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New Testament Commentary Recommendations (13)

Revelation

We've finally arrived at the end of this brief survey of commentaries on the New Testament. Again, let me say that this has not been anything approaching an exhaustive treatment of the resources available, but was designed to help local church pastors who are in process of building their biblical and theological libraries or are preparing to preach through a particular book of the New Testament. For a more complete survey, I once again recommend D. A. Carson's New Testament Commentary Survey (Baker, 6th edition).

The book of Revelation is the most difficult to address for the simple fact that, unlike the rest of the New Testament, one's interpretive approach to the book dictates the relative value placed on the many volumes available. So here is what I propose to do. I'm going to list the best treatments of Revelation based on each of the major interpretive schools of thought. You should know, if you don't already, that I embrace an Amillennial eschatology, and my recommendations for the book of Revelation will reflect that perspective.

But before we look at individual commentaries, I want to recommend a number of more general works on Revelation that are very helpful and worthy of your time.

Richard Bauckham has written two extremely helpful books, both of which I strongly recommend. I cannot endorse too highly his book, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation (T & T Clark, 1993, 550 pp.). This is a collection of essays on a variety of themes in Revelation, all of which are informative and challenging. The material on the number of the Beast (666) is itself worth the (very high) price of the book. A shorter treatment of many of the same themes is found in The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge University Press, 1993, 169 pp.).

You will also be greatly aided in your attempt to understand Revelation by reading Four Views on the Book of Revelation, edited by C. Marvin Pate (Zondervan, 1998, 252 pp.). The views represented in this book are the Preterist, the Idealist, Progressive Dispensationalist, and Classical Dispensationalist.

The best in-depth and scholarly treatment of the seven letters of Revelation 2-3 is Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (JSOT Press, 1986, 338 pp.). I found this to be extremely helpful when I was writing my own book, To the One Who Conquers: 50 Daily Meditations on the Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3 (Crossway, 2008, 239 pp.).

An unusual, but very helpful, volume is Steve Gregg, Revelation: Four Views, A Parallel Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1997, 528 pp.). The four views are the Historicist, Preterist, Futurist, and Spiritual (or Idealist). He provides an overview of the book in four parallel columns, with each interpretive scheme of the passage under consideration. This is an excellent resource to have available.

I now turn to commentaries that defend the Amillennial point of view. These generally speaking are either idealist in their interpretation or provide something of an eclectic approach that also incorporates elements of the preterist and futurist schools of thought.

At the head of the class is G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, in The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 1999, 1245 pp.). This is a massive work, with extremely detailed exegetical analysis of the Greek text. If you don't read Greek, you may struggle with Beale, but it is a struggle that will bring you great reward. When I taught through Revelation in 1999-2000, I read every word of Beale's commentary. You may not be inclined to do so yourself, but I encourage you to make the effort.

A more manageable amillennial treatment of the book is Stephen S. Smalley, The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse (IVP, 2005, 633 pp.). Smalley is also geared for the reader of Greek and is greatly dependent on Beale's work.

The single best commentary for those who read only English is Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation (P & R Publishing, 2001, 384 pp.). This is simply superb. On occasion Johnson will suggest a strange interpretation, but this is a great resource for the average pastor.

If you are somewhat new to the book of Revelation and feel overwhelmed by all the interpretive options, I recommend you start with Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation (P & R Publishing, 2000, 213 pp.). This isn't a commentary per se, but an overview of the structure and flow of the book that puts in easy and understandable terms the more difficult portions of Revelation. So, if you've avoided preaching through Revelation for fear of getting lost in the eschatological details, get Poythress.

I have to say something about William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation (Baker, 1939 [the 22nd printing was released in 1977], 285 pp.). Beale, Johnson, and Poythress are all better than Hendriksen, but the latter was my first introduction to reading the book in light of the principle of recapitulation (in which the book contains multiple parallel portrayals, each of which describes events during the course of the church age from slightly different perspectives).

An excellent, short treatment for the reader of English is Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation, originally published under the title, I Saw Heaven Opened (IVP, 1975, 240 pp.).

If you want a dispensational, pre-tribulational, premillennial treatment of the book, you can do no better than to read my former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Moody Press, 1971 [1966], 347 pp.). A more comprehensive and exegetical analysis from this eschatological perspective is provided by Robert L. Thomas in two volumes: Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary (Moody Press, 1992, 524 pp.), and Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Moody Press, 1995, 690 pp.). Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker, 2002, 869 pp.) is less dispensational but still holds a futurist, premillennial interpretation. If you must choose between Osborne and Thomas, get Osborne.

There are several very good treatments from the perspective of historic (non-dispensational) premillennialism. The best, in my opinion, is Alan F. Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Zondervan, 1996, 207 pp.). This excellent commentary is now available in a stand alone volume and is a must read for anyone who wants to study Revelation from the viewpoint of historic premillennialism.

Running a close second behind Johnson is Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Eerdmans, 1998, 439 pp.). In the Revised edition, Mounce says that while his basic position remains premillennial, he can now "appreciate more fully why scholars of other persuasions have taken the interpretive tacks they have" (xv). Although he rejects strict recapitulation, he now recognizes "that the numbered visions do in fact cover the same period of time in what is best described as a spiral of intensity" (xv).

Although not as good as Johnson or Mounce, I still highly recommend George E. Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Eerdmans, 1972, 308 pp.), if for no other reason than that he provides a solid, exegetical response to those who would draw a strict distinction between Israel and the Church. Also good from this point of view is G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation, in the New Century Bible series (Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1974, 352 pp.). It is shorter than one might prefer, but still helpful is Ben Witherington, Revelation (Cambridge University Press, 2003, 307 pp.).

Unfortunately, there are very few good expositions from the strict preterist point of view. David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Dominion Press, 1987, 721 pp.), is still the standard, although Kenneth Gentry has reportedly been working on a commentary for quite some time. In the meantime, you should definitely read his Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (American Vision, 1998 [revised edition], 409 pp.), and The Beast of Revelation (Institute for Christian Economics, 1989, 209 pp.).

One treatment of Revelation that is difficult to classify and, in my opinion, probably not worth the substantial investment necessary to obtain it, is David Aune's three volume commentary in the Word Biblical Commentary series (Word Books / Thomas Nelson, 1997/1998, 1354 pp.). Yes, it is an exhaustive treatment and there is a wealth of information here, but it is a tedious read and overly critical. Why bother with Aune when you have Beale, Smalley, Johnson, etc.?

In conclusion, let's assume that you've not studied Revelation much in the past but would like to teach or preach through the book in the near future. Here's my suggestion: start with Poythress to familiarize yourself with the structure and development of the book's argument; then jump into Beale (and I pray you don't drown, but if you do, what a way to go!); next, turn to Johnson (Dennis, not Alan, although the latter is very good too); and top it off to fill in the gaps by reading Bauckham's Climax of Prophecy. If you are planning on preaching a survey of Revelation, perhaps one sermon per chapter, Wilcock will be of great help.

Blessings to all,

Sam