Book Review – REBC Revelation (Alan Johnson)

This commentary is from the same volume as Hebrews and 1-3 John I reviewed previously and shares the excellent layout I mentioned in those reviews. It weighs in at 220 or so pages, which makes it just about possible to use as a study guide as you work through Revelation. The introduction discusses dating although the author admits that both authorship and dating are hard to determine. He expresses doubts over the preterist view and himself adopts a futurist-symbolical view.

The commentary itself is not so preoccupied with determining the structure of the book as others I have seen and he is wary of attempts to tie different symbols to specific historical people or fanciful speculations about future events. In a few places he notes his disagreements with the dispensational interpretation of Revelation. He sees some of the letters to the churches as warning against loss of salvation.

He sees the seals as events preparatory to the final consumation, but not necessarily specific events – they may just be general conditions as in the Olivet discourse. He discusses the use of “Israel” to mean the church and considers that this meaning may just have been coming into use at the time of the writing of Revelation. He sees chapter 11 as refering to the church rather than the Jewish people. He considers the “antichrist” to be both theological heresy and possibly a future character. He opts for understanding 666 simply as a trinity of evil rather than refering to Nero or someone else. The mark of the beast speaks of socioeconomic sanctions against Christians.

He emphasises the victory won at the cross, and shows how even in Revelation the kingdom is both now and yet to come. In a few places he cautions against the trend to downplay the doctrine of hell – it may be extremely distateful to us, but it has the support of Scripture and Jesus himself. Similarly he argues against universalism in a few places. He does not equate Babylon with Rome, prefering to see it as a transhistorical reality expressing the total culture of a world apart from God. Some space is given to discussing the Nero redivivus myth and arguing against identifying the seven hills with successive emporers.

When it comes to the millennium, Johnson gives a brief and fair summary of options and indicates that he is historic, nondispensational premillennial. He believes that part of the reason for the millennium is for humanity to learn about the deep-rootedness of its own sinful nature – we will not be perfect before the eternal state even with Jesus dwelling with us on earth. In chapter 20 he notes that in the New Testament, judgement always proceeds on the basis of works, with a long list of supporting Scriptures. It is the book of life though that is decisive – the works reveal your true loyalties. When discussing the bride-city of chapter 21, he shows how this imagery emphasises both the relationship we will have with God, and the social relationships we will have with one another in heaven.

Though Revelation is a book that can easily bog you down in possible options for interpretation, I feel Alan Johnson has stuck well to the goal of this series to produce a commentary for preachers. It gives enough background information to give you confidence in tackling the passage, and does not ignore theological and practical concerns. His respect for Scripture as the word of God also shines through the commentary.

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