Interpreting Revelation (Johnson)

Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation

Revelation is a great part of Scripture that in no uncertain terms tell us the reality of Christ’s ultimate victory, but it’s not always easy to interpret and understand the last book of the Bible. Some parts aren’t too tough; others are seriously difficult. One resource that has helped me study Revelation is Dennis Johnson’s Triumph of the Lamb. It’s a levelheaded, readable commentary that uses other parts of Scripture to help explain the symbols, visions, and images in Revelation. For example, in the introduction Johnson gives some biblical principles to help interpret Revelation. Here’s how he summarizes them at the end of the chapter:

  1. Revelation is given to reveal. It makes its central message so clear that even those who hear it can take it to heart and receive the blessing it promises.
  2. Revelation is a book to be seen, a book of symbols in motion. Because the appearance of individuals and institutions in everyday experience often masks their true identity, Revelation is given in visions full of symbols that paradoxically picture the true identity of the church, its enemies, and its Champion.
  3. Revelation makes sense only in light of the Old Testament. Not only the visions of such prophets as Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah but also historical events such as creation, the fall, and the exodus provide the symbolic vocabuary for John’s visions.
  4. Numbers count in Revelation. Since numbers are used symbolically in Revelation, we must discern the meaning they convey rather than trying to pull them as numbers directly into our experience, measured by calendars and odometers.
  5. Revelation is for a church under attack. Its purpose is to awaken us to the dimensions of the battle and the strategies of the enemy, so that we will respond to the attacks with faithful perseverance and purity, overcoming by the blood of the Lamb.
  6. Revelation concerns ‘what must soon take place.’ We must seek and understanding that touches the experience of our brothers and sisters in seven first-century congregations scattered in the cities of western Asia minor. Revelation is not about events and hostile forces remote from their struggle.
  7. The victory belongs to God and to his Christ. Revelation is pervaded with worship songs and scenes because its pervasive theme – despite its gruesome portrait of evil’s powers – is the triumph of God through the Lamb. We read this book to hear the King’s call to courage and to fall down in adoring worship before him.

Johnson does expand on these points earlier in the chapter – and it’s for sure worth reading. If you are looking for a commentary on Revelation that is solidly biblical and Reformed but not too technical, I very much recommend this one!

Dennis Johnson, The Triumph of the Lamb, p. 22-23

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

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