Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches (Preaching the Word)
Excellent Commentary: Readable and Insightful
Have you been frustrated to find a balanced commentary on the book of Revelation? I find that commentaries on Revelation fall into two camps. One falls into academic commentary. Most often, it is difficult to find practical applications to be integrated into SundayÃ¢ÂÂs sermons. The other one places too much emphasis on the end-time prophecy fulfillment. It often tries to fit todayÃ¢ÂÂs events into the biblical text.
I find Hamilton Ã¢ÂÂs commentary readable by a lay person because it results from the sermons on Revelation he had the opportunity to preach twice, one at Baptist Church of the Redeemer in Houston, TX in 2005 and the other at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, KY from April 2009 to April 2010. As a result, the commentary maintains a simple structure: Introduction, Body, and Conclusion. He employs a story to get the attention of the readers in his introduction. Then, he gives the overview of the text before he proceeds in a detailed discussion in the body. Finally, he concludes with the main point so that the readers can apply the teaching in their lives.
While readable, the commentary involves a serious scholarship. It interprets the symbols in Revelation from the first century ChristiansÃ¢ÂÂ context, for example, the meaning of the numbers Ã¢ÂÂ666Ã¢ÂÂ in Revelation 13:18 and the identities of the great prostitute and the beast in Revelation 17. Some have associated the numbers Ã¢ÂÂ666Ã¢ÂÂ with Papacy or with the recent technology of RFID chips being implanted in human bodies. However, Hamilton Jr. carefully evaluated the numbers as non-literal symbol. The numbers are well understood in the first century as Emperor Nero. Apostle John refers Nero as a wicked tyrant who persecuted Christians and demanded them to worship him as a god. Concerning the great prostitute and the beast, the historical reading would point to Babylon (the prostitute) and Rome (the beast). These two ancient superpowers are symbols John uses to describe the worldly powers who would entice Christians to forsake their true allegiance with God and to form an alliance with the world.
The whole commentary of Revelation can be summarized with whom we will give our allegiance. In the context of the first century Christians, they had a choice whether to be faithful followers of Jesus or to participate in the imperial cult worshipping Roman emperor as God. In our context, our faithfulness to God is also constantly tested by the allure of the world. We are also not immune from worshipping modern idols such as money, power, and sex. Hamilton refers this modern idolatry as misplaced allegiance. Therefore, he repeatedly challenges us, Christians not to forsake our allegiance with God: Ã¢ÂÂLive for the Lamb not for the beast and his cheap whoreÃ¢ÂÂ (:331). He also invites non-believers to come to trust in Jesus: Ã¢ÂÂif you are an unbeliever, you are a fool if you do not repent and trust in JesusÃ¢ÂÂ (:320).
I am grateful that Hamilton publishes his sermons as one of the most readable commentary on Revelation. It aims for simplicity for lay readers so that they can capture the main idea of the passages in Revelation. That main idea is our true allegiance to Jesus. For this reason, I am giving HamiltonÃ¢ÂÂs commentary on Revelation 5 stars.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
March 17, 2012
Thorough, engaging & practical book on Revelation
How many times have we been told not to judge a book by its cover? This sage advice applies to everything from automobiles to Zambonis and from airplanes to zeppelins. And it also happens to be true for the popular vehicle of written words; books. This saying applies to more than books; that is clear. But it also applies to books. Such is the case for Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches. On the back of the dust jacket appears the following: Ã¢ÂÂBY PASTORS FOR PASTORSÃ¢ÂÂ. This might lead the average layperson to determine that this book is not for them. However, judging this book by these words on its cover would be a mistake. One needs to read the small print. The complete sentence on the dust jacket reads: Ã¢ÂÂThe Preaching the Word series is written BY PASTORS FOR PASTORS and their churches.Ã¢ÂÂ This book is indeed for the churches, and the people in them, as well as the clergy. In Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches, Dr. Jim Hamilton Jr. has written a book, comprised of a collection of sermons, that exposits the canonical Revelation in a manner that is thorough, engaging, and practical. The format of this book and the structure of its chapters ensure a comprehensive account of this intriguing apocalyptic prophetic epistle.
As mentioned, this book is a collection of sermons. These 37 sermons were preached at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky and the thoroughness of this work is largely due to the fact that it is a compilation of preached homilies. The sections of Scripture considered in each chapter, which corresponds with a sermon on the passage selected, are successfully initiated in an introduction which includes several components. The sermons begin with an attention-grabber, often allusions to historical events and other works of literature or perhaps personal anecdotes from the authorÃ¢ÂÂs life. I found these Ã¢ÂÂhooksÃ¢ÂÂ very well done. They accomplished the goal they were intended for. I found myself immediately intrigued in the Scripture passage under consideration while wanting to continue reading through the sermon. The sermon introductions indicate the main point of the verses as well as making the readers aware of the need that the text addresses. Finally, the opening places the particular passage into its context in the larger book of Revelation. The repetition of this process throughout the 37 sermons was very helpful. I found that my overall understanding of the book of Revelation increased as I read the main idea of each section and was taught where it that fit into the larger scheme of this last book of the Bible. The comprehensiveness of HamiltonÃ¢ÂÂs teaching was aided the body of the sermon which not only includes a thorough explanation of what the passage actually said, but also offers an abundance of application to people in all walks of life. A conclusion with a restatement of concepts already covered along with many memorable illustrations filled out this already extensive treatment. The thoroughness of HamiltonÃ¢ÂÂs expositions of this New Testament writing might have been overwhelming were it not for the engaging style in which the book was written.
Stylistically I found this book to have a conversational feel to it. I suppose that should not be unexpected as these were oral presentations in their original form. Nevertheless, it seemed as though I had sat down for a coffee, on my dime of course, with the theologian and enjoyed the ensuing discussion centered on the last book of our Bible. It was a one-way conversation mind you, but imagine sitting at a table with a dark roast in hand and inquiring of Hamilton, Ã¢ÂÂWhat do you think of this portion of chapter 3?Ã¢ÂÂ This would immediately be followed by a 10 or 15 minute explanation in which the doctorÃ¢ÂÂs passion and exuberance for the topic was clearly evident. That is something like the experience I seemed to have as I read this book. The aforementioned passion of the author for this topic is impossible to miss and adds to the inviting impression that this book elicits. Adding to the engaging quality of this book was its irenic tone. Considering this topic is one of great controversy, Hamilton does an admirable job of clearly and unapologetically offering his interpretation of passages while doing so in a conciliatory manner. While approaching the text from a historic premillennial position, Hamilton never writes disparagingly of other eschatological views and on several occasions produces a perspective which could be appreciated by all interested parties. The conversational style of the writing and the gracious tone of the author, mixed with a strong sense of passion, is one of the books endearing qualities. Its practical suggestions of application are the final qualities we will consider.
Hamilton does an excellent job of demonstrating how the Biblical book of Revelation can be a very practical book. Revelation soars to inestimable heights when it talks about such things as the throne room of God. It plunges to incalculable depths when it speaks of the bottomless pit. It would be understandable if one thought that this writing of the Apostle John was an impractical flight of fancy in the dreamscape of this disciple. But Hamilton grounds the apocalyptic letter with a solid sense of its applicability to everyday life. Hamilton does this effectively in two ways that I found compelling. The first is his desire to draw out a gospel call from the passage he is dealing with. Whether it be a cry for repentance based on terribleness of the tribulations ahead or a presentation of the beauty of the world to come, Hamilton shows the reader how Scripture, even seemingly fanciful passages, can apply to the unbeliever in a real and tangible way. I appreciate how Hamilton responsibly brings GodÃ¢ÂÂs Word to bear on the heart and soul of the unregenerate. This was far more nuanced and thoughtful than a Ã¢ÂÂturn or burnÃ¢ÂÂ slogan-esque approach. It reads as a sincere appeal to those who do not know the Lord. Similarly, Hamilton determinedly demonstrates to believers the practical import of this book and its various sections. It could be a very straightforward application such as taking JesusÃ¢ÂÂ appeal for repentance from one of the seven churches and employing that as a similar request for all of us to repent. It might be something less obvious like a call to worship the greatness of God based on YahwehÃ¢ÂÂs superiority when compared to an already incredibly impressive archangel. Hamilton finds creative and stirring ways of applying the Scripture to our lives which is no small feat considering the topic at hand. Hamilton walks us through, or perhaps talks us through, the head-heart-hand paradigm taking the theoretical into the practical.
Covering the content of the biblical book of Revelation thoroughly, engagingly, and practically, HamiltonÃ¢ÂÂs contribution to the Preaching the Word series is well worth reading. Though this would surely be a valuable resource for the preachers and pastors of Christian churches, it is no less valuable to all students of GodÃ¢ÂÂs Word. God sovereignly delivered the wonderful prophetic book of Revelation to us in the Bible, and in Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches Hamilton has helped us all in our understanding about, rejoicing in, and applying of the Ã¢ÂÂ revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take placeÃ¢ÂÂ (Revelation 1:1 ESV). I highly recommend this book.
I received a copy of this book from Crossway for review.
February 19, 2012
A good commentary for what it is...
Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches is a new commentary written by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor James Hamilton. Hamilton is known from his magnum opus, GodÃ¢ÂÂs Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology which is an excellent and highly recommended work. There is much to commend this work, starting with its accessible content valuing clear explanation and application, which is to be expected from a book in a series entitled Preaching the Word. This commentary series is intended for pastors and others involved in the teaching ministry of the church and, through my other interactions with the series (namely Hughes and ChapellÃ¢ÂÂs 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit), I had high hopes for this entry and, presentation issues aside, I was not disappointed on the whole. Let's begin with areas that I quibbled with and then move on to what I found to be helpful...
Right off the bat, one area of disappointment is the manner in which the commentary has been put together: these are a series of teachings which are broken down and explained exactly like sermons with sections on introduction, body, and conclusion. While the structure can be helpful at times, it took away from the bookÃ¢ÂÂs usefulness as a commentary and in some chapters is more noticeable (and thus less helpful) than in other chapters where it is virtually invisible (and thus quite helpful). While Hughes & Chapell do some of this as well, I never got the feeling while reading their text that I was reading sermon manuscripts and at the same time I could easily find their comments for any given passage.
Moving forward, the book begins with a single chapter overview of the entirety of Revelation, which is a feature that more commentaries should have as the Biblical-Theological implications of this are massive and help us to locate the teachings of the text within the larger framework of the entire revelation of Scripture. After this introduction, Hamilton then moves into his first section, Revelation 1:1-8. On the content side of the equation, the comments that Hamilton makes on the text itself are spot on and quite helpful. On the other hand, to get at those nuggets one has to dig through quite a bit of sermon text linking everything together. For example, when speaking of 1:3 (p.33), Hamilton offers some explanation of the text itself, but then launches into a section of question after question (Ã¢ÂÂIs your experience of Christianity like JohnÃ¢ÂÂs?Ã¢ÂÂ and Ã¢ÂÂDo you know the relief that comes from knowing that faith in Christ and his death on the cross makes you right before God?Ã¢ÂÂ amongst others). While these questions are well meant and potently asked, their helpfulness in a commentary seems at times distracting from the point that these particular verses are making. Perhaps they would make more since in a concluding application section at the end of each chapter. Speaking of, application is of course, a perennial issue in our information-overload culture, but before we can get to application we need observation and interpretation. It is in these two attributes that I occasionally was left lacking in my understanding of the text before jumping straight into the application.
On the positive side in the same chapter, Hamilton describes the blessing of reading the Book of Revelation as the Ã¢ÂÂblessing of being affected by the reading and hearing of the words of this prophecy. The reading and hearing of the words of Revelation changes those who experience it. They believe what it reveals, and as a result they Ã¢ÂÂkeep what is written in itÃ¢ÂÂ (p.34).Ã¢ÂÂ Now this is helpful stuff: HamiltonÃ¢ÂÂs view is that the blessing isnÃ¢ÂÂt some sort of undefined action that God does as a reward for reading but that instead the blessing is offered in the reading itself. The message from God itself is the blessing, which should provoke us with much food for thought.
Moving forward, Hamilton also does an adequate job of dealing with differences in interpretation (a major issue in the Book of Revelation!). To give just one example, we see that Hamilton describes the angelÃ¢ÂÂs purpose in 10:2-3 is to reflect ChristÃ¢ÂÂs glory rather than to be an apocalyptic picture of Christ Himself: Ã¢ÂÂÃ¢ÂÂ¦some suggest that this angel might be Christ himself. But this figure is called Ã¢ÂÂanother mighty angelÃ¢ÂÂ in the first part of 10:1Ã¢ÂÂ¦we saw a Ã¢ÂÂmighty angelÃ¢ÂÂ back in 5:2Ã¢ÂÂ¦weÃ¢ÂÂll see a third Ã¢ÂÂmighty angelÃ¢ÂÂ in 18:21. So I donÃ¢ÂÂt think this angel is Jesus because there are other Ã¢ÂÂmighty angelsÃ¢ÂÂ in Revelation (p.224).Ã¢ÂÂ This is good, practical commentary, using the entire teaching of the book to show us what the book says.
Another area in which Hamilton excels is in drawing out Old Testament references and parallels. There are numerous examples of this throughout the book, but one that sticks out is found in the parallels between EzekielÃ¢ÂÂs eating of the scroll and JohnÃ¢ÂÂs eating of the scroll (to show that John is a true prophet just as Ezekiel was, p.228). Hamilton continues with a chart and explanation of how the Book of Ezekiel very much parallels the structure of Revelation (p.229). Seeing this connection is incredibly valuable to our understanding both of Revelation itself and of the Bible as a whole.
Finally, let us close by examining one more chapter. Revelation 21 gives us a picture of hope and great joy when, in a very tangible sense, God will be Ã¢ÂÂwith us.Ã¢ÂÂ I am greatly pleased to see Hamilton reinforcing this picture in ways that are nothing short of worshipful. Continuing his helpful links between Old Testament and New, Hamilton states: Ã¢ÂÂVerse 1 gives us the wide-angle view of the new heaven and earth, and now 21:2 seems to focus in on the new cityÃ¢ÂÂ¦ here John describes the fulfillment of Isaiah 52:1, where Jerusalem, the holy city, is called to put on beautiful garments, and it also fulfills Isaiah 61:10, where the redeemed are likened to a bride who Ã¢ÂÂadorns herself with jewelsÃ¢ÂÂ (p.383).Ã¢ÂÂ
Another helpful comment is given regarding the relationship of the word-pictures that John gives us: Ã¢ÂÂSo this new Jerusalem is a city because God will dwell there, and it seems to be likened to a bride because God will be in covenant with his people who dwell with him there (p.384).Ã¢ÂÂ
In conclusion, I would recommend Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches as a worthwhile commentary provided that you have other more focused resources available to aid you as well. This is a commentary that gets right to the point of understanding the big picture of Revelation and would be well used as preparation for a small group or similar teaching role as well as for personal understanding and devotions.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I wish to note that the publisher of this book, Crossway, provided it to me at no cost as a review sample. That said, my review is in no way influenced or controlled by them and thus I write my review of this book with honesty and integrity.)
February 2, 2012