Revelation

Revelation Study #6, Interpretive Maximalism

Revelation Study #6, Interpretive Maximalism

If you are interested in an introduction to Revelation, here is my sixth introduction to the book focusing on the hermeneutical method called “Interpretive Maximalism.”

“The minimalist is often quite literal and focuses exclusively on the grammatical-historical interpretation. Though this method is necessary, our interpretation should not be limited to it. I am currently working on a project on the book of Ruth, and at first glance it seems like a simple narrative, but the more one digs into the meaning of the names of each character, the places mentioned, the theology of the land and of gleaning, the nature of Boaz and his relationship to Ruth, one is compelled to realize that Ruth is really a miniature picture of the entire gospel message from Genesis to Revelation.”

(Scroll down on the main page for all six lessons)

Avoid the Language of “Already, and Not Yet”

Since I have been deeply involved in the eschatology debate for over ten years, had some of my works published in other eschatology websites, interviewed postmillennial authors, and have been in the healthy business of proselytizing premils to the postmil position for just as long, I have noticed a few trends. My own transition from pre to postmil was not neat. I wondered in the other premillennial categories and in the “Amillennial parking lot” for a short while.

I confess a deep appreciation for my amillennial brothers. Men like Vos, Horton, and Beale continue to offer fresh insights into the biblical text and to expand the biblical theological vocabulary in some desirable directions. Beale’s work on a theology of worship is a gift to the church.

But while appreciating their labors I also see a trend in the use of language that can be harmful to the postmillennial cause. I refer specifically to the use of the language “already, and not yet.” “This theological concept of “already” and “not yet” was proposed by Princeton theologian Gerhardus Vos early in the 20th century, who believed that we live in the present age, the ‘now’, and await the ‘age to come.” The premillennialist George Eldon Ladd had used similar language when arguing that we taste a little now of the age to come, but not the fullness of it.

Vos and Ladd share similar viewpoints, though they would have differed on their interpretation of I Corinthians 15:24-26. That essentially is the only difference between a historic premil and an amillennialist; a few chronological issues, but a firm agreement on the continuation of the decline of civilization. Some amil scholars still argue among themselves on the identity of a future anti-christ. Other amil thinkers embrace the “optimistic” label to balance out the “amil” label, though this is a more recent phenomenon.

Already, and not yet

This language can be helpful at times, and it has turned into a unified slogan among many in the Reformed camp to combat pre-tribulational theology. Let us assume for the moment that the pre-trib. position is unsustainable and not even worth debating. If this is the case, how is the language of “already, and not yet” been helpful to elaborating the victorious promise of the gospel declared by postmil advocates in the Reformed camp? I venture to say it has not been helpful at all in the postmil eschatological proposal. When the amil advocate uses the language–and the language was coined by amillennial advocates–he means that though we taste a bit of the world to come now, we ought not to expect any type of cosmic manifestation in power and might of the gospel until the Second Coming.

This embodies a largely pessimistic vision of the work of the gospel in the end of history. Again, this is not a debate on the post-resurrection world. There is no debate on that issue. We all affirm the Gospel victory then. The question is: “What will the world look like before Jesus returns at the end of history?” Kenneth Gentry offers a helpful definition of postmillennialism:

“Postmillennialism is the view that Christ will return to the earth after the Spirit-blessed Gospel has had overwhelming success in bringing the world to the adoption of Christianity.”

Assuming this definition, we are affirming that not only will we receive a taste of the world to come in this era of human history, but we will also see with our eyes and touch with our hands the very progress of the Spirit-blessed Gospel in the world.

If not “already, and not yet,” then what?

So what am I suggesting? I am suggesting we no longer use that language, except in very specific cases. This language may be helpful in communicating ideas with someone re-thinking the dispensational position, but even then I recommend caution, since they may be prone to research this language and be led to amillennial writers.

We are not suggesting a utopian society. We believe sin will always be with us until Jesus returns, but we are also affirming that human sin will lose the war against the gospel when it comes to the conversion of the nations. I agree with my mentor, James Jordan, that as the gospel brings people and nations to submit to King Jesus and as the Gospel becomes more prevalent in the national discourse we will also see a greater battle against our own sin since people will become more aware of their struggles. This, however, does not negate the imperative that the nations will come to Zion and worship (Is. 2, 11), but it emphasizes that confession and repentance will always be part of the Christian experience in this world.

Instead of the “already, and not yet” language we may choose to refer to our hope as the “already, already, but not yet,” emphasizing that we will not just taste of the world to come, but also experience the world to come in this world. Obviously this is a long-term strategy. Postmillennialists are not naive to suggest that this Spirit-blessed Gospel will cause world-wide transformation over night, rather this is a long-possibly millennial- project. A double “already” emphasizes the reality of this Gospel vision in history. Further, it emphasizes that we are not simply tasting of the world to come individually, but corporately as a people.

This world is indeed our home, and we long for a renewed world. We do not despise this creation, we long for its restoration.

What other language can we use?

If the “already, already, but not yet” seems like a theological technicality, then I suggest a few other phrases. We are living in the age of “glory to greater glory,” “fulfillment to greater fulfillment,” present, but not fully present,” “joy to greater joy,” blessing to greater blessing.” These are all categories that define the glory of the transformative gospel before the Second Coming.

You may even provide a better and more accurate picture of this truth in words if time allows, but in the meanwhile be cautious with the “already, and not yet” language. History matters to God. And describing that history in certain words can communicate something we do not wish to communicate.

The Ethics of Creation

When God made the world he made it in divine priority. He made all things with an agenda, and to use the oft-repeated line, “he saved the best for last.” He made man on day six, and at the end he breathed with the breath of perfection (Gen. 1:31): “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

Could God have created man on day one or day three? No. This was a divine priority. Man was created last purposefully. He made him on day six and then affirmed (Gen. 1:26-28) that he was to be over all things. Man receives a place of honor in creation because he is made in the image of God.

Under the Old Covenant he crawled in his infancy. He was unable to do much, and so God gave him tutors, angels to keep watch over him. But as he grew in maturity, man learned to walk. He walked with a limp (Gen. 32) to remind him of his humble beginnings, but he became more theologically civilized and warrior-like, capable of confronting bigger challenges. But God never left man alone. He was never made to be alone. In the New Covenant, God takes man from crawlers to inheritors (Rom. 4:13). As a promise, the ascended Lord gives man his Spirit. He provides mature and able man a comforter and a divine guidance counselor, namely, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.

All of this was already symbolized in the creation account, but needed to wait until the New Creation to be put into place. Man was always meant to have a place of prominence in God’s world. This prominence is a not a blank check, it is conditioned on the faithfulness of redeemed man to serve and fear Yahweh with grace and truth (Rom. 12:11).

But when this divine creational pattern is broken, the world is also broken. When the order of creation is switched, the world suffers ethical consequences. When trees and living things are placed at greater prominence than man, then we have a disordered creation. This is largely the fruit of the environmentalist movement.

When day six is not prioritized, the sacredness of life is also not treasured. Abortion is the result of a disordered creation narrative. When God said “Let us make man in our image,” he was prioritizing the life of man over the life of other created things. Yahweh stamped on mankind his image; and that image needs to be treasured above all else. The taking of human life is a phase of disorientation in the created order. It is a direct violation of the way things were meant to be.

The ethical consequences also apply to marriage. When day six is taken out of its place, the joining of man and woman—which is a joining officiated by God himself—is misplaced, and the doors of polygamy and sexual deviance are open (Rom. 1). And when mankind and current social norms disrespect the created order, God gives them over to their mis-prioritized minds. This is God’s way of saying that that which he made he made orderly and purposefully, and that order cannot be tampered with.

Ultimately, man can choose to honor God’s creational pattern, or build a week of their own. But if they do so, they will never come to the seventh day of rest.

It’s Worth Defending

Evangelicals overall do a fine job at defending the trivial but struggle to defend the hard things. Machen observed long ago in his monumental Christianity and Liberalism that “it appears that the things that are sometimes thought to be hardest to defend are also the things that are most worth defending (8).”

Machen was deeply concerned about where the lines were being drawn. He was sure that if we abandoned this battle, we would be swallowed up by heresy and forsake the tremendous work of our godly forefathers. He saw liberalism as another religion altogether; a totally different class of religious expression than Christianity (7). He saw the resurrection, virgin birth, and the divinity of Jesus being threatened on a consistent basis. But, he argued, these are the battles worth fighting; they are the hard battles of the faith. Once we lose the creedal ground, we will sink into oblivion. For Machen, this was not an option.

The Symbolism of Revelation: Study # 5

The Dating of Revelation by Khristian Trotter

In his Chrysostom paper, Khristian Trotter, a young parishioner at Providence Church, tackled the dating of Revelation. Here is his excellent introduction to the discussion:

Hello, my name is Khristian Trotter and I would like to thank you for giving me your time today.  Over the course of this year I have become intrigued with the question of the date of the writing of the Revelation of John, and how a certain view can possibly explain many of the mysteries found in the book.  I have studied the general aspects of Revelation in my readings of two famous commentaries:  The Revelation of John by J.P.M. Sweet and Revelation by J. Massyngberde Ford.  These books were quite helpful, but the source from which I was best informed on the question of dating is Kenneth L. Gentry’s, Before Jerusalem Fell.  This is a topic that is has been highly debated for hundreds of years and audiences like us, that are not properly informed, often assume the “late” date, which sees Revelation as being written soon after the destruction of Jerusalem, because it is the belief of the majority of scholars.  However a majority should not be quickly accepted without an argument that challenges it, and I would like to do that today.  I would like to argue that the book of Revelation was completely composed before A.D. 70, the destruction of Jerusalem.

The importance of the date of Revelation’s composition is an indisputable fact that is vital to any person attempting to understand the book.  For example, if the early date was understood, and the destruction of Jerusalem was in the approaching future, then a host of the particular allusions likely refer to that city’s fall.  However, if it was written after Jerusalem’s destruction, an entirely different understanding of the prophecies must be taken.  These allusions would have then been predicting entirely different events than the “early” date, thus giving a completely different meaning to the text of Revelation. The debates that occur on this important subject fall into two general classes, as I have stated above:  “late” (c.A.D. 95) and “early” (pre-A.D. 70, usually thought to be between A.D. 64 and A.D. 70).  “Late” date advocates have traditionally found most of their defenses within external evidences, which primarily include the works of church fathers.  Most convincing of these fathers are the men who lived very near to the time periods speculated. Closest to this time and thus perhaps the most influential for the “late” date advocates was Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons who lived nearly a century after Jerusalem’s destruction.  Other external evidences include Clement of Alexandria, the work known as The Shepherd of Hermas, Papias of Hierapolis, Tertullion, Origen, and countless others.  In contrary, much of “early” date advocates’ defenses have been found in internal evidence within the text of Revelation itself.  Whether one is stronger than the other, I will leave for you to decide, but I hope that I have given you an unbiased look into the two sides of the argument at hand. More

Revelation Study, Part IV, The Nature of Revelation

Study #3 

Study #2 

Study #1 

Welcome to our fourth review of Revelation using David Chilton’s Days of Vengeance as our main source.

Another introductory issue we want to tackle is the matter of the nature of Revelation. Revelation is an eschatological discourse. It is John’s discourse. Matthew 24 provides a discourse, Mark 13 provides a discourse, Luke 21 provides a discourse, but there is no eschatological discourse in John’s gospel. Why? Because John offers the most comprehensive account in Revelation. More

Revelation Study, Part III (David Chilton’s Days of Vengeance)

In this third episode I discuss the question, “Why was John’s letter sent to Asia?”

Episode 1 & Episode 2

Study on the Book of Revelation

Welcome once again to our study of David Chilton’s Days of Vengeance. I am Uri Brito and I blog at apologus.wordpress.com.

We are going to delve briefly into Chilton’s introduction. There are two important elements in understanding Revelation, and they are to know the author and the date of the book. Concerning the author there is virtually unanimous testimony that it was the same John who wrote the Fourth Gospel (1). John, according to Chilton, writes in an “authoritative, “apostolic” style, not to individuals merely, but to the Church” (1).  There is little to no dispute John wrote this letter. In fact, Revelation uses Johannine language like the expression Lamb of God, which is distinctly used by John in his gospel.

The same question is a lot more complicated. When did John write Revelation? This is a highly disputed question, because once you come to a conclusion on the date, you will most likely be led to a particular hermeneutic; and that hermeneutic will drive your view of the entire book. Chilton’s premise is that Revelation was written before the destruction of the temple in AD 70. This position is typically called Preterism. Preterism means past. That is, the events of Revelation are not primarily futuristic–though there are many principles we can apply to our context– but primarily, Revelation has the first century audience in mind. If you have the energy to pursue this topic further, Kenneth Gentry has written a lengthy and scholarly work entitled Before Jerusalem Fell, which makes a strong case for a pre-AD 70 reading of this book.

David Chilton offers a few reasons as to why he believes John, the Apostle, wrote this letter to his first century audience:

First, as we referenced in our first video, Chilton argues that Revelation is a book about worship. Naturally, the book is full of liturgical allusions; and it actually contains minute details. Who could have known of these details unless he were intimately familiar with the actual service in theTempleitself. John fits the bill. John, as Chilton argues, was a priest. If this is the case, John was writing about aTemplestill in existence, which would lead to a pre AD 70 letter.

Second, Chilton argues that there is an a priori teaching from Scripture that all special revelation ended by AD 70. The argument is that Daniel’s prophecy in chapter 9:24-27 of the seventy weeks would end at the destruction ofJerusalem. And what would happen then, according to Daniel? That period would seal up the vision and prophecy. In other words, the sealing up of vision and prophecy referred to the Word of God, which would be completed before the destruction of the temple. Revelation was not a late first century book, but actually written closer to the other books in the New Testament canon.

Finally, there are time references in chapter one that lead us to conclude that the book is an early book. John says these things will happen “soon,” “quickly,” etc. These are time indicators proving that John was intentional about his language. Soon meant within that generation, not two thousand years later. For John, Revelation was the final judgment on apostateIsrael. It would mark the transition from an old world to a new world with a new Lord, Jesus Christ.

We will stop here, but feel free to leave a comment or any question both here on the youtube page or on my blog apologus.wordpress.com. We will continue our look at Chilton’s introduction next time. Peace be with you.

Revelation and Dating

David Chilton’s Days of Vengeance argues in his introduction that Revelation was written before the destruction of the temple in AD 70. This is nothing extraordinary. Many have made the argument throughout the centuries, but Chilton adds to the countless arguments for a pre-AD 70 dating. According to Chilton, Revelation is a liturgical book, and because it contains many minute liturgical points, the book could only have been written by a priest who had been in an actual service in the Temple itself, and thus felt comfortable conversing about the temple liturgy and imagery. Thus, he argues, “John’s intimate acquaintance with the minute details of Temple worship suggests that the Book of Revelation and the Fourth Gospel must have been written before the Temple services had actually ceased.” Could John have remembered these minute details almost thirty years later towards the end of the century? It is possible, but highly unlikely. Revelation 11 indicates that John is in the process of measuring the current temple, which would mean the temple is still in existence at the time of writing.