Responding to Ron Rhodes’ The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy
Debate 5: Ron Rhodes asks, ‘How Are We to Understand the Book of Revelation?’
Rhodes asks, ‘Which Interpretive Model Is Correct – Historicism, Idealism, Preterism, or Futurism?’
For starters, though Rhodes calls it a debate, he is not attempting to give you a fair representation of the various views. Instead, his intention is to lead you into his belief of Futurism. I am writing to counter his view and to warn you of what you can lose by believing futurism and, on the other hand, of the great gain in believing the truth.
Your Sword is at Stake
Chapter 4-22 of The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave, is at stake. That’s 19 out of 22 chapters. That’s 86% of a book that was designed to strengthen you in times of trouble that futurists say doesn’t belong to you. They say it’s about another people; Jews who they believe will remain on earth after the rapture.
This futurist thinking is partly based on the gross misinterpretation of words, “Write those things which shall be hereafter.” The term “hereafter,” however, was not meant for some 2000 years hereafter, but hereafter to the day in which John was living. They were to be words of prediction and comfort for that generation as they faced their enemies, Babylon, the Beast and the 2nd Beast, under Satan. These words, in turn, have become a book to comfort countless generations as they have faced the same enemies.
Discovering the Interpretation Model
Firstly, the method of interpretation that one uses for a book is not an outside tool that unlocks the text, but is instead a tool that’s interpreted from the text. The ‘interpretive model’ is therefore something that is discovered by observation. With that in mind we can determine what method of interpretation that should be applied to the book of Revelation by observing the genre of the book, the intended audience and any evidence of timing related the audience or any predictions.
The Genre is Prophecy
In the opening lines of the book we read, ‘Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.’ This book is therefore no doubt a prophecy. But what is prophecy? Is it just a bunch of predictions?
Prophecy in the Old Testament and also here in The Revelation was primarily a form of feedback from God as to how well His people were doing in light of their covenant relationship with Him. Then, in light of His evaluation of His people, God sometimes predicted various judgments as warnings. These, however, were preventable through changed behavior.
Such prophecies often spoke of the enemies of His people Israel and how God was going to deal with them too. In the case of The Revelation, it speaks likewise of the enemies of His people the Church, and how God will deal with them. Based on their behavior, the prophecies often predicted their inevitable judgment.
So, prophecy dealt in part with behavior and in part with an associated prediction of judgment. In The Revelation, God begins judgment with His people to bring about repentance where needed. This is appropriate because judgment begins in the household of God. He then deals with their enemies, the world (Babylon), world power (the beast), false religion (the second beast), and Satan (the dragon).
The Genre is Apocalyptic
The book is filled with symbolic terms in phrases, names and numbers that need to be interpreted. The initial audience would have had the keys for the interpretation. Firstly was to note what John said concerning the symbols as he often interpreted his own writing.
Secondly, was recognizing the reuse of terms that had previously been used in Scripture. Here the original context lent meaning to the newer context, however, determining whether it was symbolic or literal required further consideration.
Once a pattern of figurative or literal interpretation is identified, barring clear internal changes, then that becomes the normative method for the whole text. This is because the author would not chop and change as this would be confusing to his audience.
In Revelation, John is most helpful by setting us off in the direction of figurative interpretation, interpreting his references to Old Testament images with figurative meaning. For example, ‘Gog and Magog’ (Rev 20:7), the traditional foes of the people of God, are interpreted by John as ‘the nations in the four corners of the earth’. That makes sense as this world is at enmity with the Church, God’s people; just as Gog and Magog had been with Israel.
Another example is where he interprets the image of ‘the ancient dragon’ as ‘that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan’. Though he interprets for us in many cases, he also leaves the readers to interpret terms based on their knowledge of the Scriptures.
For some reason, many stubbornly hold on to a literal meaning when it comes to the numbers, even in the face of them clearly being used symbolically. Remember, however, that consistency is the key. Therefore, if in the case of numbers figurative language has been clearly and repeatedly used, we should assume that all the numbers are most likely figurative too.
With this in mind, consider how the Spirit of God is introduced to the Churches at the beginning of the letter as the 7 Spirits. We know it’s the Holy Spirit, but 7 is used do display the figurative meaning of omnipresence, i.e. that He is with each Church. This sets the scene for numbers having meaning.
Throughout Revelation distinct numbers are used that were previously used in God’s word, only now with figurative meaning. Revelation uses an apocalyptic style that embraces figurative language with clear evidence of symbolically represented numbers. (See Numerology in The Revelation).
Sometimes the numbers are used literally and figuratively, for example the 7 churches, but never only literally. However, even in the case of the churches, the selection of a literal seven out of many churches in Asia was intentional toward the figurative meaning behind the number 7. It was a comment on God’s church.
Often the numbers that are used are combinations of the distinct numbers of Scripture which adds to the meaning. With that in mind, any literal interpretation of the 144000 of the tribes of Israel or of the 1000 years in chapter 20 is nullified. This dismantles any Futurist notion of 144000 Jews after the Rapture or of a literal future 1000 year reign of Christ.
The Genre is a Letter
The book is a letter that was written to a specifically named audience. It had a purpose. It was prophetic, i.e. correctional and predictive. Like other New Testament letters it was instructional and encouraging. Be assured, all 22 Chapters were meaningful and relevant to the audience.
The Genre is a Drama
The structure of the book is a series of visions within a drama. This is to be expected as the main Church was Ephesus (where John was from) with a large amphitheater and they would have been used to this form of communicating. The scenes are repetitions of the same time frame only dealing with how Jesus is pictured and how the Church is seen in context to different opposition. This form of presentation emphasizes that it was a message firstly for the audience of that time and place.
Through interpretation we can see that the initial audience was very much in mind. For example, the audience is stated as ‘the seven churches in the province of Asia’. Yet, based on assumptions around the change of scenes between chapter 3 and 4 (or 5 and 6 in some cases), Futurists interpret chapters 4-22 as being applicable to an end-time audience. In so doing, they rob us of applying in our lives what is clearly interpreted for John’s generation.
The phrase, ‘what must shortly/soon take place’, is stated as the reason for the Revelation of Jesus Christ. It forms part of the reason for the book. The alternative, ‘what must quickly take place’, i.e. whenever it happens it will be ‘quickly’, is debunked by the intended audience having been clearly identified. Unless, of course, “quickly” is used with regard to the initial audience and not some future audience. Furthermore, the phrase “for the time is near/at hand” (Rev 1:3) establishes the imminent nature of what is prophesied, especially that it is part of the introduction to the book as a whole.
The number of the mark of the beast, 666, clearly identifies as Nero, yet the beast ‘had the wound by a sword, and did live’. Therefore, though Nero had died, the beast was predicted to manifest through another leader as it had through Nero. History shows us that Domitian was the leader that was like Nero in his persecution of the Church, a reincarnation of the beast that they were being warned about.
Though they appeared in human form in John’s day as the world, false religion and ungodly governmental power (all under Satan), these enemies, including Satan, are written about in such a way that they are seen to transcend the generations. So, though they are definitely interpreted with a Preterist model, i.e. for the 1st century churches that were addressed, nevertheless, their longevity before their destruction lends to an intended Idealist model too, i.e. to the broader Church and the ongoing Church.
The end of these enemies who afflicted the churches that John wrote to (mainly Preterist), and who afflicted other churches then and many more throughout the Church age (also Idealist) will be sentenced to the Lake of Fire at the end of the Church age (briefly Futurist).
Preterist Model is Correct
In Conclusion, the Revelation is Preterist in the main with Idealist and Futurist parts. However, the evidence in the text points to a Preterist interpretation. This Preterist interpretation was intended for John’s audience, but as application for the Church throughout the ages. Preterism is the correct interpretive model. Preterism does not imply that there isn’t any mention of idealistic or futuristic elements.
Idealism for Application
Idealism is a great way to apply the Preterist truth for all generations. It was obviously not Idealist for the original audience, however, as evidence points to that audience being addressed along with certain specific issues of their time.
As for Historicism, this is the view that the Revelation is of events that would unfold in history. The same objection exists as was given to the Idealist model. Parallels in history are better considered as application of Preterist interpretation rather than the text specifically predicting these latter events. Identifying the papal system in Revelation during the Reformation is an example of this. To the extent this was true, its only by way of application of the timeless truths and principles found in Preterist interpretation.
Don’t let the Futurists steal Chapter 4-22 from you. Beware of those who inadvertently make Israel more important than Jesus Himself. God became man and said He was going to build a Church and the Futurists make it a parenthesis. Some will dance with a blend of these beliefs, but, the extent to which the Church is diminished, they diminish the very purpose of Christ and therefore of God Himself.
Revelation 4-22 is for the Church
The Church has replaced Israel. Now, I do not mean by that that the Jews are forsaken. Rather, the Church is the fulfillment of the New Covenant that the Jews were promised. Their own Messiah is building His Church in which He includes any who believe. His is the blood of the New Covenant. The Apostles were among the first of multitudes of Jews who have believed. To the Jews belongs this covenant. It’s their New Covenant by which I, a Gentile, am grafted into their heritage of covenants and promises that are fulfilled in Christ, the Son of God.
Gentiles are grafted into the Jewish faith. The Church comprises Jewish believers in their Messiah (Christ) and Gentile believers in the same. It is the Jewish Messiah’s plan for Israel and the world. It’s the New Israel that God has established for any of Israel to participate in (through faith) and also for anyone else in the world.
New Covenant Replaced the Old
Concerning God’s promise to Israel, the book of Hebrews reads: “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: … For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:6-13).
The last generation to live under the old covenant still existed at the time of the author. Hence, it was vanishing until the destruction of the temple.
The Fig Tree
‘Seeing a fig tree by the road, he (Jesus) went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered’ (Matt 21:19).
What did the fig tree represent? Israel. What did he mean by ‘never’? Never.
The Kingdom Given to the Church
To the Jewish leaders Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (Matt 21:43). Compare that with God’s word says to His Church, comprising Jews and Gentiles, ‘But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light’ (1 Peter 2:9). How about to the Church in Revelation where it says ‘He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father’ (Rev 1:6)?
Besides robbing the Church of most of the book of Revelation, the Futurist lie is that the Jews have a future mapped out for them after the Rapture. They interpret a hope for Israel outside of their Messiah’s Church and the New Covenant in His blood being offered now. (Here’s my post on Jewish Salvation).
By teaching that Revelation 4-22 belongs to a future generation of peoples after the Rapture, Futurists lose the validity, purpose and impact that it was meant to have in our lives. It’s sadly a lie that my brothers and sisters believe, which Satan has brought into the Church in order to blunt the sword of the Word of God in the lives of believers and the Church as a whole.
Responses To Ron Rhodes’ ‘The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy’:
- Bible Prophecy: Literal or Allegorical
- Toppling Dispensationalism
- Israel is Saved or Judged, not Replaced or Distinct
- The Signs of the Times – Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment? – PART 1
- The Signs of the Times – Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment? PART 2 – Israel
- The Signs of the Times – Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment? PART 3 – Middle East, European Union, Globalism?
- The Signs of the Times – Is America in Bible Prophecy?
- The Signs of the Times – Can We Know When the Ezekiel Invasion Will Occur? PART 1 – Israel regathered from Many Nations
- The Signs of the Times – Can We Know When the Ezekiel Invasion Will Occur? PART 2 – Russians and Muslims to Invade Israel on Horseback?
- When Will The Rapture Occur?
- Taking Issue with Futurism – Interpreting Revelation Part 1
- Daniel’s Seventieth Week and the Book of Revelation – Interpreting Revelation Part 2
- Babylon, the 144000 and The Two Witnesses – Interpreting Revelation – Part 3
- Who is the Antichrist? – Part 1
- Who is the Antichrist? – Part 2
- Who is the Antichrist? – Part 3
- Who is the Antichrist? – Part 4
- The Millennium
- Prophetic Events and Their Timing