There are five main ways through which the text is commonly viewed that I will highlight in this post. I think it's important to note that there are so many views on the book of Revelation that I couldn't possibly list them all. I think that these views have the most scholarship behind them to merit conversation, though, and so I will briefly list all of them.
- The Futurist view – this view is the most familiar and treats the Book of Revelation (and other texts as well) as a prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled and specifically concerns the end of the world. This is probably the most common view by Protestants and is best represented in The Left Behind series.
Strengths: This view typically counts a literal reading of the text as its most prominent strength.
Weaknesses: There is no real reason given in the text that it should be interpreted literally.
- The Historicist view – this view sees the book of Revelation as a book of prophecy, but one that does not exclusively refer to the end times or the end of the world. The Historical view asserts that the book of Revelation has been fulfilled throughout history since its writing. Most Historicists believe that every prophecy in the book of Revelation has been fulfilled already.
Strengths: The historicist view can make compelling arguments by displaying how certain passages in Revelation and Daniel seem to line up perfectly with historical events.
Weaknesses: There is no reason to believe that any of the historical events that a historicist points to actually fit the narratives found in the various texts. Most of the texts are vague, and can easily be molded to fit just about any historical occurrence.
- The Preterist view – this view is the most common view among the Roman Catholic Church (or at least was for a while) and is somewhat similar to the Historicist view. This view asserts that the book of Revelation is not a book of prophecy but is a “secret” (written in code so as not to be obviously seen as a political or historical critique by the Roman empire) text that records the history of the first century, and especially criticizes the Roman Empire.
Strengths: The text of Revelation was likely written at the very end of the 1st century (between 90 and 99 AD/CE) situating it in the perfect time to write a historical critique. Additionally the Jewish nation underwent a lot of change and unrest in the first century culminating in the destruction of the temple in the year 70.
Weaknesses: There isn't a direct reason to interpret this text as historical other than the rejection of certain oddities that come from a literal interpretation. Certain events or passages described can be seen as difficult to perfectly “fit” with 1st century occurrences.
- The Idealist/Radical Discipleship view – this view is probably the least common view both in the modern age and throughout the history of the church. That doesn't mean this view doesn't have a lot to offer, though. The idealist view does not refer to an “optimistic” view of the text, but rather stems from the Greek view of idea which was that of something ephemeral or symbolic of meaning. Essentially, this view looks at the book of Revelation as a worship narrative and as a text that can be viewed personally throughout any age. The Radical Discipleship view is similar asserting that the book of Revelation is a call to grow deeper in a personal relationship with Christ and to truly follow his commands and examples.
Strengths: This view has garnered support through the use of modern scholarship and historical-critical academia. What could be this view's greatest strength is that it views the other perspectives as mistaken at the core by asserting that the book of Revelation is very much a book to be read personally.
Weaknesses: The majority of the support of this view has not been historical, but recent within the last few centuries specifically. Additionally, this view relies on viewing almost an entire text as symbolic without providing a grounds for picking what is symbolic and what is literal.
- Social-political narrative – this view asserts that the book of Revelation is largely a critique of the Roman Empire's politics as well as the ways the Roman Empire was affecting the Jewish society and the other societies it had conquered.. This view is different from the Preterist view in that it does not view the book of Revelation as a historical document as well.
Strengths: Many of the passages in Revelation can easily be seen as a political critique or social narrative given the context the book was written in.
Weaknesses: This view has historically never had as significant of support as the Preterist view, and generally lacks a large body of scholarship to back up its views.