I was just reading through a helpful article on the four main schools of prophetic interpretation. These basically comprise the ways people have been interpreting the book of Revelation since it was written. You might find it helpful to read this PDF, before you continue with my statements below.
However, I will give a quick summary of the four schools as well:
- Idealist (Symbolic)
1. Preterist: This claims that most, if not all, of Revelation took place in the first century. It relies heavily on Matthew 24, where Jesus speaks of things happening in the current generation. Therefore, Nero was the Anti-Christ and the Tribulation was the destruction of Jerusalem. One point that Preterists do not agree on is the Second Coming: Some of them say Jesus already returned and some not yet. This school was formalized in the 17th century.
2. Historicist: This states that Revelation predicted things that took/take place between the time of the Apostles until the return of Jesus. It allows for various interpretations depending on the season. For example, Historicists alive during the time of Nero would have named him as the Beast. Other Historicists, like Martin Luther, at the time of the Protestant Reformation, called the Pope the Beast. Similarly, in the 1940’s Historicists might have called Hitler the Beast. Therefore, it gives a general credibility to Revelation as prophecy, but does not require any specific consensus on interpretations. It was first suggested in the 6th century.
3. Idealist: The prophecies of Revelation do not necessarily indicate any actual events, in the present or the future, (but they could), and are mostly symbolic. Revelation is therefore mostly a way to glean spiritual lessons and those vary, depending on the reader.
4. Futurist: The major events of Revelation will take place in the future and only then they will be identifiable. This allows Revelation to retain Canonical status, wihout ever having to give a modern explantion of what it really predicts. Futurists disagree over the timing of the future rapture. This school is the most popular today and was formed in the 1830’s.
The article quoted above is nice in that it comprehensively and neutrally tries to explain how people have legitimate different interpretations. The only real conclusion after this article, that any humble and thoughtful person can have, is that none of us can know the full truth, with certainty. We each have our preconceptions and preferences and that affects how we understand.
I know that for me, as a trained engineer (and an idealist), I am always looking for the right answer. Life to me frequently is a long hallway where every ten steps there is a right and a wrong door and we have to choose wisely and correctly—if we want to explore any of the rooms. That preconditioned tendency towards a very binary, black and white existence, does not allow much space for uncertainty. (I am sure that someone has likely identified this trait and even created a scale out of it…like how comfortable we are with uncertainty. 0 could mean uncomfortable, and 100 would mean comfort with ambiguity.)
Anyway, if such a scale exists, I am plausibly around a 65. Which means, I am somewhat comfortable with uncertainty. And yet, when it comes to the Bible (which I have been taught is the Christian’s absolute truth), I am more likely about a 12. I prefer to know the precise solution to the given math problem, especially spiritually. Otherwise, how can I pledge my full allegiance to the cause of Christ? And yet, how am I to find spiritual comfort in a topic as big as the Future, where there is clearly no consensus? There is not—and has never been—consensus, whereby human minds (even Spirit-indwelled Christian minds) have agreed to a corresponding 2+2=4 on this subject. Think about that: even true believers have never unanimously agreed on how to interpret the book of Revelation. Therefore, there is no way to assign a right or wrong answer, except to claim opinion or doctrine.
I guess this makes me wrinkle my brow in contemplation, and makes me want to lend my mental capacity to consider whether I can dream up any other outside-the-box ideas.
What if we were to take the book, The Final Quest, by Rick Joyner and read it? Have you read it? If not, I would suggest you consider doing so. It can be described as allegorical, and about the end of the age. And yet, it appears to me, as a reader, to be a legitimate vision that the author experienced. (Some may inquire how exactly I define a “legitimate vision,” and my answer to that would be, “I honestly don’t really know.”) Even so, did Rick Joyner have the Holy Spirit when he wrote The Final Quest? I would say probably. Did John have the Holy Spirit when he wrote Revelation? Again, I think yes.
So, my first idea is not intended to be a demotion, only to build off of an idea that Martin Luther raised around 500 years ago: That Revelation should not be part of the biblical Canon. Luther stated that this last book of our Bible was simply far too open to interpretation. Just for the sake of argument, what if the book of Revelation is no different than The Final Quest? Would any of us argue that Rick Joyner’s book should be added to the Bible as the 67th book? I doubt that even Mr. Joyner would wish for that. But if we were to go ahead and do that, it would instantly open it up for scores of critiques and interpretations.
I would call Rick Joyner an artist. He may well also be a prophet and if so, I would support his giftings. But art as such is not something I am likely to attack, since it is the sincere creation of the artist. I test every prophecy I hear, but I do not test all art that I see or experience. I let art be art and I respect it for that.
And so I would like to suggest that maybe we need a fifth school of prophetic thought which I would call Artistic (or Non-Canon). See, if Revelation is no longer Canon, then we have less reason to argue over it. Instead, we can let it be the artistic book that it is. Similiar to The Final Quest.
Some may argue that this notion of mine is merely a re-branding of one of the existing four schools of thought—the Idealist (or Symbolic). But I feel the need to make a distinction here. The Artistic school would be different from the other four in that it would start with the assumption that Revelation is not Canon; and therefore, interpreting it symbolically does not diminish our respect and veneration for the rest of Scripture. Meaning, we can still label Revelation as symbolic, without also implying that the Gospels are merely symbolic, for example.
By raising this idea, I am not saying I fully believe it, nor am I arguing that Revelation should be removed from the Bible; but maybe only that that book should have a special introduction—something that could identify it as distinctly different from the rest of the Bible?
Just a thought…one that I picked up and brushed off after all these centuries. Thanks go to Martin Luther.
For the resilient-minded, here are some controversial yet related ideas for further thought: https://www.jesuswordsonly.com/books/219-luther-and-canon.html (I do not fully endorse this page, only that it raises some fascinating concepts.)
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