Without exception, for the first two and a half centuries, the early Church universally held a belief in the premillennial coming of Christ to defeat Satan’s Antichrist and establish His glorious millennial kingdom where the saints would reign with Him. In addition, the majority of these Christians believed in the imminent coming of the Lord to resurrect the saints. Additionally, they looked for a period of apostasy prior to the Second Advent. During this period of apostasy, the early Christians saw a personal Antichrist and a False Prophet deceiving the world and defiling a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. Interestingly, they understood that the last week of seven years in Daniel’s prophecy of the seventy weeks would be separated from the first sixty-nine weeks by a gap—the Church Age. Hence, futurist, literal, dispensational and premillennial views were held by most Christians in the early Church.
No one would dream of applying the whole of Preterist, Historicist, or Idealistic methods of interpretation to OT prophecy. Because Revelation has been interpreted in isolation from the rest of the Biblical books, and from other works of a similar literary type and genre outside the Bible, it is has been possible to treat it in a non-literal manner.
Yet, all of these views have something to commend them. One should be open to the great and timeless value of Revelation’s descriptive symbols in the historical context, and throughout the Church Age. Whether one interprets the Apocalypse from a Preterist, Historicist, Idealist or Futurist view, or with a postmillennial, amillennial or premillennial view, the overriding message is clear.
There is a confrontation between the Roman Empire (historical or revived) and God’s people (church or tribulation saints). Satan and God lead these two groups in conflict, and so there exists absolutely no doubt as to the result of the battle. In the end, Christ (in the name of God) along with His followers shall overcome Satan and his followers. The defeated and ungodly of all ages will be cast in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-15). On the other hand, the saints of all ages will enjoy the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven from God to a new heaven and a new earth created by Him (Revelation 21:1-22:5). Such a view of the unfolding of history (understood as two opposing powers and divided into successive eras) is in every way typical of apocalyptic theology.
A question often asked by the Preterists and Idealists is “What good would the suffering and severely persecuted Christians of John’s day have derived from specific and detailed predictions concerning European and world conditions which would prevail some two thousand years later?”
The futurist answer: The same kinds of encouragement the Jews in distress were to receive from Daniel and Zechariah’s prophecies during the empires of Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece and Rome. The Jews of the Intertestamental Period were greatly encouraged by the prophecies of Daniel and Zechariah, as will be the Jews of the Tribulation Period. The Jews, as well as the Tribulation saints, will receive similar encouragement from the prophecies of Revelation when the Revived Roman Empire persecutes Jews and believers at the end of this present age. Like Daniel and Zechariah, Revelation looks past the present world situation to the near and distant future. As prophecy is fulfilled, the events offer hope and comfort to believers who recognize that God controls history and His will prevails.
The primary function of prophets was to speak for God to their own contemporaries. Yet, God’s messages through the prophets speak to people of all ages. He was like an ambassador from the heavenly court, who relayed God’s will to the people. His divine messages announced the immediate future of Israel, Judah, and other nations, as well as the distant future. Hence, when we study prophecy, we should observe three things:
1. Primary Association: The Historical Setting and Meaning
2. Prophetic Anticipation: The Fulfilled and Future Predictions
3. Personal Application: The Message God for Our Day
Therefore, a sound interpretation of the Apocalypse must take as its starting-point the position that the book was intended for believers living in John’s day and age as well as believers throughout this entire dispensation, and then, especially for those living at the Time of Jacob’s Trouble.