“For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.”John 5:22-30
We are looking at how the judgment of God works. If you have not read previous parts of this study, we have linked to each one at the bottom of this article and invite you to read them.
In the last part of our study we looked at two primary ways of interpreting Revelation: Literal and Allegorical. Which way we choose to interpret will greatly impact our understanding of how God’s judgment works.
We move now to four primary views about the timing of Christ’s judgment in Revelation.
Christ’s Judgment – Timing
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”Revelation 20:11-15
The Idealist View of Revelation is also known as the Spiritual View. It uses the allegorical method of interpreting Revelation. We looked at allegorical interpretation in the last part of this series.
This viewpoint, made popular by Church fathers Origen and Augustine, sees the imagery in Revelation as symbols of the ongoing struggle between good and evil, God and Satan. God and good are victorious in the end. The symbols are tied to spiritual themes rather than historical events.
The Preterist View is based on the meaning of the Latin word preter, which means ‘past.’ A Preterist believes that Christ’s prophecies in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21) were fulfilled when Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. A Preterist believes the Apostle John wrote Revelation prior to 70 AD and that the seven churches of Asia Minor (chapters 1-3) described spiritual conditions in those churches prior to 70 AD. Chapters 4-22 describe the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 AD.
There are two types of Preterists. A ‘full Preterist’ believes all prophecies in Revelation were fulfilled in 70 AD and that we are currently living in the ‘new heavens and new earth.’ A ‘partial Preterist’ believes most of the prophecies in Revelation were fulfilled in 70 AD, but that chapters 20-22 point to future events.
The Historicist View is that Revelation is symbolic of the course of history from when John wrote the Book to the end of the age. Imagery in Revelation corresponds to historical events in the history of Europe, including popes and kings and wars. For example, chapters 4-7 symbolize the fall of the Roman Empire and chapters 8-10 symbolize the invasion of the Roman Empire by various foreign enemies. Protestant Historicists believe some of the middle chapters of Revelation show God’s judgment on the Catholic Church. Some Historicists believe the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 represent seven periods in the history of the Church.
The Futurist View is that the Olivet Discourse and Revelation chapters 4-22 are future events. A Futurist sees Revelation 1:19 as the guide to interpretation –
“Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.”
- the things which you have seen — Revelation chapter 1
- the things which are — Revelation chapters 2-3
- the things which will take place after this — Revelation 4-19
Futurists interpret Revelation ‘literally’ rather than allegorically (symbolically). They also interpret Old Testament prophecies concerning future times literally and see many of them being fulfilled in Revelation 4-22. God’s judgments are literal and will be poured out on the world in the future.
‘Literal’ interpretation explains meaning based on the normal and customary usage of original languages. Another way of viewing the literal or plain view is — text and context. What is the plain view of the text in its context? That is literal interpretation according to the laws of the language.
Literalists believe that figurative and symbolic language that is clearly and plainly meant by the writer as figures and symbols should be interpreted in the way the writer intended. When Jesus said of Himself as the “door of the sheep” (John 10:7), it’s obvious from the text and context that Jesus was not saying He was a literal door made of wood, stone or metal. He used the term ‘door’ as a metaphor to the fact that He is the ‘way’ or ‘entrance’ to salvation. Also, the word ‘sheep’ was not describing people as literal members of the animal family known as ‘sheep.’ Jesus used the word ‘sheep’ to describe how people are ‘like’ sheep in many of their characteristics.
Literalists point to early Apostolic and Church fathers as teaching the literal viewpoint of the Olivet Discourse and Revelation (e.g. millennial kingdom, future resurrection and judgment).
Because I came into Christianity from atheism, I did not have a particular view concerning Revelation. I had only recently come to believe that God existed and that the Bible was credible, so what to believe concerning the interpretation of the Book of Revelation was wide open to me.
I heard all four views (Idealist, Preterist, Historicist, Futurist) preached, taught and debated during my early years as a Christian. I read books written by leaders of all four views and asked questions of people who were representative of each view. I attended Bible College and did more studying about the subject there. I appreciate that many great Bible teachers have disagreed about the timing of Christ’s judgment. However, after looking at all the evidence, I came to believe that the Futurist View best represented the clear and plain process of studying the Bible ‘text and context’.
If you have not read all of the parts of this study, we invite you to do that now for the Scriptural background to Christ as Judge.
We will begin looking at three primary views of Christ’s Millennial Reign in the next part of our special series “God’s Judgment: How It Works.”
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.