Longman, III, Tremper. Revelation through Old Testament Eyes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2022. 351 pp. Pb. $29.99 Link to Kregel Academic
This new volume in Kregel’s Through Old Testament Eyes is the first written by an Old Testament scholar. Longman is well-known in Old Testament circles for his excellent commentaries on wisdom literature. He wrote the NIVAC commentary on Daniel (Zondervan, 1999) and How to Read Daniel (IVP Academic, 2020). This new commentary on Revelation in Kregel’s “Through Old Testament Eyes” is a basic commentary on the English text, with a special emphasis on using the Old Testament to illuminate aspects a New Testament book.
In the brief introduction to the Book of Revelation, he suggests the principal theme of the book is that, despite present trouble, God is in control, and he will have the final victory. He suggests that the wedding of political power and Christian faith does not lead to the strengthening of the church, but rather to its weakening. In fact, Revelation says “do not give up the faith or fall into lockstep with culture” (19).
Regarding authorship, date, and genre, Longman leans towards the traditional view that Revelation was written late in the first century, but he does not think there is enough evidence to decide which John wrote Revelation. But for Longman, authorship does not matter for interpreting the book. Unlike many commentaries on Revelation, the introduction has no interest in millennial positions or the usual discussion of preterist versus futurist interpretation. The driving concern throughout the commentary is “how is this text related to the Old Testament?” Or, “how does the Old Testament help understand this verse?”
Let me illustrate this with several examples. As might be expected, he suggests interpreters read Revelation in the light of the book of Daniel rather than Revelation into Daniel. Commenting on Revelation 11: 2-3, he asks if the 42 months are a literal time period. For Longman, Daniel 7-8 refers to a three-and-a-half-year period which was symbolic of the time when the sanctuary would be desecrated. Longman is, therefore, hesitant to take the time literally in Revelation. Rather than a three-and-a-half-year period, the message of Revelation 11 is that evil has a limit, the desecration of the temple will not last forever.
Some imagery in Revelation may allude to Greco-Roman culture rather than the Old Testament. Discussing God’s throne in Revelation 4, he draws attention to a series of Old Testament passages (1 Kings 22:14; Isa 6, Ezek 1:26). But following Ian Paul and David Aune, John models the throne room on the Roman Empire. In Revelation, only God who is deserving of worship, not the emperor or the empire.
The body of the commentary is based on the English text and rarely refers to the Greek text. Occasional references to secondary literature are cited in endnotes. The commentary is clear and concise. Longman avoids the parallelomania that often plagues Revelation commentaries. Rather than explain every detail of the text, Longman’s focus is squarely on Old Testament or ancient near eastern backgrounds. For example, commenting on the serpent in Revelation 12, he refers to the broader ancient Near Eastern background from Ugaritic literature. In the Baal myth, the sea represented the forces of chaos and evil which needed to be pacified for creation to happen. The Old Testament uses rivers and seas as symbols for chaos and evil, so it is no surprise the serpent spews water like a river.
There are several types of sidebars throughout the commentary. “What the Structure Mean?” appears at the beginning of a new unit, offering a summary and overview of the chapter. Many chapters include a “Through the Old Testament Eyes” sidebar. These focus on the Old Testament in more detail that the regular commentary. For example, commenting on Revelation 7:9, “every nation, tribe, people, and language,” Longman connects this to Abraham, to whom God promised “all people on earth would be blessed through him” (Gen 12:3). Longman points out the phrase “nation, tribe, people, and language” is not the same, but reminiscent of a phrase found in Genesis 10, the theological origins of various languages before the tower of Babel story in Genesis 11.
In the context of the seven bowls of God’s wrath in chapter 15, Longman suggests that the plagues on Egypt influenced these bowls of God’s wrath. He therefore surveys the plagues and compares them to Revelation 16. He concludes, “just as the Egyptian plagues overtook a recalcitrant leader, pharaoh, who represented a Kingdom that exploited God’s people, so the plagues described by Revelation come on those who resist God and persecute his people” (229). And like the Egyptian plagues, those who experience the wrath of God do not repent, but only further resist God.
Sidebars entitled “Going deeper” are an application based on the text. For example, commenting on wealth in Revelation 18, Longman suggests the seductive power of wealth is a common biblical theme. The Bible is not anti-money, but it is against the strong desire to accumulate wealth. Commenting on idolatry and adultery in Revelation 17, he connects the Whore of Babylon to the Old Testament, primarily Hosea, Ezekiel 16, 23, but also to Ephesians 5: 21-33 (the church as a pure, spotless bride). Commenting on the judgments in revelation 16, he makes a slight nod to Christian responsibility to care for the environment rather than a “let it all burn” attitude.
Because of the goals of this commentary series, there are several things missing one usually finds in Revelation commentaries. First, there is little interest in the Greco-Roman background for interpreting Revelation and nothing on the imperial cult in Asia Minor, either in his discussion of the seven churches or Revelation 13 and 17. Second, although theological comments appear throughout the book, this is not a theological commentary. Unlike John Thomas and Frank Macchia Two Horizons commentary (Eerdmans 2016), Longman does not include theological reflections on Revelation.
Conclusion. Longman achieves his goal in Revelation: Through Old Testament Eyes to shed light on Revelation based on the Old Testament. This commentary will serve pastors and teachers well as they study this difficult book of the New Testament.
Other volumes in this series:
- Andrew Le Peau, Mark Through Old Testament Eyes (Kregel, 2017).
- Karen Jobes, John Through Old Testament Eyes (Kregel, 2021).
NB: Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.