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Tuesday
Dec112007

"What Do You Mean When You Speak of the `Lens of the Old Testament?'"

eschatology%20q%20and%20a.jpgJoe asks the following question (October 29, 2007):

"I am reading your messages on Revelation (
Click here: Riddleblog - Sermons on the Book of Revelation (pdf), and right at the beginning something jumped out at me. You say that we must interpret this book through `the lens of the Old Testament'. Isn't this the position that dispensationalists use to justify their interpretation. That is, all prophesy in the New Testament must be interpreted by the Old Testament. Can you elaborate, please?"

___________________________ 

 
My Answer:

Joe, thanks for the chance to clarify this.  I believe that the Book of Revelation is, in one sense, God's answer to all the redemptive-historical loose ends of both the Old Testament and the first advent of Christ.  I see the scope of Revelation's various visions as covering the entire inter-advental period, each from a different perspective.  Dennis Johnson quite helpfully describes this phenomenon as different camera angles on the same event.

When I say that we need to see Revelation through "the lens of the Old Testament," I simply mean that when John uses some particular symbol (say "locusts") the reference is to the Old Testament--in the case of locusts to the Book of Joel.  My sense is that those who heard the Book of Revelation read in the churches, and who were steeped in the Old Testament, would have immediately understood what John was talking about, because they knew to find the explanation of the symbol in the Old Testament. 

For many of our dispensational friends, however, this is not the case.  They take John to be trying to describe some modern technology which did not exist in the ancient world.  Hal Lindsey, for example, thinks John saw a Bell UH-1 Huey helicopter and since such a thing was beyond his comprehension, John described this amazing flying thing as looking like a locust--which, in a way, it does.  But is John trying to describe an as yet unknown technology?  Or is he using an image drawn from the Old Testament to make a point about the suffering of God's people before Christ comes back?

I would say that the key to understanding John is to go back to the Old Testament and see what locusts do when they swarm--they destroy everything.  Joel presents locusts as a form of judgment.  Lindsey, on the other hand, says this is a picture of a modern technology unknown to the ancients.  But it is obviously a judgment motif, because that is how the figure appears in the Old Testament.

One of my primary concerns with the dispensational hermeneutic is that the Old Testament "interprets" the New Testament, a concern which lies at the heart of your question.  The title of John Walvoord's famous commentary on Daniel makes my point--Daniel:  The Key to Prophetic Revelation.  According to dispensationalists, Daniel lays out the basic prophetic pattern and then John follows along behind in the Book of Revelation. 

Reformed amillennarians hold that Daniel was told to seal up the scroll, because he could not understand these things before the coming of Christ.  John is ordered to open that same scroll in the Book of Revelation because he will tell us--in the clearer light of the coming of Christ--about those things to which Daniel had been referring, but which were still hidden in type and shadow until Christ came.  Now that Jesus has indeed come, and has died for our sins and was raised from the dead before ascending on high, John is given this vision to explain to God's persecuted people how Christ's triumph over death and the grave impacts the future course of history so as to bring all things to their final consummation.

This is why I think Walvoord and the dispensationalists have it backwards.  The Apostle John tells us what the prophet Daniel means, not vice-versa.

I hope that helps! 

Reader Comments (7)

Dr. Riddlebarger,

I have question in regard to the Roman Catholic Church and the book of Revelation. I'm 100% with much of what I've read and heard from you through books and the internet. My question is do you see any connection to the church of Rome and woman riding on the beast? What I mean is that the RCC stands as the descendant of ancient Rome and the pope considers himself the Vicar. Plus, the Vatican owns property on all seven hills of Rome and all roads seem to be leading to Rome these days!
December 12, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Beesh
Thanks Kim,
And yes, clearly many evangelical teachers / preachers do not have a grasp [a clue-- is that too harsh?] regarding the concept of God's Special Revelation being a progressive revelation.

Thanks for the reminder!
December 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterIvan
Dr. Riddlebarger,

I'm struggling with your reference to John's description of the locusts in Joel. I read Joel's description of the devastation of the locusts in ch. 1 but it doesn't go into a lot of detail describing what these locusts actually look like, unlike John who gives a very detailed picture. However, if you're referring to Joel's description of the Lord's army in ch. 2, where does he call this army a swarm of locusts? It actually calls the army a "mighty people" (v.2) and describes an invading army that seems to go beyond the idea of a mere locusts invasion. Could this possibly be describing the actual return of Christ and His army to judge the world? The army in Joel is described as having a fire go out before them and consuming the land (v.3), and certain passages parallel those which characterize the return of our Lord (vs. 10-11, cf. Matt. 24:29-31 & Rev. 6:12-17). The NT also describes the Lord returning with the armies of heaven in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus (Jude 14-15, Rev. 19:11-16, 2 Thess. 1:7-8). I am eager for your response and may the Lord bless you.
December 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterChris B
Kim,

Thanks for the reply. I think Lindsey, Walvoord (I read his book) et al, try to so simplify the great mind of God, that they fail to understand the enormous depth that He draws from to try to explain His plan for us. Oh,the depth of His great love and mercy for us. It is as difficult to comprehend as the universe is to a two year old.
December 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJoe
I wanted to add to my post above the scripture Isaiah 55: 8,9 Thanks again.
December 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJoe
Amen! to Kim's comments.

And I agree: Dispensationalists, in the matter of how they read the OT and NT in relationship to one another, have things exactly backwards! No wonder the resulting conclusions are so off-track!

(And to think that I used to be one of them!)
December 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterWayne Rohde
Hello Wayne,
And that is exactly what we should be thinking, "We were one of them"

May God remind us we are not superior to them, may we not be puffed up w/ pride in our dialog with them, but be reminded, God was gracious to us, via others in the body of Christ.

We need not be nor should they find us to be condescending, as too often is the case.

Thanks for the reminder, Wayne!
December 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterIvan

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