Certainty is a real killer of spiritual insight. Yet many Christians tout their certainty about everything! The spirit of certainty exposes Christian tribalism at its finest. One of my personal favorites is the certainty many people adopt regarding John’s Revelation. Four distinct tribes of people will defend their interpretations, to their death if necessary! Well, okay, maybe stopping short of martyrdom, or murder.
To which tribe do you belong? Have you chosen the ‘right’ tribe? Are you certain? Are you still searching for a tribe? If so, a brief synopsis of tribal certainties follows:
Tribe #1: Preterit Certainty!
The visions in the book of Revelation were fulfilled, during the timeframe in which they were written, or shortly thereafter! It’s all in the past! Everything can be explained by the social/political events that took place during the reign of Nero (believed to be the anti-Christ of the day) by some early followers of Jesus. And we all know that the Roman Empire was the beast! There is no other credible way to interpret John’s Revelation.
Tribe #2: Historicist Certainty!
The visions of John represent an unfolding of time. It’s quite obvious that the visions represent different dispensations, or measurable and definable time periods, pertaining to what God is doing and why. Oh, yes! From the beginning of time, through the fall of man, to the covenants, the cross, etc. It’s all quite obvious. Various events actually prove the beginning or endings of these dispensations! Revelation isn’t in the past! We are presently living through a dispensation. There is no other credible way to interpret John’s Revelation.
Tribe #3: Futurist Certainty!
The book of Revelation speaks about a future time when the world will come to an end! And it’s gonna’ be bad—really bad. God is going to punish everyone who has not been saved. God’s wrath will be poured out on all of the wicked people, who have been left behind after the coming rapture. Make no mistake about it! People need to get right with God before they end up in the depths of hell forever and ever! There is no other credible way to interpret John’s Revelation.
Tribe #4: Symbolic Certainty!
John’s visions are all explained through symbolism! Why do people insist that the visions are linked to any past, present, or future time on earth? They aren’t related to time at all. The visions represent a spiritual battle that has no bearing on real events in history, or any passage of time. Such thinking is foolish. A symbolic view of Revelation is the only credible way to interpret John’s Revelation.
Four vastly different views. Four chances to dig our heels into the soil of human opinion and refuse to budge. Four opportunities to divide into camps of absolute certainty, regarding the rightness of our believing.
Whole generations have built systems of right belief upon one of these perspectives, while rejecting the other three views, along with the souls who might adhere to them. Whole denominations have been established based on one view of Revelation, while denouncing the other three views as heretical! When people join a tribe, they are expected to uphold the views of their tribe. If one tribe has more numbers than another tribe, people are easily convinced that the greater populated tribe, must hold the accurate view. And so it goes.
We can be certain of one thing, however! One’s tribal perspective of John’s Revelation affects that person’s thinking and behavior in life. Our theological perspectives are impactful. They matter. One’s tribal perspective of Revelation determines who a Christian might be willing to listen to, or love and respect. It determines who a Christian might ignore, or reject and dismiss. Certainty about the end of life, the end of the world, or the end of time, shapes important decisions made, in the here and now! One’s view of Revelation, or what they have been taught to believe, can easily seep into every aspect of public, and private life—including world politics.
Who or what controls our certainty?
Ignorance, fear, or human ego tend to play roles in the development of certainty. But, the human invention of the clock also plays a role! That little voice, inside everyone’s head, demands that we make sense of the passage of time! And John’s Revelation teases the inner voice. Yes. That silent voice tells many people that the past, present, and unknown future cannot be left to chance. So, it’s best to be certain! NOW!
It’s unfortunate that scholars, theologians, pastors, priests, and spiritual leaders do not teach compatibility between the four interpretations of Revelation. It’s too bad that Christians can’t embrace a past, present, future and symbolic view of this book, while rejecting the theological conclusions attached to each view.
So each perspective could contain a measure of truth, while at the same time each view could be terribly flawed?
Yes, that’s precisely what I am suggesting!
My suggestion is based on the coexistence of two realms of time – a micro and macro, age to age, measurement of time. The macro realm of time hasn’t been factored into our micro-realm of certainty. Perhaps a longer, age to age view of time would validate specific aspects of all four views. Perhaps the macro view of time would help us toss out some theological conclusions, in favor of rethinking our ideas. A longer view of time might soften our theological certainties. Another realm of time might actually end the war over “End Times”?
If there is any merit to a macro view of time, then each tribe would need to deconstruct their present theory, in order to determine what to keep and what to toss out.
So, here goes! Let the deconstruction begin.
Tribe #1: Deconstructing Preterit Thought.
Some of John’s visions were fulfilled in the past! Okay. Let’s go with that.
But let’s not suggest that all of John’s visions can be fully explained by the historical events of 70 A.D. Let’s not limit the antiChrist to the person of Nero, or limit the image of the beast to the Roman empire.
Pointing to Nero and Rome, is said to keep the fulfillment of John’s Revelation in its historical context. Okay. But, here’s the problem with such limitation of context. It’s not okay, because it misses the mark regarding the spiritual identities of the antiChrist and the beast. John’s visions have spiritual implications!
It’s easy to build a historical case that points to a specific political figure, the power of man-made empire, and the destruction of the Temple as a fulfillment of John’s Revelation. Do we really think that John’s visions were limited to such a short-lived crisis in temporal time?
When we limit these visionary texts to the 24-hour clock, and the human calendar, we miss the presence of spiritual archetypes in the visions. The visions reveal a real spiritual antiChrist, and a real spiritual beast. So, let’s expand our minds to include a transcendence of time, in every one of the visions of Revelation. Let’s consider the possibility that a much larger battle is being fought in macro time, than the battle that was fought in 70 A.D.
Tribe #2: Deconstructing Historicist Thought.
John’s revelatory visions really are meant to be fulfilled throughout a passage of time! Okay. Let’s go with that!
But, why cling to a man-made view of dispensationalism? Why force the unfolding of the human journey into time periods, which fit our limited understanding of what God is doing, or why? Moreover, has anyone researched the different perspectives that exist in dispensational thought? How can we take this theory seriously, when there is no agreement among its adherents? When humans try to read the signs of the times, and then “shrinky-dink” them into man-made categories, called “God’s plan,” we’re trying to put God in a box. Instead, wouldn’t it be better if we concerned ourselves with humanity’s use of time? Let’s throw out man’s preconceived periods of time, and confess that God’s use of time is God’s business – not ours.
Tribe #3: Deconstructing Futurist Thought.
Some of John’s visions really will be fulfilled in the future! Okay. Let’s go with that!
But why retain the notion of gloom, doom, punishment, wrath, and the horror of hell, as literal realities for future generations? This perspective denies the power of the Holy Spirit to move, motivate, enlighten, and empower whole generations of peace-seeking people, as time passes. It denies the possibility that fire does not destroy, but refines and purifies—changing the hearts of people, purifying lips, and refining minds.
When humans deny the Holy Spirit time to work at God’s pace, rather than predicting a doctrine of doom and gloom, we fail to give the Holy Spirit breathing room to make all things beautiful.
Tribe #4: Deconstructing Symbolic Thought.
All of John’s visions really are symbolic in their descriptive state! Okay. Let’s go with that!
But why throw out the clock? The passage of time is a reality of the human journey through time. It is a journey out of spiritual darkness into the light. We don’t need to discard the clock in order to embrace a symbolic view of John’s visions. In fact, it would be helpful, if we saw the face of the human clock within the symbolism of some of John’s revelatory visions. It’s a beast of an image! Flawed theological thinking causes us to become blind to the beast we are worshipping, while thinking that John’s Revelation has nothing to do with the human clock. So, let’s insert the clock into the visionary symbolism, and read the book of Revelation again.
That’s a lot to deconstruct!
But, it could rid Christianity of its certainty about John’s Revelation.
And wouldn’t that be refreshing?