Book Review: Brian J. Tabb, All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone

Tabb, Brian J. All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone. NSBT 48; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019. 270pp. Pb; $28.  Link to IVP Academic

Tabb previously published Suffering in Ancient Worldview: Luke, Seneca and 4 Maccabees in Dialogue (LNTS 569; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017). He edits the online journal Themelios. This new contribution to the NSBT Series began as he prepared the notes on Revelation for The NIV Zondervan Study Bible (D. A. Carson, ed.; Zondervan, 2015).  In the preface to the book Tabb thanks his former professors G. K. Beale and Craig Koester. Although their influence is clear throughout the volume, Tabb has contributed an excellent introduction to major theological themes present in Revelation which serve as a summation of the whole canon of Scripture.

In his introduction, Tabb briefly discuss is the genre and purpose of Revelation as well as some unusual problems one in counters when interpreting the book. Following Richard Bauckham, Tabb argues Revelation is the “climax of prophecy.” The book of Daniel ends with the command to seal up the book of prophecy, but in Revelation John announces the fulfillment or goal of previous prophecy but also discloses what was previously hidden from the prophets before Christ (19).

The first three chapters discuss the Triune God in Revelation. The book of Revelation the presents God as the sovereign who rules over all of creation and is worshiped unceasingly by his creation. He is the Alpha and Omega who announces glorious redemption and transformation of his creation (21:1). In Revelation, God is at the very center of all reality. The second person of the Trinity is the reigning and returning king Jesus. Revelation is in fact framed with the person of Jesus: it begins as “a revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1) the book concludes with the prayer “amen, come Lord Jesus!” (22:19). Although Tabb connects Revelation’s view of Jesus to Daniel’s “son of man,” Jesus is also the faithful witness in the book of Revelation. Although Jesus is presented as the messianic ruler throughout the book, Revelation’s favorite and most distinctive Christological title is the slaughtered lamb (Rev 5).

The Holy Spirit is described as the “sevens for Spirit of God” and “the spirit of vision.” In each of the letters to the seven churches, the one “who has ears to hear” will listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. Tabb also connects the Holy Spirit to the resurrection of the dead, observing that Ezekiel 37:10 describes the “spirit of life” entering in order to return Israel to life.

Tabb offers two chapters grouped under the heading “Worship and Witness.” The first of these chapters examines the various titles Revelation gives to the people of God. This includes a priestly kingdom, lamp stands, the prophetic witness, conquerors, and a new Israel. He sees the 144,000 as representing the church and he argues the child of the woman in Revelation 12 refers to the church as a new Israel. For Tabb, “the apocalypse clarifies in dramatizes the churches true identity, present struggle in future hope” (110).  The nations also featured prominently in the book of Revelation. In some cases, every tribe and nation are singing praises to the beast and are drunk on Babylon’s wine (13:7-8; 18:3). In other cases, John sees the redeemed as a multitude from every tribe and nation (7:9-10).

In Revelation, true worship focuses on God and the Lamb who share the throne in heaven. Counterfeit worship praises the beast in his image. Tabb argues the first Christian readers of the Apocalypse faced tremendous social and economic pressure to participate in public displays of loyalty and gratitude to the Roman emperor (125). This connects well with the book of Daniel, in which the Jewish people faced pressure in Babylon to conform by eating food sacrificed to idols.

Tabb groups three chapters under the heading of “judgment, salvation and restoration.” In chapter 7 he focuses attention on the exodus as a pattern of judgment and salvation. He argues extensively that imagery in Revelation is drawn from the theophany at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19 (including prayers of the saints, thunder and other seismic activity). The plagues in exodus are the clear background to the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls. Tabb provide several charts paralleling this material. Salvation in Revelation is seen as a new exodus. For example, Revelation 15 refers to a “new song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the lamb.”

Chapter 8 Tabb contrasts Babylon the harlot in Jerusalem the bride. This is one of the most clear structural parallels in the book of Revelation, as illustrated by Tabb with several clear charts showing the parallel material. Since the prophets frequently used a marriage metaphor to describe Israel’s relationship with God, this chapter could have been improved by grounding both the whore of Babylon and the New Jerusalem as a bride in this important Old Testament imagery, as he did with the Exodus (ch. 7) and New Eden (ch. 9).

Chapter 9 of the book develops the image of the New Jerusalem as a new creation. The creation mandate will be fulfilled, in the end of the canon refers back to the beginning. The New Jerusalem is like a final holy of holies, but it is also like a new Eden. But it is more than that, this even is not just restored or regain, it is a transformed Eden. As Tabb observes, the original garden has been expanded and intensified.

The final chapter of the book examines the theme trustworthy testimony in final pages of the book of Revelation. Jesus is called faithful and true in Revelation 19:9, 11 and John’s testimony is faithful and true because he has reported what he has seen.

Conclusion. Tabb achieves is his goal of demonstrating Revelation uses the entire canon of Scripture and functions as a “canonical capstone.” The author of Revelation intentionally drew upon themes from the Old Testament in order to show that what God has planned for the future will sum up and fulfill what God had intended from the very beginning.

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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