Revelation is a book that defies a unified interpretation and it has drawn the attention of many in the modern age. Write a book on Revelation and it is almost sure to be a hit. The three main ways to interpret Revelation are the Preterist, Idealist, and Futurist views. The Preterist view argues that all of the events in Revelation are accounts of what happened in the years leading up to and in the destruction of the temple in 70 AD (Beale, 1999). The Idealist position argues that Revelation is not referencing actual events but rather it is a metaphorical account of the battle of good and evil across time (Beale, 1999). The Futurist view is built on the idea that the events in Revelation are still coming events (Beale, 1999). A hotly debated section of Revelation is chapter 13 and the two Beasts. In this section, John saw one Beast that came out of the sea. That Beast defies God and is wounded to death, but is healed. After that, a second Beast that comes out of the land commanded the world to worship the first Beast. In the end of the section the second Beast sets up a world currency under the mark that is the number of a man’s name; famously the mark of the Beast or 666. Out of the three views, the Futurist can handle this passage the best; some parallels can be found in the pre-70 AD Roman world, however, the parallels fall short of explaining the whole passage and the passage gives a very clear indication of talking about real events.
The Preterist view of Revelation 13 argues that Nero is the first Beast. The argument centers around Nero’s name in Greek and then translated to Hebrew (Hitchcock, 2007). After being translated into Hebrew the letters add up to 666. There are two problems with this, Hitchcock points out that the translation into Hebrew can be done where the letters do not add up to 666 and it is hard to make the case that Nero was near to death and was healed.
The Idealist position argues that the “Beast represents all worldly power which sets itself up against God” (Knowles, 2001, p. 704). However, in John’s account, the Beasts have human identities and the whole world is forced to worship them. But the biggest argument against the Idealist position is that in Revelation 12 and 13 there are 82 references to Daniel 6-9 (Rainbow, 1996). Daniel has never been considered a metaphorical account.
The Futurist view offers the most consistent view of this text. The argument for the Futurist view is historical. Just one example of this is the currency problem; even though the Roman currency was worldwide, it was not the only currency used and people could buy and sell food in other currencies. Also, two of the three main players that make up the “unholy trinity” appear in this text: Beast, Dragon, and false Prophet (Rainbow, 1996). It is hard to make a connection in history, especially in the early AD, for all three of these figures.
The best reading of the text is to take the text as a representation of events that will begin the end of this world. In reading the text in this light, parts that do not fit into the other views become coherent. Also, there is a myriad of references to other sections of the Bible, Daniel and 2nd Thessalonians for example, that bring further life to a Futurist interpretation of the text. It is no small thing that Revelation parallels detailed text like Daniel, clearly, John expected the readers make connections.
Beale, G. K. (1999). The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text. Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.
Hitchcock, M. L. (2007). A critique of the Preterist view of Revelation 13 and Nero. Bibliotheca Sacra, 164(655), 341-356.
Knowles, A. (2001). The Bible guide (1st Augsburg books ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg.
Rainbow, P. A. (1996). Revelation, Theology Of. In Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.