What are the four main views of the Book of Revelation?
The four different ways a person can understand the book of Revelation are the Historicist, Preterist, Futurist, and Spiritualist/Idealist interpretations. I will give a quick summary of each.
- Historicist – popular with the early church fathers and several throughout history. It presents Revelation as God revealing the entire church age in advance through the symbols and visions it shows. It’s the least popular view today.
- Preterist – interpreters who believe that the book of Revelation was fulfilled shortly after the time of the apostle John. Many see the prediction of the fall of Rome. They link these events to the time of John. Much of their interpretation involves Rome in the first and second centuries.
- Futurist – this interpretation understands everything after the third chapter to concern fulfillment in the future even of our time. They understand that John saw the future and could only explain it in his first century terms. They seek to interpret it in light of the future, awfully hard to do because we live in the present.
- Spiritualist/Idealist – These interpreters see the book of Revelation more for its symbols and signs. They don’t attach it to any timeline. Instead, they see this book as filled with principles for living, recurring themes found throughout Scripture, they focus on the book not as fulfilling prophecies in a certain time period but useful for all generations.
Today you will find a few historicists but not too many. This view has generally been rejected over time, especially in our day. The reason for this is that most people believe we are in the final part of the Church age and many do not see the connections the early church fathers did.
There are a few more preterists out there. Especially those who spend a lot of time close to the text, called exegetes, hold this view. Because the book was written in the first century, they connect all of the events to the events of John’s day. But this largely discounts the prophetic nature of the book.
Probably the most popular views are the futurists and the spiritualists. The spiritualists want to get whatever they can out of the book of Revelation. They seek to understand the principles and the signs that John speaks of.
They don’t necessarily connect it to prophecy or to fulfillment. They don’t see the book as an apocalypse as much as they view the rest of the Bible, especially wisdom literature and the epistles.
I would say the most popular view of all is the futurist view. Many people see this as a book containing truths and sequences that will happen soon in our future. They connect it with prophecy and future fulfillment. They see in its pages a lay of the land of what the world will face in the end times and on the Day of the Lord.
You will find many people mixing views to create hybrids. For instance, I tend to lean toward a futurist/spiritualist view of the book. I see a lot of connections with the Old Testament and a repetition of many of God’s judgments. But at the same time I believe that it is prophecy of the end times.
There is a fifth view or way to look at the book. Revelation itself tells us that it is a prophecy of John the apostle (Revelation 1:1, 3). So we can understand it to be prophecy about the future. I think those views that agree with this the most, including the Preterist view that looks from the future of the apostle John in his day, can be credible.