The Proper Approach to Revelation
Nov 18, 2015
Jesus Christ is revealed, or manifested, by His righteous acts. This occurs on two levels: personal and universal. Both are the result of God’s plan, whether our view focuses on the personal or the historical works of God. The New Covenant is the most prominent promise of God to intervene in the earth in order to accomplish His plan, which He purposed from the beginning. The precise nature of God’s promise is seen in Deuteronomy 29:10-15, where He vowed to make all men His people and to be their God. Such a promise necessitates divine intervention by an act of a sovereign God.
In the end, then, we see the goal accomplished, first in Revelation 5:13, where all of creation honors Christ as King, and secondly in Revelation 15:3, 4 in the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb.
3 … Great and marvelous are Thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Thy ways, Thou King of the nations. 4 Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? For Thou alone art holy; for all the nations will come and worship before Thee, for Thy righteous acts have been revealed [phaneroo, “brought to light”].
Here we see a combination of two Hebrew concepts that are set forth in the Hebrew alphabet. The righteous acts, or works, are pictured in the yood, as an open hand, and the ayin, that is an eye signifying seeing or manifestation. When the works of God are “revealed,” they are made visible for all to see. It takes a righteous act of God to heal the blindness and remove “the veil which is stretched over all nations” (Isaiah 25:7).
Perfection vs. Righteous Acts
Classic Greek culture was interested in discovering the Ideal Man. Their obsession with beautiful art and sculpture (and beauty in general) gives testimony of this mindset. This is, of course, a lofty goal, which few would find reason to criticize. But the Hebrew mindset was different.
Hebrew culture was based on works, or righteous acts, as an expression or manifestation of one’s heart. Scripture sets forth two paths toward achieving this goal, each defined by a covenant. The Old Covenant sets forth righteous acts as proceeding from the will of man. The New Covenant sets forth the righteous acts of God working in us personally and in the earth in general. Both covenants possess the law, but under one covenant the law is a righteous standard imposed upon unwilling flesh, while the other covenant is a promise of God to write the law upon our hearts so that we come into agreement with Him.
The yood is an open hand, signifying “the works of the law,” and the Apostle Paul uses this phrase many times. It is the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which is the number pointing to the law. Shortly after Paul’s conversion, he went to Mount Sinai in Arabia, where God gave him the revelation of the New Covenant. He then understood that justification and righteousness come from an act of God, not from our own works. In other words, righteousness comes by the “hand” (yood) of God, not by the “hand” (yood) of man.
The captivities of Israel and Judah show that men’s vows to God, while well intentioned, cannot save anyone, simply because no man can sufficiently fulfill his vow. On the other hand, God has no such problem fulfilling His vows to us. The failure of the Old Covenant path attempting justification on account of the will of man must be contrasted to the success of the New Covenant path which is by the will of God.
The epistle of James does not contradict the writings of Paul, but it sets forth a clearer Hebrew mindset. He insists that faith is manifested by one’s works. Hence, if a man claims to have faith as a believer in Christ, then there ought to be evidence of God’s work in his life, his character, and his works. This evidence is not about men doing good works by righteous character obtained by an Old Covenant vow, but rather by men doing good works as evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work within the believer.
The book of Revelation, then, sets forth the righteous acts of God in the earth and in the nations. What is said about the nations is equally true of each individual within those nations. Hence, when the nations worship Christ on account of His righteous acts, they have the same motivation as individual believers who see the acts of God in their own lives. In both cases, the righteous acts of God are the fulfillment of the New Covenant.
The ayin means “an eye,” but it is also the Hebrew number 70. This number signifies “all nations,” for in Genesis 10 we count the origin of nations to be 70 in number. Seventy is also the biblical number for “restoration.” For this reason, Adam died at the age of 930 (Genesis 5:5), falling short of God’s “glory” (1000) by precisely 70 years. Therefore, the number 70 (ayin) is what is needed for all nations to be restored, as pictured in Revelation 15:3, 4.
Interpreting Revelation Allegorically or Historically
There are some who have spiritualized and individualized the entire book of Revelation. They tend to discard the history of God’s acts among the nations. In doing so, they follow a Greek mindset, rather than interpreting the book with a Hebrew mindset.
Much of the early Church was expelled from Judea by persecution (Acts 8:1). The result of this scattering was that Greek converts quickly overwhelmed their Judean counterparts and soon the early Church lost its Hebrew mindset. The Church soon adopted the Greek allegorical method of interpretation. Greek religion was based on mythology—stories that were said to have meaning—and those myths were not actually historical events.
The Old Testament stories of brutality and genocide were objectionable to the Greeks, and the Church soon began to claim that these were mere allegories, rather than historical events. Hence, it was not long before the Church began to divorce the Old Testament from actual history. They continued to assert the historicity of the gospels, of course, but because they did not understand the book of Revelation, they began to treat it allegorically as well.
The problem is that the book of Revelation pre-wrote the history of the western nations and the Church. This history had hardly begun in the first century, giving no one any confirmation of its historical interpretation. It took centuries before enough historical events took place that would allow a Historicist interpretation of the book. By that time the allegorical interpretation had already been deeply rooted in the Church.
It was not until the development of the printing press in the fifteenth century, along with the Protestant Reformation, that the Scriptures were unchained from the altar of cathedrals and given to the people. When the Scriptures could be studied independently, the Reformers discovered that the book of Revelation was a historical book written in symbols as envisioned by John. This was how the Historicist view of Revelation soon became the dominant view of early Protestant groups. It was only replaced by the Futurist view in the late 1800’s through the teachings of Darby and Scofield.
The Futurist view, which dominates evangelical and Pentecostal churches today, is a third and more modern development in Christian thought. Unfortunately, many assume that this view has always existed, but this is not so. Certain elements of Futurism can be found in the earlier allegorical view, but yet it is unique. Whereas the allegorists divorced Revelation from history, the Futurists simply do not recognize the history that has already fulfilled most of the book.
Whereas the allegorists spiritualized everything, the Futurists literalize everything, and because they see no historical record of the earth and sea being destroyed, they put these things into the future during a seven-year time of The Great Tribulation.
It is my purpose to set forth an alternative to both of the views above. The Historicist view believes that John’s visions portrayed historical events, not by literal interpretation, but with covert symbols and signs. This view treats Revelation in the manner in which the book of Daniel is treated. The “image” in Daniel 2, the “tree” in Daniel 4, and the “beasts” in Daniel 7 and 8 were not meant to be interpreted literally, even though their reality was unquestionable. They were symbols representing the spiritual forces behind kings and nations.
So also the “dragon” in Revelation 12 and the “beasts” in Revelation 13, while real enough, are not literal. They are pictures of spiritual realities which manifest through nations and other entities on the earth, much like an evil spirit manifests through individuals who are possessed.
The bottom line is that the Historicist view interprets the book of Revelation in a way similar to how the Apostle Paul allegorically interprets the two wives of Abraham in Galatians 4. Paul does not question the historicity of the story, but shows how the two women represent two covenants allegorically. In other words, in the Hebrew mindset an allegory is history with spiritual or allegorical meaning. Paul does not divorce history from the allegory, as did the Greeks. The Greeks saw no need for religion to be based upon actual historical events, as long as they could lay hold of allegorical teachings.
Scripture, however, is based on history—real events, not just inspired stories or parables. The fact that these historical events were full of spiritual meaning and prophesy as types and shadows of future events shows the sovereignty of God in the progressive history of creation. Hence, Daniel saw visions of future historical events, as I showed in my study in Daniel.
The book of Revelation, too, is based upon the same Hebrew mindset in Daniel. The fact that Daniel was an incomplete book, covering only the first three “beasts,” implies that another book would have to be written later to complete the prophecy of the beast nations during their time of dominion. Daniel’s book effectively ends in 163 B.C. with the culmination of the Grecian “beast.” John’s book focuses upon the fourth beast (Rome) and especially upon the “little horn,” giving us details in Revelation 13 that were unknown to Daniel.
These are historical events, even though John reveals spiritual forces behind the beast and its “little horn” extension. It is no mere allegory, nor is his revelation consigned to a future seven-year period. Instead, we see a panorama of tribulation-history that covers a long period of “seven times,” that is, a period of 7 x 360 years. Daniel covers less than 500 years of this time of tribulation. John gives us the rest of the story.
This is part 4 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones