Interpretive Resources for Revelation

I recently received this email from a member of The Crossing:

“I am enjoying the sermon series on the Book of Revelation and wanted to thank all of the pastors for not stopping at the end of Rev. 3 and continuing on through the more controversial material in the rest of the book. This is another Bible book that is not covered all that often in churches I have attended. If you have time, I would appreciate having some additional material posted on the church blog regarding your particular interpretive framework for the Book of Revelation. Shay’s sermon last week was the clearest example of how you collectively depart from the views used by many Bible church pastors, particularly those trained at Dallas Theological Seminary. Since many of us have spent time in churches with DTS-trained pastors, the interpretive view that you, Keith and Shay are using is a bit new for us. …I’m not at all implying I disagree with your view, I would just like some more background on it and perhaps a balanced assessment of other methods that have been or are used for interpreting the book.”

Well, I’m not going to take the time here to provide “a balanced assessment of other methods.” But you can read what I think is a good, informative, and balanced assessment of other interpretations in the ESV Study Bible’s Introduction to Revelation.

But this observer is exactly right in his email: we are very different in our approach and interpretation of Revelation than, as he wrote, “the views used by many Bible church pastors, particularly those trained at Dallas Theological Seminary.” We are very different from the interpretations of Revelation that inspired the “Left Behind” book series. We are very different from those who would put on a Bible Prophecy conference or write a Bible Prophecy book on how things now are lining up with the Bible’s prophecy of the end times.

But how do we define our interpretation? Where can one find resources on it to read further?

A quick identification as to what theological camp I fall into in regard to Revelation (and I believe Shay and Keith do as well, although I can’t completely speak for them) is the Idealist, Amillennial view. The ESV Study Bible describes the Idealist view as follows:

Idealism agrees with historicism that Revelation’s visions symbolize the conflict between Christ and his church on the one hand, and Satan and his evil conspirators on the other, from the apostolic age to Christ’s second coming. Yet idealist interpreters believe that the presence of recapitulation means that the visions’ literary order need not reflect the temporal order of particular historical events. The forces and conflicts symbolized in Revelation’s vision cycles manifest themselves in events that were to occur “soon” from the perspective of the first-century churches (as preterists maintain), but they also find expression in the church’s ongoing struggle of persevering faith in the present and foretell a still-future escalation of persecution and divine wrath leading to the return of Christ and the new heaven and earth.

This is rather technical in language, I admit. But the bottom line is that we believe Revelation is not a chronological history, nor a chronological, literal prophecy of the end times. Rather, it is a repeated (recapitulated seven times) description of the spiritual struggle that primarily takes place between the time of Christ’s first and second coming. But it also describes some things before his first coming, and after his second coming. This is the basic framework for Revelation that I was taught at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, and Keith and Shay were taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago. So it’s not our own made up thing, just FYI.

The resources I’m using most to study and prepare my sermons on Revelation are:

1. The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation, by Vern Poythress. This is an easy one for the average Christian to use and appreciate. It’s small and inexpensive. It is also available to read online here (you need to scroll down until you see the book, then the chapters are all there for you to click on and read). It’s very convenient and it’s free! This would be the first place I recommend you go to read further on our interpretive framework for the book of Revelation. Read the Introductory sections titled “Schools of Interpretation” and “Structure” as a quick start.

2. The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, by G. K. Beale. This is by far the most helpful resource to me as a pastor preparing a sermon on Revelation. It’s so very insightful and biblically informative, but not one I’d recommend to the average Christian because it is also very expensive, very large, and very technical. But if you can tolerate expensive, large, and technical, this one is the gold standard for Revelation as far as I’m concerned.

To me, our interpretive framework for Revelation makes the most sense theologically, biblically, and pastorally. It snatches the book of Revelation out from being applicable to only the last generation of Christians, and brings it back to where it was meant to be: God’s perspective of all the difficult and tempting and trying earthly realities all believers face in all generations: from the first-century Christians it was originally written to, all the way through to the last generation who will see Christ coming in the clouds of heaven.

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