Article: How Should We interpret the Book of Revelation? by Dr. Sam Storms (original source here)
Perhaps the single greatest controversy surrounding Revelation and the most important issue when it comes to interpreting the book, is the question of its structure. Many, perhaps most, evangelicals read Revelation as if it is describing a short period of time that is still in the future. Those who embrace what may be called the futurist view of the book most often will argue that what we have in Revelation 6-19 is a description of events that will take place in the future in a period of seven years they call The Great Tribulation.
And as you know, there are many who insist that Jesus will return and rapture his people out of this world prior to the outpouring of divine judgment in the “Great Tribulation.” The result is that what we read in Revelation 6-19 has little, if any, immediate practical relevance for a lot of Christians. For them it is fascinating to talk about, but it has little impact on how they live. One often hears: “Praise God that I won’t be here for any of this. Jesus will rescue me so that I won’t ever have to suffer what others endure.”
Although I held to this view for many years, I don’t any longer. Now, please understand that I do believe what we read in Revelation 6-19 applies to the end of the age, just before and including the Second Coming of Jesus. But I think it also applies to and describes what happens throughout the entire course of church history, including our own day and age. In other words, I believe Revelation 6-19 (actually 6-20) portrays for us the commonplaces of history spanning the period from the first coming of Jesus all the way through to his second coming.
Think about it this way. You are at a college football game and have been given the privilege of recording on camera the entire game from a variety of different vantage points. So, you place one camera on the 50 yard line, about 10 rows up. It is the perfect vantage point from which to view the game. Whether with your I-phone or some other form of video camera you begin recording everything that occurs, from the opening kickoff through the end of the game.
Now imagine that you are able to record or video tape the same game but from a different place in the stadium. This time your seat is located in the north end zone, about 50 rows up. Instead of viewing the game horizontally, from left to right, or right to left, you record everything vertically, as the action moves away from you, from one end zone near you to the far end zone at the other end of the field. You video tape the same game, the same plays, but the camera in the end zone provides you with a different perspective on how the game unfolds. You see the players spread across the field and can see much more accurately how a play will unfold.
Now imagine that another camera is in the opposite end zone, at the south end of the field. From this vantage point you can see the game moving toward yourself, as your team takes the ball from the far end of the field and gradually moves it toward the end zone directly in front of where you are sitting.
Now, for one more example, suppose another camera is placed in the Goodyear Blimp, hovering overhead and providing an entirely different perspective of how the game unfolds and develops. You are still watching the same game. But from this vantage point, overhead, you will have a recording of how the teams run and pass and eventually move from one end of the field to the other. From this angle in the blimp you can see both teams equally well. You can observe movements of players in a way that no one sitting anywhere in the stadium can.
Now, in each of these positions you would be watching and recording and eventually describing the same game and the same plays and the same events unfold. But your explanation of how the game started and ended would sound somewhat differently every time. But it’s still the same football game, with the same events unfolding, with the same players on both teams, leading to the same outcome.
This would actually greatly enhance your understanding of what happens in the game. You get to watch it from different perspectives, from different vantage points. Each of the cameras provides its own unique contribution to the same game. One camera focuses almost exclusively on the offense, while another focuses on the defense. Yet another camera hones in on only one player, recording every move he makes. And then there is a camera that sets its sights on the coaches and how they interact on the sidelines with their players.
I want to suggest that this is basically what is happening in the book of Revelation. The technical term for this is recapitulation. John the Apostle is, in my opinion, describing the events of this entire present age in which we live. His description covers the expanse of church history from the first coming of Christ in the first century to the second coming of Christ in some later century, perhaps our own. Sometimes he provides a panoramic view of the entire age of church history. At other times he focuses in on one major event or a series of developments. On occasion he may concentrate on telling us about one person or movement in the course of history. Continue reading