This article contains answers from
Brian Simmons, lead Translator of The Passion Translation
1. Why so many differing viewpoints on the book of Revelation?
Most people will be surprised to learn that there are numerous interpretations on the book of Revelation, but the book is known as apocalyptic literature, which lends itself to more than one interpretation. Throughout church history until today there is not one recognized interpretation of Revelation that is standard or accepted by all. Perhaps God wants us keep reading it and learning from it.
2. Are there some more common ways to interpret it that you can share with us?
There are four common interpretive models by which one can understand or interpret the book. The four models are known as: 1) the futurist, 2) the historicist, 3) the preterist, and 4) the idealist.
3. Can you summarize them for us?
The futurist model basically states that the majority of the book of Revelation will be fulfilled in the future, when the “Antichrist” arises with his false prophet and requires everyone to receive the mark of the beast. This makes Revelation a pre-viewing of what is to come. The futurist model believes in a “rapture” or snatching away of the church and a 1,000-year literal reign of Christ and His followers known as the “Millenium.” There are many variations to this view, especially as it relates to the timing of the rapture, but the above describes the basic viewpoint of the futurist model.
The historicist approach sees John’s Revelation as identifying the major movements of church history, and then reads them back into the symbols and prophecies of the book. Some also consider how current events fulfill New Testament apocalyptic symbolism. A prime example is identifying the Beast with various dictators through history, like Napoleon or Hitler or Saddam Hussein. The seals, trumpets, bowls, and plagues are identified as being a series of successive events, with the hope of Christ’s return being very near.
The preterist interpretation of the book view most of the “end times” prophecies of the Bible as either partially or already been fulfilled. Preterism is divided into two camps: full (or consistent) preterism and partial preterism. The full preterist viewpoint takes a viewpoint that all prophecy in the Bible has been fulfilled in one way or another. Partial preterists claim the book of Revelation was written before AD 70 and believe that the prophecies in Daniel, Matthew 24, and Revelation (with the exception of the last two or three chapters) have already been fulfilled and were fulfilled no later than the first century AD.
According to partial preterism, there is no rapture, and passages describing the tribulation and the Antichrist refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 67–70 and the Roman emperor Titus. Partial preterists believe in the return of Christ to earth and a future resurrection and judgment, but they do not teach a millennial kingdom or that Israel as a nation has a place in God’s future plan. According to partial preterists, the Bible’s references to “the last days” are speaking of the last days of the old Jewish covenant, rather than the last days of the earth itself.
And the idealist interpretive model views the book through the lens of a great conflict between good and evil, throughout the church age, rather than a predictive of what is to come or a reviewing of what has taken place. Generally speaking, the idealist viewpoint sees the book of Revelation as an allegory or story of Christ winning every battle. In more recent days this viewpoint has made room for wide ranging contemporary issues such as environmentalism.
Of course there are differing flavors of each of the above, but this is general summary of the four major models of interpreting the book of Revelation.
4. Which of the four is the best and which one do you adopt in your translation and footnotes?
There is validity and truth in all four. I have sought to translate the text of Revelation “straight up,” that is, without inserting any bias on my part or leaning toward any one of the four. However, I do see the most neglected and rejected of the four is the idealist model. I think there is value in seeing the symbols consistently throughout the Bible, and especially in Revelation pointing us to Christ and understanding more of His parabolic and metaphoric teachings (parables, stories, etc., per Matthew 13:34). Most people bounce back and forth from literal to symbolic, but I would think it is more consistent to make the entire book of Revelation one or the other, literal or symbolic.
We have chosen to take a very symbolic viewpoint of the book, for indeed the title says it all. In Greek it is best translated: The Unveiling of Jesus Christ. That is, Christ is unveiled in our hearts as the hope of glory, the triumphant King, the ever Faithful and True beloved of the church. Many of the judgments found in the book are actually the work of Christ “judging” the issues of our lives that must be overcome and yield to the triumph of the cross—the unveiling of Christ within His people.
5. Is there a key verse or a key truth that will help believers understand this book?
Absolutely. I’m convinced it is found in chapter 1 verse 3: “A joyous blessing rests upon the one who reads this message and upon those who hear and embrace the words of this prophecy, for the appointed time is in your hands.”
To read this book and not be blessed means you have missed its message. There is embedded in Revelation a divine blessing to those who embrace and “eat” the book (10:19). I can’t imagine a book that is pure judgment being a blessing to the hungry lovers of God. No, Revelation must be unfolded within us, a little at a time, until the “unveiling” of Christ is realized. We look for Christ, not insights into coming events. It is not the Middle East, but the middle of you that is the most important as you read through the book.
6. What do you recommend to a serious student of the book of Revelation? How should one read the book and find that blessing you mention?
I suggest reading it a chapter at a time until you really know what it contains. Even if it takes a year reading chapter 1 every day, it’s worth it to break open the scroll and look inside and understand what it says. I compare reading the book of Revelation to learning a new language. You don’t learn Chinese in a day, a week, a month, not even a year, no matter how intensely you study it. Learning a language takes time, immersion, and patience. So read the book of Revelation many times until you are immersed in it, and be patient. Over time it will yield its beauty and glory to you.
7. What surprised you the most as you translated Revelation?
The biggest surprise to me was what I didn’t find. Some common words and terms that we associate with Revelation are not even found in the book. For example, here are some words not contained in its twenty-two chapters: “Antichrist,” “rapture,” “millenium,” and “second coming.”
8. Is there any last think you’d want to mention about studying the book of Revelation?
Yes, keep your heart open to the truth it contains. Look for Christ, not a map of coming events. Prepare to have your world rocked as the truths of Revelation settle into your heart. Jesus is Lord, Savior, and our soon coming King!