Four Views on the Book of Revelation: Book Review :: By Alexander Major


Stanley N. Gundry is an American theologian, author, and seminary professor. He earned his B.A. from Los Angeles Baptist College, his B.D. from Talbot Theological Seminary, his S.T.M. from Union College of British Columbia, and his S.T.D. from Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He became a professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute in 1968, where he would go on to teach for eleven years.

Marvin Pate served as a pastor throughout the last thirty-five years. Today, he ministers at Cedar Grove Baptist Church. He is currently a professor of biblical studies at Ouachita Baptist University.


Kenneth Gentry provides us with a preterist understanding of Revelation. Many of the events, personages, and judgments described in Revelation are analyzed using Josephus’s historical accounts of the Jewish revolt against Rome (66 AD – 70 AD). The seven seal judgments in Revelation 6, for example, are tied to strategic military exploits that Rome achieved during the war.

Gentry does not allow for any future fulfillment of these judgments of Revelation. The temple described in Revelation 11 is the second temple which was expanded by Herod the Great (22 BC) and destroyed by Rome (70 AD). The 42 months do not describe a future time period but describe the time between the Jewish revolt against Gessius Florus (66 AD) until the Romans breached the third city wall and burned the temple to the ground (70 AD). The millennium is understood allegorically to describe a time period much greater than one thousand literal years. Gentry contends that this period of time began with Christ’s first coming.

Sam Hamstra Jr. presents an idealist interpretation of Revelation. Hamstra understands Revelation through the lens of the genre of apocalyptic literature. All events, personages, and judgments described within the book are seen as pictures of the cosmic battle between good and evil that the people of God find themselves in between the first and second advents of Christ. The seal judgments are interpreted as non-literal and non-chronological. The rider on the white horse is understood to be Jesus Christ because it is consistent with the “Christus Victor” theme of the book. The other three horsemen of the apocalypse are understood to symbolically represent the disintegration of civilization as a result of the rejection of Jesus Christ.

The dragon of Revelation 12 is understood to be Satan, but the woman is identified with the church, who “gave birth to the Son” (103). The beast of chapter 13 is the monstrous and exceedingly wicked world system that seeks to destroy the church through any means it can. The trumpet and bowl judgments encompass the entire dispensation between the two advents of Christ, and Armageddon is “a symbol of every battle in which Satan gathers his troops against the church” (103). Hamstra ends his presentation with a coherent defense of idealism, arguing in favor of his designation of Revelation as apocalyptic literature. He argues against the presence of any literal unfulfilled prophecies in the book.

Instead of offering an overview of the historicist perspective of Revelation, the editors have elected to cover progressive dispensationalism as its own school of interpretation. Progressive dispensationalism recognizes an already/not yet eschatological tension in which the prophecies of the book have already been partially fulfilled but still await final fulfillment in the day of the Lord. The Messianic age is seen as already having begun with the ascension of Christ, albeit with a literal kingdom still future.

Marvin Pate draws heavily on preterism’s emphasis on the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Chapter 6 is compared with the Olivet discourse and tied back to the Jewish revolt against Rome. The beast of Revelation 13 is understood to be Nero, who was feared to have escaped death, fled to Parthia, and amassed a great army. The ten horns on the beast are thought to be the Roman Caesars of the first century AD. The harlot riding on the beast is interpreted to be Jerusalem acting in cooperation with the Roman imperial cult.

With progressive dispensationalism, the signs of the times began with the first coming of Christ. The Great Tribulation will usher in the final judgments that directly precede the coming of Christ in power and glory.

Robert Thomas gives a very thorough presentation of classical dispensationalism and explanation of the hermeneutical method that one employs to arrive at that school of thought; the literal, grammatical-historical method. Dispensationalism recognizes the prophetic focus of the book as outlined in chapter 1:19, along with the book’s own claim to be prophetic (chapter 1:3). The pre-tribulation rapture is a major component of dispensationalism. Christ promised the church in Philadelphia that they would be kept from (gk. tereso ek) the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole earth (3:10).

Robert Thomas understands the seals, trumpets, and bowls to be telescopic in nature: that is, the seventh seal contains the trumpets and bowls, and the seventh trumpet contains all seven bowl judgments. The thousand-year reign of Christ is understood to be both literal and occurring after Christ’s return to earth.


It is critically important that evangelical Christians become acquainted with the various hermeneutical approaches of Revelation in order to learn how they impact the conclusions that one arrives at when studying the book. This book does a remarkable job of summarizing four of the major scholarly approaches to Revelation. All of the major personages, events, judgments, and people groups are delineated and contrasted coherently.

Interestingly enough, the idealist interpretation does not interpret the seals as divine judgments on an unbelieving world, but “calamities that fall upon the children of God even while the provident God sits on his throne.”

The genre of apocalyptic literature is a major theme in all of the positions except for dispensationalism, where the book is understood primarily as prophecy. Preterism and progressive dispensationalism rely heavily on Josephus, and the editors incorporated much of his writings into their presentations. Historicism was not included, and this is a major weakness of the book. Historicism would seek to correlate parts of Revelation with major world developments such as the rise of Islam and the Middle Ages. If anything, progressive dispensationalism (as a synthesis of preterism, idealism, and classical dispensationalism) should have been omitted or incorporated into the dispensational section in order to allow for a section on historicism.

Robert Thomas’s defense of dispensationalism was impressive. His emphasis on Revelation’s continuity with Daniel 2 is a major component of dispensationalism. Four world empires will oppress God’s people, culminating in a fifth kingdom: the kingdom of Christ. These are understood to be four literal kingdoms: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome (with Rome reviving itself during Daniel’s 70th week in an unprecedented ten-king formation). This gives us great insight into Revelation 13 and 17, where the world empire of the last days is described along with the wicked king who rules over it. Robert Thomas gives a stellar defense of the pre-tribulation rapture and utterly rebuffs the unbelievable preterist argument that Christ came in 70 AD.

In analyzing Thomas’s description of the events of the last days, however, a few elements could have been stronger in elucidating what most dispensationalists would teach.

The first seal judgment reveals the white horse with a rider who is bent on conquest. Robert Thomas identifies this horseman with a growing anti-Christian “movement” that will grip the world in the early days of the tribulation. Most dispensationalists, though, acknowledging the presence of many false messiahs during this time, would identify this particular rider with the antichrist, the deceptive world leader who will bring a pseudo-peace to Israel before turning on the Jewish nation and unleashing the final holocaust.

Robert Thomas correlates the rebuilt temple in Revelation 11:1-2 with the “future repentance of Israel.” Most dispensationalists, however, would teach that this temple (the third temple) will be built during a time of great apostasy for Israel when the nation still rejects Jesus as Messiah and has signed a deadly seven-year covenant with the Roman ruler (Dan 9:27). Israel’s repentance does not come until the end of the tribulation (Matt 23:39).

Ultimately, the authors have accurately represented the major tenets of each of the four approaches to Revelation. Four Views on the Book of Revelation should be required reading for any seminary student who wants a firm grasp of Revelation. In the editor’s own words, “The purpose of this volume is to help bridge the gap between the preceding responses; that is, to move people from being merely enamored with Revelation to engaging it through personal interaction.”

This book will give the student of Scripture the tools he or she needs to dissect the book of Revelation consistent with the hermeneutical framework that one presupposes (the only exception being progressive dispensationalism, due to it synthesizing multiple hermeneutical frameworks).

Alexander Major
Southern California Seminary, El Cajon, CA


Four Views on the Book of Revelation. By Stanley N. Gundry, Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., Sam Hamstra Jr., Marvin Pate, and Robert L. Thomas. Counterpoints: Bible and Theology. Zondervan Academic, 1998. 225 pp.