Thursday, 22 November 2018

Introducing the Book of Revelation (Part 3 of 3)

Literary Genre and Structure
     Three different genres are apparent. First, Apocalypse (1:1)1 – a genre characterized by extensive symbolism, visions, strong contrasts between this world and the world to come, and victory over evil. Second, Prophecy (1:3) – combined with apocalyptic elements, it carries on the tradition of OT books like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah. Third, Epistle (1:4) – with an opening address and greeting, it functions as a circular letter to the seven churches of Asia (1:4-5, 9-11), including a specific message for each one (2:1–3:22).2 “The complicated character of Revelation therefore suggests that we should not place it neatly into one genre category. Elements of prophecy, apocalypse, and letter are combined in a way that has no close parallel in other literature” (D. A. Carson and D. J. Moo, An Introduction to the NT 716-17).  
     As for the structure of the book, Revelation is logical in sequence rather than chronological. It begins and ends in physical reality but includes a panoramic view of heaven and the future. The introduction (chaps. 1–3) is followed by three series of concurrent judgments (seals, trumpets, bowls) and depictions of worship in heaven (chaps. 4–16), concluding with a declaration of triumph (chaps. 17–22).
Methods of Interpretation
     1. The Preterist View (lit. “that which has gone by”). This interpretation method holds that everything in Revelation was fulfilled not long after it was written (either at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70, or the legalization of Christianity in 313, or the fall of Rome in 476). The problem with this view is the great difficulty of interpreting some things in Revelation as having already been fulfilled (e.g. 20:10-15; 21:4).
     2. The Futurist View. This perspective argues that most of Revelation has not yet been fulfilled, interprets much of the symbolism literally, and is generally held by those advocating the theory of premillennialism. Problems with this view include the following. It literalizes symbols that were almost certainly intended to represent other things (e.g. 7:4; 14:1; 20:4, 6). It fails to appreciate the relevance the message needed to have for the Christians to whom it was originally addressed (e.g. 2:1 ff.).4 It ignores the fact that much of Revelation was to be fulfilled relatively soon after it was written (cf. 1:1, 3; 22:6).
     3. The Idealist View. This view suggests that Revelation is not related to specific historical events but merely symbolizes the general, ongoing struggle between the Lord’s church and evil forces. The problem with this view is that it overlooks Revelation’s claim that it does address actual historical events and circumstances and prophecies to be fulfilled (e.g. 1:1-3, 19; 22:10-19).
    4. The Historical View. This interpretation argues that Revelation deals with actual historical events, many of which were fulfilled by the time the Roman Empire fell, but some of which are yet to be fulfilled in the future (e.g. 20:11 ff.). While each of the above interpretive philosophies has its merits, the last one seems to be least problematic.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 The opening self-identification is: Apokalupsis Iēsou Christou (“a revelation/apocalypse of Jesus Christ”). See B. M. Metzger, The NT: Its Background, Growth, and Content 302-303; C. R. Holladay, A Critical Introduction to the NT 536-41.
     2 Revelation is regarded as having an epistolary frame (see E. S. Fiorenza, “Composition and Structure” 367-81; J. M. Lieu, “Grace to You and Peace” 172-73; J. L. White, “Saint Paul” 444).
     3 See C. S. Keener, IVP Bible Background Commentary 759; B. M. Metzger, Breaking the Code 11-19; D. A. Carson and D. J. Moo, Introduction to the NT 697-700; S. L. Harris, Understanding the Bible [7th ed.] 519.
     4 “Some prophecy teachers have interpreted and reinterpreted Revelation according to the whims of changing news headlines.  But John’s images would have meant something in particular to their readers …. Whatever else his words may indicate, therefore, they must have been intelligible to his first-century readers …” (C. S. Keener, IVP Bible Background Commentary 760-61).

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