One way of looking at the predicted events in Scripture is to interpret them in a non-literal manner. Many have applied this interpretive technique to the Book of Revelation. This is known as the “Idealist View,” or the “Timeless View.”
THE ISSUE: INTERPRET LITERALLY OR NOT?
The key issue in answering this question concerning the subject of the beast, the Antichrist, as well as other events contained in the Book of Revelation, is whether or not we should interpret the Bible literally.
Literal interpretation will lead one to believe the Antichrist is a person who is still to come on the scene of history.
On the other hand, spiritualizing or interpreting the persons and events in a non-literal manner will cause one to see Antichrist as something nonpersonal.
Those who have an idealized view of the Book of Revelation basically see the entire book as a simple description of the ongoing fight of good versus evil. The Book of Revelation teaches we are going to win in the end but there are no time markers to tell us when the victory will be won.
It is a timeless struggle. Indeed, according to idealism Scripture gives us no time references whatsoever with respect to the future. Consequently, they see it as a mistake to attempt to understand the various references as literal events about a literal person who either has already arrived in history, or will come at some time in the future.
Therefore, they will usually assume the Antichrist is an evil force, or some evil system. The references to the beast and his actions will be interpreted in a non-literal, symbolic manner. Everything is symbolic.
THERE IS NO PERSONAL ANTICHRIST IN THE IDEALISTIC SYSTEM
This being the case, should we understand Antichrist as an evil influence or an evil religious system? There are those who argue for either of these.
However, they insist that we should not be looking for an actual historical person, or historical religious system to fulfill what is written about the Antichrist, the beast. The Book of Revelation is not meant to be understood in that manner.
SOME PROBLEMS WITH THE IDEALIST VIEW
There are a number of objections which are raised against the idealist view. The main ones can be summed up as follows.
- Idealists Interpret Inconsistently
For one thing, they are not consistent in their interpretation. Idealists will interpret most of the Book of Revelation symbolically. Yet they will literally accept the passages which speak of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to the earth. They do believe that He will literally return.
However, once it is admitted that some of the passages are not symbolic, but are meant to be interpreted literally, then one must give explicit reasons as to why these other passages should be understood in a nonliteral manner. Idealists have never done this in a convincing manner.
- Words Do Not Mean What They Say
Furthermore, it becomes difficult to hold to the position that words do not really mean what they clearly seem to mean. According to idealism, “days” do not mean days, the “twelve tribes of Israel” do not mean the twelve tribes of Israel, the number “one thousand” does not mean one thousand, the “temple” does mean the temple, the “two periods of three and one half years” do not really mean three and one half years, the “two witnesses” are not really two people and the “beast, the Antichrist” is not really a person, etc.
Idealists do not believe these can be seen as actual places, times and persons in history. These references are viewed as symbols that may refer to various places, persons and events throughout history, but they do not refer exclusively to any particular place, person or event in history.
The problem with this is determining what they do mean. This is the fatal problem with idealism. Nobody can agree what these symbols actually represent. Instead of coming to some consensus about the meaning of these symbols, commentators contradict one another. This reveals how meaningless such a method of interpretation is. If a symbol can be used to mean anything and everything, then ultimately it means nothing! This is what one ends up with in the idealistic system.
Therefore, God’s communication, the Bible, is now left in the hands of each reader to provide their own meaning to the text. It is no wonder that no consensus can be reached among interpreters who view Bible prophecy in an idealistic manner.
- There Is A Literal Object Behind Every Symbol
Nobody discounts the fact that there are symbols in Scripture. However, when someone says that a passage is symbolic, the question which should be asked of them is, “Symbolic of what?” The symbol has to mean something.
The issue of course is this: what does it mean? The fact that those who hold the idealist view cannot come to any consensus on the meaning of these symbols makes their method of interpretation highly suspect.
ANTICHRIST SHOULD BE UNDERSTOOD AS A LITERAL PERSON WHO IS STILL TO COME
The conclusion is that idealism is not the way to interpret the New Testament references to the beast, the Antichrist. We are dealing with a coming person, not a symbol or idea.
Therefore, idealism provides no real answer as to the question of Antichrist.
SUMMARY – THE IDEALIST VIEW
Those who hold the idealist view of the Book of Revelation do not believe that a personal Antichrist has come in the past, or will even come on the scene of history in the future. They view Revelation as a timeless struggle. The terms used in the book such as the beast, 144,000, two witnesses, false prophet, Armageddon, etc. are not to be understood in a literal manner, but rather symbolically. They are symbols of the timeless struggle of good versus evil. Hardly anything in the Book of Revelation is to be understood literally.
Consequently idealists believe that it is wrong to see the events in Revelation as having been fulfilled in the past or that they will be fulfilled in the future. Therefore, there is no such thing as a personal Antichrist who has come, or who is to come. Antichrist is a symbol.
Idealism has been criticized on a number of fronts. For one thing, it does not take seriously the many literal references in the Book of Revelation.
In other words, things do not mean what they clearly appear to mean. To say days do not mean days, persons do not mean persons, and specific places do not specific places, does injustice to the words of the Lord. The fact that idealists cannot agree among themselves, as to what these symbols are symbolic of, further shows the meaninglessness of their comments.
There is a better answer as to the way the subject of the Antichrist should be viewed. The better way is to assume a personal Antichrist is still to come.
(Source: The Final Antichrist – Don Stewart)