The most common question I get because of my views on Revelation being partially fulfilled is what do I think are the parts which are fulfilled. That is a little more complicated when you considerer that fulfilled is a term that refers to a prophecy that has come to pass. Some of the visions in Revelation are not necessarily prophecies of the future but symbolic representations of spiritual reality, political reality of the time and perhaps even spiritual lessons.
One of the best examples of this is the vision of the woman, dragon and child. In an earlier post I said there was only one artist I found so far that got the imagery closest to what is in the text. In that painting, which you can see if you click on the link, the woman is standing on the moon, has a crown of stars on her head but the artist interpreted ‘clothed’ with the sun as shining but naked which is true and she is also pregnant. Notice the picture above struggles with how to cloth the woman with the sun because they are trying to be sensitive to current moral standards and she is also not obviously pregnant. The whole vision is showing how immense and powerful Satan (the dragon) is in relationship to a naked pregnant woman who represents Israel. Despite this vulnerability, God protects her and the child she eventually gives birth to when the time comes. I don’t think this is about a future prophecy of any kind but a vision that demonstrates the protective power of God for his people and his messiah (Christ) in the face of great evil. It is a demonstration of the fact that as mighty as the dragon is, because of God’s protection, he cannot destroy God’s people or His Messiah.
There are other visions like this and could be similarly classified. If you have a vision that is a symbolic representation of a spiritual or political force then you have the possibility that it might have little or nothing to do with the prediction of a future event. My personal belief is that a good chunk of Revelation actually falls under this category because the stated purpose of the book at the very beginning is to reveal Christ and the revelation of the future is just part of that revelation of Christ, not the central issue in Revelation. To me the vision of Christ opening the Seven Seals to me is very symbolic in showing the church Christ’s authority that was given to him from God. Christ is authoritative over War, Famine, Death and Hell. He controls he natural forces of judgment and destruction which is designed to give us an different image of Christ as King and Lord. The idea of Chris as the Lion is added to what the early church would have already understood of Christ as Lamb. I don’t see the opening of the seven seals as some beginning to the Seven Year Tribulation. Quite frankly, this idea of a seven year tribulation is based on very flimsy Biblical evidence at best.
There are parts of Revelation that are prophetic and in some case I think they are fulfilled. The biggest example of this is Revelation 17-18 with the Whore of Babylon. In the context of the first century believer and the seven churches that originally received this letter, there is a pretty clear picture of who this would have been. It is Rome and the prophecy is of Her destruction and loss of political, religious and economic power. The image of her before she is fallen is one of political and spiritual power, being a whore with other nations to do business and someone responsible for the slaughter of the saints. The first century believer would have clearly seen this as Rome. The Beast she rides on is the Beast of the Sea which either represents the political powers of the first century or is a representation of the spirit of antichrist which supports her. In the end the predication is that she will be destroyed and in my mind this was fulfilled when Rome was sacked for the last time and afterwards ceased to be a world shaking force.
The real problem is that if we could understand more about how the seven churches would have understood the symbolism we would have more answers like the above where a vision is a representation of what they were facing or a prophecy that did have its fulfillment within the next few centuries.
“But what about the cataclysmic events portrayed on the ‘whole’ earth.” – My response to this is that what these seven churches considered the whole earth and what we consider the whole earth are two very different things. One of the interesting things about Revelation is that it talks about sea (singular) rather than seas (plural). It indicates the only one real sea that would have been considered which would have been the Mediterranean. The ‘whole’ earth to them would have been the world they knew which was the Roman Empire and the ‘barbarian’ lands which they knew that surrounded it. This makes some of the cataclysmic events far more local and could have had a fulfillment in some cases already.
I recognize that this is not the current trend in views of revelation. I would remind people however that our current understanding of a Seven Year Tribulation, and all the book of Revelation being some roadmap to our future is in the grand scheme of church history is only a recent phenomena that was started by a woman’s vision in the mid nineteenth century and propagandized by some very able preachers after that. It has only been around for a couple hundred years at best. Most of whom made predictions of their future based on the book and were horribly wrong. Sorry if I am going on track record this current view has yet to predict anything at all accurately. It might be time to get back to the first century readers and find out what from their viewpoint is fulfilled in the Book of Revelation.