Saturday, April 04, 2009

A Future View of the Past

If you’ve ever read The Revelation of St. John the Divine you may describe it as a book both fascinating and difficult. It begins, logically enough, as a series of letters from Jesus (penned via St. John who was, at the time of its writing, imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos for his bold and passionate beliefs and preaching) to the seven primary Christian churches (congregations) in Asia Minor. These churches were located in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Through His words Christ uplifts, encourages, challenges and chastises these foundational congregations for their hard work, spiritual practices and backsliding. (I have spent a lifetime revisiting this book and studying commentary and one issue I have found absurd is that many seem to dismiss the simple fact that these communications were written to very specific groups of people at a very specific moment in time for very specific purposes. I think it is essential to keep this in the forefront of any attempt at interpreting this book.) Following these seven letters The Revelation invites the reader into John’s visions as he is ‘taken away in the Spirit’ through the gates of heaven and transports us into a fantastical journey involving angelic beings, the Throne of God, the Book of Life, beasts, plagues, terrifying horsemen, trumpets, vials, pestilence, Wormwood, armies, prophets, Satan, war, blasphemy, The Whore of Babylon and the ever-mysterious number 666. One is left stupefied and wondering at the meaning and value of this bizarre story.
Believers – and non-believers – have been wrestling with this book since the first century and there are volumes of interpretations ancient and contemporary. Recent scholarship suggests there are four primary views of The Revelation, each having their own point of perspective and each quite different from the other. Briefly defined they are as follows: The Preterist View holds that most of the events described in the book transpired within the years immediately following its authorship. The Historic View suggests that the events described in the book cover the entire Church Age – that being everything beginning with Christ’s ministry through the present day and until Christ’s return to earth. The Spiritual View holds that the book is simply but profoundly a book of encouragement containing lessons for spiritual warfare and the development of faith. And The Futurist View believes the events described in the book will mostly occur near the ‘end of the world’ foreshadowing the Second Coming of Jesus. (For a clear and concise treatise on these brief definitions I would suggest this website/blog:
In previous posts I have admitted that I grew up in a small, conservative Baptist congregation that preached this latter view – almost on a weekly basis. I am both a lover and a hater of The Futurist View. I hate it because I have lived my entire life under the cloud of the imminent return of Christ that, according to other Futurist beliefs, included a final war involving pretty much every nation on earth. I love it because I have lived my entire life with the hope of the imminent return of Christ that, according to other Futurist beliefs, included a final restoration of humankind. The other reason I hate it and love it is this: it makes a lot more sense in 2009 than it did in 1959 when I first started listening.
I think it’s fair to say that this futuristic perspective of The Revelation is not based solely on its 22 chapters. Enter The Book of Daniel, parts of Joel, Isaiah and Ezekiel, Christ’s Mount Olivet Discourse and some words from the not-to-be-outdone St. Paul in his letters to The Thessalonians. It gets complicated. Contemporary futurists overlay passages from these various texts to create a timeline of events that have an uncanny relevance to our current age. (This, of course, is not unique to our generation; every generation has claimed to see the signs.) Daniel’s ’70 weeks’ are essential to this chart of events and the clock seems to have started ticking with the re-gathering of the Jewish nation and the international sanction of The State of Israel in 1948. From that point forward The Futurists have created a checklist of events that must unfold – and, frankly, have unfolded – prior to Christ’s return. A few of these significant events are the formation of The European Union; a global economic crisis; the creation of vast military power; a global focus on Israel; the concept of a one-world government and currency; a ‘falling away’ from authentic Christianity; a lukewarm church; harsh, bizarre and devastating weather patterns; earthquakes and hunger and many imposters coming ‘in His Name.’ These may seem attributable to any age but, in fact, they are not. And, if The Futurists are correct, yet to come is the Anti-Christ (most Futurists believe he is alive and walking on planet earth at this moment,) the re-building of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, the establishment of a world currency and government and all nations turned against Israel.
Christendom has wrestled for 2,000 years with The Revelation. Perhaps the lowest point has been in the past two decades when so many have exploited the concept of the imminent return of Jesus for personal gain. Hey, it’s a popular topic. But it deserves our utmost attention, should not be fictionalized and needs appropriate study and discernment. I hate it and love it – and yes, I am a Futurist. 


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