Reading Revelation with Fresh Eyes

Reformed Margins  is honoured to feature a previously posted blog article from Lisa Robinson titled, “Reading Revelation with fresh eyes: why I’m excited about my latest book arrival.” Lisa is a faithful reader of RM, a theologically-minded and thoughtful non-profit professional, and beloved sister in Christ. Back in August she shared her excitement for G.K. Beale’s shorter commentary on Revelation wordpress seo(Praise the Lord for a shorter version!!!!), along with the story of her departure from dispensationalism (an increasingly familiar story among other graduates from Dallas Theological Seminary it seems…). We would like to share that story with our RM readers. You can read more of her “theothoughts” here.

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I just received this commentary in the mail having ordered it about a week ago. I normally wouldn’t write a post about how excited I am about my latest book purchase. But this one is a bit special because it fits with the particularly trajectory I’ve been on regarding how I understand the 66 books of the Bible fit together in terms of God’s outworking of his redemptive history.

In a separate post, I’m writing about my departure from dispensationalism a couple of years ago. Now, if you’re not familiar with the term but have spent a significant amount of time in non-denominational churches with baptistic, pentacostal or charismatic leanings, my guess is that you are a dispensationalist and probably don’t realize it. Dispensationalism is a system of seeing the Bible as segmented into separate and distinct dispensations in which God is outworking his purpose with his creation. Dispensationalism considers that Bible prophecies are fulfilled in a literal, historic way such that there is a distinction between Israel and the Church. A natural consequence of this distinction is viewing the book of Revelation in exclusively futurist terms in which God will bring certain events to pass in order to save Israel before Jesus’ final return but not before taking the church out of the way through the Rapture. If that is how you read the book of Revelation and believe that God is bringing about a separate plan for Israel than the church, congratulations, you are a dispensationalist.

Now this is a very brief and generalized sketch since dispensational theology has evolved since it’s formal articulation with John Nelson Darby in the latter 19th century. Following Darby’s work, earlier articulations treated God’s distinct treatment of the Israel vs the church in such disparate ways that it left Bible students and scholars thereafter to continually pursue how these distinctions related to God’s redemptive plan through Christ. Earlier articulations, such as under C.I. Schofield and Lewis Sperry Chafer (founder of Dallas Theological Seminary) considered the church as an interruption (or intercalation as Chafer proclaimed) of God’s plan for Israel such that the kingdom of God was deferred until the millennium reign from Jerusalem since it was at that time Jesus would fulfill the Davidic covenant (Rev. 20–interpreting of course that Rev. 20 refers to a literal 1,000 earthly reign). It’s easy to see the charges of two-ways of salvation, especially with Chafer’s dual covenantalism (the reference of new covenant in the NT as something different than the reference in the OT). Revised dispensationalists, such as Charles Ryrie brought some correction to the unnatural dualistic nature of God’s outworking but still considered a future for the millennial kingdom in which God would bring salvation for Israel.

In my next post on the topic, I hope to flesh out more why I’ve come to reject dispensationalism in favor of Covenant theology, but at the center of my disagreement concerns the Christ-centered nature of God’s redemptive plan in which all promises are fulfilled in him (2 Cor. 1:20). The more that I explored the holistic nature of Scripture in terms of promise to fulfillment, the more I came to the conclusion that in God’s covenantal relationship with his creation, he only has one plan, one purpose and one people of God. I can only conclude now that Christ’s inauguration of the new covenant was in fulfillment of previous covenants which all pointed to him. This does not leave room for another purpose. Instead of seeing the church as separate from Israel, I think Covenant Theology rightly sees the New Testament church as the restored Israel. That’s where I stand and I know many wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ, especially my professors and peers from DTS will respectfully disagree. Again, more about that next time.

Incidentally, there are dispensationalists, such as Darrell Bock and Craig Blaising, who wrestled with the revised version under Ryrie. Giving the Christo-centric nature of promise and fulfillment greater consideration, proponents came to the conclusion that 1) there is only one people of God and one purpose and 2) that covenants demonstrated a progressive scheme leading to Christ’s fulfillment of them, including the Davidic covenant and Christ’s rule now as king. Under this banner of progressive dispensationalism, proponents reject some of the earlier articulations but still won’t let go of the distinction of the church vs Israel.  This is another reason why treating all dispensationalists as having a monolith view is unwarranted, except for the belief in a future salvation of Israel. As a side note but germane to dispensationalists understanding of Israel, not all dispensationalists believe that Israel refers to the political state that was formed in 1948, especially in light of Paul’s indication in Rom. 9:6 that not all Israel is Israel. Surely this can’t mean the political state.

So what does this have to do with my excitement over Beale’s commentary. For those who have never known these terms or these names, dispensational thought has undergirded contemporary evangelical theology, especially views on the end times. Popular literature such as the Left Behind series only fuels this perspective by making it seem normal that the book of Revelation should be read as purely a futurist document, with events happening in a literal physical manifestation including a pre-tribulational rapture and 7 year tribulation period.  As I noted in my post End Times and Ever Fearful Christianity, if we don’t consider that the “last days” began with Jesus’ inauguration of the new covenant, this facilitates a reactive nature to current events as triggering the end times with a focus on what happens with Israel. But given the foundational infrastructure of dispensational theology in contemporary evangelicalism, it’s no surprise that so many are influenced by this particular perspective.

That was me for a long time. For the lion’s share of my Christian life, the futuristic perspective undergirded by dispensational pre-millennialism has been my influence. Even for most of my time at DTS, I didn’t give any other positions the time of day even though we explored them (albeit in a cursory and often dismissive way). All I had been exposed to was the premillennial perspective, even in commentaries. Sure, I was studying more rigorously but through the lens of  dispensationalism, which assumed a distinction between the church and Israel. This is why I often contend that we really don’t give competing views the time of day until holes are poked and questions emerge.

And so, it wasn’t until my dispensationalism began to unravel that I had to confront my views of the end times and specifically the book of Revelation. There was a disconnect. And so I’ve been honing in on my eschatology and coming to the conclusion that perhaps the idealist view (amillennialism) makes more sense. Given the apocalyptic nature of the book and it’s cross-referencing of Old Testament prophecy, which pointed to God’s fulfillment of promises through Christ, to see that perhaps the events described in Revelation represent the conflict of that Satan’s kingdom with God’s kingdom was a bit eye opening. Considering that the book is really a letter to the seven churches, it’s reminding the church that yes conflict will come. But in the end Jesus wins and finishes what he started.

We’ve been going through a series on Revelation in our adult Sunday School at church where this commentary was referenced. Imad, an incredibly gifted teacher, teaches the book in a richly theological and deeply pastoral way. It’s been refreshing, to say the least, to have Revelation taught in a way that is not dismissive of the amillennial perspective but contrarily, demonstrating it’s validity. Because I’m reading Revelation with fresh eyes, when he referenced it, I knew I just had to get it and already have been diving in.


Andrew Ong

Andrew is a third-generation, San Francisco Bay Area ABC (American Born Chinese). He and his third-gen wife have two daughters and still live in the East Bay. After graduating from the University of California Irvine and Westminster Theological Seminary, he completed his PhD in World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, researching Chinese American evangelicals and Neo-Calvinist theology. He presently serves on staff at Christ Church East Bay in Berkeley, California. Andrew's a simple guy whose passions include: sushi, pizza, nachos, and the Golden State Warriors. On his less sanctified days he lives by the maxim: #ballislife.

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