10/14/22 FROM THE INTRODUCTIONS OF 20TH CENTURY BOOKS ON REVELATION, PART 3

Greetings. We’ll start today with a book entitled THINGS TO COME: A STUDY IN BIBLICAL ESCHATOLOGY, published in 1958 by J. Dwight Pentecost (1915-2014). Mr. Pentecost was a pastor in Dallas as well as a Professor of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary. He was a noted Dispensationalist.

From the Preface:

“The day in which we live has witnessed a surge of interest in Biblical Eschatology. Whereas a generation ago one theologian wrote: ‘Eschatology is usually loved in inverse proportion to the square of the mental diameter of those who do the loving,’ today another writes: ‘The problem of eschatology may shortly become, if it is not already, the framework of American theological discussion.’ The theologian who, a short generation ago, could either ignore eschatological questions entirely, or treat them disdainfully, is outmoded in his thinking if he adopts such an attitude today. The easy optimism of the past generation has been shattered by two world wars, depression and inflation, with the accompanying social and moral evils. The humanistic emphasis that characterized that theological thinking has proved fallacious. Realism has taken the place of optimism, and men have been forced to turn to eschatological considerations as the source of hope for a sin-cursed world. The Bible and the revelation it contains proves to be the one source of hope and confidence for the future, and men are turning more and more to it for light in the present darkness.”

I find this interesting as it truly reflects the optimism of the 1950’s. He refers to the “easy optimism” of the past generation and the “humanistic emphasis” of the earlier theological thinking, stating that “realism” has taken their place. We look back at that “realism” as “optimism,” and as a society have rolled over to return to the humanism he thought we’d rejected. 

Perhaps what makes the 50’s appear so optimistic to us is that, for a short time, in the wake of the world wars, we woke up to the true reality of God and the evil that had overtaken us and we turned to the light. Unfortunately for us, we were pressed back into the darkness under the weight of propaganda and the beginning of the corruption of our youth in the 1960’s. I was a youth in the 60’s and can look back and see how my thinking was shaped. And as I rewatch old TV and old movies, I can see the shifts and changes going on in the media, starting in the late 50’s.

So, do we no longer have “hope and confidence for the future” from the Bible? Of course not, just the opposite. The study of eschatology is about all we can look to for that hope and confidence in the current darkness.

Back to the quote:

“God, the architect of the ages, has seen fit to take us into His confidence concerning His plan for the future and has revealed His purpose and program in detail in the Word. A greater body of Scripture is given to prophecy than any other one subject, for approximately one-fourth of the Bible was prophetic at the time it was written [today it’s usually said that a third of the Bible is prophecy…I think that more has been realized to be prophecy].  That portion is devoted to the unfolding of God’s program. Because of its prominence in Scripture it is only natural that much should have been written on the subject, and many excellent books have appeared dealing with prophetic subjects. However, the treatment of prophecy has generally been either apologetic or expository, and the themes have been developed individually apart from their relation to the whole revealed program so that much of our knowledge has been fragmentary and unrelated. There has been little attempt to synthesize the whole field of prophecy into a unified Biblical doctrine and there is a great need for a synthetic study and presentation of Biblical prophecy…”

Great paragraph. I hope this blog adds a tiny bit to the synthesis of prophecy.

Our next author is Willam Barclay (1907-1978), a Scottish theologian, minister, author and radio/TV presenter, as well as Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at the University of Glasgow. Barclay characterized himself as a universalist, a pacifist, and a believer in evolution: seeing Jesus as “the end and climax of the evolutionary process.” Reportedly, he did not proclaim the inspiration of Scripture, did not believe that Jesus died for our sins, did not believe that Jesus was God, and did not believe in miracles. In my view, he was not exactly Christian, but he wrote the Daily Study Bible series of New Testament commentaries, and we’ll be quoting from THE REVELATION OF JOHN, VOL 1 from that series, published in 1959.

From the Introduction:

“When the student of the New Testament embarks upon the study of the Revelation he feels himself projected into a different world. Here is something quite unlike the rest of the New Testament. Not only is the Revelation different; it is also notoriously difficult for a modern mind to understand. The result is that it has sometimes become the playground of religious eccentrics, who use it to map out celestial timetables of what is to come or find in it evidence for their own eccentricities. One despairing commentator said that there are as many riddles in the Revelation as there are words, and another that the study of the Revelation either finds or leaves a man mad.”

I guess that I am a “religious eccentric” looking for evidence of my “own eccentricities,” and am being found to be “mad.” Even in the late 50’s we were attempting to label and cancel those with a different view, and obviously not looking at what that view was. Mr. Barclay is so sure that he is right and that his point of view is the ‘accepted’ one; yet he comes to it by denying every part of Christianity that makes it unique and special: denying in fact all the parts of Christianity that make it a revealed religion.

We’ll soldier on:

“Luther would have denied the Revelation a place in the New Testament. Along with James, Jude, Second Peter and Hebrews he relegated it to a separate list at the end of his New Testament. He declared that in it there are only images and visions such as are found nowhere else in the Bible. He complained that, notwithstanding the obscurity of his writing, the writer had the boldness to add threats and promises for those who kept or disobeyed his words, unintelligible though they were. In it, said Luther, Christ is neither taught nor acknowledged; and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is not perceptible in it. Zwingli is equally hostile to the Revelation. ‘With the Apocalypse,’ he writes, ‘we have no concern, for it is not a biblical book…the Apocalypse has no savor of the mouth or the mind of John. I can, if I so will, reject its testimonies.’ Most voices have stressed the unintelligibility of the Revelation and not a few have questioned its right to a place in the New Testament.”

This is ignorant at best, and deceptive at worst. Yes, Luther declared these things in his first edition of the New Testament in 1522. However, as he began to think of the Pope as the Antichrist, he changed his mind about Daniel and Revelation. And in 1529, with the Turks advancing outside of Vienna, it is said that he bumped the translation of Daniel up ahead of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, coming to the conclusion that the “little horn” was a Turk. According to Winfried Vogel in LUTHER’S ESCHATOLOGICAL THEOLOGY: “By now [1530] Luther was willing to acknowledge the striking relationship between these two prophetic books [Daniel and Revelation] — at least, insofar as they both seemed to him to deal with the papacy and were both for ‘comfort in this last time.’” He also admitted: “…and in any case, it is ‘given by the Holy Spirit’ — a statement that is in sharp contrast to Luther’s first preface of 1522.” Vogel goes on to say: “Luther’s major hermeneutical principle applicable here, next to the one that asks for the Scripture text to interpret itself, is the one that takes into account the history of the church and the world and compares that history with the pictures that John describes — this in order to see what had been fulfilled already by Luther’s time and what was still pending. Luther’s main purpose in using this principle was to arrive at an ‘indisputable interpretation.’” 

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) was a Swiss priest and reformer, contemporary with Luther but he denied being influenced by Luther. They had some very different views. He was a decided influence on Calvin. The Catholics and Reformationists came to battle, physically, in Switzerland, and Zwingli was killed in the Battle of Kappel in 1531. As to Zwingli’s views on Revelation, I can find no reference online, but I am reluctant to take Mr. Barclay’s word for it after the way he handled Luther.

Back to the quote:

“On the other hand there are those in every generation who have loved this book. T. S. Kepler quotes the verdict of Philip Carrington and makes it his own: ‘In the case of the Revelation we are dealing with an artist…[who] has a better sense of the right word than Stevenson; he has a greater command of unearthly supernatural loveliness than Coleridge; he has a richer sense of melody and rhythm and composition than Bach…It is the only masterpiece of pure art in the New Testament…’”

First of all, even when I look up “theologian T. S. Kepler” I can find nothing about him. Since he’s quoting Philip Carrington (1892-1975), I can at least say that Kepler is from the 20th century. But anyway, Carrington is a bit hyperbolic, but I understand.

Here’s a quote from Mr. Barclay’s book about the authorship of Revelation:

“The Revelation was written by a man called John. He begins by saying that God sent the visions he is going to relate to his servant John…This John was a Christian who lived in Asia in the same sphere as the Christians of the Seven Churches. He calls himself the brother of those to whom he writes…He was most probably a Jew of Palestine who had come to Asia Minor late in life. We can deduce that from the kind of Greek he writes. It is vivid, powerful, and pictorial: but from the point of view of grammar it is easily the worst Greek in the New Testament…it is often clear that he is writing in Greek and thinking in Hebrew. He is steeped in the Old Testament. He quotes it or alludes to it 245 times…he is also familiar with the apocalyptic books written between the Testaments…His claim for himself is that he is a prophet, and it is on that fact that he rests his right to speak…It is not likely that he was an apostle…he speaks of the apostles as if he was looking back on them as the great foundations of the Church. He speaks of the twelve foundations of the wall of the Holy City and then says, ‘and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb’ (21:14). He would scarcely have spoken of the apostles like that if he himself was one of them.”

Oh my. His deductions about John are pretty interesting…and fit John the Apostle to a tee. His main argument against it being John the Apostle seems to be the fact that John would be speaking about himself in the third person. Has this man ever read John’s gospel? He always refers to himself in the third person. And, being in his 70’s or even 80’s (remembering that John is said to have been a teenager during Christ’s ministry 60 years earlier), of course he is looking back on his time with Jesus and the other Apostles as if it were someone else…especially for someone who speaks of himself in the third person.  As for the twelve foundations with the names of the Apostles: he saw this. Would you expect such a humble man to brag about his name being on one of the foundations? I would have written it that way, and I’m not even half as humble as John!

Additionally, Barclay passes over all the Church Fathers until he gets to Dionysius in 250 AD, and then he loosely quotes him to say that in couldn’t be John because the Greek was so different. This has been argued elsewhere on the blog, so I’ll skip that for now. But, Mr. Barclay uses Victorinus and Eusebius to help delineate the time of Revelation, while ignoring the fact that both of them believed it was John the Apostle!

Our next author is J. Vernon McGee who still has a radio show called Through the Bible. He Was born in 1904 and died in 1988; he was a Presbyterian minister, pastor, theologian and radio minister. He quit the Presbyterian Church in 1955 saying that the church’s “liberal leadership had taken over the machinery of the presbytery with a boldness and ruthlessness that is appalling.” His show goes on with his recordings, teaching through the whole Bible in 5 year cycles in more and more languages around the world.

The following quotes are from his book called REVELING IN REVELATION, published first in 1962:

“When Pilgrims sailed for America, their pastor at Leyden reminded them, ‘The Lord has more truth yet to break forth from His Holy Word…Luther and Calvin were great shining lights in their times, yet they penetrated not the whole counsel of God…Be ready to receive whatever truth shall be made known to you from the written word of God.’ The 20th century has witnessed a renewed interest in eschatology (doctrine of last things), especially since World War I. Great strides have been made in the field of prophecy during the past three decades. Indeed, new light has fallen upon this phase of Scripture. All of this attention has focused the light of deeper study on the book of Revelation.”

I just want to comment here about the quote from the Pilgrim’s pastor at Leyden. As we’ve gone through the writings of the ages we’ve seen the authors trying so hard to understand the whole counsel of God. Often times they are sure that they have succeeded: but later writers are sure they haven’t. This quote is prophetic on its own. The New World opened up new thoughts and ideas and new ways of looking at things, including the Bible. 

I think we are close to the whole counsel of God at this time. I suspect that the full and whole counsel will be known by the believers and saints of the Tribulation, because that will be the only thing getting them through.

Back to the quote:

“In these brief notes we shall avoid the pitfalls of attempting to present something new and novel just for the sake of being different. Likewise, we shall steer clear of repeating threadbare cliches. Many works on Revelation are merely a carbon copy of other works.

“…There have been many approaches to this book, but these can be divided into four major systems. 

1. Preterist Theory. All of Revelation has been fulfilled in the past. It had to do with local references in John’s day. It had to do with the  days of either Nero or Domitian…

2. Historical Theory. Fulfillment of Revelation is going on in history, and Revelation is the prophetic history of the church, according to this theory.

3. Historical-Spiritual Theory, which is a refinement of the historical theory, was advanced by Sir William Ramsey. This theory states that the two beasts are Imperial and Provincial Rome. The point of the book is to encourage Christians. According to this theory, Revelation has been largely fulfilled and there are spiritual lessons for the church today. Amillennialism, for the most part, has adopted this view. It dissipates and defeats the purpose of the book.

4. Futurist Theory holds that the book of Revelation is primarily prophetic and yet future, especially from Revelation 4 on to the end of the book. This is the view of all premillennialists and is the view which we accept and present.

“SIX STRIKING AND SINGULAR FEATURES

1. It is the only prophetic book in the New Testament (in contrast to 17 prophetic books in the Old Testament).

2. John, the writer, reaches farther back into eternity past than any other writer is Scripture (John 1:1-3). He reaches farther on into eternity future in the book of Revelation.

3. Special blessings is promised to the readers of this book (Revelation 1:3). Likewise, a warning is issued to those who tamper with its contents (Revelation 22:18,19)

4. Revelation is not a sealed book (Revelation 22:10). Contrast with Daniel 12:9. It is a revelation (apocalypse), which is an unveiling.

5. It is a series of visions, expressed in symbols. [I don’t quite agree with this]

6. This book is like a great union station where the great trunk lines of prophecy come in from other portions of Scripture. Revelation  does not originate but consummates. It is imperative to a right     understanding of the book to be able to trace each great subject of prophecy from the first reference to the terminal. There are at  least 10 great subjects of prophecy which find their consummation here:

(1) The Lord Jesus Christ (Genesis 3:15)

(2) The Church (Matthew 16:28)

(3) The Resurrection and Translation of Saints (1Thes. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:51,52)

(4) The Great Tribulation (Deuteronomy 4:30,31)

(5) Satan and Evil (Ezekiel 28:11-18)

(6) The ‘Man of Sin’ (Ezekiel 28-1-10)

(7) The Course and the End of Apostate Christendom (Daniel 2:31-45; Matthew 13)

(8) The Beginning, Course, and End of the ‘Times of the Gentiles’ (Daniel 2:37-45; Luke 21:24)

(9) The Second Coming of Christ (Jude 14,15)

(10) Israel’s Covenants (Genesis 12:1-3), five things promised Israel”

I love J. Vernon McGee. I don’t agree with absolutely everything  he says, but darn close.

The last author for today is another premilliannial dispensationalist who is well known for coauthoring the Left Behind Series: Tim LaHaye. 

We’ll be quoting from his 1973 book REVELATION: ILLUSTRATED AND MADE PLAIN, specifically from the introduction entitled From Preliminary Considerations:

Over fifty years ago, Dr. C.I. Scofield said in his notes on Revelation in the Scofield Reference Bible, ‘Doubtless, much which is designedly obscure to us will be clear to those for whom it was written as the time approaches.” That time is at hand, and many things are clearer than they were in Dr. Scofield’s day. It is my hope that these notes and pictures gathered from writers new and old, plus the leading of the Holy Spirit, will further clarify these things for ‘those for whom they were written’ — which could well be this generation.

“To many, the book of Revelation is a closed book. More than one Bible teacher has taken a class from Matthew through the book of Jude, only to return to the book of Matthew rather than face the unusual teachings of the book of Revelation. It cannot be denied that it has confused many people. Nor can we deny that this book has been of immeasurable blessing to others. 

“…This book completes the circle of Bible truths. As the Word of God, the Scriptures predictably reveal superb planning and organization. We see that clearly in the book of Revelation, for it completes the great truths begun in Genesis and in other passages of the Bible. Here are some examples:

  • Genesis shows man’s beginning in a beautiful paradise. Revelation shows the wonderful paradise to come.
  • Genesis shows how man lost his chance to eat of the tree of life (3:22-24). Revelation shows man will yet eat of that tree (22:2).
  • Genesis tells of man’s first rebellion against God (3 and 4). Revelation promises an end to man’s rebellion against God.
  • Genesis records the first murderer, drunkard, and rebel. Revelation promises a city where ‘there shall in no way enter into it any thing that defileth, neither he that worketh abomination, or taketh a lie, but they who are written in the Lamb’s book of life’ (21:27)
  • Genesis reveals the tragic sorrow that resulted from sin (3 and 4). Revelation promises, ‘God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.’ (21:4)
  • Genesis records the first death (4:8). Revelation shows the curse lifted (22:3).
  • Genesis introduces the devil for the first time as the tempter of men (3:1-18). Revelation shows the final doom of Satan (20:10).
  • …Genesis shows Satan’s first attempt at discrediting the Word of God when he asked Eve, ‘Yea, hath God said?’ and his first attempt at denying the Word of God, ‘Ye shall not surely die’ (3:1-5). Sad to say, the thousands of years since then reveal man still believing Satan and not God. Today the Bible is not believed by the majority but rather is subjected to the criticism of skeptics in education, science, and even the ministry. This skepticism has tragically resulted in the doom of many unsuspecting souls.
  • Revelation promises a curse on all such infidels who detract from God’s holy Word, ‘And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book’ (22:19).

LaHaye goes on to break down the interpretations of Revelation into “four basic interpretations that are worthy of note”:

“PRETERIST INTERPRETATION. The preterist view holds that John was referring to events of his own day, about A.D. 96. This requires mental gymnastics that are quite unnecessary if one would apply the Golden Rule of Interpretation. The Roman emperors Nero or Domitian could scarcely fulfill the requirements of this book for the Antichrist.

“HISTORICAL INTERPRETATION. The historical view suggests that John was describing the major events that would take place during the history of the Church. It therefore suggests that we can see these events as we look back at history. This, of course, calls for the juggling of historical events to fit the prophecy. This is historically unsound and tends to distort the plain meaning.

“SPIRITUALIZING INTERPRETATION. There are those who believe that everything in the book should be taken figuratively or metaphorically, that John was talking about a spiritual conflict and not a physical experience. This view is held by most amillennialists and postmillennialists. Until the turn of the century, postmillennialism gained many followers with the idea that the world was getting better and better and we were about to usher in the kingdom. Man’s perpetual degeneracy during this century has rendered this a most untenable position.

“FUTURIST INTERPRETATION. The futurist view, which seems to me to be the most satisfactory, accepts the book of Revelation as prophecy that primarily is yet to be fulfilled, particularly from chapter 4 on. This is the interpretation accepted by most premillennial Bible teachers.

LaHaye describes the “golden rule of interpretation” as:

“When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate text, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, clearly indicate otherwise.”

He ascribes this saying to Dr. David L. Cooper. 

A last bit of the quote, regarding the source of Revelation:

“It is important that we keep in focus the true source of the book of Revelation. It did not originate with John but came to him through fourfold sequence of transmission: God — Christ — angel — John: to the Church. The true source of the book of Revelation is God.”

Lahaye and McGee are basic reading for those who believe or want to explore premillennial dispensationalism. But that’s enough for today. The next post will move into the 70’s and 80’s, exploring further work of J. Vernon McGee, as well as David Chilton, John F. Walvoord, and, if there is space, Charles C. Ryrie. Meanwhile, I’ll be praying for us all to understand the full counsel of God as much as possible.

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