HISTORICIST MODEL OF INTERPRETATION
Theologians use general models of interpretation to try to correlate the visions of Revelation with events on earth. The most common models are preterism, which sees the visions as applying to the time they were written (first and second centuries),<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> futurism, which applies most of Revelation to the future "time of trouble,"<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> and historicism, which interprets the prophecies as covering the span of history.
Obviously the model used will make a tremendous difference in the interpretation, so rather than speculate, we should find out how other apocalyptic prophecies in the Bible relate to world events. The book of Daniel is the book of the Bible that is most similar to the Book of Revelation, so its visions can provide a helpful model. The vision of the multi-metal image of Daniel 2 is typical. The various metals comprising the image represent the progressive world empires which oppressed the people of God from the time of Daniel (Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, Papal Europe, see appendix 11). But the greatest emphasis of the vision is on “what will be in the latter days” when “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed” (Daniel 2:28,44).
Likewise, in chapter 7 Daniel was in vision “and four great beasts came up from the sea”. Again, the progression of the beasts (Lion, Bear, Leopard, Monster, Horn) represents the progression of the oppressive empires through the ages. But the most important emphasis is the time of the end when “the court was seated, and the books were opened…and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom” (Daniel 7:10,22). The vision of Daniel chapter 8 (the Ram, the Goat and the “Little Horn”) follows the same pattern.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
This fits best with the historicist model of interpretation, which sees the apocalyptic prophecies as spanning the course of history but focusing on the time of the end, a model held by most theologians until fairly recently.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> A careful study of the prophecies of Daniel shows the principles of the historicist model of interpretation, which can be applied to the Book of Revelation.
First of all, with each new vision the prophet begins by giving his own personal context (for example, Daniel received the vision of chapter
Secondly, the time frame of each vision begins at the time it is given. For example, the dream with the metal image of Daniel 2 was given “in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign,” which was the "golden age" of Babylon when its power was at its peak, and the vision begins by representing Babylon as a “head of gold”. The other visions of Daniel also begin chronologically at the time the visions were given.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> So we would expect the events of the Book of Revelation to start around the time it was written, which most scholars believe to be the last decade of the first century, rather than at the Cross or at the time of the end.
Each of Daniel’s visions then makes a basically linear progression through the important facts of world history that pertain to God’s people. History is dealt with briefly, as the main focus is on the establishment of God’s kingdom. There may be a shifting of scenes, such as in Daniel 7:8,9, where the scene shifts from earth, where the “Little Horn” is destroying kingdoms, to heaven where the heavenly judgment is beginning. There may also be explanatory passages such as Daniel chapter nine, which clarifies aspects of chapter eight that Daniel had not understood.
In a similar fashion, we would expect the Book of Revelation to cover the span of history from the time of John, but for the emphasis to be on the time of the end. We would expect some changes of scene and explanatory passages, within a basically linear progression. We will see below (section 1: Chronological Organization) that this is just how the Book of Revelation is constructed.
Continue to next section: CHIASTIC LITERARY STRUCTURE
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Preterism was a development of higher criticism/enlightenment of the post-reformation era that denied that prophecy could supernaturally predict the future, so they consider the prophecies to be symbolic commentaries and predictions based on the political, social and religious issues of their time. See footnote in 2: To the Seven Churches for a brief discussion of problems of the preterist interpretation.
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Futurism was developed as a reaction to the protestant reformers who identified the pope as the antichrist, and pushed the time of the antichrist into the indefinite future. In recent years it has been embraced and developed by dispensationalist writers such as Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye (the Left Behind series of books and movies) and often includes unbiblical elements such as the "secret rapture" (see Appendix 4). See Wikipedia contributers, "Futurism (Christianity)," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Futurism (Christianity)&oldid=624492918 (accessed October 21, 2014).
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> See Appendix 11 for more information about the visions of Daniel.
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Wikipedia contributors, "Historicism (Christianity)," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Historicism (Christianity)&oldid=12757913 (accessed June 26 2014).
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> The vision of chapter 7, given “in the first year of Belshazzar” (the last king of Babylon), begins by picturing Babylon as a lion who is forced to stand up like a man and have his wings plucked (showing the weakness which now characterized the kingdom). By the time the vision of chapter eight was given “in the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar” when the Babylonian Empire was just about to end, Babylon is not even mentioned in the vision, but it starts with Persia, the empire which succeeded Babylon.