I am very pleased to announce that my commentary on the Book of Revelation has been published by IVP, and to celebrate there will be a book launch and public lecture on Thursday April 19th at Christ Church, Chilwell, with discounted signed copies of the commentary available for purchase. To whet your appetite, I include below an extract from the very end of the commentary.
We live in challenging times, where both the church and historic Christian faith feel increasingly marginalised in our culture. Outside the church, the rise of extremism encourages a suspicion of all religious traditions. Within the church, there seems to be a loss of confidence and a loss of understanding of our own traditions and an increasing illiteracy of our own Scriptures.
But the challenge of reading Revelation well tackles many of the challenges that we face. The book itself is the most developed example of a scriptural writer wrestling with the ideological implications of the gospel, engaging with an opposing system in the light of what God has done in Jesus. As an apocalypse (revelation), a prophecy and a letter it offers unique insights into what it means to be God’s pilgrim people. And the challenge of reading it well forces us to address questions of violence, justice, extremism, and our own understanding of the Christian Scriptures.
This evening event will include a public lecture by Ian Paul on why Revelation is the book for our times, followed by a question and answer session and the launch of Ian’s new commentary on Revelation published by IVP.
Signed copies of the book will be available at a discount of £3.00 (£12.99 compared with the published price of £15.99).
7.30 pm Welcome
7.35 pm Public lecture: Why Revelation is the book for our times
8.20 pm Question and answer session on the Book of Revelation
8.45 pm Book signing
Entrance to the event is free, but in order to know numbers it would help me if you could register on the booking page here.
Introduction to 22.6–21
Although the chapter division falls five verses earlier, it is clear that the first five verses of Rev. 22 belong to the vision formed the bulk of Rev. 21, not least because of the repetition of ‘and he showed me’ in 22:1. The final words of 22:5 draw this final vision together with a series of affirmations and negations (‘no longer…they will see him…no more night…’) reaching a climax in promise that ‘they will reign for ever and ever’.
The focus now turns from the content of what John has seen and heard to what he has written to communicate this to others. There is a fascinating shift of emphasis: what matters is not John’s revelatory experience, nor the content of his visions and auditions themselves, but the words he has used to describe them. It is these very words that are the prophetic gift from Jesus, suggesting to John’s audience that it is to the words themselves that they must attend. Repeated focus on the importance of these words is interweaved with repeated promises and warnings – warnings to those who tamper with these words, and who fail to heed the call to repentance, and promises both to those keep (that is, both preserve and act on) the words John has written, and to those who accept the invitation of the free offer of life. In this way, John is closely identifying what he has written with the very words of Jesus himself; to receive this book (rightly understood) is to receive the good news.
The shape of verses 16 to 21 bear a remarkable resemblance to the final verses in Paul’s first letter to Corinth, where he appears to take the pen from his amanuensis to add final greetings in his own hand (which seems to be his habit), 1 Cor. 16:21–23:
|I, Paul write this greeting||I, Jesus…bear witness…|
|Let anyone be accursed…||If anyone adds…God will add to the plagues…|
|Our Lord, come!||Come, Lord Jesus!|
|The grace of the lord Jesus be with you||The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all|
In terms of the narrative form of the text, John is claiming that Jesus is the real author, not just of the visions that John has seen, but in his prophetic testimony to all he has ‘heard and seen’. It is not just the vision and auditions themselves, but John’s record of them which have the apostolic authority that comes from being an eyewitness to Jesus. The solemn warnings in vv. 18–19 confirm the importance of the exact words which John has written.
The articulation of Jesus’ name, his affirmation of his testimony and the confirmation of his titles all conform to the usual practice of witnesses confirming the reliability of the account they are authenticating. The you to whom the message is sent is plural; this is unlikely to be the ‘angels of the assemblies’ in Rev. 2–3, since they do not feature again, nor the members of the assemblies themselves, since the message is to be passed on to them. It perhaps refers to John’s ‘fellow prophets’ alluded to in 11:8; 16:6; 22:6, and those who ‘read aloud’ the message (1:3). The title root of David, repeated from 5:5, affirms his identity as the David messiah, and being the morning star suggests both Jewish messianic hope and Roman ideas of a divine ruler (see comment on 2:28).
John’s prophetic, visionary letter concludes with multiple affirmations which echo the rhetorical effect of the pattern of the praise and acclamation of all creation. John’s audience are not a small and insignificant group surviving within the crushing power of a human empire, but are joined by the Spirit of God in their longing to see Jesus come take up his just and holy rule. Despite the seriousness of the consequences of those outside the city, the generous invitation remains open, for all who are thirsty to come and take the free gift of the water of life. Whatever else the Book of Revelation says, it remains essentially a book that communicates a message of grace for those who will receive it. Amen.
And so John ends where he has begun—signing off using epistolary features that match the epistolary features in chapter 1. His emphasis is not on his own revelatory experience, but the very words he has used to describe them—and, surprisingly, it is not just his visions that come from Jesus, but the words themselves. John is claiming that it is Jesus himself—the origin and the subject of this ‘revelation’ in 1:1—who is the real author of this message, and that John is merely his visionary-prophetic amanunensis, passing on to others what has been passed on to him.
What more can we add as we reach the end of this extraordinary prophetic-revelatory letter? The vividness of its images, the power of its rhetoric, the depth of its theological reflection and the continued relevance of its message has made it the most influential text in all human history.
Like the tracks coming into a central railway station in a capital city, all the lines of theological thought from earlier in the book converge in these last chapters and the climactic vision of the eschatological presence of God with his people. Because John has been drawing on the whole range of the Old Testament canon, there is a powerful sense in which the end of Revelation also draws together all the hopes and aspirations of the people of God from the long history of his dealings with his people – and in doing so, all the hopes and aspirations of humanity itself. It is a fitting end to the canon of Scripture. Here we find the rediscovery of the idyll of Eden, though transformed from a garden into a city; here are realized both the promise to Noah for the renewal of the earth and the promise to Abraham that his offspring will be beyond counting. We enter here the final freedom from the slavery of sin, a city that fulfils every promise of the Promised Land. It is occupied by a holy people under the rule of a just and holy God, free from threat and danger. The exile of sin and rebellion which led to estrangement from God has finally come to an end, and all God’s people have found their home. All this has come about because of the sacrifice of the lamb on the throne – the faithful witness of the man Jesus in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwelled bodily (Col. 2:9).
Yet the final verses remind us of the beginning – that this message does not float free from human history but was given to a particular person, at a particular time and in a particular place, and was given to transform the particular lives of those who first read it and heard it read. And we need to read it, the message of Jesus to the assemblies in Asia conveyed through John, knowing something about their own particular circumstances, so that we can understand how this transcendent vision of hope and faith might transform the particulars of our time, place and culture as we wait with them for God’s promises finally to be fulfilled.
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