A: The Book of Revelation is the most difficult of all New Testament books to interpret because of the extensive symbolism. These symbols, which often seem strange and bizarre, have resulted in various methods of interpretation, from which we can identify four: historical, idealist, futurist, and preterist.

The historical sees Revelation as a symbolic prophecy of the entire history of the church from the Incarnation to the return of Christ to establish the eternal state. In contrast to this view, the idealist avoids the difficulty of trying to find fulfillment of the book's images in history. Rather, these interpreters see only a symbolic portrayal of the spiritual cosmic conflict between the kingdom of God and the powers of evil.

Probably the most popular interpretation of Revelation at the end of the twentieth century—evidenced by the millions of copies that Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have sold in their popular Left Behind series—is the futurist. This approach interprets the book not as what was future to John and is now past or present to us, but as what was future to John and still future to us. It understands that the Book of Revelation has to do with the future of the world.

Recently, theologians such as R. C. Sproul, in his 1998 book The Last Days According to Jesus (Baker), have revived interest in the preterist interpretation. This approach regards the events symbolized in Revelation as having occurred roughly contemporaneously with John's writing of the book, which Sproul dates before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Thus, for the preterist, the "last days" arrived at the time of John. Preterist interpreters stress the fact that Revelation belongs to a distinct genre of Jewish-Christian writings called ...

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Christianity Today
Directions: Is Revelation Prophecy or History?
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October 25, 1999

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