Tag Archives: historical apocalyptic

The Genre of Revelation (Rev 6)

The New Testament genre “gospel” was an invention of the apostles. The genre “epistle,” as used in the New Testament, adopting a common writing style, was also largely an invention of the apostles. But the genre of Revelation, “apocalypse,” is an adopted genre. It is the only work of its kind in the New Testament, but there were many works like it in the ancient world, particularly within Judaism from around 200 B.C. to 200 A.D.

According to the scholarly definition, an apocalypse is a form of revelatory literature, which means it claims to directly communicate information from God to humanity. This is accomplished in the form of a story, a “narrative framework,” rather than poetry or some other form. The revelation is communicated to a human being by “otherworldly beings” such as angels or the 24 elders of Revelation. The revelation discloses “transcendent reality” (beyond the ability of the five senses to apprehend), about the course of history leading up the End, and about the heavenly, “supernatural” world.

Scholars also distinguish between two types of apocalyptic literature, the historical and the mystical. The historical type, characteristic of Daniel, gives an overview of a large sweep of history, often divided into periods, and climaxing with a prediction about the end of history and the final judgment. Historical apocalyptic visions tend to be highly symbolic, referring to heavenly and earthly beings and events (Rev 12 is a good example). The mystical type of apocalypse, on the other hand, describes the ascent of the visionary into heaven (as in Rev 4-5). While symbolism may be used in mystical apocalyptic, there is more of a sense of reality in the description, the visionary ascends into a real place where actions take place that affect the readers’ lives on earth. Both types can occur in a single literary work, Revelation being a clear example.

Ancient apocalypses sought to encourage faith in God and hope in God’s future kingdom among those facing difficult times. John seems to have adopted Daniel’s apocalyptic visions as the model for understanding his own visions (Rev 1:1, cf. Dan 2:28, 45). But Revelation itself is also called a prophecy (Rev 1:3, cf. 19:10; 22:7-10, 18-19) and is also heavily dependent on prophetic books like Isaiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah. In addition, there are echoes of epistolary genre in chapters 2 and 3. So Revelation has come to be seen as a mixed genre, the main part of the book a mixture of prophetic and apocalyptic features. It could be called a prophetic apocalypse or an apocalyptic prophecy.

Applying the Lessons of the Prologue (Prologue 1:8)

For Seventh-day Adventists, the Prologue of Revelation brings out two things that might seem in tension with each other: a) the centrality of Jesus Christ in the book of Revelation, and b) the value added of a Seventh-day Adventist, historicist (apocalyptic sequences of history) reading of Revelation. What value does the unique SDA approach offer in today’s world? How do you keep a balance between articulating the historical details of the SDA reading of Revelation and uplifting Jesus Christ as the center of all hope?

What is the value of an SDA approach to Revelation today? Among other things, I would suggest the following. 1) The SDA view answers the three great philosophical questions of human existence. These are, in principle: Who am I? Where did I come from? and Where am I going? Who am I? A being made in the image of a loving, gracious and self-sacrificing God who prizes freedom so much that He has even given us power to create little people like ourselves. Where did I come from? I am not here as a result of random chance, but I am the result of a loving, creative purpose. That means that my life has meaning and purpose even when it is not appreciated by those around. It means that my life has infinite value in the eyes of the most important Person in the universe. Where am I going? Life in this universe will not end with a bang or a whimper. It will not end in primeval silence. It will end in an eternity of meaning, purpose and ever-deepening relationships.

2) The SDA approach to Revelation helps us see the hand of God in history. In our daily experience, it is often difficult to know what God wants us to do and just where God is leading in the major events around us. Apocalyptic prophecies like Daniel 2 and Revelation 12 affirm the giant principles upon which God bases His interaction with this world and the universe. As we see prophecy’s interpretation of the past, we have a clearer picture of what God is doing today and what He is likely to do in the future.

3) The SDA approach to Revelation gives us confidence in the midst of chaos that God is still in control of history. Events in the world seem increasingly out of control, but apocalyptic prophecy assures us that this is nothing out of the ordinary and God is well able to manage today’s governmental chaos just as he managed the many “beasts” of the past.

4) The SDA approach to Revelation gives us confidence that since God has been active in creation and throughout history, the hope that we have for the future is also real. Things will not always be as they are now. God is still working toward the ultimate fulfillment of His purpose and ours. We may not know just when the climax of history will occur, but we know that the outcome is assured and God’s faithful people, both living and dead, will participate in that outcome.

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.