REVELATION IS HISTORY
So much has been written about the book of Revelation.
The wildest speculations abound, even in the Church of God.
Many of these ideas are far fetched and yet they keep on being repeated and taught, which I suppose is not surprising seeing the final Church era is said to be blind (Rev 3:17).
The true explanations of the prophecies of the book of Revelation most often are basic and simple, usually staring us right in the eye, but instead of seeing the obvious, we run off and seek after the weird and fanciful.
The Protestant Reformation, which began in the 16th century, has had a lasting influence on the understanding of the book of Revelation in the Churches of God. In the original introduction to the 1611 King James Bible, we see that the translators correctly and unashamedly identified "that man of sinne" (II Thes 2) as the Papacy. The Protestants commonly applied the Biblical "day for a year" principle to the prophecies of Rev 12 and 13, explaining them as the Catholic Church treading down "apostate" Christians for 1260 years, from the 4th century until the 16th century. In response to Protestant beliefs such as this, and as a counter to the whole Reformation movement, the Catholics instigated the Counter Reformation in an effort to dispel the new teachings.
This of necessity involved alternative explanations of prophecies.
The main thrust of the Catholic counter argument was that the time related prophecies were not talking about years, but rather about literal days. One such theory placed all of the prophesied events of the book of Revelation in the first century or two after Christ. This theory is now known as "Preterism". Another Catholic theory placed most of the events of the book of Revelation way off into the future. This school of thought is today referred to as "Futurism".
The school of prophetic interpretation that was most common a few centuries ago, both among the Reformers and the Churches of God, was "Historicism", which, very logically, sees prophecy as providing a historical overview of God's work. Church of God teachings at that time did not reflect the new Catholic teachings on prophecy, as these brethren knew full well where these fabrications had originated. The 2300 day prophecy of Daniel 8, for instance, was reckoned to mean 2300 years, and so it does. "Time, times, and half a time", as found in Dan 7:25, 12:7 and Rev 12:14, to them meant 1260 years, which is also correct.
However, in the 20th century, as a result of the leadership of Herbert W Armstrong (HWA) and others, many of the Futurist interpretations of the book of Revelation made their way into the Churches of God.
It is true that the prophecies involving the Church eras of Rev 2 and 3 were recognised by HWA as history. Other prophecies from Revelation, however, such as "the two witnesses", "the 200 million man army", "Armageddon", "the seven last plagues", "Babylon is fallen", the Beast powers of Rev 13 and 17, as well as many other Biblical prophecies such as "the great tribulation" and the "ten toes" of the Daniel 2 statue, were all assigned by him a place in the future. Unfortunately, we still carry much of this baggage with us today.
Bible chronology is essential for understanding the framework of prophecy, for God is the Master Mathematician and He does things "properly and in order" (I Cor 14:40). He is the ruler of the pages of history and has foretold this history in very figurative language in the pages of Scripture, in particular the book of Revelation.
As complicated as Revelation at first appears, it is in essence simply a description of the 2000 years of history between Christ's first coming and His second coming. Its focus is primarily on three things:
1) the people who have entered into the New Covenant with God, i.e. His Church, described mainly in chapters 2, 3, 7, 12, 14 and 19-22;
2) the people who still hold to the Old Covenant with God, i.e. the Jews, and their holy city, Jerusalem, described mainly in chapters 4-6 and 8-11;
3) the Gentile powers that opposed both these groups and occupied Jerusalem for almost the entirety of the 2000 year period, as described mainly in chapters 13, 15-18.
If Revelation is not history written in advance, we would have no Biblical account of the last 2000 years.
As it is, God has in His Word given us an overview of all of man's 6000 years, exactly as one would expect from a logical and meticulous Author.
Hopefully the following pages on the book of Revelation will be enlightening.