The Returning King; A guide to the book of Revelation, by Vern Poythress ★★★★
The book of Revelation has a multiplicity of commentaries. If one were to read the commentaries without actually having read Revelation, one would think that they were reading commentaries on vastly different books. The interpretations among conservative Biblical scholars has great diversity, as well as a diversity of fanaticism. I recall well as a teenager when Hal Lindsey produced his dispensational premillennial spin on the book. Of course, his books (Late Great Planet Earth & Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth) required multiple revisions and updates during the 20-30 years that the Lindsey books remained popular. Conversely, I recently read a postmillennial preterist spin on Revelation by Doug Wilson titled When the Man Comes Around which was a bit of scholarly trash, in which I never even wasted my time to write a review. Both the dispensational premillennialists and postmillennialists have used their eschatology as a litmus test for orthodoxy, though they tend to have enough disagreements among themselves as to suggest that perhaps we should all have a little bit of humility with our opinions. Perhaps the best book I´ve read so far, and I´ve read it more than once, is William Hendrickson´s More Than Conquerors. He takes an amillennial approach and considers Revelation to be a 7-fold retelling of the history of the world from the time of Christ to the consummation. This book has been the most scholarly and convincing to me.
In The Returning King, Poythress suggests an eclectic approach to Revelation, using all 4 so-called interpretive schemes, the historicist, the futurist, the preterist, and the idealist. He would label Hendrickson as a perfect example of the idealist approach. It seems on reading Poythress’s volume that he tends to concur quite strongly with the Hendrickson approach, viewing Revelation as a seven-fold telling of Church history, progressing timewise from the first accounts of church history as focusing on early events and later accounts as focusing more on future events. Hendrickson would divide the 7-fold accounts a little differently from Poythress, yet ultimately the end interpretive result is quite similar. Poythress is soft on the millennial issue, but his discussion shows a very strong leaning toward the amillennial position.
Like most commentaries, the first few chapters of Poythress’s commentary discusses sundry issues such as the author, the date of writing, and technical aspects of how the book will be interpreted. This is followed by section-by-section interpretive suggestions. What do the various colors of things symbolize? What is the meaning of an animal with 7 heads or multiple eyes? Why does a last battle occur a number of times in Revelation—were there multiple last battles, or is the Apocalypse pointing us to a recurring retelling of the same story from various perspectives. Who or what is the beast? The prostitute? The dragon? What is the meaning of all the numbers given? Why is 7 so frequently used? What is 666? What is the meaning of the 144000? Why are precise measurements given to the new earth, something that would be an impossibility in the physics of our current world? Thankfully, much of the symbolism of Revelation has reference to Ezekiel, Daniel, other minor prophets, the prophetic speeches of Christ, and the prophetic discussions of Paul in his epistles. Dangers exist—the most popular danger is to read much of the book as figurative and yet to force literal interpretations on selective items, such as the 1000-year reign of Christ. Poythress is wise in not forcing interpretations that he might later regret, a trait most associated with Hal Lindsey. Poythress’s strength is that of bringing the necessity of reading and heeding the warnings of Revelation to everybody, young and old, in all generations. The book is an unveiling, not an encryption of the past, present, and future, and should be read as such. It is as much a story of the present as it is a story of the future.
Poythress does not offer us a thorough scholarly review of Revelation. There is no shame in that, and his little volume is quite effective at conveying an overall method for approaching what might be termed an obscure book. Poythress is no light-weight in the academic field, and this little tome on Revelation can be regarded as a decent summary of the book, releasing Revelation from either fatalistic obscurity or from livid and wild abstractions, as might be found in the premillennial dispensational approach of Hal Lindsey. Thus, I would commend it as a worthwhile summary of the book of Revelation.
We are currently starting through the book of Revelation in Sunday School, with the idea of completing the book within the span of several months. They are using a text written by a Southern Baptist individual J. Scott Duvall, The Heart of Revelation: Understanding the 10 Essential Themes of the Bible’s Final Book Reading the first pages of the book on Amazon, it is difficult to sort out its orientation, something Scott seems to try to avoid, focusing instead on the thematic material of the book, i.e., as Henrickson has stated, that we are more than conquerors. Duvall has written a commentary on Revelation, so this book attempts to serve not so much as a commentary as a discussion of the relevant themes in the book. I probably will not be reading that text, mostly because I feel that further insights into the book would not be gained by reading it. I’ll be most interested in the ensuing discussions at church.