When it comes to interpreting the Book of Revelation, and all the predictions of the end of the world, the commentator ended the one-hour program by saying: “You only have to be right once.” With these final words a brilliantly scripted National Geographic Channel one-hour presentation on the Apocalypse ended last evening at 10 p.m. CST.

The whole program must have irritated hardcore dispensationalists, who quite naturally would have felt their views got short changed. The whole dispensational package was discredited but I for one felt that it was done well. In fact the views of dispensationalists like Tim LaHaye were presented in an accurate and telling way, including the origins of the rapture theory with a fifteen your old Scottish girl, Mary MacDonald, in the 1830s. Even C. I. Scofield got mentioned, again in an accurate and not-too-favorable way.

Mention was made in the final two minutes of the program that Roman Catholicism is considering a new document (an encyclical perhaps?) on universalism that would plainly leave the door open to this being a possibility. This is clearly a much disputed issue. I am not sure what this reference had in view since the Catholic Catechism, and related Catholic teaching since Vatican II, already allows for this possibility without dogmatizing with a kind of utter certainty. More and more biblical teachers are moving in this direction, or so it seems. Again, fundamentalists will scream “heresy” at the mere mention of such a discussion but the discussion will go on either way. Faithful evangelical Christians had better take this subject far more seriously, and not in a defensive way. We need to enter into this discussion with serious interest governed by the careful study of the Holy Scripture. I am not sure many can do that given their “fear” of where the discussion comes out for some people who will disagree. A study of the church’s historical teaching is quite revealing in this regard, showing that there has always been a minority viewpoint in almost every age.

One thing seems apparent. A growing number of conservative Bible readers are no longer reading the Revelation of St. John as a literal description of something that will take place in our generation. A strong case can be made, both hermeneutically and historically, for a reading that links this book, and its coded messages, to the Roman Empire and thus to events of the first century. This was brought out very well by this worthwhile presentation. If it airs again be sure to see it. Some of you will be troubled by parts of it but you will also be taught to think about the important issues raised by the interpretation of the last book of the biblical canon.