Given the close parallels, I’ve been wondering what the exegetical basis is for the common view of Rev 6 as the ultimate tribulation fulfillment of the general church age conditions described in Matt 24:4-14, rather than speaking of the same set of circumstances. In other words, if Matt 24:4-14 is speaking of realities throughout the church age, what prevents Rev 6 of describing the same? Is there exegetical warrant outside of the Matt 24 parallel for viewing Rev 6 as necessarily descriptive of the great tribulation?

When it comes specifically to Revelation 6, I don’t really see the literal/spiritual dichotomy when comparing the futurist, preterist, or historicist approaches to that passage. It seems to me that all approaches are offering an interpretation that seeks to identify the referent of the symbols (with the exception of the idealist, which seems to be much closer to a “spiritualizing”). So in this case, it’s more an issue of different answers to the question “What do these symbols mean?” rather than one taking a literal and the other a spiritual approach. Even the most closely literal reading I’ve seen doesn’t expect to see four literal colored horses appearing and their riders delivering the plagues, but sees them as symbols pointing to something else.

One of the most interesting things I’ve been studying these days is how the biblical authors draw on earlier Scripture to either give meaning to the current text or to interpret/expand on the earlier text. In Revelation 6, the striking parallels would be:

1. The four chariots in Zechariah 6 with colored horses (following the exile)

2. The curses on Israel for covenant disobedience in Leviticus 26:14-39

3. The judgment on Jerusalem in Ezekiel 14:12-23 (including a direct quote of 14:21)

4. The parallels with Matt 24, Luke 21, and Mark 13 (given that these appear in the context of judgment on Jerusalem like the above, it seems significant)

I’ll admit that I don’t know what is exactly to make of Matt 24, Luke 21, Mark 13, Rev, etc. I have read much from all of the various viewpoints, and I can see some merits in many of their arguments, but I also see all of them having to shoehorn several passages to properly fit into their paradigm.

Some common objections against a direct parallel between Matt 24 and Rev 6 don’t seem to hold even under a literal hermeneutic:

First, from an exegetical standpoint, “τῆς γῆς” cannot always be made to carry the full weight of “the earth” in the sense of the “entire planet.” It often simply refers to the land, generally, or sometimes more specifically the land, as in the land of Judea/Palestine. Given that, where context allows, I don’t think that the literal hermeneutic requires “the land” to indicate something global in nature.

Seal #1 – Since the one going forth to conquer is the rider on the horse, I don’t think a literal reading requires that it refer to a single individual in the future unless each of the riders refers to a single individual who brings the mentioned plague, including two named death and hell.

Seal #2 – It doesn’t say “all peace” is take from the earth, but peace. When there are wars (or civil wars) in a land with men slaying each other, it is accurate to say that peace is taken from that land. Jesus himself claims to do that in Matt 10:34 (I’m not saying that this is what is referred to here).

Seal #3 – If this seal means anything more than a severe famine, impacting especially the poor (assuming “don’t touch the oil and wine” are luxuries for the rich), then you have to read something into it, since it doesn’t say anything regarding the geographical extent, duration, or cause of it.

Seal #4 - The riders of the pale horse are given authority over a fourth of the land to kill, but a literal interpretation does not require that this equate to a killing of ¼ of all of the inhabitants (consider “land” vs “those who dwell on the land”). It requires that ¼ of the land be under the authority of the killer, not that a ¼ of the population is killed. However, even if the death of a ¼ of the population is in view, it does not require a death of ¼ of the population of the entire planet (see above). Either way, the significant point is the means by which they kill, which looks like a direct reference to Ezekiel 14:21, and indirectly to the covenant curses of Lev 26:22, and Deut 32:24.

Here’s where I’m leaning:

1. Daniel 9:24-27 is a prophecy concerning the Messiah and the true return from exile, culminating in the end of sacrifice and destruction of the temple in AD70. Peter Gentry’s presentation is persuasive for me (using a literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutic). I don’t know where he stands in his eschatology, but he certainly isn’t disregarding the context of the book of Daniel or future references in the NT.

2. There is a very good case to be made for an early (pre-AD70) date for the book of Revelation, using both external and internal evidence, so I am unable to a priori assert that Revelation could not be speaking of those things because of its late date.

3. I’m inclined to think that John’s vision may very well serve as his “Olivet Discourse,” the discussion of which is not present in the fourth gospel.

4. One of the biggest problems for me (especially since I do generally use a literal hermeneutic) with seeing the future referent as primary in Matt 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, and Rev are the time indicators which speak to the then present generation:

- Matt 23:36 – “all these things will come upon this generation”

- Matt 24:34/Luke 21:32/Mark 13:30 – “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place”

- Rev 1:1 – “the things that must soon take place”

- Rev 1:3 – “the time is near”

- Rev 2:5 – Jesus to the church at Ephesus: “repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place”

- Rev 2:16 – To Pergamum: “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth”

- Rev 3:3 – To Sardis: “Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.”

- Rev 3:11 – To Philadelphia: “I am coming soon”

- Rev 22:6 – “what must soon take place”

- Rev 22:7 – “I am coming soon”

- Rev 22:10 – “The time is near”

- Rev 22:12 – “I am coming soon”

- Rev 22:20 – “Surely I am coming soon”

5. A literal hermeneutic does not necessitate that phrase “the Son of Man coming on the clouds” be (solely) a reference to the Second Coming of Christ. After all, the phrase is a direct allusion to Daniel 7:13. In that passage the Son of Man comes with the clouds to the Ancient of Days. In that case, wouldn’t it be better understood as the ascension of the Son to his throne (a la Psalm 110:1; Acts 7:54-56)? Wouldn’t that also make sense of Jesus statement before Caiaphas in Matt 26:63 that “from now on you will see…”?

6. I think the reason that the preterists can make some very strong historical arguments, including striking parallels (down to some of the very language used) in Josephus, Tacitus, etc, is that the events recounted are the primary referent in those passages. Through all four gospel writers, Jesus was predicting in eerie detail the events preceding and culminating in the Jewish wars and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Even the 42-month time references you mentioned in Revelation can be found at that time (such as the 42-month persecution of Christians under Nero and the 42-month siege of Jerusalem. No doubt the intention with the time reference is to say (as Jesus said) “this is what Daniel was talking about.” There is great theological significance in these events and we often underplay them by pushing too much of it ahead into the future.

7. All of that above would tend to line up with a partial preterist framework, but where I see most partial preterists err is in trying to take that framework and fit too much into it. They see a lot of evidence in the text for their view but when they run up against something that challenges it, then there is quite a bend to get it to fit. There is no doubt that both Revelation and Jesus’ sermon (and some parts of Daniel for that matter) seem to drop seamlessly (perhaps there is a seam, I’m just not certain of it) from the events culminating in AD70 to the Second Coming, the resurrection, and the final judgment.

None of the interpretations above rule out a future recapitulation of these events, both throughout the history of the church, and at the end of the age. There is a reason that the preterist, historicist, idealist, and futurist views have all been heavily represented throughout church history, with many godly men in each camp who take the Scripture and the right interpretation of it very seriously. Each has some very strong arguments and none are without serious difficulties. I was once a settled and confident dispensational Pre-mil with an argument. Now I’m no longer dispensational and somewhat up in the air with the rest, not fully satisfied with any of the 3 millennial paradigms. The more I study the details of these prophecies and their respective interpretations, the more I’m becoming convinced that the ambiguities and difficulties are intentional, and that we ought to hold our view with much humility, devoting our focus to faithfully preaching Christ to our generation, and being confident of 3 things:

1. The Lord Jesus certainly came in judgment against Jerusalem in AD66-70, with all of the significance inherent in that.

2. He certainly comes in judgment throughout history, executing justice on behalf of his church against those who would oppose the gospel and persecute his body, as well as bringing judgment upon those churches that have ceased to be faithful to their Lord (hence Rev 2-3).

3. He will certainly come in judgment at the end of the age, with all of the significance inherent in that.

Perhaps this is trite, but here is my current personal application of the 3 millennial views (all of which I think have some strong arguments in their favor, leaving me somewhat uncertain as to the correct one):

1. I desire to plan and preach like a post-mil, settling in for the long haul and expecting the gospel to overcome the darkness of unbelief and for Christ to be worshipped in every nation.

2. I desire to watch and pray like a pre-mil, looking and hoping for the blessed coming of our Savior, and holding the lightly the things of this present age, knowing that a better inheritance awaits.

3. I desire to worship like an a-mil, knowing that the Lord Jesus reigns now at the right-hand of the Father and exercises all authority on heaven and earth.

I realize that most of those things can be affirmed by each of the view, but it is somewhat consistent with their eschatological emphases.