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Four Views on Revelation

edited by
C. Marvin Pate

Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998, 232 pages. Part of Zondervan’s “Counterpoint” series.

This book allows proponents of each of the four major interpretive views on Revelation to present an overview from their perspective. The four views and their proponents are 1) the preterist view, by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., 2) the idealist view, by Sam Hamstra, Jr., 3) the progressive dispensationalist view, by C. Marvin Pate, and 4) the classical dispensationalist view, by Robert L. Thomas

The preterist view believes that the bulk of Revelation was fulfilled in 70AD, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. The idealist holds that Revelation teaches in symbolic form spiritual principles and truths that recur throughout history as God works out His plan for human history in the face of opposing spiritual enemies. Both the progressive and classical dispensationalists are in the futurist camp, believing that most of Revelation, especially from chapter 4 forward, will yet be fulfilled in the future.

I won’t attempt to summarize the views here. I think that these “four views” formats are very helpful, and it would be well worth your time to read them. I found particularly interesting the differences between the two dispensational camps. The progressive camp tends to make use of the already/not yet tension in its hermeneutic. For example, Pate says:

The classical dispensationalist relegates the events of Revelation 4-5 to the distant future. The progressive dispensationalist, however, perceives the overlapping of the two ages to be operative in John’s vision of the exaltation of Christ to the throne of God. On the one hand, the age to come has dawned in heaven. This is nothing less than the beginning of the fulfillment of the reign of the Davidic Messiah…On the other hand, Christ’s David-like kingdom has not yet fully descended to the earth. Chapters 6-19 detail the process by which that messianic kingdom will manifest itself on earth. Thus at the time of the events of Revelation 4-5, the age to come had not yet been completed (page 144).

In other words, this approach interprets chapters 6-19 through the lens of the already/not yet tension. In what follows, we divide this hermeneutic into its two constituent parts: (1) the already aspect—the fulfillment of the prophecies of Revelation 6-19 in John’s day; (2) the not yet aspect—the final accomplishment of those prophecies in the period immediately prior to the Parousia (page 146).

Pate sees a parallel structure between the first half of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (Matt 24) and the seal judgments of Revelation 6. Thus the fall of Jerusalem “is part of the ‘already’ aspect of the age to come, while the return of Christ constitutes its ‘not yet’ aspect…(and while) the signs of the times began with Jesus and his generation, especially the fall of Jerusalem, (they) will not be complete until the return of Christ” (page 148). So you see some overlap with the preterist view.

In response, Thomas states that progressive dispensationalism “represents a significant change in principles of interpretation , so that the name ‘dispensationalism’ does not apply to that system” (page 180). So there appears to be a very sharp division between the two dispensationalist camps.

I was also very impressed by the preterist case. Until recently, I would have considered the preterist view to be an oddity, surely the least likely to be true. It was only after reading R.C. Sproul’s recent book, The Last Days According to Jesus, that I came, not to a conversion to the preterist position, but to an appreciation of the strength of their case.

Anyway, I think Christians of all prophetic stripes would profit from spending some time with this book. It may not change your opinion on prophetic issues, but it will give you a greater appreciation of the other fellow’s views.

Related Topics: Eschatology (Things to Come)