Revelation is one of those books that preachers often avoid (and Christians in general actually!). If you’ve read it, you’ll know why. Whilst Revelation (note: no ‘s’) does offer us a rather glorious and glittering vision of the new heaven – one that would make Cartier himself jealous – it is also in places seemingly incomprehensible. It is after all, a prophetic vision and if you’ve experienced the prophetic you might have heard equally hard to understand prophecies. Ian Paul notes in the first line of his book: ‘Revelation is the most remarkable text you will ever read’. You could be forgiven for inserting ‘bonkers’ in place of ‘remarkable’ but that’s why we need someone like him to show us why it is in fact remarkable, and not bonkers, so that we can see where God is at work and what is his message, amidst these fantastical pictures.
As a church we’re doing a teaching series on Revelation at the moment, rather brave I thought, when my Vicar suggested it, so I rather cheekily asked Ian for a copy of his book to review, but also to help my sermons. Now I guess you could say I’ve been ‘into’ theology for a few years. I love the journey of exploring the bible, delving deeper into the roots of a passage, the context, the history, I find it all fascinating. But more than that, of course, is the journey to discover more of who Jesus is, both as divine God but also in a personal sense, who he is in my life. Theology helps that. Particularly as a preacher I use commentaries a lot. Most preachers tend to have their faves they go to, in my case it’s usually Tom Wright. But one thing I find frustrating about the writers of commentaries, or in fact theologians in general, is the inaccessibility of a lot of what they write. You know what I mean I’m sure: using 27 words when 1 will do; being absolutely resolute about using every single theological title and doctrinal phrase in every single paragraph; and insisting that they must show off their academic prowess by expressing themselves incomprehensibly. Thankfully, Ian Paul does not do this and for that I am hugely grateful.
In fact his experience and background would give him every good reason to do so: he has written extensively on Revelation (and many other topics); he was the Chair of the Revelation Seminar at the annual British New Testament Conference from 2005-2014 and has a wealth of experience in theological education, just to mention a few things. Frankly his brain must be the size of a planet, but despite this he writes in a way that I feel a true commentary should be written – to explain the text for lesser mortals like myself to understand. Paul writes in a way that is accessible to all without ‘dumbing down’ what he wants to say, so much so that I recommended his book to my congregation on Sunday morning, knowing that any one of them could have picked it up and found it useful without needing a dictionary to decipher it.
One of the most helpful things about this commentary is a lengthy introduction packed full of information about the background of Revelation, the impact on our culture, John as its author, the context, the vision, genre, structure and more; all of which, even if you just read the intro, would give you a much better understanding of how to read Revelation.
The commentary itself, is interspersed with a section at the beginning of each chapter pointing us to the context, and finishing it with a focus on the theology of what we have just read. As with most commentaries it then takes us through each chapter, a verse or two at a time, exploring key points and themes, going deeper where we might need some pointers to the less obvious too. As an example: for last weekend’s preach I was looking at the letter to the Laodecians. People usually just pick up on the lukewarm theme here and apply it to our faith in the modern day, but Paul gives lots of background information on this, specifically suggesting it’s more than just about the state of their faith, but the lack of fruit in their lives.
As well as being accessible, Paul writes in a way that is both interesting and engaging – so often with a commentary we just dip into them for the specific passage or verse that we need, but I found myself being drawn into it as I read on. And, whilst this might seem like declaring the obvious, I also really appreciated that his faith was so apparent throughout, rather than this just being an academic study, he so clearly points us to Jesus and our own faith.
The book is one of the Tyndale series of commentaries, aimed at evangelical readers, written with an awareness of scholarly debates, but also with the intention of helping readers understand the passage so they can see points of relevance and application for themselves, and it does exactly what is says on the tin (or in fact on page viii). So if you’re one of those people who has avoided the book of Revelation like the plague, now’s your chance to get into it. Get this commentary and work your way through it, it is sure to come alive for you like never before.
The book is available from IVP here priced £15.99
Ian Paul //
Ian is a theologian, author, speaker and academic consultant. He is Adjunct Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and Associate Minister at St Nic’s, Nottingham; Managing Editor for Grove Books and a member of General Synod. He writes extensively on his blog here and tweets @psephizo