Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (16): The Uniqueness of Biblical Apocalyptic II

Non-canonical apocalyptic is different from biblical apocalyptic in that it spoke to a time when people believed that the prophetic spirit had been silenced (Ps 74:9; 1 Macc 4:44-46; 14:41, cf. mAboth 1:1). Without the gift of prophecy it would be impossible for anyone to write history in advance. Nevertheless, the historical time periods of ex eventu prophecy reflected the conviction that a true prophet such as Enoch, Moses, or Ezra would be capable of outlining history in advance.

Since John, the author of Revelation, believed that through Christ the prophetic spirit had returned (Rev 1:3; 19:9-10; 22:6-10), he would have every reason to believe that the cosmic Christ could reveal to him the general outline of events between the advents. The return of genuine prophets would signal the return of predictive prophecy. In the Book of Revelation the name John is not a pseudonym. The Book of Revelation is genuine, not ex eventu, prophecy and needs to be addressed differently than non-canonical apocalyptic. Although written to the immediate time and place of the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev 1:3,11), Revelation also spoke to their future, the things which would happen “after these things” (Rev 1:19). Adventists believe that most of the seven churches’ future is now history to us.

Since the concept of predictive prophecy is grounded in the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, it should not surprise anyone that the vast majority of Biblical interpreters throughout Christian history believed in predictive prophecy and felt that Daniel and Revelation in some way offered an outline of Christian history leading to the end of the world. Adventists, like them, see no indication in the text of Daniel and Revelation that its events were to be confined to the distant past. They understand Daniel to address the entire course of history from his time until the end. They understand that the Book of Revelation speaks to the time of the seven churches, to the events of the very end of history, and also to significant movements in the course of the history that runs between those two great standpoints.

In saying this about Revelation it is not necessary to claim that John himself, or any of the other writers of the New Testament, foresaw the enormous length of the Christian era, the time between the first and second advents of Jesus. Our Lord certainly could have come in the first century if He had wished to do so. In a real sense, the New Testament treats the first advent of Jesus as eschatology in the highest sense. There is a consistent tension in the NT, therefore, between the sense that the last days had already come, and that there was yet to be a delay of some sort. The passage of time since the first century has opened up new vistas in terms of the Lord’s patience and purpose. Having foreseen the delay, would not God prepare His people to understand the major events by which He is bringing history to its climax?

Our lack of foresight should certainly introduce an element of caution into any interpretation of the “periods of history” that Adventists find in the books of Daniel and Revelation. Only from the perspective of the Parousia will history speak with perfect clarity. We will need to avoid the kind of historicizing interpretation which emphasizes minute details and “newspaper” exegesis, while ignoring the plain meaning of the symbols in their original context. Adventists believe, however, that the broad sweep of Christian history was both known to God and revealed in principle through his servants the prophets (Amos 3:7).

One thought on “Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (16): The Uniqueness of Biblical Apocalyptic II

  1. Greg R. Paul

    Thank you Jon, your insights help me appreciate the Word. I like how you keep things real as avoiding the “we they” mentality as traditional SDA has grown with. I have some of your books and also like how Ranko S. explains some of the symbols in Revelation pertaining to certain #’s found in Rev 7 and 14. I was able to read both of his editions on the “Revelation of Jesus Christ” as he brings your name into the expositions with some really nice and concise ways of a deeper meaning that laity sometimes misses. God bless you always…

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