Approach to Revelation & Eschatology

There are potentially 36 possible combinations of one’s view of the end times—some more exegetically tenable than others. Due to the revelatory and apocalyptic nature of this book, it is difficult for God’s people to discern beyond the shadow of a doubt whether their eschatological outlook is correct or not. This topic warrants serious study as it deals with the time between Jesus’ ascension and return—the period God’s people live in right now. I will argue that amillennialism, present tribulation, and idealism together properly interpretation Revelation.


Millennial View

The amillennial view is the most truthful to the trajectory of God’s redemptive plan for it balances in healthy tension the reality of sin and the power of the gospel. As one reads through Revelation, they perceive this tension between the “already/not yet” of redemption. On the one hand, they seek the effects of Jesus’s life and work in this life—especially through salvation. However, the ugliness of sin persists. Saint Augustine of Hippo helpfully articulates this tension in two cities: the city of man (Babylon) and the city of God (Jerusalem).[1] Both of these cities dwell together until ultimate redemption is brought in Jesus’ return. In the meantime, there are cycles of heightened sin (e.g., the 1900s’ constant war mongering) and heightened church flourishing (evangelistic crusades of Billy Graham). With the premillennial position, it seems as if the gospel is ultimately ineffectual—Jesus must come back because sin is too powerful. With the postmillennial position, it seems as if sin has no power at all—negating the need for Jesus to bring ultimate redemption. The amillennial position holds both concerns in health tension.

Revelation is also structured in a series of cycles rather than a chronology of the end times. The most common cycles are bookended by “6:12–17 and 7:9–17; 11:18a and 11:18b; 14:14–20 and 15:2–4; 16:17–21, including 17:1–18:24, […] and 19:1–10; 20:7–15 and 21:1–8, including […] 21:9–22:5.”[2] These five cycles depict from varying perspectives the period between Jesus’ ascension and his eventual return. For example, specific numbers are given in 7:4-8 of those who would be sealed.[3] Compare this example to 14:14-20 when a general agrarian example is given. These images should not be taken in temporal chronology, but as different perspectives of the same object: those whom God has prepared for redemption in his election.


Tribulation

As a result of this millennial view, the tribulation is this life. It is not some distant reality or something that happened to a specific people long ago. Due to the fall of Adam and Eve, all of life has been in a sense tribulation from the effects of sin. Therefore, the people of God should not loathe the future tribulation (indeed if they believe in one) but pray for perseverance in this life in the face of tribulation.

John writes in Revelation that he is the churches’ “brother and partner in tribulation (τῇ θλίψει) … ” (1:9, ESV).[4]Additionally, the church in Smyrna experienced tribulation to such an extent that John wrote to the angel of the church “I know your tribulation (σου τὴν θλῖψιν) … ” (2:9). It appears to John that the tribulation written about in his letter is not some future reality, but a living reality for him and the church. 


Schools of Thought

The amillennialist position draws on the idealist school of thought. Idealists view Revelation has a symbolic battle between God and Satan throughout history.[5] Closely related to this framework is the historicist position which views Revelation as corresponding to significant time periods in church history.[6] A step removed, and perhaps most popular in non-reformed circles is the futurist position, which views most of Revelation happening in the future.[7] On the complete opposite end is the preterist position, which holds that most events in Revelation were fulfilled by AD 70.[8]

As mentioned above, Revelation is organized in cyclical structures. The idealist school of thought factors this organization in quite well. They view Revelation describing the general struggle between the church and sin throughout life, rather than viewing it as a mere chronology of events (like the historicist or futurists do) or focused on a specific time and people (like the futurists or preterits do).


Living as Exiles

The millennial view best represents John’s original intent with his letter. He intended to symbolically describe through the revelation what would take place during the already/not yet. As a result, the tribulation is not a penultimate event, but one describing this present life until redemption is fully consummated. This perspective of Revelation and life best fits with the idealist school. While this position is viewed as the best representation, this declaration does not mean that the other views are invalid, for God’s people can only have a small view of what has happened, is happening, and will happen—only God know how this letter will truly unfold


  1. Brian J. Tabb, All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone, vol. 48, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019), 163.
  2. Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1999), 121.
  3. This number should not be taken literally, but figuratively referring to a large amount of people.
  4. Note the definite article is present in the Greek but absent in English. This article points to a more definite tribulation rather than tribulation generally. 
  5. Tabb, All Things New, 48:10.
  6. Tabb, All Things New, 48:10.
  7. Tabb, All Things New, 48:10.
  8. Tabb, All Things New, 48:10.

Bibliography

  • Beale, Gregory K. The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1999.
  • Tabb, Brian J. All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone. Vol. 48. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019.

This post was originally an academic paper submitted to Dr. Kyle B. Wells in Pastoral & General Epistles & Revelation at Covenant Theological Seminary. It has been modified from its original version.