Why Adventists Prefer the “Historicist Method” (Prologue 1:3)

In this blog series on the big picture of the Book of Revelation, I am indebted to the SDA concept of inspiration, the historicist method of prophetic interpretation, the unique organizational structure of Revelation, and a Christ-centered approach to interpretation.

The historicist method, in my view, is supported by the broad structure of Revelation itself. The book begins with the seven churches (Rev. 1:9 – 3:22), which primarily concern the situation of John’s day. The seals and the trumpets, on the other hand, each cover from the time of John to the End (4:1 – 11:18). The last half of the book (11:19 – 22:5), on the other hand, focuses almost exclusively on the last days of earth’s history and beyond.

This method is also supported by the allusion to Daniel 2 in the very first verse of the book. Let’s take a closer look at that verse.

Generally, the best way to approach Scripture is to take everything at face value, unless it is clear that a symbol is intended. In Rev. the opposite approach is indicated in the first verse. There it tells us that the entire vision was “signified” (Rev. 1:1, KJV, Greek: esêmanen) by either God or Jesus. So in Rev. the best way to approach the text is to treat everything as a symbol, unless it is clear that a literal meaning is intended (for example, “Jesus Christ” in Rev. 1:1 should be taken literally).

This insight takes even clearer shape when the reader discovers an allusion to Daniel 2 in the first verse of the book. The only other place in the Bible that combines “signified” with the unusual expression “what must take place” (Rev. 1:1, RSV, NIV, Greek: a dei genesthai) is Daniel 2 (LXX: combine verses 28 and 45). Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a great image was the place where God “signified” (2:45) to him “what must take place” (2:28) in the last days. What was to be “in the last days” in Daniel is now “soon” in Revelation.

At the very opening of the book of Revelation, therefore, one finds a powerful allusion to Daniel 2. This allusion ties the two books together, like companion volumes. While Revelation alludes to many of the prophets, there is a special bond between it and the book of Daniel. So we should expect at least some of the symbolism of the Rev. to point to sequences of history in John’s future. Apocalyptic sequences run from the prophet’s time until the End. Not all of Daniel is historical apocalyptic, but much of it is, and that is the case also with Revelation.

5 thoughts on “Why Adventists Prefer the “Historicist Method” (Prologue 1:3)

  1. Glenn Pinterich

    Brother Jon, this statement “treat everything as a symbol” in Revelation is so disheartening to hear this come from someone that was so close to Graham Maxwell! This essentially leaves Revelation the “The Revelation of Jesus” to wide open interpretation. There are very few symbols in Revelation, When God uses a symbol He always defines the symbol with a relevant text so that there is no confusion or arguing
    about the meaning of the symbol! Think about this: If every student of prophecy is free to define symbols as desired, we are back to private interpretation and total confusion. On the other hand, if a symbol is
    clearly defined, God has spoken and there is no room for confusion. When people use definitions for symbols for which God has not provided a relevant text, personal bias, confusion, and manipulation result. The Bible either speaks for itself or it does not, for who on Earth has the authority to speak for it?

    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      Interesting perspective, but I think it ignores both Rev 1:1 and the overall reality of Revelation. While some of the symbols in Rev are explained in the book, most are clarified by the allusions to the OT. It is ignorance of the OT that makes people take a lot of Rev literally. Having said that, perhaps I am not understanding your point.

  2. Janice Blair

    Dr. Paulien, Thank you so much for providing all of the blogs and material in print and on LLBN, 3ABN, Pine Knoll, videos, etc. I appreciate it so much. I knew Dr. Maxwell at PUC in the 1950’s and I am so pleased to be able to read and learn from his material, as well as yours.


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