I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Friday, July 16, 2010

Modified Idealism as the best approach to the Apocalypse

I find a dogmatic precommitment to any of the four generalized interpretive approaches to the Apocalypse to be stifling. Not one of the four—“not-literal or allegorical, preterist, historical, or futuristic”—[1]is without its serious problems. Each perspective presents objections to the others, which seem to cancel out their viability. For instance, the historicist or preterist may charge that the futurist reduces the bulk of the book (chs. 4—22) to meaninglessness for the original readers and hearers, since all is future. How, then, it may be asked, can John offer his beatific pronouncement on his first generation readers; further, what practical and liturgical purpose would the book hold for them (see 1:3)?

The futurist may respond in like fashion, though. If the preterist is correct, then another reductionism follows: Revelation is now little more than an historical documentation of some horrid happenings before and during the fall of Jerusalem in A. D. 70 (or the fall of Rome in the fifth century, depending on your tastes and historiography). This rally of objections and answers is nearly as abundant as the number of expositors and commentaries working through Revelation.

Therefore, I subscribe to what some have called “eclecticism”[2] or modified idealism. Such a view would deny any hard-line, static historical referents in the book,[3] save the final coming of the Lord Jesus in judgment, salvation and his consummating the new heavens and new earth at the end of the age. Concerning the literary structure of Revelation, I find the seven-fold progressive parallelism a helpful paradigm. Below are a few of the big-number reasons that I maintain this perspective.

First, any and all eschatological data I encounter in the Scriptures, I view through the lens of a two-age model.[4] Biblically speaking, human history, more specifically, redemptive history is divided into two ages, “this age...and the age to come.” Accordingly, Jesus’ First Advent inaugurated the age to come; the new creation has begun in his resurrection and exaltation. The new creation will be fully realized in the event of his Second Advent. We therefore live in the time of tension between these two ages or worlds. Thus, the time between Jesus’ first and second advents is the fulfillment of the OT’s “latter days.” This will become more relevant below. The modified idealism approach is most consonant with the two-age model of eschatology; and the two-age model has presuppositional priority in my overall approach to interpreting all of Scripture.

Secondly, another controlling presupposition for me is the hermeneutical maxim that Scripture interprets Scripture; and in that, the clear interprets the unclear. In short, this means that I will interpret Revelation in light of the rest of the NT. Revelation is the most symbol-laden book in Scripture and therefore must be considered in terms of the didactic sections of the gospels and epistles. I understand the latter as presenting God’s people/family as one; his plan to redeem these as one (not one for the Jews and one for the church); there will be one second return of Christ, one (physical) resurrection, one judgment, and these events are closely related in time; we are now in the “last days.” The symbolisms of Revelation will therefore be interpreted in light of these Matthew—Jude doctrines, not the other way around.

Finally, I take Rev 1:1 (w/ 1:19) to be the programmatic verse(s) for the interpretation of the book. This verse tells that the revelation of Jesus that John was given by the angel would be “signified.” Signified here is sēmainō, meaning signs, symbols, or tokens. Verse 1 is a clear allusion to Dan 2:28—29, 45. There are striking parallels in theme and phraseology between Rev 1:1, 19 and the Danielic counterpart. Furthermore, Rev 22 contains another allusion to Daniel 2, and so forming a likely inclusio that frames the entire book (see esp. vv 6, 10). Aside from the obvious discontinuities between Dan 2:28 and Rev 1:1, one is of special interest. Nebuchadnezzars’ dream was to symbolically reveal “what was to be in the latter days,” whereas John’s visions were to symbolically reveal “what must soon take place.” John, therefore, understood his and the church’s experience as the inception of the “latter days.” Something similar happens in Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. In v 16 Peter offers a “this is that” (KJV) interpretation of Joel 2, which was a prophecy of what would God would do “in the last days” (v 17). Therefore, John tells us at the start that the book is largely symbolic and is concerned with the fulfillment of the “latter days,” which is the church age.

Therefore, from an eclectic perspective, solid historical references are both recognizable and acceptable without precluding escalated future fulfillments of like kind (e.g., arche- à antitypal fulfillments). The book is also ever-relevant, since it is a strategy book for the church militant living between the two ages, promising the final victory of the Lamb and his Bride over the Beast and his Whore. Stressing the doctrinal priority of the rest of the NT helps to bring clarity to the often opaque mixed metaphors and symbols of Revelation.

[1] To use the titles ascribed by Walvoord, Revelation, 16—22
[2] E.g., Hailey, Beale.
[3] It does, however, recognize analogical historical applications throughout the church age.
[4] There is one sense in which all the “data” in Scripture is eschatological in that each datum is a part of the larger whole of God progressive plan of redemption, which moves ‘eschatologically’ from the fall toward the consummation.

No comments:

Post a Comment