The Book of Revelation is commonly looked at as a map of what will happen in the End Times. When many think of “apocalyptic” literature, they think immediately of the End Times.
Meaning of Apocalypse
Apocalyptic literature is present in many places in Scripture, including Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Revelation. Most people associate apocalyptic literature with the end of the world. However, what does the word “apocalypse” actually mean?
The Greek word that we translate as “apocalypse” is apokalupsis. This word literally means “revelation.” Therefore, apocalyptic literature does not necessarily have anything to do with the end of the world. By definition, apocalyptic literature is only in reference to literature involving God’s direct revelation.
The most common example of such literature is the Book of Revelation. The book is named Revelation because John opens it saying, “The apokalupsis of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:1). Some of the revelations that John receives are of the End Times, although many may not be.
One’s interpretation of Revelation can greatly impact the meaning of the text. For many, Revelation gives very specific details about the end of the world. However, for many others, Revelation hardly offers any details about the end of the world.
What are the different perspectives on Revelation that change the meaning so significantly?
Different Perspectives on Revelation
There are four primary ways of interpreting the book of Revelation. Each different perspective gives weight to how specifically, if at all, the end of the world is described in the Bible.
The first primary perspective on Revelation is the Futurist perspective. This view holds that all content from chapter four and onward is yet to happen in the future. The Futurist perspective is the position that focuses most on how Revelation describes the end of the world.
This view believes that all of the events in Revelation will happen in the future, and we have to wait and prepare for them to take place. This is the most common interpretation of Revelation today.
The second way of interpreting Revelation is the Historicist perspective. This view holds that the events of Revelation happened in early Church history, either during the reign of Nero, Domitian or during the rise and fall of the Roman Catholic Church.
Those who hold to this view, who are few these days, would say that Revelation does not describe the end of the world. Rather, the events played out in events on Earth hundreds or thousands of years ago.
The third perspective on Revelation to note is the Idealist perspective. This view holds that everything in Revelation is symbolic, that the events depicted do not describe any real events either in heaven or on Earth.
This view would also say that Revelation does not describe the end of the world because it does not literally describe any events in the first place.
The fourth and final noteworthy way of interpreting Revelation is the Preterist view. The Latin word preter means past, and those who hold this view believe that all of the events in Revelation took place during the first century AD.
This view would also hold that Revelation does not describe the end of the world, because the events had all taken place around the time of the original writing of Revelation.
While three of the four views of Revelation do not believe that Revelation describes the end of the world at all, the text of Revelation lends itself to the Futurist view.
Most people, when reading Revelation, tend to hold the Futurist view, and most believe that Revelation does, to some extent, describe events that will happen in the future, either in heaven or on Earth.
Within the Futurist perspective on Revelation, there is still much debate as to the details of the events described in the book. However, there are a few events that all would agree will certainly happen in the future. They include:
- The Second Coming of Jesus Christ
- The defeat of Satan and Babylon
- God’s judgment of all people
- God’s creation of the New Heaven and the New Earth
To some extent, most Christians would agree that Revelation does describe the end of the world and the beginning of God’s new creation.
However, was Revelation written for this purpose? Did Jesus reveal Himself to John for the purpose of describing the end of the world, or for another purpose?
Revelation: A Call to Hopeful Worship
When interpreting Revelation, it is essential to discern the purpose of the book as a whole. Note the first few chapters of Revelation.
They are not prefacing the description of the end of the world, but rather contain Jesus addressing seven churches who are all enduring differing forms of persecution.
Jesus did not reveal Himself to these seven churches (the original audience of the book) just to tell them about the end of the world, but to show Him who He is and give them hope and strength to endure persecution.
One of the primary themes of Revelation is worship. Worship is mentioned 21 times in the book of Revelation. Among all of the confusing visions and imagery, John’s visions consistently return to scenes of heavenly creatures praising God.
John’s audience, in the midst of persecution, needed a reminder of who God is. Jesus’ revelation gave them a reminder that God is trustworthy, praiseworthy, and promises to redeem all things at the end of time.
Revelation was not written primarily to describe the end of the world, but John’s vision of the end of the world serves to give hope to his audience. While enduring persecution, Jesus shows the seven churches how God will take this broken world and make it into what He originally designed.
The vision of the New Heavens and New Earth gives hope to suffering Christians that things will not always be as they are.
When the world ends, Jesus does not want His followers to focus on the inevitable destruction of the world, but rather on how God will redeem all things to save His people.
Is the end of the world described in the Bible? Yes, to an extent. Is it described so that we can know all of the details of the end of the world to prepare for it? Not exactly.
Jesus gave us visions of the end of the world so that we can have hope and endurance through our suffering, to look forward to God’s new creation.
God is trustworthy and worthy of praise, and He gives us a glimpse of the end of the world to remind us of that eternal truth.
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Lucas Hagen is a freelance writer, recently graduated from Taylor University with majors in Biblical Literature and Youth Ministries. When he is not writing for Crosswalk, you can find him reading great books, playing guitar, competing in professional disc golf tournaments, and spending quality time with his lovely wife, Natalie, and their fluffy cat, Woodward. You can read more of his writing at habitsofholiness.com.