PMW 2019-077 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

When opening the book of Revelation, the would-be interpreter must understand that it is a highly figurative book that cannot be approached with a simple, straightforward literalism. It constantly amazes me that when I discuss Revelation with many evangelical laymen they are immediately alarmed that I am not taking Revelation “literally”! Perhaps one of our first tasks in convincing laymen of the preterist view of Revelation is to disabuse them of literalism.

The first thing we need to do is to point out that though Revelation is highly symbolic, the preterist view does understand Revelation’s prophecies as strongly reflecting actual historical events in John’s near future. And this is despite their being set in an apocalyptic drama and clothed with poetic hyperbole. As even premillennialist commentator Robert Mounce notes: “That the language of prophecy is highly figurative has nothing to do with the reality of the events predicted. Symbolism is not a denial of historicity but a matter of literary genre.”

Let us note the following impediments to a preconceived literalism:

First, the statement as to content. In his opening statement John informs us Revelation is given “to show” (Gk.: deixai) the message being “signified (Gk.: esemanen) by His angel” (Rev. 1:1, NKJV). As Friedrich Düsterdieck notes: “The deixai occurs in the way peculiar to semainein, i.e., the indication of what is meant by significative figures.” In fact, forty-one times John says he “sees” these prophecies (e.g., 1:12, 20; 5:6; 9:1; 20:1). Furthermore, some of the visions are obviously symbolic, e.g., the slain lamb (Rev. 4-5), the seven-headed beast (Rev. 13 and 17), and the Babylonian prostitute (Rev. 17).

An Eschatology of Victory
by J. Marcellus Kik
This book presents a strong, succinct case for both optimistic postmillennialism and for orthodox preterism. An early proponent in the late Twentieth-century revival of postmillennialism. One of the better non-technical studies of Matt. 24. It even includes a strong argument for a division between AD 70 and the Second Advent beginning at Matt. 24:36.

For more Christian educational materials:

In his Gospel John shows the problem of literalism among Christ’s early hearers: they misconstrue Jesus’s teaching regarding the temple (John 2:19-22), being born again (3:3-10), drinking water (4:10-14), eating his flesh (6:51-56), being free (8:31-36), being blind (5:39-40), falling asleep (11:11-14), and his being king (18:33-37). Such an erroneous approach is magnified if used in John’s Revelation. The visual nature of Revelation’s content — not just the method of its reception — demands symbolic interpretation. That is, except for a very few instances (e.g., Rev. 1:20; 4:5; 5:6, 8; 7:13-14; 12:9; 17:7-10) the symbols are not interpreted for us. And in one of those instances where we do receive an angelic interpretation (Rev. 17:9-12), the seven headed beast is not literally a seven headed beast at all.

Second, the precedent of earlier prophets. Old Testament prophets employ figurative language for one of two purposes: Either (1) to majestically relate spiritual truths or (2) to dramatically symbolize historical events. For instance, God’s riding on a cloud down into Egypt (Isa. 19:) and the de-creation language (Isa. 13:10) speak of the downfall of ancient cities. Milton S. Terry, a noted advocate of the grammatico-historical method of interpretation and a strong preterist, offers many helpful insights in this regard. He notes that “a rigid literal interpretation of apocalyptic language tends to confusion and endless misunderstandings.” Even literalist Robert Thomas admits “the fluidity of metaphorical language in Scripture is undeniable.”

Third, the difficulty of consistent literalism. Some instances of literalism seem to me quite strange, unreasonable, and unnecessary. For example, Robert Thomas holds that the eerie locusts of Revelation 9 and the strange frogs of Revelation 16 are demons who literally take on those peculiar physical forms; that the two prophets of Revelation 11 literally spue fire from their mouths; that every mountain in the world will be abolished during the seventh bowl judgments; that the fiery destruction of the literal city of Babylon will smolder for more than 1000 years; that Christ will return from heaven to earth on a literal horse; and that the new Jerusalem is literally a 1500 mile high cube.

Getting the Message

Getting the Message
(by Daniel Doriani)
Presents solid principles and clear examples of biblical interpretation.

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  1. Steve September 11, 2020 at 9:20 am

    Your comments on how the Pharisees misinterpreted Jesus’ many statements demonstrates the fallacy of taking all statements literally.

  2. Fred V. Squillante September 11, 2020 at 11:07 am

    I’ve heard, as I’m sure you have, that the locusts are helicopter gunships (lol). Btw, Milton Terry, a strong preterist? I thought you labeled him as a hyper-preterist.

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