of the entire Bible to harmonize all of Scripture.

      Part three isolates God’s promises to Israel.  In brief, we need to understand, “God’s promises to Israel were not merely nice words to make His people feel special, but unconditional, eternal and literal promises to the nation of Israel that have yet to be fulfilled.”  These promises were 1) unconditional covenants that depend on the integrity of God, not the fickleness of people.  What God said, He meant and He will ensure the covenants are fulfilled.  They are 2) eternal in that they are not subject to “the Old Testament period,” but now do not apply.  And they are 3) literal in that they will be literally fulfilled and we don’t need to spiritualize them to satisfy some narrow theological perspective.

When God promised Abraham a land, a seed and a blessing in Genesis 12:1-3, He wasn’t joking.  That Covenant called the Abrahamic Covenant was amplified in the Palestinian Covenant (Deut. 30:1-10) for the land, the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:12-16) for the seed and the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) for the blessing.  If Israel is now scattered and God has formed a new spiritual species in the church (2 Cor. 5:17), then how do we know covenant fulfillment must still take place?  Ezekiel explains this.

Ezekiel explains what has happened to Israel and what God will do for Israel.  This should not be symbolically interpreted.  A good student should ask, “What is the natural interpretation of the Scripture?”  Ezekiel 36:17-19 explains that God “scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed throughout the countries.”  That didn’t happen when the Northern Kingdom was taken captive in B.C. 722 (2 Kings 17:23) or when the Southern Kingdom was taken into exile in B.C. 586 (2 Kings 25).  Israel was scattered among the nations after 70 A.D. when the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans.  The Jews continue to be scattered among the nations to this day.

God continues to demonstrate great concern for His people.  Jewish nonbelievers are greatly blessed, except when they come under persecution (Ezek 36:20-21).  Israel is not preserved as a nation or race because of how great she is, but for His name’s sake (Ezek 36:22-23).  God promises to take the Jews out of the countries (Ezek 36:24).  He declares He will cleanse them from their sin (of rebellion, independence and indifference) (Ezek 36:25).  He will regenerate them and put His Spirit in them to walk in His ways (Ezek. 36:26-27).  That has not been done yet in Israel’s history.  Furthermore, they will dwell in the land that God gave their fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ezek 36:28).  That is the fulfillment of the Palestinian Covenant. 

God didn’t record these verses to be symbolically interpreted.  God didn’t promise this to Israel to give them some warm fluffy promise that wouldn’t happen.  God wrote these words for a purpose and it explains divine history.  God is not done with the nation of Israel.

The next installment will deal with the beginning and organization of the church.

Explaining Divine History – Part 2

             In Part one of Explaining Divine History, one must realize there was one way of salvation.  That way of salvation was understood according to what God revealed to man at his point in history.  To Adam and Eve, God revealed the first gospel message in Genesis 3:15.  The seed of the woman would crush the seed of Satan and all rebellion would be paid for satisfying the righteousness of God.  Later, Abraham believed God would provide through His promise that a seed (child) would be born that would remove the penalty for sin.  Salvation by faith is the consistent requirement and is found only in God’s provision through Jesus Christ.  It was fully revealed and explained in the completed canon of Scripture.

            So how do you interpret that canon of Scripture to get one clear interpretation?  There is one interpretation and many applications.  In order to understand that one clear interpretation, the student of Scripture must follow a “Literal Historico-grammatical” approach to interpreting.  That means he looks at the literal or natural view of what the passage is saying. Secondly, he looks at the history surrounding the Scripture as it was written in that culture by that author to that audience.  And thirdly, he looks at the words and the arrangement of the words to get the correct interpretation.  A correct interpretation must be done from the Hebrew and Chaldean in the Old Testament and Greek from the New Testament.  Another word used to describe interpretation is “hermeneutics.” 

Why is this important?  Please note the following principles. The divinely inspired Bible must be interpreted based on a “literal historico-grammatical” approach (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

·         God means what He says and says what He means.  Any apparent problem merely needs careful study to understand God’s unity of truth so that there are no contradictions.

·         God speaks through different authors using their education, personality and background. You can tell by their letters that many different personalities, educational training and backgrounds were used in the writings.

·         God speaks through different forms of literature that must be interpreted based on that type of literature.

o   Narrative literature must have consistency in historical accounts.

o   Poetry must consider rules of symmetry, parallelism, creativity and contrast.

o   Epistles must be considered regarding the audience and application.

o   Eschatology must be considered related to other eschatological passages.

·         The literal interpretation is made unless the context dictates that the words or phrases are used as a metaphor or another figure of speech Dan. 9:26; Zech 6:12.

·         The Bible must be interpreted as a united whole, because it has one divine author 2 Pet. 1:20-21

·         Scripture must be interpreted to include both the Sovereign purposes of God and the free will of Man  John 3:16

            Because God is the author of Scripture, there can be no contradictions in the original manuscripts recorded by the human authors.  Those human authors were “carried along” (2 Peter. 1:20-21), so that God’s complete thought toward man was recorded for man without destroying the literary style, vocabulary or background of the human authors in the original manuscripts.  Where there seems to be a contradiction, it is necessary to compare Scripture with Scripture.  Where difficult passages are found, the natural reading of Scripture is used in that genre of literature.  Too many theological systems impose their theology on the Scripture rather than taking the natural or normal reading of the Scripture.

The next installment will describe that God’s promises to Israel were not nice words, but literal promises to the nation of Israel and have yet to be fulfilled.