Is it possible to read Revelation literally?

literal (adj.) — in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical: the literal meaning of a word (resource)

When Christians talk about reading Revelation literally, what do they mean? Is John the Revelator literally addressing seven contemporary churches (circa 90 A.D.), or is he addressing the church today? I have always considered that John was speaking to his contemporaries, but I also maintain that Revelation is for the church today. However, I believe it must be read figuratively in many places.

Nearly all kingdom exclusionists hold that Revelation should be interpreted literally, but what is meant by that varies.

Some insist upon a literal reading of all passages. For example, J.D. Faust maintains that a “sharp two-edged sword” actually comes out of the mouth of Jesus (cf. Rev. 1:16 and elsewhere). “After the judgment seat, the fiery sword of the Lord’s mouth will judge Christians that have lived unfaithfully and have not repented in this life.”[1. The Rod: Will God Spare It?, p. 148, emphasis Faust’s)] Should the reader really understand that a “sharp two-edged sword” actually proceeds from Christ’s mouth? Is not that reading forced?

Others indicate that Revelation should be understood literally and figuratively in some places, but figuratively in other places. For example, Arlen L. Chitwood maintains that the church of Laodicea was literally a church in a physical locality, but that we must also accept “the Laodicean Church of today” as a true, spiritual (i.e. figurative?) entity.[2. Judgment Seat of Christ, http://www.lampbroadcast.org/JSOC11.html.] In other places, no literal meaning is to be accepted. For example, Chitwood maintains that Christians will suffer the hurt of the second death, but not literally. In a reply to an e-mail inquiry, Chitwood explains, “Where Scripture uses metaphors, I’ve remained within that framework.” He adds, “Christians being cast into outer darkness, Gehenna, a furnace of fire, or the lake of fire, are simply four different ways Scripture uses to point to the same thing, using four literal things in metaphorical senses.”[3. Between May and June of 2008, I posed several questions to Chitwood by e-mail, and we maintained a brief correspondence on the subject.] Unfortunately, he does not explain what will literally happen to so-called carnal Christians at the judgment seat of Christ. Perhaps, nothing will happen.[4. In his published writings, posted at LampBroadcast.org, he makes no mention of the things he confessed in his e-mail. When I pointed out that most of the followers of his teaching believe Christians will be literally cast into the lake of fire, he discontinued our correspondence. His followers, such as John Herbert, a pastor at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, teaches, “Those Christians denied a position with Christ in His kingdom, because of the choices they will have made during their Christian life, will find themselves outside of the heavenly city, separated from the Light, in the lake of fire for the duration of the Millennial Kingdom” (http://www.cornerstonejacksonville.com/files/messagenotes/2005-11-06_matthew13_12.pdf). A similar view is held by another Cornerstone fellowship in Los Gatos, California. Adapting notes from Herbert’s outlines, Jeanne Alley presents the following: “And if we choose not to heed this warning, the consequence are given in – Revelation 21:8 ‘But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.'” In this instance, she is not speaking of the unsaved, but “ourselves here in the local body” (http://www.cornerstonelosgatos.com/EphesiansPartEight.php — opens as a PDF).]

If anything, Revelation should be read comprehensibly, should it not?

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© 2009, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

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