Some Christians see the strength of the preterist analysis of Revelation. They recognize that it is difficult to get around Revelation’s opening and closely comments regarding the temporal nearness of its prophecies. After all, Revelation 1:1 states rather clearly:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place.
And Revelation 22:6 closes the book on the same note:
These words are faithful and true”; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place.
Since these statements are so clear and compelling, some believers attempt an end-run around them. They agree that Revelation does in fact point to events that were to occur in John’s lifetime. But then they argue that these events can have double-fulfillment, so that they occur originally in the first century, but will occur again toward the end. For instance, Marvin Pate holds that Revelation “does not imply that Nero filled the complete expectation of the coming antichrist, but, as a precursor to such, he is certainly a good starting place.”1
Three difficulties plague this type of response:
Lack of Exegetical Warrant
First, there is no exegetical warrant for double-fulfillment in Revelation. The statement is pure theological assertion. What is more, this approach not only empties John’s express declarations of meaning (“these things must shortly come to pass“), but it contravenes a specific angelic directive contrasting John’s responsibility to Daniel’s. An angel commands Daniel to “seal up” his prophecy for later times (Dan. 12:4), but commands John (who lives in “the last hour,” 1 John 2:18) to “not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand” (Rev. 22:10).
Stretching of Intellectual Credulity
Second, the double-fulfillment argument requires us to believe that the many specific events, things, and personages of Revelation will appear repeatedly on the scene of earth history. In the same order? In the same geographic regions? With continual groupings of 144,000 being sealed? With constant beasts designated by the same number 666? On and on I could go. For example, Pate suggests that “the signs of the times began with Jesus and his generation,” and history witnesses “the coming intensification and culmination of those signs of the times” which begin in the first century.2 Such a position seems to stretch credulity to the breaking point.
The already/not yet theological principle, though valid and widely accepted by evangelicals, cannot govern whole, vast, complex works such as Revelation. The already/not yet principle applies to unitary, simple constructs: the kingdom, salvation, new creation, and so forth. The principle snaps apart when we stretch it over so vast a work as Revelation. Furthermore, how can this principle explain the simultaneous operation in one book of such allegedly global themes operating as judgment (Rev. 6-19) and blessing (Rev. 20-22)? Pate’s use of this principle to explain Revelation seems more hopeful than helpful.3
Confusing Interpretation and Application
Third, this approach not only denies what John expressly affirms, but confuses principial application with original interpretation. That is, even were the events of Revelation repeated, that would not diminish the fact of their direct first century historical fulfillment — with all its pregnant meaning in that unique era which effects the closing of the sacrificial system, the setting aside of Israel, and the universalizing of the true faith. For instance, Exodus-like events occurring after the Mosaic Exodus do not remove the redemptive-historical significance of that original historical episode. Pate specifically notes the mark of the Beast “can be understood as pointing a guilty finger at those Jews in the first century.”4 Why, then, should we look for further fulfillments beyond this most relevant first century one?
According to John, then, the prophetic events are “soon” (Rev. 1:1) and “at hand” (Rev. 1:3), so that his original audience must “hold fast” (Rev. 2:25; 3:11), waiting only “a little while longer” (Rev. 6:10). “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown” (Rev. 3:11). The modern student of prophecy must not let his presupposed theological scheme or predetermined interpretive methodology blunt these forceful assertions.
1. C. Marvin Pate and Calvin B. Haines, Jr., Doomsday Delusions: What’s Wrong with Predictions About the End of the World (Downer’s Grove, Ill.: Inter-varsity, 1995),43-44.
2. Pate and Haines, 36 (cp. 44, 57), 148-149. Emphasis added.
3. Pate and Haines, 148-155.
4. Pate and Haines, 53.