Two House Chronicles
The Proper Rendering of the Apocalypse of John
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- Published: Friday, 16 September 2016 21:07
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by Hope, Marsue and Jerry Huerta
Before rendering the Revelation of John, the proper method of interpreting the genre of apocalyptic literature or scripture in general must be addressed. Conflict manifests in three differing methods over the “historic” rendering of Revelation: historicism, preterism, and futurism. “Historic” is emphasized so as not to confuse the former three with idealism, which is an alternative method which maintains that the book does not pertain to historic phenomena; idealists interpret Revelation as representing persistent experiences common to all ages and believe it is simply symbolic.
The preterist’s orientation views the Revelation as dealing with historical phenomena that took place within the first few centuries of Christ’s first advent, and it must be emphasized here that they themselves are not in complete agreement with what the symbolism represents. There are endless debates on which emperors are indicated as the seven kings in Revelation 17, and rightfully so because great conflict arises when trying to reconcile any seven Roman emperors with the seven kings mentioned.
The futurist’s orientation interprets the Revelation as predominately revealing phenomena that will happen just prior to Christ’s return and they too have difficulty agreeing on exactly how the prophecies unfold. Their guesses as to the identity of Babylon run the gambit of the resurgent Roman Empire, the Catholic Church, Iraq, the United States, etc.
Historicism views the Revelation in the continuous-historical approach; it views the Revelation as the unfolding of historical phenomena and entities, permitting recapitulation and interludes of parenthetical matter, that stretch from John’s time until the eternal estate. The variances within Preterism and Futurism were mentioned because, ironically, the greatest criticism against historicism has been that it has its own variances. As Leon Morris stated:
“Historicist views also labour under the serious disadvantage of failing to agree. If the main points of the subsequent history are in fact foreshadowed it should be possible to identify them with tolerable certainty, otherwise what is the point of it?”1
George Eldon Ladd criticized historicism in the same manner when he stated:
“Obviously, such an interpretation could lead to confusion, for there are no fixed guidelines as to what historical events are meant.”2
Disagreements or variances on all details over the apocalypse trouble preterists as well as futurists, so Morris’s objection hardly perseveres under scrutiny. All the paradigms, including historicism, have guidelines by which they interpret fulfilled or unfulfilled prophecy; consequently, Ladd’s objection to the historicism mode was clearly shortsighted. Certainly, without fixed guidelines any attempt to interpret prophecy is futile. Ladd and Morris use their own guidelines to affirm that the preterist’s interpretation of the kings in Revelation 17 leads to conflict, which diminishes the preterist’s guidelines.
“Preterists interpreters usually apply the verse to the succession of Roman emperors.… This interpretation makes no sense.… The problem is altogether avoided if John does not mean to designate a succession of individual kings or emperors, but a succession of kingdoms.”3
The most significant guideline adhered to concerns the kings in Revelation 17 in that they persecute God’s elect, a fact which proponants of all paradigms agree upon and thus, certainly qualifies as a fixed guideline to render the apocalypse. Yet, attempting to render the kings as seven, nay eight emperors cannot abide without ad hoc explanations. This unfavorable judgment of the preterist’s view of the seven, nay eight kings by Ladd and Morris is supported by historicism whether the two realize it or not, but for not quite the same reasons. In support of the historicists guidelines, futurist E.W. Bullinger also interpreted the kings as successive dominant world powers. The nouns below are meant as appositives (seven heads renamed seven mountains and etc.).
“Five are fallen, the 48 one (the sixth) is (at this stage of the Vision), the other (the seventh), is not yet come. If this be interpreted of Gentile Dominion at the future point of the Vision referred to by the Angel; then, as to the dominions, the five will have fallen: (1) Babylon, (2) Medo-Persia, (3) Greece, (4) Rome, (5) Mohammedan. The sixth will be the Kingdom of the Beast, (7) the seventh will be the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.”4
Nevertheless, Bullinger’s rendition of the kings also fails to agree with other futurists. Indication that the eighth king somehow existed before John’s time but did not exist in John’s time and yet will exist again in the future from John’s time produces the most ad hoc explanations and disagreements in preterism as well as in futurism. The point being, the issue is not that guidelines do not exist in all the paradigms, but the question becomes, what are the superior guidelines that can reconcile the Revelation to harmonize with history which will not lead to further variances?
Morris and Ladd have applied “classic prophecy” or general prophecy as a guideline, which historicist Jon Paulien defines as, “contemporary perspectives,” that, “are mixed with a universal, future perspective,” in his essay: The End of Historicism? Reflections on the Adventist Approach to Biblical Apocalyptic—Part One.
“It was argued that general prophecy, because of its dual dimensions, may at times be susceptible to dual fulfillments or foci where local and contemporary perspectives are mixed with a universal, future perspective.”5
Classic prophecy utilized expressions of imminence concerning impending judgment in the same context with distant eschatological phenomena, without chronological notation; the technique has come to be called prophetic telescoping.
“Another peculiar feature of prophetic literature is called ‘telescoping’.… The reason for it has to do with the perspective of the prophet. As he looks into the future and sees a series of prophetic events, they appear to him as if they are in immediate sequence. It is like looking down a mountain range and viewing three peaks, one behind the other, each sequentially higher than the one in front of it. The peaks look like they are right up against each other because the person viewing them cannot see the valleys that separate them.”6
Ladd affirms this dual focus in the introduction of his commentary on the Revelation:
“the prophets had two foci in the prophetic perspective: the events of the present and the immediate future, and the ultimate eschatological event. These two are held in a dynamic tension often without chronological distinction, for the main purpose of prophecy is not to give a program or chart of the future, but to let the light of the eschatological consummation fall on the present (II Pet. 1:19). Thus in Amos’ prophecy the impending historical judgment of Israel at the hands of Assyria was called the Day of the Lord (Amos 5:18, 27), and the eschatological salvation of Israel will also occur in that day (9:11).”7
Morris and Ladd, for the most part, interpret the Revelation through classic prophecy, as if the apocalypse focuses strictly on circumstances in John’s time and the time immediately preceding Christ’s return, which conveys that the book has little relevance for the people of God living during the interim. This creates tension with the promise of blessings for those who read and “keep those things which are written therein” (Revelation 1:3). If the book has nothing to say about the lives of people who live during the interim—there is nothing to be kept. In his rejection of historicism Ladd verified that he viewed the book as classic prophecy by conflating preterism and futurism:
“Therefore, we conclude that the correct method of interpreting the Revelation is a blending of the Preterist and the Futurist methods. The beast is both Rome and the eschatological Antichrist—and, we might add, any demonic power which the church must face in her entire history.”8
Such a view is clearly taken from classic prophecy and proves inadequate as the guidelines of preterism and futurism are irreconcilable, worlds apart. The most salient conflict comes in the failure to see that the heads/mountains/kings upon the beasts in chapter 17 as appositives. Are the kings to represent the fall and rise of prominent worldly individual kings merely at the first and/or second advent as preterism and futurism leads us to believe —or are they intended to portray the continuous-historical approach of the rise and fall of worldly kingdoms prior to John’s time and leading up unto the second advent of Christ? Clearly the former view is fraught with fallacies, one being that the four kings in Daniel 7 represent successive kingdoms but, then, rendering the seven kings in the Revelation as individuals thus, refutes any correspondence between the kings. Here we have the advantage of Daniel’s explanations of beasts as successive dominant world powers, which is the object of this work as it progresses (Daniel 7:17). The Revelation complements Daniel, which reveals the beasts/kings as dominant world powers and challenges the preterist and futurist guidelines that tend to interpret the mountains, renamed heads and then kings, as individuals in Revelation 17. They are forced to interpret the kings as individuals because of the problems incurred by time constraints caused by their inappropriate foci of establishing these prophetic events either in the distant past or into the far future. The continuous-historical guidelines cultivate the complementary nature of Daniel and Revelation without such restraints and for this reason represents the true hermeneutic in rendering the apocalypse of John as a unique genre in contrast to classic prophecy: the apocalyptic genre. The Revelation has something to say about the lives of all the people who live during the interim between the advents when the mountains, renamed heads and kings, are perceived as successive dominant world powers.
Ladd is simply in error; historicism has “fixed guidelines as to what historical events are meant” which are used to determine the identity of the five dominant kingdoms that had fallen prior to John’s perspective. Morris clearly employed some of the same guidelines observed by historicism in asserting that the five kings who had fallen as: “Old Babylonian, Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, Persian and the Graeco-Macedonian,” empires.9 It is evident that such a rendering must be determined by some “fixed guidelines” and Ladd verbalizes such guidelines in his book when he deciphers the great harlot as one who:
“seduces the nations and persecutes the saints finds her support from the beast who appears in history in succession of secular, godless kingdoms; five belong to past history; a sixth kingdom—Rome—ruled the world when John wrote.”10
The only conclusion that makes sense is that Ladd’s and Morris’ criticisms against historicism are contradictory. Like historicism, they attempt to reconcile the heads/mountains/kings in the Revelation with history through a set of guidelines which are not completely different from those employed by historicism; they too see the kings as consecutive dominant world powers, some of which even coinciding with Ladd’s rendition. The problem that arises concerning guidelines or presuppositions is not that guidelines do not exist in historicism or the other paradigms but that proper usage must be wisely discerned. The guidelines of Ladd and Morris are incipiently flawed because they both fail to grasp that John’s perspective was not from the first century but rather from the distant future, the day of the Lord, preceding Christ’s return, which shall be explained presently. Ladd makes a salient mistake with his guidelines through the misapprehension that “secular” kingdoms existed in the distant past when they are a modern aberrant; his guideline is an anachronism. Consequently, the rejection of historicism and its guidelines cannot be sustained in the common objections that its proponents are not in complete agreement when the same can be confirmed concerning preterism and futurism.
An in-depth analysis of the genre of Daniel and the Revelation must conclude that both books are contrasted from classic prophecy as they prophesy phenomena during the intervening time betwixt the prophets and the eschatological consummation. Ladd, not too ironically, moves towards historicism in his assertion that the little horn of Daniel 8:9 was the historical, “person of Antiochus Epiphanes,”11 who lived some three-hundred plus years after Daniel; such an assertion pertains to the intervening time betwixt the time of Daniel and the eschatological consummation. When we consider that Christ affirmed the abomination of desolation spoken of in Daniel as yet future (Matt. 24:15) then we have an even greater time span of events covered by Daniel and Ladd’s view of Daniel 8 is called into question. Christ provided one of the guidelines upon which historicism is founded in Matthew 24:15; the apocalyptic genre is to be contrasted from classic prophecy as it anticipates intervening phenomena betwixt the two foci Ladd suggested. Such a powerful position exposes Ladd’s deficiency in attempting to blend preterism and futurism and his use of such a perverted methodology to explain the apocalypse of John. Moreover, in chapter 9 of Daniel, he is given additional data concerning the “vision” of chapter 8 which would subsequently confirm that the desecration of the temple in the vision was fulfilled by the Romans and not Antiochus Epiphanes. Ladd was compelled to concede this by acknowledging that the desecration in Daniel chapter 9 pertains to the Romans.
“‘The people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary’ may well refer to the utter destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 A D by. Titus Vespasian, who later became the emperor of Rome ‘To the end’ of the destruction, war and desolation will continue.”12
Ladd makes a common mistake in refusing to acknowledge that the vision of chapter 8 is resolved through the information given in chapter 9. The common refusal to acknowledge that the vision in Daniel chapter 8 is resolved in chapter 9 has led to erroneous interpretations of the chapters by Ladd and others. Ladd, as a historical-premillennialist, rejected historicism but unintentionally held the continuous-historical perception of Daniel in his interpretation recognizing that the Romans are prophesied in Daniel 9. His interpretation concedes phenomena and entities from the prophet’s time that reach down unto the time when the saints possess the kingdom (Dan. 7:22), which again, supports the guidelines of historicism. This is reinforcement that the Revelation is interpreted not as classic prophecy but through the unique genre of apocalyptic literature, as is Daniel. Apocalyptic prophecy views history as the continuous unfolding of events from John’s time until the consummation of the kingdom of God, albeit viewed from a present perspective looking back.
One crucial guideline employed in interpreting scripture from a historicist’s perception and to be used to better understand the apocalypse is to view John’s vision utilizing a unique time element perspective that facilitates the interpretation of his seen phenomena and entities. The sixth king on the beast in Revelation 17 is the kingdom ruling at the time of John’s vision. If the period of time from which the scarlet beast and its rider are seen by John was the first century then the sixth king must be interpreted as pagan Rome. Starting with the guideline that the beasts persecute God’s people, if the sixth of the dominant world powers in Revelation 17:10 was fulfilled by pagan Rome then Egypt and Assyria must be considered in the five kingdoms that fell but Daniel is silent concerning these kingdoms. Here, the relevance that the beasts in Daniel are seen again in the Revelation cannot be dismissed; John's sea-beast is a composite of the beasts in Daniel. This demonstrates concurrence between the books, which has led to the reevaluation of the traditional historicist’s perception of the sea-beast and the two-horned beast. By the mid-nineteenth century Protestant disestablishment had all but succeeded in the west and the power of the papacy had all but abated which led to the reexamination of the traditional interpretation of sea-beast and two-horned beast in Revelation 13. Progressive revelation could no longer dismiss the fact that the rise of America had led to the French Revolution that ended the twelve-hundred and sixty years reign of the papacy and these facts fit precisely with the wounding prophesied in Revelation 13:3. This led to the progressive revelation that John’s sea-beast was the papacy and the two-horned beast was Protestant America in place of the traditional historicist’s interpretation that the former pertained to Rome’s conversion to Christianity and the latter was the rise of the papacy. Noted historicist, theologian and editor of the Review and Herald, Uriah Smith wrote concerning this change.
“It was at the time when this beast went into captivity, or was killed with the sword (verse 10), or had one of its heads wounded to death (verse 3), that John saw the two-horned beast coming up.… Can anyone doubt what nation was actually ‘coming up’ in 1798? Certainly it must be admitted that the United States of America is the only power that meets the specifications of the prophecy on this point of chronology.”13
Progressive revelation has also revealed that Daniel’s little horn was also John’s sea-beast, supported in their parallelism: they both came out of pagan Rome, spoke “against the most High” (Daniel 7:25) were diverse from the other beasts, had the same span of time given them to persecute the saints and both are “given to the burning flame” (Daniel 7:11; Revelation 19:20) at Christ’s return.14 Again, the relevance that the beasts in Daniel are seen again in the Revelation cannot be dismissed; John's sea-beast is a composite of the beasts in Daniel. With the realization that Daniel’s beasts can be reconciled to John’s the door is opened to the understanding that the five kings that had fallen in Revelation 17:1o commenced with Babylon, not Egypt, and that John’s perspective was not from that of the first century but rather, from the future eschatological phenomena of the Day of the Lord.
With the aforesaid in mind, there are four beasts in the Revelation, one of which is the image of the sea-beast (Revelation 11-20): first, the sea-beast (Revelation 13:1); second, the lamb-like beast (Revelation 13:11); third, the image of the sea-beast; and the fourth, the scarlet-colored beast (Revelation 11:7: 17:8, 11). One of the beasts is resurrected, which reveals that two of the beasts are actually the same dynastic kingdom that has an “is not” span, making but three beasts to determine. Considering Daniel’s little horn is John’s sea-beast we are left with two beasts in the Revelation to identity, in addition to Daniel’s five beasts, which comes to seven, the exact number of kings in Revelation 17:10. The progressive historicist’s rendition of the sea-beast and the two-horned beast conforms to actual history as understood by the mid-nineteenth century and more precisely parallels Daniel, while the traditionalist’s view is found wanting.
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At this juncture it becomes unsustainable that the perspective of John was from the first century or that the sixth king, below, was fulfilled by the pagan Roman empire. The sixth king or beast is ruling at the time John sees the vision in Revelation 17 and when Daniel’s and John’s prophecies are reconciled the seven beasts correspond to the seven kings of which we are told:
And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. (Revelation 17:10)
When the visions of Daniel and John are reconciled the little horn in Daniel is the same beast John perceives rising “up out of the sea”, which is the fifth head/king, above. The next and sixth king is definitely the two-horned beast in Revelation 13. And as stated, above, there is universal agreement in historicism that the little horn in Daniel was fulfilled by the papacy during the dark ages; this is the sine qua non of historicism—which makes John’s perspective our day, as the papacy’s hegemony “over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations” (Revelation 13:7) has long since passed.
To lend support to this assertion that John’s perspective is relatively from our time and not the first century we should examine the controversy over the meaning of the phrase τη κυριακη ἡμερα or “the Lord’s day” in Revelation 1:10. The controversy is over what was John’s intent in his use of “the day of the Lord”, was he using an archaic Hebrew idiom or employing a novel expression for his day referring to “the first day of the week” or Sunday? In support of the former the futurist Jerome Smith was compelled to write:
“However, such an interpretation is open to the objection that (1) such a meaning has no relevance to the context; (2) the term is never so applied in Scripture, where the day of Christian worship is uniformly called the ‘first day of the week’; (3) such an interpretation does not agree with the Patristic understanding of the verse; (4) the interpretation is a reading back into the text of a term subsequently applied to Sunday. The term ‘Lord’s day’ is better understood as John’s way of expressing the common Hebrew term ‘day of the Lord,’ in a manner in Greek which places the emphasis upon ‘Lord’s’ (by placing it in an initial position) in the same manner as the Hebrew expression places emphasis upon ‘Lord’ (by placing it in the final position) in ‘day of the Lord.’ Supposing the expression refers to Sunday cannot account for the presence of the Greek article ‘the’ used in the expression. When the article is lacking, there are several possible explanations to account for the fact, but when an interpretation cannot account for the presence of the Greek article, the interpretation stands self-condemned (J. B. Smith, Comm. on Revelation, Appendix 5, p. 320). The expression ‘on the Lord’s day’ would better be translated ‘in the Lord’s day,’ as a reference to this specific prophetic time period. The Greek preposition en is more usually rendered ‘in,’ only once in Revelation is it translated ‘on,’ in the expression ‘on the earth,’ Revelation 5:13. Everywhere else where en is followed by the word ‘day’ it is rendered ‘in’ (Revelation 2:13. 9:6. 10:7. 11:6. 18:8). Understanding this term to refer to the ‘day of the Lord’ emphasizes that the events which transpire in the third division of the book (‘things which shall be hereafter’) are events which take place during the ‘day of the Lord,’ a future time which begins at the Great Tribulation and concludes with the judgment of the Great White Throne at the end of the Millennium, and specifically ties in the prophecies of this book with the rest of Scripture relating to this coming day.”16
There are arguments that John’s intent in Revelation 1:10 was the use of the novel expression just coming into practice meaning Sunday worship but as Smith related, such an expression has no relevance in the theme of the apocalypse, which is to reveal the eschatological Day of the Lord. The correspondence between Daniel and Revelation reveals that John’s perspective is our time, the time of the sixth king, the two-horned beast of Revelation 13:11-18, which will be substantiated in the succeeding chapter as Protestant America. Grasping that John’s vision transcended time is not a great leap from grasping that Ezekiel’s visions transcended space.
And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I sat in mine house.… Then I beheld, and lo a likeness as the appearance of fire.… And he put forth the form of an hand, and took me by a lock of mine head; and the spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem. (Ezekiel 8:1-3)
Ezekiel was transported geographically by the spirit and since prophecy does concern the future it is evident that John’s vision was given the additional dimension of a future perspective, which is why it requires wisdom to discern: “And here is the mind which hath wisdom” (Revelation 17:9). John’s perspective is not from the first century but from the future Day of the Lord surveying events past, and the future to come. The evidence above exposes the inadequacies of preterism, futurism and reevaluates the interpretations of historicism concerning the events following the wounding of the papacy at disestablishment. In pursuing this reevaluation, the correct rendering of the horsemen of the seven seals and the locusts of the fifth trumpet come to fruition. The Revelation is replete with Hebrew idioms associated with eschatological events concerning tribulations upon God’s people by the reprobate, followed by their deliverance and termination of their enemies. There are idioms in the Revelation concerning the earth, sun, moon and stars that are clearly associated with the extraordinary phenomena of the eschatological Day of the Lord. The call for the mountains and the rocks to fall on men who hide themselves from the wrath of God is clearly associated with the Day of the Lord. The devastation of Babylon is clearly associated with the Day of the Lord. The sounding of trumpets is associated with the Day of the Lord. The conflagration of the earth is associated with the Day of the Lord. The destruction of sinners, the punishment of the nations, the restoration of Israel and the consummation of God’s kingdom on earth are all associated with the Day of the Lord and, most significantly, the locusts of the fifth trumpet are associated with the Day of the Lord. When the locusts of the fifth trumpet are interpreted with the proper context of the eschatological Day of the Lord then the traditional historicist’s rendering of the seven seals fails. Under scrutiny the seven seals and seven bowls depict eschatological events concerning trials upon God’s people in the time of the end, which historicists George McCready Price affirms as our time and not John’s, which is established in the following chapters.
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1. Leon Morris, The Book of Revelation-An Introduction and Commentary (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1987), 19.
2. George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1972), 11.
3. Ibid., 229.
4. E.W. Bullinger, Commentary on Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library), 336.
5. Jon Paulien, “The End of Historicism? Reflections on the Adventist Approach to Biblical Apocalyptic—Part One,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 14/2 (Fall 2003): 15–43.
6. Dr. David R. Reagan, “The Interpretation of Prophecy,” Lamb & Lion Ministries website, http://christinprophecy.org/articles/the-interpretation-of-prophecy/,
7. Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John, 13.
8. Ibid., 14.
9. Morris, The Book of Revelation-An Introduction and Commentary, 204.
10. Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John, 229.
11. Ibid., 230
12. George Eldon Ladd, The Last Things: An Eschatology for Laymen, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1978), 61.
13. Uriah Smith, Daniel and Revelation, (Review and Herald Publishing, 2009), 229.
14. Ibid., “From this comparison it will appear that the little horn and the leopard beast symbolize the same power.” 226.
16. Jerome Smith, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, (Nashville TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), s.v. “Not Sunday.”