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What is Apocalyptic Writing?

What is Apocalyptic Writing and What are the 4 Views?

This officially the beginning of the Revelation series, with last week kind of being a precursor to what is to follow I am so pumped to begin to dig into the text with you guys. I remember a youth pastor that I had told me something that will always stick with me, and it was regarding how we interpret scripture.

“You cannot interpret the New Testament without knowledge of the Old Testament, and you cannot interpret the Old testament without knowledge of the New Testament.”

This changed the way that I read scripture drastically because now I was using the entire Bible to assist me in my interpretation of Scripture. While yes we can do this for the book of Revelation, this book has a different theme that a lot of the Bible does not posses and that is the genre in which it was written. Revelation was written in the genre of Apocalypse, and yes we do have other book in the Bible such as Daniel, which are written in this tone, a lot of people still seem to not understand the style of this genre and that is what we will attempt to explain in this post. Once we understand what apocalyptic writing is all about it makes decoding Revelation less of a scary task.

Apocalypse” (ἀποκάλυψις) is a Greek word meaning “revelation”, “an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling.” As a genre, apocalyptic literature details the authors’ visions of the end times as revealed by an angel or other heavenly messenger.

This is the official Un-Biblical definition of Apocalypse and I think that it is extremely accurate. Revelation 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.

BOOM, right there at the beginning of the book, the “Revelation of Jesus Christ” Which can be broken down to the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, or the Unveiling of Jesus Christ. To know what He is proceeding to unveil though we have to know, how to interpret it.

There are 4 main views/approaches to the Book of Revelation, and they are:

1. Historicist

The historicist school, also called the “continuous historical,” sees the prophetic drama in Revelation as providing a panorama of Church history from the apostolic era to the return of Christ. Historical continuity is the main focus of this approach which forecasts future history. Some have called Revelation an “almanac of church history.” The numerous judgment scenes have been applied to various historic wars, revolutions, and socio-political and religious movements (e.g., the rising of Roman Catholicism, the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, World Wars I and II), as well as important historical persons (e.g., various Popes, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Mussolini).

Unfortunately, this position almost without fail assumes that present interpreters live at the conclusion to history so that all in Revelation leads up to their time just before the end. Commenting on recurring problems in eschatological debate in general, Brethren historian F. Roy Coad well states: “Almost invariably interpretation has been vitiated by the reluctance or incapacity of commentators to visualise their own age as other than the end time.” [2] As a consequence, beliefs are in a constant state of revision, especially for Revelation commentators in this school. As history has gotten longer, older varieties of this interpretive school have experienced a great number of failed expectations. Furthermore, its focus is confined to the Western world, with the progress of history traced only in a western direction. In addition, it tends to lose its relevance for its original persecuted audience. Its major problem, though, is that harmony among its proponents is almost wholly lacking due to its subjectivity.

2. Idealist

The idealist school is also called the “timeless symbolic.” This school sees the point of Revelation as not so much painting an objective, historical portrait at all. Rather, idealists suggest that John’s concern was to provide a non-historical, allegorical summation of various significant redemptive truths or historical principles. It attempts to provide the scene behind the scene, that is, it offers a look at the philosophical/spiritual issues involved in history, rather than at historical events themselves. Thus, this view is also called the “timeless-symbolic” and the “poetic-symbolic.”

Of course, in a certain sense this view could be true at the same time any one of the other views, for history is in fact the outworking of divinely established principles. This view is the most recent of the major approaches to Revelation. Recent advocates of idealism include William Milligan, William Hendricksen, Philip Carrington, and R. J. Rushdoony. Its weaknesses, though, are debilitating: Revelation appears to be so concerned with concrete history, that we must wholly overlook historical events in defiance of the facts. Revelation is so long and complex that it would seem such a view as idealism could have been presented in a shorter space and without giving such an appearance of historical reality. It downplays the time-frame indicators of the book.

3. Futurist

The most widely prevalent interpretive school is the futurist. This approach to Revelation sees the prophecies of Revelation, particularly beginning at Revelation 4:1, as portraying the remote future from John’s time: “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” This view understands Revelation as dealing with the ultimate historical issues that the world and/or the Church will face just prior to the Christ’s Return.

The weaknesses of futurism include: It almost totally removes the relevance of Revelation from John’s original audience, and at a time of their great suffering. It has to re-interpret phenomena in John’s day to make them fit in modern times. It overlooks the claims of the nearness of the events in Revelation. It is not subject to historical verification presently and thus is incapable of falsification, and thereby fails the philosophical verification principle which according to some philosophers renders it philosophically meaningless.

4. Preterist

Finally, we have the preterist view, also known as the “contemporary imminent” or “contemporary historical” or “imminent historical” viewpoint. Basically this school understands the great majority (not all) of the prophecies set forth in Revelation 4-22 as dealing with issues and events beginning with John’s own day, matters that from our perspective lie in the distant past. Hence, the designation “preterism,” from the Latin word praeteritus meaning “gone by,” i.e., past.

The strengths of preterism are: It retains the relevance of the book for John’s original audience, which was undergoing a crisis of persecution and oppression. It takes seriously the time-frame indicators in Revelation (to be examined shortly). It provides a dramatic explanation of major redemptive-historical matters: the demise of Judaism and the temple system and the universalizing of the Christian faith. As such its principles may serve as a pattern showing that Christ will protect his church in all ages, since he does so in its first century infancy.

In 2 major respects the book of Revelation differs from other NT writings, these differences provide an unusual challenge to reading this book in a correct manner. Especially when you are used to reading the NT in a specific way, and then you hit Revelation, and you have to hit a curveball that you were not expecting.

  1. Unlike other Biblical epistles(Yes I will be claiming that revelation is an epistle, we may touch on this subject in a later lecture) Revelation is written as a prophecy as claimed in many verses which include; (1:3 and 22:7) Yes there are other prophecies located in the NT but revelation is the only book as a whole in the NT that is a prophecy in its self. As Paul puts it in (1 Cor. 14:3) the point of prophecy is “for the edification, encouragement, and comfort to men.”
  2. This is the one that we are really focusing on today, the book of Revelation is written in Apocalyptic Literature. This genre of literature was particularly popular in Johns time, however to the modern reader it can seem obscure.

In common Apocalyptic writing there is one major rule that must be followed.

Symbolism is the rule, literal is the exception.

This rule is crucial to the correct reading of the book. Today we are so used to taking things at face value literally, but we cannot do that in Revelation. Once we begin to read through this lens, we begin to unlock understanding from one of the most difficult books in the Bible to interpret.

Ill See you guys soon, until then

Peace and Love



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