Recommended Revelation Resources

Revelation is one of those books of the Bible that no matter how many times you read through it or study it or hear sermons on it, you always feel that you are still only just on the verge of understanding it. Or at least that’s how I feel. So in this post I want to highlight a number of resources on Revelation that I have found helpful.

Commentaries

First, some commentaries. I have read and reviewed commentaries by Michael Wilcock (Bible Speaks Today) and Alan Johnson (Expositor’s Bible Commentary). I also have the two more meaty contributions of Grant Osborne (Baker Exegetical Commentary) and Greg Beale (New International Greek Testament Commentary) sitting on my bookshelf but they will require a serious time commitment to read right through. Two other commentaries I would also like to get hold of are by Craig Keener (NIV Application Commentary) and Gordon Fee (New Covenant Commentary).

Books

In terms of general books on Revelation, the most commonly recommended is The Theology of the Book of Revelation by Richard Baukham. Within newfrontiers, our Revelation expert is John Hosier. His two books, Thinking Clearly About the End Times and The Lamb, the Beast and the Devil are both excellent. Simon Ponsonby has written a book more generally on the end times, called And the Lamb Wins.

Individual Talks

Revelation is of course almost impossible to do justice to in a single talk, but here are a few from people who really know the book inside out:

Preaching Revelation – John Hosier at Leadership International 2010

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Revelation in an hour – John Hosier

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How to read the book of Revelation – Richard Bauckham

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Also, my friend Andrew Fountain recently preached a two part series giving an overview of the book of Revelation. He has a solid grasp of the book and often teaches a longer series on it, which you can find the outline for here.

Series

Finally, I want to higlight two series of talks on Revelation that are well worth your time. The first is a six-part seminar series by Liam Thatcher, which he gave very recently at Christ Church London. I have found these extremely helpful and are a great introduction to the message of the book, presented in a very accessible style:

Also, Justin Taylor recently linked to a 26 part lecture series on Revelation by Don Carson. Carson is an excellent expositor and is rumoured to be writing the Pillar Commentary on Revelation, so I would expect these to be very thorough.

Do please let me know in the comments of any resources you would recommend in addition to these.

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.

Book Review – The Message of Revelation (Michael Wilcock)

Michael Wilcock is a regular writer for the Bible Speaks Today series, having written four on Old Testament books (the one on Chronicles is particularly good) and two New Testament titles. The book of Revelation provides its own special challenges for a series such as this one, which intends to be expository rather than academic. Wilcock admits from the start that due to the extremely diverse range of possible interpretations encountered in Revelation studies, this book falls somewhere in between the “academic and sermonic”.

Particularly important to Wilcock is the structure of the book. He argues for eight scenes, each with seven sections. Whilst in a few places, his division of the material is less than convincing, his overall scheme does make sense, and is reinforced as he goes through the book by demonstrating the parallels between corresponding sections of different scenes. The book is furnished with the RSV text (reflecting the fact that this is one of the older volumes in the BST series – originally published in 1975).

The letters to the churches are the subject of the first scene, and Wilcock stresses their relevance as the church will tend to follow the same repeating patterns of errors. Scene two concerns the seven seals – which are interpreted as suffering for the church. Throughout the book, there are a number of short excursuses, dealing with problems of interpretation. In one on the meaning of numbers, he provides a useful discussion of 12, 24, 7 and 4, which he uses as he progresses through the book.

Wilcock tries to be even-handed towards those of all schools of interpretation of Revelation, but he quickly dismisses the historicist interpretation, as he sees that each scene is capable of rewinding and going over the same period again. The general approach is reminiscent of John Stott’s recent writing on Revelation in “The Incomparable Christ”, which is is not surprising since Stott is the editor of this book. The four horsemen are thus not a sign of the end, but representative of the suffering that will go on throughout history.

In scene three (the trumpets), Wilcock is careful to harmonise with Matt 24, which he takes as the definitive guide to the end times. The trumpets are specifically warnings and suffering for the ungodly. He thankfully does not provide fanciful speculations on how these might come into effect. Scene 4 is “the drama of history”, and Wicock defends his breaking the book into scenes by showing how various “openings” mark the start of each one. The existing chapter divisions are almost all in the wrong places as far as he is concerned. The “beast from the earth” is identified as false religion, although he seems to imply that miracluous signs are always now a sign of the false church. His paraphrase of the verse about 666 was also interesting (it’s not a problem for us to work out).

Scene five is concerned with punishment for the world, and Wilcock stresses the battle of ideologies that plays throughout history between the world and the church. Many of the symbols both here and in future scenes he interprets as relating to this ideological struggle. In scene six (Babylon the Whore), there is a helpful excursus on identifying symbols and why only some are explained, where he argues that these are not so much symbols as realities viewed from another perspective. He has a particularly interesting interpretation of Rev 17:9-12, which he does not view as primarily prophetical concerning particular kings or rulers, but archetypal of worldly governmental systems.

Finally in scene seven we get onto the subject of the millenium, which is the subject of another excursus. He outlines the options, along with their strengths and weaknesses, and explains why he has chosen an amillennial interpretation. This scene, along with the next give him some opportunity for some excellent devotional reflections on the gospel (e.g. on the book of life, the bride’s garments etc). As he begins the eigth scene, he argues the case for why a book with so many sevens should have eight scenes. This is the scene of new beginnings, just as after the seven days of the week, Jesus rose on the eighth day. This vision is not just of what the church will become, but what the Lord is making us into now. The book rather unexpectedly closes with a strange section explaining that the book of Revelation is unnecessary but beneficial since it is a “sacrement”. The command not to add to the book is understood as a warning not to modify the gospel.

I have always found parts of the book of Revelation difficult to understand, and I can’t pretend to have found a complete explanation in this book. But certainly there are a number of insights that will prove very helpful as I return to study Revelation in the future, and Wilcock’s structural analysis of the book is the most convincing I have heard so far (perhaps until I read another commentary!).