Here are some brief explanations and arguments for the four main views of the Book of Revelation: (1) Preterism, (2) Historicism, (3) Futurism [with some variations), and (4) Idealism / Eclecticism [two views which are often confused]. As will be seen, one’s view of the nature of the events are often more important to determining one’s view than the chronology after which the view is named. The time-lines below include history’s relation to the four empires covered in Daniel’s prophetic interpretation of the statue dream (Dan. 2).
A Preterist is one who believes that, by and large, all prophetic fulfillment came to a close during the time of the apostles. Although a future final return of Christ, judgment, and resurrection are still expected by some (often called partial preterists), the fulfillment of all eschatological (end-time) expectations was said to occur by the end of the first century (although some would say the 3rd century with the fall of Rome).
- A future view of this message makes it irrelevant to its contemporary readers.
- Why have a “revived” Jerusalem, Roman Empire, and Temple to fulfill what already happened?
- Scripture indicates that fulfillment of these eschatological prophecies was clearly to take place soon (Matthew 16:27-28, 10:22-23, 24:34, 26:63-64; Revelation 1:1-3 & 10-12, 22:6-10).
- It recognizes the apocalyptic nature of the prophecies (Rev. 1:1 “the apocalypse of Jesus Christ).
- It recognizes that the language used in Revelation is that of very common Old Testament imagery for judgment (especially of a nation i.e. Israel) (Rev. 6:12-17 cf. Isa 34:4). “The world” can refer only to Israel or to the Roman Empire (Col. 1:6).
- The Coming described in the Olivet Discourse did not occur in the 1st Century (Matt 24:29-30).
- There has been no rapture, resurrection, or final judgment (1 Thess. 4:14-17; 2 Thess. 1:7-2:8).
- Every eye did not see Christ return if it was in the 1st century (Rev. 1:7).
- The Gospel has not yet been preached to the whole world. (Matthew 24:14).
- It spiritualizes many specific prophecies (i.e. Rev. 8:1-13).
- Preterism’s origin is from the 1500′s when, in an attempt to divert attention from the Protestant identification of the Roman Catholicism as the Beast of Revelation 13, a Jesuit priest suggested it as an alternate system of interpretation.
An historicist is one who believes that prophecy began to be fulfilled during the time of the apostles and has been continuing to be fulfilled throughout history since that time. Luther applied Revelation from chapter four on to the church age. As fulfillments began to falter and history continued beyond what a historicist would have suspected it largely disappeared from scholarly circles. Today the only relevant group to follow this idea (in a modified form) are the Seventh Day Adventists.
- Revelation seen in this light applies to believers in every age (Rev. 22:6-7).
- It is the view held by the Reformers, plus many eminent scholars (John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Sir Isaac Newton, John Foxe, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, Charles Finney, C.H. Spurgeon, and Matthew Henry).
- Makes sense of both the imminent fulfillments as well as the future (Rev. 1:3).
- Startling accuracy predicting the fall of Rome to the various hordes, and the reign of the Papacy with regards to the 1,260 day/year interpretation (Rev. 12:6).
- There exists little or no agreement between adherents as to the specific fulfillment of prophecies.There are at least 50 different schools of historicist thought. If the prophecies are still relatively unidentifiable even after they are fulfilled, what good are they?
- The view focuses primarily on the European church of the 1500′s and gives little or no attention to the five centuries that have passed since then. History was not expected to last this long.
- While some interpretations do have very accurate predictions, many more do not. A few hits or misses do not prove a system of thought.
A futurist, as the title implies, believes that prophecy will find its fulfillment in the future. This view has the prophecies as being literal, physical events that take place in a time unknown to the prophets (or, as some would say, even to Jesus Christ Himself). Futurists are divided into more camps than any other view. While all views have many adherents that disagree among themselves on specific details of their eschatology, the futurist camp has major divisions within its own ranks. Some divisions are so complete that they have warranted their own sub-groups (most notably, dispensationalism).
- It is the only view that follows the Bible’s prophecies literally (recognizing obvious symbolism). A prophecy that is not fulfilled literally is difficult to see as really fulfilled (i.e. Matt 24:29).
- It avoids the confusion of trying to interpret as symbolic that which appears to be physical.
- This literal understanding shows that the events prophesied have clearly not taken place as of yet.
- John, in Revelation, specifically refers to Revelation as a prophecy (Rev. 1:1-3).
- It keeps the distinction of Israel and the Church which some of the other views blur (Rom. 9-11).
- This view removes its contemporary readers from its relevance (Rev. 22:16).
- It takes as physical that which is symbolic in other parts of Scripture (i.e. the Day of the Lord. See Ezek 32; Isa. 13:10, ch.34).
- It ignores the apocalyptic nature of Revelation (Rev. 1:1 “the apocalypse of Jesus Christ”).
- It leads to all manner of false predictions. In the last 150 years every generation of futurists have been able to find “fulfillment” of the prophecies in their own time. They have failed time and again to predict with accuracy the symbolic events of Revelation.
- Futurism’s origin is from the 1500′s when, in an attempt to divert attention from the Protestant identification of the Roman Catholicism as the Beast of Revelation 13, a Jesuit priest suggested it as an alternate system of interpretation.
A Dispensationalist is a special type of futurist, one that has enough distinctiveness to warrant its own title. This view, by far the most pervasive in today’s Christian culture, has as its main focus the total and complete separation of the Church and Israel. Based on a literal reading of the prophetic promises to Israel regarding the coming Kingdom, salvation, and restoration of national Israel, dispensationalists have created a scheme that pictures the church age as being a great parenthesis in the history of God’s dealing with Israel. This extreme separation necessarily results in the Church’s absence during Israel’s time of God’s attention. One particular distinctive is that Daniel’s 70th “seven” is broken up at the 69th “seven”, and the 70th “seven (referred to sometimes as Daniel’s 70th week) is pushed into an unknown future time period – the seven last years. Here we have a seven-year tribulation that begins after a secret coming of Christ (which is not the Second Coming) to remove the Church from the earth (the rapture). Following this tribulation time, Christ returns and sets up a literal earthly Kingdom for 1,000 years (all dispensationalists are premillennial).
Includes the above arguments, but with a major distinction between the Church’s and Israel’s “dispensations”. Such as: Period of time of the Garden of Eden. Period between the Garden & Noah… Period between Noah & the giving of the Law… Period of time between the giving of the law and Christ… From Christ’s death to the tribulation – (Age of Grace)… The period of the Tribulation – when Jews are saved… The thousand year reign of Christ.
- This view removes not only contemporary readers, but practically ALL believers from its relevance.
- Most of the “literal” fulfillments found in a dispensational model of the future are not based on any literal statements from the Bible (i.e. a “seven year tribulation”, 144,000 Jewish “witnesses”, 200,000,000 Chinese troops, helicopters, nuclear war, a cashless society, etc.).
- Dispensationalism ignores the repeated emphasis on the unity that now exists between the Church and Israel (at least spiritual Israel). We have been grafted onto Israel’s tree, there is now neither Jew nor Greek, whatever the fate of the saved, we share it (Romans 11:13-24; Heb. 8:7-13; Gal. 3).
- It ignores the fact that in Christ are promises to Israel fulfilled…spiritually (Acts 2:14; Heb. 8 & 10; Matt. 2:15, 12:6; John 2:19-22).
- If followed to its logical conclusion, dispensationalism has national Israel returning to the very temple sacrifice and legalism that were abolished by the New Covenant.
- It forces Christ’s coming into two parts, with a secret rapture taking place before the seventieth week begins. This two-part coming and “Pre-Tribulation” rapture is not found anywhere in Scripture (Matt. 24:29-31;1 Cor 15:23; 1 Thess. 4:15-17; 2 Thess. 2:1; 2 Peter 3:10-14).
- It breaks apart Daniel’s 70 weeks, making the prophecy apply to Antichrist (Daniel 9:24-27).
A Hyper-Futurist, as the title implies, believes that ALL prophecy will find its fulfillment in the future. This view has all Biblical prophecy as betokening literal, physical events that take place in a time unknown to anyone. Most Hyper-Futurists place the current state of affairs in the “gap” between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, and await the creation of the “Neo” Heavens and Earth (as opposed to the Eschata-New Heavens and Earth – see Rev. 21). All events in our recorded history are merely types of the true eschatological events to occur in the “Meta-Future.” Hyper-Futurists are divided into fewer camps than any other view, the most popular one being represented here (there is a relatively small group of “ultra-hyper-futurists” that insist that only the first half of Genesis 1:1 has taken place, but they are in the minority).
- It is the only view that follows the Bible’s prophecies hyper-literally (recognizing no symbolism whatsoever).
- This view reconciles the Old Earth and Young Earth models (i.e. this Proto-Universe is not the Young Universe of
- This view removes all possibility of false prophetic speculation from its adherents.
- It keeps the day and hour of Christ’s final return unknown.
- It solves many of the so-called “problem” passages (Lev. 11:6; Mt. 13:32; Rom. 16:13).
- NOTE: Being a relatively new view, objections to the contrary are few.
- This view removes Gen. 1:2 – Rev 22:21 from contemporary relevance.
- The gap of Gen. 1:1-1:2 is highly speculative.
- Hyper-Futurists ignore Hyper-Futurism’s origin…that of the infamous late night council of IHOP.
- Yes, this is a joke!
These two categories are often confused or combined, but I put them under one heading as overlap is possible.
An Eclecticist may be said to believe that all the major views are “correct in what they affirm, but wrong in what they deny.” That is, each view has identified true fulfillments, but they should not rule out additional fulfillments. This view tries to get all the advantages of each view while losing each view’s disadvantages.
An Idealist is one who believes that “prophecy” is an allegory for principles of God throughout time. Unlike the other three views, idealists look for no specific fulfillment to any given prophecy. They can, however, recognize when a specific spiritual principle manifests itself in a particular physical way. When a principle moves from that of the ideal to that of the real, that “prophecy” is said to have been fulfilled.
- Revelation seen in this light applies to every believer in every age. They are not simply part of a whole, great story (historicism), nor are they awaiting some far off event (futurism), neither are they merely looking back in time to see a principle for living (preterism). Instead, each individual believer can expect total fulfillment in their own life, as well as their lifetime.
- Makes sense of both the imminent fulfillments as well as the future (Rev. 1:3, 22:10).
- Does not fail in trying to force events into a pre-arranged eschatology that may truly include only partially realized events that fall short of the whole picture.
- Recognizes Revelation’s character as that of an apocalypse, a story told in vivid colors and symbols (Rev. 1:1 “the apocalypse of Jesus Christ”).
- Takes account of similar fulfillments in the New Testament (e.g., several of Matthew’s messianic fulfillments).
- There exists little or no agreement between adherents as to the specific fulfillment of prophecies (when there are any).
- Idealism fails in its disregard for literal fulfillment of the prophecies of God of which, it could be said, if not fulfilled literally are not really fulfilled at all.
This should not be a divisive issue – no single view has been defined as Christian orthodoxy or heresy. A lot more could be said about, for, and against each of these views – this is just a helpful starter guide.For a more detailed consideration, I would suggest reading:
- Steve Gregg. Four Views of Revelation: A Parallel Commentary. Thomas Nelson, 2013.
- Stanely Gundry. Four Views on the Book of Revelation. Zondervan, 1998.