My collection of commentaries is probably out of hand. I own all of the NICNT, Pillar, New American, Baker New Testament, Tyndale, NIV Application, Baker Exegetical, and many others. Okay, it’s not out of hand at all and I’m giddy when I think about sitting in my office to study. There, I said it.
And there are certain books of the Bible that I own a lot more commentaries on. 1 Corinthians, Romans, Ephesians, the Gospel of John, Daniel, Acts… I’ve got a lot of commentaries on those books. Oh, and the book of Revelation. Ladd, Walvoord, Osborne, Pawson, Beale, Bauckman, Hendricksen, Mounce, Gregg, Johnson… the list goes on. So I enjoy reading commentaries on this apocalyptic book.
Reading commentaries on Revelation are fun because not all authors reveal their “theological cards” early on. That means you don’t always know if they are taking a futuristic or idealist approach until you actually get into the commentary. Rarely do introductions say, “Hey, this is what I believe…” You generally have to do your homework by reading the section in question. To be honest, I like that. It’s the way it should be. Too many readers will put a book down if it doesn’t agree with their previously held view. That’s not great.
Anyway, I got a copy of James M. Hamilton Jr.’s Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches. This commentary is part of the “Preaching the Word” series, edited by R. Kent Hughes. As many of you know, Hamilton is one of my favorite authors/scholars, so I was excited to read this commentary.
Since this is a commentary, I want to review it a little bit differently than other works. I’m going to tell you what it isn’t and then tell you what it is. I’ll end by pointing out some of the interesting contributions this makes.
What it isn’t.
I hate even admitting that I’m reviewing a book for what it isn’t. That’s kind of a golden rule of reviewing – don’t review it for what it isn’t. But I mean something different here. I mean to describe what this book isn’t so you’ll better understand what it is.
Many commentaries on Revelation are so detailed and technical that a “normal” person can’t really read them. If you don’t have formal theological training, good luck. Hamilton’s Revelation isn’t like that.
Other commentaries, specifically when dealing with the book of Revelation, are written with a theological agenda. This used to come out mostly in Dispensational commentaries, but everyone generally has an agenda… it’s just that some agendas are more controlling than others. In Hamilton’s Revelation, I didn’t feel that was the case. Hamilton certainly takes a position regarding the “rapture” and the Millennium, but it doesn’t drive his commentary. He doesn’t have a theological ax to grind. If you want a commentary like that, this isn’t it.
What it is.
This commentary is readable. It’s actually a collection of sermons that have been tailored for print. Hamilton preached these sermons at Kenwood Baptist Church (Louisville, KY) from April 5, 2009 to April 4, 2010. Yeah, this is a year of sermons (it boils down to thirty-seven chapters).
Its readability is not because it lacks substance. No, the substance is there. Hamilton is a biblical theologian. Yet he writes in a way that is very readable, and actually, very engaging. Not only do you understand his writing, you are excited to get to the next page.
What I appreciate.
Since I’ve previously reviewed Hamilton’s work (see here), I’ve become more familiar with his style of writing, both academically and here for the more popular level. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate his tables, charts, and diagrams. I mean… all of his books have a table of contents for those additional study helps. They are really indispensable. In fact, with Revelation (and most apocalyptic literature), those tables and charts can really help visually prepare the reader to understand better what is being addressed. Hamilton’s Revelation is no different. There are twenty-seven tables throughout this book. I-N-D-I-S-P-E-N-S-A-B-L-E.
Secondly, Hamilton’s proposal for the chiastic structure of Revelation is very interesting. He suggests that Rev. 11:15-19 is the center of the book and that everything before and after is heading towards there or away from there. What is that center? “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” This is the highlight (Hamilton’s word) of Revelation.
Finally, I found the chapters on Rev. 2-3 very helpful too. I’ve often wondered how a good sermon would address those seven letters and explain the historical context in which they were written as well as how they apply today. Hamilton does this well.
So while Revelation isn’t as technical or scholarly as Osborne or Beale or Mounce, it essentially is just as important as those commentaries because it takes the depth of that scholarship and demonstrates how it is preached within the local church. It’s a great contribution to commentaries on Revelation.