Topic Identification, Narrative Direction & Issue Clarification With Study Recommendations for Intramural Discussions Between Christians
by Mark Mountjoy
An unfamiliarity, unwillingness or inability to fathom, envision or grant the Book of Revelation the same interpretive rules that govern the study, interpretation and explanation of the twenty-six other books of the New Testament is a prime concern between Christians. Now, more than ever before, efforts are intensifying to grasp and understand more precise ideas about John's intent, but there is an opposite tendency, in Partial Preterism, which stands in bold relief against ongoing efforts at progress.
In order to preserve a status quo Partial Preterism offers itself as a meaningful “middleground” to admitting what is even obvious to a child: That the Book of Revelation advocates and insists that it is a book about prophecies that from a first century standpoint were believed would shortly come to pass (Revelation 1:1 and 22:10). Instead Partial Preterism rests on a foundation of disparate ideas out of which the Second Coming of our Lord is lifted and transposed into a context-free futurity.
Partial Preterism Refuses Best Practices
We would like to begin by observing that Partial Preterism seems to be an organic development, not a deliberate attempt at ecclesiastical mendacity, but the product of multiple centuries of dissociation of verses, passages and chapters from specific Semitic events, anomalies and outcomes. If, then, we can recognize, define and isolate where we are at in terms of Partial Preterist claims and notions we can, at the very least, review, scrutinize and correct where we have erred and correct where we have wandered and strayed with best practices.
What are these?
We start by regarding context as king; we continue by maintaining that unclear Scriptures be interpreted by clear Scriptures (e.g., antecedent examples and necessary inferences). Along with this, topic identification, narrative direction and issue clarifications can guide us successfully from the first to the twenty-second chapter and a satisfactory, if suprising, conclusions.
It is not unheard of, nor is it uncommon for people who have been Christians for four, five, and even seven decades to admit they have no idea of what the Book of Revelation is even talking about and can make no sense of it. But only by topic identification--that is recognizing idea clusters (of which there are only about a dozen) Christians can begin to recognize what, at first blush, can seem like a random wreckage of disparate ideas and unrelated notions.
A Second Look at the Prologue
Partial Preterism overlooks the prologue of the Book of Revelation and ends up not giving it the time of day. But we must look again and take note that Revelation 1:1; 1:3 and 1:7 together form an undeniable triangle by which we can propel ourselves through the scenes of the book with minimal interference from as few private interpretations as possible. These three verses are the core claim of John's work from start to finish and we can only go wrong if we insist on ignoring it or making it a side issue.
The Quality of Inherent Self-Definition
Partial Preterism denies the Apocalypse the right to define itself; believing it is devoid of this quality. For example, the necessary inferences of Revelation 1:1, 1:3 and 1:7 both self-define and at the same moment take us back in time to John 21:20-23 or Luke 21:27-32, Matthew 10:23, but, ultimately, though, the origins of this motif springs from Daniel 7:7-27 which is rich with implications that steady and anchor this important subject.
We do not need to redefine what the coming of the Son of man is when the Bible already did that for us starting six hundred years before the New Testament was ever written. But it also told us what the coming of the Son of man is in James 5:1-9 and in 2 Peter 3:9-11. It told us it was approaching in Hebrews 10:37. It also described and associated Jesus' coming with the Second Temple in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 and in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 5:1-4 we are told these possibilities belong to the lifetime of the first century Macedonian Christians. Again, we are told, in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 that the translation from the earthly house of the Second Temple to the eternal house of the New Jerusalem would occur in an atom of time in 1 Corinthians 15:50-52.
And taking what the Apostles and wisemen said about it with what Jesus said about his coming in the Gospels, by the time we open the Book of Revelation we should already know and it is entirely superfluous to toy with what these concepts and expressions mean and represent.
Thus, in Revelation's succeeding chapters 2 and 3 and 6, 10, 11, 12, 14 and 16, 17-19 the coming of the Son of man and the operative and catastrophic consequences of his presence are clearly spelled out in no uncertain terms.
The same quality of self-definition applies to about nine other topics: the Remnant and great multitude, Satan, Babylon the Great, the Sea Beast and his mark, name and number, the forty-two months, thousand years and the little season and Gog and Magog, the first heaven and earth and new heaven and earth. The sum of these topics creates a framework outside of which there is no context for any recognizable (or possible) New Testament Second Coming of Christ.
Narrative Direction and Detrimental Study Strategies
Partial Preterism interferes with the narrative direction with recapitulation and other sabotaging study strategies. The Book of Revelation does not even begin in the Holy Land, but in the hotbed of Hellenism, Asia Minor. From there the direction of the narrative makes a circuit around the western seaboard of the peninsula through the seven churches (in chapters 1 and 2 and 3) and then up to heaven (in chapters 4 and 5).
Starting in chapter 6 events begin to unfold in Judæa (6:13-17). We know where the Seals are being dispensed because we were already told where that would be in Luke 23:27-31. It is well to note here that while there are plenty of historical circumstances that can be checked, Partial Preterism assumes there are no relevant historical considerations to entertain but Revelation chapter 6 is rife with hints and clues.
The six Seals fulfill a promise Jesus brazenly made to his contemporaries: "Think not that I come to bring peace. I came not to bring peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). The four horsemen dispense bloodshed and chaos as a judicial response to Judæa's wrong-doings.
Moreover, Judæa's major fault is not overlooked, but is singled out as specifically this: Her martyrdom of those whose spirits cried out from under the sacred altar of the famed Second Temple (Revelation 6:9-11). From there they were housed eagerly awaiting the welcome day of God's vengeance against recalcitrant authorities who plotted, ordered or engineered their execution for the crime of being Christians in a world where it was dangerous and often fatal to believe Jesus was the Son of God and arose on the third day victoriously from the dead.
From Revelation chapters 6, 7, 8 and 9 the chain of events leads from the six Seals to the seventh Seal and the seven Trumpets, but not back into itself (the first six Seals). Thus the variety of Seals do not correspond to the severity and frightfulness of the seven Trumpets. That is to say, even though the six Seals are bad enough in and of themselves, the seven Trumpets unleash otherworldly entities that bring to mind the stuff of undiluted horror and science fiction!
Chapter 10:5-7 provides notices of a climax in the purposes of God, but we must observe that it does this in the very middle of commotions to be described in some detail in chapters 11, 12, and 13.
The disaster of sedition, in turn, results in the catastrophic downfall of first century Jerusalem in Revelation chapters 16:15-21, 17, 18 and 19:1-4. These nine chapters form another cluster of events which all happen in a forty-two year-long span of national struggles, suffering and disintegration.
The victory of the Gentiles (A.K.A. the Zealots) in chapter 11 is shattered by what they perceived as devastating preaching of two righteous men of God, of whom the beast swiftly dispatched from this life in the streets of Jerusalem. After this their bodies are allowed to lay unburied out of the hatred their enemies bore against them when they were yet alive, but Revelation 11:9-12 attests that these same men stood on their feet after three days and a half and ascended in a cloud to the horror of their onlookers.
After this the city was shook down by an extraordinarily violent earthquake (which quake is attested in the writings of Josephus). However, the resurrection of two men in broad daylight is not attested in any independent history, but the weight of the overall testimony of John along with what has survived virtually assures that something extraordinary like this, probably did, in fact, happen.
But the general resurrection of the dead, of which cause célèbre Partial Preterism wishes to posit at the end of time, is distinctly embeded into the immediate context of those bizarre events (see Revelation 11:17-18). The untrained mind is shocked, appalled and offended that such an event as that should contain what the Church has come to believe is an existential necessity: the resurrection of flesh at the end of time, but no such promise was confirmed by the Apostle Paul who insisted that we are sown a natural body, but raised a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44).
As we head into the conclusion of this essay, we are going to discover that, because of the artificial importance the Christian church has placed on coming out of the ground as a physical material human being in the world to come, the very obvious meaning of the Book of Revelation is liable to being rejected as spurious or even blasphemous.
Now, any idea or reasoning that rejects what the word of God plainly says, implies or indicates is clearly itself sinful and represents a sort of rebellion against the truth and facts but, ultimately, what true hope we have will suffer on account of something traditionally mischaracterized, though it has neither predictive value, Scriptural basis or fundamental substance.
Specificity is Rejected for Ulterior Reasons
Partial Preterists want to say that the creeds and the Fathers of the Church were basically right all along and the New Testament, Jesus and the Apostles were basically wrong because they believed the end of the world, the Second Coming and the judgment would happen speedily: Now we know better (as they customarily say).
This means that the New Testament and its claims (which should have the honor, the glory and the prestige) can be taken with a grain of salt whilst the creeds of the Church carry the weight of authority, which is clearly wrong-headed and the wrong way around. These are some of the possible reasons why Partial Preterism must rationalize, trivialize and deny the subjects below.
Now, the specific topics listed below represent a focus which Partial Preterist enthusiasts are either unaware of, innocently overlook or willfully disregard:-
- Bloodguilt of Jerusalem (Matthew 10:17 and John 16:2; Matthew 23:29-39; Luke 9:3 and 11:45-51; Acts 7:51-59; Romans 8:36; Galatians 4:21-31; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; James 5:6 and Revelation 6:9-11; 12:11; 13:15; 15:2; 17:6; 18:20, 24 and 19:1-4).
- ‘This generation’ (Matthew 11:16-19; 12:43-45; 24:34 cf. Luke 7:31-35).
- The fourth kingdom of Bible prophecy (11:1-2; 13:1-18; 14:8; 15:1-2; 16:3, 9; 17:7, 17; 19:18-21 cf. Daniel 7:7-26; 1 Maccabees 13:41 and Matthew 21:43).
- The coming of the Son of man (Revelation 1:1, 3 and 7; 2:24-25; 6:13-17; 16:15-21; 19:4-8; 20:15).
- The coming of the promised kingdom of God, the resurrection and the judgment (Revelation 11:15-18; 12:10 cf. Luke 21:29-32 and 9:27).
- The marriage of Christ to the Church (Revelation 19:1-9 cf. Matthew 22:1-8; 25:1-13; 2 Corinthians 11:1-4).
- The casting of Satan out of the house of Judæa and then his return (Revelation 20:3, 7-10 cf. Matthew 12:43-45 and Zechariah 13:1-2).
- The final Jewish State war (Revelation 20:7-15 cf. Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39).
Συντελείας—the Completion of the Age (Matthew 24:3)
In issue clarification it is up to us and our counterparts to mutually agree to explore not only the specifics of what the Book of Revelation is about, but also the progress and the direction of the narrative.
But how can we establish what the direction of the narrative is? We first need to list as many common themes we see in Revelation as possible. After this we need to follow the progress of these designations from their introduction to their maturation. Now, each of these designations comes from manually observing and considering the content harmony in each proposed section (because this must not be an arbitrary call, but a deliberate attempt to maintain the integrity and intent of the text and its ideas).
So, consider chapters 1 and 2 and 3 phase one because of the overarching theme of reproof, correction or praise of the seven churches of Asia.
Similarly, because the scene pans from earth to heaven in Revelation 4:1 we can regard chapters 4 and 5 as phase two.
After this John's focus turns to the Holy Land itself and we can confidently regard the six Seals of chapter 6 as phase three.
Chapters 8:1 to 11:15 (which includes the seventh Seal and the seven Trumpets) are phase four.
Next, chapters 11 and 12 and 13 represent a chiastic feature in the middle of Revelation, retracing, with different details, the same forty-two month-long civil war (and it is phase five).
Chapters 16, 17, 18 encompasses the seven Bowl judgments and details the collapse and incineration of Jerusalem (phase six).
Chapter 19 is the aftermath of the Destruction of Jerusalem and this chapter shows the desperate Zealot hot-spots fighting futily after the fall of their hated capital (phase seven).
Chapter 20 represents the interlude of the Roman Captivity of Judæa (A.K.A. Judæa Capta). Bear in mind that Revelation chapter 20 (which is phase eight) is singular, discrete and unique; it does not recapitulate and rehearse anything that happened anywhere in the Gospel ministry of our Lord or anything that took place in the Acts of the Apostles or in the extended ministry of the Apostle Paul.
By all considerations of the Book of Revelation itself, the material in chapter 20 directly suggests that it speaks of important events that only happened in the aftermath of the Destruction of Jerusalem (which is not a condition that could be rationally ascribed to the Gospels, or Acts or the epistles).
The ninth and final phase of Revelation is Revelation chapters 21 and 22. This last pair of chapters are the realization of the new heaven and earth: the final and permanent state of salvation of heaven above and the earth below (and it is all about redemption and eternal life from, in and through the Lord Jesus Christ). This is the flower of the fulfillment of all Bible prophecies; this is the resplendent spiritual reality of God and New Testament Israel after the obliteration of the historic theocratic Jewish State in A.D.136.
This incident is described in great detail in Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 and happened to seal and finalize the annulment of the era of Moses and the now defunct Aaronic priesthood which was no longer efficacious for sin nor suitable for redemptive purposes after the successful event of the passion of our Lord and his death and burial and resurrection.
The invitation of Revelation 22:17 is a standing one, beckoning everyone to come, and he who hears to come, and all who are thirsty to come, and all who desire to come and take the water of life freely.
After this invitation, and following some sobering warnings (in Revelation 22:18-19) the final message reiterates what the prologue insisted was getting ready to happen in the first place (compare Revelation 22:20 with what we already saw in Revelation 1:1, 3 and 7.
If we do not bring these things up Partial Preterist beliefs are liable to remain hidden from their eyes because of prior assumptions and powerful biases and, perhaps fellowship and relational fears or concerns.
In Partial Preterism Abnegation Includes
the Rejection of Revelation's Epilogue
Finally, what we are here to say is this: God is not mocking Christians with promises of blessing to read and keep the sayings of the Book of Revelation (Revelation 1:3). God will bless us, but his rewards cannot materialize or be realized in our lives if we insist that what he has revealed is hidden when he said it was revealed, or when he said, “You can understand this,” and we talk back to him and say, “No, Lord, we cannot!” And we are here to say to our Eastern Orthodox Christian friends and colleagues that it is not true that this book could justifiably be rejected as “spurious.”
A dozen common ideas in the Gospels and Acts and the epistles also appears in the pages of the Book of Revelation so that, if Revelation is “spurious” so is the entire New Testament. We cannot pick and choose which part of the New Testament we want to accept and what part we will despise as if that were a godly choice or a rational option: It isn't.
Centuries of Pseudo-Apocalyptic Studies
and Disappointments Haunt the Church
We also want to mention that private interpretations have not worked and do not count (2 Peter 1:20-21). They have not benefited the Church and were not needed to begin with. The fact remains that the authority of the words of our Lord Jesus, the Son of God, are words which are spirit and life (John 6:63). His words are what really matter and are only what counts and we give you this only.
And now to recap, our Lord covered:-
This generation; the bloodguilt of Jerusalem; the coming of the Son of man, the judgment, the resurrection and the kingdom of God in the lifetime of the first Christians. Jesus basically claimed he would confront the wicked fourth kingdom as a man of war coming in the clouds of heaven (Matthew 26:64). The New Testament represents the resurrection of the dead as happening in the midst of the desolations of Jerusalem, not outside of it.
In Partial Preterism the New Testament ends in a mess of meaninglessness and the Church’s doubts and distrust stand towering over the Son of God.
In Partial Preterism the New Testament’s hope and faith are damaged through denial, abnegation or occlusion and some Partial Preterist authorities are eager and ready to condemn with imprecations and tokens of rejection and scorn.
We are here to say that this issue is not actually between you and the Church, superiors and colleagues, the Early Church Fathers, but between you and Christ to whom you must give an account, remembering and honoring his words in Matthew 10:32 and the Apostle Paul’s warning in 2 Timothy 2:12.
We come to tell you that Partial Preterism is actually not a middle-ground because it actually does not address what the Book of Revelation describes in any sense (even on its own terms).
We want to strongly encourage believers to be persuaded that the New Testament does not end as an interpretive disaster where everything repeatedly affirmed must be strenuously denied and where right is wrong and wrong is right. We want you to know that Christians are not servants of the Church nor at the mercy of the Church or its traditions, policies or legislation, but God who gives grace.
Partial Preterism is only a discussion in very general terms. We are asking Christians to be prepared and prepare themselves to change all that to specifics--not on every minute point and every little thing, but from chapter to chapter about the large and consistent themes, of which (as we already said) there are only about twelve.
Now, the caption at the top of this essay contains the hidden image of a cow in the surroundings of patches of black and white. If one observes this image and sees it from a certain perspective or vantage point it could look like random swatches of black and white. But once the cow is seen it is very difficult to unsee it: the same holds true for the inherent themes that Partial Preterism overlooks and does not now see in its study of the Book of Revelation.
In 1 Timothy 6:18 the Apostle Paul implores Christians to be willing to share and in doing so iron sharpens iron and we all become better, stronger and kinder New Testament people by our mutual respect, sincere courtesy and ongoing dialogue with each other. And in our talks, perhaps we, as a result of relating our perceptions of the Truth, can begin to see what we did not see beforehand and to concede and speak the same thing on what we can all agree are crucial apocalyptic, eschatological and salvific issues.
At the end of the day the ontology of the Revelation of Jesus Christ as the ἀρχὴ and the τέλος has been damaged, not because of any corruption of the New Testament, but because of the passage of time, forgetfulness and neglect. In order for us to be true Christians we have to have Jesus as both the beginning and the end.
Therefore, our goal and our burden is to reintroduce to the Christian world the intent, sense and logic of these issues as they are inherently preserved in these precious texts of the Word of God and, along the way, reify the apologetic and polemical functionality of the Gospel’s own eschatology to defend itself against the pernicious and ubiquitous claims of false prophets and the unintentional, but misleading corruption of ignorance.