Revelation: A Shorter Commentary

Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, by GK Beale, with David Campbell ★★★★

By now, I have read many books related to the interpretation of the book of Revelation. The first books were written by Hal Lindsey, and formed my early impressions of the book of Revelation. Lindsey has a framework of Dispensational Premillennialism. I found the dispensational interpretation to be rather far-flung as it seemed to create more interpretative problems than solutions, which explains why Hal needed to offer revised versions every few years. Ultimately, with the help of the “Four Views” books and input from John Gerstner, I tended to lean toward an amillennial stance. The one post-millennial text that I read, When the Man Comes Around by Doug Wilson competed with Hal Lindsey in its weak interpretive base and was about as awful as Hal Lindsey’s colorful books. The book that affected me the most, Hendrickson’s More than Conquerors became my definitive favorite.

This book, based on a much larger commentary of Revelation by Beale and reduced to its essential elements by David Campbell, is an excellent text based on an amillennial perspective. It was still a rather lengthy text of over 500 pages. Its strengths and weaknesses will be discussed.

Strengths 1. Good orientation, showing how the book of Revelation has more quotes and allusions to the Old Testament than the entirety of the remainder of the New Testament. Thus, a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament is mandatory to grasp the many images described in Revelation. 2. Beale reflects on the overall theme of the book of Revelation, which is that Christians faithful to God’s word will eventually come out as the victors, even in death. 3. It does not dwell too heavily in speculations regarding interpretations of the imagery found in Revelation. 4. It is faithful to a solid amillennial (which Beale calls the Redemptive Historical Idealist) view of Revelation. This is probably a good renaming, since even amillennialists believe in the millennium, just not the way in which pre-millennial or post-millennial folk would tend to think. 5. Each short section of the book ends with a segment discussing applications and things to reflect on. After all, the idealist view contends that Revelation is a book that discusses the whole of the Christian era from the advent of Christ to his second coming. There is no dispensational bungee-jumping Jesus who returns to earth a minimum of three times. If Revelation is talking about the present age, then it would be exceedingly applicable, which is probably why John includes blessings to those who read and hear the book.

Weaknesses 1. Beale seems to be quite aggressive in interpreting all of the imagery in Revelation as being allegorical. I’m not sure that’s safe. It is possible that many images are real but interpreted by John’s best ability to describe the image in terms of what was known in AD 96. Perhaps the imagery has both a real and allegorical face to it. I don’t know. Safety suggests caution in assigning selective passages to be allegorical and other passages as literal based on one’s preconceived notion of Revelation’s interpretation. 2. Beale is great at pointing out the trees but weak at pointing out the forest, in that he spends minimal time rendering a big picture to Revelation. For that, Hendrickson’s text is much better. Any commentary on Revelation needs to focus on both aspects of the book. Where is John going with the text of the book? How do you put together the repeated narratives of the whole of the Christian era (according to Hendrickson, seven repeats!)? 3. Beale is very restrictive at discussing alternate views of interpretation. 4. Though Beale notes 13 other commentaries on Revelation that he used in his studies, about the only other text that he quotes is that of Richard Bauckham (actually, two books that he wrote) and rarely refers to other Christian texts that maintain an idealist (amillennial) scheme of interpretation. Perhaps his full commentary addressed some of my criticisms, though I will not be reading his magnum opus on Revelation (life is too short for me).

This is a text that I thoroughly enjoyed reading, even with the noted weaknesses.