A Readable Commentary on Revelation

If you’re looking for a clear, concise, readable, and solid commentary on Revelation, I recommend Vern Poythress’ The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2000).  Though this commentary doesn’t comment on all the details in Revelation, it does a fine job of providing a big picture overview of the book.

I appreciate Poythress’ commentary because so often commentators spend too much time and energy on the smaller details of Revelation.  Because the details are the main focus, the big picture is lost.  Poythress keeps the main point the main point: “God rules history and will bring it to its consummation in Christ.  If you read it with that main point in mind, you will be able to understand it.  You will not necessarily understand every detail – neither do I.  But it is not necessary to understand every detail in order to profit spiritually from it” (p. 11).

He continues by saying we sometimes have trouble interpreting Revelation because we approach it from the wrong end.

“Suppose I start by asking, ‘What do the bear’s feet in Revelation 13:2 stand for?’  If I start with such detail, and ignore the big picture, I am asking for trouble.  God is at the center of Revelation (Rev. 4-5).  We must start with him and with the contrasts between him and his satanic opponents.  If instead we try right away to puzzle out details, it is as if we tried to use a knife by grasping it by the blade instead of the handle.  We are starting at the wrong end.”

“Revelation is a picture book, not a puzzle book.  Don’t try to puzzle it out.  Don’t become too preoccupied with isolated details.  Rather, become engrossed in the overall story.  Praise the Lord.  Cheer for the saints.  Detest the beast.  Long for the final victory” (p 12-13).

In case you are wondering, Poythress’ work resonates with other commentaries such as William Hendriksen’s excellent More than Conquerors, Dennis Johnsons’ Triumph of the Lamb, and Gregory Beale’s NIGTC on Revelation.  Though there aren’t any study questions, Poythress’ commentary would be a good book to use for a Bible study on Revelation (one might break it up into 14 lessons, give or take).  There’s an exhaustive Scripture index as well, which I’ve found helpful.  If you’re looking for a readable commentary on Revelation, get Poythress, and be sure to check out the other ones I’ve just mentioned.

Vern Poythress, The Returning King (Phillipsburg; P&R, 2000).

shane lems

8 thoughts on “A Readable Commentary on Revelation”

  1. I was just listening to one of Dr. Riddlebarger’s mp3s on Amillenialism and he referenced both of these books by Poythress and Johnson as great resources. They’re both on my list (and when will that list ever be complete, oy).

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  2. Hi Shane,
    For what it is worth I find Eugene Peterson’s book “Reversed Thunder” to also be an elegant reflection on Revelation as a whole. It’s not really a commentary (more of a series of reflections on specific passages), but it is worth a read. Peterson does a nice job of connecting much of the apocalyptic imagery to corporate worship.

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    1. Thanks for the comments, guys. Nevada: I’m sure Peterson’s book would be a helpful addition to Revelation studies. I’ve heard of it before, but forgot all about it. I just put it on my wish list.

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      1. Gotta ask: Am I wrongly prejudiced for not wanting to read anything by Peterson in the wake of his abysmal The Message?

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        1. Matt: I can’t stand “The Message.” But some of Eugene Peterson’s work is quite helpful and penetrating. For example, “A Long Obedience” is a great discussion of discipleship from the Psalms of Ascent. Anyway, his writing style is unique, and even though I don’t agree with everything he writes, I’ve certainly benefited from his work.

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  3. I’m glad he’s been beneficial for you. I just can’t look past The Message and therefore count him as untrustworthy and therefore he’ll never get on my long list of author’s books to get. (I’m probably just a jerk)

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  4. Let’s not be fooled by labels; if we label the Message a “translation”, it falls very far short, especially in the Scripture function of being the sole judge of doctrine, since in that case we need precision and not moral or emotional effect. But if we label it a sort of “preaching paraphrase” it is exactly the sort of thing most preachers do when they try to restate a Bible passage in everyday language.
    Peterson’s Under The Unpredictable Plant on Jonah, was great; and Five Smooth Stones For Pastoral Care (on Ruth, Song, Job, Ecclesiastes, Esther) is excellent; his stuff is careful, thoughtful and often hits right home.
    On translations…I have used NIV for almost 30 years, and I still think it one of the best overall translations, especially for narrative and dialogue flow, but I admit that I have been going through the ESV this year and I am far more pleased with it than when it first came out. Why? Well, part of that is sentimental, for we grew up with the KJV and ESV stands intentionally in that tradition, so the resonances are venerable and comforting; but also because of its explicit intent to be “transparent to the original text”–I feel I can trust it not to read too much into the text. And I am heartened by its widespread acceptance among conservative Protestants–not because it is a perfect version, but because this shows that the actual meaning of the text is still of primary importance to so many. And with the so-called “gender” (awful word!) related issues in the newer translations, many of us suspect that making the text clear has become in some circles a mask for making the text acceptable.
    By the way, on the ESV, there is a bang-up review by a Wisconsin Synod professor, Thomas Nass on the WELS website. He does extensive work in the original text, lots of to the point comparisons and is by no means an obscurantist. A very fair and competent review. His conclusion is that it is an excellent translation, that in some places it does not live up to its touted literalism, and that it can be a bit clunky in style and, surprise, surprise, No the Wisconsin Lutheran Synod should a) Not issue its own translation and b) Not replace the NIV with ESV. Silly me, I did not even know that the WELS used NIV in its educational materials.

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  5. […] A Readable Commentary on Revelation (reformedreader.wordpress.com) Poythress keeps the main point the main point: “God rules history and will bring it to its consummation in Christ.  If you read it with that main point in mind, you will be able to understand it.  You will not necessarily understand every detail – neither do I.  But it is not necessary to understand every detail in order to profit spiritually from it” […]

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