A predictive work which is totally unrelated to its own day could have no meaning for its readers because they would be unable to bridge the gap of thought between themselves and its prophecies. One might as well give a textbook on thermo-nuclear fission to a medieval monk and expect him to understand it as to present a work of complete prediction of the future to a man of any era and assume that he would profit by it unless some means were established by which he could connect his own times with the events which were to come.1
If we go along with dispensational interpreters in finding the Rapture of the church at Revelation 4:1+, then the book becomes largely irrelevant, not only to the original readers, but also to all Christians of any age. . . . This leaves it far from obvious why Christians should take an interest in such events, or why God wished to reveal them.2One wonders if these same commentators ever considered Isaiah’s unmatched prophecy of the Suffering Servant? What value might this have had to his immediate readership living between 739 and 686 BC?3 According to their criteria it must have been “largely irrelevant” to Isaiah’s contemporaries since it sets forth in great detail the crucifixion of our Lord at least six centuries before the actual events. Obviously, these interpreters are aware of the many prophetic examples such as Isaiah, but choose to treat them differently because they have no bearing on events yet future to our own time.This insistence that all the events of the book of Revelation must pertain to the immediate hearers is without foundation and runs directly counter to the whole tenor of prophetic revelation throughout Scripture. Even many of those who lived as contemporaries of John failed to understand their contemporary Scriptures as being fulfilled in their day.4 Moreover, aspects of the prophecies themselves were not necessarily understood by the prophet himself, not to mention his contemporaries: “Interpreters of the Revelation should bear in mind two important passages: 1Pe. 1:12; 2Pe. 1:20, 21. Doubtless much which is designedly obscure to us will be clear to those for whom it was written as the time approaches.”5
To use the argument that the book must be understood by the first generation of Christians completely as a refutation of the futuristic position is not reasonable nor backed by the study of prophecy in Scripture in general. . . . it is strange that such an objection should be considered weighty. Much of the prophecy of the Bible deals with the distant future, including the Old Testament promises of the coming Messiah . . . the difficulty with this point of view is twofold: (1) Prophecy, as given in the Scripture, was not necessarily understandable by the writer or his generation, as illustrated in the case of Daniel (Dan. 12:4+, 9+). It is questionable whether the great prophets of the Old Testament always understood what they were writing (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12). (2) It is of the nature of prophecy that often it cannot be understood until the time of the generation which achieves fulfillment.6
1 Merrill C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1957), 137.
2 Steve Gregg, Revelation Four Views: A Parallel Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 42.
3 John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 1997), 952.
4 “The full text of The Didache was rediscovered little more than a hundred years ago, in a codex found in Constantinople in 1873. This document proves that those who actually lived through the events of A.D. 70 regarded Matthew 24:29-31—the entire Olivet Discourse—as yet-unfulfilled prophecy.”—John MacArthur, “Signs in the Sky,” in Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, eds., The End Times Controversy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2003), 112.
5 C. I. Scofield, The Scofield Study Bible (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002, 1909), Rev. 1:1.
6 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1966), 21-23.