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Chapter 10 | Contents|


The Revelation -- Which Interpretation?
By Graham Pearce


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Such a variety of ideas have been under review, that a brief survey is needed. The starting point, indeed the guiding principle, is given in Amos 3:7-

"Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets".

We should therefore expect to have been given a prophetic record covering the time the Master is away in heaven. That such a record should have been provided is the more to be expected, because in this time of his absence there has been no living voice of "Holy men of God" speaking as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. Without such a prophetic record, believers through long centuries would have been without a guiding light. Therefore, when the last book of the Bible outlines, in symbol, events leading to the setting up of the kingdom under Christ, we should expect it to be an unfolding prophecy of events from John's day to the coming of the Lord. And this is its opening claim. It is concerned with "things which are, and [the] things which shall be hereafter" (v. 19). It claims therefore, to be a prophetic record which would soon start to be fulfilled. And for each subsequent generation they would find in this record "things which must shortly come to pass" (v. 1) in their own day. When the various symbols are studied in the light of past history it becomes apparent that the symbols did, wonderfully, in a condensed way, outline that history. Down through the centuries there is a remarkable fit between the symbolic events in the Seals, the Trumpets, and the Vials, and the history they foreshadowed. This fit is on too vast a scale to be ignored. The fit between history and the symbols cannot be a matter of chance. It must be by the foreknowledge of God. To propose that the symbols are all related to the future does infer that the fit of the symbols and history was a matter of chance. This is not only unreasonable, but is a despising of God's gracious guidance provided for his children.

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On examination, the Preterist interpretation, having the Seals and Trumpets fulfilled around AD 70, was found to give a vague and poor correspondence between prophecy and the proposed history. The claim to a special virtue of being a 'Biblical interpretation' was found to be faulty in its reasoning. But the chief failure centred on the date of the Revelation. The evidence for a time before AD 70 was slight and unconvincing, and contrary to so much evidence for the Revelation being given later, in the time of the Domitian persecution. The pre-AD 70 date is fundamental to the Preterist interpretion, and failure on this ground justifies dismissing the interpretation.

The Futurist interpretation, as with the Preterist, is an unlikely basis because it leaves the believer without prophetic guidance over many centuries; in fact there would be over eighteen centuries of prophetic darkness with no guidance and encouragement. On reflection one can see that it is unreasonable in a book with enough symbols to cover eighteen centuries of history, to propose that these symbols be interpreted so as to cover a few years in the future. It means the future is tremendously overcrowded with symbols and events. We are given repeated series of future judgements to 'use up' the symbols. And the great weakness of all this is that, being in the future, it is not verifiable. It has to be recognised as speculation. With the continuous historical interpretation there is so much of the symbols already verifiable from past history that one can have reasonable confidence in outlining what is still future.

The other Futurist interpretation makes modern Israel the great enemy of God, it is symbolically the dragon, the devil, the beast of the sea, the harlot, the coming world despotic power; and in the book of Daniel it is the little horn of chapter 7 that will speak great words against the Ancient of Days, and wear out the saints. Such a concept is so contrary to the purpose of God in the Law and the Prophets, that no one aware of the God's purpose will be led astray. It is a serious matter to so misrepresent God and His nation. This view is likely to develop an anti-Jewish attitude in our community; whereas we ought, like Daniel, Ezra and Paul, to grieve over the present waywardness of 'our' nation, and plead with God for His work of restoration of faith to begin.

All these Futurist interpretations give us a 3-1/2 year period in the future for the emergence of a tyrannical world power, persecuting the Christadelphians. A whole chapter has been given in this book to show that the 1260 days (or 42 months or 3-1/2 times) must be taken symbolically as 1260 years. This fact undermines the theoretical plan of the future set out in these alternative interpretations.

It may be that the reader will agree with the writer, that a consideration of the alternative interpretations greatly strengthens the conviction that the interpretation generally accepted among us until recently, is the correct one. We should feel grateful that God has provided us in the Revelation with such evidence of His hand at work in the past that we can be confident the present is also working out according to His plan.

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We now draw attention to how our Christadelphian community has looked at the book of the Revelation. The various 'new' interpretations have only arisen very recently -- in the past 30 years. For nearly a 100 years before this, several generations of our brethren and sisters held to the continuous historical interpretation provided by Bro. Thomas. At least a proportion of these brethren were students of history and some would be acquainted with the Futurist and Preterist interpretations. Yet our community was satisfied with the interpretation and extremely grateful for it. It would be wrong for us to think of our earlier brethren as 'unlearned and ignorant' people, and to think that today we have so much greater wisdom and intellect in our midst. Nor can it be claimed that new evidence, or developing circumstance, require a radical change of interpretation. Nor, again, ought it to be said, with regard to divine matters, it is out of date because it is over a hundred years old. At the very least these reflections suggest every one ought to give the 'old' interpretation a fair hearing and a patient study. This needs emphasising, because the new books are inevitably much to the fore, and the old books lie unheeded on the shelf.

Looking back to the beginning of our community there is good reason for expecting that our traditional interpretation is the correct one. Take our minds back to the time of Bro. Thomas. Under the good hand of God he made plain the Truth -- the gospel of the Abrahamic promises -- and dispelled the darkness of Church teaching on immortal souls, heaven going, the devil, hell torments, etc. His expositions, brought into being groups of believers. They realised they ought to understand Jesus' Last Message, with its admonition, "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein" (1:3). The question arises, would God only half do His work, and leave those whom He had called out of darkness into light, in ignorance regarding His final book of instruction? Should we not expect God to encourage the one who had faithfully carried out the basic work, to continue and complete the needed exposition of the last scripture? Equipped with a clear understanding of the gospel, he was in a position to understand the Revelation, and interpret it in harmony with his understanding of the Old Testament writings.

How much the general understanding of the Revelation was regarded as part of "the Truth" may be appreciated by a glance at the book Elpis Israel. This was the chief medium for enlightening men and women at that time; and we note it has three parts, "The Rudiments of the World"; "The Things of the Kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ"; and "The Kingdoms of the World in their Relation to the Kingdom of God". In this third part, the outline of Daniel and Revelation is before the reader, dealing with past, present and future events. In those days Elpis Israel was read by practically all brethren, and so a general understanding of the Revelation was part of "the Truth" they held to. As we have said, the brethren were grateful for the exposition. It gave them great encouragement in appreciating that so much of the prophecy had already been fulfilled, and they were living in

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the time of the Vials when, under the 6th Vial, Jesus announces, "Behold, I come as a thief". Our community would be greatly invigorated if we made the same study as our earlier brethren, and were made expectant of the appearing of the Master. It is admitted that Bro. Thomas did not perceive the full development of the drying up of the Euphrates, the preparing the Way, and the going forth of the frog spirits under the 6th Vial. This was hardly possible. But we can readily follow the further fulfilment from his time, as outlined in chapter 8 of this book. In holding to the traditional interpretation we have more confidence, not less, as to where we stand because we realise that we are about to see the Master return to the earth.


Many who read these new interpretations recognise that they are not sound expositions, but they maintain a tolerance toward them, and continue to hold those who thus write in high esteem. This comparative indifference to the Truth is not good. With these mutually contradictory interpretations before us, our rising generation will adopt the view that there is no certain truth. With this loose attitude on one of the books of the inspired word of God, it will inevitably follow that a similar attitude will grow toward the rest of God's word. Uncertainty and debate will increase, and our standing as the people that have the TRUTH will be lost.

It is a false idea that we can allow the book of Revelation to be a pleasant debating ground, and at the same time say there is but "one faith, one hope, one baptism, one Lord", etc. The last book of the Bible is the embodiment of God's Truth as much as the first book. It is all equally inspired and to be included in Paul's description of the earlier writings: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16).

God intended us to understand the book of Daniel and its companion the Revelation. In the last chapter of Daniel it says, "None of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand" (Dan. 12:10). And regarding the book of Revelation, Christ expects us to 'hear' and 'keep' the sayings of the book. Its closing words have a solemn warning to those who destroy the meaning of the book. A right understanding of it is important to us. Just as the Acts of the Apostles unfolded God's will and purpose for the first century, so the Revelation gives His purpose and instruction for our situation in the 20th century. A right understanding moulds our conscience and course of action. Our duty is to join our faithful brethren of past centuries in witness against the christian apostasy, headed up in Rome. This witness is being undermined by the new interpretations. A tolerant friendly attitude to the Churches is growing rapidly in our community. We are ceasing to be God's witnesses, because we have ceased to respond to the Revelation, to keep the sayings of the Book.

'Hearing' and 'keeping' the "words of this prophecy and those things which are

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written therein" (Rev. 1:3) means much more than understanding how events foreshadowed in the Revelation have come to pass. There are seven letters giving us personal and ecclesial guidance; there are several visions of the glory of the kingdom; there is the emphatic distinction between the ecclesia and the world, portrayed at every stage as antagonistic to each other; there is the warfare of the faith maintained by our earlier brethren as an example to us. In addition there are so many symbols based on Old Testament situations which in their study and exposition enrich the mind -- the hidden manna, the apocalyptic urim and thummin, the tabernacle of witness, the water of life, pillars in the temple of God, etc.

We finish with the words of the Master in the last chapter of his Last Message:

"And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done. Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book" (Rev. 22:6, 7). Do we understand and keep the sayings (logos) of this book? Do we stand in the way of the blessing?

"Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city" (Rev. 22:14).