Hermeneutics is defined as a method or approach to interpreting Scripture. A confusing difficulty with the great diversity of eschatological approaches persists to our day. Is the correct approach to Daniel and Revelation preterist, historicist, futurist or idealist?
While most prophecy is forth-telling rather than foretelling, the Prophets and John’s Revelation also speak of things “yet to be.” What was “yet to be” often had a temporal immediacy. King Belshazzar saw his Chaldean Empire conquered by the Medo-Persian Empire that same night, just as Daniel had prophesied. But other prophecies were fulfilled centuries later. And some biblical prophecies – such as the Second Coming of Christ, the General Resurrection, the Final Judgment, and a New Heavens and a New Earth – have yet to be fulfilled.
One problem with interpreting prophecies is that they sometimes seem to have several fulfillments. Certainly, some references to Antiochus IV Epiphanes can be found in Daniel’s prophecy. However, the abomination that causes desolation (Daniel 9:26,27; 12:11) referred to by Jesus in the Mount Olivet Discourse (Matthew 25:15,16), cannot refer to Antiochus, even though when Daniel is read in isolation from Matthew 24, Antiochus might seem to fit the description.
These difficulties are only superficial problems that may be solved by looking at audience relevance and key time indicators in the text. Predictive prophecies refer to the blessings, curses and judgments of God. There is a direct cause-effect relationship between God’s promised judgment and the outcome of a prophecy. When Daniel foresaw the successive overthrow of four kingdoms, this was directly related to the persecution of God’s people by these nations. The Babylonians, Medo-Persians, Greeks and Romans came under judgment because they usurped the rule of God’s chosen people over the Promised Land.
Using the Book of Revelation as an example, when John saw the destruction of the Beast, the False Prophet and the Whore of Babylon, this was the direct result of the persecution of the Church by Nero and the Jews. This came to pass in the first century when Nero was killed, the city of Jerusalem was destroyed and the Roman Empire began to come under progressive judgment by God through internal strife.
There are historical applications we can make, such as the invasion of Rome by barbarian hordes in the beginning of the Middle Ages, and futuristic applications, such as the judgment of Gog and Magog at the end of the millennium (Revelation 20). However, the immediate application of most of the Book of Revelation is explicitly stated. Judgment was to happen soon, “the time is near” (Revelation 1:3). The angel showed John “things which must shortly take place” (Revelation 22:6). To say that the papacy or the Roman Catholic Church is going to be judged for its persecutions of Christians in the time that John describes in Revelation is anachronistic. It ignores the repeated temporal urgency as well as the historical and literary context of the Book of Revelation.
For instance, according to Revelation 11:2, John was writing when the Temple at Jerusalem still stood and prophesied that the Temple “is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.” At very least, the futurist and the historicist ought to concede that John was writing to seven churches that were currently undergoing or were about to undergo “tribulation.” If John saw events in a vision that had an immediate first century application, then how can the papacy or a future one-world government be interpreted as the Beast or the Whore of Babylon?
While I agree that God has judged those who persecuted believers throughout history, I do not see a cause-effect relationship between the persecutions of Christians by the first century Roman emperors and the persecution of Protestants by Rome during the Reformation (at least not in this prophecy).
Since the papacy did not exist in the first century, then how can the Roman Church of the Middle Ages be responsible for persecutions of Christians in the first century? How can a future Antichrist figure be responsible for first century persecutions? A futurist or historicist hermeneutic is anachronistic because these events did not coincide in history.