A while back, I came across an interesting article written by Peter Leithart at First Things on interpreting Revelation. I found his article to be very intriguing because Leithart puts forth a position that harmonizes the futurist, historicist, idealist, and preterist interpretations of Revelation. In his article, he refers to this position as typological preterism. I prefer to refer to it as maximalism, because it seeks to make the best use of each of the four interpretive positions.
 
Before we look further into the maximalist position (as I am calling it), we must lay a groundwork for those who are unfamiliar with the differing schools of interpretation of Revelation. Leithart puts forth a pretty good summary of each by stating:

For futurists, the book of Revelation describes the events leading up to the end of the space-time universe, the final coming of Jesus. Futurist interpretations need not be pre-millennial, but they often are.

Historicists read Revelation as an allegory of the history of the church. This was popular among Reformers, who identified the Catholic Church with the false bride, the whore Babylon.

Idealists claim that the book is not predicting any specific series of events, but giving a symbolic portrait of perennial spiritual battles.

Highlighting the “soon” passages at the beginning and end of Revelation, Preterists claim that Revelation is about events of the late first century or shortly after. This takes various forms. It can take the form of a focus on the Jewish war; it can focus on the church’s early history; or it might extend somewhat further to predict the fall of Rome.

Quoting from Steve Gregg’s Parallel Commentary on Revelation, Leithart goes on to demonstrate how each of these schools interpret Revelation 14:8-9:

For historicists, “the first four trumpets represent the four great blows that fell upon the Western Empire from the beginning of the fifth century to its fall in 476.” Some suggest that the images of hail, fire, and blood “symbolize war and the bloodshed and destruction of vegetation that accompany it.” Specifically, “Most interpreters identify this first trumpet with the military conflicts between the Western Roman Empire and hordes of Goths and Vandals under Alaric. . . . The Goths attacked Gaul, Spain, and Italy from the north, burning or destroying everything in their path.” In the first decade of the fifth century, they besieged Rome itself three times.

Preterists often connect the trumpets with events leading up to the outbreak of the Jewish War in 66 AD. Gregg quotes one writer’s view that the first four trumpets “probably predict the several years of ravage and pillage prior to the destruction of Jerusalem itself. In this period, the land suffered terribly. The plagues are reminiscent of those in Egypt, at the birth of the Hebrew nation. Here they mark both the latter’s cessation, and the birth of a new nation, the kingdom of God.”

Many futurists take the judgments described in the trumpets literally. Others, while viewing the judgments as future judgments that anticipate the end of the world, interpret the specifics symbolically. One “interprets the third part of the world to be the western confederation of nations, the trees to be great men and leaders, and the crass to be ordinary people.”

For idealist or spiritualist interpreters, the trumpets are interpreted in the light of Old Testament uses of trumpets – to call Israel to worship, to announce a triumph, at the coronation of a new king, as a summons to battle. For one, the judgments “indicate series of happenings, that is, calamities that will occur again and again throughout this dispensation. They do not symbolize single and separate events, but refer to woes that may be seen any day of the year in any part of the globe.”

As Leithart points out in his article, these varied readings can seem so divergent that one begins to even wonder if different interpreters are even reading the same book! But, with a Maximalist reading of the texts, sanity is restored, and the beauty of God’s story begins to emerge instead of fragmented pieces. Leithart gives a demonstration of the Maximalist reading of Revelation 14:8-9, stating:

“Literally, the book predicts a specific set of historical events that took place soon after the book was written. Because God is consistent in His work, these historical events are patterned by, and pattern other historical sequences. Just as Revelation depicts a replay of exodus, so later events can follow an exodus sequence. As allegories and tropologies arise from the literal sense, so historicist and idealist readings arise from a preterist interpretation. The trumpet visions were fulfilled in the first century; but similar series of events are repeated at other times in other places. If we learn the melody of the text, we can begin to hear variations of that melody. So, something like the trumpet sequence took place during the collapse of the Western empire, or in the later middle ages. Those events are not the fulfillment of the literal sense, but they are allegorical applications. Futurist approaches are not as easy to fit into a preterist framework, but we can tease out some anagogies from a preterist interpretation. Thus: Revelation is not predicting the end of the physical universe; it uses the imagery of cosmic collapse to unveil the end of the old creation. But it’s plausible to assume that the events of the end of the old world foreshadow events at the end of the new. Besides, part of Revelation are literally about final, post-millennial judgment (the end of chapter 20).”

The Maximalist position interprets this passage beautifully. As we can see, there are multiple layers in our interpretation, but the literal meaning is still intact. The trumpet visions were fulfilled in the first century (Preterist), but since God is consistent in His work, we should expect similar events repeated at other times in other places (Futurist). Something similar to the trumpet sequence took place during the collapse of the Western empire, or in the later middle ages (Historicist). Those events are not the fulfillment of the literal sense, but they are allegorical applications (Idealist).
For example, lets apply the Maximalist approach to the Seven Churches found in Revelation 2-3:
The Preterist position sees Jesus commanding John to write the letters to actual churches in the first century; the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
The Historicist position (and some Futurists, but not all) understands each of these churches as ages. The age of Ephesus is the apostolic age. The age of Smyrna is the persecution of the Church through AD 313. The age of Pergamus is the compromised Church lasting until AD 500. The age of Thyatira is the rise of the papacy to the Reformation. The age of Sardis is the age of the Reformation. The age of Philadelphia is the age of evangelism. The age of Laodicea represents liberal churches in a “present day” context.
From this also flows the Futurist and Idealist positions, which states that the seven churches are representative of the universal church and that the contents of the letters and visions are applicable to the church through the ages on into the future.
The Maximalist method allows for us to recognize the multiple layers of application. We understand that this passage had immediate and literal fulfillment in the first century. The letters that Jesus commanded John to write were written to real churches (Preterist).
However, since God does not change, we can expect the things he commanded to be written in these letters to still be relevant to the church today, so there is allegorical application (Idealist).
Not only are they still releveant, but things written in the letters were always relevant. They were relevant for the churches of the Apostolic era, all the way to the Reformation (Historicist), and we can also expect the things written in these letters to continue to be relevant to all churches in the future (Futurist).
This Maximalist approach can be applied to the entire book of Revelation, as well as other parts of Scripture which share similar genres. This position is faithful to Scripture, allowing us to read Scripture literally, acknowledging immediate fulfillment in the past while still allowing us to be flexible to acknowledge historical, future, and even allegorical/idealized applications.
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