DIFFERING INTERPRETATIONS – There are five primary views on how one should interpret what is being revealed in Revelation.
Preterist View – Those holding to this viewpoint claim that most, if not all, of the events revealed in the book were fulfilled (past) in John’s day. Thus, the book was about the first century Church and for the first century Church.
Historicist View – Others believe that the book reveals a panorama of church history that is being fulfilled (present) from the first century until the end of the age.
Futurist View – Under this view, beginning with chapter 4, the book reveals what will be fulfilled (future) at the end of history just before the second coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of His kingdom.
Idealist/Allegorical View – Finally, there are those who feel that the book is not a literal revelation of past, present or future events. Rather the book is symbolic of timeless truths, primarily concerned with the age-old conflict between good and evil. The people or events referenced have not been (preterist), are not being (historicist) and will not be fulfilled (futurist) literally. Rather, the message is merely a symbolic revelation that God will ultimately triumph over all that is evil (never in doubt – always been true). (1)
Combination of the Above – In general, those attempting to interpret the overall message that the Apostle John recorded in Revelation will likely align themselves almost exclusively into one of the preceding four camps. But the above views are not necessarily mutually exclusive. On the contrary, it is possible that there is some truth in each interpretation and that they can coexist in harmony with one another to a certain degree. For example, in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24–25; Mark 13; Luke 21:5-36) Jesus responded to a compound question: “when will this (destruction of the Temple) happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age (last things)?” While it is quite possible that the disciples believed they were asking about events that would happen concurrently (and soon), it is now quite evident that things did not entirely work out that way. The first part of the question was likely fulfilled in 70 AD when Titus invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple (preterist view). But that did not usher in the end of the age and Jesus’ return. These, quite obviously, are yet to happen (futurist view). In between, many events have transpired in world and Church history, which will ultimately climax with Christ’s physical return (historicist view).
Next Up – The definition of eschatology.
(1) Brand, C., Draper, C., England, A., Bond, S., Clendenen, E. R., & Butler, T. C. (Eds.). (2003). Revelation, Book Of. In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1387). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.