Jude just composed a blog post about how the bible can be, in its broadest sense, summarized in 4 words: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration.
I read his post as I logged in to write a blog post about how 7 little words are beginning to transform my understanding of the book of Revelation.
(As an aside-- numbers play an important role in scripture. There is, quite often, embedded significance when the scriptures use specific numbers.
You may notice, for example, that the Israelites wandered the wilderness for 40 years, and Moses spent 40 days on the Mount, Jesus was also tempted for 40 days -- so the number 40 becomes associated with grave trial.
4 happens to be the number of creation, which would make sense that the historical narrative God is weaving has four phases. 7 is said to be the number of spiritual or complete perfection: 7 days in a week, 7 colours in the spectrum, 7 seals, 7 trumpets etc... to say that this has ANY significance on my 7 words in Revelation 1 would be a stretch at best, and a mistreatment of scripture at worst -- so I suppose this digression is moot.)
Anyway, the seven words that have rocked my understanding are in Revelation 1:1:
1"The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John"
"The things that must SOON take place."
Revelation is a difficult portion of scripture, but one thing that has always bothered me is that many scholars seem to talk, with much conviction, about what this symbol means and what that symbol means and I often walk away feeling like we're mishandling the word of God.
My two main issues:
1. I think the popular futuristic understanding of Revelation diminishes the value of the Revelation.
2. I find that pastors seem to twist some plain sentences in order to fit symbolic language in to a specific perspective.
My first concern is, are we to assume that for 2000 years of church history this book was largely useless to the people of God? Only now, when we live in "the last days" do these warnings about future events begin to become relevant. I have always had trouble wrapping my head around that... it seems rather self centered of us.
My second concern is when I hear pastor's stretching symbolic language to say, for example, that locusts that breath fire "could" be fighter jets and we've all heard uncomfortable connections like that.
One of the biggest issues with this is when we are making large assumptions about language that is clearly symbolic, and yet they will excuse plain instruction or insight, such as John's very plain instruction that this Revelation is about the things that are soon to take place.
So there are four ways of looking at the book of Revelation:
1. The Preterist Approach: This view sees prophecy as chiefly relating to events in or near its own time. It has, therefore, already been fulfilled. Revelation, for example, may be seen as referring to the struggle of Christianity to survive the persecutions of the Roman Empire, among other things.
2. The Historic Approach: This view would hold that biblical prophecies provide us with a broad view of history, as well as an explanation of the religious significance of historical events. Historicists attempt to identify prophetic passages with major events in history.
3. The Futurist Approach: In the futurist method, parallels may be drawn with historical events, but eschatological prophecies are chiefly referring to events which as yet have not come to pass, but will take place at the end of the age and the end of the world.
4: The Idealist Approach: In the idealist approach, also known as spiritualist or symbolic, the events described in prophecy are neither past, present, nor future, but are representative of larger ideals and principles. Eschatological prophecy deals with the ongoing struggle between the forces of light and darkness, and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Its message is purely a spiritual one, an allegory of the spiritual path, which is equally relevant in all ages and for all people.
I think that these 7 little words: "The things that must SOON take place", compel us to use a preterist approach when studying the book of Revelation, and taking this approach myself, I have found that Revelation is a much less complicated and far more enjoyable book to read. It was meant for a specific people during a specific time and catalogued events that took place shortly afterwards-- but just like Paul's letters there is still so much for me to learn from it!