3.2. Overemphasis on Immediate Audience or Events

Although the principles of grammatical historical interpretation duly recognize the importance of the immediate audience of God’s revelation,1 this fact cannot be used to undercut God’s ability to reveal events far future from the day of the immediate readers. When interpreters overemphasize the immediate audience, it makes it difficult to see how God could reveal future events to those same readers without running foul of the limited scope of such interpreters. Indeed, this is the case in the book before us. When the application to the immediate audience dominates the purpose of the book, then interpreters tend to search the local history of the first readers in an attempt to find events which, in their mind, “match” the events described by God. Two such examples are the Roman practice of emperor worship2 and the myth that Nero would revive from the dead.3

Such interpretations do not match the plain meaning of the text. Emperor worship was not a serious factor at the time of Nero, especially in Asia (see the discussion concerning the date when the book was written). Nor did Nero fulfill the biblical requirements of the beast (Nero committed suicide in 68 AD whereas the beast is cast alive into the Lake of Fire at the return of Jesus Christ , Rev. Rev. 19:20+). Nor has Nero been revived in the intervening centuries. (We discuss reasons why Nero cannot be the Beast of Revelation elsewhere.)

One wonders if God doesn’t ask Himself, “How can I tell these people about events future to the time of the recipients of My revelation without them attempting to find everything I say fulfilled in their own time?”


Notes

1 That’s what historico means—the historical context is key to understanding the text.

2 “Revelation presupposes that Christians were being required to participate to some degree in the imperial cult (e.g., Rev. Rev. 13:4-8+, Rev. 13:15-16+; Rev. 14:9-11+; Rev. 15:2+; Rev. 16:2+; Rev. 19:20+; Rev. 20:4+).”—Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 5.

3 “Some commentators argue that some passages in Revelation reflect a ‘revival of Nero’ myth, especially Rev. Rev. 13:3-4+ and Rev. 17:8+, Rev. 17:11+, which speak of the demise of the beast and subsequent revival. The Nero myth held that Nero would return from the dead and lead a Parthian army against the Roman Empire. If these texts reflect the myth, then Revelation is better dated later than earlier, since presumably it took time for the myth to arise, develop, and circulate after Nero’s death in 68 AD.”—Ibid., 17.