Four Views on the Book of Revelation

By C. Marvin Pate, ge. ed.
Grand Rapids : Zondervan (1998). 252 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
9.2 (Fall 1998) : 260-262

Four scholars write chapters explaining and arguing for their views on the Book of Revelation. Each surveys the entire book, showing how he interprets each section so that readers can follow the exact flow of his reasoning.

Robert L. Thomas, Professor of New Testament at The Master’s Seminary, contributes the final chapter, supporting dispensationalism. His larger effort is in his two-volume work, Revelation 1–7 and Revelation 8–22 (Chicago: Moody, 1992 and 1995), but here he gives a concise case (179-229). Other presenters are: Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Professor of NT at Bahnsen Theological Seminary in Placentia, California (preterist view); Sam Hamstra, Jr., Vice-President for Institutional Advancement and Chaplain at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois (idealist view); and Pate, the editor, who is Professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute, Chicago (progressive dispensational view).

The book begins with a chapter on general introduction to the Revelation. This ends with a summary of the four leading views to be presented in the book. It leaves out the historicist view since it contends that the events occurred in the course of history and that view has repeatedly failed in demonstrating any compelling identifications of those events (18). The views featured are the ones that have advocates today.

The preterist outlook seeks to show relevancy to first-century times, for example, in persecution; in a second form it deals both with first century (fall of Jerusalem) and fifth century (fall of Rome). Today the system is having a resurgence in Christian Reconstructionism. This posits the kingdom’s advance as the church disseminates the gospel and lives as salt in the earth showing the relevancy of God’s law. The world, it claims, will get better and better as the gospel triumphs (cf. David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation [Fort Worth: Dominion, 1987]).

The idealist (spiritualist) stance interprets the Revelation symboliclly as the continued conflict of good versus evil, without connecting with any historical, social, or political events. The view stresses virtuous living, perseverance, confidence in the overthrow of evil, seeing Christ in His beauty, and seeing history in the mind of God and power of Christ, who will review men’s moral destiny. Nothing is predictive except in the sense that good will triumph when Christ returns (cf. Raymond Calkins, The Social Message of Revelation [New York: Woman’s Press, 1920]; Paul Minear, I Saw a New Earth [Cleveland: Corpus, 1968]; Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Revelation: Vision of a Just World [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991]).

Progressive dispensationalism posits that Christ began the heavenly, Davidic reign at His resurrection. The church is part of the one people of God, yet Israel as distinct will be regathered, the millennium will occur after Christ’s second coming, the church will be taken out of the world before the Great Tribulation (cf. Craig Blaising and Darrell Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism [Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1993]; R. L. Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993]).

Gentry reasons for preterism that the great judgments of the Revelation have already been fulfilled. He misrepresents classical dispensationalism in saying that it “almost totally . . . removes the relevancy of Revelation for John’s original audience. . . .” That is like a false argument that says principles gleaned from Isaiah’s prophecies of the future have no life-shaping relevancy for believers finding comfort and help from them in Isaiah’s own day. Or it is like saying that NT references to believers’ future rapture produce no urgency in how they live in the present. Gentry sees the seal judgments as enacted in first-century events. For example, the white horse rider was the Roman victor marching to conquer Jerusalem in A.D. 67. The moving of every mountain (Rev 6:14) refers to Romans removing mountainous obstructions from their army’s path, or to Romans constructing bank ramps to the tops of Jewish city walls to scale them. The trumpet and bowl judgments also took place back then. The thousand years (Revelation 20) run from the first century and can last for thousands of years. Christ’s rule in Revelation 20 is established in the first century (Matt 12:28-29), He is king today (Acts 17:7; Rev 1:5), and believers have their priestly rule of Rev 20:6 which is equated with that in Eph 2:6 and Rev 1:6.

Progressive dispensationalism (PD) tries to have its cake and eat it too, interpreting Rev 6–18 as fulfilled in John’s day, but with a “not yet” thrust, i.e., it all will be fulfilled in a final sense just prior to the second coming (146). Still, PD sees the 144,000 as racial Jews, converted during the Great Tribulation; it also sees the thousand-year reign of Revelation 20 as after the Second Advent.

Thomas argues for the continuity of Revelation with Daniel 2 (the Stone = the kingdom on earth) and with the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7:8-16) featuring an earthly throne and reign. Rather than seeing Christ on the Davidic throne today as PD does, he sees titles of Christ in Rev 1:5 relating to Psalm 89, the titles anticipating Christ’s taking the throne in the future when the kingdom is established on earth as Ps 89:27 specifies (Rev 11:15; 20:4). Thomas, writing last, has a closely-reasoned summary of his own system and, at times, direct attempts to refute other positions. Near the end, also, he refutes each of the other views (224-29), surveying what he regards as weaknesses.

The book gives readers an opportunity to see the main approaches boiled down within a few pages and shows how a given view explains each section of the Revelation. It allows advocates to fire some of their best shots for their positions, as they choose what they regard to be the most cogent evidence, at least what fits in a summary form. Far more detailed reasoning for each view occurs, of course, in the longer works cited, of which the present book only gives condensations. Such a work can take its place with commentaries, books on biblical prophecy, and journal articles as a teacher, pastor, or other students of the Word grapple with making the best sense of the final book in Scripture.