Most Christians assume that the events of Revelation are set to take place is some distant future. Others, however, argue that Revelation is happening now. Still others argue that Revelation is purely metaphorical or that the events of the famous book have already occurred. These four viewpoints make up the four main interpretations of the events of the end times described in the Book of Revelation.
The most popular interpretation is known as futurism. This is the belief that the events of Revelation will take place somewhere in the future. Futurists emphasize that the Antichrist has not yet come to the world, and thus, the prophecies from the Book of Daniel, Book of Matthew and Book of Revelation have not yet come true. Most Christians who discuss Revelation take this view, as evidenced by the sheer number of blogs, documentaries and sermons describing how to recognize when the end of the world arrives. Though there are a number of contradictory theories about the timing of the yet-to-come Great Tribulation among futurists, the theories tend to be united by their literal interpretation of the prophecies in the Bible.
Idealists, on the other hand, believe that the events of Revelation are not meant to be interpreted literally. The heavenly battle referenced in Revelation 12, for example, is not an actual battle but a metaphor for the constant war between good and evil in the human soul. As such, most idealists do not put as much importance on predicting the identity of the Antichrist or the ten-horn kingdom.
Preterism is the belief that the events of Revelation, especially the Great Tribulation, have already occurred. Preterists often hold that Revelation actually took place in the first century A.D. for a variety of reasons. One of the most commonly cited reasons is that in Daniel, the end times are associated with the destruction of the power of the Israelites. This actually occurred in A.D. 70 when the Temple was destroyed. Jesus predicted this destruction of both the Temple and the Holy City during the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 23:38-24:4.
The disciples’ questions in Matthew 24:3 is often mistranslated as “What shall be the sign of your coming and of the end of the world?” The use of “world,” is not the correct translation of the Greek aeon. Aeon refers to a particular stage or period of history. The verse should thus be translated “what shall be the sign…of the end of the era?”
Preterism takes lost cultural context into consideration when interpreting Revelation. For example,” the world” meant something different during the biblical period. In that age, “the world” did not encompass the entire globe as it is known today. Instead, “the world” was often seen to extend only as far as the Roman Empire stretched. Paul’s epistles, of course, illustrate that the Gospel had indeed spread to the edges of Rome’s reach before Paul’s death.
The fourth and final major interpretation of the Book of Revelation is historicism. Historicism is the belief that Revelation is always in the process of being fulfilled. It does not happen all at once or even within one lifetime. Instead, the events of Revelation have been slowly occurring since the death of Jesus Christ. Historicists hold, for example, that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was the fulfillment of Daniel’s prediction that a terrible tragedy would “scatter the power of the holy people.” Similarly, historicists hold that the fourth beast described in Daniel 7 was the Roman Empire. Daniel 7:12 states that the other three beasts, commonly identified as the Grecian, Medo-Persian and Babylonian empires, “were allowed to live for a period of time.” These empires, of course, have already fallen today and their “lives” have ended.
Both futurists and historicists tend to be fascinated with finding the prophecies of Revelation, Daniel and Matthew that they believe are being fulfilled in modern times. For example, Matthew 24:14 says that “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come,” and Revelation 14 describes an angel who “had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on earth–to every nation, tribe, language and people.” Both of these events have come true in the futurist, historicist and preterist view. Preterists and some historicists hold that the “world” meant the Biblical definition of the world, the Roman Empire. Christianity has certainly reached the corners of that once great empire seeing as the heart of Catholicism sits proudly in the center of Rome itself. Futurists and some historicists, meanwhile, point out that Christianity has spread to the edges of the actual globe. There are few people in the world today who have never heard of Jesus Christ, and Christianity has a presence in every inhabited country in the world.
Predictions of the end times also focus heavily on the disasters that will come before Christ returns. Matthew 24 says that “there will be famines and earthquakes in various places…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken” and Luke 21 lists the natural catastrophes as “great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places…nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.” Both gospels also state that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” As tensions rise throughout the world, it is very possible that these prophecies are on the edge of being fulfilled. Though there is no proof, some people also argue that the Antichrist is already working to gain political, military and economic control in this world.
Prophecies are difficult to predict, but Christians have a lot riding on accurately predicting or identifying the time of Revelation. After all, it is then that the world as it is known today will come to a close, and Christ will once again walk among men.