Tag Archives: Revelation

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?


Should we read Revelation literally or figuratively?

There’s been a lot of discussion about whether one should read the Revelation literally, or figuratively. The problem is the of “literal.” Many Christians tell me they take Revelation literally, but then make comments like: “The whore of Babylon is the Catholic Church.” Now, stop for a moment, that is a figurative understanding of the text. Nowhere is it said that the “whore of Babylon” is anything particular; the reader is left to interpret. And when the reader engages in interpretation, he has begun to read the text figuratively. This is not to say that figurative and literal elements do not exist in the same text, but one will find quickly that certain texts, such as the Revelation, are replete with figures and symbols, which can only be understood in the figurative sense.

One might accept that the Revelation is literally true, but that its elements are to be understood figuratively. That is not to propose a compromise, but rather to suggest a framework. Each text must be understood as it is given. Thus, a parable is given to teach a moral, not to relate historical facts (though the parables are no doubt drawn from life). A narrative, such as a gospel, is given to relate the things “the things that have been accomplished” (Lk. 1:1), historical facts. A prophecy, well, that is a matter for interpretation (cf. 2 Pet. 1:19-21).

None of this is to suggest I have the key to understanding the Revelation, but it is to propose, as I have said before, a framework for interpreting it. First, we must comprehend its purpose, then its meaning, then we will understand.

Originally published at Agabus.com

Plain talk about the Revelation

One of the great spiritual crises of my early faith concerned the book of the Revelation, the last book of the Bible. I puzzled over the various interpretations of the text: premillennialism (that Christ will return before the millennial kingdom [cf. Rev. 20]), postmillennialism (that Christ will return after the millennial kingdom), and amillennalism (that the millennial kingdom is meant to be understood figuratively). I could not tell which was the “biblical” position, and it was stressful to think about the End Times. If asked whether I was a premillennialist, postmillennialist or an amillennialist, I had no reply. I did not know.

However, reading the prophecy was not stressful. Despite my apprehensions, every time I poured over the text, I felt a peace, a sweetness. I marveled as I turned through the pages of John’s prophecy, through those magnificent things, through the depths. Intrinsically, it made sense.

The disparity between how I felt when the Revelation was being discussed and how I felt when I read it was instructive. I learned that the problem lay not in the text, but in the interpretations, and not so much in the interpretations as in the attitudes about the interpretations. I was persuaded that there one had to choose. I now believe that that is a false supposition, and that the real meaning of the Revelation gets lost in the debate over interpretations.

Continue reading Plain talk about the Revelation