Just recently, I posted propositions for debating the dating of Revelation on the website: firstname.lastname@example.org. This is an excellent forum in many ways, with men from many different backgrounds discussing a variety of topics. After I had posted my propositions, one of the readers posted to me asking, "What spiritual value do you hope to achieve by discussing this topic?" The querist, we will call him Phil, and I have enjoyed further correspondence since his question, but I wanted to share with you my response to his good question.
What spiritual value do I expect to gain from this discussion?
1.) Well, I must say that this question strikes me as if it comes from a belief that religious debate is not worthwhile, perhaps. Is that true?
2.) Would you not agree with me that the book of Revelation was written at a specific time, within a certain very real sitz em leben, (life situation)?
3.) The book was written to very real humans experiencing very real persecution, and they were about to experience even worse persecution.
4.) Yet, the promise of the book is very clear: they could expect vindication and relief from that suffering and persecution, very soon.
5.) The specific historical circumstances are the context in which the symbols of the book must be understood. To divorce the symbols from their historical, contextual situation is to automatically doom ourselves to an improper interpretation of the book itself.
6.) Specifically, the identity of the harlot city of Revelation is crucial to a proper understanding of eschatology as a whole, since the parousia of Christ occurs in, and as the expression of YHVH’s covenant wrath against her. Thus, to wrongly identify Babylon of Revelation is, patently, to have a misguided eschatology.
Given the truthfulness of the above, it is important that we place the book within its proper historical context, so that we can proper honor:
A.) The temporal parameters established by the book, i.e. fulfillment was at hand, and coming quickly.
B.) Properly interpret the symbols found in the book. The symbols of Revelation are not timeless, vague, generalities. They were given in, and expected to be understood (Blessed is who who reads, hears, keeps, the words of the book), by the seven churches of Asia. To suggest that God gave symbols representing modern nuclear warfare, or anything else so dramatically removed from the symbolism known to those people is clearly misguided, in my estimation.
C.) The covenantal nature and context of the book. Revelation is a book about the consummation of Covenant, specifically, YHVH’s covenant with Israel. Distinctive (Mosaic) covenantal language is found throughout the book, and applied to the coming judgment of Babylon. To place the Apocalypse outside of the historical context of the fulfillment of that covenant skews our understanding of the book.
Without the proper understanding of when the book was written, we are doomed to a false understanding and interpretation of the book. That of course leads to wild, fantasmagoric, and harmful speculations so rampant in evangelical Chrisianity today. Most paradigms today, either totally ignore the temporal parameters, or deny them. They deny the historical context, the covenant source of the symbolism, and the covenant nature of the book, and extrapolate it into our future, resulting in one failed prediction of the end after another. This is a shameful situation that needs to be corrected. Setting Revelatin within its proper context of history can help us correct these hurtful situations.
So, the spiritual value of determining the proper time of the writing of the Apocalypse is very important, as I see it.
Incidentally, I discuss all of this in detail in my book Who Is This Babylon? that can be found on my website: www.eschatology.org.
I hope this is helpful to you to understand why I think it is important, and spiritually helpful, to discuss the dating of the book of Revelation.
For His Truth, and in His Grace,
Don K. Preston