Methods for Interpreting the Book of Revelation (Part 6): The Preterist Method (part 1)

Imagine yourself as a Christian in the first century, under constant persecution, even the threat of death.  Things seem to keep getting worse instead of better.  And in the midst of it, the thought enters your mind, “I thought we were supposed to have an abundant life.”  The truth was, for most Christians of the first century, dark times were ahead; times that would try the souls of even the most dedicated Christian.  There were those that began to have doubts about Christianity and were going back to Judaism (see the book of Hebrews).  There were others who—because they loved the present world—forsook Christ and His servants (II Timothy 4:10).  Some left Christ out of fear. Then, in the midst of this turmoil, you are presented with a letter written down by the apostle John.  The letter begins in a way that lets you know it applies directly to you: this letter is about things which are about to happen – the time is at hand! (Revelation 1:1, 3).

As you read through the letter, you read about congregations that have lost their first love, and you recognize the signs.  You have seen Christians undergoing persecution to the point where they finally decide Jesus isn’t worth it, and though they may not have openly renounced their faith, you can tell a difference – they aren’t trying to tell others about Him at all.  You read of other congregations, small ones, that have almost nothing, but they are holding on to Jesus for all they are worth.  And as you read this letter, you realize that it is Jesus Himself who tells these faithful Christians to keep holding on, and they will receive a victory crown of life.  As you near the end of John’s letter, you understand that Jesus will overthrow those who oppose Him, and that His faithful saints will be rewarded for not giving in to the persecution.  As you finish reading it, the final words are a reminder of what was said at the beginning: this letter is about things which are about to happen – the time is at hand! (22:6, 10).

The main questions to ask regarding the book of Revelation and the approach one should take in interpreting it are these:

  • Was the book really written about “things which must soon take place” (1:1, ESV)?
  • Did the Christians who first received the book understand it? (see 1:3)
  • Did the book deal with things pertaining to the first century Christians? (see 22:10)

The Preterist Method of interpreting the book of Revelation says that the book had a direct application to the persecuted Christians who first received it.  It takes God’s word at face value when it claims to be about “things which must shortly be done” when it was first written (in the first century).  As such, anyone who wants to understand the book of Revelation must first understand what the book meant to the people who first received it.  As a result of this common sense approach, the Preterist believes that the specific events described in the book have been fulfilled.  This is the only method of interpreting the book which is in harmony with John’s inspired introduction (“things which must shortly come to pass…the time is at hand” – 1:1, 3) and his inspired conclusion (“things which must shortly be done…the time is at hand” – 22:6, 10).

-Bradley S. Cobb

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