Methods of Interpreting the Book of Revelation (Part 5: The Spiritual Method)

You open up the Bible, go to the most difficult, confusing book, and you can’t really understand what it is saying.  You know that somewhere in there, victory is promised to those who stay faithful, but beyond that nothing makes much sense.  So, instead of trying to figure out what it is saying, you decide to take a novel approach: the book really isn’t about anything specific!  No, the book is all about spiritual principles, the battle between good and evil, and the only thing the book teaches is that eventually, ultimately, good will triumph over evil.  Not surprisingly, this method is called The Spiritual Method.  Those who take this view claim it is the only one that makes Revelation have application to the church in all ages.

It has been accurately said that the Spiritual Method is the lazy way out of interpreting Revelation.  Anything in the book that doesn’t make sense to you, just claim it doesn’t really represent anything!  Some people who take the Spiritual Method have described it this way: “Many of the symbols are nothing more than extra details like props on a stage during a play.  They are completely unimportant, except to add to the scenery.”  One question must be asked in light of this: Are you willing to say that God placed completely unimportant things in His word?

Those who take the Spiritual Method have quite a difficult time explaining how Revelation isn’t referring to any specific events when the very first verse says otherwise.  “The Revelation of Jesus Christ…to show His servants things which must shortly come to pass…”  That verse shows that Revelation discusses events which were about to happen, but had not happened yet.  Did the spiritual battle between good and evil somehow not exist until shortly after Revelation was written?  Of course not.  Anyone who reads the Old Testament can see the battle between good and evil has been raging from the beginning.

Their claim that Revelation represents spiritual principles (good vs. evil) within the church in all ages runs into an interesting paradox at this point.  The church began over 30 years before the book was written.  Since the things described in the book hadn’t happened yet, it couldn’t apply to the church up to that point.

To simply “spiritualize” away the details in Revelation ignores the fact that there were real people discussed (such as Antipas, 2:12-13); real congregations addressed with their own real problems (chapters 2 and 3); real cities mentioned (Jerusalem, 11:8); real rulers mentioned (the kings of chapter 17); and an overthrow of a real “great city” that would cause the real blood of the real apostles and real prophets to be avenged (18:20-19:2).

Are there spiritual principles about the battle between good and evil to be learned from Revelation?  Absolutely!  But is that all that is under consideration?  Absolutely not!

-Bradley S. Cobb

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