Rev. 20: Some hermeneutical conclusions

Introduction

We will begin with the various methods taken to interpret Revelation 20 and then see how they impact upon the actual exegesis.

Idealism:  This is the easiest and nowadays most common (esp Reformed) approach to Revelation.  Its strengths is that it recognises obviously symbolic themes in Revelation, and depending on the imaginative powers of the commentator, one can find some very fine applications for sermons.   However, this approach seems more appropriate to the worst of Plato than it does to a linear, Hebraic model.   For all of its symbolism, Revelation 20 identifies itself as a prophecy, meaning things will happen in space-time. With regard to Revelation 20, it usually has that chapter recapitulating earlier chapters, so that it does not follow sequentially from chapter 19 (for if it did, premillennialism would entail).  This view entails another problem:  if Revelation 20 recapitulates earlier sections, and if Satan is bound right  now in the Church Age so that he may not deceive the nations, then how do we account for Revelation 13 where Satan is said to be actively deceiving the nations?

Historicism: This is the standard Reformed approach.  It identifies the office of papacy as Anti-Christ.  It has some very interesting and insightful readings of church history that are worth consulting.  While I have no problem morally identifying the papacy as Anti-Christ, it does seem that a future New World Order model can just as easily fit the bill.  It should be mentioned, though, that earlier commentators in the first three centuries of the church, while they were premillennial, were historicist premillennial (thus seeing seven ages in the church).  I just don’t see the Reformational historicism taking into account the syntax of Revelation 20.

Preterism, whether full or partial:  Preterism does a better job of the Olivet Discourse than it does of Revelation.   The this generation argument is fairly straight-forward.  Partial-preterism has more logical problems in the book of Revelation:   on what grounds do we say that most of the book is already fulfilled but the bodily second coming and final judgment isn’t yet fulfilled, especially when there are no indicators in the text that such a transition is warranted.

Futurism:   If the book of Revelation is read literally and straightforwardly, it’s conclusions may be bizarre but they aren’t difficult to understand.   You don’t have to worry about which symbols mean which.  Arbitrary assignations of meaning to various symbols is kept at a minimum.  The greatest strength is perceived by some to be the greatest weakness.   A sequential reading of Rev. 19-20 necessarily entails premillennialism.   Some of the implications, though, bother some people.  I have to ask, though, if this is the biblical data then we are bound to accept its conclusions.

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