What Should I Read on
Revelation studies is a burgeoning field at present. There is a vast amount of scholarship available to the Biblical-Theological preacher today. But as I surveyed the literature, looking for anything that might assist me as a preacher, I soon discovered the need to distinguish between the material that would be useful for the homiletic task, and that which, while interesting in its own right, would contribute little to the glorious weekly assignment before me: to feed God's people with Christ-exalting, heaven-opening messages from this wonderful book. I approach the question, "What Should I Read on Revelation," as a preacher, as one who is zealous to be the ordained instrument of God in leading Christ's sheep into the heavenly places with Christthat with John the seer, they too might be "in the Spirit on the Lord's Day" (Rev. 1:10), and see "a door standing open in heaven" (Rev. 4:1). I have been preaching through Revelation for about five months now, and am currently in chapter five. What follows is an overview of the materials that have proved most useful to me in this process. I also offer some comments on one commentary which I found to be less than profitable in order to save the penurious preacher from shooting his wad on tempting but tediously trivial tomes.
The Biblical Theologian who wants to preach through Revelation has more tools at his disposal today than ever before. While William Hendriksen's More Than Conquerors, originally published in 1939, is still useful, a wealth of new material has become available since then. Critical scholarship has been paying increasing attention to this once neglected portion of the Bible. There is a current shift in critical scholarship, across the entire face of Old and New Testament studies, from source and form criticism to a stress on the literary unity and aesthetic power of biblical literature. Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza classifies the 20th century research on Revelation according to two major types: historical-critical analyses, and literary-functional interpretation.1
The older historical-critical methodology attributed the doublets, inconsistencies, and repetitions of the text to a mysterious editorial process in which various Jewish and Christian apocalyptic sources were patched together into the quilt we now know as Revelation. The classic attempt to work this out was that of R. H. Charles in his two-volume commentary (1920) for the International Critical Commentary edited by Driver, Plummer, and Briggs. More recently (1975) J. M. Ford put forth a new source hypothesis in which two apocalypses from John the Baptist and his school were redacted by a Baptist disciple who had become a follower of Jesus (The Anchor Bible). Ford's novel theory has not been generally received. Along these lines, scholars in the historical-critical camp have also spent much energy attempting to discern the Sitz im Leben ("life setting") of the so-called liturgical and hymnic materials in the book. This form-critical approach is often tied in with a history-of-religions analysis which seeks to trace elements of Revelation to an original matrix in Jewish apocalyptic, Hellenistic mythology, or early Christian prophetic-eschatological forms.
Schüssler Fiorenza believes that this historical-critical method is now beginning to fade into the background and that a paradigm shift is taking place in the scholarly interpretation of Revelation. "The current
1 Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, "Revelation," in The New Testament and Its Modern Interpreters, ed. Eldon Jay Epp and George W. MacRae (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989), pp. 407-27.
progress in the historical-critical analysis of Revelation moves in a way parallel to that of other NT writings. Just as in other areas the stress on source and form criticism has been replaced by a stress on redaction criticism, so in scholarship on Revelation the source and compilation theories of the last century have given way to the scholarly consensus that Revelation is the theological work of one author."2 She states that Revelation is no longer seen as Jewish writing superficially edited by later Christian redactors, but as "an authentic Christian prophetic-apocalyptic work addressed to the situation and problems of the Christian church in western Asia Minor".3 As a result, the shift is now away from historical-critical analyses to literary-functional interpretations which focus on Revelation's literary structure, and the imaginative, evocative power of its symbolic language. This does not mean that the traditional critical methodologies have been totally abandoned, but critical scholars now recognize that the meaning of Revelation's symbolic language cannot be derived from an archeological excavation of the historical traditions that lie behind the text, but by studying the literary conventions and social function of apocalyptic symbolic discourse as found in the text before us.
With these developments in mind, I now offer the following comments on a selection of some recent Revelation scholarship. I include not only commentaries but other monographs and articles of which the Biblical-Theological preacher or student should be aware. My order of treatment is basically alphabetical.
Aune, David. Revelation 1-5. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word Books, 1997.4
In light of the emerging literary paradigm, Aune's recent massive commentary, which may seem full of promise at first, turns out to be a major _________________________
2 Fiorenza, op. cit., p. 415.
4 Volumes two and three are now available, but I have not been able to read them as of the writing of this review.
disappointment. Aune states in his preface that out of the enormous bibliography of books and articles on Revelation, he is "particularly indebted to the rich and creative commentaries of Wilhelm Bousset and R. H. Charles" (p. xii). Aune self-consciously places himself in the older historical-critical tradition of Revelation studies, striving to update Charles' search for the elusive textual sources, doublets, seams, editors, and redactors. Aune's commentary reveals the profile of a well-funded but uninspired, plodding academic who views commentary writing as the literary equivalent of the archeological task of amassing and cataloguing a mind-numbing mountain of broken potsherds. No doubt he is an erudite scholar. But he lacks theological and literary sensitivity. He is more interested in textual criticism than understanding the symbolismeven on an aesthetic, much less a theological level.
It appears that Aune had access to computer programs like Thesarus Lingua Graecae, which enabled him to quarry Greco-Roman, Hellenistic, Rabbinic, Qumranic, Gnostic, and early Christian apocalyptic literature for similar words and phrases. After cataloguing every conceivable cross-reference in the ancient world, one would have expected Aune to draw some conclusions regarding the most likely source of influence. But such scholarly weighing and sifting of the evidence rarely occurs. After trying the reader's patience, he simply moves on to the next word and repeats his parallelomania with the same sterile results. If any significance at all is derived from such research, Aune usually relates it to his own hypothetical speculations regarding the sources, composition, and final editing of the book by an unknown Jewish apocalyptist turned Christian prophet.
In spite of these problems, sections 1-4 of the introduction on authorship, date, genre, and literary structure are worth reading. While the Biblical-Theological preacher will disagree with the majority of Aune's conclusions (such as his rejection of recapitulation as a major structural device), Aune's up-to-date survey of the scholarship should be consulted. If you hesitate to go out and plunk down $32.99 (retail) for each of the three volumes, you may be better off just checking out volume one from the library to read the introduction and glean references from his extensive bibliography.
Barr, David L. "The Apocalypse as a Symbolic Transformation of the World: A Literary Analysis." Interpretation 38 (1984) 39-50.
If Aune is blissfully unaware of the new literary paradigm heralded by Schüssler Fiorenza, David Barr offers a reading of the Apocalypse that takes this exciting new approach into account. Taking his cue from the work of Northrop Frye, Barr argues that Revelation, like all literature, creates its own worlda world of angels and monsters, whores and virgins, Christ and Antichrist. "The reader/hearer is asked to believe, then, that there exists a world above this one where it is possible to see 'what must soon take place' (1:1), a world into which John has entered by means of the spirit. Let us, too, ascend" (p. 40). Barr's thesis is that John uses symbolic language to engage in a process Barr calls "symbolic transformation" by which traditional symbols are reversed and infused with new meaning. Take, for example, the transformation in Rev. 5 of the symbols of power and conquest into images of suffering and weakness. John is told that "the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered." He then sees "a Lamb standing as though it had been slain." John is making a bold theological assertion: the Lamb is the Lion, the victim is the victor. Jesus has conquered through suffering and weakness rather than by might. Barr concludes that "the believing community which encountered the Apocalypse as a living performance would be transformed, and so would the world they live in, for they would understand that world differently" (p. 49). Revelation produces a sort of catharsis, or intellectual clarification, which changes the hearer and brings him into another world, a world where Lambs conquer and victims become victors. As a result, the Christians of Asia Minor are no longer suffering helplessly at the hands of Rome. They are now participants in the overthrow of evil and the establishment of God's kingdom.
This analysis has many parallels with that of Schüssler Fiorenza, who speaks of this process as "a poetic-rhetorical construction of an alternative symbolic universe."5 "John seeks to motivate and encourage Christians in Asia Minor who have experienced harassment and exploitation. He does this not simply by writing a letter of exhortation but by creating a new plausibility structure and symbolic universe within the framework of a prophetic letter. Apocalyptic vision and explicit admonition have the same functions. Revelation provides the vision of an alternative world intended to encourage Christians and to enhance their staying power in the face of suffering and harassment."6
It is not clear whether Barr and Schüssler Fiorenza believe this new narrative world to be objectively realas we orthodox Biblical-Theologians insist. But that lingering doubt does not detract from the usefulness of either scholar's contribution. They help us to see that the symbolism of Revelation operates not as a coded message, but as a means of being transformed by the renewing of our minds according to the heavenly world. Grasping this is the key to Biblical-Theological kerygmatic proclamation from Revelation.
Bauckham, Richard. The Theology of the Book of Revelation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
This book is part of the New Testament Theology series edited by James D. G. Dunn. It is not structured as a commentary, but it does generally follow the order of Revelation itself, though unfortunately there is no Scripture index. Bauckham shows that Revelation contains just as much profound theology as Paul's epistles, including, in his estimation, the most developed Trinitarian theology of the entire New Testament. He argues that Revelation is strongly theocentric in its vision and oriented toward the future establishment of God's Kingdom. Some of the themes Bauckham addresses include the church's prophetic witness, overcoming, and the relation between creation, redemption, and eschatology, to name a few.
5 Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), p. 183.
6 Schüssler Fiorenza, "Revelation," in The Books of the Bible, Bernhard W. Anderson, ed. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989), pp. 375f.
Chapter four is very helpful in its survey of some of the major motifs of Revelation. Christ's work is portrayed using three major symbolic themes: Messianic war, the eschatological exodus, and witness. Bauckham traces each of these symbols to their Old Testament background and shows how Revelation engages in Biblical Theology as it uses these symbols to create a distinctive contribution to the New Testament's theological interpretation of the person and work of Christ.
Certain caveats are in order. First, Bauckham has a quasi-universalistic optimism concerning the success of the prophetic ministry of the two witnesses (the church) in Rev. 11. He recognizes that Revelation does not hold out the hope of an unpopulated hell, but he wants to push the text in a direction that is against the grain of the predominant theme of judgment and the outpouring of divine wrath. Second, Bauckham believes that Revelation offers a prophetic critique of Roman power and oppression that makes John sound like an advocate of modern liberation theology.7 It is clear that for Bauckham the relevance of Revelation is found in this aspect of its message, thus prostituting the text to a this-worldly agenda, denying John's clarion call to overcome this passing world in order to obtain end-time blessedness in the eschatological New Creation. If the reader keeps these caveats in mind, however, there are many positive insights for the Biblical-Theological preacher to glean from Bauckham. Even though his theology is not totally orthodox, he has greater sensitivity to the theological significance of Revelation's symbolic imagery than most commentators.8
Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.
7 This "liberation theology" reading of Revelation is also featured in the work of Schüssler Fiorenza (see previous notes).
8 The student may also wish to consult Bauckham's collection of previously published articles on various topics such as the structure of Revelation, the use of apocalyptic traditions, the Messianic war motif, and other interesting issues: The Climax of Prophecy: Studies in the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1993)
Finally! Many of us having been waiting for Beale's commentary for years. We had several anticipations of what Beale was up to based on his earlier work on Revelation, mostly dealing with its Danielic background.9 In many ways, Beale has accomplished what we have needed for a long time: the definitive, exegetical, amillennial commentary on Revelation. Beale is Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. As a former colleague of Meredith G. Kline, he has clearly been influenced by Kline's thought on Revelation, particularly with regard to the structure of the book, which he deals with at length, even though not fully aligning himself with Kline's structure. With regard to the exegesis of the millennium (Rev. 20:1-6), Beale's dependence on Kline's work on this text is even more pronounced.
Beale provides what is lacking in Aune: he cites the cross-references to the Old Testament, the intertestamental Jewish literature, and Greco-Roman sources, but he also weighs the evidence and provides guidance in making sense out of the information. Unlike Aune, he generally recognizes the primacy of the Old Testament background (especially Daniel and Ezekiel), placing less weight on possible pagan sources for symbolic meaning. This one feature of Beale is what makes his commentary so helpful in contrast with Aune. Even if one does not agree with his conclusions at each point, all possible Old Testament allusions are dealt with in depth, as well as the important points of continuity between Revelation and the intertestamental Jewish literature.
Concerning the purpose of the symbolism, Beale writes: "The symbols have a parabolic function and are intended to encourage and exhort the audience. They portray a transcendent new creation that has penetrated the present old world through the death and resurrection of Christ and the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost. John's vision communicates values that run counter to the values of the old world and provide 'a structure of meaning that grounds' the lives of Christians in the
9 G. K. Beale, "The Influence of Daniel upon the Structure and Theology of John's Apocalypse," JETS 27 (1984) 413-23; The Use of Daniel in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature and in the Revelation of St. John (Lanham: University Press of America, 1984).
new world and spells out the eternal significance and consequences of Christ's death, life, and resurrection and of the readers' present choices and behavior. John thus seeks to motivate the readers not to compromise with the world but to align their thoughts and behavior with the God-centered standards of the new creation. They are to see their own situation in this world in the light of the new world, which is now their true home" (p. 69). A very helpful summary of the book as a whole. Notice that Beale has gone beyond the traditional view that Revelation simply seeks to comfort Christians in the midst of persecution (e.g., Hendriksen), and adds the element of exhortation and the call to live in light of the heavenly, eschatological Kingdom.
I have not worked my way through the whole commentary yet, since I am still in chapter five in my preaching schedule, but so far I find myself turning to Beale's commentary first. Beale's writing style is sometimes less than fluid, but he never fails to cover all the essential issues with balanced judgment and Biblical-Theological awareness.
Boring, Eugene M. Revelation. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1989.
The Interpretation commentary series is aimed directly at the needs of the preacher and teacher. While its basic theological orientation may be characterized as somewhat neo-orthodox, the series in general, and Boring's contribution in particular, is quite good at getting at the theological and kerygmatic message of the text. After Beale I find myself continually returning to Boring for insight. Boring's treatment of the religio-political crisis facing the churches of Asia Minor at the end of the first century is concise and helpful (pp. 13-23). His essay on interpreting the symbolic language of Revelation, which he calls "non-objectifying" and "tensive, evocative, and polyvalent" (pp. 51-59), contains much that can be cautiously appropriated by the Biblical-Theologian.10 On the
10 However, cf. Beale's warning against setting up too strong of an antithesis between propositional and mythological language (Beale, pp. 65-69).
whole, Boring's non-evangelical theological background makes him less trustworthy than Beale (e.g., like Bauckham, he advocates a form of universalism), but his concise comments are highly readable, enjoyable, and often thought-provoking for the Biblical-Theological preacher.
Boring, Eugene M. "Narrative Christology in the Apocalypse." Catholic Biblical Quarterly 54 (1992) 702-23.
In this stimulating article, Boring pushes beyond the approach he took in his commentary by drawing on the narrative theology of Hans Frei's The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative (1974). Boring argues that Revelation's Christology is a narrative Christology. The idea "Christ" implies a list of characters and a dramatic plot-line stretching from creation, to incarnation, death, resurrection, and second coming. Although genre analysis indicates that Revelation is a vision, an apocalypse and a letter all in one, it nevertheless contains an indispensable narrative element. Boring identifies four levels of narrativity in ascending degrees of contextual scope: John's/the Churches' story; Christ's story; the world's story; and the presupposed narrative world (God's story). John's story and the story of the seven churches (level one) is actually their participation in Christ's story (level two). Just as Christ conquered through faithful witness unto death, so the Christian church hears the call of discipleship to conquer through faithful witness unto death. The world's story (level three) is also Christologically conditioned, since all the violent terror of the judgments proceed from a scroll in the hand of a slain Lamb. And finally, all three levels imply the existence of a larger macronarrativethe presupposed narrative of God's story. The macronarrative is the story of creation, fall, the death of Christ, the present activity of Christ in heaven, and consummationfrom protology to eschatology. The death of Christ is the key moment in this drama. John shows little interest in the historical Jesus except for his death. Christ's death was an act of divine sovereignty over a rebellious world for through death he has conquered and reclaimed creation for himself.
Boring argues that these four levels of narrativity allow John to use "strategies of indirection" rather than employing a straightforward linear method of story-telling. Neither continuous chronology nor recapitulation can capture the complexity of the narrative. Rather, Boring agrees with Schüssler Fiorenza's analysis that Revelation is a three-dimensional spiral.11 Another problem with the traditional linear chronology vs. recapitulation debate is that it has an exclusively referential (Enlightenment) conception of meaning. The meaning of the story is not beyond the story but in it. The story functions as truth for those who live "in" it as their story. However, the referential aspect cannot be avoided. The mighty acts of God from creation to eschaton (with the Christ event as the defining center) are objective truths for those who live in this narrative world.
Bible-believing Christians will have problems with the implied relativism of the qualifying phrase, "for those who live in this narrative world." Relativism seems to be a problem that continues to plague narrative theology today. Nevertheless we can benefit from Boring's application of this new hermeneutical method to Revelation in several ways. First, we can learn to be more sensitive to the dramatic and narrative elements of the book. Rather than attempting to translate the book into an eschatological end-times chronological chart, we can step back and appreciate the literary power of the narrative world into which John wants to bring us.
Second, unlike John's Gospel, Revelation presupposes Christ's story rather than making it the central dramatic plot-line. However, Revelation is to the fourth Gospel what Acts is to Luke: it is the continuation of the risen Christ's present activity in the church and the world. As B. B. Warfield put it: "As Luke adjoined to his Acts of the earthly Christ Acts also of the risen Christ, conquering the world from Jerusalem to Rome, and establishing his Church in the face of all opposition, so John, to his Acts of the God become man, adjoins the Acts of the man become God, triumphing not only over one age, but over all ages, not only establishing, but perfecting, his Church; and thus he brings the New
11 Schüssler Fiorenza, The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment, pp. 5-6, 171-73.
Testament and the Bible to its capstone and crown."12 Revelation is therefore fundamentally, as Boring puts it, Christology in the narrative mode. It is Christology with a special reference to the present activity of the living Christ in heaven, as the ruler of the kings of the earth, the Alpha-Originator who is also the Omega-Consummator. Hence, the book is called the Apocalypse or Unveiling of (the exalted) Jesus Christ.
Third, what John is doing in Revelation is no different than what he is doing in the fourth Gospel. The Christological narrative is a call to discipleship by way of participation. The church is called to live and move and have her being in the narrative world defined by God in Christ. The church's story is hidden with Christ in God. Christ achieved the victory through being the victim; the church too must be conformed to his image by faithfulness even to death in the midst of an antagonistic pagan environment.
deSilva, David A. "The Social Setting of the Revelation to John: Conflicts Within, Fears Without." Westminster Theological Journal 54 (1992) 273-302.
At the outset deSilva states that the aim of his study is "to explore how work in sociology of religion leads to clarification of the social dimension of the Revelation of John" (p. 273). In the first section of his article, he deals with the "historical location" of the bookby which he means the whole historical situation and context. He addresses the difficult questions of date and whether persecution was in fact in progress at the time of the writing. In the second section, deSilva addresses "the author's relationship to the communities" of the churches of Asia Minor. In section three, which is the heart of the article, he surveys the messages to the seven churches to examine the social tensions between the church and the synagogue, between the church and the imperial cult, and internal tensions within the churches. This section is helpful
12 "The Book of Revelation," Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield - II, ed. by John E. Meeter (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1973), p. 87.
for clarifying the social and religious context facing the churches of Asia Minor. Although some of deSilva's suggestions are questionable in my opinion, there is much that can be gleaned from his sociological analysis.13
In the closing sections (four through six), he appeals to the insights of sociologist Peter Berger to argue that "the prophetic work of John might thus have its most far-reaching effect on the church, serving the function of evoking the hearers' commitment to continuing and fortifying the identity of the communitas over against the societas, thus to maintain their unconditional allegiance to God revealed in Christ against both the coercive and seductive drives towards compromise with the imperial world" (p. 301). Revelation is thus prophetic, not just in the future-oriented, predictive sense, but in the Old Testament sense of a call to repentance and renewed commitment to the Lord of the covenant.
McGinn, Bernard, ed. "Introduction." Apocalyptic Spirituality: Treatises and Letters of Lactantius, Adso of Montier-En-Der, Joachim of Fiore, the Spiritual Franciscans, Savonarola. The Classics of Western Spirituality Series. New York: Paulist Press, 1979.
The value of this book is the introduction. McGinn is an expert on apocalyptic movements, particularly those of the Middle Ages. His insights concerning the social function of apocalypticism are helpful. He understands apocalypticism to be "a particular form of eschatology, a species of a broader genus that covers any type of belief that looks forward to the end of history as that which gives structure and meaning to the whole. Thus in the Old Testament there is prophetic eschatology that can be distinguished from an apocalyptic eschatology . . . . What sets off apocalypticism from general eschatology is the sense of the proximity of the end" (p. 5).
13 Other sociological studies of Revelation include Adela Yarbro Collins, Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of the Apocalypse (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984), and L. L. Thompson, The Book of Revelation: Apocalypse and Empire (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990). These studies are marred, however, by a denial that the Christians of Asia Minor were experiencing any imperial persecution at the time.
"Through the book of the apocalyptic seer a message from the heavenly realm is revealed that proclaims a three-act historical drama of present trial, imminent judgment, and future salvation. This triple pattern is implicitly or explicitly put within the framework of a sense of the total structure of history, frequently a survey of the ages of the world or the succession of empires. A hope for the coming salvation of the just both individually and collectively provides the prime motive for endurance of present trials" (p. 6).
"It is true that almost every apocalyptic text can be related to some time of crisis, frequently one of persecution . . . . But we may well ask if crisis really is the cause of apocalypticism and if consolation forms its only message . . . . Perhaps the apocalypticist might be better described as one on the lookout for crisis, rather than one who merely reacts to it when it happens. The apocalyptic mentality is a particular form of pre-understanding rather than a mere way of responding. More sensitive to change than the mass of their fellows, apocalypticists are more in need of a religious structure within which to absorb and give meaning to the anxieties that always accompany existence and change" (p. 8).
"The purposes for which apocalyptic messages were spread abroad are far too complex to be exhausted under the rubric of consolation alone. The apocalypticist not only strives to console the believer with the hope of coming vindication, but he also tries to strengthen him to endure and to rouse him to resist" (p. 9).
McGinn's insights are especially applicable to the book of Revelation, which is clearly not only given to console the suffering believer, but to call the church to resist the Roman beast and overcome in spite of the threats this will bring to her earthly security in this life. The opening chapters of the book set the tone for the rest of the book: the risen Christ addresses his church and says, "Do not compromise with the pagan environment, but overcome even as I also overcame through death and am now seated on my Father's throne" (Rev. 3:21).
Mathewson, Dave. "Revelation in Recent Genre Criticism: Some Implications for Interpretation." Trinity Journal 13 (1992) 193-213.
The value of Mathewson's article is that it provides the best basic introduction to the discussion and debate in the past twenty years regarding the genre of Revelation. Is it an apocalypse or a prophecy or both? If it is an apocalypse, what common elements are found in all apocalyptic literature that set this genre off from all others? Mathewson traces the history of the scholarly search for a definition of apocalyptic literature. He surveys the major players in the debate: the Apocalypse Group of the Society of Biblical Literature's (SBL) Genre Project, which published its results in Semeia 14 (1979); the Uppsala Colloquium on Apocalypticism (1979); a second SBL seminar that published its results in Semeia 36 (1986); Christopher Rowland's The Open Heaven (1982); and miscellaneous idiosyncratic contributions. Of these, the two Semeia issues devoted to apocalypticism are certainly the most important. No scholar writing on the subject of apocalypticism today can ignore the seminal scholarship of the SBL Apocalypse Group. If you do not have access to them or you don't want to wade through all the technical material, Mathewson's summary is the place to start in order to get your bearings.
In addition to the question of definition, Mathewson also deals with the scholarly debate regarding the function of apocalyptic literature. His conclusion is helpful: "The function of apocalyptic literature is generally seen to be . . . exhorting and consoling the righteous oppressed by means of the transcendent perspective it provides on reality. That is, the otherwordly and eschatological character of apocalypses provide the perspective from which the present world is to be viewed and to which behavior is to conform" (p. 199). Once again, we see the importance of going beyond the simplistic formula "Revelation as comfort for persecuted Christians," to see a strong exhortational function in the book as well.14
14 "Apocalypse is a genre in which a revelation is given by God, to a human seer, through an otherworldly mediator, disclosing the future events and/or transcendent reality, which is intended to affect the understanding and behavior of the audience." Charles H. Talbert, The Apocalypse: A Reading of the Revelation of John (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press,
After surveying the scholarly landscape, Mathewson considers the implications of this research for the interpreter and preacher of Revelation. He concludes that the book is both apocalyptic and prophetic. Many treatments of Revelation are reductionistic. They either treat Revelation solely as an apocalypse, and see the images as only archetypal and trans-historical realities that have no concrete historical fulfillment; or they treat Revelation in exclusively prophetic terms in order to decode a literal chronology of future events. Mathewson argues (and I think correctly) that a balanced reading must account for both the apocalyptic and the prophetic perspectives. This cautionary word is needed in light of the current trend in scholarship today which tends to view apocalyptic not as an authoritative word from God concerning the actual future of the world, but simply as a mythological projection of present hopes and fears into a literary tale of the future not meant to be taken seriously.
My ministry has been greatly enhanced by studying all of the above materials, although "greatly" would be an overstatement for Aune's commentary. I find that in my weekly sermon preparation I rely most heavily on the commentaries of Beale and Boring. Boring is definitely not boring, and you can learn a great deal from Beale. I also strongly recommend Bauckham's compact Theology of the Book of Revelation, which is very helpful for the Biblical-Theological preacher. My recommendation to the preacher is to purchase and pore over the three B's: Bauckham, Beale, and Boring.15
1994), p. 4. Talbert argues that Revelation is not "persecution literature" (a call to endurance in the midst of suffering) but "anti-assimilation literature" (a call to radical Christian commitment, particularly first-commandment faithfulness in a time when many Christians were advocating a policy of accommodation to pagan culture).
15 If I have time I also try to check the historic premillennial commentaries by Mounce and Ladd, as well as the amillennial treatment of Hendriksen _ all three of which have judicious, even if less than scintillating, comments.
Let me wrap up this survey of selected Revelation scholarship by drawing three conclusions:
1. The shift in the late 70s from historical-critical analyses to literary-functional interpretations of Revelation has created a flood of insightful material coming largely from the non-evangelical tradition. Now that most research on Revelation has turned aside from the sterile and futile search for source documents and redactors (David Aune being the egregious retrograde exception!), the literary and aesthetic dimensions of the text are receiving much more attention. Scholars such as Barr, Bauckham, Boring, and Schüssler Fiorenza have done much stimulating work on the nature and function of apocalyptic symbolism. To be sure, certain troubling themes arise in their writings (e.g., liberation theology; universalism), but the discerning reader can glean the good grain amid the chaff. As Vos once said in another connection, "Under the control of God exegetical good not seldom comes out of critical evil."16
2. In addition to this shift from compilation to composition, from speculated Ur-text to canonical text, we also see many positive insights coming out of various sociological approaches to the text. I have included two examples of such study (deSilva and McGinn), in addition to the research concerning the social function of apocalyptic literature cited by Mathewson. The significance of this is that the book of Revelation is fundamentally misconstrued if it is read merely as a tract of consolation and comfort for suffering believers. It is that, but it is also much more: it is a call to arms, a call to engage in the eschatological conflict of the ages by overcoming even as Christ overcame, through resistance to the point of death. Thus one of the purposes of the book is to stimulate a complacent and compromised church (Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea) to total covenant loyalty to Christ in the facof the false religious claims of the Roman empire. Those who participatein the false religious system of Babylon the Great are the harlot Jezebel, the anti-bride (Rev. 2:20-22; 17:1ff). Those who are loyal to Christ are the faithful
16 "The Eschatology of the Psalter," in The Pauline Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1961), p. 325f.
bride, the New Jerusalem (Rev. 19:7-9; 21:2, 9-11).
3. The purpose and function of the apocalyptic imagery in Revelation, then, is the renewal of our minds and the accompanying consecration and new obedience that flow from that renewal (Rom. 12:1-2). The imagery functions not only to assure us that God and the Lamb are sovereign in heaven above, and that they will vindicate the suffering servants of God, but to provide the indicative that stands behind the imperative of chapters two and three. The imagery offers a transcendent, heavenly perspective on the world. We see God, his Christ, ourselves (the church), and our enemies in a different light. We do not evaluate ourselves according to the flesh (2 Cor. 5:16), but according to our heavenly identity in Christ in the heavenly places. Caught up with John into the heavenly world, we see our true identity as the 24 elders before God's throne, as the 144,000 sealed by God, as a mighty army clothed in white, and as the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. Likewise the symbolic imagery grants us a mind-renewing perspective on the true identity of our enemies (the dragon, the beasts, etc.), and their ultimate end in judgment. Once our minds are thoroughly renewed by means of this symbolic transformation, the mighty "therefore" of the Christologically-conditioned imperative makes its claim upon us. No longer is there any room for rationalizing away our little compromises with the world in order to make our earthly life more secure. Away with such thoughts! Having been united to the Lamb who has overcome by his blood, we too must take up our cross and follow the Lamb wherever he goes (Rev. 14:4), losing our lives in this world in order to gain them in that which is to come (Rev. 21:7)!
Redeemer Orthodox Presbyterian Chapel
Sherman Oaks, California