N. T. Wright has undertaken a tremendous task: to provide guides to all the books of the New Testament, and to include in them his own translation of the entire text. Each short passage is followed by a highly readable discussion, with background information, useful explanations and suggestions, and thoughts as to how the text can be relevant to our lives today. A glossary is included at the back of the book. The series is suitable for group study, personal study, or daily devotions.
I had previously read the volumes on Romans for a Bible study we did at church and found it very useful. For a variety of reasons, I recently developed an interest in the Book of Revelation and, as luck would have it, this volume was being released this month. And through the fine folks at NetGalley I was even able to get an ARC for my Kindle. I tried to read at least a chapter a day and so get through it relatively quickly.
It was an enjoyable and insightful look at this most complex and potentially confusing of books in the Bible.
This volume, like the others, follows the patter of a section of scripture (translated by Wright) and then a section unpacking and discussing that passage. Wright generally takes an experience from his life, or a common human experience, and uses that to illustrate or flush out something in the text. He seeks to give the reader an understanding of the symbols and history that would resonate for the books intended readership but also a spiritual focus for us today. Without getting too deep into the weeds he attempts to sort out possible meanings for difficult passages and is honest about what is unclear.
Now, I have neither the time nor the competence to outline and explain the various perspectives on how to interpret the Book of Revelation. But to place this book in context allow me to steal from Wikipedia which offers four basic views:
- Historicist, which sees in Revelation a broad view of history;
- Preterist, in which Revelation mostly refers to the events of the apostolic era (1st century);
- Futurist, which believes that Revelation describes future events; and
- Idealist, or Symbolic, which holds that Revelation does not refer to actual people or events, but is an allegory of the spiritual path and the ongoing struggle between good and evil.
Wright falls in the Preterist/Idealist category. But if you are looking for a book that discusses these views and/or arguments about which one is correct this is not the book for you.
Instead, Wright’s focus is on making sense of the passages, keeping the larger narrative in mind and not missing the insight into God’s character and plan for the world because we are focused on the apocalyptic symbolism and imagery. Wright of course is making an argument in a sense because he is explaining the book without connecting it to possible future prophecy. Wright provides a sort of stage map which outlines the narrative of Revelation, the author’s style and perspective, and the historical context. He then places this within the even larger arc of scripture and history and suggests important ideas and nuggets for modern day readers to wrestle with and think about.
And this is where I think the book is useful in demystifying Revelation to some degree. Wright helps tie the writing to both the Old Testament (particularly Daniel and Isaiah) and inter-testament literature and to the history of the early church. The conflict that arose between the church and the Roman Empire, and the resulting suffering and persecution, helps provide context for the symbolism and imagery but it’s also a recurring theme throughout history; and thus is part of the unfolding of God’s plan for the redemption of all of creation. Christians throughout history are forced to choose between empires on earth who claim powers and loyalties due only to God and their faith. These empires subvert justice and promote suffering in the name of power and are not slow to crush those who stand in their way.
Christians are called to resist being integrated into these systems and are reminded that doing so will result in suffering and persecution. What Revelation tells us, however, is that God is in control and ultimately he will prevail. Evil will not triumph and death itself will be defeated.
Faithful believers throughout history have clung to this hope. Wright reminds us that we can too.
- Mercury Falls by Rob Kroese (collectedmiscellany.com)